Who Was Maxime Weygand?
French general Maxime Weygand (1867-1965), who lost the big one in 1940, was officially certified as having been born “of unknown parentage" in Brussels, Belgium, by two male witnesses who claimed to be unable to sign their names. Initially raised by one Virginie Saget, a widowed midwife in Marseilles, at the age of 6 he entered a boarding school there run by a David Cohen de Léon and later enrolled in a Roman Catholic secondary school. In 1884 using the name “Maxime de Nimal,” apparently adapted from the maiden name of M. Cohen de Leon’s wife, he was admitted as a foreign student to the French military academy at Saint-Cyr. Upon his graduation in 1887, he was commissioned in the cavalry. At that time François-Joseph Weygand, an accountant for the Cohen de Leon family, legally “acknowledged” the young man as his son, and the young man changed his name to Maxime Weygand.
Now one would think this should settle the matter of Weygand’s parentage. But it only makes it more certain that the accountant was not his father. To begin with, while M. Cohen de Leon might have waived the boy’s tuition because his purported father worked for him, someone had to be paying the young man’s bills at his secondary school, and someone had to have some pretty impressive connections to get him into Saint-Cyr. And then there was the cost of outfitting the new sous lieutenant of cavalry in 1887.
So, who were his parents?
Rumors of his parentage are linked to the Belgian royal family and their circle.
The principal “suspects” are,
- The Empress Carlota of Mexico, a Belgian princess, and Lieutenant Colonel Alfred van der Smissens, a Belgian volunteer in the service of her husband, Maximilian.
- Carlota and Colonel Feliciano Rodriguez of the Imperial Mexican Army.
- King Leopold I of Belgium, brother to Carlota, and a Polish noblewoman, possibly one Countess Kosakowska
- Colonel van der Smissens and Countess Melanie Marie Zichy-Metternich, daughter of the Count Metternich, Napoleon’s nemesis and the “re-arranger of Europe,” who was one of Carlota’s ladies-in-waiting in Mexico.
We can address these in turn.
Carlota had gone to Mexico in May of 1864 with her husband, the Archduke Maximilian of Austria, who was shortly proclaimed Emperor by a French-backed conservative faction in a civil war. By early 1866 the “Empire” was in trouble, as the Republican forces under Benito Juarez made dramatic gains, while the United States had initiated diplomatic and military moves that soon encouraged Maximilian’s sponsor, French Emperor Napoleon III, to withdraw his support. In a desperate bid to secure foreign assistance, that summer Carlota sailed for Europe. Landing in France in early August, she had two interviews with Napoleon III, who refused further assistance. Carlota departed for her husband’s estate near Trieste. Meanwhile, she had begun displaying signs of mental instability – not unreasonable given the stress she was under. In late September she went to Rome, to seek help from Pope Pius IX. The Pope declined. Carlota’s behavior while at the Vatican was extremely erratic, and the Pope even had to lodge her for a night, when she became hysterical, an historic first. She hung around Rome for some weeks, pestering the Pope, and at times behaving irrationally. Near the end of that month, her family dispatched a physician from Brussels to escort her to Trieste for treatment. She was later moved to Brussels, where she lived in seclusion until her death in 1927.
The tale about Carlota and Count van der Smissens is often repeated in Mexican histories of the French intervention, and may reflect an actual relationship between the Empress and the colonel, perhaps even an affair.
The rumor that Feliciano Rodriguez was Weygand’s father derives from the great Mexican muralist Diego Rivera, who said he had it from the colonel himself, who was the brother of his maternal grandmother. Rivera also claimed that in 1917 he met with Weygand, who freely admitted the tie. This seems very unlikely. Weygand himself apparently never learned who his parents were. And Rivera was notorious for fabricating stories about his life.
For various reasons, Carlota is not likely to have been Weygand’s mother. Weygand’s birth was registered in Brussels as January 21, 1867, and so he would have been conceived in April of 1866. So when Carlota arrived in Paris in August, a pregnancy would probably have begun to be noticeable, and by the time she arrived in Rome, in September, it would have been obvious, but the scandal sheets of the day reported no such condition. Moreover, when Weygand was born, Carlota was still in Trieste; she didn’t return to Brussels until the summer of 1867. Most importantly, however, is that Carlota was almost certainly barren. Although married to Maximilian since 1857, they had produced no children, while Maximilian, who had numerous affairs, had produced least one illegitimate child while they were in Mexico, and perhaps others over the years as well (it’s good to be an archduke). So it seems highly unlikely that Carlota was Weygand’s mother, particularly since some historians believe Weygand’s date of birth was post-dated by perhaps as much as two years. Naturally, this doesn’t necessarily get Carlota off the hook for having had affairs with van der Smissens or Rodriguez.
What about Leopold? Well, he was certainly capable of acting like a cad and spurning his own illegitimate offspring, after all, this is the guy who ran the slaughter house known as “Kongo Free State” for several decades. Carlota could easily have learned of the Countess Kosakowska’s pregnancy when she passed through Belgium en route to Paris, and offered the protection of her household. Although by the time the child was born Carlota was very unstable, and she would fall into complete madness after learning of Maximilian’s execution (June 19th), her assistance could have continued through the boy’s early life. The fact that the child was being supported by her household could readily have given rise to speculation that she was his mother.
And then there’s the Countess Zichy-Metternich and van der Smissens. The Countess was married to a distant cousin with whom she was on bad terms, and an affair between her and van der Smissens would not have been impossible. Naturally, something would have had to be done with the child, and we’re back to Carlota lending a hand.
Now that’s about as far as the evidence can go. Certainly Weygand had a very high ranking, deep pocketed patron, and some connection to the Belgian royals seems certain.
Or perhaps not.
"To Every Thing There is a Season"
This is the opening line of Chapter 3 of The Book of Ecclesiastes, and begins a litany of things that ends, seven verses later with “a time of war, and a time of peace.”
Historically, the “time of war” has been been the spring and summer.
An analysis of 120 major European battles during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries revealed that the most likely month for a fight was July, followed closely by August, with June and September tied for third place.
Month Battles Percent
January 1 0.8
February 5 4.2
March 8 6.7
April 12 10.0
May 11 9.2
June 15 12.5
July 19 15.8
August 16 13.3
September 15 12.5
October 7 5.8
November 7 5.8
December 1 0.8
Now it’s literally true that there was a “season” for war, or rather two. The best “season” was from the onset of Spring, in March – named, appropriately, after the Roman God of War – through the end of Summer, in September. From October through February rain and cold and snow, not to mention short hours of daylight, tended to make campaigning more difficult.
Of course, it wasn’t impossible to campaign in winter. Nevertheless, moving armies around, even keeping them together, was enormously difficult, and very, very expensive. After all, roads would be difficult, perhaps blocked by snow or heavy rains, forage poor and no pasturage for livestock, while demands for firewood and heavy clothing would rise significantly. But if one had enough money, it could be managed.