Charles de Gaulle was born in Lille, France. He was raised there and in Paris. He died of a ruptured blood vessel in 1970 at the age of 79.
De Gaulle came from a devout Catholic family whose parents lamented the lack of religion in the French government. Educated in Catholic schools, de Gaulle was nothing less than completely devout his whole life. He didn’t speak of his faith very frequently, but there’s no doubt of its importance.
Throughout his dynamic life, the Catholic church was a comfort and a place of stability. About his love of Catholic ceremony he said,
Mass is the ceremony I most favor during my travels. Church is the only place where someone speaks to me and I do not have to answer back.
After his beloved daughter Anne died of pneumonia at the age of 20, de Gaulle was consoled by the belief that she was looking on from heaven. He said,
The priest hurried in to give the blessing. Her soul was freed. But the disappearance of our little girl without hope caused immense suffering. May little Anne protect us from on high.
Although de Gaulle’s love of France was deeply entwined with its Catholic heritage, he remained committed to secular government. His religion, however, is only a small part of his immense legacy in France and through the world.
De Gaulle, a top member of the French military during World War II, refused to accept his country’s surrender to the Nazis. He instead retreated to England and declared himself the leader of the Free French Forces, which joined the Allies in their eventual defeat of Germany. After presiding over France’s interim post-war government, he resigned in 1946 to protest the constitution’s lack of a strong executive power. Political instability plagued the country in de Gaulle’s absence. He assumed emergency powers in 1958 while a new constitution was written, and spent the next ten years as president of France’s new government.
Gaullism is marked by three major tenets: a powerful executive, heavy involvement of the state in the economy, and complete independence in foreign policy. It is that last tenet that is perhaps de Gaulle’s most enduring legacy. He said,
No nation has friends, only interests.
It was this belief that caused the Frenchman to withdraw from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) because he believed it was overly dominated by the U.S. and U.K. And although he supported a united Europe, he fought the U.K.'s entrance into the European Economic Community because he believed it was too cozy with the U.S.
De Gaulle’s legacy in American and British memory isn’t too favorable. After all, those countries’ tendency to meddle in global affairs didn’t endear them to the French president–during World War II, he had to be reminded that Germany was his enemy and not Britain. But he remains a hero among both the left and the right in France and across the world.