Circular bronze medal with laterally-pierced knob suspension; the face with a helmeted female head facing left representing the French Republic, circumscribed ‘REPUBLIQUE FRANÇAISE’, signed ‘GEORGES LEMAIRE’; the reverse with a military trophy of arms imposed on which is a plaque inscribed ‘AUX DEFENSEURS DE LA PATRIE’ (To the defenders of the country), the dates ‘1870 1871’ above, signed with monogram ‘GL’, with Paris Mint cornucopia bronze hallmarks; on replaced correct ribbon with original ornate ‘ENGAGÉ VOLONTAIRE’ bar for volunteers.
The medal was created on 9 November 1911, some forty years after the conflict, for all combatants who took part in the campaign of July 1870 to February 1871.
The conflict between France and Prussia that signalled the rise of German military power and imperialism was provoked by the Prussian (later German) Chancellor Otto von Bismarck as part of his plan to create a unified German Empire.
The French armies were overcome at Sedan by the efficient Prussian forces, battle-hardened from their conflicts with Denmark and Austria. In Paris, a bloodless revolution led to the overthrow of Napoleon III. The city was besieged by the Prussians from 19 September and held out, suffering severe privation, until 28 January 1871.
France was forced to cede Alsace and Lorraine to the Germany which had been proclaimed an empire under Wilhelm I on 18 January 1871 in the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles, sowing the seeds of future 20th Century conflicts.