Maurice Jacques Couve de Murville


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Georges Jean Raymond Pompidou (1911—1974) French statesman, Prime Minister 1962–8 and President 1969–74

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(b. Rheims, 24 Jan. 1907; d. Paris, 24 Dec. 1999)

French; Minister of Foreign Affairs 1958–68, Prime Minister 1968–9 A member of the Protestant ‘Couve’ family (‘de Murville’ had been added in 1925), Couve studied in Paris, where he read literature and law and graduated from the École Libre des Sciences Politiques. He married the painter Jacqueline Schweisguth (also Protestant). In 1932 he became an inspecteur des finances and moved rapidly up the civil service hierarchy (he participated in the negotiations for the Wiesbaden armistice). Couve then worked for the Vichy regime but in 1943 joined General Giraud as Financial Commissioner for Free France. When Giraud was sidelined Couve rallied to de Gaulle and stayed with exemplary loyalty until the General's death. De Gaulle moved him to diplomatic responsibilities and he seemed destined for an ambassadorial career in the 1950s. However, when de Gaulle returned to power in 1958 he was given one of the key posts in the new Republic: Foreign Minister. From then on Couve was at the centre of the active foreign policy conducted by the General: decolonization, rifts in the Atlantic Alliance, and a struggle with the European Community. The achievements of Couve at the Foreign Ministry were, it can be assumed, largely in the implementation of a policy determined by the General and often leaving Couve in the dark. (Outsiders sometimes had the impression that Couve knew no more than they did about the General's intentions.) ‘Ice cold Couve’ cut a strange figure in the tempestuous foreign policy set by de Gaulle but he was a faithful follower and put his diplomatic skills at the service of the General's designs—whatever those were. In July 1968 Pompidou was replaced by Couve as Prime Minister. This was a post for which he was ill suited and, with the General's popularity sliding, he was not a memorable Prime Minister. Couve's talents were technocratic, he had no inclination to intrigue or for political campaigning (he was famously incapable of glad handing electioneering). De Gaulle's defeat at the referendum of April 1969 and Pompidou's election as President caused him to leave office and he became a ‘Baron’ of the Gaullist movement—a distant, cold but respected figure, serving in the National Assembly 1973–86 and the Senate 1986–95.

Subjects: Politics.

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