This Week in History: The Pastry War Breaks Out

Sometimes, forgettable incidents in history refuse to bow down and be overlooked. One way this happens is when the seriousness of the incident is pushed aside by a silly but memorable title. Enter the Pastry War of the 1830s.

Otherwise known as the First Franco-Mexican War – but who would have remembered that? – this war was triggered when a French pastry chef complained to King Louis-Philippe of France that his shop had been looted by Mexican officers a few years before and he’d received no reparations since.

This wasn’t the only time a French national had complained of harsh treatment at the hands of Mexicans, but it seemed to be one step too far for the French Prime Minister, Louis-Mathieu Molé. In 1838, he demanded that Mexico hand over 600,000 pesos, which was about 600,000 times the average wage in the Mexican capital.

No money was sent, so the King of France turned to his rather significant navy and ordered them to blockade every single Mexican port on the Atlantic coast. He then sent a small frigate squadron to bombard Fort San Juan de Ulúa and seize the city of Veracruz, the most important port on the Gulf coast.

The battle began on November 27th and the Fort surrendered the next day, unable to cope with France’s revolutionary Paixhans guns, the first naval guns to fire explosive shells. Within a week, the city had fallen to the French invaders, sending shockwaves around the world and showcasing the gulf in quality between Europe and the rest of the world.

Pastry War 4
Upon hearing of the events, the Duke of Wellington allegedly described the Battle of Veracruz as the only recorded example in history of a naval squadron completely overwhelming a strong fort. Credit: Jean Antoine Théodore de Gudin

With the US lending France one of their own schooners and political instability growing all the while in Mexico, the one-sided war didn’t take long to come to an end. By March the following year, the Mexican government signed a peace treaty agreeing to pay the original fee and giving further promises for future trade commitments.





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