Henri Philippe Benoni Omer Joseph Pétain (1856 - 1951), more commonly known as Philippe Pétain, is best known for being both a military and political leader for France and for his heroic actions in World War I. He commanded the defense at the Battle of Verdun in 1916, and became chief of staff in 1917. He is also viewed as a traitor for heading the Vichy government in France during World War II after France had been overrun by the Nazis. When France fell to the Nazis in June 1940, Petain was ambassador to Spain and already well past his 80th birthday, but was recalled to negotiate an armistice for his defeated country, which he then led until the end of World War II. While the allies were careful not to publicly upset the Vichy government during the war, as the war came closer to its conclusion and Charles de Gaulle had gained greatly in notoriety while in exile, the allied position switched to publicly support de Gaulle and his Free French. After the war, when the Nazis had been defeated and France was restored, Petain was tried and sentenced to life imprisonment.
The New American Desk Encyclopedia, Penguin Group, 1989