The Pastry War
It may sound like a televised baking competition, but the Pastry War was an actual war fought between Mexico and France for several weeks in the 1830s. And yes, it did involve pastries, even if an unpaid bill for sweet treats was only the final straw that ignited simmering tensions between the two countries. And, while it may be one of the silliest-named conflicts in the history of warfare, it was not without bloodshed. In fact, by the time it was over, the Pastry War had claimed more than 300 lives and had a major impact on the development of the young Mexican republic.
Even though it managed to win its independence from Spain in 1821, the new Mexican republic was far from a paradise. In fact, for the first few years of its existence, the fledgling nation was a hotspot of conflicts both big and small. Rebels keen to get a good deal for themselves under the new regime fought running battles with the Mexican government, often rioting in the streets and looting everywhere they went. In 1832, this civil unrest came to Tacubuya, a barrio on the edges of Mexico City, and a pastry shop belonging to a certain Monsieur Remontel was targeted.
Now, while the average Mexican citizen had nowhere to turn if their property was damaged in the rioting, foreigners were usually able to get compensation from the Mexican government. As such, the distraught French baker went to the authorities to claim compensation. When this was not forthcoming, he took his complaint directly to King Louis-Phillipe of France, saying that he was owed a massive 60,000 pesos, even though his shop had been valued at a mere 1,000 pesos. This was far from the only such claim the French monarch had received. Indeed, dozens of such complaints from French citizens living in Mexico had been sent to Paris in the months and years following 1821. The King was forced to act.
In the spring of 1838, then, Louis-Phillipe called on President Anastasio Bustamente to pay France 600,000 pesos in compensation. When the President did no such thing, the King sent his navy to blockade all of Mexico’s Atlantic ports. Caught in a stalemate, the Mexican leader soon ordered all men of fighting age to be mobilized and, on 27 November 1838, he declared war on France. However, despite this signal of strength, Mexico soon received a bloody nose, with the French marines easily capturing the important port of Veracruz. The Mexicans hit back. The military legend Antonio Lopez de Santa Ana came out of retirement and fought the French at Veracruz, though he ended up losing a leg in the fighting. His loss was not in vain, however. The French were forced to the negotiating table and a treaty was signed on 9 March 1839.
Under the terms of the deal, Mexico agreed to pay those 600,000 pesos, though actually sending the money to Paris turned out to be a different matter altogether. Whether or not Monsieur Remontel ever got any money back for his ruined pastry shop is, however, sadly lost to the pages of history.