As a result of his outstanding military leadership in World War I, particularly during the Battle of Verdun, he was viewed as a national hero in France; He was a French general who reached the distinction of becoming a Marshal of France.
With the imminent fall of France in June 1940, Pétain was appointed Premier of France by President Lebrun at Bordeaux, and the Cabinet resolved to make peace with Germany. On June 22, France signed an armistice at Compiègne with Germany that gave Germany control over the north and west of the country including Paris and all of the Atlantic coastline, but left the remaining two-fifths of France's prewar territory, unoccupied.
The new government immediately used its new powers to order harsh measures, including the dismissal of republican civil servants, the installation of exceptional jurisdictions, the proclamation of antisemitic laws, and the imprisonment of opponents and foreign refugees. Censorship was imposed, and freedom of expression and thought were effectively abolished with the reinstatement of the crime of "felony of opinion."
After the liberation of France on 7 September 1944, the Germans involuntarily relocated Pétain and other members of the French cabinet to Sigmaringen in Germany, where they became a "government-in-exile" until April 1945. Pétain, however, refused to participate in this government and so Fernand de Brinon now headed the 'government commission.'
Pétain voluntarily returned to France and de Gaulle's provisional government put Pétain on trial for treason. Dressed in the uniform of a Marshal of France, Pétain remained silent through most of the proceedings after an initial statement that denied the right of the High Court, as constituted, to try him.
Although the three judges recommended acquittal on all charges, the jury convicted him and sentenced him to death by a one-vote majority. Due to his advanced age, the Court asked that the sentence not be carried out and De Gaulle commuted the sentence to life imprisonment.
Petain died on July 23, 1951, at the age of 95.