He was born in Paris, and first appeared as a poet in the Revue nationale, under the pseudonym of "Jean Rebel". In 1869 he produced, at the Théâtre Français, a one-act drama in verse entitled Juan Strenner. On the outbreak of the Franco-German War, he enlisted as a private, but was wounded and taken prisoner at the Battle of Sedan. He was sent to Breslau, but managed to escape. He then served under Chanzy and Bourbaki, took part in the latter's disastrous retreat to Switzerland, and fought against the Commune in Paris. After reaching lieutenant, he was forced by an accident to retire from the army.
In 1872, he published a collection of patriotic poems (Chants du soldat), which enjoyed unbounded popularity. This was followed in 1875 by another collection, Nouveaux Chants du soldat. In 1877 he produced a drama in verse called L'Hetman, which derived a passing success from the patriotic fervour of its sentiments. For the exhibition of 1878 he wrote a hymn, Vive la France, which was set to music by Charles Gounod. In 1880 his drama in verse, La Moabite, which had been accepted by the Théâtre Français, was censored on religious grounds.
In 1882 Déroulède founded the Ligue des patriotes, to further France's "revanche" against Germany. On the rise of General Boulanger, Déroulède attempted to use the Ligue des patriotes, until then a non-political organization, to assist his cause, but was deserted by many of the league's members and forced to resign his presidency. Nevertheless he used the section that remained faithful to him with such effect that the government found it necessary in 1889 to decree its suppression.
In the same year he was elected to the chamber as member for Angouleme. He was expelled from the chamber in 1890 for interrupting debates. He did not stand at the elections of 1893, but was re-elected in 1898, and distinguished himself by his violence as a nationalist and anti-Dreyfusard. After the funeral of President Félix Faure, on February 23, 1899, he endeavoured to persuade General Roget to lead his troops upon the Elysée. For this he was arrested, tried for treason and acquitted (May 31). On August 12 he was again arrested and accused, together with André Buffet, Jules Guérin and others, of conspiracy against the republic. After a long trial before the high court, he was sentenced, on January 25, 1900, to ten years' banishment from France, and retired to San Sebastian.
In 1901, he was again brought prominently before the public by a quarrel with his Royalist allies, which resulted in an abortive attempt to arrange a duel with Buffet in Switzerland. In November 1905, however, the law of amnesty enabled him to return to France.
Besides the works already mentioned, he published the following: