Carl Marx in
his writings uses the word Vendeen to mean counter revolutionary and in essence
that is what the war of the Vendee was.
The Vendee was Strongly Royalist,
this being where Richard the Lionheart had his main castle at Talmont
St.Hilaire, nr Les Sables d'Olonne. Richard's Mother Eleanor of Aquitaine was
married in the abbey at Maillezais and buried in the royal abbey at Nieul sur
l'Autize both just out side Fontenay le Comte in the South of the Vendee. This
is Plantagenet country, so with the Revolution the Vendeens found them selves on
the losing side.
Differences in class were not as great in
theVendee as in the other French provinces, or Paris. In rural Vendée, the local
nobility seems to have been more residential and less resented than in other
parts of France. In this particularly isolated part of France the conflict that
drove the revolution was lessened by strong adherence of the populace to the
Catholic Church. There were outbreaks of anti-Republic violence in 1791 and1793.
It was not until the social unrest combined the Civil Constitution of the
Clergy((1790) and then the Conscription(or "Levy") Decree (1793) that the region
The Civil Constitution required all clerics to swear allegiance to
it and to the anti-clerical NationalConstituent Assembly. The Vendean clergy
almost to a man refused to swear the oath and were replaced by the Revolutionary
authorities with ”Jurors”, who were disliked and condemned as intruders.
Nonjuring priests declared the new civic ceremonies worthless; in response gangs
of Republicans came from the cities into the countryside, closing and
vandalizing the churches of nonjuring priests.
Vendean peasants initially supported the revolution, but they
rebelled against injustices of the Republic on March 7,1793. In the Vendée there
were few troops to control them, whereas the more serious riots in Brittany were
There were spontaneous and riots on March 10-13 in many towns
and villages. The representatives of the Republic were singled out for attack
and murder. In the bloodiest outburst, in Machecoul on March11 forty men were
beaten and stabbed to death on the streets, another four hundred were gathered
up and arrested. The men were taken out in 'rosaries' (tied in a line with rope
around the chest), made to dig ditches and shot - their bodies then tumbled into
the grave they had dug.
The crowds moved from the smaller to the larger
settlements, Cholet in the north and Fontenay-le Comte in the south, fell to the
rebels. Local Nobels were approached, d’Elbee, Sapinaud de Verrie and Charett
became the leaders of their local force. The clergy were also fairly active in
rallying the people.
. The main force of the rebels operated on a small
scale, using guerrilla tactics and supported by the insurgents' local knowledge
and the good-will of the people.
responded quickly, sending in March over 45,000 troops to the area. The “Bleu’s”
were young, badly trained and equipped with low morale and were dispersed in
small groups throughout the region, limiting control to a few urban centers, and
providing many weak garrisons as targets.
The first battle was on the night
of March 19th. A Republican army of 2,000, under General de Marcé,
moving from La Rochelle to Nantes was intercepted north of Chantenay at
Pont-Charrault near the Lay. After six hours of fighting rebel reinforcements
arrived and routed the Republican forces. The rebels advanced as far south as
Niort. On March 22nd, another Republican force was routed near chalonnes in the
north leaving their equipment for the grateful Vendéans.
The Vendee Army
covered the area between the Loire and the Lay, part of Maine-et-Loire west of
the Layon, and the portion of Deux Sevres west of the Thouet. Successes
continued for some time: Thouars was taken in early May and Saumur in June, but
the Vendéans then turned to a protracted and wasteful siege of
On 1stAugust the Committee for public safety
ordered General Jean-Baptiste carrier to perform a ruthless pacification. The
Republican army was reinforced. The Vendéan army had its first serious defeat at
Cholet on October17th; their army was split. In October 1793 the main force,
commanded by Henri de la Rochejaquelein and numbering some 25,000 crossed the
Loire, headed for the port of Granville where they expected a British fleet and
an army of exiled French nobles. Granville was surrounded by Republican forces,
with no British ships in sight. Their failed to take the city. During the
retreat they fell prey to Republican forces, suffering from hunger and disease
they died in their thousands, the finally battle at Savenay on December
23rd was decisive.
Claims of genocide
The government in Paris
enacted stern measures. The Reign of Terror seen elsewhere in France, was
extraordinarily brutal in the Vendée. Followingthe Law of 14 Frimaire, in
December alone over 6,000 prisoners were executed, a number in what was called
the "national bath" - tied in groups in barges and then sunk into the Loire.
Among them were 400 children whom Carrier hated especially, seeing in them
"brigands to be”.
From February 1794 the Republican forces launched their
final "pacification" (the Vendée-Vengé or "Vendée Avenged") - twelve
columns, the colonnes infernales ("infernal columns") under Turreau were
marched through the Vendée, indiscriminately targeting not only the remaining
rebels and the people who had given them support, but the innocent as well.
Beyond this massacre there were formal orders for forced evacuation and
'scorched earth' - farms were destroyed, crops and forests burned, villages
razed. There were many reported atrocities and a campaign of mass killing
universally targeted at residents of the Vendée regardless of combantant status,
political affiliation, age or gender.
Extracts from the committee read:
"The committee has prepared measures that tend to exterminate this
rebellious race of Vendéeans, to make their abodes disappear, to torch their
forests, to cut their crops
The orders to Turreau
"Exterminate the brigands to the last man instead of burning the
farms, punish the fleeing ones and the cowards, and crush that horrible Vendée.
Combine the most assured means to exterminate all of this race of
The campaign dragged to an end in March 1796. Historians have
since estimated the dead to number between 117,000 and 500,000, out of a
population of around 800,000, while others have disputed the
A solution was hammered out in the end whereby the Vendeens would
stop fighting and pay their taxes and in exchange the churches were allowed to
Napoleon was later, as a way of punishment to take the seat of power
away from Fontenay le Comte which had been not only the capital of the Vendee,
but of the Bas Poitou region and move it to a small village of just a few houses
called "Le Roche sur Yon" and hence was created the first Napoleon town built on
a grid system now copied in so many towns and cities in America.
of the Vendee is the two inter-linked hearts with a cross on top, symbolizing
the twin love of their country and of the church.
When I first came to
live in the Vendee 16 years ago there was still a strong hatred of Parisiennes
to the extent that if one was to move into a house in the area he could expect
to be burgled in the first week, it was a matter of duty, but with the recent
explosion in population this seem now after more than two hundred years to be
dying out quickly.
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