Counter Revolution in the Vendee

Background and context:

The Vendee was a very conservative area of France. The area was also devoutly religious (catholic) and royalist. Further, class differences were less prominent with nobles less “hated” and the division between “town and country” was less severe. The Ancien Regime was also functional and beneficial to the Vendee and the coming of the revolution, on a materialistic level, was a disadvantage. As a result, the area wasn’t “patriotic” from the beginning of the revolution (1789). Three key events led to a full insurrection, these were: The Civil Constitution of the Clergy, The execution of the King and the conscription laws. Given that the area was devoutly catholic, the degradation of the church under the Civil Constitution was taken as an offence. France was being forced (unintentionally or otherwise) to choose between the nation and the church, the Vendee chose the church. The execution of the King, of “their father,” further appalled the Vendee on a religious level and distanced them from the direction of the revolution. Conscription was the final straw as all able bodied men were taken from their farms and sent to the fronts. In the eyes of the Vendee, the revolution took their spirit (church), their leader and their lively hood and shattered their social structure. The only option left was rebellion.

Nature of the Event:

The Vendee rebellion was a counter revolution that resisted the revolution entirely, not just the direction it was taking. Due to a lack of republican forces in the area, the revolt went largely unchecked for quite some time. Erratic riots (10 – 12 of March 1793) sparked by the conscription laws were difficult to control and attention was diverted to the fronts and Lyons. Government authority became the figures of attack and murder. This rebellion differs greatly from the Federalist revolt in one main are: The Vendean’s were Royalist, and the federalists were republican. These conscription riots grew larger and began to link up, creating small armies. In the old tradition, the militia approached local nobility to lead them and whilst some declined, many accepted and became commanders (Henri de La Rochejaquelein). Althoug initially quite disorganised, the rebels had one distinct adavantage, their knowledge of local terrain. Also, the army hardly stayed together. After a battle, the peasants returned home and republican forces often struggled to pick who was a civilian and who was part of the army. The army could be roused incredibly quickly though and this was helped by the general support of nearly all those who lived in the Vendee creating a very functional and efficient force

Significance to the Revolution:

This rebellion is significant because, like the Kronstadt revolt in Russia, this was an uprising of people who the government claimed to represent the interests of. To the foreigner, this gave an indication that France was not happy with the revolution and more importantly that the nation was weak and fractured on the inside. Although there had been riots and anti-government demonstrations before, this was the first fully fledged insurrection against the new government and showed that the Ancien Regime and in particularly the monarchy still had significant support.

Response of the Revolutionary government and society:
After a few weeks of rampaging rioting, the army was relatively organised, had a small cavalry detachment and a few captured artillery pieces. It was known as the Catholic and Royal Army and even boasted a field hospital service. Sensing the seriousness of the insurrection the government deployed forces to deal with the problem. Of the fifty thousand troops in the Vendee by the end of the third week of March 1793, only two thousand were seasoned veterans from the old army. The rest were badly fed and ill-equipped recruits who knew nothing of the terrain and were generally frightened by the rebels. Initial contact with rebel forces (March 19th at Pont Charrault) ended badly for the republicans who were surprised at the level of organisation of the rebel army. The army moved in a loose formation with columns of sharp shooters on the flanks, cavalry at the ready and scouts further a field. With republican forces just trickling into the area with little organisation the rebellion experienced a lot of early success.

First major defeat was at Cholet on 17th of October 1793. The Republican army was reinforced by the arrival of troops from Mainz and the first recruits of the conscription efforts. The rebel army was weakened after a failed siege attempt of Nantes. The Cholet battle split the army. The main force headed for Granville where they expected to find a British fleet and an army of emigrated nobles but instead the city was surrounded by republican troops and the rebels failed to take the city. The retreating army fell victim to disease and hunger and was destroyed in a final battle at Savenay near the Loire River. The republic then set about wiping out the Vendee in a similar approach to Lyons. Crops and towns were torched and mass executions took place the most infamous of which involved crowding prisoners onto barges and then sinking them into the Loire River.

Noah Taylor

Background and Context:

The province of Vendée in western France was known to be the bloodiest rebellion that the revolutionary government encountered. It was primarily a peasant rebellion with a small minority of bourgeois, ex-nobility and defect, non-jurying church officials. The reasons for the revolt vary in theory between a few main ideas. Firstly, the peasants in the region of Vendée were simply worse off under the conditions of the new regime because of higher taxes and the conscription that took many of the men from their farms to fight in the war against many of Europe’s most powerful countries which the region wanted nothing to do with.
Secondly, the people of Vendée where, in the previous regime the peasants where treated slightly better by the nobles and clergy and subsequently the first class felt a close affinity with them, this also applies to the clergy in the region and after the Civil Constitution of the Clergy on the 12 of July 1790. The peasants believing that the revolution had made a big mistake in executing the King as well as starting the entire process and took action because of it. One piece of evidence is the reference in ‘s and the abstract goes: “By the end of March the rebels had formed their own militia, calling themselves the 'Royal and Catholic Army'’ and taking the Catholic symbol of the “sacred heart” as their emblem. 90% of the priests in the region were non-jurying priests.
The third theory is less focused on the peasants themselves and more so, on the leaders of the counter revolution. The belief goes that the peasants themselves were not the real players in the revolt but the nobility and priests leading them were doing so to gain a massive amount of profit on such items as weapons and armour used by both sides of the event. These leaders, leading the little educated peasants as pawns to gain self wealth. This theory being the most revisionist point of view.
But aside from all of this, the truth is probably a mixture of all of these theories sighting the most of the crowd being very devout in religious standards, the resistance to conscription and the execution of the king.

Nature of the event:

The region of Vendée because of its large royalist peasant population and the revolutionary governments attacks on the church, ie. The Civil Constitution of the Monarchy caused the peasants especially to become very unsettled about the revolution, and in the early months of 1793 after several years of uneasy obedience riddled with local protests being silenced by the National Guard there. The event that pushed the Vendeans over the edge and into a civil war was the execution of the king Louis XVI on the 21 of January 1793 who had been not an out dated weak leader to this region but a famed and honoured king who the peasants would happily die for. So, in Marsh of 1793 the counter rebellion finally took a solid form, with small groups of Vendeans’ militia armed with farming tools and very limited equipment roaming around the region attacking symbolic sights for the revolutionary government and at first, with an insufficient supply of troops the republic was temporarily overwhelmed by the support these gangs received from the public. In the coming months the size of the resistance had become nothing short of the whole region participating in the revolt. Using the captured republican arms the counter-revolutionaries turned inland and, too the republican army that was issued through the Committee of Public Safety who at first sent in-experienced troops too try and topple the region but which failed because of the intimate knowledge of terrain the Vendeans’ had and later after realising the seriousness of the matter the Committee sent troops fresh from the front line too defend not only the country from these counter-revolutionaries but the honour of the revolution itself. The result of this almost overkill. As some reports suggest from 58,000 to 200,000 people being either brutally massacred by the republicans, dying to the guillotine or forced drowning all in the name of the revolution. These figures include at least 400 children and thousands of wives and woman in the region, even if they were not directly part of the revolt the republicans were extremely cruel too them. That being said about the women of the region the men where treated with even less respect.

Significance to the Revolution:

The significance to the Revolution was devastating. The whole point of the revolution was to create a better world for everyone involved and here was thousands and thousands of people fighting for reinstatement the Old Regime or at least a constitutional monarchy, and these people were willing to die for that belief. It also encouraged the users of the Terror and took the practise to new heights leading to Robespierre’s reign over France in a tyrannical style of dictatorship.

Response by the Revolutionary government and society:

Slaughter of the Vendeans. In some towns after the republican armies had broken the Vendeans forces the wives of the rounded up and cut to death by the aggressors. The guillotine became a common instrument with over 6,000 people being executed by it and by forcible drowning. The wider community of France also came to hate the region for this uprising.

Simon Cromwell