The Valiant Vendeans: As the Forces of Revolution Ravaged France near the End of the 18th Century, the Vendeans Heroically Rose Up to Defend Their Religion, Their Families, and Their Way of Life. (History-Struggle for Freedom)

By Grigg, William Norman | The New American, June 17, 2002 | Go to article overview

The Valiant Vendeans: As the Forces of Revolution Ravaged France near the End of the 18th Century, the Vendeans Heroically Rose Up to Defend Their Religion, Their Families, and Their Way of Life. (History-Struggle for Freedom)


Grigg, William Norman, The New American


Late in the evening of April 12, 1793, hundreds of French peasant farmers converged on la Durbeliere, home of the Marquis de la Rochejaquelein. Unlike peasant mobs organized in Paris by the revolutionary government, these humble residents of France's Vendee "department" -- a coastal region roughly the size of West Virginia -- were not motivated by hate or class envy. They had come seeking the Marquis' leadership in the armed struggle against "les Bleus," the Paris government's dreaded National Guard. The Marquis was absent that evening, so it fell to his son, Henri -- a tall, blonde-haired man of 21 years -- to greet the visitors. "Monsieur Henri," pled a spokesman for the throng, "the Blues of Bressuire are marching on us. Put yourself at our head. Defend us."

Monsieur Henri had lived a life of privilege, but he was sober-minded beyond his years. He knew what the Blues were capable of: One general assigned to command them described his troops as "men recruited from the worst elements of the people cowardly and cruel ... interested only in pillage." For more than a year the Blues had rampaged across western France, leaving death and terror in their wake. Henri knew something had to be done to resist the Blues. However, he couldn't see how poorly armed peasants, led by an untested youth, could defeat a hardened mercenary army. Henri regretfully declined command, and urged the farmers to return to their homes. As disappointment descended on the young nobleman's audience, a farmer not much older than Henri reproached him: "Monsieur Henri, if your father had been here, he would not be afraid to fight." Incensed that his honor had been questioned, the young nobleman told the farmers to come back the next morning.

Shortly after daybreak on April 13th, the peasant army assembled once again in the courtyard of the Rochejaquelein chateau. Of the one thousand or so present, less than two hundred had weapons -- and most of them were improvised from hoes, shovels, scythes, or other farm tools. A scant handful had brought hunting muskets. Some of them had pinned a white cockade to their hats, thus demonstrating their support for France's Christian monarchy. Others displayed a badge containing an image of the Sacred Heart of Jesus under which was written "Dieu le Roi" -- "God the King." Outnumbered and out-gunned, the peasants were nonetheless ready to fight -- and desperate to find a general willing to lead them.

Their wishes were answered when Henri, dressed for battle and displaying none of the previous evening's ambivalence, appeared to address them:

My friends, if my father had been here, he would have inspired you and given you confidence. As for me, I am no more than a child; but I hope to be able to prove to you by my conduct that I am worthy to lead you. If I advance, follow me; if I retreat, kill me; if I am killed -- avenge me.

Henri displayed his natural leadership abilities a day later when his army, in defiance of realistic expectations, defeated the forces of revolutionary general Pierre Quetineau. This victory provided the armies of Monsieur Henri with three cannons, 1,200 muskets, and abundant ammunition. Those arms were put to good use a few days later when the Vendean armies routed revolutionary forces at Cholet, killing or wounding 2,000 Blues and seizing another bounty of muskets and powder.

Fortified and inspired by these victories, the Vendean counter-revolutionaries, known as the "Royal Catholic Army of France," crushed an entire division at Beaupreau on April 22nd. "The bells of hundreds of churches rang out in celebration, and the Catholic army sang a Te Deum in thanksgiving," recalls historian Michael Davies in his book For Altar and Throne: The Rising in the Vendee.

Nobleman and Peasant Unite

During the first half of 1793, the Royal Catholic Army knew nothing but victory. The thousands of muskets and hundreds of cannon taken from the Blues in the battlefield made the Vendean army a formidable force. …

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The Valiant Vendeans: As the Forces of Revolution Ravaged France near the End of the 18th Century, the Vendeans Heroically Rose Up to Defend Their Religion, Their Families, and Their Way of Life. (History-Struggle for Freedom)
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