mardi, avril 08, 2008

The war of Vendée

Here is a good overview in English of the War of Vendée, made by a Girl-Scout leader. It will help those who do not hear French to understand the videos of the previous post.

Vexilla Regis prodeunt

In 1994 I flew to France to join my girl scout Company for my third summer camp with them. This time the camp location was the region of Vendée, that struck me as beautiful as a bride but still bearing fresh wounds, two hundred years old...
For three weeks, in accordance with the camp's theme, we put ourselves in the skins of the Vendeans that bravely fought "pour Dieu et le Roy". Our roleplaying wasn't all pretense, as the Company was from Versailles with all that entails (two of the girls were actual descendants of Vendean leaders mentioned below), and even I have French noble blood in me.
The story of Vendée is a sad but moving saga and one of the all-too-numerous historical events that were overshadowed by more spectacular ones. The French Revolution is universally remembered today, but how many outside France have ever heard of the Vendean Wars?
This land deeply touched my heart and I have long wanted to talk about it.
The French Revolution caused deep religious changes in France: the old clergy was replaced with a new one – one that depended on the State rather than answering strictly to its own authority. In the countryside, especially the West, the Catholic religion had cohabitated peacefully with remains of Paganism for centuries. Rural priests knew better than to attempt to forbid practices such as the worship of sacred oaks, and by their understanding they earned the trust and fierce loyalty of their parishioners. For the peasants, to see "their" priests replaced by intruders was intolerable, a threat against their very faith. Rebellion ensued as well as a full-fledged war against the dictatorship of the "Blues"– the Revolutionaries or Republicans. As for the Vendeans, they called themselves the Whites after the colour of the king. Their emblem: the Sacred Heart, surmounted by a cross on a white field, worn on the chest. This vibrant symbol is still present all over Vendée, a poignant reminder of something the locals are not likely to forget. They even derived their own hymn from the rather bloody Marseillaise:

Allons armées catholiques
Le jour de gloire est arrivé !
Contre nous de la république
L’étendard sanglant est levé (repeat)
Entendez-vous dans nos campagnes
Les cris impurs des scélérats ?
Qui viennent jusque dans nos bras
Prendre nos filles, nos femmes !

Refrain: Aux armes vendéens ! Formez vos bataillons !
Marchez, marchez, Le sang des bleus Rougira nos sillons !

Quoi des infâmes hérétiques
Feraient la loi dans nos foyers?
Quoi des muscardins de boutiques
Nous écraseraient sous leurs pieds? (Repeat)
Et le Rodrigue abominable
Infâme suppôt du démon
S’installerait en la maison De notre Jésus adorable


Tremblez pervers et vous timides,
La bourrée des deux partis.
Tremblez, vos intrigues perfides
Vont enfin recevoir leur prix. (Repeat)
Tout est levé pour vous combattre
De Saint Jean d’Monts à Beaupréau,
D’Angers à la ville d’Airvault,
Nos gars ne veulent que se battre.


Chrétiens, vrais fils de l’Eglise,
Séparez de vos ennemis
La faiblesse à la peur soumise
Que verrez en pays conquis. (Repeat)
Mais ces citoyens sanguinaires
Mais les adhérents de Camus
Ces prêtres jureurs et intrus
Cause de toutes nos misères.


Ô sainte Vierge Marie
Conduis, soutiens nos bras vengeurs!
Contre une sequelle ennemie
Combats avec tes zélateurs! (Repeat)
A vos étendards la victoire Est promise assurément.
Que le régicide expirant
Voie ton triomphe et notre gloire!

Let us go, Catholic armies the day of glory arrived! Against us, the Republic Has raised the bloody banner. (Repeat) Do you hear in our countryside the impure cries of the wretches? Who come—unless our arms prevent them— To take our daughters, our wives!

Refrain To arms, Vendeeans! Form your battalions! March, march, The blood of the blues Will redden our furrows!
II What of the infamous heretics Who would make the law in our homes? What of the mercenary cowards Who would crush us under their feet? (Repeat) And abominable Rodrigue [Antoine Rodrigue, a local bishop who defied papal authority to cooperate with the Revolution] Infamous henchman of the demon Who would settle in the house Of our adorable Jesus?

Tremble you perverse and timid, Before the bonfires of the adversaries. Tremble, your perfidious intrigues shall finally receive their due. (Repeat) All are raised to fight you From Saint Jean d’Monts to Beaupréau, From Angers to the town of Airvault, Our lads want to only fight.

Christians, true sons of the Church, Reject your enemies and The weakness and the servile fear Which you see in a conquered country. (Repeat) But these bloody “citizens,” These allies of Camus, These treasonous and imposed priests Are the cause of all our miseries.

O Blessed Virgin Mary, Lead and support our avenging arms! Against an enemy gang, fight alongside your zealous warriors! (Repeat) To your standards is promised certain victory. The regicides’ death Shall be your triumph and our glory!

In March 1793 Vendée became a land isolated from the rest of France: the land of the counter-revolution, the scapegoat that the Republic concentrated on crushing. Leaders had sprung up in every village, all modest craftsmen or peaceful noblemen until injustice put fire in their hearts. Cathelineau (who was busy kneading bread when he was asked to become a leader), Bonchamps, d'Elbée, Charette, Cathelineau, Lescure, Stofflet... Then of course there was 20-year-old La Rochejaquelein and his immortal words:
"Si j'avance, suivez-moi,Si je recule, tuez moi,Si je meurs, vengez-moi!"(If I advance, follow me; if I retreat, kill me; if I die, avenge me.)

When war broke out the Vendeans fought without any weapons other than their work tools, but as they accumulated victories they gathered a good deal of ammunitions from the vainquished garrisons. The latter were originally small and unprepared for the uprising of the Vendean population, hence the relative ease with which they were beaten. However the courage of the Whites, their uncompromising loyalty to God and King, and their intimate relationship with their land, were what really made up for their ignorance of warfare.
The advantage of the White armies was, surprisingly, its indiscipline. It was composed of a small group of experienced fighters joined by a mass of men. This crowd was so impressive that the opposite army often just broke and ran, fooled by the number. These men rallied to the the troop when it moved close to their hometown, and left again after the battle, making the Vendean forces unseizable: whilst the Blue army was a sitting duck in case of defeat, the Whites simply scattered and went home and their army slipped like sand through the other's fingers.
Some women dressed up as men to participate in the fights; children worked as spies and messengers. Even windmills were put to good use to communicate signals over great distances: the wings could take four different positions to mean "at ease", "gather", "danger approaching" or "danger passed".
Vendée had a fearsome reputation but it was overdone. D'Elbée's grim quote was actually quite lucid: "It is the struggle of the pot of clay against the pot of iron." Once more experienced Republican troops were sent to Vendée, things did not go so well for the Whites. The leaders did not always agree on movements of troops, and this caused several defeats; besides the Blues destroyed everything in their way, making life all but impossible throughout the country.
The battle of Cholet, on the 17th of October 1793, was the decisive event that begun the final the crushing of the Vendean rebellion. Most of her leaders who survived were summarily executed afterwards – d'Elbée was carried to the execution field in his chair as he was grievously wounded.
Yet through the tragic defeat a collective act of grace shines like a star...Bonchamps, the beloved and skilled leader, was mortally wounded at Cholet and carried back to Saint-Florent with 100 000 Vendeans fleeing in front of the advancing Republican army. With them were brought 5000 Blue prisoners. In their fury and despair, the Whites were ready to exterminate them. The clamour of their "Death to the Blues!" cries reached Bonchamps on his deathbed. "My friends, you have always obeyed me... Mercy for the prisoners! Do not let me die without knowing that their lives will be spared". His last command, his final words flew from mouth to mouth. The weapons were dropped; the prisoners were saved.In the 19th century David d'Angers would build a monument to immortalize "The Forgiveness of Bonchamps". The artist was a hardcore Republican and never accepted to sculpt a prince or a king, but his father had been one of the spared soldiers. His work was his way of giving thanks to the fallen hero.
The Republicans were not so chivalresque in their dealings with the thousands of Vendean resistants. Quoth a Blue: "Over here we use a different way to get rid of this mob. We cram all the rascals inside ships that we then sink. [...] Today we made about twelve hundred drink it this way." For a year or two an atrocious guerrilla war went on in the impenetrable broom forests of the region. With the lack of food and supplies, both sides reached such a degree of exhaustion that the republic offered a truce. The negociations granted Vendée a quasi-autonomy where she was allowed to keep "her soldiers, her cult, her laws". This illusory peace divided the royalist camp and eventually weakened it. The war was not over, and the fighters had not seen the last of battles. This time though, nobody wondered about the outcome: "Vive le roi quand même!" ("Long live the king anyway") was Stofflet's new, wry battle cry.
When the last Vendean leaders were killed in 1796, the fighting was officially over, yet the massacres were neither forgotten nor forgiven. It is difficult to estimate the number of victims, but roughly a third of the population of Vendée was massacred by the Revolutionaries. Victor Hugo wrote an incredible story in his usual profoundly humanistic style, set in the Vendean wars: "Ninety-three."
Even today Vendée remembers, often fiercely. Street plates commemorate the names of the Whites, and the oral tradition keeps them alive. In the Puy du Fou, a castle destroyed during the war and restored to be the center of a historical theme park on 18th-century Vendée, a living memorial is presented in a grandiose sound-and-light spectacle. The highlight of our camp was precisely this theme park and the show. It was so overwhelming we were singing royalist hymns for a month...

2 commentaires:

Anonyme a dit…

Merci pour cet historique. Je n'ai plus vos coordonnées, il y a du nouveau sur le petit placide.. de belles vidéos. Un article à propos de la mémoire dans la messe.
Si vous pouviez m'en faire vos commentaires.
bonne continuation..
un ancien.

Father Demets a dit…

Merci l'ancien !

Je viendrai déposer un petit commentaire des que possible !

Merci au petit Placide !