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Brittany and the French Counter-Revolution

Known simply as le quatorze, 14 July is the national holiday of France; a date chosen to celebrate the Revolution. It was on this day in 1789 that the medieval fortress known as the Bastille Saint-Antoine was surrendered to a mob of about a thousand Parisians. It was not concern for the seven prisoners held there that had attracted the mob’s attention but the large stocks of gunpowder stored at this last remaining symbol of royalist power in central Paris. Although not the opening act of the Revolution, this dramatic action came to symbolize the end of France’s ancien regime and the birth of the republic formally established on 22 September 1792.

During the Revolution, large swathes of Brittany and neighbouring Vendée found themselves embroiled in a bitter civil war between the forces of the new Republic and the counter-revolutionary movement loosely known as the Chouannerie.

At first, attitudes to the Revolution seemed rather ambivalent in Brittany but from the summer of 1789, the new National Assembly passed a series of measures that changed the socio-political and religious landscape of France forever. Feudalism was abolished along with the other traditional privileges held by the nobility, as were the special rights enjoyed by some provinces, such as Brittany. The country’s largest landowner, the Church, saw its economic and political power smashed; its properties were confiscated and monasteries dissolved. While the removal of tithes and dues was initially welcomed, the upheavals caused by the draconian decrees issuing from distant Paris saw pro-Church and anti-Revolutionary riots in the city of Vannes at the start of April 1790.

French Revolution Brittany

Towards the end of April, the government decided to sell-off Church property and in July, under the Civil Constitution of the Clergy, the Church in France was subordinated to the state; priests being forced to swear an oath of allegiance to the Revolutionary government whose authority now held primacy over the Pope. These measures were not well received in staunchly Catholic Brittany where the majority of priests and bishops refused to become civil servants, subject to the French state. The authorities duly appointed new bishops from among those few priests who had sworn themselves to the government.

In early February 1791, several groups representing a score of parishes around Vannes petitioned the authorities against the rumoured removal of the Bishop of Vannes. To protect the Bishop, some 3,000 peasants armed with clubs and pitchforks marched on the city on 13 February but were routed by a combined force of well-armed National Guards, mounted Dragoons and detachments from Walsh’s Regiment who had last seen action during the American War of Independence.

At the end of June, the government declared its right to deport any ‘refractory’ priests who had refused to swear the oath of allegiance. Thousands of such priests were imprisoned or forced into hiding and, inevitably, there was soon a shortage of clergy and many parishes saw their churches locked but continued to worship clandestinely. Only obedient ‘constitutional’ clergy who had sworn their oath were allowed to carry out any duties but most people refused to attend services celebrated by these priests. In Brittany, they were ridiculed as traitors and cowards and frequently jostled in the streets but they were now public officials and could be protected by the full force of the state.

Brittany French Revolution

By the summer of 1791, resentment towards the policies of the revolutionary government had hardened considerably in Brittany and the first serious steps towards an armed counter-revolution were taken by the Marquis de la Rouërie, former hero of the American War of Independence. His experience as a successful military commander in America marked him out as the strongest candidate to lead a revolt and he received backing from the exiled court of the Comte d’Artois for a Breton Association set on defending the monarchy and re-establishing the privileges of Brittany that had been stripped away in 1789. In an echo of his American service, La Rouërie was authorized to place the Association on a military footing, organizing it and initially funding it in a similar manner to the legion he commanded in America.

With disaffection to the revolutionary government rife in neighbouring Normandy and Vendée, La Rouërie planned a coordinated uprising in the West, enforced by a landing of émigré troops in Saint-Malo, for the start of October 1792. This was designed to create a second-front to coincide with a proposed invasion by Austrian and Prussian armies in the East but the French army’s victory over the Prussians at Valmy on 20 September scuppered any chance of success a Breton rising might have then had.

While La Rouërie’s plans for his 10,000 men had been postponed to the following year, a smuggler known as Jean Chouan (a nickname derived from the owl-call that his men used to recognise each other) was actively organising guerrilla-style attacks against government agents in eastern Brittany. The west of the region had seen a series of major uprisings throughout the summer of 1792 but, with the exception of the 10 September attacks on the garrisons at Lannion and Pontrieux, these had been uncoordinated revolts.

Brittany French Revolution

Emboldened by the retreat of the invading armies, the constitutional monarchy was abolished and replaced by the First Republic on 22 September 1792. The calendar was reset with 1792 becoming ‘year one’ and Louis XVI being executed four months later. One of the key repercussions of this regicide was that it now set the kingdoms of Europe, many of whom were tied by blood to the King of France, against the new republic. To meet this challenge, the government decided to conscript 300,000 men to help defend the nation although Republican leaders, municipal bureaucrats and government officials were all exempt from the military draft and it was even possible for the wealthy to pay for a replacement in order to escape the call of duty.

Unsurprisingly, the potential loss of so many young men needed to work on the farms and fishing boats provoked strong reactions in Brittany and Vendée, particularly following so soon after the loss of their nobles and priests and the mass sale of Church property, whose proceeds had been siphoned away to Paris. Revolutionary rhetoric about the freedom of men sounded hollow to the peasants of the region who rose up in armed rebellion in early March 1793.

On 14 March, the recruiting commissioners and their National Guard escort were killed in the central Brittany town of Pluméliau and the recruitment lists burnt before the assembled crowd. Joined by people from neighbouring parishes, 3,000 anti-Republicans then converged on the town of Pontivy. Negotiations to abandon recruitment failed and the town was assaulted in the early afternoon. Despite early advances by the insurgents, they were repulsed by the town’s garrison and finally dispersed by Republican reinforcements from Guémené and Loudéac. Losses to the Republicans were said to have been 30 dead while their protagonists lost over one hundred dead and a further 53 taken prisoner; a dozen of whom were guillotined a fortnight later to serve as an example to others. Further south, the towns of La Roche-Bernard and Rochefort-en-Terre were taken by the anti-Republicans on 15/16 March.

Brittany French Revolution

In the west of the region, riots in Saint-Pol-de-Léon and several other towns over 18/19 March left three soldiers dead and saw the authorities deploy elements of General Canclaux’s Army of the Coasts of Brest. Faced with cannon fire, backed-up by 1,200 troops, the demonstrators soon dispersed but they did not disappear. Instead, in order to split the Republicans’ lines of communication, they destroyed the bridge at Kerguidu; the local Revolutionary Surveillance Committee being convinced this was a precursor to an attack on the city.  On 23 March, 400 soldiers from the city’s garrison, reinforced by men from the National Guard of Morlaix, set out for Kerguidu where they were ambushed by a thousand rebels. Heavily pressed, the soldiers formed square atop a small hill. After two hours of fighting, their cannon were spent and cartridges low but they were saved by the appearance of Canclaux at the head of a column of a thousand fresh troops. Once again, cannon fire proved decisive and caused the rout of the insurgents who are said to have suffered 250 dead, against half a dozen wounded in the Republican ranks.   

At around the same time, beginning with the capture of Machecoul on 11 March, coordinated attacks on officers of the National Guard were staged across Vendée. As in Brittany, riots erupted in many towns and mobs began to ransack and set alight Revolutionary offices whose officials were often forced to seek refuge in wealthy bourgeois enclaves. Here, a number of anti-Republican forces coalesced to form the Catholic and Royal Army whose total membership fluctuated between 45,000 and 65,000 men; rural peasants and artisans with no military experience, uniforms or even boots. Some possessed hunting rifles but the majority were armed with only pitchforks and scythes.

Despite these limitations, the insurgents inflicted several notable defeats upon the professional soldiers of the Republic, seizing control and holding many key towns for several months. While the uprising in Brittany was effectively suppressed by April, that in the Breton Marches and Vendée gathered increased momentum and the government moved to put down the revolt, Determined to make an example of the rebels, tens of thousands of troops were deployed to augment local forces and the Army of the Coasts of La Rochelle. Its commander, General Beysser, wrote to his predecessor: “A man’s death is soon forgotten but the memory of burning down his house lasts for years.”

French Revolution Brittany

Attitudes towards the peasant army were hardening; official propaganda now referred to the anti-Republicans as common brigands. Local authorities began to organise offensive patrols to scour the countryside in search of suspected rebels; mere suspicion was enough to see men brutally beaten and imprisoned but many were summarily executed. Properties were ransacked and looted, often burnt-down as a means of terrorising the neighbourhood but also to deny the rebels potential safe havens.

General de Salomon of the Army of the Coasts of La Rochelle, bruised from the humiliating defeats at Montreuil-Bellay and Saumur on 8/9 June, announced: “This is a war of brigands and calls for us all to become brigands. We must forget all military regulations; fall upon these criminals and hound them mercilessly. Our infantry must flush them out from the thickets so our cavalry can trample them on the plain.” Clearly and ominously, there would be no clemency shown to the anti-Republicans.

With the notable exception of failing to overcome General Canclaux’s well-organised defence of the Breton port of Nantes at the end of June 1793, the Catholic and Royal Army enjoyed a very successful campaign throughout the summer. However, plans to take the offensive further north into Brittany and Maine seem to have been thwarted by division amongst the Army’s leadership. Planning was also not helped by the tendency of their volunteers to return home to work their farms immediately after the defeat or retreat of the Republican forces confronting them.

Briany French Revolution

By the end of August, Republican forces in the region had been further reinforced by the Army of Mainz, 15,000 strong, commanded by General Kléber. However, the counter-revolutionaries continued to inflict stinging defeats over the forces ranged against them, notably at the battles of Tiffauges and Montaigu towards the end of September 1793.

At the start of October, the three Republican armies operating in Vendée were merged to form the Army of the West and immediately launched a new offensive, retaking the important rebel town of Cholet on 15 October. Two days later, the rebels launched their counter-attack but an estimated force of up to 40,000 men failed to dislodge 27,000 well-entrenched soldiers who were able to outflank the attackers whose ranks were decimated by grapeshot. An estimated 2,000 Republicans and 8,000 rebels were killed or wounded during this bloody battle; General Kléber wrote that: “the fields and roads bordering Cholet were strewn with corpses.” He also noted the massacre of 400 injured rebels but other sources suggest the figure was actually twice as high.

Routed, the majority of the rebel army crossed the Loire and marched towards Normandy with the aim of capturing a port that would allow them to obtain aid from Great Britain, against whom France had declared war that February. At this stage, it numbered about 30,000 combatants and 30,000 to 60,000 non-combatants including children. As they crossed Brittany, their ranks were augmented by about 8,000 Breton rebels, including future luminaries Jean Chouan and Georges Cadoudal, but after capturing several cities en route, the rebels were ultimately unable to capture the port of Granville on 14 November. Sick of fighting and ravaged by hunger and dysentery, the men pressed their commanders to return southwards, towards home.

Le Mans French Revolution

While the rebel ranks were thinning thanks to disease and wounds, the Republican forces were reinforced with 6,000 men from the Army of the Coasts of Cherbourg and 10,000 men from the Army of the North. Having captured Le Mans on 10 December, the rebels’ chaotic defence saw their positions overwhelmed just two days later. A retreat to Laval ensued but thousands of rebels, mostly non-combatants, remained stuck inside the town and were massacred. According to the government’s Committee of Public Safety, 5,000 Vendéens died in Le Mans, while Republican losses totalled 30 dead but some claim that as many as 15,000 were killed in Le Mans and during the harassed flight to Laval.

Now numbering just 6,000 to 7,000 combatants, with about the same number of non-combatants, the remains of the Royal and Catholic Army took refuge in the Breton town of Savenay on 22 December. The next day, Republican forces attacked and took the town with the loss of only 30 men. The rebels’ losses were estimated at over 3,000 dead and a similar number summarily executed; a few thousand non-combatants were taken to the prisons of Nantes to await their fate.

It was not only in the aftermath of battle that prisoners were shown no mercy. In Nantes, the Committee for Public Safety’s representative, Jean-Baptiste Carrier, oversaw an emptying of the city’s many prisons between November 1793 and February 1794 by means of what he called “vertical deportation.” The Civil Commissioner of Maine-et-Loire, described it thus: “Here we use a whole different way to get rid of this bad brood. We put all these rascals in boats that we sink to the bottom. This is called ‘sending to the water tower.’ In truth, if the brigands have sometimes complained of starving to death, they will not be able to complain that they are being made to die of thirst. About 1,200 have been taken to drink today.”

Brittany French Revolution

There are no precise figures for the number of people killed during these organised drownings but several historians agree a figure of around 4,860 men, women and children. The first drownings targeted refractory priests; 90 of whom were taken out into the middle of the Loire estuary in a specially adapted barge and drowned. Despite the cold water, three priests survived long enough to be rescued by a nearby warship only to be returned to the civil authorities and drowned the following night.

Eye-witness accounts of the drownings indicate that the prisoners were commonly stripped of all clothing and possessions at the quayside; an indignity applied to old blind men as well as breastfeeding mothers and their babies. We will never know why Carrier decided to despatch these enemies of the Revolution in this fashion although cynics have suggested that it was to conserve ammunition after having already executed, by firing squad, about 3,600 people suspected of disloyalty; a further 200 were guillotined.

Much has been made in recent years of the severity with which the new Republic crushed those who opposed it; excesses were often glossed-over by earlier generations of historians. Some even questioned the authenticity of General Westermann’s infamous declaration to the Committee for Public Safety: “Citizens, there is no more Vendée. She has died beneath our sword of freedom, with her women and children. I have buried her in the marshes and woods of Savenay. By your orders, I have crushed her children under the hooves of my horses and massacred her women who will give birth to no more brigands now. There is not a prisoner who could criticise me; I have exterminated all.”

Brittany French Revolution

While the Royal and Catholic Army had been destroyed as a fighting force, elements that did not participate in the march north, following the defeat at Cholet in October, remained active in Vendée where they defiantly held sway over large parts of the countryside. The isle of Noirmoutier finally fell to Republican forces on 3 January 1794 when the rebels negotiated their surrender to General Haxo who promised to spare their lives. The entire garrison of 1,800 men, including the former chief of the Royal and Catholic Army who had been wounded at the battle of Cholet, were executed; unable to stand due to his wounds, Generalissimo d’Elbée was shot slumped in a chair.

The Committee of Public Safety were now convinced that restoring calm to the Vendée could only be achieved by bringing out the innocent citizens, exterminating the rest and repopulating it as soon as possible with Republicans. To this end, the Commander of the Army of the West, General Turreau, and General Haxo systematically crossed the region with tens of thousands of troops organised into mobile columns adopting a scorched earth policy. Their orders were simple, to “eliminate the brigands to the last man” and between January and May some 25,000 to 50,000 people were killed, without any pretence of judicial process, by these “Infernal Columns.” Writing from Nantes, Carrier urged General Haxo “to burn down all the rebel houses, to massacre all the inhabitants and to take away all their subsistence.”

Sadly, these orders were, more often than not, carried out with alacrity and hundreds of villages were set ablaze by troops who displayed a barbarity, in this Age of Enlightenment, not seen in France since the Hundred Years War of the 14th century. Houses and churches were looted and burnt, crops and livestock destroyed. Rape and torture was commonplace, none were spared; old women and children fell to the bayonet but others were crushed under presses, thrown down wells or even into lighted bread ovens. There are accounts of bodies being flayed in order to tan their skin and of women being burned to collect their fat, “a thousand times more pleasant than lard.” Such outrages and the indiscriminate massacring of the population helped keep the anti-revolutionary flame alive in the region.

Brittany French Revolution

Following the rebels’ defeat at Le Mans, Jean Chouan returned to Ille-et-Vilaine; Georges Cadoudal returned home to Morbihan a short time later, after the defeat at Savenay. While the counter-revolutionary movement became popularly known as the Chouan revolt, Chouan himself was killed in action near La Gravelle in July 1794 but his anti-revolutionary spirit did not perish with him. In Morbihan, Cadoudal set about organising companies of insurgents in each parish, commanded by a captain elected by his men. Sometimes acting alone or in concert with others, these groups fought a classic guerrilla war, striking at Republican targets or ambushing military patrols before retreating back into the shadows.

The death of La Rouërie in 1793 had robbed the counter-revolutionary movement in Brittany of a clear leader but eventually Chouan commanders accepted the authority of Joseph de Puisaye who was installed as Commander of the Catholic and Royal Army of Brittany in October 1794. By this time, Morbihan was effectively controlled by the Chouans, believed to number over 15,000 strong; government authority only really existing within sight of its military garrisons and bayonets.

One of the greatest exploits of the Morbihan Chouans was the capture of the arsenal at Pont-de-Buis, south of Brest, on 17 June 1795. Here, some 300 men, alongside 200 reinforcements who had joined during the 130km march across Brittany, seized more gunpowder than they could carry; eight barrels were loaded onto carts but the majority of the precious powder was thrown into the nearby river. The Chouans all returned home, having successfully evaded the pursuing troops.

French Revolution Brittany

The strength of the Chouans in Morbihan was one of the reasons why the region was selected for the landing of an army of Royalist émigrés, some 3,500 strong, under the command of de Puisaye on 27 June 1795. The landings at Quiberon serve as a catastrophic example of the damage unchecked egos can do to undermine a common enterprise. The British warships transporting the émigrés and supplies for 40,000 men arrived off Quiberon on 23 June but rather than disembark immediately to maximise the element of surprise, de Puisaye suddenly found his deputy, the Comte d’Hervilly, claiming authority to command the expedition and urging extreme caution. D’Hervilly also considered the Chouans undisciplined and unreliable; a haughty attitude voiced by other émigré officers. Cadoudal’s Chouans had meanwhile overthrown the garrisons at Auray, Carnac and Landévant thus giving the Royalists control over these key coastal towns. However, the delay in linking the émigré army with the 15,000 Chouans spread along the coast did not help foster a spirit of trust.

At this stage, General Hoche, commanding the Army of the Coasts of the Ocean, was in Vannes with only 2,000 troops at his disposal but the Royalists’ inaction and their failure to properly liaise with the Chouans resulted in his being able to march against Auray and Landévant on 5 July with a force of over 13,000 men. Hoche pressed his advantage and tightened the noose around the Quiberon peninsula, while the Chouans defending this neck of land were hampered by thousands of refugees fleeing the fighting; a situation made worse by d’Hervilly’s reluctance to commit his troops to the fray.

On 10 July, the Royalists resolved to break Hoche’s stranglehold; sending 6,000 men, mostly Chouans, to be landed in two columns behind enemy lines so as to attack the besieging forces from the rear. However, the first column dispersed after being overwhelmed at the battle of Pont Aven on 16 July and the second was preparing its attack when a messenger, claiming to represent the Royalists, ordered them to disengage from the south coast and instead head north to support a new landing near Saint-Brieuc. Cadoudal, mindful of the use of Faux Chouans (Republican agitators who posed as Chouans in order to infiltrate their ranks to betray or undermine them), suspected a ruse but was overruled by the émigré officers. The column crossed the breadth of Brittany; taking Josselin, Quintin and Châtelaudren before reaching the coast on 24 July where it discovered no northern landings and heard of the total defeat of the southern ones. Disgusted, the Chouans, once again led by Cadoudal, dispersed and headed for their homes.

French Revolution Brittany

Two thousand more émigré soldiers were landed at Quiberon on 15 July under the command of the 24 year old Marquis de Sombreuil, but their offensive the next day was heavily defeated with d’Hervilly himself now added to the Royalist death toll of over 1,500. Hoche launched a major assault on 20 July which was greatly assisted by the desertion of former Republican prisoners of war who had been serving with the Royalists. To limit the extent of the Royalist defeat, de Puisaye now ordered his men to re-embark and 2,225 émigré and Chouan troops, along with 890 civilians were hurriedly taken off the beaches; a scene de Sombreuil described as “cowardly and deceitful.”

The following day, de Sombreuil sued for terms and agreed to surrender against a promise that his men would be spared and treated as honourable prisoners of war. Some 6,300 émigré and Chouan troops were captured; most of the Chouans were eventually released against ransom, along with about 5,000 civilians but the émigrés were imprisoned in conditions that saw 400 quickly perish. The Marquis de Sombreuil and almost 750 of his companions were subsequently shot by firing squads.

Despite this major setback, the chouannerie did not wither away. Cadoudal quickly rebuilt his forces but his relationship with de Puisaye was seriously fractured, causing the formation of two distinct forces; the Catholic and Royal Army of Morbihan led by Cadoudal and the Catholic and Royal Army of Rennes and Fougères led by de Puisaye whose influence also extended into neighbouring Maine and Normandy. Both armies continued to successfully attack and harass the troops and institutions of the Republic but did not maximise their impact by working together.

Brittany in French Revolution

Having been given total command over all Republican forces in the west in December 1795, General Hoche changed tactics; punitive mobile columns scoured the countryside in pursuit of rebels while amnesties were offered to those willing to give up their arms. Resistance in Vendée effectively crumbled after the capture and execution of key rebel leaders in March 1796. With the pacification of the Breton Marches, the Chouans in Brittany, tired of years living in hiding, begin to discuss the possibility of peace. Cadoual eventually agreed to submit on 22 June but de Puisaye refused and went into exile.

However, open rebellion against the Republic broke out again just three years later when the region’s anti-Republicans, including Cadoudal, agreed to launch a new uprising on 15 September 1799.  Cadoudal was quickly able to muster 18,000 men while 26,000 were raised in neighbouring Départments; although the Chouans managed to briefly capture several key cities such as Le Mans, Nantes, Sarzeau and Saint-Brieuc in October, they were repulsed at Vannes and Vire.

In 24 January 1800, at Loc’h bridge near Grand-Champ, 8,000 Chouans fought against 4,000 Republican troops who had taken the town to plunder the reserves of grain and food stored there. After a battle lasting several hours, the Republicans managed to withdraw in good order but the reported casualty figures vary so widely between protagonists as to be unhelpful; it was clearly a Chouan victory but not the decisive victory that they perhaps should have gained. This was the last major action of the chouannerie.

Georges Cadoudal
Georges Cadoudal

The coup d’état of 9 November 1799 that brought Napoléon Bonaparte to power carried significant changes in its wake. Bonaparte introduced a policy of pacification that offered religious freedom and the suspension of the military draft in exchange for the immediate submission of the Chouans; overtures that were reinforced by the presence of the highly effective General Brune and 30,000 experienced troops. Peace overtures with the Chouan leadership began to bear fruit, some commanders submitted to the new Consulate in December but it was not until 14 February 1800 that Cadoudal and his Chouans agreed to set aside their arms. Their surrender effectively brought the organised chouannerie to an end although isolated acts of rebellion would still be noted until the restoration in 1814.

As you might expect, two of the key figures involved in the counter-Revolution and its suppression suffered very different fates. Georges Cadoudal did not live long enough to see the restoration of the Bourbons; he was beheaded in Paris on 24 June 1804 and so lived just long enough to see Bonaparte assume the throne of France for himself. General Turreau, whose ruthless Infernal Columns forever altered the landscape of western France, served as Ambassador to the USA for eight years and was granted a hero’s place on the Arc de Triomphe. The careers and principles of these men were very different but both died convinced that they were true patriots of France.

Published by Bon Repos Gites

Enjoying life in Kalon Breizh - the Heart of Brittany.

241 thoughts on “Brittany and the French Counter-Revolution

  1. Thanks for this informative and well-illustrated article on the French counter-revolutionary movement. The wealthy and influential Catholic Church and its clergy suffered a direct hit. Not surprisingly, there were regions, like Brittany, that supported their church.

    Liked by 7 people

    1. Thank you for taking the time to read it Maggie!! Yes, considering the scale of the slaughter of fellow citizens, it’s a time that gets sidelined or else lumped in with the Terror and brushed away as part of that madness ;-(

      Liked by 3 people

  2. Happy Bastille day. Enjoyed your post, as always. I often watch documentaries on the history of the French Revolution on YouTube, and this post was a reminder that I should rewatch some episodes. Hugs for your day, and here’s hoping that your efforts at activism, in every quarter, are successful.

    Liked by 8 people

  3. Beautiful narration of history…every nation has its own history of revolution …March to freedom in all cases is full of long struggles..
    A very informative and educative write-up on French revolution..
    Stay blessed always

    Liked by 5 people

  4. Isn’t it incredible to try to imagine how life was for them!!

    Can you just imagine that moment in time ?? 😮

    What they saw, experienced, went through and thought … to them was how life was … to us we look back at that history and try to imagine!!

    I love when you can almost make history come alive!!

    I’m glad times are little better now lol

    So is this like YOUR version of what we have on July 4th? Do you do the things we do?? BBQ’s, Fairs, fireworks, family, friends and celebrations?

    (Also …close to that time period… I know Ben Franklin loved and lived in France for a time) He REALLY loved France!!

    Liked by 9 people

    1. Agreed, we really cannot fathom what life was like then. That said, similar horrors have been seen in our own times too 😦

      Yes, public concerts and fireworks are big part of the 14 July celebrations here! 😉

      Liked by 4 people

      1. Lol yeah …cause alcohol makes people all insane and then covid safety goes out the window … at least your government knows that!! Smart move.

        Well I hope you able to enjoy your holiday and it was better than last year!! And least you can celebrate a little 🇫🇷…

        For “your” holiday – are there French flags 🇫🇷 everywhere?

        That is how it is here for the 4th … American flags 🇺🇸 everywhere lol – just everywhere you look lol

        Did you get fireworks? Does Brittany allow you fireworks? You are not dry like California

        Happy July 14th! 🙌 aka le quatorze

        (Lol ya know … I googled that, “ le quatorze “ …to see what it said or meant in English lol … and it just said “the fourteenth” lol … I thought was gonna be something really fancy lol 😄 )

        French is similar to Spanish 😮 I recognize your word now that I know meaning and I also know little tiny bit Spanish (not enough for convo… or one that would make any sense lol)

        But that is little tiny bit similar to The Spanish word for 14…
        “catorce” 😮😮 huh 🤔 interesting

        Happy Fourteenth 🇫🇷🙌❤️ 💥

        Liked by 4 people

      2. Thank you!! 🙂 Hmm, I can see the logic in the thinking but folk just stockpile the day before haha

        No, no more flags about than usual unless you count the supermarkets trying to sell stuff 😉

        Fireworks are usually organised by the local commune. Ours didn’t have a display but a neighbouring one did 😉 You can buy fireworks here if you are over 18 but you need so many permits to put on a backyard display that folks don’t really bother.

        You’re right, there are quite a few similarities between French and the other Romance languages. I guess folks didn’t bother to drift too far away from the old Latin words 😉

        Liked by 3 people

      3. Well this is true – people go early and stock up before a holiday here too 🙄

        Really? On our 4th, there are American flags galore!! They are just everywhere! On cars, buildings, yards… anywhere you can think of!

        Is a symbol of strength and will… it flew tattered and torn through loss of many men – so that we could be free and become a country ❤️

        So there is lot of feeling and pride behind that flag 🇺🇸

        But even on a normal day – I have been paying attention lately and the American flag is just around and in everything lol … almost subliminal lol

        Our local towns will all have their own fireworks displays … and we are allowed little harmless fireworks like sparklers, snakes (little brown pill like thing that you light on fire and it makes ash that looks like a snake lol) and we can have small ones that people light off in streets in front of their houses. (Try driving through a neighborhood on July 4th lol- you dodge the fireworks lol)

        We are not allowed to have the fireworks that shoot up in the area – the professional ones (that’s what the towns shoot off, but individual person not allowed to have that. They are illegal to regular people to have …

        But I live in America lol… so people do not follow rules or care here … they will get the illegal fireworks anyway and then there are so many who do so … nothing police can do lol 🙄

        Lol they can put down all the rules they want but people do not listen (covid is example of that also)

        We have states around us that freely offer the illegal fireworks …so they just go get them from the other states and come back to Cali and there goes – fireworks displays everywhere 🙌

        If you are in the city, it’s incredible – flags and fireworks ❤️🙌❤️

        You can not tell a whole bunch of free people.. what they “can or can not” do especially on day of independence lol … you can’t even do that on a normal day here lol

        The whole thing is on the premise that we won our freedom, so people just exercise that lol ✌️😄🇺🇸

        Haha yeah they are the Romance languages aren’t they?

        When I was little and we would go to church (Irish Catholic remember) … they would do all the masses in Latin 🤨🤨🤨

        I found Latin weird … but it fit with the church – they do weird things anyway

        They don’t do that anymore cause they lose too many people with all their scandals 🤨🙄

        They try to reconnect with people, so you have to have them understand you lol 🙄😄

        Latin gave way to many words in English also.

        American English does not sound romantic to me lol

        Everything else does except maybe German (sorry Germany)

        Ok I have to run – have a great weekend 😘✌️ (I be back later for sure this time 🙏)

        Liked by 3 people

      4. Oh it is sooooo beautiful this morning omg … it’s gonna be 97 and it’s warm morning with sun shining brightly already ❤️❤️

        I just don’t wanna be inside lol – I am loving this morning ❤️❤️❤️

        Too bad that we can’t send our heat to Norway and Germany for a moment and dry them up 😮☹️ they look like what we had with Hurricane Katrina 😮😳

        But we will take that water and rain over here 🙏 we need it!!

        I saw that this morning ☹️

        How I have such a beautiful incredible day… and they have struggles and losses

        Sorry I should not watch the news ✌️

        But it is beautiful and I don’t take that for granted ❤️

        Liked by 3 people

      5. Not burned just pinky lol 💞

        Oh wow 😯 you are close-ish

        No storms for you huh? And your summer sounds amazing! 85 is perfect!! Hope you get to be out and about enjoying that ☀️❤️🙌

        Liked by 4 people

      6. Hahaha I know – just grabbing little vitamin D and slight color lol 😘❤️

        I am not very careful but … I don’t sun myself because I can’t lol – I would burn even with lotion lol – so I do little bursts at a time outside …

        If I know I will have chance of being burned THEN I swim in lotion lol 🤨🙄

        But I do like a tiny bit of color so I do not look like Casper lol

        I am just sunkissed 💋☀️ lol
        Little bit pinky lol – it doesn’t take long for that lol

        I’m inside now – it’s hot lol

        We gonna play video games 🎮 ❤️

        Liked by 2 people

      7. Hahaha… we played co-op … is me and daughter – we like to work together not compete lol – or we watch one another

        Hahaha but yes I always think of that 😄✌️❤️ especially when boys come over

        Liked by 2 people

  5. No wonder french has connections with the Americans after all they were part of the American war of independence. Why do religious people get accused as traitors and so on.. I find double standards from the catholic Army who are flourishing with an abundance of armory knowledge! The General Beysser statement is filled with melancholy moments – “A man’s death is soon forgotten, but the memory of burning down his house lasts for years”. And the drowning of prisoners invites barbaric intentions, including the general Westermann’s declaration which acts like a narcissism. Are my views baseless? Thanks for the amazing historical facts, it is a treat to cherish the best moments and gives me insights that we are living in a luxury away from such unimaginable perils.

    Liked by 6 people

    1. You make some very valid points!
      Yes, France provided a significant amount of men, money and material to aid the American Revolution! The notion that “my enemy’s enemy is my friend” is sadly used just as much today to justify the men, money and material we send to various countries 😦
      The attempt to de-Christianise France was a concerted and ruthless venture and so contrary to the values espoused by the Republic. There’s always a difference been words and deeds isn’t there? 😦 The same can be said for the destruction of so many villages and the killing of tens of thousands of people. All men are equal but some more equal than others!

      Liked by 2 people

  6. Your posts are always so in-depth and fascinating…I read a book recently about Sri Lanka…they suffered through a horrible civil war for decades….I saw many parallels in the book with the current situation here in the US – we have a percentage of our population who is rejecting the civil norms of our life in order to chase “the big lie”…afraid of a future that won’t give them more rights and opportunities than others, afraid of those who are different…sad but the state of our world today – and as you show, a big part of our past as well…

    Liked by 6 people

    1. Many thanks!! I am glad that you found it of interest! Yes, sadly, the one thing I thought as I was fact-checking all this was how little things had really changed around the world 😦 We like to think these kinds of excesses are long past or in some distant land; yet they keep reappearing with alarming regularity.

      Liked by 4 people

  7. Well this article was quite violent! I studied the Revolution in high school as part of history class. We read about the people who take sides and actively participate in the war but these accounts should also cover the tragedies that befall people swept up in the violence. The detail in your article and the images bring to life the people who lived through those times!

    Liked by 7 people

    1. I deliberately kept some rather unsavoury accounts out of this one but those interested will easily be able to uncover some of the more repugnant witness testimonies from those tortured day 😦
      Thank you for reading and for appreciating that although the winners write the history books, the vanquished had stories that should be told too.

      Liked by 4 people

  8. What a fascinating article about the French revolution! War brings such unbelievable suffering and cruelty to the world. It saddens the heart. You did a superb job writing about this time in history! I knew very little about it before. Thanks for the time and effort it took to bring all of this together. It really drew me in! Take care!

    Liked by 6 people

    1. Thank you so much Susan! I know it was a long read but I didn’t feel I could split it. 😉
      Yes, in school we are taught the edited highlights of the Revolution (and other conflicts, I am sure!) and little about those who disagreed with it. Not monsters, just folk that wanted to live as free as any others.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Yes! One forgets the atrocities associated with revolutions and remembers only the benefits. It seems revolutions are never quite finished. IIRC, Thomas Jefferson liked the idea of a revolution every twenty-five years or so.

        Liked by 4 people

      2. I think a little of both.

        If the Jefferson quote sounds unfamiliar, it might be in part because I mangled it so badly. Now, after looking things up, I can say he wrote in a letter toe William Smith in 1787 (in reference to Shay’s Rebellion):

        “god forbid we should ever be 20 years without such a rebellion.” and “the tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots & tyrants. it is it’s natural manure.”

        See kids, that’s why one looks things up before one quotes. 😉

        Liked by 4 people

  9. Unlike a few social/labor revolutions of the past, notably the Bolshevik and French revolutions, it seems to me that contemporary Western world’s virtual corporate rule and superfluously wealthy essentially have the police and military ready to foremost protect big power and money interests, even over the food and shelter needs of the protesting masses. I can imagine that there are/were lessons learned from them (How to Hinder Progressive Revolutions 101?) with the clarity of hindsight by big power and money interests. They, the police/military/big-money, can claim they must bust heads to maintain law and order as a priority; thus the absurdly unjust inequities and inequalities can persist.

    Liked by 6 people

  10. In America it’s called The Storming Of The Bastille. I learned many things I didn’t know.

    I never heard of the drowning incident.

    I didn’t know Colonel Armand AKA Marquis de la Rouërie was from Breton.
    “There are accounts of bodies being flayed in order to tan their skin and of women being burned to collect their fat, “a thousand times more pleasant than lard.” I hope they know that was cannibalism.

    Liked by 6 people

    1. Ah, yes, that is a phrase often heard – a great example of the myth building surrounding the revolution 😉
      Sadly, perhaps they are not known much outside the region because they have been lost amongst vague terms such as “restoring law and order to the West?” Yet even amongst all that barbarity, the drownings stand out as a chilling example of cold, calculated horror 😦 They did empty the prisons – almost 9,000 souls in just a few months 😦

      Liked by 3 people

      1. Wow! I learned more about the French Revolution from your blog than I learnt in school. I guess, I like many Americans, assumed it was much like the American Revolution. I mean citizen population was attacked during the American Revolution because the army was made up of ordinary people, but I don’t record the British drowning thousands of colonists. I am wondering should it had been called a civil war? Were the 9,000 released, political prisoners?

        Liked by 3 people

      2. To be fair to you, the history that we learned at school was essentially the narrative that the early leaders of the Republic pushed and it was not the done thing to pick away at the founding myths. Civil war is an accurate term for those years following the revolution. Some of the stats for losses of life and housing are staggering 😦
        Ah, the 9,000 were only figuratively released -those not shot or drowned died in prison. Yes, these were priests and other undesirables but mostly the non-combatants taken at Savenay.

        Liked by 2 people

      3. If the founding myths aren’t true then I think people need to know what actually happen so that future generations will recognize them if they see it again. Who would want the heinous act of burning women for their fat to happen again? I am still trying to figure out what the priests had to do with the Revolution? I don’t ever recall the French priests as ever having the power of the Spanish Inquisition or conquistador priests.
        What happened at Savenay?

        Liked by 2 people

      4. You are right, the priests here had no special powers. These were just regular parish priests, monks and nuns whose beliefs rang contradictory to the spirit of the revolution and it was believed necessary to punish them. These seems to have been a lot of suspicion, at the time, that the clergy were constantly enticing rebellion but there has never been any proof found of such a plot.
        Savenay was the battle I referenced immediately before the drowning of Nantes – mass slaughter of thousands who were there after the battle ended and the survivors then taken to Nantes. 😦

        Liked by 3 people

      5. From what I studied some sects of the church didn’t wholly disagreed with the revolution but disagreed with the “way” it was being carried out. Now, I see what the priests were disagreeing with. No parish priests, monks and nuns were going to agree to these atrocities!

        ” mass slaughter of thousands who were there after the battle ended and the survivors then taken to Nantes.”

        I thought after a battle ended whoever won is who takes control, not kill up everyone who disagree with them. Nowadays these leaders would be held accountable for war crimes and executed.

        Liked by 3 people

      6. I hope something was learnt from these tragedies. That there is a better way to get anything done. All this did was created animosity that may have lasted for years to come. We have too much modern day hatred.

        Liked by 3 people

      7. One would like to have thought so! Sadly, the physical reminders are still all about with the rebuilt churches or replaced steeples. Some historians say that a quarter of the communes in some areas lost more than 50 percent of all habitable buildings. 😦

        Liked by 2 people

      8. I have often wondered what purpose does it serves those who kill and tear down a people or a community. Not only does future generations lose out on valuable information but the destroyers doesn’t realize they lose an opportunity too. A good example of this is Alexander the Great destroying the viziers’ medical records in the library of the Pharaohs and we are just now rediscovering many things these ancient people already knew. Not only did he hurt the rest of the world, but himself as well.

        Liked by 1 person

      9. Yes and you can’t say that this was “in the heat of battle” or immediately afterwards. These were calculated killings that stained humanity then and have, sadly, been repeated too many times across the world since 😦


      10. Most certainly not can anyone use the “heat of the battle” as excuse for what happened to those poor people. Usually, civilians are not near “the heat of a battle” for they are not soldiers and certainly not, are babies and little children soldiers.

        I maybe wrong but I think it was like anything else that people try to do in order to bring about positive changes. I think criminals and sadists, left unchecked, sadists who already wanted to commit these crimes but knew they would be punished for them took advantage of this period of civil unrest to carry out acts. Doing these barbarious things how did that make them better than the monarch and aristocrats?

        Liked by 2 people

      11. Sadly, you are right; blood lust is a terrible thing particularly when stoked.
        The nobility here were not really a problem – this was the end of the 18thC after all. The regular folk might have moaned about taxes but they do now too 😉 The locals had no real issue with the nobles here as they tended to live locally and stayed in the region. They were not some distant, unseen, landlord who spent all their time in Versailles or the salons of Paris.

        Liked by 1 person

      12. Yes and sadly, blood lust seems so easily stroked

        What actually caused the drift between the locals and the nobility that cost so many their lives? Were it outsiders who came in and instigated the massacres?

        I gathered that each area had their own set of noblemen.

        In history it is taught that the king’s and queen’s extravagant spending while the imposing heavy taxation on starving people is what sparked the flames of the revolt. That may be the case…I don’t know but the senseless civilian brutality I know was not the way war is conducted.

        Liked by 2 people

      13. As you’d expect, it is a complicated and nuanced story. Yes, each area had their own local nobility and some even held landholdings that spanned several regions. I have not really looked into the attitudes in other parts of France but here, in Brittany, folk didn’t really have an issue with the nobility. They lived locally, still spoke Breton and had that community connection.

        The image of despots swimming in champagne while people starved is a powerful one isn’t it? The flames of revolt were fanned for years but it was really a revolt of the middle classes. It was they who took the powers and wealth of the nobility and the church. After all, when all the confiscated assets were sold off, they were the only people able to afford to buy anything. Little changed for the average peasant. Granted, they no longer paid tithes to the church but the new landowners raised rents by the same amount as the former tithe. The government then captured this new income by raising land taxes!

        Liked by 2 people

      14. Yes, I suspect it would be a centuries old complicated and nuanced story for humans are never simple. 🙂

        I suspect it had been a flame that had been smouldering for centuries. The despots swimming in champagne while people starved is a powerful one torch to blow in anyone’s face. I heard about the “Let them eat cake.” condescending remarked supposedly made by Marie Antoinette but I had no idea they added champagne to the cake.

        So what happened in Brittany wasn’t the local people who did?

        Believe it or not, in most revolutions very little changes for those at the bottom of the social economic ladder. Things for the everyday man or woman remains pretty much the same, but neither side can win a revolution without them. Whomever get the common man, the masses, on their side is who wins their cause. But you are right not much changes. A few lower class people rises up in to middle class but it takes so long that many long ago stopped trying.

        Liked by 2 people

  11. Fascinating… I’m seeing some functional similarities to the Shin Buddhist, Ikkō-ikki rebellion during Japan’s latter “Warring States” period (circa 1600). The likes of Carrier, Westermann, Turreau and Haxo strike me as functionally similar to Oda Nobunaga and his allies. Nobunaga’s utterly merciless approach to pacifying Shin influence in the name of restoring order, in particular the mass exterminations of the Ikkō-ikki “peasants’ army” and anyone associated with them, altered the Japanese socio-political landscape in a manner that cleared the way for his successor, Tokugawa Ieyasu.

    Liked by 4 people

  12. What a well researched post on Breton and French history – bravo! War is so brutal and the poorest usually suffer the most. I was fascinated by the American connection and saw commonalities with our Civil War. The reason for war were utterly different but as always the foot soldiers, on either side, suffered. Thank you for this – my knowledge of Bastille Day was very simplistic and uninformed. Those poor priests were stuck between the devil and the deep blue sea.

    Liked by 5 people

    1. Thank you!! I am glad that you enjoyed it!! 🙂
      Yes, lots of connections with the American Revolution; so many of the same soldiers who fought there were heavily involved here later – on both sides! None seem particularly principled as they fought for king, republic, Emperor and then king again! You are right, for the little guys, it was a terrible time. The revolution was definitely a “middle class” enterprise!
      Yes, the priests really had it rough. Thousands killed, thousands forced to go into exile in Guyana (there’s a famous case of one ship that left with a few hundred priests and just a few actually lived to disembark). Some were forced to marry. The lucky ones escaped to Spain or Britain and returned, in time.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. Life in Guyana would be hard enough without the terrible journey there. Poor souls. Your post also resonates with our global ‘post’ pandemic chaos. We think it is bad in the States and then we hear about Haiti and Cuba.

        Liked by 2 people

      2. They do seem to meet up in feeding/breeding grounds and drones are able to identify the ‘pals’. Just saw another program on Shark Week where they noted that pregnant White Sharks travel to Hawaii and back to Mexico in a group, for safety?

        Liked by 1 person

  13. Your knowledge/research about the French revolution/counter-revolution is incredible. I’m glad I wasn’t living in France at that time…terrible! When I came across the name General Kleber it took me a second, but I remembered the huge Place Kleber in Strasbourg.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Me too!! It’s interesting sometimes to compare the work of several artists to see how they work in their own biases and even how these change over time. You can do it with the French revolution but try it with the American revolution too and see the difference between the celebratory battle paintings done by American artists against those done by French artists. 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  14. I am passionate about the history of the French Revolution, but I did not know these inhuman and terrible episodes. I was very impressed by the story of the drownings: how much cruelty, how much innocent blood. How much pain. But revolutions are like this, in order to change you have to destroy.
    The Revolution has since placed itself in the heart of the contemporary world. Daughter of enthusiasm, they inflame men with the memory of freedom and independence. A lesson we must never forget. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you! I agree, revolutions, by their very nature, are rarely orderly and casualty-free affairs. As for the French Revolution, it is probably reasonable to see it as a series of revolutions. Throw in the very strong regional identities that then existed in some parts of the territory and there was no way it was ever going to be easy 😉


      1. It is all very true and very sad too. I can’t help thinking of all those people, even children who drowned in such a cruel way. It reminds me of the times of the Argentine dictatorship led by Videla, thousands of opponents were thrown from military aircraft into the waters of the Rio de la Plata. The flights of death were called. They were university students, high school students, there were many minors. They threw them down, into the void. They took them by the legs and shoulders while a priest, a military chaplain – in the name of God – confessed and absolved the uniformed executioners of their sins.
        Thirty thousand have gone away in just under three years. Since March 1976, when the generals took power with a coup. At the end of 1979, when an Argentine generation was no longer there. Desaparecida, disappeared.
        Flights of death. One way to Punta Indio.

        It shocks me that no one has intervened to stop that massacre. There is a lot of talk about Jews killed by the Nazis while other people like those guys are not even mentioned.

        Excuse me you know I speak like this but I am so sad that I could not do anything to stop so much pain !!!!!

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Yes, exactly so – 180 years later and humanity had not moved on at all and we have seen other horrors since then too 😦 It really does beggar belief how cruel we can be sometimes and then to subvert religion into the mix is simply gross 😦 I have to admit that I had heard of people being thrown from an aeroplane but naively thought it a “one-off” event 😦 😦
        No need to apologise for speaking so! It is right that you are outraged!!!


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