The Vendée
Excerpt from The Book of Golden Deeds:


While the greater part of France had been falling into habits of self−indulgence, and from thence into infidelity and revolution, there was one district where the people had not forgotten to fear God and honor the King.

This was in the tract surrounding the Loire, the south of which is now called La Vendee, and was then termed the Bocage, or the Woodland. It is full of low hills and narrow valleys, divided into small fields, enclosed by high thick hedgerows; so that when viewed from the top of one of the hills, the whole country appears perfectly green, excepting near harvest−time, when small patches of golden corn catch the eye, or where here and there a church tower peeps above the trees, in the midst of the flat red−tiled roofs of the surrounding village. The roads are deep lanes, often in the winter beds of streams, and in the summer completely roofed by the thick foliage of the trees, whose branches meet overhead.

The gentry of La Vendee, instead of idling their time at Paris, lived on their own estates in kindly intercourse with their neighbours, and constantly helping and befriending their tenants, visiting them at their farms, talking over their crops and cattle, giving them advice, and inviting them on holidays to dance in the courts of their castles, and themselves joining in their sports. The peasants were a hardworking, sober, and pious people, devoutly attending their churches, reverencing their clergy, and, as well they might, loving and honoring their good landlords.

But as the Revolution began to make its deadly progress at Paris, a gloom spread over this happy country. The Paris mob, who could not bear to see anyone higher in station than themselves, thirsted for noble blood, and the gentry were driven from France, or else imprisoned and put to death. An oath contrary to the laws of their Church was required of the clergy, those who refused it were thrust out of their parishes, and others placed in their room; and throughout France all the youths of a certain age were forced to draw lots to decide who should serve in the Republican army.

This conscription filled up the measure. The Vendeans had grieved over the flight of their landlords, they had sheltered and hidden their priests, and heard their ministrations in secret; but when their young men were to be carried way from them, and made the defenders and instruments of those who were murdering their King, overthrowing their Church, and ruining their country, they could endure it no longer, but in the spring of 1793, soon after the execution of Louis XVI., a rising took place in Anjou, at the village of St. Florent, headed by a peddler named Cathelineau, and they drove back the Blues, as they called the revolutionary soldiers, who had come to enforce the conscription. They begged Monsieur de Bonchamp, a gentleman in the neighborhood, to take the command; and, willing to devote himself to the cause of his King, he complied, saying, as he did so, 'We must not aspire to earthly rewards; such would be beneath the purity of our motives, the holiness of our cause. We must not even aspire to glory, for a civil war affords none. We shall see our castles fall, we shall be proscribed, slandered, stripped of our possessions, perhaps put to death; but let us thank God for giving us strength to do our duty to the end.'

The next person on whom the peasants cast their eyes possessed as true and strong a heart, though he was too young to count the cost of loyalty with the same calm spirit of self−devotion. The Marquis de la Rochejacquelein, one of the most excellent of the nobles of Poitou, had already emigrated with his wife and all his family, excepting Henri, the eldest son, who, though but eighteen years of age, had been placed in the dangerous post of an officer in the Royal Guards. When Louis XVI. had been obliged to dismiss these brave men, he had obtained a promise from each officer that he would not leave France, but wait for some chance of delivering that unhappy country. Henri had therefore remained at Paris, until after the 10th of August, 1792, when the massacre at the Tuileries took place, and the imprisonment of the royal family commenced; and then every gentleman being in danger in the city, he had come to his father's deserted castle of Durballiere in Poitou. He was nearly twenty, tall and slender, with fair hair, an oval face, and blue eyes, very gentle, although full of animation. He was active and dexterous in all manly sports, especially shooting and riding; he was a man of few words; and his manners were so shy, modest, and retiring, that his friends used to say he was more like an Englishman than a Frenchman.

Hearing that he was alone at Durballière, and knowing that as an officer in the Guards, and also as being of the age liable to the conscription, he was in danger from the Revolutionists in the neighboring towns, his cousin, the Marquis de Lescure, sent to invite him to his strong castle of Clisson, which was likewise situated in the Bocage. This castle afforded a refuge to many others who were in danger to nuns driven from their convents, dispossessed clergy, and persons who dreaded to remain at their homes, but who felt reassured under the shelter of the castle, and by the character of its owner, a young man of six−and−twenty, who, though of high and unshaken loyalty, had never concerned himself with politics, but led a quiet and studious life, and was everywhere honored and respected.

The winter passed in great anxiety, and when in the spring the rising at Anjou took place, and the new government summoned all who could bear arms to assist in quelling it, a council was held among the party at Clisson on the steps to be taken. Henri, as the youngest, spoke first, saying he would rather perish than fight against the peasants; nor among the whole assembly was there one person willing to take the safer but meaner course of deserting the cause of their King and country. 'Yes,' said the Duchess de Donnissan, mother to the young wife of the Marquis de Lescure, 'I see you are all of the same opinion. Better death than dishonor. I approve your courage. It is a settled thing:' and seating herself in her armchair, she concluded, 'Well, then, we must die.'

For some little time all remained quiet at Clisson; but at length the order for the conscription arrived, and a few days before the time appointed for the lots to be drawn, a boy came to the castle bringing a note to Henri from his aunt at St. Aubin. 'Monsieur Henri,' said the boy, 'they say you are to draw for the conscription next Sunday; but may not your tenants rise against it in the meantime? Come with me, sir, the whole country is longing for you, and will obey you.'

Henri instantly promised to come, but some of the ladies would have persuaded him not to endanger himself representing, too, that if he was missing on the appointed day, M. de Lescure might be made responsible for him. The Marquis, however, silenced them, saying to his cousin, 'You are prompted by honor and duty to put yourself at the head of your tenants. Follow out your plan, I am only grieved at not being able to go with you; and certainly no fear of imprisonment will lead me to dissuade you from doing your duty.' 'Well, I will come and rescue you,' said Henri, embracing him, and his eyes glancing with a noble soldier−like expression and an eagle look.

As soon as the servants were gone to bed, he set out with a guide, with a stick in his hand and a pair of pistols in his belt; and traveling through the fields, over hedges and ditches, for fear of meeting with the Blues, arrived at St. Aubin, and from thence went on to meet M. de Bonchamp and his little army. But he found to his disappointment that they had just been defeated, and the chieftains, believing that all was lost, had dispersed their troops. He went to his own home, dispirited and grieved; but no sooner did the men of St. Aubin learn the arrival of their young lord, than they came trooping to the castle, entreating him to place himself at their head.

In the early morning, the castle court, the fields, the village, were thronged with stout hardy farmers and laborers, in grey coats, with broad flapping hats, and red woolen handkerchiefs round their necks. On their shoulders were spits, scythes, and even sticks; happy was the man who could bring an old fowling−piece, and still more rejoiced the owner of some powder, intended for blasting some neighboring quarry. All had bold true hearts, ready to suffer and to die in the cause of their Church and of their young innocent imprisoned King.

A mistrust of his own powers, a fear of ruining these brave men, crossed the mind of the youth as he looked forth upon them, and he exclaimed, 'If my father was but here, you might trust to him. Yet by my courage I will show myself worthy, and lead you. If I go forward, follow me: if I draw back, kill me; if I am slain, avenge me!' They replied with shouts of joy, and it was instantly resolved to march upon the next village, which was occupied by the rebel troops. They gained a complete victory, driving away the Blues, and taking two small pieces of cannon, and immediately joined M. de Bonchamp and Cathelineau, who, encouraged by their success, again gathered their troops and gained some further advantages.

In the meantime, the authorities had sent to Clisson and arrested M. de Lescure, his wife, her parents, and some of their guests, who were conducted to Bressuire, the nearest town, and there closely guarded. There was great danger that the Republicans would revenge their losses upon them, but the calm dignified deportment of M. de Lescure obliged them to respect him so much that no injury was offered to him. At last came the joyful news that the Royalist army was approaching. The Republican soldiers immediately quitted the town, and the inhabitants all came to ask the protection of the prisoners, desiring to send their goods to Clisson for security, and thinking themselves guarded by the presence of M. and Madame de Lescure.

M. de Lescure and his cousin Bernard de Marigny mounted their horses and rode out to meet their friends. In a quarter of an hour afterwards, Madame de Lescure heard the shouts 'Long live the King!' and the next minute, Henri de la Rochejacquelein hurried into the room, crying, 'I have saved you.' The peasants marched in to the number of 20,000, and spread themselves through the town, but in their victory they had gained no taste for blood or plunder they did not hurt a single inhabitant, nor touch anything that was not their own. Madame de Lescure heard some of them wishing for tobacco, and asked if there was none in the town. 'Oh yes, there is plenty to be sold, but we have no money;' and they were very thankful to her for giving the small sum they required. Monsieur de Donnissan saw two men disputing in the street, and one drew his sword, when he interfered, saying, 'Our Lord prayed for His murderers, and would one soldier of the Catholic army kill another?' The two instantly embraced.

Three times a day these peasant warriors knelt at their prayers, in the churches if they were near them, if not, in the open field, and seldom have ever been equaled the piety, the humility, the self−devotion alike of chiefs and of followers. The frightful cruelties committed by the enemy were returned by mercy; though such of them as fell into the hands of the Republicans were shot without pity, yet their prisoners were instantly set at liberty after being made to promise not to serve against them again, and having their hair shaved off in order that they might be recognized.

Whenever an enterprise was resolved on, the curates gave notice to their parishioners that the leaders would be at such a place at such a time, upon which they crowded to the spot, and assembled around the white standard of France with such weapons as they could muster.

The clergy then heard them confess their sins, gave them absolution, and blessed them; then, while they set forward, returned to the churches where their wives and children were praying for their success. They did not fight like regular soldiers, but, creeping through the hedgerows and coppices, burst unexpectedly upon the Blues, who, entangled in the hollow lanes, ignorant of the country, and amazed by the suddenness of the attack, had little power to resist. The chieftains were always foremost in danger; above all the eager young Henri, with his eye on the white standard, and on the blue sky, and his hand making the sign of the cross without which he never charged the enemy, dashed on first, fearless of peril, regardless of his life, thinking only of his duty to his king and the protection of his followers.

It was calmness and resignation which chiefly distinguished M. de Lescure, the Saint of Poitou, as the peasants called him from his great piety, his even temper, and the kindness and the wonderful mercifulness of his disposition. Though constantly at the head of his troops, leading them into the most dangerous places, and never sparing himself, not one man was slain by his hand, nor did he even permit a prisoner to receive the least injury in his presence. When one of the Republicans once presented his musket close to his breast, he quietly put it aside with his hand, and only said, 'Take away the prisoner'. His calmness was indeed well founded, and his trust never failed. Once when the little army had received a considerable check, and his cousin M. de Marigny was in despair, and throwing his pistols on the table, exclaimed, 'I fight no longer', he took him by the arm, led him to the window, an pointing to a troop of peasants kneeling at their evening prayers, he said, 'See there a pledge of our hopes, and doubt no longer that we shall conquer in our turn.'

Their greatest victory was at Saumur, owing chiefly to the gallantry of Henri, who threw his hat into the midst of the enemy, shouting to his followers, 'Who will go and fetch it for me?' and rushing forward, drove all before him, and made his way into the town on one side, while M. de Lescure, together with Stofflet, a game−keeper, another of the chiefs, made their entrance on the other side. M. de Lescure was wounded in the arm, and on the sight of his blood the peasants gave back, and would have fled had not Stofflet threatened to shoot the first who turned; and in the meantime M. de Lescure, tying up his arm with a handkerchief, declared it was nothing, and led them onwards.

The city was entirely in their hands, and their thankful delight was excessive; but they only displayed it by ringing the bells, singing the Te Deum, and parading the streets. Henri was almost out of his senses with exultation; but at last he fell into a reverie, as he stood, with his arms folded, gazing on the mighty citadel which had yielded to efforts such as theirs. His friends roused him from his dream by their remarks, and he replied, 'I am reflecting on our success, and am confounded'.

They now resolved to elect a general−in−chief, and M. de Lescure was the first to propose Cathelineau, the peddler, who had first come forward in the cause. It was a wondrous thing when the nobles, the gentry, and experienced officers who had served in the regular army, all willingly placed themselves under the command of the simple untrained peasant, without a thought of selfishness or of jealousy. Nor did Cathelineau himself show any trace of pride, or lose his complete humility of mind or manner; but by each word and deed he fully proved how wise had been their judgment, and well earned the title given him by the peasants of the 'Saint of Anjou'.

It was now that their hopes were highest; they were more numerous and better armed than they had ever been before, and they even talked of a march to Paris to 'fetch their little king, and have him crowned at Chollet', the chief town of La Vendee. But martyrdom, the highest glory to be obtained on this earth, was already shedding its brightness round these devoted men who were counted worthy to suffer, and it was in a higher and purer world that they were to meet their royal child.

Cathelineau turned towards Nantes, leaving Henri de la Rochejaquelein, to his great vexation, to defend Saumur with a party of peasants. But he found it impossible to prevent these poor men from returning to their homes; they did not understand the importance of garrison duty, and gradually departed, leaving their commander alone with a few officers, with whom he used to go through the town at night, shouting out, 'Long live the king!' at the places where there ought to have been sentinels. At last, when his followers were reduced to eight, he left the town, and, rejoicing to be once more in the open field, overtook his friends at Angers, where they had just rescued a great number of clergy who had been imprisoned there, and daily threatened with death. 'Do not thank us,' said the peasants to the liberated priests; 'it is for you that we fight. If we had not saved you, we should not have ventured to return home. Since you are freed, we see plainly that the good God is on our side.'

But the tide was now about to turn. The Government in Paris sent a far stronger force into the Bocage, and desolated it in a cruel manner. Clisson was burnt to the ground with the very fireworks which had been prepared for the christening of its master's eldest child, and which had not been used because of the sorrowful days when she was born. M. de Lescure had long expected its destruction, but had not chosen to remove the furniture, lest he should discourage the peasants. His family were with the army, where alone there was now any safety for the weak and helpless. At Nantes the attack was unsuccessful, and Cathelineau himself received a wound of which he died in a few days, rejoicing at having been permitted to shed his blood in such a cause.

The army, of which M. d'Elbee became the leader, now returned to Poitou, and gained a great victory at Chatillon; but here many of them forgot the mercy they had usually shown, and, enraged by the sight of their burnt cottages, wasted fields, and murdered relatives, they fell upon the prisoners and began to slaughter them. M. de Lescure, coming in haste, called out to them to desist. 'No, no,' cried M. de Marigny; 'let me slay these monsters who have burnt your castle.' 'Then, Marigny,' said his cousin, 'you must fight with me. You are too cruel; you will perish by the sword.' And he saved these unhappy men for the time; but they were put to death on their way to their own army.

The cruelties of the Republicans occasioned a proclamation on the part of the Royalists that they would make reprisals; but they could never bring themselves to act upon it. When M. de Lescure took Parthenay, he said to the inhabitants, 'It is well for you that it is I who have taken your town; for, according to our proclamation, I ought to burn it; but, as you would think it an act of private revenge for the burning of Clisson, I spare you'.

Though occasional successes still maintained the hopes of the Vendeans, misfortunes and defeats now became frequent; they were unable to save their country from the devastations of the enemy, and disappointments began to thin the numbers of the soldiers. Henri, while fighting in a hollow road, was struck in the right hand by a ball, which broke his thumb in three places. He continued to direct his men, but they were at length driven back from their post. He was obliged to leave the army for some days; and though he soon appeared again at the head of the men of St. Aubin, he never recovered the use of his hand.

Shortly after, both D'Elbee and Bonchamp were desperately wounded; and M. de Lescure, while waving his followers on to attack a Republican post, received a ball in the head. The enemy pressed on the broken and defeated army with overwhelming force, and the few remaining chiefs resolved to cross the Loire and take refuge in Brittany. It was much against the opinion of M. de Lescure; but, in his feeble and suffering state, he could not make himself heard, nor could Henri's representations prevail; the peasants, in terror and dismay, were hastening across as fast as they could obtain boats to carry them. The enemy was near at hand, and Stofflet, Marigny, and the other chiefs were only deliberating whether they should not kill the prisoners whom they could not take with them, and, if set at liberty, would only add to the numbers of their pursuers. The order for their death had been given; but, before it could be executed, M. de Lescure had raised his head to exclaim, 'It is too horrible!' and M. de Bonchamp at the same moment said, almost with his last breath, 'Spare them!' The officers who stood by rushed to the generals, crying out that Bonchamp commanded that they should be pardoned. They were set at liberty; and thus the two Vendean chiefs avenged their deaths by saving five thousand of their enemies!

M. de Bonchamp expired immediately after; but M. de Lescure had still much to suffer in the long and painful passage across the river, and afterwards, while carried along the rough roads to Varades in an armchair upon two pikes, his wife and her maid supporting his feet. The Bretons received them kindly, and gave him a small room, where, the next day, he sent for the rest of the council, telling them they ought to choose a new general, since M. d'Elbee was missing. They answered that he himself alone could be commander. 'Gentlemen,' he answered: 'I am mortally wounded; and even if I am to live, which I do not expect, I shall be long unfit to serve. The army must instantly have an active chief, loved by all, known to the peasants, trusted by everyone. It is the only way of saving us. M. de la Rochejaquelein alone is known to the soldiers of all the divisions. M. de Donnissan, my father−in−law, does not belong to this part of the country, and would not be as readily followed. The choice I propose would encourage the soldiers; and I entreat you to choose M. de 1a Rochejaquelein. As to me, if I live, you know I shall not quarrel with Henri; I shall be his aide−de−camp.'

His advice was readily followed, Henri was chosen; but when a second in command was to be elected, he said no, he was second, for he should always obey M. de Donnissan, and entreated that the honor might not be given to him, saying that at twenty years of age he had neither weight nor experience, that his valor led him to be first in battle, but in council his youth prevented him from being attended to; and, indeed, after giving his opinion, he usually fell asleep while others were debating. He was, however, elected; and as soon as M. de Lescure heard the shouts of joy with which the peasants received the intelligence, he sent Madame de Lescure to bring him to his bedside. She found him hidden in a corner, weeping bitterly; and when he came to his cousin, he embraced him, saving earnestly, again and again, that he was not fit to be general, he only knew how to fight, he was too young and could never silence those who opposed his designs, and entreated him to take the command as soon as he was cured. 'That I do not expect,' said M. de Lescure; 'but if it should happen, I will be your aide−de−camp, and help you to conquer the shyness which prevents your strength of character from silencing the murmurers and the ambitious.'

Henri accordingly took the command; but it was a melancholy office that devolved upon him of dragging onward his broken and dejected peasants, half−starved, half−clothed, and followed by a wretched train of women, children, and wounded; a sad change from the bright hopes with which, not six months before, he had been called to the head of his tenants. Yet still his high courage gained some triumphs, which for a time revived the spirits of his forces and restored their confidence. He was active and undaunted, and it was about this time, when in pursuit of the Blues, he was attacked by a foot soldier when alone in a narrow lane. His right hand was useless, but he seized the man's collar with his 1eft, and held him fast, managing his horse with his legs till his men came up. He would not allow them to kill the soldier, but set him free, saying 'Return to the Republicans, and tell them that you were alone with the general of the brigands, who had but one hand and no weapons, yet you could not kill him'. Brigands was the name given by the Republicans, the true robbers, to the Royalists, who, in fact, by this time, owing to the wild life they had so long led, had acquired a somewhat rude and savage appearance. They wore grey cloth coats and trousers, broad hats, white sashes with knots of different colours to mark the rank of the officers, and red woolen handkerchiefs. These were made in the country, and were at first chiefly worn by Henri, who usually had one round his neck, another round his waist, and a third to support his wounded hand; but the other officers, having heard the Blues cry out to aim at the red handkerchief, themselves adopted the same badge, in order that he might be less conspicuous.

In the meantime a few days' rest at Laval had at first so alleviated the sufferings of M. de Lescure, that hopes were entertained of his recovery; but he ventured on greater exertions of strength than he was able to bear, and fever returned, which had weakened him greatly before it became necessary to travel onwards. Early in the morning, a day or two before their departure, he called to his wife, who was lying on a mattress on the floor, and desired her to open the curtains, asking, as she did so, if it was a clear day. 'Yes,' said she. 'Then,' he answered, 'I have a sort of veil before my eyes, I cannot see distinctly; I always thought my wound was mortal, and now I no longer doubt. My dear, I must leave you, that is my only regret, except that I could not restore my king to the throne; I leave you in the midst of a civil war, that is what afflicts me. Try to save yourself. Disguise yourself, and attempt to reach England.' Then seeing her choked with tears, he continued: 'Yes, your grief alone makes me regret life; for my own part, I die tranquil; I have indeed sinned, but I have always served God with piety; I have fought, and I die for Him, and I hope in His mercy. I have often seen death, and I do not fear it I go to heaven with a sure trust, I grieve but for you; I hoped to have made you happy; if I ever have given you any reason to complain, forgive me.' Finding her grief beyond all consolation, he allowed her to call the surgeons, saying that it was possible he might be mistaken.

They gave some hope, which cheered her spirits, though he still said he did not believe them. The next day they left Laval; and on the way, while the carriage was stopping, a person came to the door and read the details of the execution of Marie Antoinette which Madame de Lescure had kept from his knowledge. It was a great shock to him, for he had known the Queen personally, and throughout the day he wearied himself with exclamations on the horrible crime. That night at Ernee he received the Sacrament, and at the same time became speechless, and could only lie holding his wife's hand and looking sometimes at her, sometimes toward heaven. But the cruel enemy were close behind, and there was no rest on earth even for the dying. Madame de Lescure implored her friends to leave them behind; but they told her she would be exposed to a frightful death, and that his body would fall into the enemy's hands; and she was forced to consent to his removal. Her mother and her other friends would not permit her to remain in the carriage with him; she was placed on horseback and her maid and the surgeon were with him. An hour after, on the 3rd of November, he died, but his wife did not know her loss till the evening when they arrived at Fongeres; for though the surgeon left the carriage on his death, the maid, fearing the effect which the knowledge might have upon her in the midst of her journey, remained for seven hours in the carriage by his side, during two of which she was in a fainting fit.

When Madame de Lescure and Henri de la Rochejaquelein met the next morning, they sat for a quarter of an hour without speaking, and weeping bitterly. At last she said 'You have lost your best friend,' and he replied, 'Take my life, if it could restore him.'

Scarcely anything can be imagined more miserable than the condition of the army, or more terrible than the situation of the young general, who felt himself responsible for its safety, and was compelled daily to see its sufferings and find his plans thwarted by the obstinacy and folly of the other officers, crushed by an overwhelming force, knowing that there was no quarter from which help could come, yet still struggling on in fulfillment of his sad duty. The hopes and expectations which had filled his heart a few months back had long passed away; nothing was around him but misery, nothing before him but desolation; but still he never failed in courage, in mildness, in confidence in Heaven.

At Mans he met with a horrible defeat; at first, indeed, with a small party he broke the columns of the enemy, but fresh men were constantly brought up, and his peasants gave way and retreated, their officers following them. He tried to lead them back through the hedges, and if he had succeeded, would surely have gained the victory. Three times with two other officers he dashed into the midst of the Blues; but the broken, dispirited peasants would not follow him, not one would even turn to fire a shot. At last, in leaping a hedge, his saddle turned, and he fell, without indeed being hurt, but the sight of his fall added to the terror of the miserable Vendeans. He struggled long and desperately through the long night that followed to defend the gates of the town, but with the light of morning the enemy perceived his weakness and effected their entrance. His followers had in the meantime gradually retired into the country beyond, but those who could not escape fell a prey to the cruelty of the Republicans. 'I thought you had perished,' said Madame de Lescure, when he overtook her. 'Would that I had,' was his answer.

He now resolved to cross the Loire, and return to his native Bocage, where the well−known woods would afford a better protection to his followers. It was at Craon, on their route to the river, that Madame de Lescure saw him for the last time, as he rallied his men, who had been terrified by a false alarm.

She did not return to La Vendee, but, with her mother, was sheltered by the peasants of Brittany throughout the winter and spring until they found means to leave the country.
The Vendeans reached the Loire at Ancenis, but they were only able to find two small boats to carry them over. On the other side, however, were four great ferry boats loaded with hay; and Henri, with Stofflet, three other officers, and eighteen soldiers crossed the river in their two boats, intending to take possession of them, send them back for the rest of the army, and in the meantime protect the passage from the Blues on the Vendean side.

Unfortunately, however, he had scarcely crossed before the pursuers came down upon his troops, drove them back from Ancenis, and entirely prevented them from attempting the passage, while at the same time Henri and his companions were attacked and forced from the river by a body of Republicans on their side. A last resistance was attempted by the retreating Vendeans at Savenay, where they fought nobly but in vain; four thousand were shot on the field of battle, the chiefs were made prisoners and carried to Nantes or Angers, where they were guillotined, and a few who succeeded in escaping found shelter among the Bretons, or one by one found their way back to La Vendee. M. de Donnissan was amongst those who were guillotined, and M. d'Elbee, who was seized shortly after, was shot with his wife.

Henri, with his few companions, when driven from the banks of the Loire, dismissed the eighteen soldiers, whose number would only have attracted attention without being sufficient for protection; but the five chiefs crossed the fields and wandered through the country without meeting a single inhabitant all the houses were burnt down, and the few remaining peasants hidden in the woods. At last, after four−and−twenty hours, walking, they came to an inhabited farm, where they lay down to sleep on the straw. The next moment the farmer came to tell them the Blues were coming; but they were so worn out with fatigue, that they would not move. The Blues were happily, also, very tired, and, without making any search, laid down on the other side of the heap of straw, and also fell asleep. Before daylight the Vendeans rose and set out again, walking miles and miles in the midst of desolation, until, after several days, they came to Henri's own village of St. Aubin, where he sought out his aunt, who was in concealment there, and remained with her for three days, utterly overwhelmed with grief at his fatal separation from his army, and only longing for an opportunity of giving his life in the good cause.

Beyond all his hopes, the peasants no sooner heard his name, than once more they rallied round the white standard, as determined as ever not to yield to the Revolutionary government; and the beginning of the year 1794 found him once more at the head of a considerable force, encamped in the forests of Vesins, guarding the villages around from the cruelties of the Blues. He was now doubly beloved and trusted by the followers who had proved his worth, and who even yet looked forward to triumphs beneath his brave guidance; but it was not so with him, he had learnt the lesson of disappointment, and though always active and cheerful, his mind was made up, and the only hope he cherished was of meeting the death of a soldier. His headquarters were in the midst of a forest, where one of the Republican officers, who was made prisoner, was much surprised to find the much−dreaded chieftain of the Royalists living in a hut formed of boughs of trees, dressed almost like a peasant, and with his arm still in a sling. This person was shot, because he was found to be commissioned to promise pardon to the peasants, and afterwards to massacre them; but Henri had not learnt cruelty from his persecutors, and his last words were of forgiveness.

It was on Ash Wednesday that he had repulsed an attack of the enemy, and had almost driven them out of the wood, when, perceiving two soldiers hiding behind a hedge, he stopped, crying out, 'Surrender, I spare you.' As he spoke one of them leveled his musket, fired, and stretched him dead on the ground without a groan. Stofflet, coming up the next moment, killed the murderer with one stroke of his sword; but the remaining soldier was spared out of regard to the last words of the general. The Vendeans wept bitterly, but there was no time to indulge their sorrow, for the enemy were returning upon them; and, to save their chieftain's corpse from insult, they hastily dug a grave, in which they placed both bodies, and retreated as the Blues came up to occupy the ground. The Republicans sought for the spot, but it was preserved from their knowledge; and the high−spirited, pure−hearted Henri de la Rochejaquelein sleeps beside his enemy in the midst of the woodlands where be won for himself eternal honor. His name is still loved beyond all others; the Vendeans seldom pronounce it without touching their hats, and it is the highest glory of many a family that one of their number has served under Monsieur Henri.

Stofflet succeeded to the command, and carried on the war with great skill and courage for another year, though with barbarities such as had never been permitted by the gentle men; but his career was stained by the death of Marigny, whom, by false accusations, he was induced to sentence to be shot. Marigny showed great courage and resignation, himself giving the word to fire perhaps at that moment remembering the warning of M. de Lescure. Stofflet repented bitterly, and never ceased to lament his death. He was at length made prisoner, and shot, with his last words declaring his devotion to his king and his faith.

Thus ends the tale of the Vendean war, undertaken in the best of causes, for the honor of God and His Church, and the rescue of one of the most innocent of kings, by men whose saintly characters and dauntless courage have seldom been surpassed by martyrs or heroes of any age.

It closed with blood, with fire, with miseries almost unequalled; yet who would dare to say that the lives of Cathelineau, Bonchamp, Lescure, La Rochejaquelein, with their hundreds of brave and pious followers, were devoted in vain? Who could wish to see their brightness dimmed with earthly rewards?

And though the powers of evil were permitted to prevail on earth, yet what could their utmost triumph effect against the faithful, but to make for them, in the words of the child king for whom they fought, one of those thorny paths that lead to glory!

Excerpted from: A Book of Golden Deeds, by Charlotte M. Yonge
"So let us be confident, let us not be unprepared, let us not be outflanked, let us be wise, vigilant, fighting against those who are trying to tear the faith out of our souls and morality out of our hearts, so that we may remain Catholics, remain united to the Blessed Virgin Mary, remain united to the Roman Catholic Church, remain faithful children of the Church."- Abp. Lefebvre
Fr. Hewko preaching on the Vendée - July 2016

"So let us be confident, let us not be unprepared, let us not be outflanked, let us be wise, vigilant, fighting against those who are trying to tear the faith out of our souls and morality out of our hearts, so that we may remain Catholics, remain united to the Blessed Virgin Mary, remain united to the Roman Catholic Church, remain faithful children of the Church."- Abp. Lefebvre
Taken from In the Vendée [Secular Source]

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The Vendee Wars. 1793 - 1799

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The history of the Vendée Wars was not written by the victors, it was completely written out of French history, and until recently denied by the French government, it is still not part of the school history curriculum, but is well documented. When Solzhenitsyn opened the official Vendée Memorial at Les Lucs-sur-Boulogne in 1993 the event was ignored by central government, as well as by most of the mainstream French media.

The war was the first 'total war' in modern history, in which men, women and children were involved. It was also the first modern war in which regular troops were repeatedly beaten by mainly unarmed (no firearms) peasants. It was a savage affair in which each side were guilty of atrocities. The name of the region at that time was Bas-Poitou, and it was a poor rural region. As well as peasants, it was inhabited by impoverished aristocrats, petit bourgeoisies and poor priests; so the social inequalities were less marked here than elsewhere in France.

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The revolution of 1789 was at first full of hope, with a genuine wish for reform, even the English hailed it as a triumph of reason over superstition and privilege. That summer, The Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen was adopted by the new National Assembly.

The more the Jacobins took control in Paris, the more events began to escalate. No political or state organisation can control the religious faiths of its people, and the population of the Vendée Militaire, (the name given to the area of armed resistance, south of the Loire) and Brittany was devoutly Catholic. However, controlling faith was exactly what the Republican government tried to do, which engendered deep resentment that grew over the years.


In 1790 local government was abolished, followed by what was a considerable blow to poor Catholics, the vote on 12th July for The Civil Constitution of the Clergy. This was state control of their church, with the confiscation of its property, their traditional priests were banned, and all religious orders suppressed. In 1791 the Ecclesiastical Oath forced priests under state rather than episcopal control. Those who refused, (and in the Vendée most refused) were outlawed and replaced by state 'priests'. 1792 saw an increase in taxes, and in January 1793 the execution of the king; then the introduction of conscription in February caused great opposition.

Although there had been sporadic riots and easily suppressed uprisings since 1792, the final spark that ignited this smouldering resentment into a barbaric war, was the prohibition of public worship and the closing of all Catholic churches on 3rd March 1793. This caused no inconvenience to the nobles, who had their own private chapels in their homes (as at La Chabotterie), as well as their personal priests. However, without access to churches, the ordinary devout Catholic could not fulfil their religious obligations. In response, the ordinary people of the Vendée Militaire defied conscription. Paris ordered Republican troops and National Guards to enforce conscription by ballot.

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On 11th March, Republican soldiers billeted at Machecoul were massacred. That same day the people of St-Florent-le-Vieil turned their horizontal scythe blades into very effective vertical weapons, and routed the government troops, who were supported by cannons. Despite sustaining heavy casualties, the villagers kept advancing, until the soldiers’ nerve broke, as did their ranks, and they fled. The Vendée Wars had begun.


There were uprisings in many parts of France, but they only lasted at the most a few weeks. Only in the Vendée and Brittany was there prolonged insurrection, with the Chouans waging a predominantly guerilla war. The Vendéens invited local nobles with military experience to lead them, and although some refused others willingly agreed.

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Recruitment areas of the Vendéen fighters

When asked by his local men to lead them, the twenty year old La Rochejaquelein spoke the immortal words: “I will show myself worthy. If I advance follow me; if I flinch, cut me down: if I fall avenge me.” The uprising was so spontaneous and popular that within a few weeks the rebels had four large armies, which won one victory after another.

Their first major battle was on 19th March, when a Republican column of over 2,000 infantry, 100 cavalry, and some cannon, marching to re-enforce Nantes, was ambushed and routed by part of the Army of the Centre, at Pont-Charrault. With this victory came thousands of badly needed muskets, as well as ammunition, horses and cannon.

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Wounding Gen. Beaupuy Château-Gontier

Recruitment areas of the Vendéen fighters

On 20th March the four armies united and named themselves ‘The Grand Catholic Army of the Vendée’, the word ‘Royal’ was added later. Towns began to fall, first Bressuire on 2nd May, Fontenay on 25th May, and the rebels reached Niort. In the north, Angers fell on 18th June, and there was panic in Paris.

Seven days earlier the rebels elected the humble Jacques Cathelineau from Le Pin-en-Mauges as their Commander-in-Chief. They unsuccessfully attacked Nantes, but on the second day of the battle Cathelineau was mortally wounded. and d’Elbée became their new Commander-in-Chief.

The Vendéen fighters, also known as ‘whites’ or ‘brigands’ had the habit of returning home after a battle to tend their land.
At Waterloo, Napoleon had a total of 60,000 men to fight Wellington’s regulars. Yet, in October 1793, Paris sent an army of 115,000 to fight the rebels in the Vendée Militaire, who were only 60,000 ill-equipped and untrained fighters. The insurgents were supported by 2,000 irregular cavalry, and a few cannon; and those with muskets were better shots than any French or British infantryman of the day.

The battle was outside Cholet on 17th October and raged all day, at first the Vendéens were winning, but in the afternoon, due to tactical errors, they were forced to leave the field. It was no rout, they did so in good order. Sadly for the rebels, three of their generals, d’Elbée, Bonchamps and Lescure were badly wounded in the battle, the latter two mortally so.
The rebels decided to cross the Loire, and head for a port to await help from England. This journey was called "La Virée de Galerne." d'Elbée was taken to Noirmoutier to recover from his wounds, and Henri La Rochejaquelein became the new Commander-in-Chief of the rebel Army.

The Vendéens and Chouans were unable to capture Granville, but just as they headed for home, the sails of the English fleet appeared, too late, on the horizon. Weakened by hunger and dysentery the Vendéens had to fight every mile of the journey back, constantly harassed by government cavalry and sharp shooters. Despite their plight, La Rochejaquelein won three battles on their homeward journey, but they were unable to re-cross the Loire because of a lack of boats.

Republican troops forced the rebels back north to Le Mans where, severely weakened, on 12th December they were defeated. On 23rd December the remnants of the Grand Catholic and Royal Army were annihilated in the woods and marshes of Savenay, where no quarter was given by the Republicans. Over 2,000 rebels managed to escape and find their way back home, only to look with horror on the results of General's Turreau's 'douze colonnes infernales'.

For nine months, from January 1794, those 'twelve columns of hell' crisscrossed the Vendée Militaire, often revisiting the same places. Their orders were quite simple and very explicit; "Leave nobody and nothing alive." This applied to republicans and rebels alike. Crops and houses were burnt, and the department was re-named "Vendée."

In January a reign of terror began in Nantes and Angers, where there was mass murder by drowning in the Loire, by guillotine and shooting. General Waterman (known as 'The Butcher') boasted to the Convention in Paris:
Quote:"...there is no Vendée. It has perished, with its women and children, under our sword of freedom. Following your orders, I have crushed the children under our horses' hooves, and massacred the women - they will bear no more children for those brigands. I have not taken a single prisoner."
-The Butcher, General Waterman

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Wounded General Lescure - La Virée de la Galerne

On 6th January 1794 Maurice d'Elbee was executed, and on 28th January La Rochejaquelein was killed in action, and Stofflet became their last Commander-in-Chief.


The Vendéens were not deterred, and they conducted such an effective guerilla campaign that the Paris regime finally sued for peace.

A treaty was signed on 17th February 1795 but broken by Charette on 24th June. On the following day the promised help from England arrived at Quiberon and Pont-Aven, too little and too late, due to the prevarication of the French aristocratic emigrants.

The following year, first Stofflet, then Charette were executed, and the war petered out.
Religious freedom was still officially denied, and so the war began again on 15th October, 1799. Republican villages and towns were seized, even Nantes fell on 29th October, but the rebels were too weak to hold it.

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Execution of Charette


On 9/10th November Napoleon Bonaparte seized power in a coup d'état. He had great respect for the Vendée people and called their war "le Combat des Géants." He fully understood that their fight was not a struggle against the revolution, but a fight for the preservation of their liberty and freedom for their religion.

Bonaparte immediately began talks with the Vendéen religious leader Abbé Bernier, and set about repairing relations with the Catholic church. By December full rights of worship were restored to the church, not only in the Vendée, but in the whole of France, and church bells rang again.

The Concordat signed on 15th July 1801 between Napoleon Bonaparte and the Pope made these rights official. In the Concordat the French Government acknowledged "Catholicism as the religion of the great majority of the French." In the end the Vendéens won the right to practice their faith.

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Signing of the Concordat

Bonaparte also exempted them from conscription, gave them full indemnity, and assisted the reconstruction of the department. To facilitate the supervision of this region, the capital was moved from Fontenay to the then very small village of La Roch-sur-Yon.

Two further attempts were made to rekindle the wars, in 1815 and 1832. However, neither had validity, were ill-conceived and unsuccessful, with little support from the Vendée.


To-day, both the right and left of French politics find the Vendée Wars problematic. The idea that any religious faith could be important to peoples' lives is anathema to the atheists and communists of the left, who site conscription as the cause, and call them civil wars. The right on the other hand, site the execution of the king, and a desire for the restoration of the monarchy, so refer to the wars as counter-revolutionary wars. Neither acknowledges the well documented fact that the Vendée Wars were fought by a Christian faith for religious freedom.

At the twilight of the pre-revolutionary Old Regime, questions about what it meant to be a Catholic and why the church mattered, often stood at the heart of most political debate in France. Yet the combination of the Civil Constitution of the Clergy, the execution of the king, and the introduction of conscription, would not have been sufficient to ignite a popular revolt. However, the effects of the implementation of the Ecclesiastical Oath, and from 3rd March, 1793, the closing of churches, combined with the prohibition of public worship, were the sparks that ignited the Vendée Wars.

On 19th July, 1793 the governing council of the rebels issued a decree of their intention that: "Desirous, as far as we are able, of re-establishing the Catholic religion and allowing it once again to flourish."

There are hundreds of documents available for reference (military dispatches, official correspondence, contemporary letters, and copies of procès verbaux still available for study), in the Archives National, the Ministry of War, and the provincial archives of Nantes, Angers and elsewhere.
"So let us be confident, let us not be unprepared, let us not be outflanked, let us be wise, vigilant, fighting against those who are trying to tear the faith out of our souls and morality out of our hearts, so that we may remain Catholics, remain united to the Blessed Virgin Mary, remain united to the Roman Catholic Church, remain faithful children of the Church."- Abp. Lefebvre

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