Vendée, Wars of The

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Vendée, Wars of The

 

a struggle of the republican governments against the royalist rebels in western France during the Great French Revolution. The name of the wars comes from the Department of the Vendée, one of the main hotbeds of the revolts. The wars of the Vendée reached their greatest extent in 1793, when a significant part of the peasantry participated in the revolt alongsider the nobility and clergy. The dissatisfaction of the peasantry, which was used by royalist and clerical propagandists, stemmed from the sharp increase during the course of the revolution in the political power of the bourgeoisie and its economic position in the countryside (the buying up of nationalized land of the church and so on). The pretext for the revolt was the Convention’s decree of Feb. 24, 1793, on the drafting into the army of 300,000 men.

In the beginning of March the revolt flared up in Brittany, Anjou, and Poitou. Quickly suppressed in Brittany, the revolt continued to spread to socioeconomically and culturally more backward regions south of the Loire, where peasant hatred for the bourgeoisie was supplemented by protests against the destruction of the traditional way of life. Crowds of many thousands of peasants broke into the cities, robbed the inhabitants, sacked the administration offices, and seized arms. The leaders of the peasantry, along with members of the lower classes such as Cathelineau and Stofflet, also included nobles: Bonchamp, La Rochejaquelein, Cléré, Lescure, d’Elbée. The nobles and reactionary clergy who placed themselves at the head of the peasant revolt that had spontaneously flared up attempted to give it the character of an organized demand for the overthrow of the republic and for the restoration of the clerical and monarchical regimes. In May-June 1793 the rebels, having defeated the republican units, occupied the cities of Thouars, Fontenay, Angers and Saumur. On June 29, 1793, they attempted to take Nantes but failed. In October 1793 the republican troops under the command of Kléber and Marceau defeated the rebels at Cholet. The rebels moved to the north beyond the Loire. Unsuccessful in an attempt to occupy Granville, they turned back and were crushed on December 12 and 23 in the battles at Le Mans and Savenay. Individual detachments of rebels continued to fight both in the Vendée and to the north in Brittany and Mayenne (the Chouans). In the summer of 1795 the landing of a detachment of royalist emigrants (the Quiberon Expedition) by the British navy in Brittany gave the signal for a new outbreak, which was defeated by the republican general Hoche. Attempts to revive the royalist movement in the region of the wars of the Vendée occurred in 1799, 1815, and 1832.

REFERENCES

Gabory, E. La Révolution et la Vendée d’après les documents inédits, vols. 1-3. Paris, 1925-28.
Dubreuil, L. Histoire des insurrections de l’Ouest, vols. 1-2. Paris, 1929-30.
Faucheux, M. L’Insurrection vendéenne de 1793. Paris, 1964.
Tilly C. The Vendée. London, 1964.
Mazauric, C. “Vendée et chouannerié.” La Pensée, 1965, no. 124.

A. V. GORDON