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Guest blogger: Regan Walker

23 September 2018

Rebel heroes of the French Revolution: the War in the Vendée

The French Revolution, which began with the storming of the Bastille on 14 July 1789, lasted until 1799. The worst of it, the Reign of Terror, took place from September 1793 to the end of July 1794. This was the time when Maximilien de Robespierre, the mastermind of the Terror and leader of the Committee of Public Safety, did his worst. He was the most powerful man in France.

In explaining how Terror would lead to a ‘Republic of Virtue’ in a speech to the National Convention, he said,

Storming of the Bastille, 1789

If the spring of popular government in time of peace is virtue, the springs of popular government in revolution are at once virtue and terror: virtue, without which terror is fatal; terror, without which virtue is powerless. Terror is nothing other than justice, prompt, severe, inflexible.

Robespierre’s idea of justice was nothing like you might imagine. In his haste to end all opposition to the revolution, he made sure laws were passed providing that anyone suspected of treason could be arrested and executed. This led to a free for all in which a man could be accused by those who didn’t like him. Robespierre closed all provincial courts so that trials were held at the Revolutionary Tribunal in Paris. When Parisian jails overflowed, the process was speeded up, partly by ending the need for witnesses and any defence. The only punishment the tribunal could administer was death.

Thousands of people were executed, including not only Marie Antoinette, King Louis XVI and many of Robespierre’s political rivals, but also nobles, clergy, bourgeoisie and peasants. Half a million Frenchmen were imprisoned or placed under house arrest during the Terror.

Over forty per cent of the death sentences carried out during the Terror took place in the area in north-western France known as the Vendée.

The Vendée was a poor rural region inhabited by peasants, impoverished aristocrats, petite bourgeoisie and poor priests. The social inequalities were less marked there than elsewhere in France. The people were loyal to their king and to the Church. Many of the priests came from Vendéen families. When both king and priests were denied them and a conscription of 300,000 demanded by the revolutionary government in Paris, the Vendéens rose in rebellion.

The war in the Vendée was, until recently, denied by the French government and not a subject taught in French schools. Yet it was the first ‘total war’ in modern history, in which men, women and children were involved. It was also the first modern war that saw regular troops beaten by mostly unarmed peasants. As I researched this part of the revolution for A Fierce Wind, I kept thinking the Vendéens and their brothers-in-arms, the Chouans, were like America’s Minutemen who fought the British troops. They were rebel heroes who left behind their fields and families to fight for their freedom.

Sacred Heart patch of the Vendean royalist insurgents. The French motto Dieu, le Roi means God, the King

Pour Dieu et le Roi‘, for God and the King, became their motto. It was embroidered on the Sacré-Cœur, a patch they wore with a cross above a heart that identified them as rebel royalists.

Many of their leaders were members of the aristocracy who were drafted into positions of leadership by their tenants and villagers who pleaded with them to lead the rebels. One of their young generals, Henri de la Rochejaquelein, was a handsome, golden-haired figure who was idolised by Zoé Donet, the heroine in A Fierce Wind. He was famous among the soldiers who had chosen him to lead the Vendéen army for his command: ‘If I advance, follow me! If I retreat, kill me! If I die, avenge me!’

Henri de la Rochejaquelein

Monsieur Henri, as he was called, was killed in January of 1794, but the fight went on and Zoé took up the cause, vowing to avenge him.

Napoleon Bonaparte had great respect for the Vendéens. He called their war ‘le combat des géants‘, the fight of the giants. He understood they fought for the preservation of their liberty and freedom of religion. In November 1799, when he seized power in a coup d’état, he immediately began talks with the Vendéen religious leader, the abbé Bernier, and set about repairing relations with the Church.

Napoleon was no fool. He realised if he was to be accepted as emperor one day, he must have the backing of the Church. By December 1799, full rights of worship were restored, not only in the Vendée, but in the whole of France.

The heroes had prevailed and church bells rang once again.

A former lawyer turned writer, Regan Walker is an award-winning, bestselling author of Regency, Georgian and Medieval romances. Her novels weave history and historical figures into fictional stories with political intrigue, a bit of mystery and love. She lives in San Diego and loves to take long walks with her dog ‘Cody’ looking out at the ocean.

Find Regan here: Website | Facebook | Facebook group

A Fierce Wind

France 1794

Zoé Ariane Donet was in love with love until she met the commander of the royalist army fighting the revolutionaries tearing apart France. When the dashing young general is killed, she joins the royalist cause, rescuing émigrés fleeing France.

One man watches over her: Frederick West, the brother of an English earl, who has known Zoé since she was a precocious ten-year-old child. At sixteen, she promised great beauty, the flower of French womanhood about to bloom. Now, four years later, as Robespierre’s Terror seizes France by the throat, Zoé has become a beautiful temptress Freddie vows to protect with his life.

But English spies don’t live long in revolutionary France.

Buy links: Amazon AU | Amazon US

Regan is offering a copy of the multiple award-winning To Tame the Wind (book 1 in the Donet trilogy) for giveaway. Leave a comment below to go in the draw. The giveaway will close on 7 October. (The giveaway is now closed. The winner was Mary.)

 

 

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5 Comments
  1. Yvonne Bartlett permalink
    27 September 2018 2:56 am

    I look forward to this fascinating and engrossing read which is set back in such a bloody and turbulent time in French history. Zoe and Frederick will be interesting characters. Congratulations Regan on your book release.

    • 27 September 2018 3:36 am

      I do hope you enjoy A Fierce Wind, Yvonne! I think you’ll find a bit of humor in the story, too, or so my readers tell me.

  2. 23 September 2018 6:18 pm

    I thoroughly enjoyed this! Thanks for a very interesting read on an absorbing time in history.

  3. 23 September 2018 11:33 am

    My grateful thanks to the Australian Romance Readers for having me on the blog to tell you about the rebel heroes featured in my new Georgian Romance, A Fierce Wind! It’s great to be here.

  4. Mary Preston permalink
    23 September 2018 11:15 am

    A bloody and fascinating period in history.

Comments are closed.