Military Wiki
War in the Vendée
Part of the War of the First Coalition
GuerreVendée 1.jpg
Henri de La Rochejacquelein at the Battle of Cholet in 1793 by Paul-Emile Boutigny, (19th century), Musée d'art et d'histoire de Cholet, Cholet, France.
DateMarch 1793 – March 1796
LocationWestern France : Maine-et-Loire, Vendée, Loire-Atlantique, Deux-Sèvres (or former provinces of Anjou, Poitou, Britanny)
Result French Republic victory

France French Republic :

Kingdom of France French royalists :

 Kingdom of Great Britain
Commanders and leaders
France Jean Baptiste Camille Canclaux
France Armand Louis de Gontaut
France Jean Antoine Rossignol
France François Séverin Marceau-Desgraviers
France Jean-Baptiste Kléber
France François Joseph Westermann
France Jean Baptiste Carrier
France Louis Marie Turreau
France Thomas-Alexandre Dumas
France Lazare Hoche
Kingdom of France Jacques Cathelineau
Kingdom of France Louis d'Elbée
Kingdom of France Charles de Bonchamps
Kingdom of France Louis Marie de Lescure
Kingdom of France Henri de la Rochejaquelein
Kingdom of France Francois de Charette
Kingdom of France Jean-Nicolas Stofflet
130,000 – 150,000[1] 80,000
Casualties and losses
~ 30,000 military killed[1][2] ~ 130,000 military and civilians killed[1]
Inhabitants of the Vendee: ~ 170,000 military and civilians killed (75 – 80% ; royalists and 20 – 25% republicans)[1][3]

170,000 – 200,000 dead in total[4]

The War in the Vendée (1793 to 1796; French language: Guerre de Vendée) was a Royalist rebellion and counterrevolution in the Vendée region of France during the French Revolution. The Vendée is a coastal region, located immediately south of the Loire River in western France. The uprising headed by the self-styled Catholic and Royal Army was closely tied to the Chouannerie, which took place in the area north of the Loire. Initially, the war was similar to the 14th-century Jacquerie peasant uprising, but quickly took on counterrevolutionary themes. Tens of thousands of civilians were massacred by the Republican armies. Some historians have even labeled Republican crimes as genocide.


The massacre of 150 to 200 Vendean Republicans by Vendean Royalists in Machecoul was the starting event of the War in the Vendée.

Class differences were not as great in the Vendée as in Paris or in other French provinces. In the rural Vendée, the local nobility seems to have been more permanently in residence and less bitterly resented than in other parts of France.[5] Alexis de Tocqueville noted that most French nobles lived in cities by 1789. An Intendants' survey showed one of the few areas where they still lived with the peasants was the Vendée.[6] The conflicts that drove the revolution were also lessened in this particularly isolated part of France by the strong adherence of the populace to their Catholic faith. In 1791, two "representatives mission" informed the National Convention of the disquieting condition of Vendée, and this news was quickly followed by the exposure of a royalist plot organized by the Marquis de la Rouerie. It was not until the social unrest combined with the external pressures from the Civil Constitution of the Clergy (1790) and the introduction of a levy of 300,000 on the whole of France, decreed by the National Convention in February 1793, that the region erupted.[7][8][9]

The Civil Constitution required all clerics to swear allegiance to it and by extension to the increasingly anti-clerical National Constituent Assembly. All but seven of the 160 bishops refused the oath, as did about half of the parish priests.[10] Persecution of the clergy and of the faithful was the first trigger of the rebellion; the second being conscription. Nonjuring priests were exiled or imprisoned.[10] Women on their way to Mass were beaten in the streets.[10] Religious orders were suppressed and Church property confiscated.[10] On 3 March 1793, virtually all the churches were ordered closed.[11] Sacramental vessels were confiscated by soldiers and the people were forbidden to place a cross on their graves.[11] Nearly all the purchasers of church land were Bourgeois, very few peasants benefited.[12]

The March 1793 conscription requiring Vendeans to fill their district's quota of the national total of 300,000 enraged the populace,[7][8] who took up arms instead as "The Catholic Army", "Royal" being added later, and fought for "above all the reopening of their parish churches with their former priests."[13]

Town dwellers were more likely to support the Revolution in the Vendée,[14] but support among the rural peasantry was not unknown. Many lived on monastery properties, and they overwhelmingly embraced the Revolution after these lands were seized and redistributed among them by the republican government.[15]

Outbreak of revolt

A black cross supported by a heart

Insignia of the Vendean royalist insurgents. Note the French words 'Dieu Le Roi' beneath the heart-and-cross, meaning 'God. The King'.

There were other levy riots across France, when regions started to draft men into the army in response to the Levy Decree in February. The reaction in the northwest in early March was particularly pronounced with large scale rioting verging on insurrection. By early April, in areas north of the Loire, order had been restored by the revolutionary government, but south of the Loire in four departments that became known as the Vendée Militaire there were few troops to control rebels and what had started as rioting quickly took on the form of a full insurrection led by priests and the local nobility.[16]

Within a few weeks the rebel forces had formed a substantial, if ill-equipped, army, the Royal and Catholic Army, supported by two thousand irregular cavalry and a few captured artillery pieces. The main force of the rebels operated on a much smaller scale, using guerrilla tactics, supported by the insurgents' unparalleled local knowledge and the good-will of the people.[17]

The Republic's response

General Louis Lazare Hoche

The Republic was quick to respond, dispatching over 45,000 troops to the area by the end of March.

The first pitched battle was on the night of 19 March. A Republican column of 2,000, under General de Marcé, moving from La Rochelle to Nantes, was intercepted north of Chantonnay at Pont-Charrault (La Guérinière), near the Lay. After six hours of fighting rebel reinforcements arrived and routed the Republican forces. The rebels advanced as far south as Niort. In the north, on 22 March, another Republican force was routed near Chalonnes.

The Vendée Militaire covered the area between the Loire and the Lay – covering Vendée (Marais, Bocage Vendéen, Collines Vendéennes), part of Maine-et-Loire west of the Layon, and the portion of Deux Sèvres west of the River Thouet. Having secured their pays, the deficiencies of the Vendean army became more apparent. Lacking a unified strategy (or army) and fighting a defensive campaign, from April onwards the army lost cohesion and its special advantages. Successes continued for some time: Thouars was taken in early May and Saumur in June; there were victories at Châtillon and Vihiers. But the Vendeans then turned to a protracted siege of Nantes.


Execution of General Charette, in Nantes, March 1796, by Julien Le Blant, c. 1883

On 1 August 1793, the Committee of Public Safety ordered General Jean-Baptiste Carrier to carry out a "pacification" of the region by complete physical destruction.[18] These orders were not carried out immediately, but a steady stream of demands for total destruction persisted.[18] Under orders from the Committee of Public Safety in February 1794, the Republican forces launched their final "pacification" effort (named Vendée-Vengé or "Vendée Revenged"): twelve columns, the colonnes infernales ("infernal columns") under Louis Marie Turreau, marched through the Vendée.[19] General Turreau inquired about "the fate of the women and children I will encounter in rebel territory", stating that, if it was "necessary to pass them all by sword", he would require a decree.[18] In response, the Committee of Public Safety ordered him to "eliminate the brigands to the last man, there is your duty...".[18]

The Republican army was reinforced, benefiting from the first men of the levée en masse and reinforcements from Mainz. The Vendean army had its first serious defeat at the Battle of Cholet on 17 October; worse for the rebels, their army was split. In October 1793 the main force, commanded by Henri de la Rochejaquelein and numbering some 25,000 (followed by thousands of civilians of all ages), crossed the Loire, headed for the port of Granville where they expected to be greeted by a British fleet and an army of exiled French nobles. Arriving at Granville, they found the city surrounded by Republican forces, with no British ships in sight. Their attempts to take the city were unsuccessful. During the retreat, the extended columns fell prey to Republican forces; suffering from hunger and disease, they died in the thousands. The force was defeated in the last, decisive battle of Savenay on 23 December.[20] Among those executed the following day was lieutenant-general Jacques Alexis de Verteuil.

With this came formal orders for forced evacuation; also, a 'scorched earth' policy was initiated: farms were destroyed, crops and forests burned and villages razed. There were many reported atrocities and a campaign of mass killing universally targeted at residents of the Vendée regardless of combatant status, political affiliation, age or gender.[21]

From January to May 1794, 20,000 to 50,000 Vendean civilians were massacred by the Infernal columns of the general Louis Marie Turreau.[22][23][24] In Anjou, directed by Nicolas Hentz and Marie Pierre Adrien Francastel, Republicans captured 11,000 to 15,000 Vendeans, 6,500 to 7,000 were shot or guillotined and 2,000 to 2,200 prisoners died from disease.[25]

General Westermann reported to his political masters at the Convention: "The Vendée is no more... According to your orders, I have trampled their children beneath our horses' feet; I have massacred their women, so they will no longer give birth to brigands. I do not have a single prisoner to reproach me. I have exterminated them all."[26]

The Convention issued conciliatory proclamations allowing the Vendeans liberty of worship and guaranteeing their property. General Hoche applied these measures with great success. He restored their cattle to the peasants who submitted, "let the priests have a few crowns", and on 20 July 1795 annihilated an émigré expedition which had been equipped in England and had seized Fort Penthievre and Quiberon. Treaties were concluded at La Jaunaie (15 February 1795) and at La Mabillaie, and were fairly well observed by the Vendeans; no obstacle remained but the feeble and scattered remnant of the Vendeans still under arms and the Chouans. On 30 July 1796 the state of siege was raised in the western departments.[7]

Estimates of those killed in the Vendean conflict – on both sides – range between 117,000 and 450,000, out of a population of around 800,000.[27][28][29]

Later revolts

According to Theodore A. Dodge,[30] the war in Vendée lasted with intensity from 1793 to 1799, when it was suppressed, but later broke out spasmodically especially in 1813, 1814 and 1815. During Napoleon Bonaparte's Hundred Days in 1815, some of the population of Vendée remained loyal to King Louis XVIII, forcing Bonaparte – who was short of troops to fight the Waterloo Campaign – to send a force of 10,000 under the command of Jean Maximilien Lamarque to pacify the region.[31]


Soldiers, women, and children embroiled in a fight near a church

The historiography of the War in the Vendée is deeply rooted in conflicts between different schools of French historiography, and as a result, writings on the uprising are generally highly partisan, coming down strongly in support of the revolutionary government or the Vendéen royalists.[32] This conflict originated in the 19th century between two groups of historians, the Bleus, named for their support of the republicans, who based their findings on archives from the uprising and the Blancs, named for their support of the monarchy and the Catholic Church, who based their findings on local oral histories.[33] The Bleus generally argued that the Vendée was not a popular uprising, but was the result of noble and clerical manipulation of the peasantry. One of the leaders of this school of thought, Charles-Louis Chassin, published eleven volumes of letters, archives, and other materials supporting this position. The Blancs, generally members of the former nobility and clergy themselves, argued (frequently using the same documents as Chassin, but also drawing from contemporary mémoirs and oral histories) that the peasants were acting out of a genuine love for the nobility and a desire to protect the Catholic Church.[33]

This conflict was popularized in the English-speaking world in 1986, when French historian Reynald Secher wrote a controversial book entitled: A French Genocide: The Vendée. Secher argued that the actions of the French republican government during the War in the Vendée was the first modern genocide.[34] Secher's claims caused a minor uproar in France amongst scholars of modern French history, as mainstream authorities on the period – both French and foreign – published articles rejecting Secher's claims.[35][36][37][38][39] Claude Langlois (of the Institute of History of the French Revolution) derides Secher's claims as "quasi-mythological".[40] Timothy Tackett of the University of California summarizes the case as such: "In reality... the Vendée was a tragic civil war with endless horrors committed by both sides – initiated, in fact, by the rebels themselves. The Vendeans were no more blameless than were the republicans. The use of the word genocide is wholly inaccurate and inappropriate."[41] Hugh Gough (Professor of history at University College Dublin) called Secher's book an attempt at historical revisionism unlikely to have any lasting impact.[42] Peter McPhee roundly criticizes Secher, including the assertion of commonality between the functions of the Republican government and Communist totalitarianism. Historian Pierre Chanu expressed support for Secher's views,[43] describing the events as the first "ideological genocide".[44] Critics of Secher's thesis have alleged that his methodology is flawed. McPhee asserted that these errors are as follows: (1) The war was not fought against Vendeans but Royalist Vendeans, the government relied on the support of Republican Vendeans; (2) the Convention ended the campaign after the Royalist Army was clearly defeated – if the aim was genocide, then they would have continued and easily exterminated the population; (3) Fails to inform the reader of atrocities committed by Royalist against Republicans in the Vendée; (4) Repeats stories now known to be folkloric myths as fact; (5) Does not refer to the wide range of estimates of deaths suffered by both sides, and that casualties were not "one-sided"; and more.[45] Peter McPhee says that the pacification of the Vendée does not fit either the United Nations' CPPCG definition of genocide because the events happened during a civil war. He states that the war in the Vendée was not a one-sided mass killing and the Committee of Public Safety did not intend to exterminate the whole population of the Vendée; parts of the population were allied to the revolutionary government.[45]

Concerning the controversy, Michel Vovelle, a specialist on the French Revolution, remarked: "A whole literature is forming on "Franco-French genocide", starting from risky estimates of the number of fatalities in the Vendean wars ... Despite not being specialists in the subject, historians such as Pierre Chanu have put all the weight of their great moral authority behind the development of an anathematizing discourse, and have dismissed any effort to look at the subject reasonably."[46]

Debate over the characterization of the Vendée uprising was renewed in 2007, when nine right-wing deputies introduced a measure to the Assemblée nationale to officially recognize the republican actions as genocidal.[47] The measure was strongly denounced by a group of French historians as an attempt to use history to justify political extremism.[48]

Despite the criticism of the assertion of genocide, a number of scholars make the assertion. In addition to Secher and Chaunu, Kurt Jonassohn and Frank Chalk also consider it a case of genocide.[49] Further support comes from Adam Jones, who wrote in Genocide: A Comprehensive Introduction a summary of the Vendée uprising, supporting the view that it was a genocide: "the Vendée Uprising stands as a notable example of a mass killing campaign that has only recently been conceptualized as 'genocide'" and that while this designation "is not universally shared . . . it seems apt in the light of the large scale murder of a designated group (the Vendéan civilian population)."[50] Pierre Chaunu[43] describes it as the first "ideological genocide"."[51] Mark Levene, an historian who specializes in the study of genocide",[52] considers the Vendée "an archetype of modern genocide".[53] Other scholars who consider the massacres to be genocide include R.J. Rummel,[54] Jean Tulard[55] and Anthony James Joes.[56]


The uprising in the Vendée was the subject of an independent feature film from Navis Pictures. The War of the Vendée (2012), written and directed by Jim Morlino, won awards for "Best Film For Young Audiences", (Mirabile Dictu International Catholic Film Festival - at the Vatican) and "Best Director" (John Paul II International Film Festival - Miami, FL)

The Vendee Revolt was also the setting for "The Frogs and the Lobsters", an episode of the television program Hornblower. It is set during the French revolutionary wars and very loosely based on the chapter of the same name in C. S. Forester's novel, Mr. Midshipman Hornblower and on the actual ill-fated Quiberon expedition of 1795.

See also

  • Other links:
    • Chouannerie (another Royalist uprising)
    • Drownings at Nantes (mass executions by drowning)
    • Dechristianisation of France during the French Revolution
    • Cholet
    • Clisson
    • Fontenay-le-Comte
    • La Roche-sur-Yon (capital of Vendée)
    • Ninety-Three (novel by Victor Hugo)


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 Jacques Hussenet (dir.), « Détruisez la Vendée ! » Regards croisés sur les victimes et destructions de la guerre de Vendée, La Roche-sur-Yon, Centre vendéen de recherches historiques, 2007
  2. Jacques Dupâquier et A.Laclau, Pertes militaires, 1792–1830, in Atlas de la Révolution française, Paris 1992, p. 30.
  3. Jean-Clément Martin, La Terreur, part maudite de la Révolution, Découvertes/Gallimard, 2010, p.82
  4. Jean-Clément Martin (dir.), Dictionnaire de la Contre-Révolution, Perrin, 2011, p.504.
  5. Schama, Simon (2004). Citizens. Penguin Books. p. 589. ISBN 0141017279. 
  6. Alexis de Tocqueville, The Old Regime and the Revolution, pp 122-3
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 Encyclopædia Britannica Eleventh Edition "Wars of the Vendee"
  8. 8.0 8.1 James Maxwell Anderson (2007). Daily Life During the French Revolution, Greenwood Publishing Group, ISBN 0-313-33683-0. p. 205
  9. François Furet (1996). The French Revolution, 1770–1814: 1770–1814 Blackwell Publishing, France ISBN 0-631-20299-4. p. 124
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 10.3 Joes, Anthony James Resisting Rebellion: The History and Politics of Counterinsurgency 2006 University Press of Kentucky ISBN 0-8131-2339-9. p.51
  11. 11.0 11.1 Joes, Anthony James Resisting Rebellion: The History and Politics of Counterinsurgency 2006 University Press of Kentucky ISBN 0-8131-2339-9. p.52
  12. Charles Tilly, "Local Conflicts in the Vendée before the rebellion of 1793", French Historical Studies II, fall 1961, page 219
  13. Joes, Anthony James Resisting Rebellion: The History and Politics of Counterinsurgency 2006 University Press of Kentucky ISBN 0-8131-2339-9. p. 52-53
  14. Charles Tilly, "Local Conflicts in the Vendée before the rebellion of 1793", French Historical Studies II, fall 1961, page 211
  15. Charles Tilly, Civil Constitution and Counter-Revolution in southern Anjou, French Historical Studies, I no. 2 1959, page 175
  16. Donald M. G. Sutherland (2003). The French Revolution and Empire: The Quest for a Civic Order, Blackwell Publishing France, ISBN 0-631-23363-6. p. 155
  17. General Hoche and Counterinsurgency
  18. 18.0 18.1 18.2 18.3 Sutherland, Donald The French Revolution and Empire: The Quest for a Civic Order p. 222, 2003 Blackwell Publishing ISBN 0-631-23363-6
  19. Masson, Sophie Remembering the Vendée (Godspy 2004. First published in "Quadrant" magazine Australia, 1996)
  20. Taylor, Ida Ashworth (1913). The tragedy of an army: La Vendée in 1793. Hutchinson & Co.. p. 315. Retrieved 22 December 2011. 
  21. Jones, Adam Genocide: A Comprehensive Introduction p.7 (Routledge/Taylor & Francis Publishers Forthcoming 2006)
  22. Louis-Marie Clénet, Les colonnes infernales, Perrin, collection Vérités et Légendes, 1993, p.221
  23. Roger Dupuy, La République jacobine, tome 3 de la Nouvelle histoire de la France contemporaine, p.268-269.
  24. Jacques Hussenet (dir.), « Détruisez la Vendée ! » Regards croisés sur les victimes et destructions de la guerre de Vendée, La Roche-sur-Yon, Centre vendéen de recherches historiques, 2007, p.140 et p.466
  25. Jacques Hussenet (dir.), « Détruisez la Vendée ! » Regards croisés sur les victimes et destructions de la guerre de Vendée, La Roche-sur-Yon, Centre vendéen de recherches historiques, 2007, p.452-453
  27. Three State and Counterrevolution in France by Charles Tilly
  28. Vive la Contre-Revolution!
  29. McPhee, Peter Review of Reynald Secher, A French Genocide: The Vendée H-France Review Vol. 4 (March 2004), No. 26
  30. Napoleon by Theodore A. Dodge
  31. Encyclopædia Britannica Eleventh Edition Waterloo Campaign.
  32. Jean-Clément Martin, La Vendée et la Révolution. Accepter la mémoire pour écrire l'histoire, Perrin, collection Tempus, 2007, pp. 68–69
  33. 33.0 33.1 Jean-Clément Martin, La Vendée et la Révolution. Accepter la mémoire pour écrire l'histoire, Perrin, collection Tempus, 2007, pp. 70–71
  34. Secher, Reynald. A French Genocide: The Vendée, University of Notre Dame Press, (2003), ISBN 0-268-02865-6.
  35. Stefan Berger, Mark Donovan, Kevin Passmore (dir.), Writing National Histories—Western Europe Since 1800, Routledge, Londres, 1999, 247 pages, contribution by Julian Jackson. (jackson biography published by QMUL ),
  36. François Lebrun, « La guerre de Vendée : massacre ou génocide ? », L'Histoire, Paris, n°78, May 1985, p.93 to 99 et no. 81, September 1985, p. 99 to 101.
  37. Paul Tallonneau, Les Lucs et le génocide vendéen : comment on a manipulé les textes, éditions Hécate, 1993
  38. Claude Petitfrère, La Vendée et les Vendéens, Editions Gallimard/Julliard, 1982.
  39. Voir Jean-Clément Martin, La Vendée et la France, Le Seuil, 1987.
  40. Claude Langlois, « Les héros quasi mythiques de la Vendée ou les dérives de l'imaginaire », in F. Lebrun, 1987, p. 426–434, et « Les dérives vendéennes de l'imaginaire révolutionnaire », AESC, n°3, 1988, p. 771–797.
  41. Voir l'intervention de Timothy Tackett, dans French Historical Studies, Autumn 2001, p. 572.
  42. Hugh Gough, "Genocide & the Bicentenary: the French Revolution and the revenge of the Vendée", (Historical Journal, vol. 30, 4, 1987, pp. 977–88.) p. 987.
  43. 43.0 43.1 Daileader, Philip and Philip Whalen, French Historians 1900–2000: New Historical Writing in Twentieth-Century France, pp. 105, 107, Wiley 2010
  44. Levene, Mark, Genocide in the Age of the Nation State: The rise of the West and the coming of Genocide, p. 118, I.B. Tauris 2005
  45. 45.0 45.1 Peter McPhee, a review of Reynald Secher, A French Genocide, published in H-France Review Vol. 4 (March 2004), No. 26.
  46. Vovelle, Michel (1987). Bourgeoisies de province et Revolution. Presses Universitaires de Grenoble. p. quoted in Féhér. 
  47. [1]
  48. "La proposition de loi sur "le génocide vendéen", une atteinte à la liberté du citoyen.", archival link: [2]
  49. Jonassohn, Kurt and Karin Solveig Bjeornson Genocide and Gross Human Rights Violations p. 208, 1998, Transaction Publishers, ISBN 0765804174.
  50. Jones, Adam. Genocide: A Comprehensive Introduction, Routledge/Taylor & Francis Publishers, (2006), ISBN 0-415-35385-8. Chapter 1 Section "The Vendée uprising" pp 6, 7.
  51. Levene, Mark, Genocide in the Age of the Nation State: The rise of the West and the coming of Genocide, p. 118, I.B. Tauris 2005
  52. Dr. Mark Levene, Southampton University, see "Areas where I can offer Postgraduate Supervision". Retrieved 9 February 2009.
  53. Shaw, Martin, What is genocide?, p. 107, Polity 2007
  54. Rummel, R., Death by government By , p. 55, Transaction Publishers 1997
  55. J. Tulard, J.-F. Fayard, A. Fierro, Histoire et dictionnaire de la Révolution française, 1789–1799, Robert Laffont, collection Bouquins, 1987, p.1113
  56. Joes, Anthony James, Guerrilla conflict before the Cold War, p. 63 ,Greenwood Publishing Group 1996


  • Fournier, Elie Turreau et les colonnes infernales, ou, L'échec de la violence A. Michel; (1985) ISBN 2-226-02524-3
  • Debord, Guy Panegyric Verso; (1991) ISBN 0-86091-347-3
  • Davies, Norman Europe: A History Oxford University Press; (1996)
  • Secher, Reynald A French Genocide: The Vendée Univ. of Notre Dame Press; (June 2003) ISBN 0-268-02865-6

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