The Execution of His Most Christian Majesty, King Louis XVI
The execution of King Louis XVI sent a wave of shock through most of France and all of Europe. This crucial event took place the morning of January 21st, 1793. What the government did not foresee was the sudden drop in volunteer rates for enlistments which were so badly needed since France had already rashly declared war on Europe in order to make the whole continent in its own image of revolution. This expressed a need to draft men to fight in the war for world conquest.
The revolutionaries received outright resistance in the Vendee. On March 12th, the day of the enlistment, the rising broke out almost spontaneously. In a particular village, thousands of peasants armed with guns and primitive weapons such as pitchforks and field scathes marched to the town square. When the drawing of lots for the conscription was about to begin, someone in the crowd shot the Revolutionary speaker and the French soldiers opened fire on the crowd. But they were outnumbered and the National Guard was forced to flee the village.
General François de Charette
The rising spread like wildfire over the entire region. The Bocage and the Vendee were liberated from Revolutionary control in only thirty-six hours. The Vendeans would shout “We want our King, our priests and the old regime!” In every town they freed from Revolutionary control they would cut down the tree of liberty and a bonfire was made with the wood. Decrees of the Revolution and everything tricolored was burnt. The Vendéan Royal Catholic Army claimed sweeping victories, never resting whether they were the victors or the vanquished.
The next month, April 6th, the Committee of Public Safety was created. A branch inside of this organization was the Department of War and the Department of Foreign Affaires. This French version of the gostapo was put in charge of quelling the War of the Vendee. They were permitted to use any force necessary to put out the fire of Truth ablaze in Western France. The most inhumane crimes where committed against the men, women and children in the Vendee under this new Terror.
In May, 1793, the Vendee people drew up a manifesto to the Nation to which the Committee in Paris responded in rage declaring that "nothing like this has been seen since the Crusades." This manifesto was the growing proof that the Catholic uprising might yet succeed in overthrowing the Revolution. This manifesto was the response to the question asking what they would do if and when they toppled the Reign of Terror and the Revolution.
Marquis Henri de la Rochejaquelein
- They asked that the name Le Vendée be preserved and that this region include the formerly secluded Bocage.
- They requested the King for once to honor that rude and remote county with his presence. (The dauphin at this time was only a boy in prison.)
- They wished that, in memory of the war, a white flag permanently fly on every steeple throughout the region. And they requested that a corps of Vendéans should be admitted into the King’s guard.
But people make history, not their strategies and achievements. The Vendeans were not destined to be the overthrow of the Revolution though they gave the Republic an injury that they would not soon forgive or forget. The rising only lasted 6 months but the Royal and Catholic Army gave the Revolution a good punch in the nose and proved that the Catholics of the country would not be silent and go down without a fight.
The cause of their military blunder was a bad move on Jacques Cathelineau's part. He was humble and good and sometimes a genius leader. But the army came to a hard decision: Either march on Paris and capture the capital or secure a seaport so food and supplies were guaranteed.
Cathelineau's instinct told him that the sea town of Nantes needed to be open for supplies and even reinforcement troops from England. Marquis Henri de la Rochejaquelein begged that Cathelineau order a march on the heart of the Revolution, the capital, and crush the Revolution once and for all.
Charrett agreed that the coast must be open to guarantee further victories and survival. Cathelineau knew that the army could not split and that only one town could be taken. If they had succeeded in taking Nantes, they would have then turned their gaze to Paris and, as Napoleon later said of this valiant struggle against tyranny, they would have flown their white flag above Notre Dame in Paris before the government even knew they were there.
At Nantes, the Royal and Catholic Army met a crushing defeat and Cathelineau was shot. No one knew, especially Cathelineau himself, how indispensable he was. The army remained in the Vendee region, keeping the Revolution at bay but never attacking Paris.
The War of the Vendee should never be seen as a failure. The people of the region's spirit has inspired us, many generations later, with their determination to resist, their peasant resourcefulness, and their Catholic zeal.
Today, we are assaulted with the same enemy that Charette described to his soldiers. These enemies are the same "demons who rise up again century after century" who have created a country "in their brains" while "we have it under our feet". We, like the Vendeans, are "the youth of God and of fidelity, and this youth we will preserve for our children, true humanity and liberty of the soul."
Stay close to the Sacred Heart and resist until it hurts!