Modern history


Counter-Revolution 1789–1795

IN its intransigence and blindness to political realities, even favourable ones, the Declaration of Verona typified the whole history of the counterrevolution. As a movement, counter-revolution began as soon as there was a revolution to counter. Once launched, of course, it sought and found justification from a wide range of conservative ideas current before 1789; but it took the creation of a new regime, itself appealing to new justifications, to focus these strains into a counter-revolutionary outlook. It was not, therefore, until the third week in June 1789, when the third estate and a few country priests had laid claim to sovereignty in the name of the Nation, that anything properly deserving the name of counter-revolution came into existence. The Royal Session of 23 June, when populist concessions devised by Necker were amended without his knowledge by the queen, Artois, and sympathetic fellow ministers, was the first serious attempt to halt the Revolution and reverse some of its achievements. The programme announced then by Louis XVI was not without concessions to the revolutionary spirit, in granting no taxation without consent, regular meetings of the Estates-General, abrogation of binding mandates, individual and press freedom, and a number of other fiscal, administrative, and legal reforms. But the smirks of the noble deputies as they heard these proposals expounded in the context of the continued separation of the three orders, maintenance of honorific privileges and feudal rights, and rejection of the momentous claims made over the preceding week by the third estate to national sovereignty showed clearly enough that they thought the revolutionary drift had been stemmed. For the rest of the revolutionary decade the programme of 23 June would represent the most that the princes who led the forces of counter-revolution were prepared to concede should they regain power. Many of their followers proved unwilling to go even that far, dreaming of a complete restoration of the old regime, and they in turn would bitterly resent the arrival in counterrevolutionary ranks of men whose break with the hated movement came later, sometimes much later, and who until the moment of defection had accepted its work or tried to arrest its course from within. From the start, counter-revolution was no more of a unity than the revolution it opposed.

Although defeated by the third estate’s defiance and the king’s weakness after the Royal Session, the party of the queen and Artois did not give up hope of recapturing control until after 14 July. Indeed, it was they who engineered the dismissal of Necker which triggered off the popular explosion culminating in the fall of the Bastille. But once that happened they saw no further hope of achieving their aims from within France. On the night of 17 July Artois and a handful of friends stole out of Versailles and made their way with the help of a royal passport to the Austrian Netherlands. They did not expect to be away long, although characteristically they do not seem to have thought at all clearly about what circumstances it might be acceptable to return in, or how they would be brought about. But their example proved infectious. By early August, many of the greater courtiers had also left the country, along with a number of lesser nobles alarmed by the castle-burning and threats of personal violence that marked those panic-stricken weeks in the countryside. The failure of the monarchiens to lay the foundations of a British-style constitution of checks and balances induced yet more to go; and the renewed popular violence of the October Days produced a massive surge in applications for passports. By then, committees of French émigrés were established just beyond the whole length of the French frontier—in Brussels, in Trier, in Mainz, in Basle, in Geneva, in Nice. Artois, finding the Austrian Netherlands scarcely less disturbed than France and his brother-in-law Joseph II less than warm about his presence there, made his way in September to Turin, where his wife’s father ruled. There he established a committee of great lords and other nobles to co-ordinate counter-revolutionary activity. At first it merely petitioned crowned heads for support, but was politely brushed off. Nobody had much experience of public or international affairs. But soon Artois secured the help of somebody who had: Calonne, who, after fleeing to England in 1787 to escape prosecution by the parlement of Paris, had married a rich heiress and was now prepared to put his wealth and expertise at the service of the monarchy he had vainly sought to save from the difficulties it was now in. After initial resistance from Victor Amadeus III, who feared French reprisals in the form of attacks on Savoy or Nice, Calonne was eventually brought to Turin in November 1790, having already advised the émigré princes and served as their plenipotentiary in London for the best part of a year.

By then the first signs of counter-revolution had begun to appear within France. In December 1789 the Marquis de Favras, a former soldier with no contacts in Turin but ambiguous links with Provence, the royal brother who had not emigrated, was arrested as he conspired to rescue Louis XVI from Paris with an armed band who would spirit him to the frontier. Favras was hanged for treason in February 1790—incidentally the first noble to suffer the commoners’ capital penalty. During the trial the king felt it prudent to make a public avowal before the Assembly of his loyalty to the constitution, much to the fury of the émigrés when they heard about it.

Although we had long been prepared for it [wrote the Prince de Condé to Calonne] we were as sensitive as you may imagine to this excessive humiliation of the head of our house. A step such as this, whatever effort may be made to give it the appearance of a liberty which does not exist, manifests to such a degree a character of constraint, of prison, and consequently of nullity, that both our patriotism and our attachment to the king’s person engage us not to slacken our efforts, but on the contrary to redouble them, to preserve the kingdom from the annihilation of the monarch and the monarchy …1

Nor was this ambition confined to them. In Paris, Mirabeau, after the rejection of his transparently self-interested proposal to allow deputies to be ministers, put himself forward as secret adviser to the king and queen. Overcoming initial incredulity and long-standing revulsion for this raddled adventurer, from March 1790 the royal couple paid Mirabeau for support in the Assembly and regular advice. Mirabeau was not a counterrevolutionary, and had no links or sympathy with the émigrés. He believed in a strong constitutional monarchy, which he thought perfectly compatible with the principles of 1789. But in practice there was little to distinguish his schemes for the king to escape from Paris, or appoint a special bodyguard, or mount a vast campaign of royalist propaganda in the provinces, from those being plotted in Turin. In any case the king ignored them all. But so long as he seemed so inert in the face of his revolutionary subjects there was no hope of winning foreign support for his cause. As a Spanish minister told the Prussian ambassador in Madrid early in 1790: ‘It is for the king of France to show himself worthy of support. It would be as senseless as it is impossible to make him a monarch in spite of himself.’2

Yet throughout 1790 evidence of widespread dissatisfaction with the Revolution’s drift continued to accumulate. Emigration went steadily on. The abolition of nobility was the last straw for many, and the military mutinies of that year produced an exodus of disgusted officers. Magistrates deprived of their positions by the abolition of the parlements were also among those leaving, and there was talk of establishing a parlement in exile. Prelates and priests, meanwhile, appalled by the Assembly’s radical religious policy, began to appear in the more faithful Catholic countries surrounding France. And it caused a sensation on both sides of the frontier when one of the foremost radicals of 1789, Mounier, crossed into Switzerland in May. Nor was disenchantment confined to the upper ranks of society. It was increasingly clear that many of the popular disturbances that went on throughout 1790 were, if not counter-, then at least anti-revolutionary. The most spectacular was undoubtedly the bagarre at Nîmes, in June, when pro-revolutionary Protestants defeated with massacre an attempt by Catholic National Guardsmen to take over the city. Both sides were driven on by traditional sectarian antagonisms destabilized and sharpened by the Revolution’s reforms, but the Catholic leader Froment was in touch with Turin and had been commended for his counter-revolutionary fervour by Artois himself. His most reliable men openly sported the white cockade of the Bourbons and made no secret of their contempt for the National Assembly. For them the bagarre was a defeat; but in the longer term the massacre reinforced Catholic royalist sentiment throughout the Midi by providing martyrs. The 20,000 armed men who convened at the first Jalès camp two months later seemed evidence of what reserves of strength might be available, and lent support to rumours of royalist plots about to reach fruition from places as far apart as Toulouse and Lyons. When they heard them the princes in Turin assured their contacts that any uprisings would receive immediate support in money and troops from sympathetic foreign powers. This was wishful thinking, but those anxious to believe it were not put off when no such support materialized for anti-revolutionary riots in July. Undeterred, the Lyons counter-revolutionaries promised that they could deliver the city to a flying column marching from Switzerland, and over the autumn a grandiose plan was elaborated to abduct the king and bring him to the second city while the whole of the Midi rose in support. Louis XVI was warned, and a date set in December for the uprising. But the king refused to co-operate, and even asked Victor Amadeus III to prevent his brother and cousins from leaving Turin to set the plan in motion. He thought it too dangerous: and certainly in the course of December the whole plot was discovered, amid a renewed round of arrests and executions in Lyons. The furious princes vented their frustration on their host and, full of recriminations, in January 1791 they left Turin in search of more congenial quarters further north.

Yet Louis XVI had not given up hope of escape. At this very moment, in fact, he was beginning to consider a new project devised by Mirabeau involving a royalist grouping in the Assembly, a nation-wide network of secret agents, and, at a ripe moment, a dash by the royal family for the eastern frontier. It was shelved when Mirabeau died early in April, but not for long. And in the meantime counter-revolution had begun to affect the Assembly itself. A number of noble deputies had already emigrated, including the leadingmonarchiens, Mirabeau’s brother (the obese ‘Mirabeau-Tonneau’), and Count d’Antraigues, a bitter enemy of absolute monarchy in 1788 but soon to be the main co-ordinator of royalist secret agents. Others chose to stay and try to discredit the Assembly by fomenting extremism and confusion. Among the latter were Cazalès, a magistrate of recent nobility who believed that every step taken since (and including) the merger of the three orders had been retrograde; and Maury, a self-made cleric who was particularly outraged by the Assembly’s ecclesiastical policy, whose dire consequences were only fully revealing themselves that spring. With grim masochism such deputies were welcoming and even voting for the most radical measures by the spring of 1791, increasingly convinced that the worse things got the sooner the new order would collapse. ‘Let this decree pass,’ Maury called to Cazalès during a contentious debate in January,3 ‘we need it; two or three more like that and all will be over.’

Nobody was surprised when Louis XVI himself attempted to join the emigration in the flight to Varennes. It had been rumoured for months, and the escape of the king’s aunts to Rome in February was seen as a first step which the monarch himself soon intended to follow. The émigrés, for their part, had been urging him to flee from the start. But the timing of the escape attempt was set by the royal family alone. Artois had no prior warning, and even the Emperor Leopold, whose troops were expected to mass along the frontier in Belgium to receive the royal fugitives, only learned of the plan just over a week in advance. But the flight transformed the prospects for counter-revolution, even though it failed. In the first place it was no longer possible to believe that the king of France was not an unwilling prisoner in Paris. However desperately the deputies of the Constituent Assembly subscribed to tales of kidnap and abduction, it was obvious that Louis XVI had renounced (and indeed denounced) the Revolution and all its works. It was now obvious, too, that there was a substantial republican movement in Paris, even if it was momentarily tamed and silenced by the Champ de Mars massacre. All this lent urgency to the priority of rescuing the king. At the same time it gave a massive boost to emigration, above all among army officers who considered their oath of loyalty to the king dissolved by his loss of liberty.

The first émigrés had not envisaged taking military action on their own. Throughout his sojourn in Turin, Artois had placed his hopes of armed support in uprisings inside France and intervention by the great powers. But by the spring of 1791 certainémigrécommunities had begun to organize themselves militarily. Mirabeau-Tonneau had established a ‘Black Legion’ of former officers in Switzerland, while other groups drilled in the forests of the Ardennes. After Varennes, with the arrival from France of so many serving officers, counter-revolution began to militarize itself in earnest. Koblenz, where after some months Artois finally established his court in mid-June, soon took on the character of a military headquarters as fugitive officers organized themselves into regiments and undertook manoeuvres. At its peak during the autumn the émigré army stood at almost 20,000 men. Even so it never envisaged itself as much more than an auxiliary force to the armies of Prussia and Austria. For another result of the Varennes crisis had been to induce the powers for the first time to take seriously the prospect of intervention in France. The Padua Circular sent to fellow monarchs on 10 July, and the Convention of Reichenbach with the Prussians two weeks later, showed that Leopold II was at last being stirred by the fate of his sister and brother-in-law. Whether, after an initial wave of emotion, his intention was to do anything very positive seems doubtful; but the émigrés, cheered by the arrival in their ranks of Artois’s elder brother Provence (who fled at the same time as the king, and evaded capture), were enormously encouraged by this imperial show of action. And when Artois heard that the Prussian king and the emperor were to meet late in August at Pillnitz, he noisily demanded an invitation. Receiving none, he and Calonne turned up anyway. The declaration that resulted from the meeting, accordingly, stated explicitly that it had been issued in consultation with the émigré princes. Not only that. The sovereigns handed their statement over to Artois to use as he saw fit, and he and Provence annexed it to a long open letter which they addressed to Louis XVI on 10 September, urging him not to accept the now completed constitution.

In this it failed, and they knew it would. The queen had already told them that her husband would accept the constitution despite private abhorrence. But the princes’ letter is interesting as the first explicit manifesto of the expatriate counter-revolution. The constitution, they argued, had no legitimacy, since it was the work of an assembly that was not the Estates-General. And any sanction the king might give was also invalid, since it would be patently given under duress. Illegitimate, too, were the culpable, appalling, abusive, ruinous, and outrageous policies the Assembly had pursued: its destruction of the orders of society, its attack on the Church, its subversion of the army, its devastation of the economy, its attacks on property. The king was sworn, since his coronation, to uphold the ‘fundamental maxims’ of the kingdom. ‘How could you, sire, give sincere and valid approval to the pretended Constitution which has produced so many evils? Holder in trust of the Throne which you have inherited from your ancestors; you may not either alienate its primordial rights, or destroy the constitutional base on which it rests …’4 Should such a betrayal occur, the princes would know their brother was not a free agent, and would refuse to accept it as sincere. And they would be supported in this, they (quite unjustifiably) claimed, by the armed forces of the whole of monarchical Europe. Thus articulated, the aim of the princes seemed to be something less liberal even than the 13 June programme. They did admit the legitimacy of the Estates-General, and they seemed to allow that there had been abuses needing remedy under the old order since they castigated the National Assembly for going beyond the demands of the cahiers. But their main concern was to see a free king with his own legislative power, and loyal and obedient forces at his disposal to enforce it. The society he would rule over would be, apparently, a complete restoration of the old regime.

That this was the émigrés’ dream can also be seen in the way they led their life in exile. The innumerable nuances and petty snobberies of noble life before 1789 were reproduced and magnified in the princely courts of Turin and then Koblenz. Quarrels of precedence were loudly pursued. When they began to arm themselves, some regiments excluded nobles of recent lineage; and when newcomers arrived they were exhaustively scrutinized for their nobility, their political record since the 1780s, and their reasons for not leaving earlier. ‘I was worn out’, wrote one seasoned officer,5 ‘with a string of silly questions like an interrogation … I confess that this beginning displeased me greatly and made me regret all the efforts I had made to come thus far.’ Cazalès, who went to Koblenz after Varennes, returned home in disgust. So did François Suleau, a journalist of impeccable right-wing credentials. And towards their Italian and German hosts the émigrés often behaved with lofty indifference, leaving a trail of unpaid bills once the monies they brought out with them were exhausted, pushing up local prices, and disrupting everyday life with their routs and military exercises. Yet they were not all petulant, posturing egotists, concerned only for their lost powers and privileges. Many had taken considerable risks, and abandoned their families and property, to join the princes—and the late-comers so despised by more hardened exiles found the process of emigration far more hazardous than the first affluent semi-tourists expecting an early, painless return. Many were sincerely moved by the fate of the king after Varennes, and had their course dictated by a romantic, irrational loyalty. ‘The Bourbons’, recalled Chateaubriand,6 ‘had no need for a younger son of Brittany to return from beyond the seas to offer them his obscure devotion’, yet on hearing of Varennes in America he at once took ship back to Europe, passed through a France that confirmed all his worst fears, and joined the exile army. And he and many like him, former officers all, were content to serve in the ranks ofemigré regiments, since at this stage relatively few commoners had joined the emigration, and those who did seldom directed their tracks to Mainz or Koblenz.

Whatever their motivation, the commitment of the overwhelming majority of émigrés to the course they had chosen was vividly demonstrated by the failure of the amnesty announced to mark the inauguration of the constitution. In combination with the threatening and belligerent attitude of the princes, it did much to fuel the violent anti-émigré attitude of the Legislative Assembly during the autumn of 1791. But the princes and their followers really believed that their moment was at hand. In addition to the Declaration of Pillnitz, they had begun to receive subsidies from most of the greater German rulers, from Spain, and from Russia. In all they received 6½ million livres, with which they bought arms and equipment and hired mercenaries to strengthen their forces. The paranoia in Paris about their activities could only increase their sense of their own importance and military value. But over the autumn disappointment once more set in. The subsidies dried up, and the powers did not move. When threatened with French military action if they did not remove the émigrés armies from their territories, the Rhenish prince-bishops hastened to comply, and ordered the regiments to disband. They were already falling apart anyway for lack of equipment, arms, shelter, and even food. Some degenerated into little more than bands of marauders, living off the country. These developments were all the more dispiriting in that the émigrés were convinced that more and more people within France were being alienated by the continued radical impetus of the Revolution; and that the moment royalist forces invaded the kingdom there would be spontaneous uprisings to support them.

Unfortunately the two propositions were not necessarily linked. There is no doubt that disenchantment with the Revolution’s achievements within France was widespread and growing. To all the administrative, institutional, fiscal, and professional upheavals brought about by the reforms of its first two years, the clerical oath of November 1790 had added religious schism, as those opposed to the new church policy were forced to declare themselves against the whole Revolution. The Pope’s subsequent condemnation of the Civil Constitution of the Clergy put the Roman Church into official opposition to the Revolution, so that the émigrés could now claim that God himself was on their side. But as yet the transmutation of anti-revolution into counter-revolution had only occurred in the sectarian south. Even there the paradoxical effect was to strengthen patriotic zeal. Thus when Pascalis, the mayor of Aix, urged resistance to the abolition of the local parlement and the traditional constitution of Provence at the end of 1790, he was lynched by a patriotic crowd. And when, after the ubiquitous Froment had travelled to Koblenz in January 1792 and secured princely support for a ‘Catholic Army of the Midi’ to be put together at a new Jalès encampment, a premature rising early in July attracted only a few hundred adherents, many of whom were killed by National Guards and regular troops sent out by the departmental authorities of the Gard to disperse them. It was true that by this time the princes had promising contacts in other regions. A Breton nobleman unreconciled from the start to the loss of his native province’s independent character, the Marquis de la Rouërie, appeared at Koblenz in May 1791 claiming to represent a counter-revolutionary ‘Breton association’ of which he proposed to establish branches or at least link-men in all the coastal towns of Brittany. The remarkable scale of oath-refusal among the Breton clergy, and the support these refractories were receiving from the laity, was already well known to the exiles. Accordingly La Rouërie was encouraged, and reported regularly throughout the autumn and spring. There was plenty of support for his organization, he constantly averred. His chief problem was to persuade his most trusty contacts to remain in Brittany rather than taking the ‘honourable road’ into emigration. By the beginning of 1792, his adherents had a considerable stock of arms, if no very clear plan about how to make use of them. But within months this and all other counter-revolutionary projects were transformed by what theémigrés had dreamed of from the start and, it is fair to say, played their own modest part in precipitating in the end: the outbreak of war between France and the great powers of Germany.

Once again their hopes soared. It seemed inconceivable that the demoralized and disorganized remnants of the French army could hold out against the well-equipped and seasoned professionals of the king of Prussia and the new emperor. Or indeed, some thought, against the self-confident regiments of their own former officers, who now quickly regrouped across the Rhine. ‘It will be a walk-over’, one exiled nobleman called to his wife as he rode off to join the colours. Artois even doubted whether the help of the Prussian army would be needed. But elation soon gave way to suspicion and frustration. The Prussians, to whom most of the émigré regiments attached themselves, moved forward very slowly, insisted on keeping their counter-revolutionary allies in the rear, and starved them of supplies and equipment. They even talked of making political compromises once they reached Paris with the Feuillants, whom, as with the monarchiens before them, the émigrés hated even more than Jacobins and ‘demagogues’. Worst of all, the invaders were stunned to find that the population along their route did not rally to them with open arms. ‘The … enemy’, noted one,7 ‘has formidable artillery, and is not as contemptible as we thought. Nobody is coming over to us as had been hoped, and we have not noticed that opinions have changed in the territory we have taken.’ In such an atmosphere the ferocious threats of the Brunswick Manifesto were bound to be counter-productive, yet the émigrés welcomed it as the best way to deter the Parisians from attacking the royal family. In the event it helped to precipitate just such an attack, but the overthrow of the monarchy on 10 August left émigré circles largely unmoved. In their eyes it had long been overthrown already, and the priority was to rescue the king whether he still sat on the throne or not. The bloody scenes which marked the storming of the Tuileries, and the September Massacres a month later, were positively seen by some as serving their longer-term purpose by highlighting the iniquity of the movement they were seeking to destroy. The real blow to the émigré cause was, therefore, Valmy. None of them were present at the famous cannonade, but their main forces were certainly caught up in the rain-soaked and disease-ravaged retreat which followed. With the exception of the regiments of the Prince de Condé, which had remained in Baden throughout the invasion, the émigré armies fell to pieces, fleeing headlong before the republican forces as they now overran the old refuges in Belgium and the Rhenish electorates. On 23 November Provence and Artois formally disbanded their forces. A diaspora began, which carried French exiles to every corner of unconquered Europe-except Prussia, which gave Provence and Artois modest hospitality in the little town of Hamm but firmly closed its territory to their followers. It was, therefore, in a state of dispersion and deep demoralization that the émigrés heard, in the early weeks of 1793, about their estranged compatriots’ ultimate act of defiance, representing the failure of all they had worked for for 3½ years—the execution of Louis XVI.

It was counter-revolution’s low point. So far from rescuing and restoring the powers of the Bourbon monarchy, the war the émigrés had helped to foment had destroyed it. The forces they had assembled were scattered, their German protectors were in disarray, and their links with counterrevolutionary hopefuls inside France completely disrupted. By now over 40,000 French citizens had turned their backs on the Revolution through emigration, but apart from Condé’s army of some 5,500, now being absorbed into the imperial forces, they lacked all organization and coordination. Provence, on hearing news of the execution, at once proclaimed his dead brother’s son Louis XVII and declared himself Regent of the Kingdom. At the same time Artois, whom nevertheless he disliked and mistrusted, received the title of Lieutenant-General of the Kingdom. A defiant proclamation was also issued, largely reiterating the terms of the letter sent to Louis XVI in September 1791. The regent would lend all his efforts, he declared, to rescuing the remnants of his family and reestablishing the French monarchy ‘on the unalterable basis of its constitution’. Unspecified ‘abuses’ would be remedied when that happened, but the main business would be the restoration of the Church, the orders, the old judicial system, and all confiscated properties. If anything this marked a hardening of the princes’ position. But nobody any longer believed they had any prospect of making their pledges a reality. So insignificant had they become that all the powers of Europe except one refused even to recognize Provence as regent. The exception was Russia, and hearing the news Provence dispatched his brother to St Petersburg to discover what other support Catherine II was prepared to offer. After a month of fair words Artois came away in April 1793 with a jewelled sword inscribed With God, for the King but no more tangible support. The Bourbon cause in France, as far as the courts of Europe were concerned, seemed lost.

Yet in fact at this very moment the foundations for a new phase of counter-revolution were being laid, without any initiative from the émigrés. The entry of Great Britain into the war brought an ally whom the princes had long sought to recruit, and one whose sea power laid the whole coast of France open to royalist penetration. Eventually the British would be counter-revolution’s most consistent foreign mainstay. But in the spring of 1793 they remained extremely wary of commitment to any programme for France’s political future. Their aim was simply to limit French power, whoever exercised it, and in the process to boost their own. In any case they did not believe that the Republic could long survive against a European coalition, so there was little to be gained in cultivating its French enemies with commitments which might prove inconvenient once the collapse came. Such indifference infuriated the princes; especially when, in the early days of March, a mass movement of counter-revolution at last appeared in the Republic’s western departments, when no less than fourteen of them exploded into violent resistance to conscription.

Conscription was of course only the trigger, igniting far more deep-seated resentments among a peasantry which had gained much less than those of most regions from the Revolution. Even the great gains of 4 August 1789 had scarcely affected them. The abolition of seigneurial dues was of little consequence in areas where their burden was light, and lords distant, as in the Vendée or Sarthe departments; and the end of the tithe chiefly benefited proprietors, whereas most peasant farmers in western Brittany were tenants, who found in 1790 that their landlords were to be allowed to raise their rents by the amount hitherto paid out for tithes. The opposition of such regions to the Revolution’s work as a whole was made plain in the massive refusal among their clergy to take the oath to the constitution. Many clearly refused it under strong pressure from their parishioners, who wished thereby to send a strong hostile signal to Paris—and the agents of Paris in the form of the new authorities in local administrative centres. But Paris ignored them. And, determined to treat refractory priests like counter-revolutionaries, it eventually made them just that, especially after the draconian measures facilitating deportation passed in the wake of the Revolution of 10 August. The fall of the monarchy merely gave western opponents of Paris one more cause to identify with, a way of advertising hostility to the Revolution. Under the king’s rule, it seemed in retrospect, people had been left to run their own affairs, and had prospered. Revolutionary governments, by contrast, interfered in everyday life to an unprecedented degree, and the result had been disruption and a rise in the demands of landlords and tax-collectors that made the once-resented burdens of the old regime seem mild. In some areas the increases in outgoings may have been as high as 40 per cent. Conscription, in these circumstances, was simply the last straw. But resistance to authority in time of war, especially when it was trying to raise troops, was tantamount to treason, to be met with all the severity normal for such a crime. There was therefore little to lose in taking resistance all the way and proclaiming the king. Within weeks of the first incidents, accordingly, the Vendéan rebels were calling themselves a Catholic and royal army, adopting white cockades and sashes, and sacred heart badges, and looking for noblemen to lead them as would only have been natural under the old monarchy. The chouan guerrillas of Brittany too made no secret of their allegiance to Church and king, although they never coalesced like the Vendéans. Much energy and effort would be spent over the years by royalist agents trying to get them to do so.

Over the spring and summer of 1793, however, their potential was largely ignored by the new Republic’s enemies as they watched the great provincial capitals come out against Paris in the ‘Federalist’ revolt. Counter-revolutionaries assumed, over-hastily, that those who rejected the authority of the Convention must favour royalism. Royalists certainly were involved in some of the episodes, and sought to exploit all of them. Puisaye, for example, struck his first blow for the king in Wimpffen’s ill-fated march from Caen in mid-July. Lyons, in the desperate final stages of its resistance in September, relied increasingly for defence on an army riddled with royalists and their sympathizers. And, of course, Toulon, at the end of August, actually called in the British fleet and proclaimed the king. In response to an invitation from the rebels in the great naval port, and with encouragement from the Spaniards who shared the occupation with the British, late in November Provence set out from Hamm with the intention of going there. But he had got no further than Verona when news came of Toulon’s fall. He made little effort to conceal his relief, and with good reason. Toulon had only invited the British in out of fear of the Convention’s vengeance, and after much agonizing. To reassure the inhabitants, Admiral Hood had declared for a restoration of the constitution of 1791, which was not at all to the prince’s taste. Yet that was the extent of such royalism as emerged during the Federalist revolt. Hardly anybody dreamed of restoring the old regime along with the king. When, in still-occupied Toulon, refractory priests reappeared in the streets and former nobles began to demand deference as of old, there were bitter complaints. Such behaviour was a sobering warning to the only city to proclaim the king, of what his rule would really be like.

Thus, it was only the peasant rebels of the west who were true and determined counter-revolutionaries, and by late summer this was at last beginning to dawn on the Republic’s overseas enemies. Only in August do the British seem to have begun to think seriously of sending them help, and even then it was extremely difficult to decide their true strength, and who, if anybody, spoke for them. Arms and ammunition were stockpiled in Jersey, agents sent to sound out the insurgents, and émigrés encouraged to concentrate in the Channel Islands in the hope of being put ashore in royalist territory. An expedition commander was even named—Lord Moira. It was to meet such an expedition that the Vendéans crossed the Loire on their epic march to Granville. But by the time orders had been given to link up with the Catholic and royal army it was already in retreat, and Moira’s ships cruising and signalling offshore in the first days of December received no response. Yet a pattern had been set. Moira’s force remained in being for several more months, hoping for another opportunity; and the Vendéans, even after their movement dissolved once more into banditry and opportunism following the destruction of their army at Le Mans and Savenay, were led to expect further British help. From the spring of 1794, however, the British proved increasingly inclined to send it not south of the Loire, but to the chouans of Brittany, whom Puisaye succeeded in persuading them he spoke for, with fateful consequences.

All these manoeuvres took place with no reference to Provence or Artois. The British, unlike the Spaniards, opposed the self-styled regent’s plan to go to Toulon, and outraged both the royal brothers with the statement of intent they issued in November 1793. In declaring that ‘the acknowledgement of an hereditary monarchy and of Louis XVII as lawful sovereign, affords the only probable ground for restoring regular government in France,’8 and that a restored monarchy would doubtless be subject to various unspecified ‘modifications’, they showed themselves seemingly less than totally committed to monarchy and agnostic on its precise constitution. But then, there was no consensus about such matters in counterrevolutionary ranks either. While the princes felt most at home with ‘pures’ who had left France early and refused to contemplate a restoration of anything beyond what Louis XVI had offered on 23 June 1789, after 1792 the ranks of the émigrés were increasingly swelled by men who had helped to construct the constitution of 1791, and still believed it could have worked, with certain changes. These ‘constitutionals’ were in their turn an uneasy combination of former monarchiens (like Mounier and Lally-Tollendal), Feuillants (like the Lameth brothers and Duport), and more consistent, right-wing ex-deputies (Montlosier, Malouet). All were monarchists, but some believed still in the unicameral legislature and separation of powers of 1791, while others, naturally choosing exile in Great Britain, preferred two chambers and minister-deputies. But they were united in believing that the clock could not be put back to a time before France had a written, representative constitution. There was no future for the allies, argued the Swiss journalist Mallet du Pan, whose Mercure de Francehad provided an invariably acute right-wing commentary on French affairs until he emigrated in 1792, in trying to reverse the Revolution as the émigrés were urging. He even doubted by the time he published his Considerations on the Nature of the Revolution in France and the Causes which Prolong it in August 1793 whether war alone could defeat such a movement. What was needed was intensive propaganda to assure the French that, along with suppression of the disorder and mob rule that had engulfed them, an allied victory would guarantee the basic gains so many of them had made in the Revolution. The British were impressed by Mallet’s analysis, and retained him as an intelligence-gatherer on French affairs, based between 1793 and 1797 in Berne. The ‘purer’émigrés, predictably, were incensed by both his views and the credence the powers seemed to give them. They were not even interested in the intelligence he commanded. They preferred to rely upon the network set up late in 1793 by d’Antraigues. Establishing himself in Venice, not far from Provence’s new base in Verona, until 1797 d’Antraigues collected information from trusted correspondents all over France and subsequently sold it to interested allied powers. None of these correspondents, who often wrote in cipher or invisible ink, were without their own political views; that was why d’Antraigues, the title of whose 1792 pamphlet No Compromise made clear his own position, used them. Nor was he afraid to amend or load the reports he based on their letters yet further in order to persuade those he wrote for that a restoration of the old regime was both desirable and feasible. The problem he faced, like Mallet du Pan, was that the allies refused to rely on him alone for their information and political analysis. Not only were they writing against each other; they were also in competition with more direct contacts maintained by the powers in France, and particularly the links to the western rebels which the British thought they had established through the indefatigable Puisaye.

In the course of 1794 counter-revolutionary hopes were fixed more and more on the British as the war on land turned again in France’s favour, the Austrians were driven once more from the southern Netherlands, and Prussia stood increasingly aside. The British in turn, devastated by the disasters in Belgium, were at least encouraged by the apparent drift to the right which followed the fall of Robespierre, and the persistence of royalist guerrilla activity in Brittany and the Vendée. But they were themselves undecided about whether to commit their resources now against the French West Indies or in support of the western royalists within the country; and it took the arrival of Puisaye in London in September to persuade them that an expedition to western France would be worthwhile. Puisaye spoke, he claimed, for 30,000 organized chouans, and could draw on 40,000 more with British help in money, arms, and ammunition. In actual fact the chouans probably numbered less than 22,000 in all, and Puisaye could in no real sense speak for such a fluctuating, spontaneous, and scattered movement. He did have sporadic contact with the chiefs of some of the larger bands, but the ‘Catholic and royal army of Brittany’ which he confidently claimed to represent from July 1794 existed largely in his own imagination. The chouans were undoubtedly proving enormously disruptive, as only guerrillas can. Few parts of the Breton countryside were safe from their depredations, and outside the towns orderly government had largely broken down amid murder of officials, resistance to taxation and conscription, and attacks on official and patriot-owned property. But none of this was militarily useful, and the chouans never showed any sign of being able to capture and hold a port, which ever since the fiasco at Granville the British navy had insisted must be the essential pre-condition for any amphibious operation. Yet Puisaye was persuasive, and impressed Pitt. As the triumphant republican armies systematically removed every other possibility of a firm continental foothold over the winter of 1794–5, the British government found the idea of a major initiative in Brittany increasingly attractive, and began to build up supplies once again in the Channel Islands. Artois, when he heard how much progress Puisaye had apparently made, and despite suspicions that this new figure in the counter-revolution was less than ‘pure’, gave his projects a royal blessing and named Puisaye a lieutenant-general.

Yet long before an expedition finally set sail late in June, the odds against its succeeding were mounting. Within France, the rightward drift of politics over the spring of 1795 brought the final abandonment of all vestiges of terror as a method of government, and the harassment and even arrest of its leading perpetrators at both national and local level. In the west in particular, the restoration of open religious practice eliminated one of the most persistent of popular grievances inclining the peasants to support chouans and Vendéan guerrillas. At the same time the insurgents themselves came under mounting pressure. As their always inadequate supplies dwindled and were not replaced from abroad (the British now putting all their efforts into building up stocks for the projected expedition), the new counter-insurgency tactics of General Hoche broke up guerrilla bands and scattered them. A number of important chouan leaders were killed, others defected to the ‘blues’, and neither were easily replaced. Nor were warnings that a landing was imminent taken as seriously as they would have been if so many previous rumours had not proved false. Such factors were responsible for the series of treaties made between blues and whites throughout the west between February and May. Despair brought the royalist leaders to the negotiating table. But in their secret messages to London they disclaimed any sincere intention to live at peace with the Republic.

Tell the British government and the Princes [Charette instructed their emissary] that I signed the peace simply because I feared that my party, given its total lack of powder, would be destroyed in an assault that was being prepared by superior forces; but assure them that I will never make a genuine peace with those who have murdered my king and my country … I am entirely ready to take up arms again. My soldiers are battle-hardened and eager to fight; it is simply prudence which leads me to hold them back until I can fight with advantage.9

Similar messages were received from the Breton chouans, and in fact by no means all of their chiefs had subscribed to the treaty of La Mabilais which ostensibly ended hostilities in the peninsula.

In the light of these assurances an expedition was finally launched. The destination chosen was the narrow, rocky Quiberon peninsula in southern Brittany. The British even gave up their insistence on a port, so thoroughly persuaded were they by now that the local chouans could easily take and defend what was almost a natural harbour. In the last days of June, accordingly, 3,000 men were embarked for Quiberon, with arms and supplies for 70,000. No British troops were to land, at least until a firm bridgehead wasestablished, but Pitt’s counter-revolutionary protégés happily accepted that. Too many émigrés were aching for action throughout southern England, and it seemed better all round that the king of France should be restored by loyal Frenchmen. Thus the spearhead of the force was a mixture of exiles and drafted French prisoners. When they landed, 10,000 chouans converged on Quiberon and the local blues were swamped. But the chouans were ill disciplined, and the euphoric émigrés scarcely better; the chain of command was not clear, and the invaders failed to advance from their bridgehead. Hoche was soon on the scene, but he took care to build up strong forces before attacking. When he did so, on 3 July, he had 10,000 regulars under his command, and within a week he had recaptured the peninsula and taken 6,000 prisoners. Over 1,000 of these were émigrés, and they were subjected to the full severity of renewed laws (first passed when the war had begun) concerning émigrés captured with arms in their hands: 640 of them were shot, along with 108 chouans. When the first, optimistic reports of the landing had reached London, the British hurriedly brought Artois from Bremen, where he had been negotiating for months for a passage to England but had been deterred by fears of arrest for unpaid debts incurred there the last time his prospects had seemed bright. The plan now was to send him to take command in Brittany. But by the time he reached Portsmouth early in August the world knew that the Quiberon expedition had failed disastrously, and that the bravest and most loyal of the counter-revolution’s warriors had lost their lives either in the fighting or facing Hoche’s firing squads.

It was not the end of British attempts to land émigrés in the west in the hope of linking up with guerrillas there. Their efforts now switched southwards, to the Vendée, where Charette as he had promised had taken the field again, and was indicating that he would be there to welcome an allied force ashore. In fact he had shot hundreds of republican prisoners when he heard of the reprisals after Quiberon. As soon as he arrived in Portsmouth, Artois demanded to be taken to join his brother’s loyal subjects, and early in September he duly sailed with a new expedition partly made up of the remnants of the old. On the thirtieth he landed opposite the Vendée on the Île d’Yeu. But by then Hoche had been able to concentrate fresh troops released from the Pyrenean front by peace with Spain. He lined the coast with them, and Charette was unable to break through. In mid-November the British recalled the expedition and Artois returned with them, not to set foot again on French soil until 1814.

The events of the summer of 1795 traumatized the counter-revolution. Even as the Quiberon expedition was about to set sail, on 8 June, Louis XVII died. The intransigent proclamation issued by his uncle from Verona on assuming the title Louis XVIII not only cut off all hope of co-operation with influential right-wingers inside France: it was also a snub to émigré moderates and constitutionalists, and was so intended by those like d’Antraigues who had a hand in its drafting. Most of those who sailed with the expeditions to Quiberon and Yeu were ‘pures’, too: the catastrophe which befell them left those who survived looking for scapegoats, and they were soon blaming everybody but themselves. Puisaye was an obvious target. He had not even been incompetent, argued some of his more extreme critics: the expedition had been designed to fail, and in its failure immolate the finest flower of intransigent counter-revolutionaries, so opening the way for a ‘constitutional’ takeover. With such tales about, Puisaye was wise not to return to England, though he survived the rout. By early in September he was back with his beloved chouans in Brittany—only to find that there too his reputation and authority had been irreparably damaged. If chouannerie had anyone who could be called a leader, it was now one of the chiefs who had spurned the treaty of La Mabilais, and waited in vain for Artois to arrive at Quiberon with reinforcements—the redoubtable, inflexible Georges Cadoudal. The one party all shades of French counter-revolutionary could agree on blaming was the British. Ancestral suspicion of perfidious Albion had always anyway been as deep among royalists as among their republican opponents, although more recent grievances differed. England had been late to join the war, had not recognized Provence as regent, had taken Toulon only to pillage it. Then she had used the war as an excuse to seize French territories in Corsica and the West Indies rather than establish legitimate government there. Finally she had under-equipped and then let down the Quiberon expedition and its ‘pure’ participants. Nobody was therefore surprised when in 1796 Pitt once more began to concentrate his efforts in the Caribbean. And yet the counter-revolutionaries needed Great Britain more than ever as the coalition fell apart. More and more émigrés found that the island state was their only safe refuge—even if Artois himself had to be accommodated in Scotland to avoid his still insistent English creditors. And where else could the chouans and Vendéans hope to be supplied from?

Few supplies, however, reached them as the winter drew on. And meanwhile Hoche, his ‘Army of the Ocean Coasts’ reinforced by yet more regulars from victorious fronts, saturated Catholic and royal territory on both sides of the Loire with search and destroy missions. In February 1796 he captured Stofflet and executed him. A month later he caught Charette, too, and treated him similarly. This, combined with religious toleration and strict control over the depredations of ‘blue’ troops, reduced the Vendée at last to a precarious peace. By midsummer, Hoche was able to declare the insurrection finally at an end, and be proclaimed ‘Pacifier of the Vendée’ by a grateful Directory. By then, too, so many troops had been drafted into Brittany that the chouans could scarcely make a move. Puisaye was reduced to hiding in underground dugouts, like some hunted fox.

Indeed, by then Louis XVIII himself was in full flight from those he regarded as his subjects. As soon as Bonaparte’s army of Italy crossed the Alps the terrified Venetian authorities ordered the hapless pretender to leave Verona. He made his way, unauthorized, across Switzerland to join the Prince de Condé’s forces in Austrian service along the Rhine. Much had been hoped of Condé’s thousand or so émigrés the previous spring. As the White Terror swept along the Rhône and scores of Jacobins were massacred in Lyons there were plans for the Austrians, spearheaded by Condé’s émigrés, to make a lightning strike into Franche Comté and then south to link up with the Lyonnais royalists. The British provided money to retain agents throughout the region, and both they and the Austrians were intrigued to hear that the French commander on the Rhine, Pichegru, the conqueror of Holland and the avenger of the Prairial uprising in Paris, was considered susceptible to royalist advances. In the end he was, but in the summer of 1795 attempts to win him paralysed any further action. The year concluded with a formal truce along the Rhine and no help for the plotters in Lyons. With the resumption of campaigning in the spring of 1796 Condé hoped to reactivate the plan, and the arrival of the king himself (who donned uniform and reviewed the troops) was greeted with enthusiasm. But not in Vienna, where the presence of the pretender was viewed as inviting a French attack. The Emperor, who like most other rulers had not yet even recognized him as Louis XVIII, ordered him to leave. Shortly afterwards an unidentified gunman tried to shoot him. Was nowhere safe? The only host he could find for the moment was a grudging Duke of Brunswick, whose army in 1792 had failed to rescue his brother. So it was from Blankenburg, ‘in a nasty little town, in a nasty house, tiny, badly furnished, if at all’,10 that he watched the French Republic’s armies sweep to victory over their last continental enemy during the ensuing months.

Counter-revolution, therefore, in the sense of the armed overthrow of the French Republic and many of the innovations it stood for, was defeated by the time the land war came to an end at Leoben in April 1797. Three days after those preliminaries were signed, French troops arrested d’Antraigues as he fled from Venice. Under questioning, on one occasion by Bonaparte himself, he revealed a good deal about his spy network, including information that damned Pichegru. Subsequently he was allowed to escape, but the effect of what remains an exceedingly murky episode was to ruin his credit with Louis XVIII and his fellow émigrés. But what was one more quarrel among so many others? Counter-revolution was bedevilled from start to finish by vicious feuding and factionalism between groups who hated and mistrusted one another—often, it seemed, more than the Revolution itself. By their own efforts, the bickering émigrés never had any chance of arresting or moderating, much less reversing, the march of events in France. All they sometimes succeeded in doing, by their antics, was to help push things to greater extremes—which only the more crass among them expected to advance their cause. They needed help: but neither of the sources they looked to was necessarily much interested in seeing them succeed.

The great powers sought at first simply the weakening of France, and only went to war when it became clear that she had not achieved that for herself. Most émigrés, however, dreamed of recovering power over a strong kingdom, with intact resources. Only the Revolution itself, in their eyes, had brought weakness, and they deeply resented the rumours they heard about victorious powers partitioning France, like Poland, not to mention the use of British sea power to capture French overseas possessions. Subsequently the powers concluded that a stable France was more desirable than a weak one; but even then they remained open-minded about the sort of regime most likely to restore and maintain order. Their commitment to monarchy, of whatever type, was never more than conditional, and even in 1797 Louis XVIII was only recognized by Russia and Sweden. Only sporadically did the great powers, always pursuing their own interests, regard French counter-revolutionaries as more than a nuisance, a complication, or at best a catspaw.

As to internal counter-revolutionaries, most of them sought little more than to be left alone. Their quarrel was with a Revolution that had disrupted their communities and their religious and social certainties, and brought outside interference in every aspect of their lives, without producing enough compensatory benefits. Men in power in Paris, and those who sought to implement their orders in the localities, were too inclined to call any resistance counter-revolutionary. Much of it, however, like the so-called ‘Federalist’ revolt of 1793, merely sought to stop the Revolution going further. It was only in the Gard, the Vendée, and rural Brittany that mass movements developed, fighting openly for the Church and king they remembered from before 1789. Even then their resistance had no national dimension. It was significant that what triggered the revolts in the west was conscription, which threatened to take young men away to distant frontiers to fight unknown enemies. Popular counter-revolutionaries infinitely preferred to fight patriots, constitutional priests, and Protestants on their own doorstep. Their one sortie outside home territory, the Vendéans’ march to Granville, was a desperate bid to attract foreign help as the tide began to turn against them. Resistance would probably not have continued after Savenay without the unrelieved brutality of republican reprisals over the spring of 1794. Leaving aside the bungling, misunderstandings, and plain bad luck which blighted the one major attempt of émigrés, foreign powers, and royalist rebels to act together in the summer of 1795, and even if, as the popular leaders constantly urged, Artois had come to the mainland and raised his standard, it seems doubtful whether the peasant counter-revolutionaries of the west, however numerous on their own ground, would have willingly set out to march as far as Paris. And if they had, they would surely have been stopped on the way by the most seasoned and successful soldiers in Europe.

Nor would they have made many converts to their nostalgic creed of restoring a golden past if they had broken out. As Mallet du Pan, most clear-eyed of royalists, wrote to Louis XVIII after the Declaration of Verona, ‘The great majority of the French will never willingly give in to the former authority and those who wielded it’.11 That did not mean there was no support for a limited, constitutional monarchy, repugnant though the new king and his entourage might find it. The Verona Declaration might have killed the prospect for the legislators of the Convention; but in the country at large, in the aftermath of the last sansculotte convulsions in Germinal and Prairial, monarchy seemed increasingly to offer the best prospects for stability. And with the approaching end of the Convention it might even hope to triumph: not through foreign invasion or internal insurrection, but through the normal political process of elections.

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