The Great Vendee Rising of 1793 was one of the most serious threats to the survival of the young French Republic, and was only defeated after Republican armies had suffered a series of costly battlefield defeats and carried out a brutal programme of repression across the region.
The focus of this book is on a detailed account of the individual battles and skirmishes of 1793. These make good use of sources from both sides, so we often see the two sides presenting different views of a particular encounter. There are plenty of maps to illustrate the more important clashes, and we end up with a clear idea of the military side of the fighting in the Vendee.
One contrast between the sides that emerges from this text is the quality of leadership. On the Royalist side a series of inspiration leaders emerged, most famously the young La Rochejaquelein, who were able to lead their armies to impressive victories. In contrast the Republican leadership was much more mixed in quality, with a split between those with unimpeachable ‘Republican’ qualities and those with some experience in the pre-Revolutionary armies. Reasonably successful leaders were removed from command because of their aristocratic background and unsuccessful leaders were more likely to be killed by their own side than by the rebels. As different groups came to power in Paris they each sent their own representatives to the area, so there was often no clear leadership. Ironically it was the rebel Catholic and Royalist Army that was most egalitarian, with many leaders chosen for their ability and not their status, and the Republican army that was prone to political appointments.
If this book has a flaw, it is that it tends to provide too much detail on the individual battles and skirmishes, at the cost of somewhat losing track of the overall situation. A more significant problem is that the end is far too abrupt. We go from the death of the Royalist leader La Rochejaquelein on 28 January 1794 to the peace terms offered in February 1795 within a paragraph, with only one sentence devoted to the Republican atrocities of early 1794 (the ‘Infernal Columns’ commanded by Turreau), and the last few years of struggle only get half a page. The focus of the book may well be on the Great Vendee Rising of 1793, but it really did need a proper chapter to bring the story to its end.
Despite these quibbles, this is an excellent military history of the fighting in 1793, which helps bring home just how a big a threat this uprising posed to the French Republic and how much effort had to go into putting it down.
1 – Fighting the Revolution, a Brief Background to the Vendée Rising
2 – ‘Patriots, Robbers and Cowards’: The Republican Armies in the Vendée Rising
3 – ‘For God and the King’: The Catholic and Royal Armies
4 – ‘Running like a Trail of Gunpowder’: The Rising Takes Hold
5 – ‘In less than a month the troubles in the Vendée will be at an end’
6 – The Rise of the Grand Army
7 – The Republic in Crisis
8 – The Sans-Culotte Army
9 – ‘Destroy the Vendée!’
10 – ‘The Promenade of the Sovereign People’
11 – ‘The rebels fought like tigers and our soldiers like lions’
12 – The Coastal Vendée stands Alone: October and November
13 – The March on Granville
14 – The Race to the Loire
15 – The Death of an Army
16 – Charette ‘King of the Vendée’
17 – The End of the ‘War of Giants’
Author: Rob Harper
Publisher: Pen & Sword Military