Thursday, March 17, 2016

Emigrés from the French Revolution

The Revolutionary and Napoleonic era was a time of massive personal displacement when, as a result of war and upheaval, soldiers marched toward and civilians fled from zones of conflict. Many individuals left France altogether during the 1790s, in successive waves that became a tide of emigration. The émigrés, as they were known, probably numbered some 100,000 in total, though precise figures are difficult to obtain since the official records both omitted genuine cases and included those who had left their homes but remained in the country. Unlike loyalists fleeing the earlier American Revolution, for instance, most émigrés would eventually return to France within a decade, but their departure and subsequent fate was a significant factor in French politics for far longer. 

The first émigrés were aristocrats, notably members of the royal household such as the comte de Provence and the comte d'Artois (the future kings Louis XVIII and Charles X), who quit France in disgust as early as 1789 and were the last to return. Military officers left in droves in 1791 and 1792, as the monarchy was menaced and radical change threatened their livelihoods. Such émigrés stripped the army and navy of their leadership and posed a counterrevolutionary threat to the new order, since many of them plotted its overthrow from abroad. Thousands of priests were also leaving France, as a consequence of reform and schism in the Catholic Church. Their opposition to the Revolution fanned the flames of anticlericalism and brought deportation in its wake. War and civil war in 1793 produced a fresh exodus of involuntary émigrés. Emigration was a matter of necessity rather than choice for the 20,000 inhabitants who escaped, in order to avoid arrest for collaboration, after an Austrian army of occupation evacuated Alsace. Likewise in rebel areas of the west and the Midi: Thousands fled from Toulon after the collapse of revolt rather than endure republican reprisals. The frontier areas of France were most deeply affected by this huge surge of fugitives, both on account of turbulence and on account of their proximity to foreign havens. There was a final flurry of departures under the Directory, when priests and moderates fled a renewed government crackdown in 1797, but the émigrés had begun to return. 

Although the Terror claimed the majority of its victims among ordinary people, the emigration involved peasants and artisans as well as the privileged classes. Yet nobles and priests were significantly overrepresented: Roughly 17 percent of recorded émigrés were aristocratic, while an even greater percentage, 25 percent, were clergy (Greer 1951, 127). These categories accounted for almost half the émigrés who have been identified. They left earlier and spent longer in exile than their lower-class counterparts. The aristocratic experience, often vividly conveyed in colorful memoirs such as those of the marquise de la Tour du Pin, has inevitably influenced perceptions of the emigration, painting a picture of genteel poverty and efforts to re-create a courtly life abroad. Many nobles gathered in the Rhineland around Coblenz (Koblenz) or in Baden, forming armies that participated in the invasion of France in 1792. Following the French victory at Valmy, the émigrés' main force was disbanded, but Louis-Joseph de Bourbon, prince de Condé continued the struggle. 

The gradual expansion of the French Republic and later the Empire into the German and Italian territories where they had first sought refuge dispersed these émigrés more widely, with Britain a popular and secure destination (as it always had been for Breton and Norman refugees). Provence and Artois arrived there after a continental odyssey, while others traveled to Russia or the United States (where they encountered émigrés of another sort, those who were fleeing slave rebellion in the French colony of St. Domingue (later established as Haiti). 

The penalties imposed on emigrants had become increasingly severe as the Revolution progressed. In December 1790 the loss of public office was the price to be paid for continued absence, but a year later the Legislative Assembly ordered capital punishment in the event of unauthorized return. After the outbreak of war in 1792 émigré property was seized by the local authorities and it was later put up for sale as national property (biens nationaux). The end of the Terror brought little respite, and émigrés arrested on French soil still faced punishment, while the relatives of émigrés were barred from holding public office. The 700 émigrés comprising the ill-fated invasion force that landed at Quiberon Bay in July 1795 were simply shot, while priests and other returning exiles were executed following the purge of parliament in 1797. Yet steps to address the problem of reintegrating the émigrés had been taken, albeit in a halting fashion. Recognizing that in 1793 many people took flight because of fear of repression rather than because of opposition to the Revolution, a partial amnesty was offered (of which others took advantage). 

When Bonaparte came to power in 1799, he initially forbade the return of returning émigrés because they had abandoned their country and did not deserve to be allowed back. Yet from 1800 onward exceptions multiplied, and by 1802 only those who had led military operations against the Republic, served in princely households, or committed treason remained proscribed. Like the royalist vicomte François-Renéde Chateaubriand, émigrés banned from France for a decade rushed to make their declarations of loyalty to the Consulate. Many recovered property that was unsold or had been acquired by agents; the loss to the nobility in general was not as severe as once thought. Only a small, hard-core group of émigrés, some 1,000 in number, were excluded from the general amnesty and stayed abroad until the reestablishment of the Bourbon monarchy in 1814. Yet they were to play a notorious role in souring the Restoration, demanding compensation that climaxed in the infamous milliard des émigrés of 1825, which indemnified those expropriated during the Revolution to the tune of more than 600 million francs. Napoleon may have virtually closed the circle of emigration, but its psychological legacy, like that of the Terror, far outlived its more immediate consequences.

References and further reading Carpenter, Kirsty, and Philip Mansel, eds. 1999. The French Emigrés in Europe and the Struggle against the Revolution, 1789-1814. Basingstoke, UK: Macmillan. Diesbach, Ghislain de. 1998. Histoire de l'émigration, 1789-1814. Paris: Perrin. Greer, Donald. 1951. The Incidence of the Emigration during the French Revolution. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Vidalenc, Jean. 1963. Les émigrés français, 1789-1825. Caen: L'Université de Caen.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

French Émigré Armies

Armée des Émigrés at the Battle of Quiberon.

The émigré armies of the French Revolutionary Wars were armies raised outside of France by and out of Royalist émigrés, with the aim of overthrowing the French Revolution, reconquering France and restoring the monarchy. These were aided by royalist armies within France itself, such as the Chouans, and by allied countries such as Great Britain, and fought (for example) at the sieges of Lyon and Toulon.

They were formed from:

    * noblemen volunteers, either descendents of the ancient royal family or not, who had fled France
    * troops raised by these nobles through subsidies from other European monarchies, or through their own means
    * units of the French army which had also emigrated, such as the 4e régiment de hussards

Even Napoleon said of them "True, they are paid by our enemies, but they were or should have been bound to the cause of their King. France gave death to their action, and tears to their courage. All devotion is heroic.

France’s nearest neighbours had made little secret of their dislike of the Revolution: the Emperor of Austria, in particular, offered shelter to noble and royalist émigrés from France, who held court in Turin, Koblenz, and in the various principalities along the Rhine waiting for the day when they could invade France and restore the King’s and their own authority. The Declaration of Pillnitz and the Brunswick Manifesto made no secret of the dreams harboured by monarchical Europe, while rumours circulated of treaties and secret deals struck between foreign rulers and the French royal family. Panic spread fast, reaching even the Assembly, where Brissot argued passionately that the Revolution must either be expansionist or be destroyed. 

At a popular level, too, fear of invasion and of a noble backlash contributed to the anger felt by the Parisian crowd and helped to radicalize opinion in the capital. On 18 January 1792 the Girondin deputy Vergniaud pronounced war to be inevitable. ‘Our Revolution’, he declared, ‘has spread the most acute alarm to all the crowned heads of Europe; it has shown how the despotism which supports them can be destroyed. The despots hate our Constitution because it makes men free and because they want to reign over slaves.’ And though Robespierre himself was among those who warned against premature militarism, many historians of the period have followed Vergniaud in seeing the war in ideological terms. The patrie was in danger; the French people had to fight if they were to survive, and the entire political order depended upon their efforts. In that sense the Revolutionary Wars were different in kind from traditional eighteenth-century conflicts between monarch and monarch, since in the event of victory one side would now seek to destroy the institutions of its enemy, the French imposing a liberal constitution on the Austrians or Prussians, and they in turn restoring the Bourbons to the throne of France. And it was the whole French people who were at war, the nation in arms defending its liberties and values when they were under attack. 

In the process the Revolution itself became more narrowly nationalistic, shedding its universal claim to represent free men wherever they might live and claiming that liberty was the prerogative of the French. This was the view of revolutionary leaders like Dubois-Crancé, who argued that every citizen was now a soldier and every soldier a citizen. It was brilliantly propounded by Clausewitz in the nineteenth century, when he wrote that ‘war had again become an affair of the people, and that of a people numbering thirty millions, every one of whom regarded himself as a citizen of the state’.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Émigré Fortunes

Seven year old Louis in 1792, portrait by Alexander Kucharsky

The Legislative Assembly met in an atmosphere of international crisis. For the first time since 1787, the flight to Varennes had made French affairs a subject of concern rather than disdainful satisfaction to foreign powers. In May 1790 the Constituent Assembly had positively renounced war as an instrument of policy, except in self-defence. But after the ignominious recapture of a king who appeared bent on internationalizing his plight, other monarchs were alarmed. In the Declaration of Pillnitz (27 August 1791) the Emperor and the king of Prussia were induced by Louis XVI's two émigré brothers, Artois and Provence, to threaten military intervention. Thousands of army officers had joined the émigrés after Varennes, and were now massing across the frontier dreaming of a return with foreign armies. 

Louis's brother, the comte de Provence, who had escaped to Belgium, had early in July joined the comte d'Artois and Gustavus III of Sweden at Aix-la-Chapelle. Here the emigres made noisy and threatening preparations for an early restoration of the ancien regime in France by force of arms. With Provence claiming to be regent of France as of right, with Conde's forces at Worms swollen by mass desertions of officers from the frontier regiments, these threats no doubt seemed more serious to the French Assembly than they were in fact.

The king and queen shared these dreams; but the new deputies saw them as a provocation. Over the autumn and winter their language became hysterically belligerent towards the German princelings who harboured the émigrés and, behind them, the Habsburg Emperor. They also sought to provoke Louis XVI into compromising himself by passing decrees intensifying penalties against refractory priests and émigrés which they knew he would not sanction. General paranoia was intensified by news of a massive slave uprising in the Caribbean, and the coffee and sugar shortages that followed. Despite fears, evinced by Jacobins like Robespierre, that the debilitated army was in no state to defeat the disciplined forces of Austria and Prussia, most of the country was carried away by war fever. 

Though it was recognised that the emigres congregated at Worms and Coblenz offered only a potential military threat to the country's security, it was against these enemies rather than against emigres in general that action was directed. Other reasons, however, lay behind the decree. There was, for example, the practical problem of filling the twelve hundred commissions in the army vacated by the emigration of royalist officers. Nor could the Assembly ignore the need to check the flight of emigre revenues from France at a time when the assignats were beginning to depreciate. The decree of 9 November imposed on all emigres who had joined the armed concentrations outside French frontiers and who failed to repatriate themselves by 1 January 1792 the penalties of treason-confiscation of their property and capital punishment if caught.

The king (who shared Robespierre's analysis but saw it as a sign of hope for his own rescue) was therefore happy to declare war on the Emperor on 20 April 1792.


Serious talk was also heard in the spring of 1795 of restoring monarchy in the person of Louis XVI's surviving son, a sickly child who might be made acceptable by a carefully controlled, public-spirited education. These hopes, however, were destroyed in June 1795 when `Louis XVII' died; and from his exile in Verona the next month, his uncle the Count de Provence proclaimed his own succession as Louis XVIII in a chillingly uncompromising declaration which promised an almost total restoration of the old regime in the event of his return. That obviously meant giving back national lands to the Church and to émigrés who had incurred confiscation once war broke out. Some émigrés chose this moment to demonstrate their continued intransigence by attempting to invade Brittany with British support in the hope of marching on Paris at the head of a horde of Breton Royalists. They never got beyond the beaches at Quiberon and were shot in their hundreds by their republican captors.


Just as patriotism provided common ground between the emigres and their expropriators, so too did historical determinism. The exiles were haunted by the idea that the Revolution was a work of Providence, or of Fate-call it what you will so long as eternity is invoked to provide miscalculation with its alibi. They were not, however, the only ones who had miscalculated, nor was a mystical conservative fatalism the only kind of determinism. As the Revolution went on, it assumed unforeseen and terrifying forms, yet all the while continued to interweave itself with the belief in progress; it shed layer after layer of its supporters, while making its cause more and more inseparable from the whole national interest. It thus encouraged men to hypostasise events which they failed to understand or which they did not know how to resist, until confusion appeared an organic unity, an ineluctable process. Given certain data, said Toulongeon, revolutions, like physical changes in the material of the universe, are inevitable. Napoleon, with that unfailing realism by which he measured everything except his own ambitions, saw this tendency as the historical formula to reconcile all Frenchmen. In his now notorious historiographical instructions to the Abbe Halma (1808) he recommended an unemotional approach to the horrors of recent years-'the blame attaches neither to those who have perished nor to those who have survived. There was no individual force capable of changing the elements or of foreseeing the events which were born from circumstances and the very nature of things.' Had the emperor written revolutionary history instead of regarding it as a prelude to his legend, he would have spoken with the accents of Thiers and Mignet. These two historians were to be accused of 'fatalism'. It was not their invention. The victor was glad to have 'the very nature of things' legitimising his rule, as it had necessitated the Terror: the defeated were glad to have succumbed to no lesser foe than destiny.