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.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Total Amnesty For Émigrés

Bonaparte earned great admiration for solving some of the most intractable political problems raised by the Revolution. Few scholars have recognized, however, that the Consulate's solutions only became possible after years of building up the government's capacity to control repression and police society. This development is illustrated by the means used to solve the problem of émigrés. In early 1800, the Consulate closed the list of émigrés and created a special political commission to screen applications for removal from it. The process remained slow and was badly tainted by bribery and favoritism. Six months later, the government adopted a partial amnesty. This granted automatic readmission to whole categories of émigrés, while also continuing to screen others on an individual basis. The key to the operation lay in requiring every returned émigré to register with a departmental prefect or urban police commissioner, who then reported to the minister of police. This enabled the government either to deny admission outright or to order police surveillance of any individual émigré deemed dangerous. This massive operation occupied one-third of all employees in the Ministry of Police. The minister, Joseph Fouché, showed no qualms about having dozens of returned émigrés suspected of royalist activities arrested and locked away in state prisons without trial. The whole process violated the Consulate's constitution, which, like that of the Directory, explicitly barred the return of proven émigrés. All the same, combining an amnesty that irritated republicans with police measures that contradicted the basic principles of the early Revolution proved very successful politically. In April 1802 the Senate adopted an almost total amnesty for émigrés. This removed most of the discretionary categories, but none of the police surveillance. Fouché instructed provincial officials to repress "with inflexible severity" any subversive activity, including trying to get nationalized property back (Madelin 1903: vol. 1, 327-349). In the end, the magnanimity of allowing all but a few thousand émigrés to return would have been impossible, and certainly unimaginable, without a security apparatus that combined an elaborate bureaucracy with appointed officials such as was in place by 1802. 

By this time, France was descending rapidly into dictatorship. The Concordat, enacted along with restrictive "organic laws" in April 1802, and the purge of liberal members from the Tribunate at much the same time, dismayed those who remained committed to a secular, democratic state. But their opposition was too little, too late. The many exceptional measures and institutions of repression they had previously approved now paved the road to Bonaparte's personal dictatorship. As well as making him First Consul for Life, the Constitution of Year X (August 1802) strengthened his hand in choosing lawmakers, authorized him alone to ratify treaties, gave him the power to grant pardons, to suspend the constitution, and even to suspend jury trials where he saw fit. The plebiscite that endorsed such changes confirmed that political legitimacy now rested in the person of Bonaparte and the apparatus of his rule, to the detriment of lawmakers and civil liberties alike. The new security state was as much a product of the French Revolution as Napoleon himself.

The Chouan Guerrilla

The generals in Brittany prevented the rural armed groups from coalescing and taking control of the region. At the end of April 1793 republican control had been re-established, despite the fact that those opposing it remained in general totally hidden, sometimes concealed underground, most often in wooded areas or isolated villages, benefiting from the support of the peasants, whether voluntary or forced. A certain number of Bretons or insurgents from Maine and Anjou traveled to the south of the Loire, joining one of the Catholic armies being set up. After July 1793 complex confrontations between Girondins and Montagnards split the revolutionary camp even further: some of the defeated Girondins defected to the counter-revolution, the most famous of these being Puisaye, who entered into negotiations with various groups of resisters and succeeded in being named general-in-chief of the chouans at the end of the year (Hutt 1983). In the meantime, the name chouans was applied to all of them, giving general application to a nickname originally relating to bands of smugglers who imitated the call of the owl. 

The arrival across the Loire of Vendéans heading for Granville after October 1793 changed the situation. The chouans rallied and joined in the battles before going back into hiding once the counter-revolutionaries had been repelled. But the arrival of the Vendéans upset the regional balance to the benefit of the chouans, who were freed from the pressure of the republican troops they had been fighting and which were redirected against the Vendéan column. Moreover, even though the Vendéans had been crushed, the republican armies emerged greatly weakened by a succession of battles. By the beginning of 1794 the republicans held the towns, main roads, and those parts of the countryside where the locals had stayed faithful to the Revolution. But several informal groups of chouans established themselves here and there along the coast of Brittany as far as the south of Caen, to the east of Le Mans and Angers. The leaders, mostly commoners identified by their peers and thereafter recognized for the leadership they had demonstrated in combat, had established fairly strong links. The factions that had developed within the revolutionaries and the exhaustion of their armies led to a certain stasis, confirmed by the peacemaking efforts of a few representatives on the spot, notably in Rennes. During the autumn of 1794, insurgents stopped being referred to as "bandits" and became once again "misguided brothers," who might be pardoned if they agreed to lay down their arms. The process, as in Charette's Vendée, ended with a peace treaty between the chouan general Cormatin and the Republic, signed at Mabilais, not far from Rennes, in April 1795. But, as in the Vendée, where the counter-revolutionaries had split over this point, some chouans, of whom the best known is Cadoudal, the powerful leader from the Morbihan, rejected any peace deal. 

But peace did not last there either. It served only to allow preparations for fresh battles, with the chouans benefiting from direct aid from the English and from the gratitude of the émigré princes, thanks to Puisaye, who had gone to England. This support, which the Vendéans had lacked, benefited the chouans, but transformed the movement by placing it under the de facto control of the nobles wanting to conduct a war in France against the Revolution and who saw an opportunity to regain their power and prestige. The limitations of this new situation became obvious as early as July 1795, when the émigrés and soldiers who had landed from English ships in the bay of Quiberon were defeated, imprisoned, and shot by troops commanded by Hoche. Bad relations between the expedition leaders and the difficulty of commanding peasant armies unused to any form of military discipline led to a resounding defeat of the whole undertaking. While Brittany had mostly escaped the Republican ascendancy, the failure of the landing at Quiberon had catastrophic consequences. The radical counter-revolution seemed incapable of changing the balance between the armies. The comte d'Artois spent two months off the Ile d'Yeu before landing in France. His abnegation was not merely tactical: the Paris uprising was crushed, the royalist networks dismantled or weakened, and the strategy of the constitutional monarchists was henceforth to take power through the electoral process. 

Thus between 1796 and the summer of 1797 a period of indecision over the fate of the armies ensued. Chouannerie, however dangerous, was not accorded the same priority as the Vendée. It needed only to be contained; it did not endanger the republican state, which had more to fear from enemies on its borders and the possible alliances of royalists in the southwest of the country. In Brittany and Normandy armed groups were crossing the countryside engaging in surprise attacks or individual assaults and were frequently assisted, notably in Normandy, by poor people driven by destitution. Young noblemen joined these groups, helped by links with England which had become entrenched via the Channel Islands. Facing them, republicans watched, organized, and repressed, sometimes barely within the limits of the law, as "counter-chouans" undertook what were real commando operations. A state of general insecurity reigned. Assassinations and the settling of old scores occurred, as well as executions of political opponents. The inhabitants were subjected to the passage of opposing troops and were themselves committed to one camp or the other. However, the local administrative framework was often respected, even if it was difficult to find municipal officials to appoint or to know whether some were covert royalists. Taxes were poorly collected and the presence of armed forces was indispensable, but extending the conflict to the rest of the country was unthinkable, and the moderate royalists who were competing with the republicans were not inclined to support the chouans and their noble leaders who wanted to return France to a bygone era (see the case-study in Bourgeon 1986). 

After 1797, and the failure of the attempt by constitutional monarchists and conservative republicans to take power, the position of the radical counter-revolutionaries was strengthened. The chouans became a sort of shadow army, with a general staff in which nobles played a greater part, even if the established leaders, such as Cadoudal, remained in place. The chouan leaders, Bourmont, d'Andigné, Scépeaux, and Frotté, led henceforth an organized and hierarchical guerrilla war, with a more or less stable body of troops, depending on safe chateaux or forests, with arms and money from England. When needed, the nebulous chouannerie hidden within the peasantry could always be mobilized. The links with the émigrés, England, and the king thus give chouannerie its ideological importance, especially as networks of secret agents were criss-crossing France and preparing to retake the country by force of arms. The political aim of chouannerie is clear: the movement was participating in the counter-revolution in order to restore a monarchical, Catholic, and seigneurial state, in other words, essentially France as it was before 1787. 

This militarization reached its peak in 1799, linked to the great offensive launched against the Republic by the coalition. On every front - Italian, Dutch, Swiss, German - armies were engaged in significant operations. In the west, war resumed after overt preparation by the chouan leaders, who rallied their troops and organized their offensive operations by placing whole regions under military control. The counter-revolutionary offensive was, however, brought up short; there was no similarity in outcome between different theaters of war and, while Italy had virtually rid itself of French republicans, the latter were fighting to the death in Switzerland, defeating the Anglo-Russians in the Netherlands and had scattered the thousands of men who had laid siege to Toulouse. 

In October 1799, the chouans succeeded in seizing a few towns in the west (Le Mans, Saint-Brieuc, and Nantes) before falling back to their preferred territory. The armies that had been raised to the south of the Loire had not been victorious, confirming the military defeat of the Vendée. Bonaparte, as soon as he was made Consul, opened negotiations with the chouan leaders, granted freedom of worship, made contact with Stofflet's former secretary, the abbé Bernier, in order to prepare the Concordat, and tried to win over the chouan leaders, by force or persuasion. Cadoudal resisted but left France for the time being; Frotté was taken and shot as a general warning; and others fell into line sporadically. The glory days of chouannerie were at an end.