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The French Revolution and the war in the Vendée

Posted the 25 March 2021
Culture & heritage

In 1793, the Vendée was at war: a royalist rebellion was powdered by the “Catholic and Royal army” against the French Revolution. The peasants of the Vendée took up arms against the New Regime. They sought the help of noble military men like General Charette, who came to their assistance, helping them to become more organized. Many scares have been left on the Vendée’s landscape, which bear witness to the violence inflicted by the troops of General Turreau. Historical sites testify to the great courage of the Vendean leaders, who became famous during the battles. Le Logis de la Chabotterie and le Refuge de Grasla are valuable places to visit, given their well-documented exhibitions and activities which highlight those dark times. 

A brief historical point about the war in Vendée

Official history has long designated the war in Vendée as the birthplace of the counter-revolution. In fact, the Vendée did not rise up after the fall of the Old Regime. Even after the execution of Louis XVI, they didn’t cause any particular trouble. The Vendeans participated and accepted the French Revolution, but without any great emotion. On the other hand, the daily life of the very poor peasants had hardly improved since 1789 ; and in some instances had greatly deteriorated. 

Inequalities in the treatment of the town’s people and the rural community fuelled resentment. 

Moreover, one of the particularities of the Vendée is its strong Christian faith, which did not really accept the Civil Constitution of Clergymen. It welcomed and defended many refractory priests (who had refused to pledge an oath to the new regime). 

Following the decision of the Convention on 24th February 1793, the conscription of 300,000 men was ordered, which greatly angered the peasants. They, in turn, rebelled and took up arms against the new regime. The story continues thus, when the peasants are then joined by noblemen, who are experts in the art of war. These men, like Charette, take command and lead the Vendean’s into battle, but in a much more organised way. The Government headed by Robespierre responds with extreme violence, declaring that the population who supports the insurgents, must be made to pay. The Convention agrees to their request and votes for the "destruction of the Vendée". Consequently, the troops of General Turreau roam the Vendée and practice a "scorched earth" policy. For that reason, they were given the epithet of "infernal columns", whose abuse took the form of rape, summary executions and torture. Today, many monuments and crosses bear witness to the savagery that the infernal columns were capable of. 

A brief year of peace followed the signing of the Treaty of La Jaunaye, under the leadership of the Vendée General Charette. The second battle of the Vendée began in 1795. It ended with the capture of General Charette in 1796, not far from the site of La Chabotterie. He was taken to Nantes for trial, showing courage until the very last few minutes of his life. He himself commanded the firing squad with these words: "When I close my eyes, shoot straight at the heart." 

In the footsteps of the war in the Vendée

Memorial Vendee

Les Lucs sur Boulogne, a place to remind us about the facts of war

The Memorial at Lucs sur Boulogne, as well as the stained-glass windows in the church, recall the massacre of February 28, 1794. Sheltering in the church, the 564 victims, including 110 children under the age of 7, were violently murdered. 

Find out more about the Mémorial at Lucs sur Boulogne 

Near to the Memorial, is the Historial de la Vendee, a modern museum perfectly integrated into its environment. The collections and exhibitions take you back through time from the 20th century to the Stone Age. An entire section is dedicated to the war in the Vendée, as might be expected. 

Find out more about the Historial de la Vendée 

Logis Chabotterie Vendee Vallee bocage

Le Logis de la Chabotterie and General Charette, a key figure of the war in the Vendee

In Saint Sulpice le Verdon, the Logis de la Chabotterie offers an evocative discovery of the charm of life in the countryside at the end of the 18th century. 

The Logis de la Chabotterie is an important place today, a silent witness to its own history and a powerful reminder of the memories not to be forgotten. Constructed in the 18th century, the Logis highlights the history of the Vendee and in particular the War of the Vendee. Each of its 10 furnished rooms takes us back to this period and everyday living. It was here in 1796, that set the scene for the arrest of General Charrette who was one of the key figures of the war in the Vendee

An interesting visit of the Logis , its gardens and 48-hectare wooded park is possible. The visit is full of various twists and turns which includes the staging and projections of major battles. 

Learn more about le Logis de la Chabotterie 

Le Refuge de Grasla, a village hidden in the forest, somewhere to flee the war

In the heart of the forest of Grasla, relive the tedious daily routine of the local inhabitants who fled repression, abuse and torture, inflicted by the Republican troops of General Turreau in 1794. This natural and historical site provides an illustrated trail which explains the details of this reconstructed village, hidden in the forest. 

To better understand this unique history and rediscover its heritage, the association "Le Refuge de Grasla" offers a show called "Peter, Captain of the Parish". Many other activities, informative and fun, can be enjoyed with the family. 

Find out more about the Refuge de Grasla 

Puy du Fou and its war in the Vendee show

Puy du Fou® in Les Epesses (Grand Parc and Cinescenie) helps you to relive the history of the Vendee. The show entitled “Le Dernier Panache” retraces the tragic story of General Charette and Vendean rebellions fighting against the New Regime during the French Revolution. Le Dernier panache signifies a large feature which were sown onto high ranking Military men’s hats during this time, making them an obvious target for their attackers  - it’s the last visible feature. 

Find out more about Puy du Fou and its awesome shows

Did you know? Windmills have their own language during the French Revolution 

Before the French Revolution, more than 200 windmills turned on the hilltops of the Vendée. In addition to their normal use of making flour, their hilly positions made them valuable observation post for millers watching the movements of enemy troops. These strategic lookout points would then send coded messages to the rebels, by blocking their sails in certain positions. 

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