The Vendée war

The Vendée war

The Machecoul massacres.

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - G. Blot

Publication date: March 2016

Historical context

The Catholic and Royalist West very early on showed strong opposition to the upheavals created by the revolutionary events of 1789. The Civil Constitution of the Clergy, adopted by the Constituent Assembly on July 12, 1790, aroused frank hostility in Brittany and Vendée: more 80% of priests refuse to swear loyalty to their new status, and the arrest of many of these refractory priests aggravates tensions. The sworn priests being too few in number, many parishes remain without a pastor, and the practice of worship takes on a clandestine character.

In these predominantly rural provinces, the population suffers from the rising cost of foodstuffs, which contributes to the resurgence of poverty. Breton and Vendée peasants are much more hostile to these nouveau riche patriots than to their former lords.

The trigger for the Vendée insurrection was undoubtedly the mass levy of 300,000 men decreed by the Girondine Convention on February 23, 1793. The Machecoul massacres, which took place from March 11, 1793, were one the very first bloody episodes of this Vendée war.

Image Analysis

Pupil of his father - the engraver and painter Léopold Flameng (1831-1911) - before being that of Alexandre Cabanel (1823-1889), Edmond Hédouin (1820-1889) and Jean-Paul Laurens (1838- 1921), François Flameng (1856-1923) is both portrait painter, landscape painter, illustrator, engraver and history painter. He receives orders from the state for historical scenes to decorate official buildings, such as the National Assembly for example. The Web The Massacres of Machecoul belongs to this historical vein.

The scene takes place in the moat of the old castle of Machecoul where the insurgents had imprisoned the patriots. In the foreground on the left, many victims lie at the foot of the high walls: a sans-culotte, easily identifiable by her striped trousers, a woman with her breast exposed, lying on her side next to a child. Tied to a tree, a man with graying hair whose only ties hold his bare chest. A large stain of blood stains his clothes at the height of the pelvis. Probably this is the constitutional priest Le Tort, who had been bayoneted several times by the insurgents, many documents claiming that "a woman took away his quality as a man". On the right, one of the leaders of the insurrection, François de Charrette, walks through the scene of these summary executions. He is accompanied by three elegant aristocrats. Two of them bend down to observe the corpses curiously. The third recoils. To the right, an insurgent armed with a rifle wears a white cockade on his hat and holds a dog on a leash. In the background, the silhouettes of a group of armed men stand out in front of burnt down cottages.


Located not far from Nantes, the historic capital of the country of Retz, Machecoul was in 1793 a small active town of 3,600 inhabitants, known for the prosperity of its grain and flour trade. The merchant bourgeoisie mingle with many officials attracted by this village which has become the district capital. The population there is rather favorable to the republic, but without excess. Law and order is maintained there by three gendarmerie brigades and 1,140 national guards.

From Sunday March 10, 1793, the surrounding countryside rose up, and some 6,000 peasants decided to march on Machecoul, which for them represented the administrative power, the seat of the recruiting commission, the republican force and, above all, the bourgeoisie. wealthy who grew richer as a result of the reforms. They intend to protest against the conscription that is hitting them, but the demonstration turns into riot, carnage and looting, and the National Guard is quickly overwhelmed. The insurgents imprison the Republicans in the partially ruined castle and in the Calvairiennes convent. A “Royal Committee” was soon created, in which sat small local nobles including François de Charrette. The prisoners appear bound two by two, thus constituting the "rosaries of Machecoul". After summary judgment, they were shot at the edge of the ditch along which they had to kneel. 552 men, women and children are thus murdered.

The carnage did not stop until Monday, April 22, when General Beysser's republican troops retook the city. The massacres of Machecoul, those of Noirmoutier, however, will spread oil. These peasant jacqueries soon took the form of an explicitly royalist and Catholic counter-revolutionary movement, spurred on by landowners such as Charrette, d'Elbée, Lescure or La Rochejaquelein, or commoners such as Stofflet or Cathelineau, who took over the revolt. peasant. In these bocage regions conducive to guerrilla warfare, the Vendeans generally held the republican troops in check. The Vendée insurrection would only surrender after several years of an inexpiable civil war, marked by violence and reciprocal atrocities.

  • chouannerie
  • counter-revolution
  • Vendée
  • Civil Constitution of the Clergy
  • French Revolution
  • Cathelineau (Jacques)
  • peasants
  • priests
  • refractory priests
  • insurrection
  • assignats
  • sworn priests
  • Brittany
  • Convention
  • civil war
  • reconstitution
  • National Guard
  • La Rochejaquelein (Henri de)


Simone LOIDREAU, "To put an end to the massacres of Machecoul", in Vendée souvenir n ° 165, Cholet, December 1988, p. 17-38.Jean-Clément MARTIN, Counter-Revolution, Revolution and Nation in France, 1789-1799, Paris, Le Seuil, coll. "Points", 1998. Jean-Clément MARTIN, Violence and Revolution. Essay on the Birth of a National Myth, Paris, Le Seuil, 2006, p. 158-162 Albert SOBOUL (dir.), Historical Dictionary of the French Revolution, entry "Machecoul" by Claude Petitfrère, Paris, P.U.F., coll. "Quadrige", 1989, p. 697-698.Georges SORIA, Great history of the French Revolution, Paris, Bordas, 1988, p. Edward J. WOELL, 943-959 Small-town martyrs and murderers. Religious revolution and counterrevolution in western France, 1774-1914, Milwaukee (Wisconsin), Marquette University Press, 2006.

To cite this article

Alain GALOIN, "The Vendée War"

Video: The War of the Vendee