Resistance to the French Revolution, 1793-9 Part I

Although many provincial fédérés had taken part in the storming of the Tuileries, the fall of the French monarchy had very largely been the work of the insurrectionary commune of Paris. The very idea of a national Convention to give France a republican constitution also originated in the Paris sections. It was therefore understandable that the sansculottes should regard themselves as the guardians and watchdogs of the new republic, and the arbiters of what it should stand for. And of course they were very well placed to enforce their will. The Convention sat in Paris, it had no forces to defend itself from popular pressure. All available troops in 1792 and 1793 were occupied at the front, and the Paris National Guard was no longer the force that had shot down republican petitioners on the Champ de Mars. Since the end of July it had been open to all citizens and was little more than a sansculotte militia, commanded from 10 August by Santerre, a rich brewer but long a popular activist in the city’s east end. The Legislative Assembly had been forced to recognize its own helplessness in the face of Parisian power during its last weeks. Its only attempt to assert itself, the decree dissolving the commune and ordering new elections on 30 August, was ostentatiously ignored and rapidly rescinded. And the deputies had had to sit powerless while the same sansculottes who claimed to be the nation’s conscience massacred half the capital’s prison population during the following week. The nation’s representatives were clearly in the clutches of a capricious and bloodthirsty mob, and in this respect the Convention was no more secure than its predecessor. ‘Never forget’, the exmonk Chabot warned his fellow deputies, ‘that you were sent here by the sansculottes.’1 None of them was likely to; but they were deeply divided over whether that committed them to continue to do Paris’s bidding. The role of the capital in national affairs was to be the most hotly debated issue during the first nine months of the Convention’s existence.

Leading the attack on Paris were those who had sought to avert the insurrection of 10 August, and whom Robespierre had tried to have arrested by the commune just as the prison massacres were beginning-men like Brissot, Vergniaud, and the ‘faction of the Gironde’. They had been deputies in the previous assembly, but they were supported by a number of newcomers, too. They were not a party, and never would be, except in the wishful imagination of their opponents; but they all sat for provincial constituencies, and the more prominent among them had grown used to informal co-operation with each other throughout the Legislative. They tended to meet, as they had then, at the house of Roland, still minister of the interior. There his pretty and ambitious wife, though a Parisienne herself, railed constantly against Marat, Danton, Robespierre, and the whole Parisian delegation in the Convention. These men, the Girondins were convinced, had been deeply implicated in the September Massacres, and intended to use their Parisian support to seize national power. Within days of the Convention’s first meeting the challenge was thrown down. The ex-constituent Buzot, soon to become Mme Roland’s lover, proposed the establishment of a ‘departmental guard’ recruited outside Paris, to protect the Convention. ‘Do you suppose’, he asked,  ‘we are to be enslaved by certain deputies of Paris?’ The Montagnard response was to denounce the idea as ‘Federalism’–an attempt to dissipate the unity of the nation. They proposed, and carried, a declaration that the Republic was one and indivisible. Most deputies were happy to vote for both proposals, reluctant as they were to become involved in the faction fights of extremists whose antagonisms seemed as much personal as principled. But the uncommitted deputies of the ‘Plain’, as they soon became known from their tendency to sit in the middle of the house, between Montagnards on the left of the chair and Girondins on the right, were quickly to find that the antagonism between the two factions coloured every issue. For much of October the object of Girondin attack was Marat, and the shame Paris had brought upon itself by electing one who had constantly advocated massacres. He had also regularly called for a dictator, and to the Girondins it seemed obvious whom he had in mind: Robespierre. On 29 October Louvet openly accused this ‘insolent demagogue’ of aspiring to dictatorship. On 4 December the attack was turned on Philippe-Égalité, when Buzot moved that anybody advocating a restoration of monarchy should suffer the death penalty. The inference was that the Montagnards planned to make this former prince of notorious ambition king once Louis XVI was dead. Everything to do with the king’s fate, in fact, drove the factions even wider apart. The Montagnards suspected their opponents of seeking reconciliation with him before August. They were right, but they had no proof. When Roland announced the discovery of the armoire de fer, they accused him of removing documents from it that implicated his friends, just as those it did contain revealed the earlier treachery of Mirabeau. On 3 January, amid the voting on the king’s trial, they again insisted on debating rumours of secret correspondence between the Bordeaux deputies and the Tuileries the previous July. The aim now was to discredit the Girondin-sponsored idea of an appeal to the people over the death sentence. This in its turn was designed to thwart the obvious determination of Paris and its sections that the king should be executed without delay. Montagnards argued that the appeal would be a call to civil war; Girondins responded that not to allow the departments to pronounce on the king’s fate would in itself provoke such a war. The Girondin idea of clemency was debated in similar terms. And the way a deputy had voted in these two contentious divisions was to mark him politically for ever, both in the subsequent public affairs of revolutionary France and in the analyses of its historians.

All these clashes had taken place at a time of victory in the war, but even foreign policy was not unmarked by them. Dumouriez had always been associated with those now called Girondins, and they revelled in his successes. It was they who proposed offering fraternity and assistance to foreign sympathizers, but Robespierre who warned of the futility of trying to establish liberty in foreign countries by force. Yet when Brissot quite uncharacteristically became the advocate of caution, and argued for reprieving the king so as not to antagonize more foreign powers, the Montagnards scorned his cowardice and were in the van of the movement to declare war on Great Britain, Holland, and Spain. Then, having dispatched the king and challenged most of Europe to a fight to the death, the factions returned to their vendetta. The Montagnards now had a martyr to their cause: on 20 January the former nobleman and judge in the Paris parlement Le Peletier de Saint-Fargeau was assassinated by a fellow noble who blamed him for voting for the king’s execution. His remains were placed in the Pantheon as men began to talk of removing those of Mirabeau. The Jacobin Club also now became a Montagnard monopoly: Brissot had been expelled from this scene of his former triumphs as early as October; and on 1 March all deputies who had voted for the appeal to the people on the king’s execution were likewise excluded. The Montagnards failed to capture the ministry of the interior when Roland, wearied by their repeated attacks, resigned on 22 January; but they did defeat a renewed proposal for a departmental guard, and they tore to pieces a projected constitution brought forward by Condorcet on 15 February on the grounds that it was a charter for Federalism and executive paralysis.

In all this they felt confident of popular support in Paris; but in fact, now the great drama of the king’s trial and execution was over, the people of the capital were turning their attention to more everyday matters. On 12 February the Convention received a deputation from the sections of Paris calling for comprehensive price controls on basic commodities. The petitioners called their proposal a ‘maximum’. With rare unanimity the deputies rejected the idea. They believed that attempts to interfere with the free exchange of goods did more to distort markets than supply them, and they had in fact renounced all economic controls as recently as December 1792. Even Marat, who believed the only solution to scarcity was to guillotine hoarders and speculators, denounced the petitioners as dangerously misguided. They were reacting, however, to a serious deterioration in the economic situation in the capital.

Throughout the upheavals of 1792, the value of the assignats had continued to decline. By January 1793 they were down to 51 per cent of their face value, despite the decision to make them legal tender in occupied territories. Coinage, on the other hand, was becoming increasingly rare. Requisitioning and bulk-purchasing for the armies over the autumn had disrupted the supply of many basic commodities, and war against the maritime powers had brought a blockade on seaborne imports. And particularly hard-hit were the products of the West Indies, where deepening chaos was devastating the economy of the French islands and leaving all reliable production in the hands of the British. Such disruptions were reflected in commodity prices. By February sugar had doubled or trebled since 1790, and soap had more than doubled. Other items, like coffee and candles, were also rising steadily. These increases provided the impetus behind calls for a maximum, which were renewed in petitions to the Convention and the Jacobin Club between 22 and 24 February. When they remained unanswered, the city was swept by a wave of attacks on grocery shops and warehouses throughout the twenty-fifth. Mostly the crowds, led as usual by women, behaved traditionally, fixing prices at levels they considered just, selling the stocks they found at those, and handing the proceeds to the hapless shopkeepers. But there was more outright pillage and pilfering than the previous year, and crude and brutal threats were more overt. The summer’s bloodshed had clearly lowered the threshold of acceptable violence. On the twenty-sixth Santerre’s National Guards restored order, but the whole Convention was visibly shaken by the outburst. The Girondins, predictably, blamed the incitements of Marat. The Montagnards suspected a plot organized by Roux, who since the autumn had been calling for hoarders and speculators to be treated the same way as ‘Louis the Last’. They began to call Roux and his associates, such as Jean Varlet, who ranted daily to passers-by from a soap-box just outside the Convention hall, the rabids (enragés). There had probably been no plot on 25 February, but the outbreak certainly seems to have engendered the idea of one. It developed rapidly in the crucible of the new crisis which broke in March.

Determined to build on the autumn’s victories and replace the one year volunteers who were now leaving the army, the Convention decided that the newly expanded war would require more than volunteers. On 24 February it decreed a new levy of 300,000 men to be raised by volunteering, if possible, but conscription if necessary, with each department allotted a quota. Local authorities would be free, if they saw fit, to find their recruits among eligible young males by the well-tried technique used for raising the pre-revolutionary militia: drawing lots. Such a return to hated practice only abolished four years previously was bound to be unpopular, and in fact only half the 300,000 men were ever raised. But in some parts it was more than unpopular; and in the department of the Vendée the first attempts to conscript in the early days of March met with violent resistance which within weeks had flared up into an open rebellion against the entire course the Revolution had taken. The Vendéan peasants resented their able-bodied young men being taken off to fight distant enemies, with whom they had no quarrel, by authorities with whom their quarrel was limitless. They resented the fact that the conscription decree was implemented by bourgeois from the local towns who were themselves exempt because of the public offices they held. The National Guard, who were merely these bourgeois and their friends in uniform, were deemed mobilized ‘on the spot’, which meant that they did not have to go to the front either, yet were the main force needed to compel others to go. The disturbances began with clashes between peasant youths and National Guards. And who were these uniformed self-styled patriots forcing others to fight their battles? The same people who had ejected nonjuring priests in 1791 and forced in intrusive newcomers; the same people who had bought up the best church lands when they had come on the market; townsmen who had done consistently well out of the Revolution at the expense, so it seemed, of surrounding peasant communities and the Church upon which loyalties had focused in the calmer, remoter days when the king had reigned undisputed. These resentments had been simmering and spluttering throughout western France for over a year in innumerable clashes between peasants and local authorities over recruiting drives and measures against non-juring priests. The zeal of both sides intensified after 10 August, and the declaration of a republic made the king a new rallying-point for those opposed to the patriots. Down with the national cockade, shouted malcontents who gathered in thousands in the Vendée late in August 1792; long live the king, up with the nobles. Nobles, in fact, played little part in these outbreaks, and only joined the western rebels in 1793 after the insurgents had made it clear that they were anxious to have noble leaders: but in patriotic eyes they were all aristocrats.

Much of rural Brittany also rose in March 1793, and not only against conscription. Pay no more taxes, urged one Breton agitator, ‘since there’s no more king there are no more laws… be fucked to the nation’.  But Brittany was better garrisoned and the garrisons better armed than south of the Loire. Within a month the Breton risings had been suppressed and districts were meeting their quotas under the February decree. Resistance continued, with great determination, but in the form of guerrilla warfare, chouannerie, which was to plague the departments along the Channel coast for the rest of the decade and beyond. In the Vendée, however, peasant hordes stormed the little towns where patriot power was based, and the local authorities collapsed. Military reinforcements were unable to penetrate the labyrinthine bocage countryside. By 13 March recognizable leaders had begun to emerge, including the ex-soldier Stofflet, whose 10,000 men could overwhelm regular troops sent against them by sheer weight of numbers. Soon, too, the rebels were wearing sacred hearts, crosses, and the white cockade of royalism. ‘Long live the king and our good priests’, was their cry. ‘We want our king, our priests and the old regime.’ ‘And they wanted’, noted a terrified republican who observed this, ‘to kill off all the Patriots,’

Reports of this unprecedented resistance to revolutionary authority began to reach Paris during the second week in March. They coincided with increasingly bad news from Belgium, where the Austrians had counter-attacked on the first and turned the flank of Dumouriez’s advance into Holland. Yet Dumouriez had refused to draw back until explicitly ordered to do so, and some deputies began to sniff treachery. The Girondins had been keen to adopt Dumouriez when he was driving the enemy before him, and the taint he now began to acquire rubbed off on them. By 8 March it was being alleged in the Convention that the armies were in headlong retreat, and panic swept the capital. Danton, who knew the situation in Belgium at first hand, called for volunteers from Paris to march north and save the campaign, which did nothing to restore calm. Everybody remembered how the previous September the departure of volunteers had occasioned the prison massacres. Certain elements in Paris evidently believed that this was the moment to eliminate the city’s enemies in the Convention. Some sections began to demand the establishment of a revolutionary tribunal to try traitors, and the Jacobin Club took up the call. The Convention accepted the proposal on the ninth and decreed in the same session that deputies should be sent out to all departments, as ‘representatives on mission’, to explain and expedite war emergency measures. That night, armed bands toured the print shops where the leading Girondin journals were produced, smashing the presses and destroying copy. They were in disguise, but seem to have been organized by a radical club calling itself the Defenders of the One and Indivisible Republic, whose leading light was himself a journalist, Jacques-René Hébert, producer of the increasingly popular Père Duchesne. The next day these same elements tried to organize a full-scale insurrection which would force the Convention to arrest all suspect generals, ministers, and the leading Girondin deputies. Enragés like Varlet joined in. The tocsin was rung and the city gates closed. But the commune refused to become involved, and Santerre put together 9,000 National Guards to maintain order. The insurgents melted away. Yet a precedent had been set, and all sides recognized it. Popular action might be used to purge the Convention of unpopular elements. The Montagnards as yet shrank from such an assault on the nation’s elected representatives; although the Girondins were quite prepared to believe, and say, that the hated deputies of Paris had been implicated once again in a plot to massacre them. Understandably, but fatally, their worries about the threat from Paris were developing into an all-consuming obsession.

For weeks afterwards they raked over the murky details of the abortive journée, while the bad news both from the Vendée and Belgium got worse. On 12 March Dumouriez openly denounced French policy in Belgium, sowing new suspicions. His defeat at Neerwinden a week later intensified them. Treason was not its cause, but it was its result, and only the refusal of his army to co-operate prevented him from marching on Paris to restore the constitution of 1791 with the infant Louis XVII as king. His perfidy was generally recognized a fortnight before his flight across the Austrian lines on 6 April. Nobody came well out of the crisis. Girondins fell under suspicion from their previous association with the traitor; but leading Montagnards like Danton suffered from their last-minute attempts to strike deals which might prevent his defection. Yet it was the Montagnards who produced all the constructive proposals for dealing with the crisis, and most of the votes in the Convention went their way even though many of their sympathizers were now heading off to the departments as representatives on mission. The new measures included the establishment of watch committees (comités de surveillance) throughout the country to scrutinize the activities of foreigners and suspects (21 March); and an attempt to bring the war effort under more decisive legislative control through a new co-ordinating committee. Ever since the fall of the monarchy executive power had nominally been vested in a council of ministers, but each minister was shadowed by a specialist committee of the Convention. On 1 January a Committee of General Defence was set up to co-ordinate these bodies, but it proved cumbersome and ineffective, and the crisis of March led to a search for something stronger. On the twentyfifth, accordingly, on the suggestion of a deputy now making a name for himself as a deviser of ingenious compromises, Bertrand Barère, a 25member Committee of Public Safety was created to take over its role. By the time it began to function on 7 April its membership had been reduced to nine, renewable monthly. Barère was elected, and would prove its longest serving member, but Robespierre declined election because he doubted the Committee’s value. The dominant voice for its first two months would be that of Danton, and for much of that time he preached union and reconciliation in the face of the dangers confronting the nation. His urgings, however, fell on deaf ears.

The Montagnards had hoped, in setting up the Revolutionary Tribunal, to use it against those whom they saw as impeding the war effort by their vendetta against Paris. Girondins, however, saw that this sword was double-edged, and it was from them that a proposal came on 1 April to abolish deputies’ immunity from arrest. Success in this cleared the way for an attack on the most exposed figure in the Montagnard ranks, recognized even by his own side in their cooler moments as a liability- -Marat. As president of the Jacobins, on 5 April he had signed a circular appealing to the provinces to defend Paris against a ‘sacrilegious cabal’ in the Convention, attempting thus to steal what the Girondins regarded as their own constituency. Alleging an insult to the Convention, they called on 12 April for Marat to be impeached; and, with normal Montagnard support depleted by the absence of many of their normal allies on mission, the motion passed overwhelmingly. Thirty-three sections of Paris responded to this attack on their hero by calling for the expulsion from the Convention of 22 named deputies including Brissot, all the Bordelais, and Pétion, who had drifted away from his earlier radicalism since the fall of the monarchy. Both the Jacobins and the commune endorsed the demand, but withdrew their approval when Robespierre, reluctant to see the nation’s representatives coerced, condemned it. In any case they had their revenge on 24 April, when Marat was acquitted by the Revolutionary Tribunal and carried shoulder-high from the court back to the Convention by exultant sansculottes.

Among the charges brought against him had been that he had incited the populace to take the law into its own hands against hoarders and speculators in his paper (renamed Journal de le République française since the previous September) on the morning after the February grocery riots. His acquittal now encouraged the sections to renew their pressure on economic questions. Even before his trial they had begun to call again for controls on the price of bread and grain, amid Girondin denunciations of their economic illiteracy. Ominously the Montagnards, who had joined in the defence of free markets in February, were silent. By the end of the month, in fact, they had changed tack completely and were supporting demands for controls, cheered on by the Convention’s public galleries. On 30 April Girondins began to declare that the assembly was no longer safe in Paris and called for its sittings to be transferred to Versailles, predicting economic disaster if price controls were forced upon it. But that was what happened on 1 May. The Convention was mobbed by 8,000 demonstrators from the faubourg Saint-Antoine who declared themselves in a state of insurrection until price controls on bread were introduced. Nothing was conceded that day, but fear of a less-controlled recurrence led to the passing, on the next, of a law (formally promulgated on the third) stipulating a maximum price for grain and bread, and giving local authorities wide powers of search and requisition. Overt Montagnard advocacy of such a measure marked a turning-point, a recognition that Parisian support could not be taken for granted, even against the Girondins. As a police spy reported to the interior minister: ‘The Jacobins know only too well that the people cannot be resisted when one needs them.’

They may have been alarmed that even in Paris there were signs of resistance to conscription, since it was this that had plunged the provinces into turmoil; and not only in the west. There were reports of riots against the 300,000 levy from places as far apart as Franche Comté western Languedoc, and Normandy. More alarming still, in the course of the spring some of the major provincial cities began to break away from central authority.


Resistance to the French Revolution, 1793-9 Part II

First to waver was Marseilles, all the more shockingly in that the great Mediterranean port had been a watchword for radicalism ever since 1789. The sansculottes remembered with admiration the arrival of the militant Marseillais fédérés in July 1792. But Marseilles’s radicalism was in many ways the response of a vigorous minority of activists to a conservative hinterland and a mercantile community clearly reluctant to commit either its energies or its wealth to the patriotic struggle. This detachment had allowed the militants of the local Jacobin club to seize political control of the city and even, in defiance of the Legislative Assembly, to transfer the seat of departmental administration from Aix in August 1792. From this position they sniped constantly at ‘the rich’, and continued to do so even when the upheavals in the West Indies and deteriorating relations with the maritime powers began to threaten the whole basis of the city’s commerce. Uneasy in the absence of so many of their most stalwart sympathizers as volunteers in the armies, and obsessed by rumours of royalist plots, which experience had shown were often more than figments in the Midi, the Marseilles Jacobins took the news of the establishment of a Revolutionary Tribunal in Paris as a licence to establish one of their own. They also decreed a general disarmament and a forced loan on the rich to fund measures of revolutionary vigilance, and they carried this policy to the surrounding countryside in expeditions sent out to support the often embattled clubs of little towns inland. ‘After the former nobility’, declared representatives of the Marseilles Jacobins, ‘the bourgeoisie is the class which weighs heaviest on the people’ but in fact it soon became clear that the people were prepared to rally behind their supposed oppressors in resisting the Jacobin militants. Resistance coalesced in the city’s 32 sections. Once themselves a bastion of Jacobinism, their meetings had been gradually packed over the winter with port workers whose livelihoods were as threatened by economic disruption as those of the great merchants. The two groups now made common cause against the Jacobinism which they saw as the true source of the city’s misfortunes both locally and nationally. The arrival of the Montagnard representatives on mission from the Convention in March, endorsing all that the local Jacobins had done, finally provoked the sections into outright resistance. Forming a central committee (on the Parisian pattern of the previous summer), they resisted further militancy so successfully with the cry that ‘it is time for the anarchy of a few men of blood to stop’ that on 2 7 April the deputies on mission fled the city and left their allies in the club to their fate. From the safety of Montélimar they proclaimed that Marseilles was in a state of counter-revolution. In fact it was in a state of faction-torn chaos, and it took three more weeks before members of the club were arrested by the central committee: but from Paris Marseilles seemed to be in revolt, espousing ‘Federalism’ against the one and indivisible Republic.

Certainly news of the downfall of the Marseilles Jacobins promoted unrest against their satellites elsewhere in the Midi. Resistance to the militants who had dominated local affairs since the previous summer began to revive in Aix, Arles, and Avignon. In Nïmes a long-standing rivalry between two clubs led the less extreme one to appeal for support to the city’s sections against a rival increasingly committed to the radicalism of the Paris mother society, and on 20 May the 12 sections of Nimes declared themselves to be in permanent session. All over the south, in fact, the extremism with which Jacobin club members responded to the renewed national crisis of the spring provoked a backlash of protest even among many who had accepted the declaration of the republic and the execution of the king. And nowhere was this process more spectacular, and more menacing for the future of the young republic, than in the nation’s second city, Lyons.

The silk industry which was the basis of Lyons’s economy had been in crisis when the Revolution broke out, but events after 1789 only worsened its problems. Silk was a luxury product, but those who had normally bought silk goods before the Revolution quickly learned that ostentation could be dangerous in the new times, and demand slumped. War brought a shrinkage in foreign markets, too, and disruptions in the supply of raw materials from Savoy. Nor did the austere republicans who took control in Paris in 1792 have much sympathy for distress in the luxury trades. Montagnard attacks on Roland, who had lived in Lyons and been a vocal defender of its interests between 1784 and 1791, also did little to endear the militants of Paris to most Lyonnais. And yet, as in Marseilles, the reluctance of the city’s notables to involve themselves in the turbulent new world of electoral politics meant that in November 1792 Jacobin activists, led by the unbalanced former manufacturer Joseph Chalier, were able to take over local government, especially after previous elected officials had been discredited by a week of food riots and popular price-fixing during September. But in fact Chalier and his friends had nothing to offer beyond parroting the resolutions and policies of the Paris Jacobin Club, and their attempts to ensure plentiful supplies of cheap bread were vitiated by lack of money, disruption of supply networks far from the city, and competing claims for provisioning the armies manning the south-eastern frontiers. The maximum decreed in Paris on 3 May simply could not be implemented under Lyonnais conditions, bread in Lyons cost almost a third more than in Paris, and the whole month was marked by acute anxieties over essential supplies. They culminated on the twenty-fourth in the ransacking of a warehouse full of provisions destined for the armies; crowds of women sold them off at what they deemed fair prices. The response of the Convention’s representatives on mission was to order troops from the Alpine front to march on Lyons, but news of this brought on a confrontation between the city’s sections and the municipality. The sections knew that the troops would place in the hands of the local Jacobins a coercive power they had hitherto lacked. They feared a massacre if that happened, and in the circumstances they demanded that the National Guard, which the sections controlled, be mobilized. On the twenty-eighth the departmental authorities overrode municipal objections and called them to arms, and the next day this force stormed the town hall and overthrew the Jacobin commune. Lyons, too, was now in open revolt against the Convention.

And meanwhile the rural uprising in the west was growing ever more serious. The Convention’s decree of 19 March, that all rebels captured with arms in their hands should be put to death, did nothing to deter the rebels, who captured town after town in the uplands of the Vendée and with every success expanded their numbers. As many as 45,000 men seem to have joined the Catholic and royal armies (as they were now openly calling themselves) in the course of the spring. Against them the Republic was scarcely able at this stage to field more that 15,000 or 16,000, and even the minority of seasoned troops among them had no experience of the type of war they were now compelled to fight. The Vendéan armies materialized suddenly and supplied themselves from their own country. They melted away just as rapidly when checked, whereas the only safety for the ‘blues’ (as the republican troops soon became known) lay in keeping together in large units. They were quite unable to garrison potential strong points adequately before the rebels stormed them, and down into June rebelcontrolled territory continued to expand. On 5 May they took Thouars; on the twenty-fifth, Fontenay, threatening to break out to the sea, where they could get access to British support. On 7 June they took Doué, pushing north towards the Loire; and on the ninth they reached it when they occupied Saumur, driving out Santerre, commander of the Paris National Guard, who had reached the Vendée with a battalion of patriotic volunteers only three weeks beforehand.

By May 1793, therefore, the new crisis for the Republic that had erupted in March had grown spectacularly worse. As the armies fell back along every frontier, a new, internal war zone established itself in what would soon be called the ‘military Vendée’; and the Convention even began to lose control of major provincial cities. The response of politicians in Paris was destined to make these problems even worse before they got better.

Immediately after the voting of the maximum there were unexpected signs of support for the Girondins in Paris. On 1 May the commune had decreed that a special extra levy of conscripts to fight in the Vendée would be made by popular societies designating recruits. It terrified better-off elements, who already considered their property threatened by a special war tax on the rich, decreed on 9 March but not yet implemented, not to mention the price controls involved in the maximum. Encouraged by Pétion from the Convention, young Muscadins (as well-pomaded rejectors of the shaggy sansculotte political style were coming to be known) seized control of several sectional assemblies and denounced the ‘popular despotism’ of the commune. They also paraded in the Champs-Élysées, calling for Marat to be guillotined. Steps taken against them were noisily denounced by the Girondin speakers in the Convention. With ever more Montagnards or deputies who normally voted their way now absent on mission, the Mountain’s usual ability to defeat Girondin eloquence with solid votes seemed threatened. These were the circumstances which finally swung them round to the idea of purging the Convention.

It went back at least to the failed journée of 10 March; and delegates from 27 sections had begun meetings to co-ordinate action to ‘save the country and liberty’ at the former archbishop’s palace (évêché) on 29 March. A list of the most obvious candidates for purging had been endorsed by 33 sections on 15 April. It was not, however, until a month later that positive plans began to be laid, and the Girondins knew all about them within hours. On 16 May they denounced them in the Convention. Two days later, amid calls for a ‘shadow Convention’ to convene at Bourges to assume power if that in Paris were deprived of its freedom, it was agreed to establish a Commission of Twelve to investigate insurrectionary activity in Paris. The idea came from Barère, no Girondin, but the members elected in a thin house on 20 May included several of them, and not a single Montagnard. Within four days it had the evidence it was looking for, after questioning Pache, the mayor, and scrutinizing sectional registers. Recommending a strengthening of the National Guard around the Convention, and the closure of all sectional meetings by ten in the evening, it ordered the arrest of those it had identified as the main plotters of insurrection. They included Varlet and, following a ferocious issue of Père Duchesne in which he urged the sansculottes to annihilate the Girondin ‘traitors who conspired against the Republic’, Hébert. When the commune sent a deputation to object, Isnard, one of the more intemperate Girondins, who was currently president of the Convention, brushed it aside. ‘If,’ he declared, ‘by these constantly recurring insurrections it were to happen that the Nation’s representatives should suffer harm, I tell you, in the name of all France, that Paris would be annihilated.’ Brushing aside Marat too, who protested that he was dishonouring the assembly, he went on: ‘Soon they would search along the banks of the Seine to see if Paris had ever existed.’

It was an empty threat: but its echoes of Brunswick’s crude menaces the previous August outraged Parisians. For some weeks the Girondins had been hinting at departmental vengeance for any attack Paris might make on the Convention, and immediately before Isnard’s outburst a deputation from Marseilles had been heard, denouncing the Montagnards. Ominous rumblings from other provincial cities, such as the Girondins’ own Bordeaux, not to mention Lyons, were also now coming in. The Girondins had done nothing practical to organize such protests, but along with the struggles still going on in certain of the Parisian sections themselves, they convinced the insurrectionaries that their time was limited. Even Robespierre, who saw well enough the dangers of coercing the Nation’s representatives, now recognized that the deadlock in the Convention must be broken by outside force. At the Jacobins on 26 May, he ‘invited the people’ to rise up against the Convention’s ‘corrupt deputies’ and declared himself in insurrection against them. The first step was to get rid of the Commission of Twelve; and late that same night, after a tumultuous session in which members of rival sections had spilled into the Convention hall and fought each other, the few deputies who had not gone home exhausted voted to dissolve the Commission. Those it had arrested were automatically released. Two days later, it was reinstated, but promptly resigned when it was unable to get a hearing for its president. The deputies were still debating whether or not it existed, and what it should do next if it did, when they were finally overtaken by the long-dreaded insurrection.

It began in the small hours of 31 May when Varlet, in the name of the insurrectionary committee sitting at the archbishop’s palace, ordered the ringing of the tocsin. Soon after dawn the insurrectionaries formally deposed the commune and reinstated it under their own orders. The gates were closed, a round-up of suspects ordered, and Hanriot, a former clerk who had been made commander of the National Guard (in the absence of Santerre) the night before, was confirmed in office. But, on this working day, the sansculottes were slow to respond to the call to arms, and it soon became clear that, however much prior collusion there had been between the insurrectionary committee and the commune, there were divisions within both about how to proceed. Varlet wanted to dissolve the whole Convention. Others sought the arrest of the 22 deputies named on 15 April. Still others, including the commune’s procurator Chaumette, urged caution; and seemed simply to want to force the abandonment of the Commission of Twelve, and to scare the Girondins into more moderate conduct. But the threatened deputies’ reaction to the crowds who gathered all day around the Convention soon showed there was no prospect of that, at least. They demanded an inquiry into the insurrection, and they had no trouble in getting a petition for their own arrest sidestepped by referring it to the Committee of Public Safety. Clearly sensing the disarray of their antagonists, they refused to be intimidated, and kept on uttering threats of departmental vengeance. By the time Robespierre moved the impeach ment of those named in the petition, the crowds were melting away, and the crisis seemed to have passed. All the insurrectionaries achieved was the final abandonment of the Commission of Twelve.

Frustration, however, only increased the determination of the insurrectionary committee to oust its enemies from the Convention once and for all. It was aided by the arrival of news on 1 June of the overthrow of the Jacobin commune in Lyons, a new uprising in the Lozère, and further defeats in the Vendée. The departmental revenge so long evoked by the Girondins seemed to be beginning. There was no time to waste, the Montagnards concluded, if civil war was to be avoided: those seeking to foment it must be removed from the national representation. It was therefore agreed to renew the pressure on the Convention on the second, a Sunday, when the sansculottes would not be at work. That morning a deputation from the commune presented a new petition for the arrest of 30 deputies. When it, in turn, was referred to the Committee of Public Safety, the cry went up for a report on the previous petition. This time the petitioners were taking no chances. The previous evening Hanriot had posted his men in key positions all around the Convention. Estimates of the number of National Guardsmen on duty vary between 75,000 and 100,000, and they were reinforced by thousands more onlookers. No deputy stood a chance of leaving the chamber, and when one group tried, they were turned back by Hanriot and Guardsmen with drawn sabres. Barère, in the name of the Committee, refused to recommend the arrest of the named deputies; but by now it was clear that the surrounding forces would not go until the Convention surrendered. They no longer had any choice. Before the day ended, therefore, they had decreed the arrest of 29 deputies–all but two of the 15 April list, and most of the Commission of Twelve. Two ministers were arrested under the same decree; and in the meantime Roland and his wife had also been picked up on the authority of the commune. Most deputies present abstained from the vote, visibly unwilling to violate the national representation under duress. The Montagnards, as always, were more realistic. Knowing they had no choice, they voted for the arrests in the hope of saving the Convention from an even worse fate. They also saw that it would leave their own domination of the Convention undisputed.

The expulsion of the Girondins was neither the destruction of a party nor the overthrow of a government. Onlookers then and since, certainly, have often seen it in these ways as they groped to make sense of complex events and issues through a fog of rhetoric and recrimination. But the very idea of political parties was abhorrent to a generation whom Rousseau had taught to seek the general will which is always for the best and never wrong. Even in Pitt’s England, with its long parliamentary tradition, Fox was finding it difficult to convince most fellow MPs that party was in any way respectable or distinguishable from selfish and power-hungry faction. Girondins and Montagnards called each other factions, but as terms of abuse. Both vehemently denied the charge. There were certainly overlapping circles and groups of friends among those called Girondins–around Brissot, around Roland, around the deputies from Bordeaux–but they never concerted their action in any sustained way, and they often voted divergently. Only when 22 of them were named as candidates for purging did they begin to respond to events with something like co-ordination. What made a Girondin was revolutionary intransigence: an attitude of mind that was not prepared to compromise the principles of 1789, whatever happened. This was the spirit that offered defiance to the whole of Europe as the war spread, and resisted the call for price controls which all men of education believed to be economically disastrous. This was the spirit, too, which insisted that all France must be consulted on an issue as momentous as the death of the former king. Above all, this was the spirit that resisted the dictatorship of a capital apparently in the grip of men who had organized or at least connived at the September Massacres. The representatives of the sovereign Nation must not be subjected to the fickle and murderous whims of the sansculottes and the bloodthirsty and irresponsible demagogues, like Marat or Hébert, who pandered to them.

All these were attitudes widely shared in the Convention. In calmer times very few of the deputies would have repudiated any of them. But the times were not calm, and there were certain realities which the Girondins refused to face. Without Paris, the Republic would not have been established and the Convention itself would not have existed. And however abhorrent the forces in control of the capital, it was only sensible for an assembly sitting there (and where else could it credibly sit?) to try to work with them. This was the Montagnard position. To Girondin intransigence they opposed prudence and practicality. And although the kernel of the Montagnards was the 24 deputies representing Paris itself, who acted more like a party than the Girondins ever did, it is striking how often they were able to carry a majority in the Convention on major questions like the fate of the king, the emergency measures of March, the establishment of the maximum, and even the toning-down of the previously open-ended offer of fraternity and help to foreign peoples seeking their liberty. Girondin successes only came when many deputies were absent, and were not hard to reverse later. Their oratory outshone that of the Montagnards, but they were clearly far from dominating or controlling the Convention.

They were not therefore a government. France had no government in a normally recognized sense between August 1792 and June 1793. Executive action emerged from the interplay between the council of ministers and a number of committees of the Convention, and none of these bodies was clearly dominated by Girondins or Montagnards. Yet there was also a real extension of governmental power, or at least pretensions, over the same period; and especially from March 1793. It was shown by the decree on conscription, the establishment of the Revolutionary Tribunal, the law of the maximum, and the creation of an embryonic war cabinet in the form of the Committee of Public Safety. Above all it was shown by the institution of the representatives on mission, who from being occasional special emissaries to troubled areas in the autumn of 1792, had by the following spring become a permanent presence in each of 41 pairs of departments, omnicompetent agents of the central power charged by their fellow deputies with the implementation of laws to deal with the wartime emergency. Sometimes as many as 130 deputies at a time might be absent from the Convention in this capacity. These men were the real governors of France during these months, in the sense that they were invested with the full authority of the national Convention to use as they saw fit. And in the sense, too, that when in Paris they tended to vote the same way as the Montagnards, a tendency which their provincial experience only reinforced, the Republic had something like a Montagnard government by the early spring of 1793. Only the absence of these same deputies on mission enabled the Girondins in the Convention to look as strong as they did. The removal of their leading spokesmen did not hand control of the Convention to the Montagnards: it merely made clear and explicit where control had already lain since the king’s trial.

Why then purge them at all? No single motive united all those involved in the journées of 31 May and 2 June. The sansculottes wanted their enemies silenced at whatever cost. No compromise seemed possible with men who denounced patriotic Parisians as anarchists, blood-drinkers, septembriseurs, and repeatedly invited the provinces to march on the capital and destroy it. The Montagnard fear was that Paris would pursue the quarrel at the expense of the Convention itself. Varlet, Roux, and the enragds had no trust in any representative form of government, and repeatedly said so. Accordingly, until the very last minute leading Montagnards such as Danton pleaded with the Girondins to stop attacking Paris and provoking the power in whose shadow they all sat. Besides, there was a war to fight, and it was not going well. It was no moment to be inciting civil war with inflammatory threats of departmental vengeance. If the Girondins had resigned themselves to the abolition of the Commission of Twelve, many clearly believed, and most probably hoped, that the insurrectionary impetus would have died. But Girondin intransigence was complete. Their quarrel with Paris was paralysing the entire course of public affairs, if not endangering the very existence of the Convention. Faced with such dangers, the practical, experienced men who made up its majority agreed, with anguished reluctance, to sacrifice a handful of their colleagues. Whether that would create as many problems as it solved was another matter.

Nowhere was the news of the purge of the Girondins likely to have more effect than in Bordeaux. Reeling from the impact of upheavals in the Caribbean and British blockade, what only a few years beforehand had been the second busiest port in Europe had no cause to welcome the course the Revolution had taken. Yet in 1791 the department of the Gironde had sent eloquent radicals like Vergniaud, Gensonné, and Guadet to the National Assembly, and it had returned them a year later to the Convention. Bordeaux was not without Montagnard sympathizers, congregating in the National Club, which had close links with the Paris Jacobins. But the city’s political life was dominated by the rival Friends of Liberty, where the Girondin deputies took their first steps in politics, and whose rules dedicated it to ‘the maintenance and strengthening of the Constitution, and of liberty, and discussion of all questions relating to public welfare and general tranquility’. Members of this club dominated most of Bordeaux’s 28 sections, and throughout the winter of 1792-3 they took their cues from their deputies in Paris. In March they even succeeded in having the National Club closed, and as early as January they were talking about sending a departmental force to Paris to protect the Convention from violation. On 5 May, after being compelled to swallow the maximum, Vergniaud decided that the time had come for more positive action. ‘Men of the Gironde’, he wrote, ‘rise up! The Convention has only been weak because it has been abandoned. Support it against all the furies threatening it… there is not a moment to lose. If you develop great energy, you will impose peace on men who are provoking civil war. Your generous example will be followed, and virtue will triumph at last.’ The Bordeaux sections responded with blood-curdling threats against the Convention; but they took no action, unlike Marseilles or Lyons, until news arrived of the purge of 2 June, which involved five of the Gironde’s deputies. Even then it took reports and urgings to collective action from elsewhere to push them beyond mere verbal protest. But on 7 June a ‘ Popular Commission of Public Safety’ was set up, declaring the city in insurrection against a faction-dominated Convention until the purged deputies were restored. Bombarding its own citizens with anti-Montagnard propaganda, it also sent out representatives to other cities it deemed ripe for resistance, including those known already to have rejected Parisian dominance. Their message was twofold. They urged that the departments should unite to elect the shadow Convention at Bourges which Girondin deputies had been proposing before they were silenced; and more important, they pressed all areas which rejected the purged Convention’s authority to raise volunteers to march on Paris and restore constitutional government. They spoke optimistically of 80,000 men, hinted at support from the army, and on 14 June announced the formation of a departmental force of 1,000 as the Gironde’s contribution.

Resistance to the French Revolution, 1793-9 Part III

Marseilles and Lyons, already in revolt, were much encouraged by this response to an event that anti-Jacobins in both cities had long been predicting. They were already co-operating between themselves: one of the first steps of the Lyons insurrectionaries had been to send fraternal delegates down the Rhône to co-ordinate with the Marseillais, and they arrived just as the news from Paris broke. In Marseilles a popular tribunal was re-established in defiance of a decree from the Convention on 15 May suppressing a previous version: it was used to persecute Montagnard sympathizers throughout the Bouches du Rhône department. On 12 June Marseilles formally declared itself ‘in a legal state of resistance against oppression’ and announced the formation of a ‘departmental army’ which would march on Paris under the slogan One and Indivisible Republic; respect forpersons and properties. By early July it was advancing on Avignon, which it occupied. Meanwhile at the other end of the Rhône Lyons had followed Bordeaux in establishing a Popular Commission (24 June), which ordered the raising of a departmental force intended to number 10,000. Eventually, it did reach about 4,000. When, in mid-July, the Convention proclaimed Lyons a city in rebellion and advised all loyal citizens to leave, the new authorities responded by executing Chalier, whom it took four falls of a blunt guillotine blade to despatch.

Other southern cities were now drawn in. On 11 June in Montpellier the departmental council of the Hérault ordered the raising of a force to march on Paris. In Toulouse and Grenoble, both near to frontiers where the enemy was on the offensive, the authorities agonized before eventually drawing back from endorsing the Bourges Convention or the idea of departmental armies. But at Toulon, which had at first taken the news of 2 June calmly, mid-July witnessed the beginning of what was to be perhaps the most dangerous and certainly the longest-lasting attempt to repudiate the authority of the Convention. Like Marseilles, Toulon had been ruled by pro-Montagnard Jacobins since the summer of 1792, although it had taken a massacre of local officials in July to open their way to power. Their position owed nothing to the city’s sections, which during the autumn ceased to meet. But seeing how the sections of nearby Marseilles over the following spring spearheaded the overthrow of Jacobinism there, anti-Jacobins in Toulon began campaigning for the sections to be reopened. Disillusion with the Convention was now widespread among the workers of the naval dockyard as the war with Great Britain and Spain increased their workload and swamped them with migrant workers, while at the same time their wages began to be paid in depreciating assignats. Like the dockers of Marseilles, they proved ready recruits in the struggle of the local notables against Jacobin levelling. The Jacobins tried to block the campaign for reopening the sections with armed demonstrations intended to remind their opponents of the previous summer’s bloodshed. But all they achieved was their own overthrow. On 13 July the sections began to meet again of their own accord, and on the fourteenth a general committee was elected to co-ordinate their activity. Three days later this committee dissolved the town council, after closing the Jacobin club and arresting its leaders. A popular tribunal was set up as at Marseilles, and over the summer it handed down 30 death sentences, mostly against known Jacobin supporters and activists. On 15 July it even arrested and imprisoned two representatives on mission. In contrast with the other southern cities in revolt, Toulon saw a revival of religious activity under municipal auspices. Yet the social orientation of the rebel authorities was much the same as elsewhere. ‘We want to enjoy our goods, our property, the fruits of our toil and industry in peace’, declared the revived sections in August, ‘yet we see them incessantly exposed to threats from those who have nothing themselves.’

Not all the anti-Montagnard revolts occurred south of the Loire. The remote department of the Jura, for instance, on the Swiss frontier, was one of those which set up a departmental army. Neighbouring departments followed suit, although their projected march on distant Paris never began. Far more serious, because far closer to the capital and to the royalist rebels of the Vendée, were outbreaks of defiance in Brittany and Normandy. As late as 25 May the general council of the department of Ê’le -et-Vilaine, meeting in Rennes, declared that it wanted republican unity, ‘neither Robespierre nor Guadet, Danton or Gensonné, neither Mountain nor Valley, or any of those lines of demarcation which degrade the dignity of the people’s Representatives’.  But one of those purged from the Convention a week earlier was their own deputy Lanjuinais, and within a week they had committed themselves to the formation of a departmental army to march on Paris and liberate him and his colleagues. Other Breton departments rallied in support. From Finistère, Quimper called for the suppression of the Revolutionary Tribunal, co-ordinated action, and the convocation of the Bourges shadow Convention. And all sought from the start to link up with protesters in the Norman department of Calvados, where Caen had denounced the Convention on 31 May, on hearing of the first dissolution of the Commission of Twelve. On 9 June Caen declared itself in a state of insurrection and resistance to oppression and arrested two deputies on mission who were in the department supervising coastal defences. The leaders also approached the local military commander, Wimpffen, with requests for help. Unknown to them, Wimpffen was a royalist and possibly in English pay; he proved very responsive. When, on 30 June, Caen became the headquarters of a ‘Central Assembly of Resistance to Oppression’ claiming to represent six Breton departments as well as Calvados, Wimpffen accepted command of its armed forces, whose notional numbers now exceeded 3,000. By then the rebels were also encouraged by the arrival, in the days following 9 June, of a number of the proscribed Girondin deputies themselves, who had escaped from the lax house arrest under which they had been placed on 2 June. They included Buzot, Louvet, and Pétion, and at first they were lionized by the richest inhabitants of Caen. But, noted Pétion, it did not last. When their hosts discovered that the Girondins had not been turned royalist by their treatment, their attitude rapidly cooled. ‘They detested the Mountain most cordially,’ he recalled, ‘but they liked republicans no better.’

Thus surfaced one of the many divisions that were to bedevil and ultimately doom what Parisians called the ‘Federalist revolt’. But these weaknesses were not visible at the start, and certainly not from the viewpoint of the capital. From there, it looked to many in June 1793 as if much of France was in revolt against the Convention, and there was wild talk (too often repeated uncritically by historians) of 60 or 70 out of the 83 departments repudiating central authority. Centres of revolt, of course, had every interest in making similar claims. More sober observers, even at the time, refused to be panicked. On 31 July the administrator of nationalized property, whose office was naturally sensitive to the slightest tremor of anti-revolutionary activity, noted serious resistance in only eight departments. Nevertheless, the country’s second, third, and fourth cities lay in these recalcitrant districts, so the ‘Federalist’ challenge could scarcely be brushed aside. What was easier was to misunderstand it.

It was not an attempt, however it might look, to break up the one and indivisible Republic. In the eyes of the rebels, wherever they arose, it was Paris which was sowing division in the Republic by dictating to and then tampering with the deputies elected by the rest of the nation. The Revolution of 1789 had been against centralization, that tool of Bourbon despotism. The failure of the constitution of 1791 to guarantee the disappearance of despotism had produced the Convention, but its purpose was supposedly to strengthen rather than abandon the principles of 1789; and not least local autonomy. Yet instead new intendants, the representatives on mission, had been sent out to the provinces with limitless powers; and although they came on behalf of the sovereign Nation incarnated in the Convention, that body itself was now hostage to the ‘anarchists’ and ‘blood-drinkers’ of the Paris sections. Nor were the leaders of ‘Federalism’ royalists, although royalists were happy to lend them support if it would foment division in republican ranks. As the commanding general in the south-west reported of the Bordelais on 5 June: ‘They appeared to me determined not to involve themselves in Parisian affairs, but more determined still to retain their liberty, their property, their opulence… They don’t want a king; they want a republic, but a rich and tranquil republic. That, however, could scarcely mean a republic at war; and what the ‘Federalists’ appear to have resented if anything even more than the grip of the sansculottes on other deputies was the range of emergency measures any government would have felt obliged to take to cope with the downturn in French fortunes that spring. Conscription, enhanced police powers, market controls, and forced loans, actual or threatened, were now coming on top of years of upheaval tolerated only because of the promise of calmer times to come. For ports there was the added blow of enemy activity. Whatever their losses, men of property doubtless rode out these tribulations better than those with little or none; but the disappearance over the summer of 1792 of the distinction between active and other citizens seemed to place the power to exercise authority enhanced by the emergency in the hands of those with least to lose. Embattled Jacobins in Marseilles, Lyons, and Toulon were reckless in their reliance on threats against property to retain power seized in the aftermath of the fall of the monarchy. Inevitably they expected support from the Montagnards, and inevitably they got it. But just as inevitably those who turned against one turned against the other. Nor was it just the rich, although they certainly gave the lead. ‘Federalism’ could never have got the grip it did (however transitory it proved) without support from many ordinary people who feared and resented what Jacobinism meant for them in the form of instability, inflation, and shortages–similar preoccupations, ironically enough, to those of the sansculottes in Paris. And they no more wished to be conscripted to fight distant enemies than the peasants of the Vendée or Brittany. This attitude proved (more irony!) fatal for the very resistance they supported. For the most striking failure of ‘Federalism’ was the dismal record of its departmental armies. If Marseilles was able to make up a force which at its largest seems to have reached 3,500 men, Bordeaux only put together a third of its 1,200 target. When the first Breton volunteers arrived in Caen they paraded through the town expecting to be joined by swarms of Norman recruits. Only seventeen came forward, and the Finistère battalions almost went home there and then. Nor did those who did volunteer show much willingness to march far from home. The Marseillais never got beyond Avignon. The Bordelais marched south rather than towards Paris, and ended up encamped in vineyards a mere 20 miles up the Garonne. A combined Breton and Norman force did better: leaving Caen on 8 July, about 2,000 men passed Evreux on the twelfth making for the Seine. But the next day they turned tail and ran at the first shots from forces sent against them by the Convention at Brécourt. They did not stop running until they were back in the Calvados.

Reluctance to leave their home territory was also to bedevil the Catholic and royal armies of the Vendée; but in June 1793 this weakness had not yet emerged as they continued to drive republican troops before them. On 10 June a hitherto unknown leader, a petty nobleman of some military experience called Charette, retook Machecoul from ‘blues’ who had captured it in April. On the nineteenth, the rebels crossed the Loire and entered Angers, which the republicans had evacuated. On the twenty-ninth they appeared before the greatest prize of all, the Atlantid port of Nantes. Throughout the spring Nantes had been one of the foremost centres of support for the Girondins against Parisian and Montagnard extremism, but as the forces of counter-revolution approached, the city authorities recognized that it was no moment to renounce the Convention. Appeals from other Breton cities to provide a contingent for the departmental army assembling at Caen were rebuffed. So was a call to surrender from the Vendéan army. The attack, when it came, was ill coordinated, and the city resisted with more determination than its besiegers had ever expected. After two days of assault, the attackers withdrew. Nantes, however grudgingly, had held firm for the Jacobin Republic against its enemies of both types. The worst moment in the Montagnards’ struggle to keep control of France had passed.

It was fortunate for them that their opponents were so divided and uncoordinated, because even in Paris itself the weeks after the purge of 2 June were chaotic. Few deputies positively welcomed the purge of national representatives, and a number who had no special links with the proscribed deputies went out of their way to condemn the deed openly in letters to their constituents. Seventy-five signed a secret protest between 6 and 19 June; it would later be used to condemn the signatories in their turn as Girondins. The loose conditions of arrest imposed on the twenty-nine, while the Convention decided what to do next with them, also showed how reluctant their colleagues were to treat them as criminals. Only when a number of them escaped from Paris were those remaining confined more closely. To the radicals who had launched the insurrection on 31 May such laxity smacked of treachery–all the more so as the Montagnards had shown themselves determined from the moment of their triumph on 2 June to dissociate themselves from the allies who had made it possible. From 3 June onwards the Committee of Public Safety began a relentless campaign to whittle away the independence of the central committee of the sections which had organized the insurrection, and on the eighth it was merged into a body firmly under the control of the constituted departmental authorities. At the same time the Montagnards sought through popular questions to cut the ground from under the feet of those who expected a radical new dawn, such as the enragés. Already on 2 June itself, before proscribing the Girondins, the Convention had voted in principle to establish a ‘Revolutionary Army’. There was nothing military about this idea, which had first surfaced in April, and become a staple of discussion in the sections over succeeding weeks. This sort of army would be a band of patriotic vigilantes, solid sansculottes, who would march into the countryside, or anywhere else their services might be required, to root out and punish traitors, hoarders, moderates, the indifferent, and suspects of all sorts. On the same day the Convention also voted to discuss the constitution every afternoon until a draft was ready. Moving with determined speed, it had produced by 10 June one which was deliberately designed to win popular approval, in both Paris and the country at large. Gone, in this project, were the checks, balances, and elaborate electoral limitations proposed by Condorcet in February and hotly debated since then. The separation of powers and extreme decentralization deemed so essential in 1789 were also largely abandoned. The constitution of 1793 provided for a unicameral legislature elected annually by direct manhood suffrage, and the legislature would choose the executive council. It was prefaced by a declaration of rights twice as long as that of 1789 which guaranteed to all citizens, in addition to the rights proclaimed then, public assistance when in need, state education, and the right to resist oppression by insurrection. On 24 June the project was ratified, and copies were sent out to all the primary assemblies which had elected the Convention for their approval in a sort of referendum. The aim was to secure this approval by the first anniversary of the fall of the monarchy on 10 August. Meanwhile the Convention also moved to appease the peasantry. On 3 June the sale of émigré property in small, affordable lots was ordered. On the tenth it was decreed that all common lands might be redistributed among inhabitants of the communities where they were situated. On 17 July all remaining feudal rights still notionally in existence until bought out were abolished outright without compensation. All documents relating to them were to be collected and officially burned.

But none of this meant much to the sansculottes who, with their Girondin enemies out of the way, were now preoccupied once more with the supply of foodstuffs and other basic commodities. By the second week in June Paris was full of complaints against butchers and the price of meat. By the third week there were renewed fears for the bread supply as rumours came in from Normandy that the rebels in the Calvados would attempt to blockade the Seine. Roux, Varlet, and the enragés, frustrated in their desire for a more radical purge on 2 June, now sought to capitalize on this continuing unrest. Roux proposed at the Cordeliers that the new constitution should include a mandatory death sentence for usurers: and speculators. ‘Liberty’, he declared, ‘does not consist in starving your fellow men.’ On the twenty-fifth he led a deputation from the more radical sections to the Convention, where he denounced the deputies for their inaction on hoarding and speculation and suggested that they, and the Montagnards in particular, were scarcely better in such matters than the despots of old. The outraged deputies threw him out;but attacks by women that very day on soap suppliers, whose stocks they sold at their own prices, showed that he was articulating real grievances. The Montagnards made a determined attempt to break Roux and destroy his influence. They were able to dislodge him from office as editor of the commune’s news sheet, and engineer his expulsion from one of his power bases at the Cordeliers. Marat, the vehement friend of the people, though now debilitated by a skin disease only relieved by constant bathing, was persuaded to denounce the enragés and all they stood for. But such infighting among the victors of 2 June was brought to an abrupt halt in mid-July when ‘Federalism’ struck its first (and, as it turned out, only) blow in Paris. Rumours of tens of thousands of Marseillais, Lyonnais, and Bordelais marching on the capital had been current for weeks. But it was a single, determined emissary from Caen, acting on her own, who visited Girondin revenge on their most ferocious adversary. On the thirteenth, Charlotte Corday stabbed Marat to death in his bath.

Here was a new Montagnard martyr, and a much greater one than Le Peletier, or Chalier, news of whose grisly end came in from Lyons a few days later. For all his ferocity, Marat had only been influential since the previous summer, and thanks to his illness his great days were already over. But loss of his counterweight against the enragés seemed serious, even if the initial impact of his murder was to stun the sansculottes. It seems to have galvanized the Montagnards into more positive action. They made the most of their martyr, of course. On 8 August they even paraded his widow before the Convention to denounce the enragés as agents of Austria and England. But the realization was now dawning, as disaster upon disaster was reported from the war fronts and from rebel departments, that much more ruthless and determined action would be required if the crisis facing the Republic was to be overcome. Problems of government would have to be taken more seriously. Danton, suspected of excessive trimming, had already been voted off the Committee of Public Safety on 10 July. So had his right-hand man Delacroix. Two weeks later (26 July), convinced at last of its value, Robespierre accepted nomination to the Committee, noting to himself that its priorities must be ‘food supplies and popular laws’. A law against hoarding passed that very day, making it a capital offence, seemed just what was needed. The new constitution, too, appeared to have achieved its purpose. The primary assemblies endorsed it by 1,801,918 votes against 11,610–not a brilliant turnout, but respectable enough at a time of civil war. The promulgation ceremony on 10 August, therefore, went ahead as planned, with a huge procession wending its way through Paris to where eighty-three pikes, one brought from each department by a patriot ripe in years, were bound into a huge fasces symbolizing republican unity. The constitution itself was deposited in a cedar box and suspended from the roof of the Convention hall.

Theoretically, the Convention’s work was now done. Like the Constituent Assembly before it, it could dissolve itself and make way for regular, constitutional government. Delacroix proposed just this on the eleventh. That same night, however, Robespierre denounced a proposal which could only bring to power ‘the envoys of Pitt and Coburg’. The current emergency, when the very survival of the Republic was at stake, was not the time to increase political uncertainties. The constitution could not safely be brought into force in time of war. So long as the emergency lasted it would remain suspended, in every sense.

The Northman’s Duchy

The entry for the year 885 in the French Annals of St Vaast begins with the chilling phrase: “The rage of the Northmen was let loose upon the land”. It was an all too accurate assessment. As soon as the winter snows had melted, a frenetic series of Viking raids hit the French coast and continued with a ferocity not seen for half a century. This particular year was especially demoralizing because the Frankish population had believed that they had gained the upper hand against the raiders. Four years earlier, the Franks had met the Norse in a rare pitched battle and slaughtered some eight thousand of them. For several years the threat of attack had receded, but then in 885 the Norse launched a full-scale invasion.

Viking attacks were usually carried out with limited numbers. They were experts in hit and run tactics, and small bands ensured maximum flexibility. That November, however, to the horror of the island city, more than thirty thousand Viking warriors descended on Paris.

From the start, their organization was fluid. According to legend, a Parisian emissary sent to negotiate terms was unable to find anyone in charge. When he asked to see a chieftain he was told by the amused Norse that, ‘we are all chieftains’. There was a technical leader – traditionally he is known as Sigfred – but not one the Franks would have recognized as ‘King’. It was less of an army than a collection of war bands loosely united by a common desire for plunder.

The Vikings launched an attack hoping to catch the French off guard, but several days of intense fighting failed to break through the Parisian defenses. The resulting siege, which lasted for a year, was ultimately unsuccessful, but it gave Europe its first glimpse of the man whose descendants would dominate both ends of the continent, and whose distant relative still sits on the English throne. Known to posterity as Rollo (the Latin version of the Norse Hrolf), he was a minor leader, probably of Norwegian extraction. According to legend he was of such enormous size that the poor Viking horses couldn’t accommodate him, and this earned him the nickname Rollo the Walker (Hrolf Granger), since he had to go everywhere on foot.

Like all the Vikings, Rollo had been drawn to the siege by the very real prospect of making a fortune. Forty years before, the legendary Norse warrior Ragnar Lodbrok had sacked Paris with fewer men, returning home with nearly six thousand pounds of silver and gold courtesy of the terrified French king. All of those present had undoubtedly been brought up on stories about Ragnar’s exploits, and there may even have been a veteran or two among the gathered warriors. This was their chance to duplicate his exploits.

If Rollo distinguished himself at Paris, it was in his determination. When it became apparent that an early victory wasn’t possible, many of the Norse began to drift away towards easier targets. By March of the next year, morale among the Vikings was so low that the nominal leader, Sigfred, reduced his demand to sixty pounds of silver – a far cry from Ragnar’s six thousand – to lift the siege. However, a rumor that the Frankish emperor, Charles the Fat, was on his way with a relief army stiffened the will of the Parisians and they refused. Sigfred held out another month, and then gave up, leaving Rollo and the other lesser leaders on their own.

The Frankish army finally arrived in October, eleven months after the siege began, and scattered what was left of the Vikings. Rollo’s men were surrounded to the north of Paris at Montmartre, but Charles the Fat decided to negotiate instead of attack. The province of Burgundy was currently in revolt, and Charles was hardly a successful military commander. In exchange for roughly six hundred pounds of silver, Rollo was sent off to plunder the emperor’s rebellious vassal.

It was an agreement that suited both of them, but for Rollo, the dream of Paris was too strong to resist. In the summer of 911 he returned and made a wild stab for it, hoping smaller numbers would prevail where the great army had failed. Not surprisingly, Paris proved too hard to take, so Rollo decided to try his luck with the more reasonable target of Chartres.

The Frankish army had been alerted to the danger and they marched out to meet the Vikings in open battle. A ferocious struggle ensued, but just when the Vikings were on the point of winning, the gates flew open and the Bishop of Chartres came roaring out, cross in one hand, relic in the other, and the entire population streaming out behind him. The sudden arrival turned the tide, and by nightfall Rollo was trapped on a hill to the north of the city. The exhausted Franks decided to finish the job the next morning and withdrew, but the crafty Viking was far from beaten. In the middle of the night he sent a few handpicked men into the middle of the Frankish camp and had them blast their war horns as if an attack were underway. The Franks woke up in a panic, some scrambling for their swords, the rest scattering in every direction. In the confusion the Vikings slipped away.

With the dawn, the Frankish courage returned, and they hurried to trap the Vikings before they could board their ships, but again Rollo was prepared. Slaughtering every cow and horse he could find, the Viking leader built a wall of their corpses. The stench of blood unnerved the horses of the arriving French, and they refused to advance. The two sides had reached an effective stalemate, and it was at this point that the French king, Charles the Simple, made Rollo an astonishing offer. In exchange for a commitment to convert to Christianity, and a promise to stop raiding Frankish territory, Charles offered to give Rollo the city of Rouen and its surrounding lands.

The proposal outraged Frankish opinion, but both sides had good reason to support it. The policy of trying to buy off the Vikings had virtually bankrupted the Frankish Empire. More than a hundred and twenty pounds of silver had disappeared into Viking pockets, an amount which was roughly one-third of the French coins in circulation. There was simply no more gold or silver to mint coins, and the population was growing resistant to handing over their valuables to royal tax collectors. Even worse for Charles, the Viking raids had seriously undermined his authority. It was impossible for the sluggish royal armies to respond to the Viking hit and run tactics, and increasingly his subjects put their trust in local lords who could offer immediate protection rather than some distant, unresponsive central government. The authority of the throne had collapsed, and now it was the feudal dukes who held real power. If Charles allowed another siege of Paris he would lose his throne as well.  Here, however, was a solution that promised to make all the headaches go away. Who better to stop Viking attacks than the Vikings themselves?  By gaining land they would be forced to stop other Vikings from plundering it. The nuisance of coastal defense would be Rollo’s problem, and Charles could focus on other things.

For his part, Rollo was also eager to accept the deal. Like most Vikings he had probably gone to sea around age fifteen and now, perhaps in his fifties, he was ready to settle down. Local resistance was becoming stronger, and there was little more to be gained in spoils. After decades of continuous raiding the coasts were virtually abandoned, and wandering further inland risked being cut off from the ships. This was an opportunity to reward his men with the valuable commodity of land and to become respectable in the process. Rollo jumped at the chance.

The Treaty of Saint-Clair-sur-Epte, as it came to be known, created the Terra Normanorum – the land of the Northmen. This treaty of the Northman’s Duchy, or Normandy, was formally agreed to at a meeting between the two protagonists. The Viking warlord agreed to be baptized together with his entire army, and to perform the ceremonial act of homage to King Charles. Unfortunately, this last part was carried out with a certain lack of grace.

The traditional manner of recognizing a feudal lord was to kiss the royal foot, but Rollo wasn’t about to do any such thing. When Charles stuck out his foot, Rollo ordered one of his warriors to do the deed for him. The huge Norseman grabbed the king’s foot and yanked it up to his mouth, sending the hapless monarch sprawling onto his back. It was, had they only known, a fitting example of the future relationship of the Norman dukes to their French overlords.

Charles hoped that his grant of land was a temporary measure that could be reclaimed later. Such things had been done before and they never lasted beyond a generation. In Rollo, however, he had unwittingly found a brilliant adversary. Rollo instantly recognized what he had; a premier stretch of northern France with some of the finest farmland in the country. His genius – and that of his descendants – was a remarkable ability to adapt, and in the next decade he managed to pull off the extraordinary feat of transforming a footloose band of raiders into successful knights and landowners.

Rollo understood, in a way that most of those around him did not, that to survive in his new home he had to win the loyalty of his French subjects. That meant abandoning most of his Viking traditions, and blending in with the local population. He took the French name Robert, married a local woman, and encouraged his men to do the same. Within a generation the Scandinavian language had been replaced by French, and Norse names had virtually died out.

However, the Normans never quite forgot their Viking ancestry. St Olaf, the legendary Scandinavian king who became Norway’s patron saint, was baptized at Rouen, and as late as the eleventh century the Normans were still playing host to Viking war bands. But they were no longer the raiders of their past, and that change was most clearly visible in their army. Viking forces fought on foot, but the Normans rode into their battles mounted. Charges from their heavy cavalry would prove irresistible, and carry the Normans on a remarkable tide of conquest that stretched from the north of Britain to the eastern shores of the Mediterranean.

One final change took longer to sink in, but was no less profound. Christianity, with its glittering ceremonies and official pageantry, appealed to Rollo probably more out of a sense of opportunity than conviction. His contemporaries could have been forgiven for thinking that Odin had given way to Christ suspiciously easily. The last glimpse we get of Rollo is of a man hedging his bets for the afterlife. Before donating a hundred pounds of gold to the Church, he sacrificed a hundred prisoners to Odin.

Christianity may have sat lightly on that first generation of Normans, but it took deep root among Rollo’s descendants. There was something appealing to their Viking sensibilities about the Old Testament – even if the New Testament with its turning the other cheek wasn’t quite as attractive – and they took their faith seriously. When the call came to aid their oppressed brothers in the East, they would immediately respond; Norman soldiers provided much of the firepower of the First Crusade.

When Rollo finally died around 930, he left his son an impressive legacy. He had gone a long way towards turning his Viking followers into Normans, and turning an occupied territory into a legitimate state. For all that, however, troubling clouds loomed on the horizon. Normandy’s borders were ill-defined, and it was surrounded by predatory neighbors. Its powerful nobles had bowed to the will of Rollo while he was alive, but they saw little reason why they should extend the same loyalty to his son. Most worrisome of all was the French crown, which eyed Rouen warily and was always looking for an excuse to reclaim its lost territory.

Rollo had laid the foundation, but whether Normandy would prosper, or even survive at all, was up to his descendants.

Verdun (1916)

In choosing Verdun as the main German objective for 1916, General Erich von Falkenhayn, Chief of the German General Staff and Minister for War, pre-dated the jibe that the British would fight to the last man in the armies of their allies. Falkenhayn reasoned that, for the British, the European fronts in the First World War represented nothing more than a sideshow, with the Russian, Italian and French armies as their whipping boys. The Italians and Russians, Falkenhayn believed, were already foundering on their own ineptitude. Only France remained.

“France has almost arrived at the end of her military effort.” Falkenhayn wrote to the German Kaiser Wilhelm II in December 1915.

If we succeeded in opening the eyes of her people to the fact that in a military sense they have nothing more to hope for . . . breaking point would be reached, and England’s best sword knocked out of her hand . . . Behind the French sector on the Western Front, there are objectives for the retention of which the French General Staff would be compelled to throw in every man they have. If they do so, the forces of France will bleed to death, as there can be no question of a voluntary withdrawal.

The objective Falkenhayn chose to put France in this moral and military dilemma was the massively fortified town of Verdun, on the canalized river Meuse. Verdun fitted Falken-hayn’s bill admirably. It had immense historic and emotional significance for the French and formed the northern linchpin of the double defense line of fortifications built to protect France’s eastern frontier after the Franco-Prussian War of 1870–1. Mount an assault here, with enough threatening potential, Falkenhayn reckoned, and the French Army would be inextricably lured to Verdun and mangled to extinction by the Germans. The mangle would be provided by a series of limited, but attritionist advances, intensively supported by artillery and spiced with surprise.

Falkenhayn’s proposals appealed to the Kaiser and to his son, Crown Prince Wilhelm, whose Fifth Army had been pounding away at Verdun with little success since 1914. But the prince and his Chief of Staff, General Schmidt von Knobelsdorf, seemed to see the Verdun campaign more in terms of shattering the French with a bombardment than of bleeding them dry by attrition. Wilhelm, who wanted to attack on both sides of the Meuse, not on the right bank only, as Falkenhayn proposed, stated the campaign’s purpose as “capturing the fortress of Verdun by precipitate methods”. Compared with this fierce phraseology, Falkenhayn’s notion of “an offensive in the Meuse area in the direction of Verdun” seemed enigmatic. Despite the suitably malevolent code-name of Operation Gericht (Judgement) given to his offensive, Falkenhayn’s essentially halfhearted approach to it planted the seeds of ultimate German failure at Verdun. Basically, that failure was rooted in Falkenhayn’s timid choice of too narrow a front for the initial attack and also in his extreme parsimony in doling out reserves.

Although Crown Prince Wilhelm and others seemed to suspect this outcome, preparations for the campaign went ahead as Falkenhayn had originally planned. It did so at a pace remarkable for those leisurely times. Weeks, rather than the usual months, divided Falkenhayn’s preliminary consultations with the Kaiser at Potsdam on or about 20 December 1915 from the issue of final orders on 27 January 1916 and the projected attack date of 12 February.

During this period, the Germans amassed in the forests that surrounded Verdun a massive force of 140,000 men and over 1,200 guns – 850 of them in the front line – together with 2.5 million shells brought by 1,300 munitions trains, and an air arm of 168 aircraft as well as observation balloons. A superlative standard of secrecy was achieved by deft camouflage of the guns, by the building of underground galleries to house the troops instead of the more usual, give-away “jump-off” trenches, and by dawn-to-dusk air patrols to prevent French pilots from casting spying eyes over the area.

These gargantuan preparations were, however, being directed against a military mammoth whose teeth had been drawn. By early 1916, Verdun’s much-vaunted impregnability had been seriously weakened. It had been “declassed” as a fortress the previous summer and all but a few of its guns and garrison had been removed. This was primarily the work of General Joseph J. C. Joffre, C-in-C of the French Army, who, with others, had presumed from the relatively easy fall in 1914 of the Belgian fortresses at Liège and Namur that this form of defense was redundant so far as modern warfare was concerned. Between August and October 1915, therefore, Verdun was denuded of over 50 complete batteries of guns and 128,000 rounds of ammunition. These were parcelled out to other Allied sectors where artillery was short. The stripping process was still going on at the end of January 1916, by which time the 60-odd Verdun forts possessed fewer than 300 guns with insufficient ammunition.

The result was that on the eve of the German offensive, the French defenses at Verdun were perilously weak, from the trench-works, dug-outs and machine-gun posts to the communications network and barbed-wire fences. Far-sighted men who protested at the headlong disarmament of Verdun did so in vain. One of them, General Coutanceau, was sacked as Governor of Verdun and replaced in the autumn of 1915 by the ageing and apparently more tractable General Herr. Another, Colonel Emile Driant, commander of 56th and 59th Chasseur Battalions of 72nd Division, 30th Corps, warned as early as 22 August 1915: “The sledge-hammer blow will be delivered on the line Verdun-Nancy.” After his opinion reached the ears of Joffre, Driant was sharply reprimanded in December for arousing baseless fears. Gen. Herr quickly realized that Coutanceau’s alarm had been perfectly justified, and that he was in dire need of reinforcements to prepare the defense line Joffre had ordered at Verdun. But Herr’s pleadings did little to penetrate the cloud of smugness that swirled about the question of defending Verdun. This mood remained impervious for some weeks, despite information from German deserters about troop movements and cancelled leave and other glimpses at the dire truth.

The very last moment had almost arrived before a glimmer of sense started to seep through. On 24 January General Nöel de Castelnau, Joffre’s Chief of Staff, ordered a rush completion of the first and second trench lines on the right bank of the Meuse, and a new line in between.

On 12 February, two new divisions arrived at Verdun – much to Herr’s heartfelt relief – to bring French strength up to 34 battalions against 72 German. Had the German attack begun on 12 February as planned, it would doubtless have smashed through the weak French defenses to score a stunning steamroller victory.

As it was, 12 February was not a day of savage battle, but of snow-blizzards and dense mist which afforded less than 1,100 yards visibility. The Verdun area was said to “enjoy” some of France’s filthiest weather. For a week it lived up to its reputation with snow, more snow, rain-squalls and gales.

Not until 21 February – just before 0715 – did a massive shell, almost as high as a man, burst from one of the two German 15-in (380 mm) naval guns and roar over the 20 miles that separated its camouflaged position from Verdun. There, it exploded in the courtyard of the Bishop’s Palace. At this signal, a murderous artillery bombardment erupted from the German lines and a tornado of fire – including poison gas shells – began to flay the French positions along a six-mile front. The earth convulsed and the air filled with flames, fumes and a holocaust of shrapnel and steel which, the Germans clearly hoped, would destroy every living thing within range. The bombardment hammered on and on until about 1200, when it paused so that German observers could see where – if anywhere – pockets of French defenders survived. Then the artillery began afresh, smashing trenches, shelters, barbed wire, trees and men until the whole area from Malancourt to Eparges had become a corpse-littered desert.

Between 1500 and 1600, the barrage intensified as a prelude to the first German infantry advance along a 4.5-mile front from Bois d’Haumont to Herbebois. The advance began at 1645 when small patrol groups came out over the 656 to 1,203 yards of No Man’s Land in waves 87.5 yards apart. Their purpose was to discover where French resistance might still exist and to pinpoint it to the artillery – which would then finish off the surviving defenders. This tentative approach, the result of Falkenhayn’s excessive caution, was not to the taste of the belligerent General von Zwehl, commander of 7 Reserve Corps of Westphalians. Von Zwehl, whose position lay opposite Bois d’Haumont, paid brief lip-service to Falkenhayn’s orders by sending out probing patrols first, but only a short while elapsed before he ordered his fighting stormtroopers to follow them. The Westphalians surged into the Bois d’Haumont, overran the first line of French trenches and within five hours had seized the whole wood.

To the right of the Bois d’Haumont lay the equally devastated Bois des Caures. Here, 80,000 shells had fallen within one 500,000-square-yard area. In this shattered wasteland, the advance patrols of the German 18 Corps expected to find nothing but mounds of shattered bodies in the mud. Instead, they were faced with a fierce challenge from Colonel Driant’s Chasseurs. Of the original 1,200 men under Driant’s command, fewer than half had survived the artillery bombardment. Now, these survivors poured machine-gun and rifle fire at the infiltrating Germans from the concrete redoubts and small strongholds which Driant had cunningly scattered through the trees.

Similarly ferocious isolated resistance was occurring all along the front, causing the Germans more delay and more casualties – 600 by midnight – than they had reckoned possible. By nightfall on 21 February, the only hole decisively punched in the French line was in the Bois d’Haumont, where Gen. Zwehl’s Westphalians were now solidly entrenched. Elsewhere, the Germans had captured most of the French forward trenches, but were held up when darkness put an end to the first day’s fighting which had yielded only 3,000 prisoners.

On the next two days, the Germans attacked with far greater force and much more initiative. On 22 February they blasted the village of Haumont, on the edge of the wood, with shellfire and flushed out the remaining French defenders with bombs and flamethrowers. That same day, the Bois de Ville was overwhelmed and in the Bois des Caures, which the Germans enveloped on both sides, Col. Driant ordered his Chasseurs to withdraw to Beaumont, about half a mile behind the wood. Only 118 Chasseurs managed to escape. Driant was not among them. On 23 February, the Germans saturated Samogneux with a hail of gunfire, captured Wavrille and Herbebois, and outflanked the village of Brabant, which the French evacuated. Next day – 24 February – despite their inch-by-inch resistance, the pace of disaster accelerated for the French with 10,000 taken prisoner, the final fall of their first defense line and the collapse of their second position in a matter of hours.

The Germans were now in possession of Beaumont, the Bois de Fosses, the Bois des Caurieres and part of the way along La Vauche ravine which led to Douaumont.

Incredibly enough, at first the magnitude of the disaster did not sink in at Joffre’s HQ at Chantilly, where the Staff had persuaded themselves that the German attack was a mere diversion. “Papa” Joffre, who had long believed a serious German offensive was more likely in the Oise valley, Rheims or Champagne, maintained his customary imperturbability to such an extent that at 2300 on 24 February, he was fast asleep when General de Castelnau came hammering on his bedroom door bearing bad news from the front. Armed with “full powers” from Joffre, who then went calmly back to bed, de Castelnau raced overnight to Verdun.

At about the time he arrived there, early on 25 February, a 10-man patrol of 24th Brandenburg Regiment of 3 Corps walked into Fort Douaumont and took possession of it and its three guns while the French garrison of 56 reserve artillerymen slept. This farcical episode, which German propaganda exaggerated into a hard-fought victory, shocked the French into melancholic despair and realization of the true state of affairs. At Chantilly, many officers openly advocated abandoning Verdun.

There, de Castelnau drew the conclusion that the French right flank should be drawn back and that the line of forts must be held at all costs. Above all, the French must retain the right bank of the Meuse, where de Castelnau felt that a decisive defense could, and must, be anchored on the ridges. The hapless Gen. Herr was replaced forthwith by 60-year-old General Henri Philippe Pétain. De Castelnau cannibalized Pétain’s Second Army with the Third Army to form for him a new Second Army.

Pétain took over responsibility for the defense of Verdun at 2400 on 25 February, after arriving that afternoon to find Herr’s HQ at Dugny, south of Verdun, in a chaos of panic and recrimination. Pétain, however, judged the situation to be far less hopeless than it seemed, even though the loss of Fort Douaumont and its unparalleled observation point was a serious blow. He decided that the surviving Verdun forts should be strongly re-garrisoned to form the principal bulwarks of a new defense. Pétain mapped out new lines of resistance on both banks of the Meuse and gave orders for a barrage position to be established through Avocourt, Fort de Marre, Verdun’s NE outskirts and Fort du Rozellier. The line Bras–Douaumont was divided into four sectors – she Woevre, Woevre–Douaumont, astride the Meuse, and the left bank of the Meuse. Each sector was entrusted to fresh troops of the 20th (“Iron”) Corps. Their main job was to delay the German advance with constant counterattacks.

Pétain saw to it that the four commands were supplied with fresh artillery as it arrived along the Bar-le-Duc road – which was soon rechristened “Sacred Way”. Three thousand Territorials labored unceasingly to keep its unmetalled surface in constant repair so that it could stand up to punishingly heavy use by convoys of lorries – 6,000 of them in a single day. Along La Voie Sacrée came badly needed reinforcements to replace the 25,000 men the French had lost by 26 February – five fresh Corps of them by 29 February. Already, Pétain was topping up his stock of artillery from the 388 field guns and 244 heavy guns that were at Verdun on 21 February towards the peak it reached a few weeks later of 1,100 field guns, 225 80–105 mm guns and 590 heavy guns. He also set the 59th Division to work building new defensive positions.

His injection of new strategy, new blood, new supplies and new hope into the Verdun defense soon began to disconcert the Germans. In any case, their impetus was gradually grinding down. On 29 February, their advance came to an exhausted halt after the last of their initial energy had been expended in three days of violent attacks against Douaumont, Hardaumont and Bois de la Caillette.

At that juncture, apart from their own mood of ‘grievous pessimism’, the most damaging factor for the Germans was the French artillery sited on the left bank of the Meuse. Here, more and more Germans came under fire the farther along the right bank they advanced. The solution was obvious, as Pétain had long feared and Crown Prince Wilhelm and Gen. von Knobelsdorf had long urged. On 6 March, after a blistering two-day artillery barrage, the German 6 Reserve and 10 Reserve Corps, partly pushed across the flooded Meuse and in a swirling snowstorm, attacked along the left bank. A parallel prong of this new onslaught was planned to strike along the right bank towards Fort Vaux, whose gunners had been savaging the German left flank.

Despite a plastering from French artillery in the Bois Bourrus, the Germans sped along the left bank and swept through the villages of Forges and Regneville – ending by nightfall in possession of Height 265 on the Côte de l’Oie. This ridge was of crucial importance, since it led through the adjacent Bois des Corbeaux towards the long mound known as Mort Homme. Mort Homme possessed double peaks and offered two advantages to the Germans. First it sheltered a particularly active battery of French field guns, and secondly, from its heights there stretched a magnificent all-round vista of the surrounding countryside. This gave whoever possessed it a prize observation point.

But Mort Homme soon lived up to its grisly name. After storming the Bois des Corbeaux on 7 March and losing it to a determined French counter-attack next day, the Germans prepared another attempt on Mort Homme on 9 March – this time from the direction of Béthincourt in the NW. They seized the Bois des Corbeaux a second time, but at such a crippling cost that they could not continue.

Results were depressingly similar on the right bank of the Meuse, where the German effort faded out beneath the walls of Fort Vaux. Difficulties of ammunition supply had made the attack there limp two days behind the left bank assault. With that, the parallel effect of the German offensive was ruined.

Inexorably, perhaps inevitably, the fighting around Verdun was acquiring that quality of slog and slaughter, and of lives thrown away for petty, short-lived gains that was so familiar a characteristic of fighting in the First World War.

Both Pétain and, in his own way, von Falkenhayn, were devotees of attrition by gunpower rather than manpower, but between March and May, the struggle at Verdun, like some Frankenstein’s monster renouncing its master, assumed a will of its own and reversed this preference. German casualties mounted from 81,607 at the end of March to 120,000 by the end of April, and the French from 89,000 to 133,000, as the two sides battered each other for possession of Mort Homme. By the end of May, when the Germans had at last taken this vital position, their losses had overtaken their enemy’s. On the right bank of the Meuse, in the same three months, the fighting swung to and fro over the “Deadly Quadrilateral” – an area south of Fort Douaumont – to the tune of maniacal, endless artillery barrages, never resolving itself decisively in favor of one side or the other.

The process greatly weakened both contestants. Mutinous behavior and defeatist gossip became more common in the French ranks and French officers tacitly condoned this mood. More and more Germans, many of them terrified, clumsy 18-year-old boys were becoming sickly from exhaustion, the din of the guns and the filth in which they were forced to live.

Ennervation and dismay affected the heads as well as the bodies of the two opposing war efforts. By 21 April, Crown Prince Wilhelm had made up his mind that the whole Verdun campaign was a bloody failure and ought to be terminated. “A decisive success at Verdun could only be assured at the price of heavy sacrifices, out of all proportion to the desired gains,” he wrote. These sentiments were echoed by Gen. Pétain, who was being nagged by Joffre to mount an aggressive counter-offensive. Pétain baulked at the increase in human sacrifice which that implied and clung to the principle of patient, stolid defense. Pétain was in a difficult position. Verdun had already become a national symbol of implacable resistance to the Germans, and Pétain himself a national idol. On the other hand, Verdun was threatening to gobble up the whole French Army and it certainly presented a serious drain on the manpower being reserved by Joffre for the coming Anglo-French offensive on the Somme.

For both sides at Verdun, these falterings at the top opened the way for men more ruthlessly determined to escalate the fighting onto even more brutal levels. On 19 April, Pétain was made Commander of Army Group Center, a position which placed him in remote rather than direct control of operations. His place as commander of Second Army was taken by General Robert Georges Nivelle, whose freebooter style of warfare had caught Joffre’s attention during his series of audacious, if expensive, attacks along the right bank of the Meuse. Nivelle took over on 1 May, and arrived at headquarters at Souilly with the brash announcement: “We have the formula!” He was also responsible for a quotation attributed sometimes to Pétain: “Ils ne passeront pas!”

Nivelle’s formula displayed itself in all its gory wastefulness on 22/23 May, when General Charles Mangin staged a flamboyant attack on Fort Douaumont. After a five-day bombardment, which barely chipped the fort’s defenses, Mangin’s troops streamed out of their jump-off trenches straight into a hurricane of deadly German gunfire. Within minutes, the French 129th Regiment had only 45 men left. One battalion had vanished. The remnants of the 129th charged the fort and set up a machine-gun post in one casemate against which the defending Germans flung themselves in a matching mood of suicidal madness. Out of 160 Jägers, Leibgrenadiers and men of the German 20th Regiment who attempted to overcome the French nest, only 50 returned to the fort alive. By the evening of 22 May, Fort Douaumont was in French hands, but the Germans staged violent counterattacks, capping their onslaught with eight massive doses of explosive lobbed from a minethrower 80 yards distant. One thousand French were taken prisoner, and only a pathetic scattering of their comrades managed to stagger away from the fort.

This bloody fiasco ripped a 500-yard gap in the French lines and greatly weakened their strength on the right bank of the Meuse. Together with the fact that German possession of Mort Homme largely nullified French firepower on the Bois Borrus ridge, the self-destructive strife at Fort Douaumont gave great encouragement to the so-called “May Cup” offensive which the Germans planned for early June.

The inspiration behind “May Cup” was Gen. von Knobelsdorf, who had temporarily eclipsed Crown Prince Wilhelm. As Nivelle’s new opposite number, von Knobelsdorf soon displayed an equally implacable resolve to overcome the enemy by brute force. “May Cup” comprised a powerful thrust on the right bank of the Meuse by five divisions on under half the 21 February attack frontage. Its purpose was to lift Verdun’s last veil – Fort Vaux, Thiaumont, the Fleury ridge and Fort Souville.

On 1 June, the Germans crossed the Vaux ravine and after a frenzied contest forced Major Sylvain Raynal – commander of Fort Vaux – to surrender on 7 June. By 8 June, Gen. Nivelle had mounted six unsuccessful relief attempts, at appalling cost. He was stopped from making a seventh attempt only when Pétain expressly forbade it. Elsewhere – totably round the Ouvrage de Thiaumont – the fighting brought both sides terrible losses. The French alone were losing 4,000 men per division in a single action. By 12 June, Nivelle’s fresh reserves amounted to only one brigade – not more than 2,000 men.

With the Germans now poised to take Fort Souville – the very last major fortress protecting Verdun – ultimate disaster seemed imminent for the French. Eleventh-hour salvation came in the form of two Allied offensives in other theaters of war. On 4 June, on the Eastern Front, the Russian General Alexei A. Brusilov threw 40 divisions at the Austrian line in Galicia, in a surprise attack that flattened its defenders. The Russians took 400,000 prisoners. To shore up his war effort, now threatened with total collapse, Field Marshal Conrad von Hötzendorf, the Austrian C-in-C, begged Falkenhayn to send in German reinforcements. Grudgingly, Falkenhayn detached three divisions from the Western Front. Meanwhile, the French had been doing some pleading on their own account. In May and June, Joffre, de Castelnau, Pétain and French Prime Minister Aristide Briant had all begged General Sir Douglas Haig, the British C-in-C, to advance the Somme offensive from its projected starting date of mid-August. Haig at last complied on 24 June, and that day the week-long preliminary bombardment began.

At this juncture, a German 30,000-man assault on Fort Souville, which had begun with phosgene – “Green Cross” – gas attacks on 22 June had already crumpled. Despite its horrifying effects on everything that lived and breathed, the novel phosgene barrage was neither intense nor prolonged enough to sufficiently paralyze the power of the French artillery. This shortfall, together with German failure to attack on a wide enough front, their recent loss of air superiority to the French, their shrinking store of manpower and the ravages thirst was wreaking in their lines, combined to scuttle the German push against Fort Souville on 22 June. July and August saw increasingly puny attempts by the Germans to snatch the prize that had come so tantalizingly close, but all ended in failure and exhaustion. German morale was at its lowest. On 3 September, the German offensive finally faded in a weak paroxysm of effort. Verdun proper came to an end.

For the Germans, this miserable curtain-fall on the drama of Verdun was assisted by the fact that after 24 June, the exigencies of the fighting elsewhere denied them new supplies of ammunition and, after 1 July, men.

All that remained was for the French to rearm, reinforce their troops and counter-attack to regain what they had lost. By 24 August 1917, after a brilliant series of campaigns masterminded by Pétain, Nivelle and Mangin, the only mark on the map to show the Germans had ever occupied anything in the area of Verdun denoted the village of Beaumont.

During this counter-offensive, the formerly maligned forts reinstated themselves as powerful weapons of defence. As the French recaptured them, they found how relatively little they had suffered from the massive artillery pounding they had received. This discovery made forts fashionable among French military strategists once more. It did so most notably, and later mortally for France, in the mind of André Maginot, Minister for War from November 1929 to January 1931 and in that time sponsor of the Maginot Line of fortifications.

Of course, fortress-like durability was given neither to the 66 French and 43.5 German divisions which fought at Verdun between February and June 1916, nor to the terrain they so bitterly disputed for so long. Both suffered permanent scars. The land around Verdun, raked over again and again by saturation shelling – over 12 million rounds from the French artillery alone – became a ravaged, infertile lunar-like wasteland. By 1917, the soil of Verdun was thickly sown with dead flesh and irrigated by spilled blood, having claimed more than 1.25 million casualties. Between February and December 1916, the French had lost 377,231 men and the Germans about 337,000 in a scything down of their ranks. In these circumstances, the Western Front ceased to be a sideshow for the British – of it had ever been so. They were forced to assume the star role in the Allied war effort which the French had formerly played. A repetition of Verdun was simply inconceivable.




Burgundian archers and handgunner, Hundred Years War.

Jean de Vergy, Marshal of Burgundy at the Siege of Vellexon, Hundred Years War.

One of the political factions that fought the FRENCH CIVIL WAR, the Burgundian party comprised adherents of the dukes of BURGUNDY, particularly those supporting the political supremacy of JOHN THE FEARLESS between 1404 and 1419. The Burgundians were opposed by the ARMAGNACS, a faction derived from supporters of LOUIS, DUKE OF ORLEANS, chief rival of the dukes of Burgundy for paramount influence within the royal government. After 1420, the ANGLO-BURGUNDIAN ALLIANCE created by the Treaty of TROYES fostered development of an independent Burgundy and maintained Lancastrian rule in NORMANDY and northern France for two decades.

PHILIP THE BOLD, first VALOIS duke of Burgundy, became a dominant figure in the royal government in 1380, when his nephew CHARLES VI ascended the throne. Following the onset of the king’s schizophrenia in 1392, the duke filled the royal administration with men devoted to his interests. Although Burgundy’s position was increasingly challenged by LOUIS, DUKE OF ORLEANS, Charles’s younger brother, the dukes’ rivalry did not become violent until after Burgundy’s death in 1404. Because John, the new duke of Burgundy, lacked his father’s experience and authority, Orléans, in alliance with Queen ISABEAU, was able to frustrate many of his rival’s plans and ambitions. In consequence, Burgundy arranged Orleans’s murder in November 1407. In early 1408, Burgundy, taking advantage of the king’s mental instability, returned to court, where he issued the JUSTIFICATION OF THE DUKE OF BURGUNDY, a document that, by way of condoning Burgundy’s action, brazenly detailed the many alleged crimes and enormities of Orleans. When public opinion largely accepted the Justification, Burgundy quickly established his dominance over the court, and, by 1409, the Burgundians enjoyed a near monopoly of power.

Civil war began in 1410, as the Armagnacs-the name given to supporters of CHARLES, DUKE OF ORLEANS, and his father-in-law, BERNARD, COUNT OF ARMAGNAC-besieged the capital. Because he controlled the royal person, Burgundy was able to portray himself as the king’s lieutenant and his opponents as rebels and traitors. In 1411-12, both Burgundy and the Armagnacs sought military assistance from HENRY IV of England. Although an expedition led by THOMAS, DUKE OF CLARENCE, landed in 1412 in accordance with the Anglo-Armagnac Treaty of BOURGES, Burgundy used his control of the government to raise an army under royal authority and force the Armagnacs to repudiate the agreement. In 1413, the dauphin, LOUIS, DUKE OF GUIENNE, attempted to form a royalist party capable of reconciling the factions, while members of the ESTATES-GENERAL leveled charges of corruption against the Burgundian administration. In response, Burgundy, who was popular in PARIS, instigated a riot by his supporters in the city. Led by a member of the butchers’ guild named Simon Caboche, the rioters, who thus became known as CABOCHIENS, rampaged through Paris on 28 April, seizing or killing the dauphin’s officers. Moving quickly beyond the duke’s control, the Cabochien uprising became a reign of terror that alienated many Parisians, who turned to the dauphin and the Armagnacs for deliverance. In August, Burgundy fled the capital, leaving the king and the government to his rivals.

Excluded from power, Burgundy withdrew to his domains until 1418, taking no part in the interval in negotiations with HENRY V, in the AGINCOURT campaign, or in the defense of Normandy and ROUEN. Anxious only to regain power in Paris, Burgundy supported the queen when she fled the capital in 1417 after quarreling with her surviving son Charles, who was now dauphin and nominal leader of the Armagnacs. In May 1418, an uprising in Paris overthrew the Armagnac regime, forcing the dauphin to flee and allowing Burgundy and his adherents to resume control of both king and government. Believing he could dominate the dauphin, who was young and inexperienced, Burgundy sought some accommodation whereby he could eliminate the Armagnacs, unite the kingdom, and expel the English. However, when the two parties met at MONTEREAU in September 1419, old servants of Orléans in the dauphin’s entourage avenged their late master by murdering Burgundy.

Since no accommodation was possible with his father’s killer, PHILIP THE GOOD, the new duke of Burgundy, allied himself with Henry V in 1420. By accepting the Treaty of Troyes, Philip recognized Henry as regent and heir to the French throne. Although the royal administration remained largely in Burgundian hands, the Crown itself was pledged to the House of LANCASTER. After the deaths of Henry V and Charles VI in 1422, Burgundy took little direct part in English efforts to defend HENRY VI’s rights against the dauphin and his party, which was now essentially an amalgam of Armagnacs and others who supported the continuance of Valois rule. Rather than pursue his father’s dream of ruling in Paris, Burgundy concentrated on consolidating his holdings in France and on expanding his territory in the Low Countries, efforts that made the state of Burgundy a power in northwestern Europe and turned the one-time Burgundian faction into the administration of an independent principality. In 1435, the duke abandoned the Anglo-Burgundian alliance at the Congress of ARRAS, thus allowing the dauphin, now CHARLES VII, to enter Paris in 1436 and finally end the factional divisions of the civil war.


In the fourteenth century, the term “Burgundy” referred both to a duchy of eastern France owning homage to the French king and to a county across the Saône owing homage to the German emperor. In 1363, the duchy of Burgundy became a VALOIS APPANAGE, which, in the fifteenth century, became the center of an autonomous principality that also encompassed the county of Burgundy, other lordships in northern and eastern France, and most of the Low Countries. This accumulation of territory allowed the fifteenth-century dukes of Burgundy to play a central role in both the FRENCH CIVIL WAR and the HUNDRED YEARS WAR.

Until 1361, the duchy of Burgundy was ruled by a cadet branch of the House of CAPET. Upon the death in that year of Philip de Rouvre, the last Capetian duke, the duchy passed to JOHN II, who granted it to his youngest son, PHILIP THE BOLD, in 1363. CHARLES V enabled his brother to expand his holdings by arranging for Philip to marry MARGUERITE DE FLANDERS, the only child of LOUIS DE MALE, count of FLANDERS. Besides her father’s provinces of Flanders, Nevers, and Rethel, which she inherited in 1384, Marguerite was her grandmother’s heir to Artois and to the county of Burgundy (the Franche-Comté), which she inherited in 1382. Through her mother, Marguerite also had a claim to Brabant, although this duchy did not come to the dukes of Burgundy until 1430. Ruling both his own and his wife’s territories, Philip, thanks to the mental illness of his nephew, CHARLES VI, also dominated the French government after 1392. Following Philip’s death in 1404 and Marguerite’s in 1405, their eldest son, JOHN THE FEARLESS, inherited his parents’ lands and his father’s political rivalry with LOUIS, DUKE OF ORLEANS, the king’s brother. Descending to violence, this rivalry led in 1407 to the murder of Orléans by assassins hired by Burgundy and to the development of the BURGUNDIAN and ARMAGNAC (Orléanist) factions, whose struggle for political dominance in PARIS led after 1410 to eruption of the French civil war.

Expelled from Paris in 1413, Burgundy did not fight at AGINCOURT in 1415 and took no part in defending NORMANDY against HENRY V, preferring to concentrate on overthrowing the Armagnac regime in Paris, which he did in 1418. On 10 September 1419, partisans of the dauphin, who was nominal head of the Armagnacs, murdered Burgundy during a peace conference on the bridge at MONTEREAU. Rejecting any agreement with his father’s murderers, the new duke, PHILIP THE GOOD, allied himself with Henry V, whom, through acceptance of the Treaty of TROYES, he recognized as heir to the French throne. Establishment of an Anglo-Burgundian government in Paris allowed Philip to consolidate his holdings in France and to enlarge his territories in the Low Countries. By 1440, Namur, Brabant, Luxembourg, Holland, Zeeland, and Hainault had all been incorporated into the Burgundian state, which, thanks to the weakness of the French monarchy, was now effectively independent.

However, despite the ANGLO-BURGUNDIAN ALLIANCE, Philip provided little military assistance to the English, and in 1435 abandoned his allies at the Congress of ARRAS, where the dauphin, now CHARLES VII, agreed to exempt the duke from paying homage for his French fiefs and to send a courtier to apologize on the king’s behalf for the murder at Montereau. Although Burgundy remained a culturally influential state, particularly in terms of music, art, and literature, the reconciliation effectively ended Burgundian involvement in the Hundred Years War or in royal administration. The expulsion of the English from France in 1453 and the subsequent revival of French royal authority gradually reduced the ability of the dukes to thwart French designs on Burgundy. After Philip’s son, Charles the Bold, died without male heirs in 1477, the duchy of Burgundy was eventually reincorporated into the kingdom of France.


Made possible by the murder of JOHN THE FEARLESS, duke of BURGUNDY, in 1419, and formalized by the Treaty of TROYES in 1420, the Anglo-Burgundian alliance established a joint administration in PARIS, recognized Lancastrian succession to the French throne, permitted the growth and maintenance of a Lancastrian state in northern France, and fostered the development of an independent polity in territories controlled by PHILIP THE GOOD, duke of Burgundy. Created by HENRY V’s claim to rule France and by Burgundy’s desire to avenge his father’s murder, the alliance was maintained after Henry’s death by the personal relationship of Burgundy and JOHN, DUKE OF BEDFORD, who were linked by the latter’s marriage to the former’s sister, ANNE OF BURGUNDY, duchess of Bedford. The alliance ended in 1435, when Burgundy realized that his desire to exercise paramount influence in the French government was better served by recognizing a VALOIS rather than a Lancastrian monarch.

Although uncomfortable with an English king of France, Burgundy could not acknowledge the dauphin as such after the dauphin’s servants treacherously slew Burgundy’s father during a peace conference at MONTEREAU in September 1419. The duke thus became party to the Troyes agreement, whereby he recognized Henry V as heir to the French throne and regent of France for the remainder of CHARLES VI’s reign. Henry agreed to exercise his authority in consultation with the duke, and Burgundian officials, who had controlled the royal administration since 1418, were retained in office. Henry also promised not to interfere in those French provinces ruled directly by the duke, including FLANDERS, Artois, Rethel, Nevers, Charolais, Boulogne, and the duchy of Burgundy. By thus transforming one party in the FRENCH CIVIL WAR from a potential foe into an active ally, Henry was able to win power and territory in a divided France. Although, in practice, the duke took little direct part in the ongoing war between the English and the dauphinists, his alliance with the House of LANCASTER denied the dauphin access to Paris and to the allegiance, wealth, and manpower of a significant part of France. The alliance thus became vital to the maintenance of Lancastrian rule, especially after 1422 when the infant HENRY VI succeeded his father and grandfather on the English and French thrones.

Upon his brother’s death, Bedford became regent of France when Burgundy, still unwilling to be too closely associated with a Lancastrian regime, refused the office. In 1423, Bedford fortified the Anglo-Burgundian alliance by concluding the Treaty of AMIENS, a tripartite defensive agreement whereby Bedford, Burgundy, and JOHN V, duke of BRITTANY, recognized Henry VI as king of France and pledged to aid one another against the dauphin. The treaty also arranged Bedford’s marriage to Burgundy’s sister, whose influence over both men became vital to the maintenance of good relations. Anne’s mediation was particularly important in the mid-1420s, when HUMPHREY, DUKE OF GLOUCESTER, Bedford’s brother, made an impolitic attempt to enforce his wife’s rights in Holland, Zeeland, and Hainault, thus threatening Burgundy’s ambitions in the Low Countries. In 1432, Anne’s death snapped the personal link between the dukes, and Bedford’s remarriage to Jacquetta of Luxembourg five months later offended Burgundy, whose interests were, in any event, beginning to diverge from those of his ally.

By 1433, Burgundy, whose contacts with the dauphin (now crowned as CHARLES VII) were never completely broken, began exploring the possibility of a Franco-Burgundian reconciliation. While the Lancastrians, particularly since the advent of JOAN OF ARC in 1429, were becoming increasingly dependent on the Burgundian alliance, Burgundy was becoming increasingly disillusioned by his inability to dominate the French administration and fearful that continuance of the war would diminish his popularity in Paris. Believing that Charles was weak and controllable, the duke sought honorable means to end the English alliance. Such means were provided by Nicholas Rolin, the Burgundian chancellor, who argued that since Henry V had predeceased Charles VI and had thus not actually assumed the French Crown, Henry VI could not inherit something his father had never held. With Charles eager for reconciliation, Burgundy agreed to the convening of the Congress of ARRAS, an all-party peace conference from which the English withdrew when they realized that its true purpose was the conclusion of a Franco-Burgundian accord. Under the Treaty of Arras, signed on 20 September 1435, one week after Bedford’s death, Charles recognized all grants of territory made to Burgundy by the English, exempted Burgundy from paying homage for his French lands during Charles’s lifetime, and humbly apologized for the murder of Burgundy’s father. With this agreement, the Anglo-Burgundian alliance was terminated chancellor, who argued that since Henry V had predeceased Charles VI and had thus not actually assumed the French Crown, Henry VI could not inherit something his father had never held. With Charles eager for reconciliation, Burgundy agreed to the convening of the Congress of ARRAS, an all-party peace conference from which the English withdrew when they realized that its true purpose was the conclusion of a Franco-Burgundian accord. Under the Treaty of Arras, signed on 20 September 1435, one week after Bedford’s death, Charles recognized all grants of territory made to Burgundy by the English, exempted Burgundy from paying homage for his French lands during Charles’s lifetime, and humbly apologized for the murder of Burgundy’s father. With this agreement, the Anglo-Burgundian alliance was terminated

Further Reading: Perroy, Edouard. The Hundred Years War. Trans. W. B. Wells. New York: Capricorn Books, 1965; Vaughan, Richard. John the Fearless. London: Longman, 1979; Vaughan, Richard. Philip the Good: The Apogee of Burgundy. Woodbridge, England: Boydell Press, 2002. Vaughan, Richard. Philip the Bold: The Formation of the Burgundian State. Woodbridge, England: Boydell Press, 2002; Vaughan, Richard. Valois Burgundy. London: Archon, 1975. Williams, E. Carleton. My Lord of Bedford, 1389-1435. London: Longmans, 1963.

Char FT 75BS

The first order of construction of 100 tanks FT tanks was extended to 150, and interestingly enough, it is mentioned that they were intended to serve as command vehicles within tank units. Indecision of the Staff caused the order to be suspended until the numerous bureaucratic problems were solved with the arrival of Général Pétain in the position of Commander in Chief. In May 1917, he returned to give the order to manufacture the 150 and an additional 1,000 more. At that time he had already decided to equip some of the tanks with a 37mm cannon. The total order of 1,150 tanks, 500 armed with Hotchkiss 8mm, and 650 with 37mm cannons, were manufactured at Puteaux Arsenal, exceeding the possibilities of Renault, so this factory agreed to sell the production patent and expand production to other factories including Berliet, Delaunay-Belleville, Schneider, SOMUA, and it was even proposed that American companies would participate. The plans along with one tank were sent to the United States in order to start the construction of the tanks needed by the US army as well as another 1,200 for France.

In September, the Ministere d’Armement took over the first 4 units and throughout 1917, Renault produced only 84 tanks. This was due to the delay in the supply of armor, coming mostly from the company named Miris Steel from the UK, and the weaponry, including the new Puteaux 37mm gun, modified to operate semi-automatically and could be well handled by one man. Meanwhile, Estienne requested the production of 2,500 tanks to replace possible casualties, including 200 of a new version, a tank with a radio called the Char TSF – télégraphie sans fil, which served to transmit orders to units via radio. In December 1917, the total requests made totaled 4,000 tanks, 1,950 of which were armed with 37mm cannons, 1,150 with machine guns, 200 TSH, and 970 with Schneider 75mm howitzers. This latest version, the Char FT 75BS, was designed to serve as a vehicle to penetrate enemy lines that, besides having a more powerful weapon to demolish obstacles, had to carry a bridge to facilitate the passage of the remaining tanks after opening the gap in the main obstacle.

In April 1918 there had been 453 units with 3,177 vehicles built during the war. 1,950 of them would be produced by the Renault factory. Général Estienne brought the number of tanks used in the war up to 3,282, although we cannot explain this discrepancy of 105 vehicles. Another 570 were produced by the Renault firm after the conflict, in addition to national versions built in other countries like the United States. Finally, recent data estimates that some 3,728 vehicles were built up until 1921. The breakdown is as follows: 2100 tanks with machine guns, 1,246 37mm cannons, 39 75BS, 188 TSH, and 155 training vehicles.

FT 75 BS, howitzer armed version.