On March 26th, 1793, the War in the Vendée commenced. The insurrection, which occurred during the period of the French Revolution (which began in 1789), is defined by its counter-revolutionary, Royalist themes.
The Vendée uprising began in early March and was primarily fought by the Vendée Militaire against the forces of the young French Republic. The conflict was a reaction to the revolution which had transformed France over the previous 4 years: due to minimal class inequalities, strong ties to the Catholic Church and a more favourable opinion of the local nobility, the people of the Vendée region were distinctly less supportive of the revolution than, for example, Parisians. The catalyst for the conflict was the introduction of conscription by the National Assembly which demanded the creation of a 300,000 strong army.
The Vendean rebels were initially quelled in industrial centres, but the uprising flourished in rural areas. The Vendée Militaire were successful in killing thousands of republicans, including the commander of the National Guard of Cholet. By this point, in mid-March, the uprising had turned into an insurrection.
The Republic’s first response was to dispatch 45,000 troops to face the rebels. This clash resulted in a series of skirmishes throughout the following months which define the War in the Vendée. The first such skirmish was the Battle of Bressuire, in which the town of Bressuire was captured by Vendean rebels. The Vendean’s success continued as they saw victory at Thouars, Fontenay-le-Comte and Saumur. After these battles, the only remaining Republican-held city in the Vendée region was Nantes. The Battle of Nantes marked a turning point in the war. The rebels’ poor coordination and the death of their commander, Cathelineau, allowed the Republic to defend Nantes.
The subsequent conflicts saw a mix of Vendean and Republican victories, but the decisive Battle of Savenay in December 1793, (after which the region was ‘pacified’ by complete physical annihilation, on the orders of the Committee of Public Safety) marked the end of the insurrection. In the aftermath of the conflict, the Republic’s Infernal Columns killed 20,000-50,000 Vendéan civilians and another 6,500 prisoners of war were executed. Estimates place the death toll of the War in the Vendée between 117,000 and 450,000, out of a population of around 800,000. Some historians regard the subsequent ‘pacifying’ of the Vendée as an early instance of genocide.
This conflict is part of the period of the French Revolution – a period which transformed France and the world.