Camisard Risings in the Cévennes Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

The risings of the Camisards—Protestant peasants in the Cévennes region of southern France—renewed the religious unrest between Catholics and Protestants that had plagued France during the Reformation. This rebellion challenged the absolute authority of the French king and the alliance of church and state.

Summary of Event

As a result of persecution of the Huguenots Huguenots (French Protestants) at the end of the reign of Louis XIV, the Protestant peasants of the Cévennes rose up against the Crown in an effort to preserve their way of life. In 1685, Louis XIV had revoked the Edict of Nantes, Nantes, Edict of (1598) Edict of Nantes (1598) by which his grandfather Henry IV had granted freedom of religion to Protestants. Protestantism;France Louis’s reasons for revoking the edict were both personal and political. Along with Madame de Maintenon, Maintenon, Madame de his former mistress and then wife, Louis XIV had become extremely pious at the end of his life and wished to atone for his sins. Cleansing France of the heretics who had rejected the Catholic faith was one way to accomplish this end. He also believed that his power as an absolute monarch Absolute monarchy would be strengthened by unifying the country under one religion. In addition, the campaign to convert the Protestants provided an additional source of revenue to the Crown, which was then burdened with enormous debts as a result of the king’s extravagant lifestyle and continuous wars. In order to convince the Protestants to accept Catholicism, special militia taxes Taxation;France (taxes de milices) doubling or tripling their property taxes were levied against them, and soldiers were billeted in their homes. [kw]Camisard Risings in the Cévennes (July 24, 1702-Oct. 1, 1704) [kw]Cévennes, Camisard Risings in the (July 24, 1702-Oct. 1, 1704) [kw]Risings in the Cévennes, Camisard (July 24, 1702-Oct. 1, 1704) Camisards, War of the (1702-1704) Peasant revolts;France Protestant-Catholic conflicts[Protestant Catholic conflicts] Catholic-Protestant conflicts[Catholic Protestant conflicts] [g]France;July 24, 1702-Oct. 1, 1704: Camisard Risings in the Cévennes[0130] [c]Wars, uprisings, and civil unrest;July 24, 1702-Oct. 1, 1704: Camisard Risings in the Cévennes[0130] [c]Religion and theology;July 24, 1702-Oct. 1, 1704: Camisard Risings in the Cévennes[0130] [c]Government and politics;July 24, 1702-Oct. 1, 1704: Camisard Risings in the Cévennes[0130] Cavalier, Jean Laporte, Roland Villars, duc de Chayla, François de Langlade de Broglie, Victor-Maurice de Montrevel, marquis de Louis XIV

In his zeal to eradicate the practice of the Protestant faith from France, Louis XIV had approved a policy, referred to as Dragonades, for converting Protestants by using various forms of persecution. In addition to being heavily taxed and forced to house the worst of royal troops in their homes, Protestants were forbidden to hold religious services, and those who did were severely punished. Many who refused to accept Catholicism were imprisoned, deported, or executed. These persecutions were especially severe in the Cévennes region, long a stronghold of religious heresy dating back to the Cathars in the Middle Ages.

A skirmish in the Camisard risings.

(R. S. Peale and J. A. Hill)

The Protestants of the Cévennes were given to prophesying publicly and to being taken by fits of shaking and sobbing as they were filled with the Spirit. These public demonstrations, coupled with resistance to conversion, resulted in a retaliatory persecution of almost fanatical proportions by François de Langlade de Chayla, abbot and inspector of missions of the Cévennes. Protestants, especially ministers, were imprisoned or sent to the galleys. Faced with such dangers, many fled from France. Abbot de Chayla caught them, if possible, and imprisoned them in his house at Pont-de-Montvert, where he made a final attempt to convert them by using torture.

On the night of July 24, 1702, a group of Cévennois peasants, who had for seventeen years resisted royal demands nonviolently, finally took up arms. They attacked the house of Abbot de Chayla, liberating their comrades and killing the abbot. Thus began the War of the Camisards. Wearing shirts or smocks (from which the name“Camisards” is derived), the rebel peasants raided Catholic villages, burned churches, prevented new converts from attending mass, and terrorized and killed those opposed to their cause.

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The government sent troops to quell the insurgents. Using guerrilla tactics, the rebels under the leadership of Roland Laporte and Jean Cavalier successfully stood against the royal forces despite being severely outnumbered. Cavalier repeatedly engaged the royal troops, who were led first by Victor-Maurice de Broglie, the comte de Broglie, and then (from February 14, 1703) by the Marquis de Montrevel. On February 10, 1703, Cavalier routed the king’s troops at Vagnas. He was defeated at Tour de Billot on April 30 but escaped capture and replenished his forces. Almost a year later, on April 16, 1704, he met Marshal de Montrevel’s forces at the bridge of Nages. With only one thousand men to fight against five thousand, Cavalier was defeated but retreated successfully with two-thirds of his men. Laporte, with an army that eventually numbered one thousand, terrorized the region from Nîmes to Alais. Both Cavalier and Laporte were possessed of a natural expertise for leading men into battle. Their forces were disciplined and eager to fight under their leadership.

The rebellion caused serious problems for Louis XIV. France was simultaneously engaged in the War of the Spanish Succession and needed all of its troops on that front. The king had committed two generals and thirty thousand troops to suppressing the peasant rebellion in the Cévennes, without success. He thus sent the duke de Villars to the Cévennes with orders to pacify the region.

Villars arrived in Nîmes on April 21, 1704. He quickly surmised that the aid the Camisards received from the local Protestants, even if they had not joined the rebel forces, contributed greatly to their success. Therefore, he devised a plan to isolate the Camisards. He created fear in the peasants by stating that he would shoot, hang, or break on the wheel those who remained in rebellion. However, to those who surrendered within eight days he offered royal amnesty and the opportunity to leave France with their families and goods, if they wished. He also appealed to the provincial upper classes to demonstrate their loyalty to the king and managed to instill a sense of security in those recently converted to Catholicism.

Having thus taken steps to eliminate the sympathetic noncombatants as a factor, Villars planned a strong military maneuver against the Camisards themselves. Utilizing mixed regiments of cavalry and infantry, he sent twenty-five thousand troops into the mountains of the Cévennes, where the Camisards were hiding. Cut off from their supplies, they were soon forced by hunger to leave their mountain hideouts. Royal troops then engaged them on open terrain. Villars personally presented letters of pardon to rebels who surrendered.

On May 11, 1704, Cavalier entered into negotiations with Marshal Villars at Pont d’Avne, near Alais. Assuring his followers that the Holy Spirit had directed him to negotiate with Marshal Villars, Cavalier convinced them to cease fighting. Cavalier then requested pardon from Louis XIV and asked that his followers be permitted to leave France. Cavalier received a commission as colonel, presented to him by Villars, and a pension of twelve hundred livres. In addition, he was to command a Camisard regiment that would serve in Spain. On June 21, 1704, Cavalier left the Cévennes with one hundred Camisards. At Paris, he was given an audience by Louis XIV and presented an explanation of the Camisard uprising to the king.

Although he also entered into negotiations with Villars, Laporte refused to cease fighting unless he had definite assurance that the privileges granted in the Edict of Nantes would be restored. He was shot and killed on August 14, 1704. With the submission of Cavalier and the death of Laporte, the rebellion in the Cévennes came to an end. On October 1, 1704, Villars officially informed Louis XIV that the Cévennes had been pacified.

Significance

Many Protestants of the Cévennes emigrated to England either during or after the Camisard risings. In 1706, one group of ex-Camisards led by Elie Marion Marion, Elie arrived in London. They formed a vocal and demonstrative religious sect that preached its faith publicly. Believing themselves to be filled with the Holy Spirit, they prophesied and went into states of ecstasy, shaking, dancing, shouting, and speaking in strange languages. These “French Prophets,” as many inhabitants of London called them, often met with scorn and suffered some official repression. They did, however, influence a sect of Quakers, Quakers who adopted some of their doctrines and rituals of worship. Under the leadership of James and Ann (Lee) Lee, Ann Wardley, Wardley, James they shook, shouted, and danced, earning for themselves the name Shakers. Shakers Members of this sect later settled in the United States.

The rebellion of the Camisards in the Cévennes represents another important chapter in the history of Languedoc. This southern region of France had already been the scene of a great religious conflict, the Albigensian Crusade Albigensian Crusade (1209-1213) of 1209-1213. In that crusade, Philippe Auguste had sent an army to eradicate the heretical sect known as Cathars. There are several similarities between these two conflicts. Philippe Auguste’s reasons for attacking the Cathars, like those of Louis XIV, were both religious and political, while the Cathars like the Camisards were motivated by religious fervor alone. Both the Cathars and the Camisards refused to submit and renounce their religion in spite of persecution. Jean Cavalier stated that the rebels under his command viewed themselves as the descendants of the Albigensians and believed it was their destiny to fight against superstition and persecution.

The rising of the Camisards in the Cévennes foreshadowed the eventual rejection of the alliance between Church and state Church and state;France in France. The Camisards believed in their right to freedom of conscience and considered themselves loyal Frenchmen. Their rebellion was a direct assault on the absolute power of the king. King and state were no longer identical in the minds of the French peasants—a crucial change in ideology from the Renaissance. The French Revolution, which would bring the fall of the monarchy and religious freedom, would have been unthinkable without this split in the French imagination between loyalty to the nation and loyalty to the Crown.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Briggs, Robin. Early Modern France, 1560-1715. London: Oxford University Press, 1998. Discusses absolutism in France, Henry IV, the Edict of Nantes, Louis XIV, and the revocation of the edict.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Frey, Linda, and Marsha Frey, eds. The Treaties of the War of the Spanish Succession: An Historical and Critical Dictionary. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1995. Dictionary giving quick access to information on specific items.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Lewis, Warren Hamilton. The Splendid Century: Life in the France of Louis XIV. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday Anchor Books, 1957. Information on all aspects of the reign of Louis XIV, especially the galleys and persecution of Huguenots.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Potter, David E., ed. France in the Later Middle Ages, 1200-1500. London: Oxford University Press, 2003. Good treatment of religious conflict, especially the Cathars, and the Albigensian Crusades.

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Georges Danton; Louis XV; Louis XVI; Robespierre. Camisards, War of the (1702-1704) Peasant revolts;France Protestant-Catholic conflicts[Protestant Catholic conflicts] Catholic-Protestant conflicts[Catholic Protestant conflicts]

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