The object contended for in all these cases was the same. It was the vindication of human freedom against royal and sacerdotal despotism. It could only have been the direst necessity that drove a poor, scattered, unarmed peasantry, such as the people of the Cevennes, to take up arms against so powerful a sovereign as Louis XIV. Their passive resistance had lasted for fifteen long years, during which many of them had seen their kindred racked, hanged, or sent to the galleys; and at length their patience was exhausted, and the inevitable outburst took place. Yet they were at any moment ready to lay down their arms and return to their allegiance, provided only a reasonable degree of liberty of worship were assured to them. This, however, their misguided and bigoted monarch, would not tolerate; for he had sworn that no persons were to be suffered in his dominions save those who were of "the King's religion."
The circumstances accompanying the outbreak of the Protestant peasantry in the Cevennes in many respects resembled those which attended the rising of the Scotch Covenanters in 1679. Both were occasioned by the persistent attempts of men in power to enforce a particular form of religion at the point of the sword. The resisters of the policy were in both cases Calvinists; and they were alike indomitable and obstinate in their assertion of the rights of conscience. They held that religion was a matter between man and his God, and not between man and his sovereign or the Pope. The peasantry in both cases persevered in their own form of worship. In Languedoc, the mountaineers of the Cevennes held their assemblies in "The Desert;" and in Scotland, the "hill-folk" of the West held their meetings on the muirs. In the one country as in the other, the monarchy sent out soldiers as their missionaries—Louis XIV. employing the dragoons of Louvois and Baville, and Charles II. those of Claverhouse and Dalzell. These failing, new instruments of torture were invented for their "conversion." But the people, in both cases, continued alike stubborn in their adherence to their own simple and, as some thought, uncouth form of faith.
[Footnote 37: Whether it be that Calvinism is eclectic as regards races and individuals, or that it has (as is most probably the case) a powerful formative influence upon individual character, certain it is that the Calvinists of all countries have presented the strongest possible resemblance to each other—the Calvinists of Geneva and Holland, the Huguenots of France, the Covenanters of Scotland, and the Puritans of Old and New England, seeming, as it were, to be but members of the same family. It is curious to speculate on the influence which the religion of Calvin—himself a Frenchman—might have exercised on the history of France, as well as on the individual character of Frenchmen, had the balance of forces carried the nation bodily over to Protestantism (as was very nearly the case) towards the end of the sixteenth century. Heinrich Heine has expressed the opinion that the western races contain a large proportion of men for whom the moral principle of Judaism has a strong elective affinity; and in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the Old Testament certainly seems to have exercised a much more powerful influence on the minds of religious reformers than the New. "The Jews," says Heine, "were the Germans of the East, and nowadays the Protestants in German countries (England, Scotland, America, Germany, Holland) are nothing more nor less than ancient Oriental Jews."]
The French Calvinist peasantry, like the Scotch, were great in their preachers and their prophets. Both devoted themselves with enthusiasm to psalmody, insomuch that "psalm-singers" was their nickname in both countries. The one had their Clement Marot by heart, the other their Sternhold and Hopkins. Huguenot prisoners in chains sang psalms in their dungeons, galley slaves sang them as they plied at the oar, fugitives in the halting-places of their flight, the condemned as they marched to the gallows, and the Camisards as they rushed into battle. It was said of the Covenanters that "they lived praying and preaching, and they died praying and fighting;" and the same might have been said of the Huguenot peasantry of the Cevennes.
The immediate cause of the outbreak of the insurrection in both countries was also similar. In the one case, it was the cruelty of the archpriest Chayla, the inventor of a new machine of torture called "the Squeezers," and in the other the cruelty of Archbishop Sharpe, the inventor of that horrible instrument called "the Iron Boot," that excited the fury of the people; and the murder of the one by Seguier and his band at Pont-de-Montvert, as of the other by Balfour of Burley and his companions on Magus Muir, proved the signal for a general insurrection of the peasantry in both countries. Both acts were of like atrocity; but they corresponded in character with the cruelties which had provoked them. Insurrections, like revolutions, are not made of rose-water. In such cases, action and reaction are equal; the violence of the oppressors usually finding its counterpart in the violence of the oppressed.
[Footnote 38: The instrument is thus described by Cavalier, in his "Memoirs of the Wars of the Cevennes," London, 1726: "This inhuman man had invented a rack (more cruel, if it be possible, than that usually made use of) to torment these poor unfortunate gentlemen and ladies; which was a beam he caused to be split in two, with vices at each end. Every morning he would send for these poor people, in order to examine them, and if they refused to confess what he desired, he caused their legs to be put in the slit of the beam, and there squeezed them till the bones cracked," &c., &c. (p. 35).]
The insurrection of the French peasantry proved by far the most determined and protracted of the two; arising probably from the more difficult character of the mountain districts which they occupied and the quicker military instincts of the people, as well as because several of their early leaders and organizers were veteran soldiers who had served in many campaigns. The Scotch insurgents were suppressed by the English army under the Duke of Monmouth in less than two months after the original outbreak, though their cause eventually triumphed in the Revolution of 1688; whereas the peasantry of the Cevennes, though deprived of all extraneous help, continued to maintain a heroic struggle for several years, but were under the necessity of at last succumbing to the overpowering military force of Louis XIV., after which the Huguenots of France continued to be stamped out of sight, and apparently out of existence, for nearly a century.
* * * * *
In the preceding chapter, we left the archpriest Chayla a corpse at the feet of his murderers. Several of the soldiers found in the chateau were also killed, as well as the cook and house-steward, who had helped to torture the prisoners. But one of the domestics, and a soldier, who had treated them with kindness, were, at their intercession, pardoned and set at liberty. The corpses were brought together in the garden, and Seguier and his companions, kneeling round them—a grim and ghastly sight—sang psalms until daybreak, the uncouth harmony mingling with the crackling of the flames of the dwelling overhead, and the sullen roar of the river rushing under the neighbouring bridge.
When the grey of morning appeared, the men rose from their knees, emerged from the garden, crossed the bridge, and marched up the main street of the village. The inhabitants had barricaded themselves in their houses, being in a state of great fear lest they should be implicated in the murder of the archpriest. But Seguier and his followers made no further halt in Pont-de-Montvert, but passed along, still singing psalms, towards the hamlet of Frugeres, a little further up the valley of the Tarn.
Seguier has been characterised as "the Danton of the Cevennes." This fierce and iron-willed man was of great stature—bony and dark-visaged, without upper teeth, his hair hanging loose over his shoulders—and of a wild and mystic appearance, occasioned probably by the fits of ecstasy to which he was subject, and the wandering life he had for so many years led as a prophet-preacher in the Desert. This terrible man had resolved upon a general massacre of the priests, and he now threw himself upon Frugeres for the purpose of carrying out the enterprise begun by him at Pont-de-Montvert. The cure of the hamlet, who had already heard of Chayla's murder, fled from his house at sound of the approaching psalm-singers, and took refuge in an adjoining rye-field. He was speedily tracked thither, and brought down by a musket-ball; and a list of twenty of his parishioners, whom he had denounced to the archpriest, was found under his cassock.
From Frugeres the prophet and his band marched on to St. Maurice de Ventalong, so called because of the winds which at certain seasons blow so furiously along the narrow valley in which it is situated; but the prior of the convent, having been warned of the outbreak, had already mounted his horse and taken to flight. Here Seguier was informed of the approach of a body of militia who were on his trail; but he avoided them by taking refuge on a neighbouring mountain-side, where he spent the night with his companions in a thicket.
Next morning, at daybreak, he descended the mountain, crossed the track of his pursuers, and directed himself upon St. Andre de Lanceze. The whole country was by this time in a state of alarm; and the cure of the place, being on the outlook, mounted the clock-tower and rang the tocsin. But his parishioners having joined the insurgents, the cure was pursued, captured in the belfry, and thrown from its highest window. The insurgents then proceeded to gut the church, pull down the crosses, and destroy all the emblems of Romanism on which they could lay their hands.
Seguier and his band next hurried across the mountains towards the south, having learnt that the cures of the neighbourhood had assembled at St. Germain to assist at the obsequies of the archpriest Chayla, whose body had been brought thither from Pont-de-Montvert on the morning after his murder. When Seguier was informed that the town and country militia were in force in the place, he turned aside and went in another direction. The cures, however, having heard that Seguier was in the neighbourhood, fled panic-stricken, some to the chateau of Portes, others to St. Andre, while a number of them did not halt until they had found shelter within the walls of Alais, some twenty miles distant.
Thus four days passed. On the fifth night Seguier appeared before the chateau of Ladeveze, and demanded the arms which had been deposited there at the time of the disarmament of the peasantry. The owner replied by a volley of musketry, which killed and wounded several of the insurgents, at the same time ringing the alarm-bell. Seguier, furious at this resistance, at once burst open the gates, and ordered a general massacre of the household. This accomplished, he ransacked the place of its arms and ammunition, and before leaving set the castle on fire, the flames throwing a lurid glare over the surrounding country. Seguier's band then descended the mountain on which the chateau is situated, and made for the north in the direction of Cassagnas, arriving at the elevated plateau of Font-Morte a little before daybreak.
In the meantime, Baville, the intendant of the province, was hastening to Pont-de-Montvert to put down the insurrection and avenge the death of the archpriest. The whole country was roused. Troops were dispatched in hot haste from Alais; the militia were assembled from all quarters and marched upon the disturbed district. The force was placed under the orders of Captain Poul, an old soldier of fortune, who had distinguished himself in the German wars, and in the recent crusade against the Italian Vaudois. It was because of the individual prowess which Captain Poul had displayed in his last campaign, that, at the peace of Ryswick, Baville requested that he should be attached to the army of Languedoc, and employed in putting down the insurgents of the Cevennes.
Captain Poul was hastening with his troops to Florac when, having been informed of the direction in which Seguier and his band had gone, he turned aside at Barre, and after about an hour's march eastward, he came up with them at Font-Morte. They suddenly started up from amongst the broom where they had lain down to sleep, and, firing off their guns upon the advancing host, without offering any further resistance, fled in all directions. Poul and his men spurred after them, cutting down the fugitives. Coming up with Seguier, who was vainly trying to rally his men, Poul took him prisoner with several others, and they were forthwith chained and marched to Florac. As they proceeded along the road, Poul said to Seguier, "Well, wretch! now I have got you, how do you expect to be treated after the crimes you have committed?" "As I would myself have treated you, had I taken you prisoner," was the reply.
Seguier stood before his judges calm and fearless. "What is your name?" he was asked. "Pierre Seguier." "Why do they call you Esprit?" "Because the Spirit of God is in me." "Your abode?" "In the Desert, and shortly in heaven." "Ask pardon of the King!" "We have no other King but the Eternal." "Have you no feeling of remorse for your crimes?" "My soul is as a garden full of shady groves and of peaceful fountains."
Seguier was condemned to have his hands cut off at the wrist, and he burnt alive at Pont-de-Montvert. Nouvel, another of the prisoners, was broken alive at Ladeveze, and Bonnet, a third, was hanged at St. Andre. They all suffered without flinching. Seguier's last words, spoken amidst the flames, were, "Brethren, wait, and hope in the Eternal. The desolate Carmel shall yet revive, and the solitary Lebanon shall blossom as the rose!" Thus perished the grim, unflinching prophet of Magistavols, the terrible avenger of the cruelties of Chayla, the earliest leader in the insurrection of the Camisards!
It is not exactly known how or when the insurgents were first called Camisards. They called themselves by no other name than "The Children of God" (Enfants de Dieu); but their enemies variously nicknamed them "The Barbets," "The Vagabonds," "The Assemblers," "The Psalm-singers," "The Fanatics," and lastly, "The Camisards." This name is said to have been given them because of the common blouse or camisole which they wore—their only uniform. Others say that it arose from their wearing a white shirt, or camise, over their dress, to enable them to distinguish each other in their night attacks; and that this was not the case, is partly countenanced by the fact that in the course of the insurrection a body of peasant royalists took the field, who designated themselves the "White Camisards," in contradistinction from the others. Others say the word is derived from camis, signifying a roadrunner. But whatever the origin of the word may be, the Camisards was the name most commonly applied to the insurgents, and by which they continue to be known in local history.
* * * * *
Captain Poul vigorously followed up the blow delivered at Font-Morte. He apprehended all suspected persons in the Upper Cevennes, and sent them before the judges at Florac. Unable to capture the insurgents who had escaped, he seized their parents, their relations, and families, and these were condemned to various punishments. But what had become of the insurgents themselves? Knowing that they had nothing but death to expect, if taken, they hid themselves in caves known only to the inhabitants of the district, and so secretly that Poul thought they had succeeded in making their escape from France. The Intendant Baville arrived at the same conclusion, and he congratulated himself accordingly on the final suppression of the outbreak. Leaving sundry detachments of troops posted in the principal villages, he returned to Alais, and invited the fugitive priests at once to return to their respective parishes.
After remaining in concealment for several days, the surviving insurgents met one night to consult as to the steps they were to take, with a view to their personal safety. They had by this time been joined by several sympathizers, amongst others by three veteran soldiers—Laporte, Esperandieu, and Rastelet—and by young Cavalier, who had just returned from Geneva, where he had been in exile, and was now ready to share in the dangers of his compatriots. The greater number of those present were in favour of bidding a final adieu to France, and escaping across the frontier into Switzerland, considering that the chances of their offering any successful resistance to their oppressors, were altogether hopeless. But against this craven course Laporte raised his voice.
"Brethren," said he, "why depart into the land of the stranger? Have we not a country of our own, the country of our fathers? It is, you say, a country of slavery and death! Well! Free it! and deliver your oppressed brethren. Never say, 'What can we do? we are few in number, and without arms!' The God of armies shall be our strength. Let us sing aloud the psalm of battles, and from the Lozere even to the sea Israel will arise! As for arms, have we not our hatchets? These will bring us muskets! Brethren, there is only one course worthy to be pursued. It is to live for our country; and, if need be, to die for it. Better die by the sword than by the rack or the gallows!"
From this moment, not another word was said of flight. With one voice, the assembly cried to the speaker, "Be our chief! It is the will of the Eternal!" "The Eternal be the witness of your promises," replied Laporte; "I consent to be your chief!" He assumed forthwith the title of "Colonel of the Children of God," and named his camp "The camp of the Eternal!"
Laporte belonged to an old Huguenot family of the village of Massoubeyran, near Anduze. They were respectable peasants, some of whom lived by farming and others by trade. Old John Laporte had four sons, of whom the eldest succeeded his father as a small farmer and cattle-breeder, occupying the family dwelling at Massoubeyran, still known there as the house of "Laporte-Roland." It contains a secret retreat, opening from a corner of the floor, called the "Cachette de Roland," in which the celebrated chief of this name, son of the owner, was accustomed to take refuge; and in this cottage, the old Bible of Roland's father, as well as the halbert of Roland himself, continue to be religiously preserved.
Two of Laporte's brothers were Protestant ministers. One of them was the last pastor of Collet-de-Deze in the Cevennes. Banished because of his faith, he fled from France at the Revocation, joined the army of the Prince of Orange in Holland, and came over with him to England as chaplain of one of the French regiments which landed at Torbay in 1688. Another brother, also a pastor, remained in the Cevennes, preaching to the people in the Desert, though at the daily risk of his life, and after about ten years' labour in this vocation, he was apprehended, taken prisoner to Montpellier, and strangled on the Peyrou in the year 1696.
The fourth brother was the Laporte whom we have just described in undertaking the leadership of the hunted insurgents remaining in the Upper Cevennes. He had served as a soldier in the King's armies, and at the peace of Ryswick returned to his native village, the year after his elder brother had suffered martyrdom at Montpellier. He settled for a time at Collet-de-Deze, from which his other brother had been expelled, and there he carried on the trade of an ironworker and blacksmith. He was a great, brown, brawny man, of vehement piety, a constant frequenter of the meetings in the Desert, and a mighty psalm-singer—one of those strong, massive, ardent-natured men who so powerfully draw others after them, and in times of revolution exercise a sort of popular royalty amongst the masses. The oppression which had raged so furiously in the district excited his utmost indignation, and when he sought out the despairing insurgents in the mountains, and found that they were contemplating flight, he at once gave utterance to the few burning words we have cited, and fixed their determination to strike at least another blow for the liberty of their country and their religion.
The same evening on which Laporte assumed the leadership (about the beginning of August, 1702) he made a descent on three Roman Catholic villages in the neighbourhood of the meeting-place, and obtained possession of a small stock of powder and balls. When it became known that the insurgents were again drawing together, others joined them. Amongst these were Castonet, a forest-ranger of the Aigoal mountain district in the west, who brought with him some twelve recruits from the country near Vebron. Shortly after, there arrived from Vauvert the soldier Catinet, bringing with him twenty more. Next came young Cavalier, from Ribaute, with another band, armed with muskets which they had seized from the prior of St. Martin, with whom they had been deposited.
Meanwhile Laporte's nephew, young Roland, was running from village to village in the Vaunage, holding assemblies and rousing the people to come to the help of their distressed brethren in the mountains. Roland was a young man of bright intelligence, gifted with much of the preaching power of his family. His eloquence was of a martial sort, for he had been bred a soldier, and though young, had already fought in many battles. He was everywhere received with open arms in the Vaunage.
"My brethren," said he, "the cause of God and the deliverance of Israel is at stake. Follow us to the mountains. No country is better suited for war—we have the hill-tops for camps, gorges for ambuscades, woods to rally in, caves to hide in, and, in case of flight, secret tracts trodden only by the mountain goat. All the people there are your brethren, who will throw open their cabins to you, and share their bread and milk and the flesh of their sheep with you, while the forests will supply you with chestnuts. And then, what is there to fear? Did not God nourish his chosen people with manna in the desert? And does He not renew his miracles day by day? Will not his Spirit descend upon his afflicted children? He consoles us, He strengthens us, He calls us to arms, He will cause his angels to march before us! As for me, I am an old soldier, and will do my duty!"
[Footnote 39: Brueys, "Histoire de Fanatisme;" Peyrat, "Histoire des Pasteurs du Desert."]
These stirring words evoked an enthusiastic response. Numbers of the people thus addressed by Roland declared themselves ready to follow him at once. But instead of taking with him all who were willing to join the standard of the insurgents, he directed them to enrol and organize themselves, and await his speedy return; selecting for the present only such as were in his opinion likely to make efficient soldiers, and with these he rejoined his uncle in the mountains.
The number of the insurgents was thus raised to about a hundred and fifty—a very small body of men, contemptible in point of numbers compared with the overwhelming forces by which they were opposed, but all animated by a determined spirit, and commanded by fearless and indomitable leaders. The band was divided into three brigades of fifty each; Laporte taking the command of the companions of Seguier; the new-comers being divided into two bodies of like number, who elected Roland and Castanet as their respective chiefs.
Laporte occupied the last days of August in drilling his troops, and familiarising them with the mountain district which was to be the scene of their operations. While thus engaged, he received an urgent message from the Protestant herdsmen of the hill-country of Vebron, whose cattle, sheep, and goats a band of royalist militia, under Colonel Miral, had captured, and were driving northward towards Florac. Laporte immediately ran to their help, and posted himself to intercept them at the bridge of Tarnon, which they must cross. On the militia coming up, the Camisards fell upon them furiously, on which they took to flight, and the cattle were driven back in triumph to the villages.
Laporte then led his victorious troops towards Collet, the village in which his brother had been pastor. The temple in which he ministered was still standing—the only one in the Cevennes that had not been demolished, the Seigneur of the place intending to convert it into a hospital. Collet was at present occupied by a company of fusiliers, commanded by Captain Cabrieres. On nearing the place, Laporte wrote to this officer, under an assumed name, intimating that a religious assembly was to be held that night in a certain wood in the neighbourhood. The captain at once marched thither with his men, on which Laporte entered the village, and reopened the temple, which had continued unoccupied since the day on which his brother had gone into exile. All that night Laporte sang psalms, preached, and prayed by turns, solemnly invoking the help of the God of battles in this holy war in which he was engaged for the liberation of his country. Shortly before daybreak, Laporte and his companions retired from the temple, and after setting fire to the Roman Catholic church, and the houses of the consul, the captain, and the cure, he left the village, and proceeded in a northerly direction.
That same morning, Captain Poul arrived at the neighbouring valley of St. Germain, for the purpose of superintending the demolition of certain Protestant dwellings, and then he heard of Laporte's midnight expedition. He immediately hastened to Collet, assembled all the troops he could muster, and put himself on the track of the Camisards. After a hot march of about two hours in the direction of Coudouloux, Poul discerned Laporte and his band encamped on a lofty height, from the scarped foot of which a sloping grove of chestnuts descended into the wide grassy plain, known as the "Champ Domergue."
The chestnut grove had in ancient times been one of the sacred places of the Druids, who celebrated their mysterious rites in its recesses, while the adjoining mountains were said to have been the honoured haunts of certain of the divinities of ancient Gaul. It was therefore regarded as a sort of sacred place, and this circumstance was probably not without its influence in rendering it one of the most frequent resorts of the hunted Protestants in their midnight assemblies, as well as because it occupied a central position between the villages of St. Frezal, St. Andeol, Deze, and Violas. Laporte had now come hither with his companions to pray, and they were so engaged when the scouts on the look-out announced the approach of the enemy.
Poul halted his men to take breath, while Laporte held a little council of war. What was to be done? Laporte himself was in favour of accepting battle on the spot, while several of his lieutenants advised immediate flight into the mountains. On the other hand, the young and impetuous Cavalier, who was there, supported the opinion of his chief, and urged an immediate attack; and an attack was determined on accordingly.
The little band descended from their vantage-ground on the hill, and came down into the chestnut wood, singing the sixty-eighth Psalm—"Let God arise, let his enemies be scattered." The following is the song itself, in the words of Marot. When the Huguenots sang it, each soldier became a lion in courage.
"Que Dieu se montre seulement Et l'on verra dans un moment Abandonner la place; Le camp des ennemies epars, Epouvante de toutes parts, Fuira devant sa face.
On verra tout ce camp s'enfuir, Comme l'on voit s'evanouir; Une epaisse fumee; Comme la cire fond au feu, Ainsi des mechants devant Dieu, La force est consumee.
L'Eternel est notre recours; Nous obtenons par son secours, Plus d'une deliverance. C'est Lui qui fut notre support, Et qui tient les clefs de la mort, Lui seul en sa puissance.
A nous defendre toujours prompt, Il frappe le superbe front De la troupe ennemie; On verra tomber sous ses coups Ceux qui provoquent son courroux Par leur mechante vie."
This was the "Marseillaise" of the Camisards, their war-song in many battles, sung by them as a pas de charge to the music of Goudimal. Poul, seeing them approach from under cover of the wood, charged them at once, shouting to his men, "Charge, kill, kill the Barbets!" But "the Barbets," though they were only as one to three of their assailants, bravely held their ground. Those who had muskets kept up a fusillade, whilst a body of scythemen in the centre repulsed Poul, who attacked them with the bayonet. Several of these terrible scythemen were, however, slain, and three were taken prisoners.
[Footnote 40: The "Barbets" (or "Water-dogs") was the nickname by which the Vaudois were called, against whom Poul had formerly been employed in the Italian valleys.]
Laporte, finding that he could not drive Poul back, retreated slowly into the wood, keeping up a running fire, and reascended the hill, whither Poul durst not follow him. The Royalist leader was satisfied with remaining master of the hard-fought field, on which many of his soldiers lay dead, together with a captain of militia.
The Camisard chiefs then separated, Laporte and his band taking a westerly direction. The Royalists, having received considerable reinforcements, hastened from different directions to intercept him, but he slipped through their fingers, and descended to Pont-de-Montvert, from whence he threw himself upon the villages situated near the sources of the western Gardon. At the same time, to distract the attention of the Royalists, the other Camisard leaders descended, the one towards the south, and the other towards the east, disarming the Roman Catholics, carrying off their arms, and spreading consternation wherever they went.
Meanwhile, Count Broglie, Captain Poul, Colonel Miral, and the commanders of the soldiers and militia all over the Cevennes, were hunting the Protestants and their families wherever found, pillaging their houses, driving away their cattle, and burning their huts; and it was evident that the war on both sides was fast drifting into one of reprisal and revenge. Brigands, belonging to neither side, organized themselves in bodies, and robbed Protestants and Catholics with equal impartiality.
One effect of this state of things was rapidly to increase the numbers of the disaffected. The dwellings of many of the Protestants having been destroyed, such of the homeless fugitives as could bear arms fled into the mountains to join the Camisards, whose numbers were thus augmented, notwithstanding the measures taken for their extermination.
Laporte was at last tracked by his indefatigable enemy, Captain Poul, who burned to wipe out the disgrace which he conceived himself to have suffered at Champ-Domergue. Information was conveyed to him that Laporte and his band were in the neighbourhood of Molezon on the western Gardon, and that they intended to hold a field-meeting there on Sunday, the 22nd of October.
Poul made his dispositions accordingly. Dividing his force into two bodies, he fell upon the insurgents impetuously from two sides, taking them completely by surprise. They hastily put themselves in order of battle, but their muskets, wet with rain, would not fire, and Laporte hastened with his men to seek the shelter of a cliff near at hand. While in the act of springing from one rock to another, he was seen to stagger and fall. He had been shot dead by a musket bullet, and his career was thus brought to a sudden close. His followers at once fled in all directions.
Poul cut off Laporte's head, as well as the heads of the other Camisards who had been killed, and sent them in two baskets to Count Broglie. Next day the heads were exposed on the bridge of Anduze; the day after on the castle wall of St. Hypolite; after which these ghastly trophies of Poul's victory were sent to Montpellier to be permanently exposed on the Peyrou.
Such was the end of Laporte, the second leader of the Camisards. Seguier, the first, had been chief for only six days; Laporte, the second, for only about two months. Again Baville supposed the pacification of the Cevennes to be complete. He imagined that Poul, in cutting off Laporte's head, had decapitated the insurrection. But the Camisard ranks had never been so full as now, swelled as they were by the persecutions of the Royalists, who, by demolishing the homes of the peasantry, had in a measure forced them into the arms of the insurgents. Nor were they ever better supplied with leaders, even though Laporte had fallen. No sooner did his death become known, than the "Children of God" held a solemn assembly in the mountains, at which Roland, Castanet, Salomon, Abraham, and young Cavalier were present; and after lamenting the death of their chief, they with one accord elected Laporte's nephew, Roland, as his successor.
* * * * *
A few words as to the associates of Roland, whose family and origin have already been described. Andre Castanet of Massavaque, in the Upper Cevennes, had been a goatherd in his youth, after which he worked at his father's trade of a wool-carder. An avowed Huguenot, he was, shortly after the peace of Ryswick, hunted out of the country because of his attending the meetings in the Desert; but in 1700 he returned to preach and to prophesy, acting also as a forest-ranger in the Aigoal Mountains. Of all the chiefs he was the greatest controversialist, and in his capacity of preacher he distinguished himself from his companions by wearing a wig. There must have been something comical in his appearance, for Brueys describes him as a little, squat, bandy-legged man, presenting "the figure of a little bear." But it was an enemy who drew the picture.
Next there was Salomon Conderc, also a wool-carder, a native of the hamlet of Mazelrode, south of the mountain of Bouges. For twenty years the Condercs, father and son, had been zealous worshippers in the Desert—Salomon having acted by turns as Bible-reader, precentor, preacher, and prophet. We have already referred to the gift of prophesying. All the leaders of the Camisards were prophets. Elie Marion, in his "Theatre Sacre de Cevennes," thus describes the influence of the prophets on the Camisard War:—
"We were without strength and without counsel," says he; "but our inspirations were our succour and our support. They elected our leaders, and conducted them; they were our military discipline. It was they who raised us, even weakness itself, to put a strong bridle upon an army of more than twenty thousand picked soldiers. It was they who banished sorrow from our hearts in the midst of the greatest peril, as well as in the deserts and the mountain fastnesses, when cold and famine oppressed us. Our heaviest crosses were but lightsome burdens, for this intimate communion that God allowed us to have with Him bore up and consoled us; it was our safety and our happiness."
Many of the Condercs had suffered for their faith. The archpriest Chayla had persecuted them grievously. One of their sisters was seized by the soldiery and carried off to be immured in a convent at Mende, but was rescued on the way by Salomon and his brother Jacques. Of the two, Salomon, though deformed, had the greatest gift in prophesying, and hence the choice of him as a leader.
Abraham Mazel belonged to the same hamlet as Conderc. They were both of the same age—about twenty-five—of the same trade, and they were as inseparable as brothers. They had both been engaged with Seguier's band in the midnight attack on Pont-de-Montvert, and were alike committed to the desperate enterprise they had taken in hand. The tribe of Mazel abounds in the Cevennes, and they had already given many martyrs to the cause. Some emigrated to America, some were sent to the galleys; Oliver Mazel, the preacher, was hanged at Montpellier in 1690, Jacques Mazel was a refugee in London in 1701, and in all the combats of the Cevennes there were Mazels leading as well as following.
Nicholas Joany, of Genouillac, was an old soldier, who had seen much service, having been for some time quartermaster of the regiment of Orleans. Among other veterans who served with the Camisards, were Esperandieu and Rastelet, two old sub-officers, and Catinat and Ravenel, two thorough soldiers. Of these Catinat achieved the greatest notoriety. His proper name was Mauriel—Abdias Mauriel; but having served as a dragoon under Marshal Catinat in Italy, he conceived such an admiration for that general, and was so constantly eulogizing him, that his comrades gave him the nickname of Catinat, which he continued to bear all through the Camisard war.
But the most distinguished of all the Camisard chiefs, next to Roland, was the youthful John Cavalier, peasant boy, baker's apprentice, and eventually insurgent leader, who, after baffling and repeatedly defeating the armies of Louis XIV., ended his remarkable career as governor of Jersey and major-general in the British service.
Cavalier was a native of Ribaute, a village on the Gardon, a little below Anduze. His parents were persons in humble circumstances, as may be inferred from the fact that when John was of sufficient age he was sent into the mountains to herd cattle, and when a little older he was placed apprentice to a baker at Anduze.
His father, though a Protestant at heart, to avoid persecution, pretended to be converted to Romanism, and attended Mass. But his mother, a fervent Calvinist, refused to conform, and diligently trained her sons in her own views. She was a regular attender of meetings in the Desert, to which she also took her children.
Cavalier relates that on one occasion, when a very little fellow, he went with her to an assembly which was conducted by Claude Brousson; and when he afterwards heard that many of the people had been apprehended for attending it, of whom some were hanged and others sent to the galleys, the account so shocked him that he felt he would then have avenged them if he had possessed the power.
As the boy grew up, and witnessed the increasing cruelty with which conformity was enforced, he determined to quit the country; and, accompanied by twelve other young men, he succeeded in reaching Geneva after a toilsome journey of eight days. He had not been at Geneva more than two months, when—heart-sore, solitary, his eyes constantly turned towards his dear Cevennes—he accidentally heard that his father and mother had been thrown into prison because of his flight—his father at Carcassone, and his mother in the dreadful tower of Constance, near Aiguesmortes, one of the most notorious prisons of the Huguenots.
He at once determined to return, in the hope of being able to get them set at liberty. On his reaching Ribaute, to his surprise he found them already released, on condition of attending Mass. As his presence in his father's house might only serve to bring fresh trouble upon them—he himself having no intention of conforming—he went up for refuge into the mountains of the Cevennes.
The young Cavalier was present at the midnight meeting on the Bouges, at which it was determined to slay the archpriest Chayla. He implored leave to accompany the band; but he was declared to be too young for such an enterprise, being a boy of only sixteen, so he was left behind with his friends.
Being virtually an outlaw, Cavalier afterwards joined the band of Laporte, under whom he served as lieutenant during his short career. At his death the insurrection assumed larger proportions, and recruits flocked apace to the standard of Roland, Laporte's successor. Harvest-work over, the youths of the Lower Cevennes hastened to join him, armed only with bills and hatchets. The people of the Vaunage more than fulfilled their promise to Roland, and sent him five hundred men. Cavalier also brought with him from Ribaute a further number of recruits, and by the end of autumn the Camisards under arms, such as they were, amounted to over a thousand men.
Roland, unable to provide quarters or commissariat for so large a number, divided them into five bodies, and sent them into their respective cantonments (so to speak) for the winter. Roland himself occupied the district known as the Lower Cevennes, comprising the Gardonnenque and the mountain district situated between the rivers Vidourle and the western Gardon. That part of the Upper Cevennes, which extends between the Anduze branch of the Gardon and the river Tarn, was in like manner occupied by a force commanded by Abraham Hazel and Solomon Conderc, while Andrew Castanet led the people of the western Cevennes, comprising the mountain region of the Aigoal and the Esperou, near the sources of the Gardon d'Anduze and the Tarnon. The rugged mountain district of the Lozere, in which the Tarn, the Ceze, and the Alais branch of the Gardon have their origin, was placed under the command of Joany. And, finally, the more open country towards the south, extending from Anduze to the sea-coast, including the districts around Alais, Uzes, Nismes, as well as the populous valley of the Vaunage, was placed under the direction of young Cavalier, though he had scarcely yet completed his seventeenth year.
These chiefs were all elected by their followers, who chose them, not because of any military ability they might possess, but entirely because of their "gifts" as preachers and "prophets." Though Roland and Joany had been soldiers, they were also preachers, as were Castanet, Abraham, and Salomon; and young Cavalier had already given remarkable indications of the prophetic gift. Hence, when it became the duty of the band to which he belonged to select a chief, they passed over the old soldiers, Esperandieu, Raslet, Catinat, and Ravenel, and pitched upon the young baker lad of Ribaute, not because he could fight, but because he could preach; and the old soldiers cheerfully submitted themselves to his leadership.
The portrait of this remarkable Camisard chief represents him as a little handsome youth, fair and ruddy complexioned, with lively and prominent blue eyes, and a large head, from whence his long fair hair hung floating over his shoulders. His companions recognised in him a supposed striking resemblance to the scriptural portrait of David, the famous shepherd of Israel.
The Camisard legions, spread as they now were over the entire Cevennes, and embracing Lower Languedoc as far as the sea, were for the most part occupied during the winter of 1702-3 in organizing themselves, obtaining arms, and increasing their forces. The respective districts which they occupied were so many recruiting-grounds, and by the end of the season they had enrolled nearly three thousand men. They were still, however, very badly armed. Their weapons included fowling-pieces, old matchlocks, muskets taken from the militia, pistols, sabres, scythes, hatchets, billhooks, and even ploughshares. They were very short of powder, and what they had was mostly bought surreptitiously from the King's soldiers, or by messengers sent for the purpose to Nismes and Avignon. But Roland, finding that such sources of supply could not be depended upon, resolved to manufacture his own powder.
A commissariat was also established, and the most spacious caves in the most sequestered places were sought out and converted into magazines, hospitals, granaries, cellars, arsenals, and powder factories. Thus Mialet, with its extensive caves, was the head-quarters of Roland; Bouquet and the caves at Euzet, of Cavalier; Cassagnacs and the caves at Magistavols, of Salomon; and so on with the others. Each chief had his respective canton, his granary, his magazine, and his arsenal. To each retreat was attached a special body of tradesmen—millers, bakers, shoemakers, tailors, armourers, and other mechanics; and each had its special guards and sentinels.
We have already referred to the peculiar geological features of the Cevennes, and to the limestone strata which embraces the whole granitic platform of the southern border almost like a frame. As is almost invariably the case in such formations, large caves, occasioned by the constant dripping of water, are of frequent occurrence; and those of the Cevennes, which are in many places of great extent, constituted a peculiar feature in the Camisard insurrection. There is one of such caves in the neighbourhood of the Protestant town of Ganges, on the river Herault, which often served as a refuge for the Huguenots, though it is now scarcely penetrable because of the heavy falls of stone from the roof. This cavern has two entrances, one from the river Herault, the other from the Mendesse, and it extends under the entire mountain, which separates the two rivers. It is still known as the "Camisards' Grotto." There are numerous others of a like character all over the district; but as those of Mialet were of special importance—Mialet, "the Metropolis of the Insurrection," being the head-quarters of Roland—it will be sufficient if we briefly describe a visit paid to them in the month of June, 1870.
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The town of Anduze is the little capital of the Gardonnenque, a district which has always been exclusively Protestant. Even at the present day, of the 5,200 inhabitants of Anduze, 4,600 belong to that faith; and these include the principal proprietors, cultivators, and manufacturers of the town and neighbourhood. During the wars of religion, Anduze was one of the Huguenot strongholds. After the death of Henry IV. the district continued to be held by the Duc de Rohan, the ruins of whose castle are still to be seen on the summit of a pyramidal hill on the north of the town. Anduze is jammed in between the precipitous mountain of St. Julien, which rises behind it, and the river Gardon, along which a modern quay-wall extends, forming a pleasant promenade as well as a barrier against the furious torrents which rush down from the mountains in winter.
A little above the town, the river passes through a rocky gorge formed by the rugged grey cliffs of Peyremale on the one bank and St. Julien on the other. The bare precipitous rocks rise up on either side like two cyclopean towers, flanking the gateway of the Cevennes. The gorge is so narrow at bottom that there is room only for the river running in its rocky bed below, and a roadway along either bank—that on the eastern side having been partly formed by blasting out the cliff which overhangs it.
After crossing the five-arched bridge which spans the Gardon, the road proceeds along the eastern bank, up the valley towards Mialet. It being market-day at Anduze, well-clad peasants were flocking into the town, some in their little pony-carts, others with their baskets or bundles of produce, and each had his "Bon jour, messieurs!" for us as we passed. So long as the road held along the bottom of the valley, passing through the scattered hamlets and villages north of the town, our little springless cart got along cleverly enough. But after we had entered the narrower valley higher up, and the cultivated ground became confined to a little strip along either bank, then the mountain barriers seemed to rise in front of us and on all sides, and the road became winding, steep, and difficult.
A few miles up the valley, the little hamlet of Massoubeyran, consisting of a group of peasant cottages—one of which was the birthplace of Roland, the Camisard chief—was seen on a hill-side to the right; and about two miles further on, at a bend of the road, we came in sight of the village of Mialet, with its whitewashed, flat-roofed cottages—forming a little group of peasants' houses lying in the hollow of the hills. The principal building in it is the Protestant temple, which continues to be frequented by the inhabitants; the Annuaire Protestant for 1868-70, stating the Protestant population of the district to be 1,325. Strange to say, the present pastor, M. Seguier, bears the name of the first leader of the Camisard insurrection; and one of the leading members of the consistory, M. Laporte, is a lineal descendant of the second and third leaders.
From its secluded and secure position among the hills, as well as because of its proximity to the great Temelac road constructed by Baville, which passed from Anduze by St. Jean-de-Gard into the Upper Cevennes, Mialet was well situated as the head-quarters of the Camisard chief. But it was principally because of the numerous limestone caves abounding in the locality, which afforded a ready hiding-place for the inhabitants in the event of the enemies' approach, as well as because they were capable of being adapted for the purpose of magazines, stores, and hospitals, that Mialet became of so much importance as the citadel of the insurgents. One of such caverns or grottoes is still to be seen about a mile below Mialet, of extraordinary magnitude. It extends under the hill which rises up on the right-hand side of the road, and is entered from behind, nearly at the summit. The entrance is narrow and difficult, but the interior is large and spacious, widening out in some places into dome-shaped chambers, with stalactites hanging from the roof. The whole extent of this cavern cannot be much less than a quarter of a mile, judging from the time it took to explore it and to return from the furthest point in the interior to the entrance. The existence of this place had been forgotten until a few years ago, when it was rediscovered by a man of Anduze, who succeeded in entering it, but, being unable to find his way out, he remained there for three days without food, until the alarm was given and his friends came to his rescue and delivered him.
Immediately behind the village of Mialet, under the side of the hill, is another large cavern, with other grottoes branching out of it, capable, on an emergency, of accommodating the whole population. This was used by Roland as his principal magazine. But perhaps the most interesting of these caves is the one used as a hospital for the sick and wounded. It is situated about a mile above Mialet, in a limestone cliff almost overhanging the river. The approach to it is steep and difficult, up a footpath cut in the face of the rock. At length a little platform is reached, about a hundred feet above the level of the river, behind which is a low wall extending across the entrance to the cavern. This wall is pierced with two openings, intended for two culverins, one of which commanded the road leading down the pass, and the other the road up the valley from the direction of the village. The outer vault is large and roomy, and extends back into a lofty dome-shaped cavern about forty feet high, behind which a long tortuous vault extends for several hundred feet. The place is quite dry, and sufficiently spacious to accommodate a large number of persons; and there can be no doubt as to the uses to which it was applied during the wars of the Cevennes.
The person who guided us to the cave was an ordinary working man of the village—apparently a blacksmith—a well-informed, intelligent person—who left his smithy, opposite the Protestant temple at which our pony-cart drew up, to show us over the place; and he took pride in relating the traditions which continue to be handed down from father to son relating to the great Camisard war of the Cevennes.
EXPLOITS OF CAVALIER.
The country round Nismes, which was the scene of so many contests between the Royalists and the Camisard insurgents at the beginning of last century, presents nearly the same aspect as it did then, excepting that it is traversed by railways in several directions. The railway to Montpellier on the west, crosses the fertile valley of the Vaunage, "the little Canaan," still rich in vineyards as of old. That to Alais on the north, proceeds for the most part along the valley of the Gardon, the names of the successive stations reminding the passing traveller of the embittered contests of which they were the scenes in former times: Nozieres, Boucoiran, Ners, Vezenobres, and Alais itself, now a considerable manufacturing town, and the centre of an important coal-mining district.
The country in the neighbourhood of Nismes is by no means picturesque. Though undulating, it is barren, arid, and stony. The view from the Tour Magne, which is very extensive, is over an apparently skeleton landscape, the bare rocks rising on all sides without any covering of verdure. In summer the grass is parched and brown. There are few trees visible; and these mostly mulberry, which, when, cropped, have a blasted look. Yet, wherever soil exists, in the bottoms, the land is very productive, yielding olives, grapes, and chestnuts in great abundance.
As we ascend the valley of the Gardon, the country becomes more undulating and better wooded. The villages and farmhouses have all an old-fashioned look; not a modern villa is to be seen. We alight from the train at the Ners station—Ners, where Cavalier drove Montrevel's army across the river, and near which, at the village of Martinargues, he completely defeated the Royalists under Lajonquiere. We went to see the scene of the battle, some three miles to the south-east, passing through a well-tilled country, with the peasants busily at work in the fields. From the high ground behind Ners a fine view is obtained of the valley of the Gardon, overlooking the junction of its two branches descending by Alais and Anduze, the mountains of the Cevennes rising up in the distance. To the left is the fertile valley of Beaurivage, celebrated in the Pastorals of Florian, who was a native of the district.
Descending the hill towards Ners, we were overtaken by an aged peasant of the village, with a scythe over his shoulder, returning from his morning's work. There was the usual polite greeting and exchange of salutations—for the French peasant is by nature polite—and a ready opening was afforded for conversation. It turned out that the old man had been a soldier of the first empire, and fought under Soult in the desperate battle of Toulouse in 1814. He was now nearly eighty, but was still able to do a fair day's work in the fields. Inviting us to enter his dwelling and partake of his hospitality, he went down to his cellar and fetched therefrom a jug of light sparkling wine, of which we partook. In answer to an inquiry whether there were any Protestants in the neighbourhood, the old man replied that Ners was "all Protestant." His grandson, however, who was present, qualified this sweeping statement by the remark, sotto voce, that many of them were "nothing."
The conversation then turned upon the subject of Cavalier and his exploits, when our entertainer launched out into a description of the battle of Martinargues, in which the Royalists had been "toutes abattus." Like most of the Protestant peasantry of the Cevennes, he displayed a very familiar acquaintance with the events of the civil war, and spoke with enthusiasm and honest pride of the achievements of the Camisards.
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We have in previous chapters described the outbreak of the insurrection and its spread throughout the Upper Cevennes; and we have now rapidly to note its growth and progress to its culmination and fall.
While the Camisards were secretly organizing their forces under cover of the woods and caves of the mountain districts, the governor of Languedoc was indulging in the hope that the insurrection had expired with the death of Laporte and the dispersion of his band. But, to his immense surprise, the whole country was suddenly covered with insurgents, who seemed as if to spring from the earth in all quarters simultaneously. Messengers brought him intelligence at the same time of risings in the mountains of the Lozere and the Aigoal, in the neighbourhoods of Anduze and Alais, and even in the open country about Nismes and Calvisson, down almost to the sea-coast.
Wherever the churches had been used as garrisons and depositories of arms, they were attacked, stormed, and burnt. Cavalier says he never meddled with any church which had not been thus converted into a "den of thieves;" but the other leaders were less scrupulous. Salomon and Abraham destroyed all the establishments and insignia of their enemies on which they could lay hands—crosses, churches, and presbyteries. The cure of Saint-Germain said of Castanet in the Aigoal that he was "like a raging torrent." Roland and Joany ran from village to village ransacking dwellings, chateaux, churches, and collecting arms. Knowing every foot of the country, they rapidly passed by mountain tracks from one village to another; suddenly appearing in the least-expected quarters, while the troops in pursuit of them had passed in other directions.
Cavalier had even the hardihood to descend upon the low country, and to ransack the Catholic villages in the neighbourhood of Nismes. By turns he fought, preached, and sacked churches. About the middle of November, 1702, he preached at Aiguevives, a village not far from Calvisson, in the Vaunage. Count Broglie, commander of the royal troops, hastened from Nismes to intercept him. But pursuing Cavalier was like pursuing a shadow; he had already made his escape into the mountains. Broglie assembled the inhabitants of the village in the church, and demanded to be informed who had been present with the Camisard preacher. "All!" was the reply: "we are all guilty." He seized the principal persons of the place and sent them to Baville. Four were hanged, twelve were sent to the galleys, many more were flogged, and a heavy fine was levied on the entire village.
Meanwhile, Cavalier had joined Roland near Mialet, and again descended upon the low country, marching through the villages along the valley of the Vidourle, carrying off arms and devastating churches. Broglie sent two strong bodies of troops to intercept them; but the light-footed insurgents had already crossed the Gardon.
A few days later (December 5th), they were lying concealed in the forest of Vaquieres, in the neighbourhood of Cavalier's head-quarters at Euzet. Their retreat having been discovered, a strong force of soldiers and militia was directed upon them, under the command of the Chevalier Montarnaud (who, being a new convert, wished to show his zeal), and Captain Bimard of the Nismes militia.
They took with them a herdsman of the neighbourhood for their guide, not knowing that he was a confederate of the Camisards. Leading the Royalists into the wood, he guided them along a narrow ravine, and hearing no sound of the insurgents, it was supposed that they were lying asleep in their camp.
Suddenly three sentinels on the outlook fired off their pieces. At this signal Ravenel posted himself at the outlet of the defile, and Cavalier and Catinat along its two sides. Raising their war-song, the sixty-eighth psalm the Camisards furiously charged the enemy. Captain Bimard fell at the first fire. Montarnaud turned and fled with such of the soldiers and militia as could follow him; and not many of them succeeded in making their escape from the wood.
"After which complete victory," says Cavalier, "we returned to the field of battle to give our hearty thanks to Almighty God for his extraordinary assistance, and afterwards stripped the corpses of the enemy, and secured their arms. We found a purse of one hundred pistoles in Captain Bimard's pocket, which was very acceptable, for we stood in great need thereof, and expended part of it in buying hats, shoes, and stockings for those who wanted them, and with the remainder bought six great mule loads of brandy, for our winter's supply, from a merchant who was sending it to be sold at Anduze market."
[Footnote 41: "Memoirs of the Wars of the Cevennes," p. 74.]
On the Sunday following, Cavalier held an assembly for public worship near Monteze on the Gardon, at which about five hundred persons were present. The governor of Alais, being informed of the meeting, resolved to put it down with a strong hand; and he set out for the purpose at the head of a force of about six hundred horse and foot. A mule accompanied him, laden with ropes with which to bind or hang the rebels. Cavalier had timely information, from scouts posted on the adjoining hills, of the approach of the governor's force, and though the number of fighting men in the Camisard assembly was comparatively small, they resolved to defend themselves.
Sending away the women and others not bearing arms, Cavalier posted his little band behind an old entrenchment on the road along which the governor was approaching, and awaited his attack. The horsemen came on at the charge; but the Camisards, firing over the top of the entrenchment, emptied more than a dozen saddles, and then leaping forward, saluted them with a general discharge. At this, the horsemen turned and fled, galloping through the foot coming up behind them, and throwing them into complete disorder. The Camisards pulled off their coats, in order the better to pursue the fugitives.
The Royalists were in full flight, when they were met by a reinforcement of two hundred men of Marsilly's regiment of foot. But these, too, were suddenly seized by the panic, and turned and fled with the rest, the Camisards pursuing them for nearly an hour, in the course of which they slew more than a hundred of the enemy. Besides the soldiers' clothes, of which they stripped the dead, the Camisards made prize of two loads of ammunition and a large quantity of arms, which they were very much in need of, and also of the ropes with which the governor had intended to hang them.
Emboldened by these successes, Cavalier determined on making an attack on the strong castle of Servas, occupying a steep height on the east of the forest of Bouquet. Cavalier detested the governor and garrison of this place because they too closely watched his movements, and overlooked his head-quarters, which were in the adjoining forest; and they had, besides, distinguished themselves by the ferocity with which they attacked and dispersed recent assemblies in the Desert.
Cavalier was, however, without the means of directly assaulting the place, and he waited for an opportunity of entering it, if possible, by stratagem. While passing along the road between Alais and Lussan one day, he met a detachment of about forty men of the royal army, whom he at once attacked, killing a number of them, and putting the rest to flight. Among the slain was the commanding officer of the party, in whose pockets was found an order signed by Count Broglie directing all town-majors and consuls to lodge him and his men along their line of march. Cavalier at once determined on making use of this order as a key to open the gates of the castle of Servas.
He had twelve of his men dressed up in the clothes of the soldiers who had fallen, and six others in their ordinary Camisard dress bound with ropes as prisoners of war. Cavalier himself donned the uniform of the fallen officer; and thus disguised and well armed, the party moved up the steep ascent to the castle. On reaching the outer gate Cavalier presented the order of Count Broglie, and requested admittance for the purpose of keeping his pretended Camisard prisoners in safe custody for the night. He was at once admitted with his party. The governor showed him round the ramparts, pointing out the strength of the place, and boasting of the punishments he had inflicted on the rebels.
At supper Cavalier's soldiers took care to drop into the room, one by one, apparently for orders, and suddenly, on a signal being given, the governor and his attendants were seized and bound. At the same time the guard outside was attacked and overpowered. The outer gates were opened, the Camisards rushed in, the castle was taken, and the garrison put to the sword.
Cavalier and his band carried off with them to their magazine at Bouquet all the arms, ammunition, and provisions they could find, and before leaving they set fire to the castle. There must have been a large store of gunpowder in the vaults of the place besides what the Camisards carried away, for they had scarcely proceeded a mile on their return journey when a tremendous explosion took place, shaking the ground like an earthquake, and turning back, they saw the battlements of the detested Chateau Servas hurled into the air.
Shortly after, Roland repeated at Sauve, a little fortified town hung along the side of a rocky hill a few miles to the south of Anduze, the stratagem which Cavalier had employed at Servas, and with like success. He disarmed the inhabitants, and carried off the arms and provisions in the place: and though he released the commandant and the soldiers whom he had taken prisoners, he shot a persecuting priest and a Capuchin monk, and destroyed all the insignia of Popery in Sauve.
These terrible measures caused a new stampede of the clergy all over the Cevennes. The nobles and gentry also left their chateaux, the merchants their shops and warehouses, and took refuge in the fortified towns. Even the bishops of Mende, Uzes, and Alais barricaded and fortified their episcopal palaces, and organized a system of defence as if the hordes of Attila had been at their gates.
With each fresh success the Camisards increased in daring, and every day the insurrection became more threatening and formidable. It already embraced the whole mountain district of the Cevennes, as well as a considerable extent of the low country between Nismes and Montpellier. The Camisard troops, headed by their chiefs, marched through the villages with drums beating in open day, and were quartered by billet on the inhabitants in like manner as the royal regiments. Roland levied imposts and even tithes throughout his district, and compelled the farmers, at the peril of their lives, to bring their stores of victual to the "Camp of the Eternal." In the midst of all, they held their meetings in the Desert, at which the chiefs preached, baptized, and administered the sacrament to their flocks.
The constituted authorities seemed paralyzed by the extent of the insurrection, and the suddenness with which it spread. The governor of the province had so repeatedly reported to his royal master the pacification of Languedoc, that when this last and worst outbreak occurred he was ashamed to announce it. The peace at Ryswick had set at liberty a large force of soldiers, who had now no other occupation than to "convert" the Protestants and force them to attend Mass. About five hundred thousand men were now under arms for this purpose—occupied as a sort of police force, very much to their own degradation as soldiers.
A large body of this otherwise unoccupied army had been placed under the direction of Baville for the purpose of suppressing the rebellion—an army of veteran horse and foot, whose valour had been tried in many hard-fought battles. Surely it was not to be said that this immense force could be baffled and defied by a few thousand peasants, cowherds, and wool-carders, fighting for what they ridiculously called their "rights of conscience!" Baville could not believe it; and he accordingly determined again to apply himself more vigorously than ever to the suppression of the insurrection, by means of the ample forces placed at his disposal.
Again the troops were launched against the insurgents, and again and again they were baffled in their attempts to overtake and crush them. The soldiers became worn out by forced marches, in running from one place to another to disperse assemblies in the Desert. They were distracted by the number of places in which the rebels made their appearance. Cavalier ran from town to town, making his attacks sometimes late at night, sometimes in the early morning; but before the troops could come up he had done all the mischief he intended, and was perhaps fifty miles distant on another expedition. If the Royalists divided themselves into small bodies, they were in danger of being overpowered; and if they kept together in large bodies, they moved about with difficulty, and could not overtake the insurgents, "by reason," said Cavalier, "we could go further in three hours than they could in a whole day; regular troops not being used to march through woods and mountains as we did."
At length the truth could not be concealed any longer. The States of Languedoc were summoned to meet at Montpellier, and there the desperate state of affairs was fully revealed. The bishops of the principal dioceses could with difficulty attend the meeting, and were only enabled to do so by the assistance of strong detachments of soldiers—the Camisards being masters of the principal roads. They filled the assembly with their lamentations, and declared that they had been betrayed by the men in power. At their urgent solicitation, thirty-two more companies of Catholic fusiliers and another regiment of dragoons were ordered to be immediately embodied in the district. The governor also called to his aid an additional regiment of dragoons from Rouergue; a battalion of marines from the ships-of-war lying at Marseilles and Toulon; a body of Miguelets from Roussillon, accustomed to mountain warfare; together with a large body of Irish officers and soldiers, part of the Irish Brigade.
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And how did it happen that the self-exiled Irish patriots were now in the Cevennes, helping the army of Louis XIV. to massacre the Camisards by way of teaching them a better religion? It happened thus: The banishment of the Huguenots from France, and their appearance under William III. in Ireland to fight at the Boyne and Augrhim, contributed to send the Irish Brigade over to France—though it must be confessed that the Irish Brigade fought much better for Louis XIV. than they had ever done for Ireland.
After the surrender of Limerick in 1691, the principal number of the Irish followers of James II. declared their intention of abandoning Ireland and serving their sovereign's ally the King of France. The Irish historians allege that the number of the brigade at first amounted to nearly thirty thousand men. Though, they fought bravely for France, and conducted themselves valiantly in many of her great battles, they were unfortunately put forward to do a great deal of dirty work for Louis XIV. One of the first campaigns they were engaged in was in Savoy, under Catinat, in repressing the Vaudois or Barbets.
[Footnote 42: O'Callaghan's "History of the Irish Brigades in the service of France," p. 29.]
The Vaudois peasantry were for the most part unarmed, and their only crime was their religion. The regiments of Viscount Clare and Viscount Dillon, principally distinguished themselves against the Vaudois. The war was one of extermination, in which many of the Barbets were killed. Mr. O'Connor states that between the number of the Alpine mountaineers cut off, and the extent of devastation and pillage committed amongst them by the Irish, Catinat's commission was executed with terrible fidelity; the memory of which "has rendered their name and nation odious to the Vaudois. Six generations," he remarks, "have since passed, away, but neither time nor subsequent calamities have obliterated the impression made by the waste and desolation of this military incursion." Because of the outrages and destruction committed upon the women and children in the valleys in the absence of their natural defenders, the Vaudois still speak of the Irish as "the foreign assassins."
[Footnote 43: Ibid., p. 180.]
The Brigade having thus faithfully served Louis XIV. in Piedmont, were now occupied in the same work in the Cevennes. The historian of the Brigade does not particularise the battles in which they were engaged with the Camisards, but merely announces that "on several occasions, the Irish appear to have distinguished themselves, especially their officers."
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When Cavalier heard of the vast additional forces about to be thrown into the Cevennes, he sought to effect a diversion by shifting the theatre of war. Marching down towards the low country with about two hundred men, he went from village to village in the Vaunage, holding assemblies of the people. His whereabouts soon became known to the Royalists, and Captain Bonnafoux, of the Calvisson militia, hearing that Cavalier was preaching one day at the village of St. Comes, hastened to capture him.
Bonnafoux had already distinguished himself in the preceding year, by sabring two assemblies surprised by him at Vauvert and Caudiac, and his intention now was to serve Cavalier and his followers in like manner. Galloping up to the place of meeting, the Captain was challenged by the Camisard sentinel; and his answer was to shoot the man dead with his pistol. The report alarmed the meeting, then occupied in prayer; but rising from their knees, they at once formed in line and advanced to meet the foe, who turned and fled at their first discharge.
Cavalier next went southward to Caudiac, where he waited for an opportunity of surprising Aimargues, and putting to the sword the militia, who had long been the scourge of the Protestants in that quarter. He entered the latter town on a fair day, and walked about amongst the people; but, finding that his intention was known, and that his enterprise was not likely to succeed, he turned aside and resolved upon another course. But first it was necessary that his troops should be supplied with powder and ammunition, of which they had run short. So, disguising himself as a merchant, and mounted on a horse with capacious saddlebags, he rode off to Nismes, close at hand, to buy gunpowder. He left his men in charge of his two lieutenants, Ravanel and Catinat, who prophesied to him that during his absence they would fight a battle and win a victory.
Count Broglie had been promptly informed by the defeated Captain Bonnafoux that the Camisards were in the neighbourhood; and he set out in pursuit of them with a strong body of horse and foot. After several days' search amongst the vineyards near Nismes and the heathery hills about Milhaud, Broglie learnt that the Camisards were to be found at Caudiac. But when he reached that place he found the insurgents had already left, and taken a northerly direction. Broglie followed their track, and on the following day came up with them at a place called Mas de Gaffarel, in the Val de Bane, about three miles west of Nismes, The Royalists consisted of two hundred militia, commanded by the Count and his son, and two troops of dragoons, under Captain la Dourville and the redoubtable Captain Poul.
The Camisards had only time to utter a short prayer, and to rise from their knees and advance singing their battle psalm, when Poul and his dragoons were upon them. Their charge was so furious that Ravanel and his men were at first thrown into disorder; but rallying, and bravely fighting, they held their ground. Captain Poul was brought to the ground by a stone hurled from a sling by a young Vauvert miller named Samuelet; Count Broglie himself was wounded by a musket-ball, and many of his dragoons lay stretched on the field. Catinat observing the fall of Poul, rushed forward, cut off his head with a sweep of his sabre, and mounting Poul's horse, almost alone chased the Royalists, now flying in all directions. Broglie did not draw breath until he had reached the secure shelter of the castle of Bernis.
While these events were in progress, Cavalier was occupied on his mission of buying gunpowder in Nismes. He was passing along the Esplanade—then, as now, a beautiful promenade—when he observed from the excitement of the people, running about hither and thither, that something alarming had occurred. On making inquiry he was told that "the Barbets" were in the immediate neighbourhood, and it was even feared they would enter and sack the city. Shortly after, a trooper was observed galloping towards them at full speed along the Montpellier Road, without arms or helmet. He was almost out of breath when he came up, and could only exclaim that "All is lost! Count Broglie and Captain Poul are killed, and the Barbets are pursuing the remainder of the royal troops into the city!"
The gates were at once ordered to be shut and barricaded; the generale was beaten; the troops and militia were mustered; the priests ran about in the streets crying, "We are undone!" Some of the Roman Catholics even took shelter in the houses of the Protestants, calling upon them to save their lives. But the night passed, and with it their alarm, for the Camisards did not make their appearance. Next morning a message arrived from Count Broglie, shut up in the castle of Bernis, ordering the garrison to come to his relief.
In the meantime, Cavalier, with the assistance of his friends in Nismes, had obtained the articles of which he was in need, and prepared to set out on his return journey. The governor and his detachment were issuing from the western gate as he left, and he accompanied them part of the way, still disguised as a merchant, and mounted on his horse, with a large portmanteau behind him, and saddlebags on either side full of gunpowder and ammunition. The Camisard chief mixed with the men, talking with them freely about the Barbets and their doings. When he came to the St. Hypolite road he turned aside; but they warned him that if he went that way he would certainly fall into the hands of the Barbets, and lose not only his horse and his merchandise, but his life. Cavalier thanked them for their advice, but said he was not afraid of the Barbets, and proceeded on his way, shortly rejoining his troop at the appointed rendez-vous.
The Camisards crossed the Gardon by the bridge of St. Nicholas, and were proceeding towards their head-quarters at Bouquet, up the left bank of the river, when an attempt was made by the Chevalier de St. Chaptes, at the head of the militia of the district, to cut off their retreat. But Ravanel charged them with such fury as to drive the greater part into the Gardon, then swollen by a flood, and those who did not escape by swimming were either killed or drowned.
Thus the insurrection seemed to grow, notwithstanding all the measures taken to repress it. The number of soldiers stationed in the province was from time to time increased; they were scattered in detachments all over the country, and the Camisards took care to give them but few opportunities of exhibiting their force, and then only when at a comparative disadvantage. The Royalists, at their wits' end, considered what was next to be done in order to the pacification of the country. The simple remedy, they knew, was to allow these poor simple people to worship in their own way without molestation. Grant them this privilege, and they were at any moment ready to lay down their arms, and resume their ordinary peaceful pursuits.
But this was precisely what the King would not allow. To do so would be an admission of royal fallibility which neither he nor his advisers were prepared to make. To enforce conformity on his subjects, Louis XIV. had already driven some half-a-million of the best of them into exile, besides the thousands who had perished on gibbets, in dungeons, or at the galleys. And was he now to confess, by granting liberty of worship to these neatherds, carders, and peasants, that the rigorous policy of "the Most Christian King" had been an entire mistake?
It was resolved, therefore, that no such liberty should be granted, and that these peasants, like the rest of the King's subjects, were to be forced, at the sword's point if necessary, to worship God in his way, and not in theirs. Viewed in this light, the whole proceeding would appear to be a ludicrous absurdity, but for its revolting impiety and the abominable cruelties with which it was accompanied. Yet the Royalists even blamed themselves for the mercy which they had hitherto shown to the Protestant peasantry; and the more virulent amongst them urged that the whole of the remaining population that would not at once conform to the Church of Rome, should forthwith be put to the sword!
Brigadier Julien, an apostate Protestant, who had served under William of Orange in Ireland, and afterwards under the Duke of Savoy in Piedmont, disappointed with the slowness of his promotion, had taken service under Louis XIV., and was now employed as a partizan chief in the suppression of his former co-religionists in Languedoc. Like all renegades, he was a bitter and furious persecutor; and in the councils of Baville his voice was always raised for the extremest measures. He would utterly exterminate the insurgents, and, if necessary, reduce the country to a desert. "It is not enough," said he, "merely to kill those bearing arms; the villages which supply the combatants, and which give them shelter and sustenance, ought to be burnt down: thus only can the insurrection be suppressed."
In a military point of view Julien was probably right; but the savage advice startled even Baville. "Nothing can be easier," said he, "than to destroy the towns and villages; but this would be to make a desert of one of the finest and most productive districts of Languedoc." Yet Baville himself eventually adopted the very policy which he now condemned.
In the first place, however, it was determined to pursue and destroy Cavalier and his band. Eight hundred men, under the Count de Touman, were posted at Uzes; two battalions of the regiment of Hainault, under Julien, at Anduze; while Broglie, with a strong body of dragoons and militia, commanded the passes at St. Ambrose. These troops occupied, as it were, the three sides of a triangle, in the centre of which Cavalier was known to be in hiding in the woods of Bouquet. Converging upon him simultaneously, they hoped to surround and destroy him.
But the Camisard chief was well advised of their movements. To draw them away from his magazines, Cavalier marched boldly to the north, and slipping through between the advancing forces, he got into Broglie's rear, and set fire to two villages inhabited by Catholics. The three bodies at once directed themselves upon the burning villages; but when they reached them Cavalier had made his escape, and was nowhere to be heard of. For four days they hunted the country between the Garden and the Ceze, beating the woods and exploring the caves; and then they returned, harassed and vexed, to their respective quarters.
While the Royalists were thus occupied, Cavalier fell upon a convoy of provisions which Colonel Marsilly was leading to the castle of Mendajols, scattered and killed the escort, and carried off the mules and their loads to the magazines at Bouquet. During the whole of the month of January, the Camisards, notwithstanding the inclemency of the weather, were constantly on the move, making their appearance in the most unexpected quarters; Roland descending from Mialet on Anduze, and rousing Broglie from his slumbers by a midnight fusillade; Castanet attacking St. Andre, and making a bonfire of the contents of the church; Joany disarming Genouillac; and Lafleur terrifying the villages of the Lozere almost to the gates of Mende.
Although the winters in the South of France, along the shores of the Mediterranean, are comparatively mild and genial, it is very different in the mountain districts of the interior, where the snow lies thick upon the ground, and the rivers are bound up by frost. Cavalier, in his Memoirs, describes the straits to which his followers were reduced in that inclement season, being "destitute of houses or beds, victuals, bread, or money, and left to struggle with hunger, cold, snow, misery, and poverty."
"General Broglie," he continues, "believed and hoped that though he had not been able to destroy us with the sword, yet the insufferable miseries of the winter would do him that good office. Yet God Almighty prevented it through his power, and by unexpected means his Providence ordered the thing so well that at the end of the winter we found ourselves in being, and in a better condition than we expected.... As for our retiring places, we were used in the night-time to go into hamlets or sheepfolds built in or near the woods, and thought ourselves happy when we lighted upon a stone or piece of timber to make our pillows withal, and a little straw or dry leaves to lie upon in our clothes. We did in this condition sleep as gently and soundly as if we had lain upon a down bed. The weather being extremely cold, we had a great occasion for fire; but residing mostly in woods, we used to get great quantity of faggots and kindle them, and so sit round about them and warm ourselves. In this manner we spent a quarter of a year, running up and down, sometimes one way and sometimes another, through great forests and upon high mountains, in deep snow and upon ice. And notwithstanding the sharpness of the weather, the small stock of our provisions, and the marches and counter-marches we were continually obliged to make, and which gave us but seldom the opportunity of washing the only shirt we had upon our back, not one amongst us fell sick. One might have perceived in our visage a complexion as fresh as if we had fed upon the most delicious meats, and at the end of the season we found ourselves in a good disposition heartily to commence the following campaign."
[Footnote 44: Cavalier's "Memoirs of the Wars of the Cevennes," pp. 111-114.]
The campaign of 1703, the third year of the insurrection, began unfavourably for the Camisards. The ill-success of Count Broglie as commander of the royal forces in the Cevennes, determined Louis XIV.—from whom the true state of affairs could no longer be concealed—to supersede him by Marshal Montrevel, one of the ablest of his generals. The army of Languedoc was again reinforced by ten thousand of the best soldiers of France, drawn from the armies of Germany and Italy. It now consisted of three regiments of dragoons and twenty-four battalions of foot—of the Irish Brigade, the Miguelets, and the Languedoc fusiliers—which, with the local militia, constituted an effective force of not less than sixty thousand men!
Such was the irresistible army, commanded by a marshal of France, three lieutenant-generals, three major-generals, and three brigadier-generals, now stationed in Languedoc, to crush the peasant insurrection. No wonder that the Camisard chiefs were alarmed when the intelligence reached them of this formidable force having been set in motion for their destruction.
The first thing they determined upon was to effect a powerful diversion, and to extend, if possible, the area of the insurrection. For this purpose, Cavalier, at the head of eight hundred men, accompanied by thirty baggage mules, set out in the beginning of February, with the object of raising the Viverais, the north-eastern quarter of Languedoc, where the Camisards had numerous partizans. The snow was lying thick upon the ground when they set out; but the little army pushed northward, through Rochegude and Barjac. At the town of Vagnas they found their way barred by a body of six hundred militia, under the Count de Roure. These they attacked with great fury and speedily put to flight.
But behind the Camisarde was a second and much stronger royalist force, eighteen hundred men, under Brigadier Julien, who had hastened up from Lussan upon Cavalier's track, and now hung upon his rear in the forest of Vagnas. Next morning the Camisards accepted battle, fought with their usual bravery, but having been trapped into an ambuscade, they were overpowered by numbers, and at length broke and fled in disorder, leaving behind them their mules, baggage, seven drums, and a quantity of arms, with some two hundred dead and wounded. Cavalier himself escaped with difficulty, and, after having been given up for lost, reached the rendez-vous at Bouquet in a state of complete exhaustion, Ravanel and Catinat having preceded him thither with, the remains of his broken army.
Roland and Cavalier now altered their tactics. They resolved to avoid pitched battles such as that at Vagnas, where they were liable to be crushed at a blow, and to divide their forces into small detachments constantly on the move, harassing the enemy, interrupting their communications, and falling upon detached bodies whenever an opportunity for an attack presented itself.