“A Cry from the Desert” (1707)
“Nouveaux Mémoires pour server à l’Histoire des Trois Camisards, où l’on voit les Déclarations du Colonel Cavallier” (1707)
“Memoirs of the War of the Cevennes” (by Jean Cavallier, 1726)
“Histoire des Troubles des Cevennes, ou de la Guerre des Camisards sous Louis le Grand” (by A. Cour 1760)
“Histoire des Pasteurs du Désert” (by Napoleon Peyrat, 1842)
“The Pastors of the Wilderness” (1851)
‘Driven from their native villages,’ says Gibbon in describing the fiercest and most fanatical of the African sects of Christianity, [Gibbon’s ‘Decline and Fall,’ cap. xxi] ‘the leaders of the Circumcellions assumed the title of captains of the saints; and the well-known sound of “Praise be to God,” which they used as their cry of war, diffused consternation over the unarmed provinces of Africa. They engaged, and sometimes defeated, the troops of the province, and in the bloody action of Bengai, attacked in the open field, but with unsuccessful valour, an advanced guard of the imperial cavalry. The Donatists, who were taken in arms, received, and they soon deserved, the treatment which might have been shown to the wild beasts of the desert. The captains died, without a murmur, either by the sword, the axe, or the fire; and measures of retaliation were multiplied in rapid proportion, which aggravated the horrors of rebellion, and excluded the hope of mutual forgiveness. In the beginning of the present century, the example of the Circumcellions has been renewed in the persecution, the boldness, the crimes, and the enthusiasm of the Camisards; and if the fanatics of Languedoc surpassed those of Numidia by military achievements, the Africans maintained their fierce independence with more resolution and perseverance.
The allusion contained in the last sentences of this paragraph is, in our own time and country, hardly understood. It relates to one of the most curious episodes of French history. We know of no wilder story than that of the revolt of the Cevennes, and of no stranger career than that of Jean Cavallier, the principal leader of the insurgents. A baker's apprentice in one year, he treated in the next on equal terms with the greatest marshal in Framce; and he resigned the characters of a priest, a prophet, and a worker of miracles for a commission in the army of Queen Anne. The circumstances of his life give a certain unity to the wild scenes in which he was the principal actor. Unless they are viewed in some such relation, they leave upon the mind a vague impression of confused bloodshed and horror. The contemporary chronicles (now very scarce) are described by M. Peyrat as a dreary list of murders and executions. His own work, though written with much warmth of imagination and local knowledge, is for a similar reason very hard to remember; and the same is true in a still greater degree of the impartial and accurate history of the famous Protestant Pastor Antoine Court, in reading which, ‘it requires,’ says Gibbon, ‘some attention to discover the religion of the author.’
Jean Cavallier was born at Ribaute, near Anduze, in Languedoc, in the year 1685. His parents were Protestant peasants, and he was brought up first as a shepherd, afterwards as a baker. When he was but a year old the edict of Nantes was revoked. The new law provided that all Protestants should bring up their children as Catholics, and that, if they failed to do so, the children should be taken from them and educated in convents. Cavallier's father sent his son, for six years together, to the Catholic parish school; the bishop who officiated at his confirmation, pleased by his intelligence, proposed to enter him at a Jesuit college, in which he might be instructed in the higher branches of education. This scheme was, however, frustrated by his mother, who used in the evening to make him read the Bible and books of controversy, and sometimes took him to the conventicles, which were held in the Cevennes by the Protestants. Some of these meetings were presided over by the famous Claude Brousson, who was driven from his profession as an advocate at the age of forty, and adopted that of a wandering preacher. After preaching for many years in all parts of France, he was hanged and broken on the wheel at Montpellier, on the 4th of November, 1695. Brousson was a pious and sober-minded person, and it is probable that the meetings at which he officiated were free from extravagance; but other scenes were enacted amongst the Protestants, all mention of which Cavallier avoids, although he probably participated in them.
Ever since the year 1689, Dauphiny and Languedoc had been infested by an epidemic fanaticism, the manifestations of which strongly resembled the extravagances of our own Mormonites and clairvoyants. The revocation of the edict of Nantes was followed by the forcible conversion of such of the nobility as still remained Protestant. The only persons who retained their creed were poor and uneducated. Their position made them an easy prey to fanaticism. Jurieu's Book on the Revelations, published in 1686, produced an immense effect upon them. It appointed the year 1689 for the revival of Protestantism in France, and predicted the approaching downfall of the whole Catholic hierarchy. A man named Du Serre, who lived on the same mountain which was honoured, in 1846, by the apparition of our Lady of Salette, established a school of the prophets. His instruments of education seem to have been knavery and animal magnetism, by means of which he made his pupils fancy that they received Divine revelations. Similar causes must, however, have been at work over a great extent of country, for prophets began to see visions, and to dream dreams, with one consent, from the Jura to the Gulf of Lyons. In 1689 no less than three partial insurrections took place. For fourteen years the excitement continued. Some piece of tableland was chosen on the top of one of the hills of Languedoc, so that the approach of any troops could be seen in time for the meeting to disperse. Then a ring was formed around a prophet or prophetess who lay on the ground screaming and sobbing, shedding hysterical tears, and writhing in semi-voluntary convulsions. The oracle sometimes announced that a temple of white marble would fall in the valleys of the Cevennes, ornamented with pillars bearing golden chaplets, and inscribed with the tables of the law. Sometimes it applied to Languedoc the visions of Joel, and foretold the approach of the day of the Lord, and the advent of the great people and strong, before whom the earth should quake, and the heavens tremble, the sun and the moon be dark, and the stars withdraw their shining. Nothing could exceed the intensity of the impressions thus produced on the common people. Even little children were infected, and began to prophesy. The government anticipated the ‘Défense à Dieu' of the next generation, and made persons criminally responsible for the inspirations of their families. The prophets were broken on the wheel, the congregations were subjected to military execution. In one night the troops massacred eighteen persons at a prayer-meeting near Uzès, and fifteen others at Fornac. Four men and four women were hanged at Pont de Montvert, and the town was threatened with destruction. Horror spread the fascination in all directions. Many even of the subordinate officials began to experience its power, and the victims and authors of the delusion formed a mass which daily became more and more homogeneous.
In the midst of such scenes young Cavallier passed the first sixteen years of his life. The impression which they made upon him may be inferred from his subsequent history. His language and his actions both show his bitter hatred of Popery, but his love for Protestantism was by no means commensurate with it. His understanding was as shrewd as his courage was high, and his not very honest silence as to the fanaticism of his conntrymen, shows what he thought of it in after life. At sixteen, such thoughts had probably not taken very deep root. At a time of life at which feelings and opinions radically contradictory may be simultaneously indulged, or his imagination may well have been captivated by the wildness of the scenes, which his understanding may even then have been beginning to despise. He was at any rate precociously intimate with human nature, and had seen the wildest manifestations of some of its strongest passions. His attendance on conventicles had taught him, as it had taught many of the Protestant peasant seem, given him great knowledge of the country. From the constant movements of troops and militia throughout Languedoc, he had acquired considerable familiarity with the rudiments of military discipline.
In the year 1702, the government were well prepared for any outbreak of the Protestants. The Intendant of Languedoc, Guillaume Lamoignon de Baville, who ruled the province with almost absolute authority, had taken every precaution in his power to secure a speedy victory, if a victory were needed. Roads had been made for the first time through the Gévaudan and the Vivaris. Commanding positions had been levelled for the use of cavalry and artillery. The States of Languedoc voted eight regiments of regular troops, and 40,000 militia were enrolled and drilled every Sunday. Alais St. Esprit and St. Hippolyte were fortified by the compulsory labour of all the masons, smiths, carts and horses, for thirty miles round. In the midst of these preparations young Cavallier became an object of suspicion to the priest of his parish. The clever lad, who had been noticed by the bishop of the diocese, began to give up his attendance at mass, to betray an acquaintance with some of the arguments in use among the Protestants, and to be suspected of attending conventicles. Finding that his father ran some risk of being imprisoned on his account, he put himself under one of the guides, who at that time made it their business to assist refugees in flying from the country, and reached Geneva, in the company of about thirty other persons, on a similar errand. There he remained for some time working at his trade as a baker.
This period was an eventful one in the history of Languedoc. The continued Protestantism of the mass of the population of many of the provinces of the south and west, was attributed to the ignorance of the Catholic clergy. To remedy this, missionaries were sent to effect what the parish priests were not able to perform. The missions of the Gévaudan were under the superintendence of a certain Abbé du Chayla, Archdeacon of the High Cevennes. This man had been in early life a missionary in Siam, where it is said he had himself undergone persecution. He had returned to France with the famous Eastern Embassy to Louis XIV., and had been appointed Inspector of the Missions of the Cevennes on account of his resolute character. He executed his commission strictly,–converting his cellars into prisons, in which the prisoners were confined in stocks by the wrists and ankles in a kneeling position. He made them hold burning coals in their hands, and twisting oiled tow round their fingers, lighted them like lamps. This conduct, coupled with accusations of perverting his authority for the gratification of his licentiousness, had made him unpopular, and as the war in the summer of 1702 had drained Languedoc of troops, he was exposed to considerable danger.
Whilst at Geneva Cavallier heard that his parents had been sent to prison, for refusing to go to mass. He returned to France in hopes of obtaining their release—it does not appear how. He found they had been set at liberty, in consideration of a recantation, for giving which he reproached them in the bitterest terms, telling his mother that he was sorry that he should have to bear witness against her at the Day of Judgment. The same evening one of his friends asked him to go to a conventicle held at a place called Alte fage (alta fagus), on the top of Mont Bougés. After the sermon, the congregation were informed that Du Chayla had taken a party of emigrants prisoners, and had confined them in the cellar of a house, which is still standing, in the little town of Pont de Montvert, about six miles from the place they then were. They were then addressed by a prophet known, from his frequent revelations, as ‘Esprit' Seguier. With his tall thin figure, his long hair, and his wild eye, he looked like one of the ancient Druids, who had prophesied and preached at Alte fage, when Nismes and Arles were still Roman colonies. He told his hearers that the Lord had bidden him deliver their brethren from captivity, and exterminate the archdeacon of Moloch. Solomon Couderc and Abraham Mazel, the prophets, spoke to the same effect. The latter in particular had been warned by a vision:—‘My brethren, I had a vision, and I saw two black oxen, very fat, browsing on the plants of a garden; and a voice said unto me, “Abraham, drive away those oxen;” and when I did not obey, the voice said again, “Abraham, drive away those oxen.” Now the garden is the Church of God, and the black oxen are the priests, and the word is the Eternal, who has ordered me to expel them from the Cevennes.’
About fifty of the congregation assembled at the same place for the next night; twenty had fire-arms, and the others scythes and axes. After being harangued and blessed by their leader, they descended from the summit of Alte fage, and crossed the landes and forests which divide it from Pont de Montvert, singing as they went the 74th Psalm, which tells how the holy places were broken down with axes and hammers, and calls upon the Lord to pluck his right hand from his bosom, and to consume the enemy. At about ten o'clock at night, Du Chayla heard the sound of their psalmody, as they moved in quick time across the waste, and up the street of the town, and commanded his guard of militia to go out to reconnoitre. Before his orders could be obeyed, Seguier's troop entered the town, called as they passed to the inhabitants to stand back from the windows, surrounded the house in which were Du Chayla and the prisoners, and demanded their liberation. This being refused, they broke open the doors of the prison, and, enraged at the sight of the wrists and ankles of their friends half dislocated and swollen, commenced an attack. The militia fired; one of the Protestants was killed and another wounded. Then a cry arose to burn the Priest of Baal, and his troops with him, and furniture was heaped against the staircase and lighted. The militia, after receiving absolution from the archdeacon, escaped by the window, but their leader fell and broke his thigh. He tried to hide himself behind some bushes, but his enemies found him out. ‘We have you, damned persecutor,’ cried Seguier. ‘My friends,’ answered his victim, ‘if I am damned, do you wish to damn yourselves too?’ He received fifty-two wounds, of which twenty-four were mortal. His murderers, says Antoine Court, ‘found neither flesh enough to stab, nor life enough to take.’ All night long the inhabitants sat up in their houses, afraid to sleep or go out. All night long the Camisards knelt round the body of the murdered man, singing psalms, undisturbed except by the crackling of the flames of the burning house and the murmurs of the Tarn among the masses of rock which obstruct this part of its course.
Encouraged by his success, Seguier determined to commit the Protestants irrevocably. He executed, as he said, the judgments of God. That is to say, he murdered all the priests he could find, and burnt down the château de la Devèze, massacring all the inhabitants, for refusing to give up some arms which had been stored there. Large bodies of militia, and some troops, were marched into Pont de Montvert; and a certain Captain Poul, who had formerly distinguished himself against the Vaudois or Barbets, defeated the insurgents, and made Seguier his prisoner.
His interrogatory was as follows:—‘What is your name?’ ‘Pierre Seguier.”—“Why do they call you Esprit” “Because the spirit of the Lord is upon me.”—“Where is your domicile!” “In the desert—soon in heaven.”—“Beg pardon of the king.” “We have no king but the Eternal.”—“Do you repent of your crimes o' ‘My soul is a garden full of shades and springs of water.” His right hand was cut off, and he was burnt alive. His last words, as preserved by popular tradition, were, ‘My brethren, wait, and have patience in the Lord; for the desolation of Carmel shall flourish, and the desert of Lebanon shall blossom like the rose.” The insurgents, deprived of their leader, were chased from one wood to another by the troops, ‘like so many foxes by a pack of dogs; but by degrees the vigilance of the government relaxed, and the fugitives had time to settle their plans.
The courage which Cavallier had displayed in the recent events, in which he had taken a conspicuous, though a subordinate, part, and a promise which he had obtained from a large number of young men in his own neighbourhood, to put themselves under his command at the resumption of hostilities, secured him the second place in the army. The first was assigned to a person whose career was less brilliant, though his character was more remarkable—Roland Laporte. He was a man of inflexible firmness, of great prudence, foresight, and self-command, he had some political knowledge, and possessed to an extraordinary degree the faculty of inspiring his followers with strong personal affection. He was twenty-five years of age, a vine. dresser of Lower Languedoc, and a member of a family famous in the annals of local persecution. During the autumn and winter of 1702, Roland, Cavallier, and their associates chose the scene, and matured the plans, of the insurrection.
The hills of the Ardennes, the Vosges, the mountains of Auvergne, the Cevennes, and the Pyrenees, are the great water-shed of France, from the eastern and northern slopes of which the streams fall off into the Rhine, the Rhone, and the Mediterranean, whilst they flow, towards the south and east, into the Loire, the Garonne, the British Channel, and the Bay of Biscay. The northern extremity of the Cevennes lies about half way between Lyons and Montellier, immediately to the south of the town of Mende. Mende is about thirty miles to the north of St. André de Valborgne, which is about forty miles to the north of Montpellier. Each of these towns stands at the apex of an irregular triangle of hills, of which the northern group is called the Hautes, and the southern the Basses, Cevennes. This district occupies a remarkable position, both in the physical and in the political geography of France. It is the continuation of the great volcanic formations of Auvergne. The mountains still bear traces of their origin, even to the least scientific eye. They are a succession of wild hills and gorges, covered alternately with rough pastures and forests of beech and chestnut, and strewn with masses of lava. Though few of them rise above the height of 5000 feet, they contain the sources of several of the great rivers of France—the Lot, the Allier, the Tarn, and the Loire; and of some of the principal feeders of the Rhone, such as the Ardèche, and the two Gardons. The mountains and forests oppose great obstacles to the movements of regular troops; and their staple products, cattle, and the chest. nuts with which they supply France, are singularly fitted for the support of irregular forces. At the commencement of the eighteenth century, there were no roads in the district except those lately constructed by Bâville. The villages were numerous, though solitary, and, as the snow lay for months together in the winter, the inhabitants passed their time in-doors, weaving the fleeces of their sheep into a rough kind of cloth, which was largely exported both to the north and south of Europe.
The population was distinguished by many peculiarities from the bulk of the French nation. Their district—the Gévaudan—was the northernmost county of Languedoc. Their language was that Langue d'Oc, from which the province had derived its name— a name which in early times had applied to a great part of the south-east of France. In this district the Camisards hoped to organise a war of partisans, which might become important if the allies should gain any decisive advantage over the king of France. [Camisards, from Camisa the Languedocian for Chemise. The name has the same meaning as that of the Irish Whiteboys. The insurgents were also called Barbets, from the name given to the Waudois. Their own name for each other was ‘Enfants de Dieu.'] They raised a force of 3000 men, distributed into five legions or regiments, two of which were posted on two parallel ranges of hills to the south, two others in their rear, and the fifth still further north. These positions they habitually maintained; leaving them only as the purposes of the insurrection required. The general plan of their operations was to provoke the troops and militia to act on the offensive, and to attack them as soon as they were entangled in an unfavorable position. After a victory they spread alarm over a wide district of country, appearing at many different points at once, and deceiving the enemy as to their number by the quickness of their motions; after a defeat, they disappeared in parties of three or four, and rejoined each other, by paths known to few beside themselves, at given points in the heaths and woods of their native mountains. The plain of Languedoc, from the foot of the mountains to the seacoast, was their field of battle; the mountains of the Cevennes their stronghold and magazine.
To recruit this force was the least of their difficulties. They judged, as the event showed very wisely, that a small force was more easily managed and less easily attacked than a large one. The numbers were maintained at the same level throughout the whole war. The soldiers differed widely from the inhabitants of the centre and south-west of France, from whom our popular notions of the French character are principally derived. In character, as in language, they much resembled the Spaniards. They were a fierce passionate race, dogged in their opinions, and stubborn in their conduct. They would fight without fear, discouragement, or plans; as their ranks were thinned by battle, they were recruited by persecution, and the disappointment of their hopes of extending the insurrection only heightened its intensity in its original theatre. They hoped to meet with such successes in Languedoc as to encourage the Protestants of Montpellier, Nismes, the Vivarais, and Dauphiny to rise in a general insurrection. [The Vivarais and the Gévaudan were the two northern counties of Languedoc. They occupied the relative positions of the East and West Ridings of Yorkshire respectively. The Vivarais was separated from the Gévaudan by the Ardèche, and from Dauphiny by the Rhone.] Having thus opened the communications with the Savoy frontier and the sea-coast, they might be assisted by the forces of Prince Eugene, or by the English fleet.
In the meantime, the most pressing problem which they had to solve, was how to arm, and equip, the force upon which their plans depended. A regular commissariat was established. The mountains of the Cevennes are full of caves. They were carefully surveyed and explored, but their locality was concealed from all but those to whom it was necessary to communicate it. The most airy, and the driest among them, were set apart for hospitals, others for arsenals, others for magazines of provisions, and others for workshops. Some of them combined all these characters. One of them is thus described:—
‘The first objects found there were wounded men, lying in cots of boards, with which the rock was wainscoted. Further on were thirty sacks of corn, a quantity of meal, a heap of chestnuts, another of beans, sacks of vegetables, twenty barrels of wine, fifteen mule loads (charges) of brandy, and huge sides of bacon hung from the roof. Next came the surgery— drugs, ointment, lint, surgical instruments; and last of all, the arsenal—pikes, guns, pistols, fifteen quintals of manufactured powder, sulphur, saltpetre, willow charcoal, mortars, and mills to make more, with a great number of saws, axes, forks, bills, scythes, and other matters, useful for life or death.’But it was not enough to store up the provisions which the mountains afforded. The government caused all the mills to be destroyed, and all the villages to be watched, so that the insurgents might neither be able to grind their corn nor to buy clothes, shoes, or ammunition. All these precautions were either foreseen or defeated. A great part of the insurgents were artisans. They built watermills on the most retired streams, and windmills on the most lonely mountain tops. Others carried on their trade in the intervals of warfare, especially the workers in iron, who repaired the arms of the combatants, and the tailors and shoemakers, who employed themselves continually on the coarse cloth and leather which were the staple products of the district. Even gunpowder was manufactured in the hills, for the country produced saltpetre in abundance, and afforded plenty of willows to make charcoal. A certain quantity was bought at Nismes and Montpellier, and more at Avignon. Balls were procured by melting down the leaden roofs and bells of the churches, and all the pewter utensils on which the insurgents could lay their hands.” [The wounds given by pewter bullets were peculiarly deadly, and exposed the Camisards to the charge of poisoning their balls; but they never had recourse to pewter till their stores of lead were spent.] The first thing done after the battle was to strip the bodies of the dead of all that could be useful. Clothes, arms, and ammunition were carefully collected, and carried to certain fixed depôts, whence they were moved to the caves in which they were to be stored.
The expenses of the insurrection were defrayed by confiscating the taxes of the districts in which the insurgents were powerful; by the voluntary contribution of the Protestant villages; by the subscriptions of the secret partisans of the rebellion; and, above all, by intercepting the stores of the government forces. In addition (apparently) to what they made themselves, one of the legions spent 800 livres a month in shoes, the whole of the insurgent forces about 30,000 livres a year, so that “all the shoe-makers in the villages were kept continually at work by order of Roland, who paid them very well.' It was one of their boasts that they lived entirely without plunder.
Upon the completion of these preparations, interrupted and succeeded by a few trivial skirmishes, the striking of the first blow of importance was committed to Cavallier, and executed by him with characteristic audacity and success. The garrison of an old feudal hold, the Château de Servas, had incurred the indignation of the Camisards by the zeal with which they watched their movements, and the cruelty with which they massacred several of their nocturnal assemblies. Their fortress was so strong, that, in the religious wars of the preceding century, it had resisted a siege of twelve days by the Duc de Rohan. Cavallier laid an ambuscade for a party of troops on march to Italy; between Alais and St. Esprit killed them all, put on the uniform of the commanding officer, and dressed his men in those of the soldiers. He then picked out six Camisards of ferocious appearance, one of whom was wounded and covered with blood; he handcuffed them, and gave them in charge of their companions as if they had been taken prisoners. Thus disguised, he sent the head man of a neighbouring village to tell the commandant of Servas that he was the nephew of M. Broglie (commander of the forces in Languedoc), and the bearer of orders from him and from Băville, that he had beaten the Camisards, and taken six of them prisoners, and that he wished to leave them at the castle. The governor, on receiving the message, hastened to welcome Cavallier, and after a glance at his feuille de route (taken from the officer who had been killed) readily took charge of the pretended prisoners. He gave their supposed captor an invitation to supper, which, after some pressing, was accepted. Whilst the meal was cooking, the governor showed his guest over the fortifications, and congratulated him on the security which they would afford to the prisoners. The supper was laid on the table, and eaten with much gaiety; the Camisards one by one came into the room, under different pretences, carrying their guns in their slings. When enough of them had entered, their leader made sign. The garrison were seized, disarmed, and put to death. ‘Thus,’ says Cavallier, ‘were punished their cruelties.’ Having taken possession of the arms, ammunition, and provisions, and set fire to the place, the Camisards departed. At the distance of half a league they heard a report, and looking back saw the castle blown into the air by the explosion of the magazine which had escaped their researches.
This adventure proved to Báville that he had been mistaken in considering Seguier's outbreak as a mere feu de paille. The rebels called the Protestants to arms, exacted the taxes, and confiscated the church property. Flèchier, the famous Bishop of Nismes, was so alarmed that he compared himself to Queen Esther: ‘Traditi sumus, ego et populus meus, ut conteramur,et jugulemur, et pereamus.’ The states of Languedoc voted a levy of thirty-two companies of Catholic fusiliers, and a regiment of dragoons, and Băville obtained considerable reinforcements from Toulon and Roussillon. Amongst them were a number of Irish refugee officers.
Whilst these preparations were being made for their destruction, the Camisards were employed in keeping their Christmas (1702) with great solemnity. Cavallier preached to his troops, and after service they all communicated, except those whom the prophets were moved to set aside as unworthy. The prayers were not finished when the congregation was attacked by 600 militia and fifty mounted nobles. Posting himself on a small hill, Cavallier waited to be attacked. ‘We trembled,’ says he, ‘at our small numbers. The commandant of Alais came straight against us, but he did not act as a good general should, for he began the action with the cavalry instead of the infantry.’ The fire of the Camisards drove the horse over the foot, and the royal forces, after losing 100 men, fled in confusion to Alais, hastened by the musketry of their enemies, who sang as they followed them,' King's with their armies did flee and were discomfited.’ Here the insurgents obtained a large supply of arms and ammunition, a mule loaded with cords intended to hang the prisoners, and a great number of uniforms which they used as disguises.
Their next expedition was directed against the little town of Sauve, about twenty miles from Nismes, and at this time a fortified place. It was determined to surprise it, and 200 men were sent against it under the command of Brigadier Catinat. They were dressed in the militia uniform, and their commander wore that of a colonel. They obtained admission, and were drawn up in the marketplace. M. de Vibrac, one of the co-seigneurs of the town, invited the soi-disant colonel and two of his officers to dinner. The invitation was accepted, and Catinat placing himself by Madame de Vibrac, who was young and handsome, addressed to her such gallantries as his education amongst the studs and grooms of the Delta of the Rhone (where in his youth he had been a stable boy) led him to consider appropriate to the character which he was sustaining. No doubt the expression of his admiration was far more emphatic than graceful. Madame de Vibrac was at first astonished, but soon horror-struck, at the thought that she was at table with three Camisard officers, and she and her husband listened, with a ludicrous mixture of terror and confusion, to the loutish compliments of their guest. During the dessert a servant announced the approach of a body of troops to the gates of the town. Delighted at an opportunity of getting rid of her suspicious visitors, Madame de Vibrac begged them to go and see what was the matter, as the troops might be Camisards coming to surprise the place. ‘Ne craignez rien: j’y cours, Madame,’ said Catinat, and returned to the walls. On his appearance the guard asked if he expected any militia He said that he did not. ‘There certainly are some soldiers coming.’—‘They must be Camisards: let them come on, you shall see how I'll receive them.’ The cloud of dust advanced, Catinat drew up his 200 men in order of battle, and the people were admiring their supposed defenders, when they heard the sound of the sixty-eighth psalm raised by the advancing column, and at the same instant saw the muskets of the supposed militia levelled at them. In a few moments the town was in the hands of the insurgents.
The alarm caused by the surprises of Servas and Sauve was heightened almost to a panic by a victory gained by the Camisards over no less a person than the military commandant of the district, the Comte de Broglie. The action took place in the neighbourhood of Nismes. During the absence of Cavallier from his troops on a visit to that place to buy powder, Catinat, the taker of Sauve, and Ravanel his inseparable companion, were left in command. Next to Roland and Cavallier, they were the most conspicuous of the insurgents. Ravanel was ‘a carder of cloth, thirty-years old, thick-set, dark, with a bull-dog muzzle (à moufle de bouledogue.) He was an old soldier of the regiment of Rouergue and had his hide (cuir) scored with sabre cuts. He lived only on brandy, tobacco, fighting, and psalm-singing.” Abdias Morel, nicknamed Catinat, from his admiration of the marshal of that name, under whom he had served, was tall and athletic with a fierce and sunburnt face, “dour avec cela comme un brebis.’ He was as fierce in attack as Ravanel was indomitable in retreat. It was on the 12th of January that the Camisards, under these commanders, were attacked by the Comte de Broglie near the Val de Bane. The Camisards received the royal troops with a fire so sharp that the militia and infantry were thrown into confusion; Poul, the captor of Seguier, charged at the head of his men to restore them o confidence, but a young miller, called Samuelet, who had come to pray, and who remained to fight, brought him down with a stone from a sling. ‘Mount, captain, mount’ shouted the dragoons, but Catinat rushed on the dying man, killed him with a sabre cut on the head, mounted a Spanish horse, and armed himself with an Armenian sabre, for which his victim was noted, and charged the dragoons with a courage approaching to insanity, shouting as he went that they might eat their cock (Poul), now that he was plucked for them. The dragoons, panic-struck, followed the foot, and the royal forces entered Nismes in wild confusion, closely pressed by the Camisards, and spreading panic through the town, which contained a large number of Protestants. Cavallier mixed with the crowd collected on the esplanade, to gaze at the smoke, and listen to the firing. He was not recognised, and next day took his departure on his mule, with a bag of powder at the croupe of his saddle, in the company of a body of troops, who were sent out to bring in De Broglie, from a village where he had taken refuge after his defeat. The soldiers remonstrated with their companion on his imprudence in travelling alone, in such a disturbed district. He answered that he had never hurt the Camisards, and that he hoped they would not hurt him.
These successes warranted Roland in attempting to extend the theatre of his operations; he therefore determined to send Cavallier on an expedition to the Vivarais, the district which separates the Cevennes from the Rhone. It was full of Protestants, and lay between two rivers, the Rhone on the east, and the Ardèche on the west. Cavallier set out on his expedition with 800 men and 30 mules. The snow lay on the ground, and the Ardèche was swelled with floods, which then as now baffled the science of engineers, and terrified the surrounding district. On the approach of the Camisards, the Comte de Roure, who guarded the fords and ferries of the Ardèche, at the head of the militia of the Bas Vivarais, eager to crush the rebels unassisted, was so unwise as to cross the river with a considerable part of his forces, in hopes of surprising the insurgents. His intention, however, was discovered; he fell into an ambuscade, and lost 500 men out of 560. Still Cavallier was unable to force the passage of the Ardèche, and returned to the scene of the action. Here he fell, in his turn, into an ambuscade laid for him by the Brigadier Julien, who arrived the day after the defeat of the Comte de Roure. The Camisards were dispersed, with the loss of 200 men. Catinat and Ravanel contrived to rally some of their forces, and to rejoin Roland, but Cavallier lost his way in the wood, and was tracked by his footsteps in the snow. At one time the soldiers walked over his head as he cowered under a hollow bank. At another he threw them off his trail by wading down a half-frozen stream. After incredible hardships he contrived to rejoin his commander.
The central government were by this time fully alive to the importance of the revolt. The command in Languedoc was given to the Marshal de Montrevel, and his troops were reinforced to the following amount. One marshal of France, 3 lieutenant-generals, 3 maréchaux de camp, 3 brigadiers, 3 regiments of dragoons, 25 battalions of foot, a regiment of marines, some Irish refugees, 600 Miguelets, 32 companies of fusiliers, and about 40,000 militia, in all 60,000 men well supplied with artillery. Roland and Cavallier had but 3000 men to oppose to these forces, but by breaking up their troops into small platoons, and by directing their operations against a vast number of isolated points, they so harassed and bewildered their antagonists, that Montrevel estimated their number at 20,000. The little town of Genouillac was taken by storm five times in four weeks, besides being sacked twice and burnt once. ‘A hundred persons, 30 churches, 140 houses, châteaux, portions of villages, or villages, disappeared as in a whirlwind.’ The platoons marched between the bodies of royal troops, and appeared on the fronts, flank, and rear at the same time. On one occasion the rebels were brought to action, and suffered considerable loss in the valley of Pompignan; but, at another place, 400 of them cut their way through the midst of 4000 of the royal army, to a rising ground, where they kept their enemies at bay, until the night enabled them to disperse, and slip through their ranks unnoticed.
Tired of a war in which it seemed equally difficult to find the enemy, or to conquer him when found, Montrevel determined on a great effort. Three powerful columns of troops advanced towards a common centre from the north, the south-west, and the south-east. They chased Cavallier from the plain of Languedoc to the northern extremity of the Cevennes, and thence back again to the plain of Languedoc, without bringing him to action. At length he halted for the night with 1500 men at the Tour de Bellot near Alais, and at no great distance from the point from which he had commenced his retreat. The Tour de Bellot had formerly been a feudal manor; at this time it was a sheep farm, in the midst of which stood the tower, then a pigeon house, from which it derived its name. The tower was surrounded by a court-yard, and the court-yard by a wall. After placing a guard of sixty men in the neighbourhood, the Camisards to the number of about 1500 lay down to sleep in the barns, out-houses, and tower. The owner of the place (who bore the ill-omened name of Guignon — Badluck) was a spy of the Brigadier Planque, to whom he gave notice of Cavallier's arrival. Planque marched out of Alais with 4000 men, whom he divided into two columns, one under his own command, the other under that of an officer named Tarnaud. He escaped the notice of the Camisard sentries until he was close upon them. The guard had just time to give the alarm, and to rush into the building. Cavallier and the other leaders sprang to their feet, and followed by about 400 men made a desperate charge on the head of the column commanded by Planque. Such was the fierceness of the attack that the Catholics retreated far enough to allow 400 more of the Camisards to issue from the buildings; but, after a fight ‘so fierce that heaven and earth seemed on fire,’ the insurgents were driven across a ravine, which was probably in former times the moat of the château. In the meantime, Tarnaud's column was coming upon the scene of action, and Planque's column saw it advancing through the darkness, from the quarter in which Cavallier had retreated. In the confusion caused by a renewed attack of Cavallier's, Tarnaud's men were mistaken for disguised Camisards, and a furious attack upon them commenced. The whole was now confusion. The two Catholic columns, and the Camisards, were all mixed together, and each of the three bodies considered and treated the other two as enemies. In the meantime the Camisards who had not been able to leave the tower, kept up a furious fire on all alike, being directed in their aim by the flashes of the guns, the cries of the combatants, and the groans of the wounded. At last, either the dawn, or the rising of the moon, put an end to the confusion. The columns of Planque and Tarnaud recognised each other, and Cavallier was driven across the moat. Seeing that it was impossible to help those of his party who still remained in the tower, he effected his retreat in good order. The whole of the Catholic forces now directed their attack against the tower and its small garrison. By degrees the court-yard was won, but the Camisards in the tower fought till their ammunition was exhausted, and then kept off their opponents with stones. Planque contrived to set the buildings on fire with hand grenades, and the remaining Camisards were burnt alive, singing psalms to the last. They had fought from midnight till 8 A.M. Planque lost nearly 1200 men killed and wounded. The Camisards 411 killed, of whom 293 were killed or burnt in the farm, and 118 killed on the banks of the moat.
By some unknown means the spy Guignon was discovered and condemned to death. The Camisards under arms, and with the prophets at their head, knelt round him, praying for his soul. He begged to be allowed to embrace his two sons, who were present, and who had formed part of the troops which he had betrayed. They refused and disowned him. He was beheaded.
After this dearly bought success, the marshal de Montrevel allowed nearly six months to pass without any serious undertaking. But though he did not take the field, he did not altogether neglect his duty.
On Palm Sunday 1703, ‘200 or 300 women, children, and old men of Nismes, were praying at the house of a man named Mercier, near the gate of the Carmelites. Their psalms soon discovered their retreat to the lieutenant of police, who informed Montrevel. He was then at table, and was probably heated with wine. He rose in a fury, and invested the mill with a battalion. The soldiers broke open the door, and sword in hand rushed upon the terrified multitude, but the marshal, growing impatient at the slow operation of the sword, determined to have recourse to fire; thereupon the flames enveloped the house, from which deep groans arose. The poor wretches broke out of the burning mill, most of them wounded, bloody, blackened and gnawed (rongés) by the fire, and like shrieking spectres, but the soldiers pushed them back, at the point of the bayomet, into the furnace, in which they were consumed.’ One girl had been saved by one of the marshal's servants. She was hanged on the spot, and the servant would have been hanged also, but for the intercession of some sisters of mercy.
In the meantime Flechier was holding a service at the cathedral. Hearing the tumult and the musket shots, the bishop and his congregation supposed that the Camisards were attacking Nismes. The service was interrupted, the doors barricaded, and ‘Flechier ne se trouva pas en état de parler à son troupeau; whereupon the Abbe de Beaujen, whom the bishop requested to supply his place, preached on the text, ‘Why are ye afraid, O ye of little faith?’ When Flechier was told what was going on, the service was resumed.
Anxious to extend the benefit of this example, Montrevel issued an ordonnance ordering the inhabitants ‘de courir sur aux Camisards.’ This set in activity all the robbers and murderers of the province, and furnished them with legal authority. For their better regulation, they were formed into three regiments called the Florentins or Camisards noirs, and put under the command of an old soldier named La Fayolle, who had taken orders and retired to a hermitage. For the encouragement of these recruits a papal bull was obtained, which recited that ‘the accursed race of the ancient Albigenses had risen in arms against the church and their sovereign,' and which, ‘in order to engage the faithful to exterminate the cursed race of heretics and sinners, enemies in all ages of God and of Caesar,’ offered plenary absolution to all who should join the holy militia formed for the extermination of the said heretics and rebels and should be killed in the combat.
In addition to these resources, lists were made by the priests of all the suspected persons in their parishes; the men named in them were sent to the galleys, and the wo. men and children to prison. This measure drove the able-bodied men into the ranks of the insurgents, and placed at their disposal all the resources which would have been required for the old and feeble.
When he considered that the time for more active operations had arrived, the marshal took counsel with Bâville and Julien. Julien was a very distinguished officer. He was a native of Orange, and by birth a Protestant, and had been a page to William III. He was now displaying all the hatred of a renegade against the adherents of his old faith. He was of opinion that the whole population was Camisard, the women more than the men, and the little children more than the women. That therefore the best plan would be to burn all the villages, and kill all the inhabitants. In this view he was supported by Montrevel and the Bishops. Bāville agreed to the destruction of the towns, but thought it advisable to allow the inhabitants to leave them : but the clergy, and Julien, supported their former opinion, calling the attention of Báville to the fact, that it would exhaust the troops to destroy nearly 500 villages in the winter time, and that the nobles and clergy would take amiss the destruction of the chateaux and convents; that these objections did not apply to the proposed course of killing the population, which would be at once more expeditious and more popular. Băville, however, overcame their opposition; his plans were adopted, and, on the 14th September, 1703, a decree appeared, calling out all the militia of the Gévaudan to destroy, and if necessary to burn, all the villages in the Hautes Cevennes, a district sixty miles long by about thirty broad; and appointing certain towns of refuge, to which the inhabitants were ordered to remove themselves.
Thus far neither the military genius of Cavallier, nor the foresight and constancy of Roland, had been able to invest the rebellion with the character of civil war. Notwithstanding the resources which they had organised, and the victories which they had gained, they had not shown themselves equal to the task of giving a political direction to the revolt. A new ally now joined them, who seemed to be distinguished by the very qualities in which they were deficient. To the west of the Cevennes lies the Rouergue. [The original edition of the Memoirs of the Marquis de Guiscard, with some other curious matters relating to the war of the Cevennes, has been published in the 11th volume of the ‘Archives Curieuses de l’Histoire de France, par Cimber et Danjou.’] It was surrounded on all sides by provinces full of Protestants or nouveaux convertis, and was altogether drained of troops and militia. The most conspicuous person in it was Antoine de Labourlie de Guiscard, the youngest son of the Marquis Labourlie de Guiscard, formerly under tutor of Louis XIV. His early life had not been creditable, and, both from personal and political feeling, he bitterly hated the king. Aware of the discontents which had been produced by excessive taxation, and the suppression of local privileges, he had watched the growth and progress of the revolt of the Cevennes, with the hope of making it the means by which he might effect a revolution. From his old feudal castle of Vareilles, near Rhodez, he issued anonymous addresses to the Protestants, to the troops, and to the militia, pointing out to them the necessity for union between Protestants and Catholics, troops, militia, and insurgents, to put an end to the exorbitant taxation which was ruining the nation, to convoke a free meeting of the States General, and to crush the intolerance, which was oppressing alike the Protestants and the liberal Catholics. After denouncing the king as weak and superstitious, and the most ignorant of men, he concludes: ‘Our cause then is common, my dear brethren; we have one common oppressor. Let us cry Liberty! Liberty! Let us loudly demand free States General, such as they once were; and let our cruel Prince find himself abandoned by all his subjects at once.' Besides circulating these writings, Labourlie, under pretence of fearing an attack from the Camisards, fortified his castle and collected arms. He also communicated with 500 persons, who engaged to join him at a given time and place, in order to take possession of Rhodez and Milhau. They hoped to raise on the road the Protestants, the nouveaux convertis, and the Catholic malcontents, to join the Cevenols on the east, and to take possession of Montauban and Toulouse on the west. In short, Labourlie's plan was to give a political aspect to the insurrection, and to spread it over the whole of the South of France, from the Alps to the Ocean, resting, at both of the extreme points, on frontiers where the foreign powers, then allied against France, might assist him with supplies or by landing refugee regiments.
He had not as yet entered into direct communication with the Camisards for fear of compromising himself prematurely, but it is probable that Roland was aware of the fact that some movement in the Rouergue was in contemplation, and that he formed the determination, which during the winter he executed, of attempting, on the one side, to communicate with Admiral Shovel, then cruising in the Gulf of Lyons, and of sending forces, on the other, into the Rouergue.
Towards the end of September, 1703, the different schemes of Roland, Labourlie, and Bâville were ready for execution. Julien and the Comte du Peyre marched into the Cevennes, at the head of an overwhelming force, and destroyed far and wide every town, village, and human habitation, except the appointed towns of refuge, in the midst of the rains and frosts of approaching winter. The Camisards, feeling that they could not cope with the masses of troops concentrated in the mountains, threw themselves on the plain, mad with rage, and drunk with enthusiasm. They entered the villages shouting, ‘Kill! kill fire and sword Lord help us to slay the idolaters.’ The villages were burnt, the populations massacred, and, if we are to believe Elie Marion, Aiguevives took fire of itself, and consumed at their curses, as the captains of fifty and their fifties were consumed at the curse of Elijah. Through flaming villages, and churches whose God they defied to protect his people and his altars, Cavallier and his men pushed their way from the rugged hill tops of the Cevennes, to the long line of dreary swamps which border the French shores of the Mediterranean. The Camisards were in great force, and had with them 300 horses of the Delta of the Rhone, which still retain marks of the Arab blood introduced amongst them in the times of Languedocian independence. They hoped to communicate with the English fleet under Admiral Shovel, though they had no precise information as to its movements. Catinat had organized the cavalry, and Cavallier counted the hours which must elapse before the moment when he might load his horses with warlike stores, bring his convoy in safety to his strongholds, and, recruiting his army with as many men as he could equip, spread the insurrection through the Vivarias into Dauhiné, and through the Rouergue to the yrenees and the Atlantic ports. Admiral Shovel sent two ships, under Captain Harris, to within a short distance of Maguelonne, laden with the arms and money, which would enable the Camisards to try the experiment on which so much depended. As the short autumn evening closed in, the steeples and towers of Montpellier were crowded with anxious faces, turned towards the sea, and the heretic vessels which it bore. All night long the English look-outs swept with their glasses the long low line of sandbanks, which separates the tideless waters of the gulf from the dull lagoons which border them. And all night long the Camisard patrols, as they looked out to sea from the dikes and causeways, along which they marched, wondered at the strange lights swinging from the English topmasts, which they supposed to belong to lighthouses or to fishing boats. The English found no one to meet them; and the Camisards, owing to the vagueness of their information, did not understand the signals. When morning dawned, Harris stood out to sea without landing his stores, and the Camisards withdrew, leaving Montrevel, who arrived in furious haste from Alais, to line the coast with troops, and to remove the whole population beyond the reach of corruption or of invasion. The vigilance of Bâville had averted this danger. He arrested the agents charged to acquaint the Camisards with the English signals. One of them kept his secret, and was broken on the wheel at Alais. The other confessed under the torture, and saved his life and his enemies by his weakness. The danger from the English was over, but the danger from the conspiracy of the Rouergue was still impending. It was averted by the savage stupidity of Catinat, who was sent to command the auxiliary forces, and by Roland's want of precise information as to Labourlie's plans. Catinat not only came before Labourlie was ready, but, forgetting that his allies were mostly Catholics, he entered the towns with the cry of ‘Mort aux prétres’ he cut down crucifixes, he burnt churches, and, as might have been expected, his follies were soon brought to an end by a defeat, in which he lost all his men, and from which he contrived to regain the Cevennes with a single companion,
Labourlie was less imprudent, but equal. He had been so successful in his endeavours to make people believe that his preparations were directed against the Camisards, that the Lieutenant du Roi, the Comte de Pujol, having been warned of the existence of the conspiracy amongst the noblesse of the province, asked Labourlie himself to preside over a meeting which was convened to deliberate on the subject. The president with some rudeness called upon the Lieutenant du Roi's informant to explain himself. He did so with so much clearness that Labourlie perceived that he knew all the secrets of the conspiracy, except that he was not aware that the meeting which he was addressing was presided over by the head of it. Having discussed the measures which it would be necessary to take in order to frustrate the schemes of the man who presided over the discussion, the meeting separated, and Labourlie betook himself to England.
Henceforth the insurrection was confined within its own territories, and its defeat became a mere question of time. But its last were also its most formidable efforts. Cavallier wasted the whole plain of Languedoc with fire and sword, and after every new act of reprisals, offered up prayers, amidst the ruins of the villages which he burnt, that the king's heart might be turned from evil counsellors. This produced the recall of Julien from his devastation of the mountains to the defence of the plain, but as soon as he and part of his troops had evacuated the Cevennes, Roland and other Camisard chiefs attacked the troops who had been left, and Julien had to return more quickly than he had departed, abandoning the plain of Languedoc to Cavallier, who throughout the whole winter inflicted a series of humiliations upon the royal forces. The Marquis de Vergetot, with the regiment of Royal Comtois, and forty Irish officers, was defeated, at the Mas des Horts. The Marquis de Fimarçon, with the regiment of dragoons which bore his name, and a battalion of foot, was defeated at Nages. The Camisards were led to the charge by a prophetess eighteen years of age, who rushed to the assault armed with a dragoon sabre, and shouting, ‘Kill, kill! The sword of the Lord and of Gideon!’
The greatest of Cavallier's victories took place at Devois de Martignargues (devia Martis aggera). La Jonquière, with 500 or 600 marines, and some companies of dragoons, came upon the Protestants encamped behind a ravine. Cavallier's troop only was visible. He was posted across the road; Ravanel and Catinat were in ambush in the wings. ‘Courage, my men,’ cried La Jonquière; ‘here are the fellows who have given us all this trouble;' and with his dragoons in front, and his grenadiers in flank, he marched to the attack, and fired a volley. By Cavallier's orders his men threw themselves on their faces. Thinking that he had caused a prodigious slaughter, La Jonquière advanced confidently, but the Camisards sprang to their feet uninjured, and in a few minutes a storm of musket balls filled the ravine with a mass of men and horses wounded and dying. In the midst of the confusion the two wings appeared in the woods, and the dragoons, grenadiers, and marines were driven with a horrible slaughter over each other in the thickets in which they were entangled. The horse broke through the mêlée, and some of them escaped, but the marines lost 450 men, after inflicting upon their adversaries a loss of 12 wounded. Amidst the mass of bodies, a knot of 33 officers, a colonel, and a major, still continued to resist. They indignantly refused quarter, and were killed to a man.
The Marquis de Lalande was nearly as unfortunate as La Jonquière. Roland laid wait for him on the banks of the Gardon. From three sides at once huge rocks rolled down on his men from the cliff, ‘and above the roar of the musketry, the clash of the stones, and the cries of the conquered, rose the psalmody of the conquerors redoubled by the echoes.” They sang as usual the sixty-eighth psalm, ‘Let God arise and let his enemies be scattered.’
In the meantime Julien completed his operations in the Cevennes. Four hundred and sixty-six villages were laid waste, and a space of sixty miles in length by about thirty in breadth was filled with ruins, and deprived of all its inhabitants, except the few who could find refuge in caves and other hiding places. But in the meantime the defeats of La Jonquière and Lalande had overthrown the credit of Montrevel, and he was recalled. He determined to show the insurgents ‘how he took leave of his friends.’ Hearing that they were much elated at his recall, and meditated some great stroke, he circulated false reports as to the road which he meant to take. The reports reached Cavallier, who placed himself in a position either to surprise the town of Montpellier, or else to intercept the marshal. Montrevel suddenly left the road on which he had been travelling, and contrived to place himself, with 1800 men, in the rear, and to the north, of the Camisard leader. Colonel Grandval was in front of him to the south, other forces under Menou cut off his retreat to the west, and Lalande with about 5000 men was stationed at Alais, to intercept the fugitives. He was supported by the Camisards Noirs, or Catholic volunteers, under the Hermit La Fayolle. Thus Cavallier was surrounded by three corps, amounting to upwards of 6000 men, whilst his line of retreat was intercepted by as many more. The insurgent forces against whom this army was drawn out amounted to no more than 1200. They were, however, the best appointed body which the Camisards had ever brought into the field. Three hundred were cavalry under the command of Catinat. Fifty, splendidly dressed in scarlet, acted as a body guard to Cavallier. Amongst these were several English, men ‘driven by that passion for adventures which devours their countrymen.’ Cavallier himself wore a magnificent uniform, and rode a horse which had belonged to La Jonquière, the colonel of the regiment of marines which he had exterminated. It was on the 15th April 1704, that, after a long march, the troops lay down to rest near the mill of Langlade, about five miles from Nismes. Their repose was suddenly broken by the attack of Fimarçon's dragoons, but Catinat's cavalry had lain down with their arms passed through their bridle reins; they remounted, and chased the dragoons before them to the south. A regiment of foot, drawn up across the road, enabled the horse to rally, and forced Catinat, after a sharp skirmish, to retreat. He retired before his antagonists for a whole hour until he rejoined Cavallier. As the dragoons and infantry approached, the Camisards fell on their knees, and, for almost the last time, sang the psalm of battle, ‘Let God arise and let his enemies be scattered.’ On a hillock, Daniel Gui, the prophet and six prophetesses stood and prayed. As the enemy approached they advanced towards them, crying ‘Child of the devil, ground your arms’ — but Grandval charged with the foot, and ordered the dragoons to close in on the wings. His horse was shot dead. His men fell in all directions; suddenly troops were seen, advancing on the left, and on the rear of the Camisards. They were the troops of Montrevel. With a presence of mind, which marshal Villars afterwards declared to have been ‘worthy of Caesar,’ Cavallier ordered his men to wheel to the right, before the dragoons could surround them. Grandval charged with the bayonet, to stop his way, but none of them, says Cavallier, ‘came within a sword's length of us.’ Bursting through all obstacles, the Camisards crossed the ravine, and during their momentary respite, deliberated on the road to be taken. A countryman, who was either unlucky or treacherous, suggested the road to the west —to Nages. It was adopted, and the Camisards retreated for two miles, under the fire of a superior force, which they returned with great effect. In front of Nages the road was barred by Menou. They broke through his forces, and entered the town, but it was only to find new enemies; for the hills on the north, south, and west were occupied by fresh troops, whilst their pursuers were closing in from the east. It had been remarked by his followers, that Cavallier's head had been turned by his success. Danger restored to him all his presence of mind. Taking off his splendid dress, he put on the clothes of a common soldier, and told his men, shortly and emphatically, that if they lost heart they would be taken, and broken on the wheel. That their only chance was ‘to charge over those fellows’ bellies' (de passer sur le ventre à ces gens lä), and that they must close up and follow him. The men marched against their enemies with fixed bayonets, and the lines closed with a horrible shock. The soldiers stabbed, and struck each other. Cavallier himself was recognised: a dragoon burst through the mélée, and seized him. One of his guards cut the man's arm in half at the wrist, with a single blow. Another took his place; Cavallier shot him through the head. By such efforts the Camisards cleared the way; but behind the first line was a second, in the midst of which was a bridge over a brook, guarded by a squadron of dragoons. Catinat and Ravanel rallied the remains of the horse, and, charging the dragoons, swept across the bridge. In their retreat they forgot their leader, who was only rescued by the presence of mind of his brother—a child of ten years of age. The boy acted as his aid-de-camp, and rode by his side on a little pony, armed with pistols and a sword proportioned to his age. Seeing the danger, he threw himself and his horse across the bridge, presented a pistol at the men, and shouted: ‘Children of God, what are you about? Keep along the bank: charge the enemy: bring off my brother.’ Some of them returned and rescued their leader. Beyond the bridge lay a water meadow, where the fight was continued. Every ditch, and every tree, formed a cover. At last the Camisards passed the marsh and a second bridge, and took refuge under the shadow of the night in the wood of Cannes. For three miles south from Langlade to Vergèze, and for three miles west from Langlade to Nages, the roads were strewed with dead bodies. At Langlade, at Nages, and at the bridge behind Nages, they lay in heaps. No prisoners were taken. Montrevel's only trophies were seventy-two horses, four sumpter mules, and five drums, which had belonged to La Jonquière's corps. Each party lost about 500 men killed, but after six hours' fighting in the open field, against odds of nearly six to one, the insurgents effected their retreat through the midst of their enemies.
The great resources at the command of Montrevel enabled him to follow up this blow. Roland was defeated at Brenoux, on the day of the battle of Nages. Another body of insurgents was defeated at the same time at the Pont de Montvert, and Cavallier was overtaken in his retreat by Lalande, and suffered a second defeat at Euzet. This was in its consequences even more serious than the defeat of Nages; for, after the battle, his magazines and hospital were discovered in a cave, in a neighbouring forest. The soldiers knocked out the brains of the wounded men, Lalande burnt the village, killed the population, and re-entered Alais in triumph, with long rows of Camisards' ears spitted on the swords of his troops.
The recal of Montrevel coincided with the opening of the disastrous campaign of 1704. Marshal Villars would obviously have been the proper person to take the command of the army which was defeated at Blenheim; but his noisy ostentation had caused his great talents to be underrated, and his quarrel with the Elector of Bavaria had put him into a sort of semi-disgrace. The miscarriage of Montrevel afforded an escape from the alternative of not employing him at all, or giving him that appointment to which he was entitled. It was a happy thing for England, that Villars was not in the place of Tallard, for he was the very incarnation of the popular English notion of a Frenchman. Vain, noisy, and accustomed to act with as much courage and capacity as he usually attributed to himself in his conversation, he was one of the many people who refute the popular fallacy that every captain Bobadil is a coward. He knew that he was very able, and very brave, and was extremely fond of telling other people that such was the case. Louis XIV. apologized for giving him so obscure a command, by assuring him that to pacify the Cevennes would do more service than to win three pitched battles on the frontier.
Impressed, as he says, with a conviction that the cruelty of the authorities was one of the principal causes of the obstinacy of the insurrection, Villars came to his government bent upon trying the effect of an opposite course of policy. In this resolution he was strongly confirmed by a Protestant noble, D'Aigalliers, who offered, on the part of himself and his fellow nobles, to negotiate if possible, to fight if necessary. Roland was overjoyed at the prospect of negotiation, hoping that he should gain time to reorganise his resources, for he had determined not to accept any other terms than the re-establishment of the Edict of Nantes. He accordingly deputed Cavallier to act as his plenipotentiary. Thus far nothing had occurred to diminish the brilliancy of his career. Whilst still a mere boy he had won battles, in spite of the superior numbers and discipline of the troops opposed to him. His defeats had been even more creditable to him than his victories, for they had enabled him to display almost unparalleled presence of mind and variety of resource. He was now to be subject to a different set of trials. He was, as he admits himself, entirely unfit for the office of Ambassador. D'Aigalliers, and the brigadier Lalande, flattered his vanity by promising that he should have the command of a regiment of Protestants, to be formed from the insurgents, and that the Protestants should be tolerated, or at any rate allowed to emigrate. But it was insinuated he must accept these proposals as matter of favour, in order to spare the king the humiliation of treating with a subject; and he was persuaded to write a letter to Villars, confessing in the humblest terms the error of which he had been guilty in revolting at all, and placing himself at the marshal's disposal. He did not perceive that, by writing such a letter, he put himself in the power of his correspondent, who could at any time ruin him in the eyes of his associates by producing it, and by disavowing the concessions in consideration of which it had been written, but which were not expressed in the letter itself, and that he might thus be reduced to accept whatever terms might be imposed upon him. [This is M. Peyrat's version of the negotiation, compiled from the Memoirs of Villars and Cavallier, and from the contemporary historians. We are inclined to believe it to be accurate, as M. Peyrat has followed the plan of embodying all which is told by either party in one narrative. The account of Villars is so much compressed as to be likely to mislead, but that of Cavallier is positively disingenuous.] Having obtained this letter, Villars admitted Cavallier to an interview with him at Nismes, to treat openly upon the conditions upon which the insurgents should submit. Thus he first made use of the point of honour as a means of extorting a written submission from his adversary, and then gave up the point of honour, in order to place him in a false position, and so reduce the insurgents to accept less favourable terms than they would otherwise have agreed to.
Cavallier entered Nismes with extraordinary pomp. ‘He wore a fawn-coloured gold-laced juste au corps, scarlet waistcoat and breeches, an ample muslin cravat, a hat with a broad brim, and a white plume.’ He was attended by his body guard, who kept off the crowd, and, when he arrived at the place of conference, he drew them up opposite the marshal's guard, ‘affecting an entire equality in all respects.’ The conference took place in the garden of a convent, where the theatre now stands. It was conducted by Cavallier on one side, and Bâville and Villars on the other, and lasted two hours. Cavallier was reproached by Bâville for his insurrection. He answered sharply that Bâville's own cruelties were the cause of it. High words passed between them, but Villars interfered, telling Cavallier that it was with him that he was to treat. The conference between them ended by an agreement that Cavallier should put his demands into writing. The marshal was much struck by the young chief's appearance. ‘He was,’ says he, ‘only twenty-two' (he was only nineteen), ‘and looked eighteen. He was surprisingly firm and sensible.’ After the negotiations the negotiators continued some time in conversation upon the means by which the rebellion had been maintained: Cavallier's behaviour was during the conference singularly characteristic of the boyish vanity which, in him, mixed with so much that was great. ‘Le jeune Camisard affectait coquettement d'offrir souvent du tabac, et de regarder l'heure pour montrer sa riche tabatière, sa montre d'or, et une bague orneé d'une superbe emeraude.’ Shortly afterwards Cavallier put his demands into writing, and sent them to Villars. They were reduced into the form of a treaty, and signed by the Marshal and Bâville on one part, and Cavallier and Daniel Gui the prophet (called Daniel Billard), on the other part. The principal articles were, liberty of conscience, on condition that the Protestants should build no temples; the release of Protestant prisoners from the galleys; the return of the refugees; and the formation of a Camisard regiment of 2000 men, of which Cavallier was to be colonel. Cautionary towns had been demanded, but were refused. Cavallier felt that without them he had no security for the performance of the conditions, but, compromised as he was by the letter which he had written to Villars, he signed, saying that he knew that he should be disavowed by Roland and by his own followers.
This treaty is one of the most curious incidents in the history of the reign of Louis XIV. The absence of all security for its observance was a fatal objection to its acceptation. The Camisards would have entirely misconceived the character of the king if they had supposed that such a treaty would in any degree curb his policy. They were not in a condition to receive, nor was he in a condition to give, the guarantees which would have been necessary to make such an agreement binding. The re-establishment of the Edict of Nantes by such hands, and at such a period, was a mere dream. The nation had rejected Protestantism too emphatically, to be capable of any bonà fide toleration of it. Under the circumstances, the best policy of the Camisards would probably have been emigration. The government could have wished for nothing better than to supply the Protestant population of the Cevennes with the means of seeking those asylums which Holland, Prussia, and England eagerly offered to them.
Whatever might be Cavallier's conduct, Roland was neither to be seduced nor deceived. He refused to think so badly of his nation as to admit the belief that it was no longer worthy of his devotion. When emigration was earnestly pressed upon him by D'Aigalliers, he declared, that he would never emigrate; that Almighty God had planted him and his countrymen in Languedoc to dwell there, and that the king might exterminate them if he could, but that he should never expel them.
Villars thought that Cavallier would be able to induce his companions to follow his example, and assigned the town of Calvisson for their quarters until the complete execution of the treaty. The Camisards entered it to the number of 700 men. Their prayers and psalms gave immense scandal to the authorities. They wished the marshal to put a stop to them, but he wisely followed the advice of the Archbishop of Narbonne, ‘Bouchons nous les oreilles et finissons.’ After about a week, the interview between Roland and Cavallier, upon which Villars had counted, took place. Cavallier tried to prevail on his commander to accept the treaty. He refused, accompanying his refusal with bitter reproaches. ‘You are mad; you forget that I am your commander; you ought to die of shame. I will have nothing to do with you. You are a vile agent of the marshal; tell him that I will die sword in hand, or get the re-establishment of the Edict of Nantes.’ Cavallier returned to Nismes to inform the marshal of Roland's intractability. Villars bid him return to Calvisson, and see whether he could not bring over his troop; but he found that Ravanel had taken his command in his absence, and he was received with violent reproaches. The Camisard drums beat, and the troops marched for the Cevennes; Cavallier watched them as they passed, trying to bend their resolution alternately by threats and by entreaties. Some few turned back after him, but the rest followed Ravanel towards the mountains, brandishing their arms, and crying, ‘The sword of the Lord! the sword of the Lord! ' Cavallier retired sadly to the cottage of one Lacombe, to whose daughter he was to have been married, and wrote soon afterwards to put himself at the disposition of the marshal. Roland in the meantime recruited his troops, and replenished his stores. He fought an action at Pont de Montvert, in which neither party gained much advantage. It was the last action of the war of the Cevennes, and took place just two years after the insurrection had commenced, by the murder of Du Chayla at the same place.
Some days afterwards, Roland, with eight others, were surprised by fifty dragoons, at the Château de Castelnau. They had just time to mount their horses, but were soon overtaken. Roland took his stand under an old olive tree, and shot dead three of his assailants with three shots of his blunderbuss. He was just drawing the first of a row of pistols, which he carried, when he was himself shot through the heart. Three of his companions had already escaped. The other five threw themselves on his body and allowed themselves to be taken ‘like lambs.’ The dead body and the five prisoners were carried to Nismes; there throughout the whole of the 16th of August, the corpse, tied by the neck to a cart drawn by oxen, was dragged through the streets, amidst an immense crowd, amongst whom were Flèchier, and four other bishops. In the evening, the bishops assisted in the execution of the five prisoners, who, after having all their limbs broken in two places by the executioner, were left, stretched upon wheels, to die around the fire in which the body of their leader was consumed. The same day was fought the battle of Blenheim. We may appreciate the importance of the Camisard insurrection, if we consider what would have been the fate of that battle, if the army detained by Roland in the Cevennes, had been under the orders of Marshal Villars on the Danube.
The desertion of the most able, and the death of the best, of their leaders completely disorganised the Camisards. The leaders made their own terms, and one after another emigrated into Switzerland, accompanied by large or smaller parties of their followers. Ravanel alone swore solemnly that he would never leave Languedoc. He kept his oath. ‘The others descended from their mountains, and appeared before Villars, Bâville, the Bishops, and the furious populace of Nismes, bold, haughty, and indifferent.’ With all his pride, Villars could not but sympathise with their magnanimity and vigour. Flèchier saw in them nothing but ‘gueux, gens grossiers, malfaits et feroces.’
So ended the war of the Cevennes. If Cavallier had had as much constancy as his commander, it might, in the events which happened, have ended very differently. At the crisis which succeeded to the battle of Blenheim, even a small additional impetus might have produced extraordinary results. If the Camisards had held out a very few months longer, they would have thrown open the whole of the south of France from the Rhone to the Atlantic to a foreign invasion. Cavallier had been led to throw away a great opportunity by vanity and despondency. His vanity was gratified. Villars sent for him to Nismes, and presented him to his wife, who told him that she was very glad to see him there, as she should not have wished to fall in with him elsewhere. Sentinels were posted at the door of his lodgings, who served at once as a restraint on his freedom and as a guard of honour. It was necessary to clear the way when he walked out, and crowds collected to listen in the street, when he and his Camisards sang psalms. As he was unable to fulfil his engagement to form a Camisard regiment, he could not, according to the terms of the treaty, be sent to serve in Spain. The king therefore gave orders that he should be sent with his men to Macon, in Burgundy, there to wait for further directions.
In his memoirs, published more than twenty years afterwards, Cavallier gives a curiously naïve account of his journey. At Valence the bishop invited him to dinner, and asked him which of the Catholic dogmas were repugnant to his reason. Cavallier referred to transubstantiation, purgatory, &c.; whereupon the bishop quoted Ambrose and Jerome, and his opponent texts of Scripture, until the argument was concluded by the bishop's drinking to his guest's health and conversion. ‘At Lyons,’ says the memoirs, ‘we stayed a day, which gave me time to visit the famous castle of Pierre Encise, the beautiful church of St. John, and the celebrated clock, which is one of the wonders of the world. From Macon, Cavallier wrote to Chammillard, the minister of war, that he had important revelations to make to the king. He was accordingly sent for to Versailles.’ Although orders had been given to keep his journey a secret, it became known at Paris that he was in the town, and in the words of St. Simon, ‘le peuple était si avide de voir ce rebelle, que c'était scandaleux.’. He was what he had to tell him. Cavallier answered by describing the persecutions which had caused the revolt, contrary, as he declared, to the royal orders and intentions. He said that, if the promises made by Villars were kept, the Protestants would willingly serve in the army. At the reference to Villars' treaty Louis angrily forbad all mention of it. He then charged the Camisards with burning churches, killing priests, &c. Cavallier pleaded that what they had done was by way of reprisals, and referred in particular to the burning of the mill at Nismes. The king said he had never heard of that, and asked the minister what it meant. He replied that ‘it was only some set of vagabonds whom M. de Montrevel had punished. The interview ended by Cavallier's refusing to become a Catholic, on which he was dismissed with an admonition to behave better for the future.
Lavallé, a sort of king's messenger, showed the young general over Versailles. It being, says Cavallier, the day on which the Duchess of Burgundy first received company after the birth of the Duke of Brittany, ‘all the waterworks were set a-going, and the court in the utmost magnificence. I was astonished at the beauty of the place, which, after the woods and mountains I had been used to, seemed like an enchanted palace.’ From Versailles Cavallier returned to his men at Macon, whence they were ordered to march to Brissac near Colmar: but as he received warning that the king intended to immure him by a lettre de cachet, he found means to make his escape across the frontier into Switzerland, whence he crossed the Alps, and took service with the army of Prince Eugene in the north of Italy.
The interest of Cavallier's life ends where that of most men begins. He was not twenty when he left Languedoc, yet little remains to be told of his fortunes. He united the most romantic of careers with the least romantic of characters. Hard, keen, perfect master of himself and his resources, he went through one of the most marvellous series of adventure upon record, without, as far as we can tell, testifying, or even feeling, any kind of emotion whatever. Nothing could display his character in this particular more strongly than his behaviour to the Camisard prophets.
In the beginning of the year 1708, Cavallier, then in Spain, whither he had gone in command of a regiment formed of refugees was appealed to in a controversy, in which his name occupied the most prominent place. Amongst the persons who took shelter in England after the revolt of the Cevennes, were three men, named Durand Fage, Elie at last introduced to the king, who asked Marion, and Cavallier of Sauve. The last, by his own account, a cousin of Jean Cavallier. They began to spread abroad the most extraordinary stories as to the war of the Cevennes, and the miracles and prophecies of which it had been the occasion. According to their account, the leaders had either been themselves inspired in all that they had done, or had acted by the advice of inspired prophets, who told them when to march, when to refrain from marching, where to place sentinels, where to leave the camp unguarded, who were to be killed, who to escape, and who to be taken prisoners, in approaching actions. In these scenes Jean Cavallier had, it was asserted, borne a leading part. He had conducted worship, he had prophesied, he had received revelations, he had presided when miracles were publicly performed. In their retreats in London the Camisards attempted to renew the fanaticism which had been so powerful, and to re-enact the miracles which had been so frequent, in the Cevennes. For a considerable time they succeeded in attracting that kind of attention which usually rewards impostors. At last they, and one of their English disciples, John Lacy by name, published simultaneously the French account of the miracles of the Cevennes, entitled the ‘Théâtre Sacré, and its English edition, the ‘Cry from the Desert.’ This book consists of a string of wild stories of miracles, supposed to have been performed in the course of the insurrection by various historical persons. In itself it would have seemed to most English readers simply contemptible, but it is referred to by M. Peyrat and M. Martin as a valid historical document, and it is, as might have been expected, M. Eugène Sue's cheval de bataille. M. Peyrat quotes it on all occasions, speaking with mysterious reverence of ‘l’extase,’ and of the abnormal and transcendental energies which the soul displays under its influence. We do not, however, altogether reject the evidence of the ‘Théàtre Sacré.’ It agrees far too closely with the admissions of the Catholic authorities, with those of Cavallier himself, and with the recorded symptoms of other persons under a similar influence, such as the convulsionnaires thirty years later, and the somnambulists of our own day, to be entirely discarded.
In one of his declarations which we have already quoted, Cavallier goes on to say, ‘The many other surprising things which passed were only the pure zeal which these poor people had when they saw their holy religion, which they supposed to have been extinguished, born again. I say surprising, because persons who, without injustice to them, might be called idiots, prayed in a manner which could not be believed by those who did not see them.’ ‘J'ai vu,’ says Marshal Villars, ‘dans ce genre des choses que je n'aurais jamais crues, si elles nes'étaient passées sous mes yeux—une ville entière, dont toutes les femmes et les filles paraissaient possédées par le diable. Elles tremblaient, et prophétisaient publiquement dans les rues. Je fis arrêter vingt des plus méchantes, dont une eu la hardiesse de prophétiser durant une heure devant moi. Je la fis prendre pour l'exemple, and renfermer les autres dans les hôpitaux.’ He also says, ‘Jusque dans les prisons ils retournaient à leur fanatisme quand ils croyalent n'étre vus.’ The testimony of Brueys (the famous comic author converted by Bossuet from Protestantism) is somewhat similar. [His report upon the matter is published in the 11th vol. of the “Archives Curieuses sur l’Historie de France, par Cimber et Danjou.’] He was employed to investigate the subject on the first outbreak of fanaticism in Dauphiny. Though he asserts that the phenomena originated in the merest fraud, he distinctly admits that many of the prophets believed themselves to be inspired. Under these circumstances the evidence of the ‘Théâtre Sacré' may be admitted as to the habits and ways of thinking and speaking prevalent amongst the Camisards.
Nothing sets the shrewd, somewhat sceptical character of Cavallier in a clearer light, than his energetic disclaimer of any kind of supernatural power or agency. After passing through the midst of an indescribable outbreak of fanaticism, he retained a degree of coolness upon that as upon other subjects altogether extraordinary. The only passage in his memoirs which relates to this subject is very creditable to him. It shows that his keen sense, unassisted by any theological knowledge or speculation, had led him to the very conclusion to which most persons in our own time seem to have arrived upon the question of such miracles. ‘We owed our success,’ he writes, ‘to Divine Providence, who orders all things, and sustained us in our greatest calamities, working continual miracles in our favour; and amongst the rest it is very remarkable that sometimes we perceived our enemies so disheartened that they could not resist us though four to one in number. This I can say, that it was not by our valour that we overcame them, although their troops were all disciplined, and we but militia without order, but there was this difference between us, that we fought for the truth and our liberties, and they for a tyrant who had violated both human and divine laws against his faithful subjects.’ The miracle which most deeply impressed Cavallier was not any mere portent or prodigy, but the power which he believed to be given by God to truth and justice of enabling the weak to overcome the strong. It would have been well for himself and his followers if his other language and conduct had never belied this belief. Men who thought and wrote thus were no fanatics. Their language may have been ignorant and wild, but their conduct showed that what they understood by Divine Providence ordering all things was neither fanatical nor unintelligible.
From the period of the controversy with Marion and Fage, our notices of Cavallier are only occasional. He was employed on several occasions, with more or less distinction, under the Allies. His most remarkable exploit was at the battle of Almanza, where his regiment and one of the French regiments under Marshal Berwick, recognising each other, closed without firing and fought hand to hand with such desperate fury, that out of more than 1500 men of whom the two regiments were composed, less than 300 escaped. He was also sent on several expeditions which were intended to revive the insurrection of the Cevennes. All of them failed, after more or less bloodshed. The most important took place about a year after the death of Roland. A plot had been made, in which Ravanel and Catinat were the principal conspirators. They meant to put to death Bâville, to seize the other authorities, to raise a force of 10,000 men, to take possession of Montpellier and other towns on the Gulf of Lyons, and to give them up to the English. The conspiracy was discovered just in time to prevent its explosion, and the leaders in it were burnt alive, as it was thought that that ‘would take longer' than quartering them by horses, which had been originally intended. The pile, which was erected over night, was damped by the rain, and was composed of green wood; owing also to the favourable direction of the wind, Catinat lived along time, and suffered greatly. The execution of Ravanel was not so successful; he died quickly, and Bâville prevented the judges from tearing out his tongue with hot pincers.
Labourlie was concerned in this conspiracy. His fate is well known. Being detected in double treason to Queen Anne and Louis XIV., he stabbed Harley Lord Oxford with a pen-knife at the Council Board in Whitehall, and was himself mortally wounded by the other Privy councillors. After the peace Cavallier continued to live in England; he married Madle. Dunoyer of Nismes, and became by marriage, says M. Peyrat, ‘great grandson of the famous Calvinist professor Samuel Petit, nephew of the fathers Colin and Lachaise, the confessors of Henry IV. and Louis XIV., and almost the brother-in-law of Voltaire.' In 1726 he published the memoirs from which we have quoted so largely. They are severely criticised by M. Peyrat, who says that they are written as if the events he had passed through had seemed like a dream to him. It is true that the arrange. ment of the book is very bad, but the story is so intricate, and so broken up by petty details, as to require more education than Cavallier possessed to make it even intelligible. Some parts of it are shown by M. Peyrat's researches to be positively disingenuous. Such are his accounts of the negotiations with Villars, and the description of the organisation of the commissariat, and other resources of the insurgents, of which he takes the whole credit to himself, to the entire exclusion of Roland. The style is very characteristic in its shrewdness and energy, and in the curiously self-satisfied manner in which the story is told. He died in 1740. In the report sent by Marshal Villars to the French ministry upon the insurrection he is thus described:—
‘He is a peasant of the lowest class; he is not twenty, and looks only eighteen; he is short and not striking in his appearance, qualities necessary for the people, but he has surprising firmness and good sense. It is certain that, to keep his men under command, he often punished them capitally. I said to him yesterday, “Is it possible that, at your age, and without a long habit of command, you found no difficulty in frequently executing your own men?” “No, sir,” said he, “when it seemed to me just.” “But of whom did you make use to inflict the punishment?” “Any one to whom I gave the order. Nobody ever hesitated to obey my commands.” I think you will be surprised at this. He has made also many arrangements for his subsistence, and draws up his forces for action as well as well-educated officers could. I shall be fortunate if I can detach such a man from them.'Villars was not the only person who bore witness to Cavallier's genius. ‘I confess,’ says Malesherbes, ‘that this warrior who, never having served, found himself a great general by the gift of nature alone; this Camisard, who on one occasion dared to punish crime, in the presence of a ferocious troop, which subsisted only by means of similar crimes; this rude peasant, who, admitted into good society at the age of twenty, assumed its manners. and gained its love and esteem; this man who, accustomed to a life of excitement, might have been naturally intoxicated by his success, and yet had enough philosophy to enjoy, for thirtyfive years, a tranquil private life, appears to me one of the rarest characters transmitted to us by history.’ [Quoted in the Biographie Universelle, art. Cavallier.]
The remarks of Villars are the result of his personal observation, and as such are curious, and probably just, but we cannot agree with the panegyric of Malesherbes. Cavallier's reputation rests entirely on a single exploit achieved in very early youth. Most other persons of whom the same could be said, died whilst their reputation was still fresh, and before it had been tested by their subsequent career. Such was the case with Gaston de Foix, Joan of Arc, and Chatterton. Cavallier lived to be upwards of fifty years of age, and passed the last thirty years of his life in almost unbroken obscurity. It is true that circumstances did not favour his subsequent rise, as they had favoured his early distinction. He was a man of low birth, of few connexions, a refugee, and a soldier of fortune, in an age eminently aristocratic. It may seem strange at first sight that these circumstances should have overpowered the energies of one who had overcome difficulties so much more formidable. The qualities, however, which he displayed in his youth were remarkable rather for their intensity than for their rarity. The problems which a general, especially a guerilla chief, has to solve, are not usually above the capacity of very ordinary minds. The circumstances under which they are to be solved make the real difficulty of the solution. If all the facts which were before Wellington at Salamanca were laid before any ordinary person, and if he had ample time to consider the question, he might very possibly arrive at Wellington's conclusions; but not one man in a million would have arrived at them in a moment, in the midst of killed and wounded, under the fire of two armies, and oppressed by the consciousness of all the importance of the decision. It is like a sum, which any one can work out on paper, but hardly any one in his head. The coolness, self-possession, and decision necessary for such a purpose are often found in connexion with the highest intellectual capacity, but they by no means imply it. They are quite consistent with a narrow understanding, great ignorance, and the absence, not only of ambition, but of capacity for high and generous aims in life.
It is clear from his memoirs, if indeed he is responsible for more than their form, that Cavallier never supplied the deficiencies of his education. It is probable that he remained to the end of his life what the revolt of the Cevennes left him, a keen ready-witted, not over-scrupulous soldier of fortune. His character is not one to be loved. It does not even command admiration by extraordinary power. It affords an almost unique example of the precocious development of some elements of greatness. At nineteen Cavallier possessed a greater power of command, and more of the knowledge of human nature which that power implies, than most men acquire in a lifetime of authority. The war of La Vendée, in many respects analogous, to that of the Cevennes, affords no parallel to his career. Larochejaquelin and Lescure were supported by the feudal reverence of the peasantry, and the superiority of their education. The Camisards had no gentry to head them. They were men of a fiercer and more intractable temper than the Vendeans, and yet they obeyed their leaders so devotedly, that with far smaller forces, and opposed to much more disciplined enemies, they supported the war for a longer time, and brought it to a more favourable issue. Cavallier, in common with the other Camisards, was charged by the Catholics with cruelty. And, so far as the most bloody reprisals against person and property will justify the charge, it is no doubt true. But the government was quite as cruel as the rebels, and in one respect more cruel, for they tortured their prisoners, which the Camisards did not. It is to be remembered, however, that at this time, and long after, burning, breaking on the wheel, and quartering were recognised modes of execution in France; and that the application of torture, for purposes of evidence, was universal. Indeed, in capital causes, it was in some degree favourable to the prisoner, as it gave a man possessed of sufficient fortitude an additional chance of saving his life.
In some respects the Camisard discipline was very strict. Murder, robbing, and pillage were punished with death. Madame de Miramand, a Catholic lady, well known for her charities, having been murdered, by persons calling themselves Camisards, the neighbouring villages sent to Cavallier to justify themselves from participation in the crime. He sent out a party to arrest the murderers, who seem, however, to have expected to be rewarded. Four men were brought to him, of whom three were found guilty, and one acquitted. The three who were found guilty were shot, and their bodies were exposed on the road with a notification of the reason. Cavallier says that he would have punished them far more severely if he had had a single one of Bâville's army of executioners.
Cavallier's career is more interesting than his character; but the important position which he held in the revolt of the Cevennes, is a landmark in the history of French Protestantism. In the beginning of the eighteenth century the traditions of the great Huguenot wars were not extinct. The tradition of the effective administration of the Edict of Nantes was still fresh. Men remembered the time when the Huguenots had been the most important party in the State, and yet in the last struggle of that party for existence, it could find no better champions than a baker's apprentice and a vine-dresser. The proximate cause of the failure of the revolt was the desertion of Protestantism by the aristocracy. In devotion to their principles, in military talent, in courage, the Camisards might bear a comparison with any of their predecessors in the history of their religion. The foundations of a great party were there, but none of the materials for the superstructure. Their success and their failure are amongst the most remarkable of all illustrations of the strength and weakness of fanaticism. The question why the aristocracy deserted Protestantism would lead from our present subject. The causes lie deep in the character of the nation, and are, in all probability, only a part of the generic differences by which one type of character is distinguished from another.
Edinburgh Review, July 1856.