1902 Encyclopedia > Camisards


CAMISARDS was the name given to the peasantry of the Cévennes who, from 1702 to 1705 and for some years afterwards, carried on an organized military resistance to the dragonnades, or conversion by torture, death, and confiscation of property, by which, in the Huguenot districts of France, the revocation of the Edict of Nantes was attempted to be enforced. Court de Gébelin derives the word from camisade, a night attack (Hist, des troubles des Cévennes, 3 vols. 1760). Louvreleuil, in his Le Fanatisme Renouvelé, 1704, suggests its connection with the camise, or linen shirt, at one time worn by the insurgents as a uniform, and with camis, a road-runner. The Camisards were also called Barbets (or water-dogs, a term also applied to the Vaudois), Vagabonds, Assemblers (assemblée was the name given to the meeting or conventicle of Huguenots), Fanatics, and the Children of God. They belonged to that romance-speaking people of Gothic descent who took part in the earliest movements towards religious reform. It was in Languedoc that the Peace of God and the Truce of God were formed in the 11th century against the miseries of private war (Rudolph Glaber, iv. 5). There were preserved the forms of municipal freedom which nearly all Europe had lost ; and there commerce flourished without spoiling the thrift, the patience, the simplicity of the national character Not even the voluptuous court of Aries, with its trouvères, its courts of love, and its extravagant applications of the rules of chivalry, could corrupt the free and honest intelligence of these southern communities. Before the tragedy of the Albigenses began, it was a proverb in Languedoc against the stupid and sensual priesthood, " J'aimerais mieux être prêtre que d'avoir fait une telle chose." Although the rage of the Crusaders and the cold hate of the Dominicans were successful in blasting the commercial development of the district, they could not wholly eradicate those ideas which, whether called Paulician, Catharist, Bulgarian, Hussite, or Protestant, really represent religious sincerity and mental freedom. Calvin was warmly welcomed when he preached at Nîmes, Montpellier became the chief centre for the instruction of the Huguenot youth. But it was in the great triangular plateau of mountain called the Cévennes that, among the small farmers, the cloth and silk weavers, and vine dressers, Protestantism was most intense and universal. These people were and still are very poor, but they are intelligent and pious, and they add to the deep fervour of the Provençal character a gravity which is probably the result of their recorded history. From the lists of Huguenots sent from Languedoc to the galleys (1684 to 1762), we gather that the common type of physique is " belle taille, cheveux bruns, visage ovale." The diocese of Meude consists of 173 parishes, and contains the Bas Gévaudan and the Haut Gévaudan. The Haut Gévaudan consists of the Mountains la Marguerite and Aulrac ; the Bas Gévaudan embraces the Hautes Cévennes and the Lozère. In the midst of these mountains are three great plains or plateaux, called respectively L'Hôpital, L'Hos-pitalet, and La Cause, and a forest named Le Faux des Armes. Barley and chestnuts are the chief products of Gévaudan. The Basses Cévennes are in the richer diocese of Alais, which has 93 parishes. The chief mountains are Aigoal and Esperon, the latter enclosing a beautiful plateau named Hort-Dieu (God's Garden). The Vivarais lies in the diocese of Viviers, which has 314 parishes and 3 can-tons ; Boutières, Montagne, and Bas-Vivarais. Farther south are the well-cultivated dioceses of Uzes, Nîmes (called Little Canaan), and Montpellier, the last of which is con-nected with La Serrane, the southern branch of the Cévennes. The whole district of the war is thus contained in the modern departments of Lozère, Aveyron, Drôme, Ardèche, Gard, and Hérault.
To understand the war of these Camisards requires a glance at the preceding history of France. The system of toleration which was established under the Edict of Nantes, 13th April 1598, and the Edict of Grace (Nimes), July 1629, was essentially a political compromise, and not a recognition of the principle of religious equality. The right of having a private chapel was given to all seigneurs de fief haut justicier, but in the case of a seigneur sans haute justice only thirty persons might attend the service. New public churches were to be authorized at a certain rate in certain places. On the other hand, Calvinists were admitted to all public posts and to all professions ; they could publish books in towns where they had churches. The Chamber of the Edict was formed in the parliament of Paris for the impartial judgment of cases brought by Huguenots; and the " mi-partie," half-Catholic half-Protes-tant constitution, was adopted in the town-consulates and the local parliaments of the south. After the short-lived struggle between Louis XIII. and the Due de Rohan, the Huguenots settled down into contented industry; the army and navy of France were led by two Huguenots, Turenne and Duquesne, and Cardinal Bentivoglio wrote to Pope Paul IV. that he no longer found in France " quell' insano fervor di coscienza si radicato primo negli ugonotti." But the court in which Mme. de Maintenon had succeeded to Mme. de Montespan, where Louvois and the Jesuit Pere la Chaise were as supreme as Bossuet and Flechier in the church, could not long be satisfied with tolerated heresy, which they chose to consider as veiled rebellion.
On the death of Mazarin a commissioner had perambulated the kingdom to inquire into the titles, or rather to suppress as many as possible, of the Huguenot churches, schools, and cemeteries. The extirpation of heresy had, in fact, been provided for by a clause in the marriage-contract between Louis and Maria Theresa (1660), and in spite of the protection of Colbert, a policy was begun of destroying piece-meal the privileges of the dissenters. The chancellor Le Tellier, by a series of arbitrary council edicts, shut against them the public offices and the trade corporations, forbade them to marry with Catholics, and encouraged, almost enforced, the conversion of children who had reached the age of seven. The wholesale briberies of Pelisson, the destruction of churches by Foucault in Montauban, Beam, and Poitiers, the billeting of soldiers on the unconverted in Languedoc by the intendant Baville, led up the Edict of Revocation (18th October 1685). This edict directed all the churches to be destroyed, forbade religious meetings under pain of imprisonment and confiscation of goods, ordered all ministers or pastors (who would not change their faith) to be banished within fifteen days, and to stop preaching at once under pain of the galleys, promised several exemptions from taxes and increased salaries to converted ministers, sup-pressed all Huguenot schools, and directed all children to be baptized and brought up in the Catholic faith, pro-hibited all Huguenots, except ministers, from going abroad, and declared the property of those who had already gone to be forfeited unless they returned within four months. Such was the formal scheme. In carrying it into effect, Huguenot Bibles, Testaments, Psalters, and books of religious instruction were burned, and Huguenots were forbidden to hire themselves as artisans or as domestic servants. Torture, hanging, insults worse than death to women, the galleys for life, imprisonment for life in the Tour de la Constance, near Aiguesmortes, were the ordinary occurrences of the next sixty years. Many escaped to Geneva, Lausanne, Amsterdam, and London. It ia calculated that 600,000 French Protestants left their country in the twenty years following the revocation, and 400,000 in the twenty years preceding it (Smiles, The Huguenots in France, p. 17). Many suffered a shameful

conversion, but in the Cévennes the inhabitants were too poor to escape, and all over Languedoc began the secret meetings of the Church of the Desert. At last Louvois proposed that this rebellious district should be turned into an actual desert. The intendant Bâville and the Duc de Noailles raised an army 40,000 strong, and erected forts at Mmes, St Hippolyte, Alais, and Anduze. The peace of Ryswick (1697) facilitated these operations. The religious hysteria which now descended on the Cévennes has been traced (De l'Inspiration des Camisards, par Hippolyte Blanc, Paris, 1859) to Du Serre, an old Calvinist of Dieu-le-fit, who, in reading Jurieu's well-known book on the Fulfilment of the Prophecies, became suddenly inspired to preach and pray, and who about 1689 communi-cated his enthusiasm to the shepherdess La Belle Isabeau, and 500 or 600 other so-called prophets.
In 1700 this sacred fire again broke out in the person of a travelling dressmaker in Ardèche, and spread from the summits of the Lozère to the sea (Peyrat, Histoire des Pasteurs du Désert, i. 261). A woman (Isabel Vincent) was again the most exalted of the prophets. The Abbé du Chaila, a veteran Catholic missionary from Siam, had been appointed inspector of missions in the Cévennes. There he introduced the " squeezers " (which resembled the Scotch "boot"), and his systematic and refined cruelty at last broke the patience of his victims. His murder, on 23d July 1702, at Pont de Mont Vert, was the first blow in the war. It was planned by Esprit Séguier, the " Danton of the Cévennes," who at once began to carry out his idea of a general massacre of the Catholic priests. He soon fell, and was succeeded by Laporte, an old soldier, who, as his troop increased, assumed the title of the Colonel of the Children of God, and named his camp the " Camp of the Eternal." He used to lead his followers to the fight, singing Clement Marot's grand version of the 68th Psalm, " Que Dieu se montre seulement," to the music of Goudimal. Besides La Porte, the forest-ranger Castanet, the wool-carders Conderc and Mazel, the soldiers Catinat, Joany, and Bavenel were selected as captains,—all men whom the théomanie or prophetic malady had visited. But the most important figures are those of Boland, who afterwards issued the following extraordinary despatch to the inhabitants of St André :—" Nous, comte et seigneur Boland, généralissime des Protestants de France, nous ordonnons que vous ayez à congédier dans trois jours tous les prêtres et missionaires qui sont chez vous, sous peine d'être brûlés tout vifs, vous et eux" (Court, i. p. 219); and Jean Cavalier, the baker's boy, who, at the age of seven-teen, commanded the southern army of the Camisards, and who, after defeating successively Count de Broglie and three French marshals, Montrevel, Berwick, and Villars, made an honourable peace.1
Cavalier for nearly three years continued to direct the war. Regular taxes were raised, arsenals were formed in the great limestone caves of the district, the Catholic churches and their decorations were burned, and the clergy driven away Occasionally routed in regular engagements, the Camisards, through their desperate valour, and the rapidity of their movements in a country without good roads, were constantly successful in skirmishes, night attacks, and ambuscades. A force of 60,000 was now in the field against them ; among others, the Irish Brigade which had just returned from the persecutions of the
Vaudois. Montrevel adopted a policy of extermination, and 466 villages were burned in the Upper Cévennes alone, the population being for the most part put to the sword. The Pope, Clement XL, assisted in this glorious work by issuing a Bull against the " execrable race of the ancient Albigenses," and promising remission of sins to the holy militia which was now formed among the Catholic population, and was called the Florentines, Cadets of the Cross, or White Camisards. Villars, the victor of Hochstadt and Friedlingen, saw that conciliation was necessary ; he took advantage of the feeling of horror with which the quiet Protestants of Nîmes and other towns now regarded the war, and published an amnesty. In May 1704 a formal meeting between Cavalier and Villars took place at Nîmes. The result of the interview was that a document entitled Très humble requête des réformés du Languedoc au Roi was despatched to the court. The three leading requests for liberty of conscience and the right of assembly outside walled towns, for the liberation of those sentenced to prison or the galleys under the revocation, and for the restitution to the emigrants of their property and civil rights, were all granted,—the first on condition of no churches being built, and the third on condition of an oath of allegiance being taken. The greater part of the Camisard army under Roland, Ravenel, and Joany would not accept the terms which Cavalier had arranged. They insisted that the Edict of Nantes must be restored,—"point de paix, que nous n'ayons nos temples" They continued the war till January 1705, by which time all their leaders were either killed or dispersed.
In 1709 Mazel and Claris, with the aid of two preaching women, Marie Desubas and Elisabeth Catalon, made a serious effort to rekindle revolt in the Vivarais. In 1711 all opposition and all signs of the Reformed religion had disappeared. On 8th March 1715, by medals and a proclamation, Louis XIV. announced the entire extinction of heresy. Fourteen years afterwards, in spite of the strictest surveillance, aided by military occupation whenever the exigencies of foreign war permitted, the heroic missionary Antoine Court had organized 120 churches in Languedoc, which were attended by 200,000 Protestants, and governed secretly by the old discipline of "pasteur, anciens, consistoire, synode ; " the Society of Help for the Afflicted Faithful (to which George I. subscribed 500 guineas a year) had established their training college at Lausanne ; and during the next thirty years Paul Rabaut, minister at Nîmes, fostered and developed this religion, the child of intolerance. Voltaire's intervention in the affair of Calas stopped further religious persecution of an extreme kind ? but it was not till 1775 that the last galley slaves from Languedoc were liberated,^ and not till 1789 that, on the motion of Rabaut St Etienne, the son of Paul Rabaut, the National Assembly repealed the penal laws against Protestants. The sufferings of the Cévenols on the galleys (" Forçats pour la Foi," as they were called) have been described in the Mémoires de Marteilhe de Bergerac, Rotterdam, 1757 (translated into English by J. Willington, 1758, 2 vols.); in Bion's Relation des tourments que l'on fait souffrir aux Protestants sur les galères de France, London, 1 708 ; in the Discours sur la Providence, by Louis de Marolles, which is translated into English ; and in the Histoire de l'Honnête Criminel, the autobiography of Jean Fabre. M. Athanase Coquerel the younger published in 1866 an Historical Study on the subject.


What we know of the spiritual manifestations in the Cévennes (which much resembled those of the Swedish Kaestars of Smaland in 1844) is chiefly derived from Le Théâtre Sacré des Cévennes, London, 1707, reprinted at Paris in 1847 ; A Cry from the Desert, &c, by John Lacy, London, 1707; La clef des prophéties de M. Marion, London, 1707 ; Avertissements prophétiques d'Mie Marion, &c, London, 1707 About the date of these publications Marion, Durand Page, and Cavalier were in London. They tried to propagate their " mystical phalanx " there, but the consistory of the French church in the Savoy pronounced the " ecstasy " to be an assumed and voluntary habit. Voltaire relates (Siècle de Louis XIV., c. 36) that Marion wished to prove his inspiration by attempting to raise a dead body from St Paul's churchyard. He was at last compelled to leave England. The inspiration (of which there were four degrees, avertissement, souffle, prophétie, dons) was sometimes communicated by a kiss at the assembly. The patient, who had gone through several fasts three days in length, became pale and fell insensible to the ground. Then came violent agitations of the limbs and head, as Voltaire remarks, " quite according to the ancient custom of all nations, and the rules of madness transmitted from age to age " Finally the patient (who might be a little child, a woman, a half-witted person) began to speak in the good French of the Huguenot Bible words such as these : " Mes frères, amendez-vous, faites pénitence, la fin du monde approche ; le jugement général sera dans trois mois ; repentez-vous du grand péché que vous avez commis d'aller à la messe ; c'est le Saint-Esprit qui parle par ma bouche" (Histoire dm fanatisme de notre temps, par Brueys, Utrecht, 1737, vol. i. p. 153). The discourse might go on for two hours ; after which the patient could only express himself in his native patois,—a Bomance idiom,—and had no recollection of his " ecstasy." All kinds of miracles attended on the Camisards. Lights in the sky guided them to places of safety, voices sang encouragement to them, shots and wounds were often harmless. Those entranced fell from trees without hurting themselves ; they shed tears of blood ;. and they subsisted without food or speech for nine days. The supernatural was part of their life. Much literature has been devoted to the discussion of these marvels. The Catholics Fléchier (in his Lettres Choisies) and Brueys consider them the product of fasting and vanity, nourished on apocalyptic literature. The doctors Bertrand (in his Du Magnétisme Animal, Paris, 1826) and Calmeil (in his De la Folie, Paris, 1845) speak of mag-netism, hysteria, and epilepsy, a prophetic monomania based on belief in divine possession. The Protestants Peyrat and Court are content with the phrase " ecstasy," and do not invoke the supernatural. The Catholic Tories, such as M. Hippolyte Blanc, regard the whole thing as the work of the devil. Since the publication of Hecker's work on Epidemics of the Middle Ages, it has been possible to con-sider the subject in its true relations.
Although the Camisards were guilty of great cruelties in the prosecution of the war, there does not seem to be sufficient ground for the charge made by Marshal de Villars : " Le plupart de leurs chefs ont leurs demoiselles " (letter of 9th August 1704, in the War Archives, vol. 1797). There probably were many cases in which a vicious use was made of the opportunities afforded by war and religious excitement; but the charges of sexual immorality rest chiefly on the worthless statements of Louvreleuil. The standard works relating to the Camisards are,—Elie Benoît, Historié de VÉdit de Nantes ; C. Coquerel, Histoire des Eglises du Desert ; and the work of Court, already men-tioned.
Among the contemporary relics of this interesting period ought Ho be noticed Lettre sur l'État present des Églises reformées de
France, Au Desert, Chez Pierre le Sincère. The author proves
from the letter of Louis XIV. to the Elector of Brandenburg, 8th
September 1666, that the king admitted that the Huguenots were
loyal subjects, and had even given remarkable proofs of loyalty.
He contrasts the passivity of his friends with the political intrigues
of the Polish Socinians, and with the turbulence of the Swiss Ana-
baptists. Claude, in his Plainte des Protestans cruellement opprimés
dans le Royaume de France, Cologne, Chez Marteau, 1686, gives a
vivid picture of the persecution from the beginning. He mentions
the "Explications," or official glosses on the edicts, of which the Jesuit
Meynier was the most prolific author, one of which maintained that
the Edict of Nantes (contrary to its express terms) was confined to
Huguenots in life at its date ; another, that the phrase Petite École
did not include any school in which Latin was taught. He inveighs
against the duplicity of the Conseil, who professed sometimes to
blame, sometimes to encourage their intendants, and of the king,
who in his circulars to the clergy declared (down to the moment of
revocation) that he did not wish to interfere with the edicts.
Soulier in his History of the Edicts of Pacification, and Nicole in his
Protestants convicted of Schism, justified the royal policy from Scrip-
ture, history, and reason. Maimbourg in his History of Pope
Gregory, and Varillas in his History of Religious Revolutions in
Europe, praise Louis for using only the weapons of charity and per-
suasion. Translations of the narratives of John Bion, and of the
anonymous friend of the martyr Louis de Marolles, were published
together at London in 1712. The latter is dedicated to Heinsius,
Pensionary of Holland and West Eriesland, who had assisted the
refugee Camisards ; it is preceded by a violent preface, in which
the author, an English clergyman, points out how the position of
France has altered since the Peace of Eyswick, and urges the
English intervention to restore the Edict of Nantes. For the
politics of the subject he refers to The Interest of Europe with
respect to Peace or War, London, 1712. Bion's narrative contains
all the details about the galleys. The Complete History of the
Cevennes by a Doctor of the Civil Law, London, 1703, consists of an
account of the people and country by an Englishman who had
lately travelled there, and of a separate historical survey, descrip-
tion of the edicts, and political argument. The doctor also prints
the pretended Manifesto of the Cevennois to the Dauphin, and a
form of prayer used in the Camisard Assembly. The Memoirs
of Jean Cavalier are written in a very simple and picturesque
style. One object he had in writing was to contradict the state-
ments of Père Daniel. The Théâtre Sacré des Cevennes consists of the
depositions of twelve witnesses (including Marion, Fage, Cavalier,
Portales, Dubois) sworn on 6th March and 1st April 1707, before
John Edisbury and Sir Eichard Holford, both Masters in Chancery.
The Theatre also contains important extracts from the works of
Benoît, Brueys, Guiscard, and Boyer, and several original letters
from Camisards. The same desire to protect the refugees from the
attacks of the French Savoy Church in London, led to the publica-
tion of the Mélange de literature historique et critique sur tout ce qui
regarde l'état extraordinaire des Cévennois, London, 1707 ; and of a
full account of the proceedings in the Consistory and Assembly against
Jean Lions, one of the faithful ministers. The former contains
excerpts from a Dissertatio de justitia armorum Cebennorum by
Ernest Plane, Frankfort, 1704, which speculates about a supposed
Camisard medal, turning out afterwards to be a Swedish dollar ;
the letters C R S (which the German savant translated Christus Rex
Solus) meaning only Carolus Rex Sueciœ. (W. C. S.)


1 Cavalier afterwards entered the British army, fought at the battle of Almanza, and died governor of Jersey in 1740. He told Voltaire that the discipline of his troops was maintained by a prophetess, La Grande Marie, who condemned to death all insubordinates. Siècle de Louis XIV., c. 36. See also Memoirs of the Wars oftlie Cévennes, by Jean Uavalier, London, 1726 ; and the documents in Jean Cavalier, ou les Fanatiques des Cévennes, Paris, 1840, 4 vols.

There was an indecisive Edict of Toleration by Louis XVI. in 1787.

2 Voltaire procured the release of several Huguenot galley slaves, among others Chaumont, the shoemaker. After the treaty of Utrecht Queen Anne persuaded the French Government to free about 146 ; the total number was about 1500.

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