Sunday 2 October 2022

Bonchamps spares the Republican prisoners


Bonchamps "from a contemporary  portrait",
reproduced in Baguenier-Desormeaux,
Bonchamps et le passage de la Loire (1896)
We must not deceive ourselves; - we must not aim at worldly rewards - they would be below the purity of our motives and the sanctity of our cause.  We must not even aspire to human glory;  civil wars give not that.
Words of Bonchamps, reported in the Memoirs of his wife p.7-8.

The Retreat to Saint-Florent

On 17th October 1793 the Grande Armée Catholique et Royale attacked Republican troops at Cholet.  After a terrible battle that lasted thirty-six hours, the Republicans were left masters of the field.

The two Vendean generals, D'Elbée and Bonchamps, had both been seriously wounded.  They were evacuated from the battlefield in full view of their demoralised troops.  D'Elbée, despite sixteen wounds, was carried away by his brother-in-law Duhoux d'Hauterie on horseback.  The faithful soldiers of Bonchamps took turns to bear the stretcher of their beloved chief, who had been hit by grapeshot in the belly.  One of their number Louis Onillon, carried beside them the flag of the division of the Bords de la Loire (See Deniau, p. 57According to the eye-witness account of  Poirier de Beauvais, Bonchamps spent the night at Beaupréau, in the house of a Madame de Bonnet, arriving about nine o'clock in the evening. D'Elbee, who had preceded him there, was taken by ox-cart to a neighbouring farm and subsequently evacuated to Noirmoutier. Bonchamps too stayed only a short time in Beaupréau since by early  morning on the 18th October he was in Saint-Florent-le-Vieil, at the house of Mme Duval in the lower town.    

In the meantime, the defeated Vendean forces began to gather in Saint-Florent, where it had been Bonchamps intention to cross the Loire.  In the absence of the senior commanders, the marquis de Donnissan,  president of the Supreme Council,  took charge of operations and, seconded by the Chevalier des Essarts, sent orders to surrounding parishes to assemble. Estimates have it as many as sixty thousand ragged soldiers gathered in the town, with perhaps twenty thousand women and children.  With them arrived several thousand Republican prisoners under the guard of Cesbron d'Argonne, a fierce veteran of almost 60, until recently the royalist governor of Cholet. The prisoners were shut up in the Abbey buildings or assembled in the surrounding town. They clearly posed an acute dilemma, since they could neither be taken across the river, nor simply left behind to rejoin the enemy forces. The third alternative was clearly to kill them.

Debates in the Council

On the morning of 18th October the marquis de Donnissan, who had arrived from Beaupréau the previous night,  convened a general meeting  to determine the prisonners' fate.  It is not certain exactly who took part, but  the officers Bernard de Marigny, de Fleuriot and de Rorthais are documented.  The abbé Bernier was also present and  the wounded Lescure who lay on a  mattress, tended by his wife.  At first the majority resolved to slaughter the prisoners.  Lescure protested weakly but was not heard, and a deputation of alarmed townspeople was angrily dismissed. However, according to Mme de La Rochejaquelein, despite the angry resolution, no one had the stomach actually to give the order. 

In the town the situation remained ugly. According to eye-witnesses, the soldiers were maddened by defeat and angered by the wounding of their general.  Demands for the death of the prisoners echoed from all parts and Cesbron d'Argonne had brought up eleven cannons loaded with grapeshot  which were trained intimidatingly on the doors of the church . Behind them the men who had escorted the prisoners to Saint-Florent were drawn up in two ranks, with orders to shoot down those who escaped the fire of the guns.  These troops belonged to the Division of Bonchamps, many of whom were Prusssian and Austrian deserters from the Republican Germanic Legion , men with a particular reputation for ruthlessness - "les plus cruels ennemis, les plus inexorables bourreaux" (Mocquereau La Barrie)

Grace aux prisonniers, Bonchamps l'ordonne !... | Paris Musées   

In this engraving made for a work of 1816 - therefore much earlier than Degorge's iconic Death of Bonchamps -  the artist imagines the general delivering his order  in the open air; behind him is the church of Saint-Florent with the troops lined up ready to fire.

The consensus is that the situation was defused only by the decisive intervention of Bonchamps himself.  At the house of Mme Duval, with his officers gathered round him, Bonchamps had heard the verdict of the surgeon and knew that his situation was beyond hope.  However, when informed that Cesbron d'Argonne was about to use men of his own division to execute the prisoners, he protested violently and ordered that they  were to be spared.  Charles d'Auticamp, his cousin and aide-de-camp,  rode out with several other cavalry officers, had a drum beaten outside the church and repeated with great emotion the words of the dying general. "Grâce, grâce, sauvons les prisonniers, Bonchamps le veut. Bonchamps ordonne". (Deniau, p.79). The soldiers complied.

 According to the abbé Martin, who was at the bedside of the dying man, "M. de Bonchamps said that on no account must any captured enemy be killed. His wishes were respected".(ref)

How many prisoners were there?

Figures can be at best approximate. The consensus is somewhere between 4,000  (as claimed by Merlin de Thionville) and 7,000.  The official figure was 6,000.  Kléber wrote of  6,000 prisoners "spared by Bonchamps".  The same number was given by general Léchelle, who boasted that he himself had liberated the prisoners.   The editor of Kléber's memoirs, Henri Baguenier-Desormeaux, in his book of 1896, defends 4,000-6,000 as plausible. The Vendean army had taken very large numbers of captives, though many had already been liberated.  In April 1793 had d'Elbée returned large numbers after he captured Cholet; more were returned in June at Saumur.  At Fontenay, the Vendeans took 3,250 prisoners, one of whom had wounded Bonchamps.  However, they had simply cut their hair and made them swear an oath not to serve again against the Catholic and Royal Army.  The prisoners who were assembled at Saint-Florent  came principally from the Royalist depots at Mortagne, Cholet, Beaupréau and the surrounding area.  Some had been held since before the fall of Saumur on 9th June. The many actions which had been fought easily accounts for the numbers cited, even allowing for the prisoners left in Beaupréau, later liberated by Beaupuy and Westermann, which Kléber reckoned as more than 4,000 ( Baguenier-Desormeaux,  Bonchamps et le passage de la Loire, p.74-75)

Prisoners were held in the church and abbey buildings and outside over the esplanade; with more under guard in the hamlets and chateaux of the area, some several kilometres away.  It seems quite likely that, were it not for Bonchamps,  considerable casualties would have been inflicted, certainly among those held in the church.   

Among those spared was Pierre-Louis David, the father of the sculptor David d'Angers, who had been wounded and captured at the Battle of Torfou (19th September 1793).

The death of Bonchamps

Later in the day, on 18th October, Bonchamps rallied sufficiently to be taken across the Loire.  He was ferried by the fisherman René Bellion and brought ashore at the village of La Meilleraie, now part of Varades.  It was here, in the modest house of René's brother Jean, that Bonchamps died at a little after midnight. 

The "Maison Bonchamps" at Varades [Google maps]

Today the "Maison Bonchamps" still stands, and is used as an exhibition space, though there is some question mark over its future -  see the recent post from  Vendéens & Chouans. The house was partly rebuilt after being destroyed by fire in April 1793.  The roof was raised to make a room in the attic, but otherwise it retains its late 18th-century appearance, characterised by the massive external staircase.  Tradition has it that Bonchamps died in the space under this staircase, though in reality this seems too small to have accommodated him.

The commemorative plaque (to the right of the staircase)  was added by David d'Angers in 1825.

Bonchamps was initially buried, on the night of 18th-19th October 1793, in the cemetery at Varades  His remains were later exhumed and transported, first to Saint-Florent-La-Chapelle in 1817 and then in 1825 to their final resting place in the Abbey church at Saint-Florent (See Readings, below)

Grave of Bonchamps in the cemetery at Varades. 
The monument was initially erected in 1816, and was restored in 2016.

The Afterlife of the pardon

Bonchamps's act of clemency was to be the subject of much disagreement in the years which followed.   At various points in the 19th century, the reality of his intervention was challenged, most notably by the ardent Republican Benjamin Fillon in the 1860s.

Paradoxically, the initial sources for Bonchamps's action were almost entirely Republican. Vendean memorialists were either unaware of the episode or felt that it reflected badly on the Royalists as a whole. The marquise de La Rochejacquelein does not mention Bonchamps, whilst the 1802 history by Berthre de Bourniseaux  attributes the  pardon to Lescure. Le Bouvier-Desmortiers, the biographer of Charette, took pains to insist that Bonchamps was already dead, and that the pardon was the collective decision of the Vendean Council.

On the Republican side, Bonchamps's intervention was acknowledged at the time by Kléber and the general staff of the armies of the West , but there was at first no public commemoration. "This unfortunate action must be consigned to oblivion", wrote Merlin de Thionville.  Generals and deputies felt free to rewrite history - Léchelle even claimed the credit for the liberation himself.  Thus the memory was transmitted principally by the liberated soldiers themselves.  In 1794 one of their number, the Nantes businessman Pierre Haudaudine, the "Regulus Nantais", submitted to the Convention a formal declaration of gratitude from eleven former captives in order to save Bonchamps's widow from execution.  

Copy of the petition of Haudaudine to the Convention, from the local museum at Saint-Florent, exhibited in 2019. [Vendéen & Chouans, post of 27.04.2019.]

The later 1790s and 1800s saw a more generalised recognition, particularly among Republicans critical of the excesses of the Terror.  In Les brigands démasqués (1796), the former general-de-brigade, Auguste Thévenet ("Danican") attacked the cruelties of the campaign in the Vendée, and noted that 4,000 to 5,000 soldiers owned their life to Bonchamps's "sublime trait of humanity" (p.77).  (Danican. Les brigands démasqués (1796), p.77 [On Google Books].  Alphonse de Beauchamp, a functionary of the Ministry of Police, in his history of the Vendée published in 1806, glorified Bonchamps's command "from the gates of the tomb" (Vol. 1, p.368-8)  [On Google Books]

According to Anne Rolland-Boulestreau, the first major "monument" to Bonchamps's heroism, was the biography by Pierre-Marie Chauveau, medical officer-in-chief of the Paris National Guard, and curé of La-Chapelle-Saint-Florent, which was published in 1817.  Chauveau supplied an appendix of twelve "pièces justificatives" including formal eyewitness accounts by Bonchamps's former companions-in-arms and by his confessor the abbé Martin.   The work was the immediate prelude to Louis XVIII's consent to the erection of a commemorative monument.

Pierre-Marie Chauveau, Vie de Charles-Melchior-Artus, marquis de Bonchamps, général vendéen  (1817) [ Google Books ]
Alfred Lallié, "La Grande Armée Vendéenne et les prisonniers de Saint-Florent-le-Vieil", Revue de Bretagne de de Vendée, 1868, p.7-19 [Google Books]
Albert Lemarchand, Bonchamps et les prisonniers républicains de Saint-Florent-le-Vieil (1867)[Google Books ]
Félix Deniau, Histoire de la Vendée d'après des documents nouveaux et inédit, vol.3 (1878) [Google Books]
Bertrand Poirier de Beauvais, Mémoires inedits (1893)
H. Baguenier-Desormeaux, Bonchamps et le passage de la Loire (1896) p.71-80.   [ Google Books]
A.Velasque, "Haudaudine et Bonchamps",  Revue du Bas Poitou, 27 (1914), p.23-40.
[Archives départementales de la Vendée (]

Béronique Boidard, Anne Rolland-Boulestreau et al., Après la guerre: Bonchamps par David d’Angers (2019) . Publication of Les Anneaux de la Mémoire  to accompany the exhibition Bonchamps par David d’Angers.  Reviewed by Valérie Manac'h, La Cliothèque, 23.07.2019.


Formal statements collected by Chauveau in 1817

We the undersigned, officers and soldiers of the Royal Army of the Vendée, under the command of M. le marquis de Bonchamps, certify that, to our knowledge,  in 1793, after the Battle of Cholet, we had with us five thousand Republican prisoners, who were shut inside the abbey of the Benedictines in Saint-Florent.  Angered by the mortal wound of our general, who was about to breathe his last, the soldiers wanted to kill the prisoners shut in the abbey.  Cannons were already trained on the building, when Bonchamps was asked what he wanted to do.  He replied that he had only one favour to ask his soldiers before he died, that they free the prisoners without doing them harm.  All the Vendeans hurried to obey the command of their general, and the prisoners were immediately set at liberty.  We swear on our honour the truth of this declaration.  
Declaration of surviving officers and men of the Vendean army, dated 4th June 1817.
Chauveau, Vie de Bonchamps, "Pièces justificatives", No.III  p.276-7.
 On the 18th October 1793,  M. le marquis de Bonchamps, commander-in-chief of the Royal Vendean Army of Anjou, was in the house of Duval, in a room overlooking the road.  He received an officer from another division, who told him that there were five to six thousand Republican prisoners shut in the abbey, who in two hours' time would be our enemies; that we must be rid of them and shoot them.  M. de Bonchamps said that on no account must any captured enemy be killed.  His wishes were respected.  Shortly afterwards, he crossed the Loire and died the same day in the village of La Meilleraie in the commune of Varades in Brittany.  I, the undersigned, then Intendant of the army of Bonchamps, now curé of Montrevault in Anjou, declare, on my conscience and honour, that I heard these words of M. de Bonchamps, and was an eye-witness to the facts reported above. 
Declaration of the abbé Mathurin Joseph Martin, curé of Montrevault, dated 5th June 1817.
Chauveau, Vie de Bonchamps, "Pièces justificatives", No.VIII, p.282.

From the Memoirs of Madame de Bonchamps

.... It was in this fatal moment that M. de Bonchamps received a mortal wound in his body, and he fell bathed in his blood.  M. Piron succeeded in making his way, and bearing off my husband, preserved him at least from the horror of falling into the hands of his ferocious enemies, who shot all their prisoners -  he was placed on a litter. At this sight the Vendeans resumed all their courage to escort and protect him: they toiled round him, carrying his litter by turns, for five leagues, in spite of the pursuit of the Republicans. They deposited him at Saint-Florent, where five thousand prisoners were then confined in the church. Religion had as yet preserved the Vendeans from the crime of sanguinary reprisals.  They had always, as I have already said, generously treated the Republicans - but when they were informed that my unfortunate husband was mortally wounded, their fury equalled their despair, and they vowed the death of their prisoners. During this time, M. de Bonchamps had been conveyed to the house of Madame Duval, in the lower part of the town. All the officers of his army knelt around the mattress upon which he was extended, waiting with the most fearful anxiety the decision of the surgeon. The wound was so severe that it left no hope. M. de Bonchamps read the coming event in the gloomy sadness of every countenance: he endeavoured to calm the grief of his officers - he afterwards demanded with intense anxiety that the last orders which he might give should be executed, and he then required that their lives should be spared to the prisoners confined in the abbey. Turning to M. d'Autichamp, one of the officers of his army that be loved the best, be added, My friend, this is unquestionably the last order that I shall give you - assure me that it shall be executed."

The order of M. de Bonchamps, given on his deathbed, produced all the effect that was to have been expected from it. Hardly was it known by the soldiery, than they cried on all sides—"Grace! Grace! Bonchamps l'ordonne"; and the prisoners were saved.

 A favourable symptom affording some hope, my husband availed himself of it to quit Saint-Florent. He caused himself to be carried to the village of La Meilleraie, where, in a fisherman's cottage, feeling his end approaching, he occupied himself with the duties of religion alone.  In his last moments he had the happiness to be assisted by two venerable ecclesiastics, MM, Courgeon and Martin - he listened to their exhortations not only with courage but with rapture.  They promised him those heavenly rewards which are laid up for those who have earned them by the purity of their lives, the fulfilment of their duties, and their fidelity to their obligations.   After this discourse, M. de Bonchamps, lifting his eyes and his hands towards heaven, said, with a voice yet firm, "Yes, I dare rely on the supreme mercy.  I have not acted from a sentiment of pride, nor from a wish to gather a reputation which perishes in eternity.  I have not fought for human glory......" All the persons who listened to M. de Bonchamps melted into tears.  His faith, his affecting fervour, diffused into every heart the sentiments with which he was penetrated.  M. de Bonchamps repeated several times that the pardon of the prisoners had been promised him, and that he depended upon it.  After having received with an angelic piety the succours of religion, he expired in the arms of MM Courgeon and Martin. 
Memoirs of the Marchioness de Bonchamps, ed. the comtesse de Genlis (1823; English translation) p.77-82. [On Google Books]

From the Memoirs of Mme de La Rochejaquelein: 

They had brought to St Florent five thousand Republican prisoners.  M. Cesbron d'Argogne, an old chevalier of St. Louis and commandant of Cholet, had conducted them.  He was a severe man, and had nine of them shot on the road for trying to escape.  However, they could not be dragged further, nor taken across the river.  The officers deliberated on the fate of these prisoners.  I was present; M. de Lescure lay on a mattress and I attended him:  everyone agreed, at first, that the prisoners should be shot on the spot.  M. de Lescure said to me in a feeble voice that was not heard, "What a horror!"  But when it came to giving the order and killing these unfortunate men, no one wanted to take responsibility, not even M. de Marigny.   Some said that such awful butchery was beyond their strength, others that they did not want to become executioners.  Others added that these poor men, who had been prisoners for four months, were not responsible for the crimes of the Republicans;  such a massacre would only redouble the rage of the patriots who henceforth would not spare the lives of anyone left living in the Vendée...Finally it was decided to give them their freedom.   M. de Lescure took no part in these deliberations.  Only I heard him murmur, "Ah, now I can breathe easy!".
Mémoires de Madame la marquise de La Rochejaquelein (6th ed, 1848) p.297-298 [On Google Books]
There are slight variations between the different editions of Mme de La Rochejaquelein's text.  The reference to Lescure's protest seems to have been a later addition, perhaps introduced by her editor Prosper de Brabante, who wanted to make explicit the collective rejection of violence by the Royalist leadership.  However in a footnote to this edition Mme de La Rochjaquelein refers to Chauveau's biography of 1817, and says, straightforwardly, that she had been unaware of Bonchamps' intervention due to the disorder of the moment.

Republican reports from October 1793

 In the night of 18th-19th October, Kléber sent a party to Saint-Florent-le-Vieil from Beaupréau, under the command of Captain Hauteville of the Légion des Francs.  Kléber testifies that this officer found in the town "six thousand Republican prisoners who informed him they had been saved by the dying Bonchamps." 
Kléber en Vendée (1793-1794), ed. H. Baguenier-Desormeaux, p.229. |

Bonchamps had only a few hours to live.  The cowardly enemies of our nation, spared, so it is said, more than four thousand of our men, whom they held prisoner.  Some allowed themselves to be touched by this INCREDIBLE HYPOCRISY.  I addressed them and they soon understood that they did not owe any gratitude to the brigands...that they would do well not to breathe a word concerning such an indignity.  Free men do not owe their lives to slaves! That is not Revolutionary.  This unfortunate action must be consigned to oblivion; it should not be spoken of, even to the Convention.  THE BRIGANDS HAVE NO TIME TO WRITE JOURNALS; this will soon be forgotten like so much else!
Report of the Representative Merlin de Thionville to the Committee of Public Safety, dated 19th October.
Quoted in Eugene Veuillot, Les guerres de Vendée et de Bretagne 1790-1833 (1847) p.188.

In their report of 21st October the Representatives of the Convention attributed to themselves the liberation of the prisoners. However, Pierre-René Choudieu later privately acknowledged Bonchamps's part: 
Before crossing the Loire, the Royalists, exasperated by the great losses they had suffered, wanted to slaughter the numerous prisoners that they held at Saint-Florent.  Bonchamps brought honour to his dying moments; he gathered his failing strength to order them not to dishonour themselves by such an action, and he was obeyed.  I am pleased here to give him justice for his outstanding action.  Brave men do not assassinate their enemies when they are disarmed.
Mémoires et notes de Choudieu - manuscript published in 1897. 

Accounts by the Prisoners

We the undersigned, inhabitants of Nantes, attest, that being among the Republican prisoners...we owe our salvation at that fatal time, to the noble and generous character of M. de Bonchamps, one of the generals of the Army of the Vendée. A few moments before his death, he managed, through his exhortations, to curb the fury of his troops, and to forbid them absolutely to take the life of the prisoners, whose sacrifice they had determined upon.
Signed Hardaudine, Painparay, J. B. Maucomble, F. Marrion.  Dated 2nd July 1817.
Chauveau, Vie de Bonchamps, "Pièces justificatives", No.VI, p.279-800 

In his Souvenirs anecdotes of 1868, the doctor, Charles Pellarin, recalled that his father, a former Swiss guard, was among the Republican prisoners saved by Bonchamps. His experience had led him to applaud grand and generous acts on either side, and to condemn "assassins and brigands, under whatever flag they hide their crimes".
"Un souvenir du Pardon de Bonchamps" Vendéens & Chouans, post of 19.05.2020.

Memoirs of Mocquereau de La Barrie

The memoirs of the Republican prisoner, Mocquereau de La Barrie, published in 1882, were written as early as June 1794, and thus antedate Hardaudine's intervention on behalf of Mme de Bonchamps.  Mocquereau de La Barrie was taken prisoner after the Republican defeat at Vihiers on 18th July 1793, then transported to Vezins and Cholet.  His account shows that not all the prisoners were in fact held in the Abbey buildings. 
On the 18th October at seven in the morning we left for Saint-Florent, about a league-and-a-half away.  We soon arrived.  We passed huge numbers of caissons and a great seas of brigands, who were seething with rage.  We entered the church  and stayed there for half-hour whilst everything was evacuated.  There remained with us only our guard;  which was more than sufficient.

We were then taken to a position across the park where we stayed for the rest of the day.  As we went through the town we saw 40 to 50 caissons, all of them empty.  We have since learned that the brigands had thrown all their munitions into the water, together with a large number of cannon.  We witnessed the evacuation of a considerable number of Vendeans, who were able to cross the river with their feet almost dry using winding route that they had discovered.

[After many hours a commander arrived, almost certainly d'Autichamps, who had just announced  Bonchamps's pardon to those held captive in the church;  he now made a futile attempt to rally this set of prisoners to follow him across the Loire.] 
The guard thinned out imperceptibly. They had followed the main body of the army and we had not noticed.  One of the chieftains of the brigands passed  among us on horseback, crying: Vive le Roi!  Some of us repeated the exclamation, so repugnant to our hearts.  Then said he:,"You shout Vive le Roi with me;  if this is sentiment is genuine, show it.  If you love me, follow me." No-one was tempted to march after him.

At six in the evening La Barrie and some of his companionswere rescued by a townsman of Republican sympathies, who informed them that they had narrowly escaped death:
My friends, he said, no doubt you are unaware of the danger you ran this morning? I will give you the details. I was eye-witness to all that happened.  The Conseil supérieur of Châtillon, which had been forced to evacuate, took refuge in this town as the last stronghold of the Vendée.  This was yesterday evening; and this morning at six o'clock, a general meeting was held. The question was raised as to what to do with the prisoners. An absolute majority voted for a general massacre; eleven cannons loaded with grapeshot, were trained on your passage, together with 1,500 well-armed brigands drawn up in two lines.  The plan was discovered.  The inhabitants of Saint-Florent met and decided to send their women and children to plead with these tigers. Patriotism, humanity and fear of Republican reprisals ...- all these motives dictated such a course of action.  Our women presented themselves in tears and threw themselves at the feet of these monsters... They received only the cold, barbarous reply that they must withdraw immediately or be shot themselves.....In the fighting at Beaupréa  the day before yesterday, several commanders of the brigands perished; Bonchamps, among others, was mortally wounded.  He expires as I speak.  He was transported here yesterday evening.  No doubt he learned this morning of the cruel fate that awaited you; scarcely had our women returned home, in despair, than he addressed an order to the army, approximately as follows:

"Comrades, until this day, which is my last, you have always obeyed me.  As your commander, I order you to pardon my prisoners.  If the orders of a dying leader no longer have any force, then I beg you in the name of humanity, and in the name of the God for whom you fight, to spare their lives.  Comrades, if you disregard my orders and my prayers, I declare that I will have myself taken into the midst of my prisoners and that your first bullets will strike me."
Mocquereau de La Barrie, Mes trois mois en prison dans la Vendée (1882), p.41ff. [Google Books]

The funeral of Bonchamps

From the Moniteur, October 1817:

Funeral ceremony, which took place at Saint-Florent, 18th October 1817, in which the remains of the Marquis de Bonchamps were provisionally transported to La Chapelle, the Sepulchre of his ancestors.

....The Count Arthur de Bouillé,  son-in-law of M. de Bonchamps,  had the remains of his father-in-law exhumed. On the 20th [October] these precious relics were taken from the commune of Varades to the church in La Chapelle-Saint-Florent, where they were provisionally deposited to await the erection of the monument which was to receive them forever.

At ten o'clock in the morning the procession which accompanied the coffin crossed the Loire and headed towards La Chapelle-Saint-Florent.  A detachment of the Legion of the Dordogne, garrisoned in Angers, several brigades of gendarmerie and a detachment of armed Vendeans, who served that day as National Guards, formed two columns.  An immense crowd of unarmed Vendeans - public magistrates, various officers, old men, women and children, made up the cortege.  It was headed by the comte Arthur de Bouillé.  Also present were the Viscount de Bonchamps, first cousin of the general; the Count Charles d'Autichamp, a peer and lieutenant-general; M. le Chevalier d'Audigné, a peer and major-general..; M. le Chevalier de Fleuriol etc. etc. 

The coffin was carried by old Vendeans, soldiers of the army of M. de Bonchamps. They were proud to have been victorious under his command; proud of scars earned in the service of the old monarchy, and proud too of the duty that had been entrusted to them.  Some of them had carried the dying Bonchamps when he crossed the Loire; involuntary tears betrayed the sad memory. The slow and silent march of the cortege; the sight of the fields of the Vendée, scenes of so much misfortune and so much glory; the memory of the general, his goodness, his popularity, his valour; the presence of these brave men whom he had so often led to victory, the rhythmic sounding of the drums, the sight of  the stations on the way where assistants invoked on their knees the blessing of heaven - all these lent to the august ceremony a solemn and sombre character, which was deeply moving.

When the procession arrived at the church, the coffin was placed in front of the altar.  A Mass for the Dead was sung.  The curé of Montrevault read the eulogy of the general....At the sound of the revered name of Bonchamps, and the evocation of their former exploits, the veterans assumed bold and proud postures; in these severe masculine figures one recognised once more the intrepid defenders of Throne and Altar...
Reproduced in Chauveau, Vie de Bonchamps (1817) p.250f.  The text of the funeral oration by the abbé Martin is also included.

 In 1825 the mayor of Saint-Florent, Claude-Louis Gazeau, was called upon to formally witness the deposition of Bonchamps's remains in the Abbey.  A copy of his procès-verbal was found inside the monument when it was moved from the sanctuary in 1890:

Procès-verbal of the transfer of Bonchamps' remains to the monument in the Church of Saint-Florent.  

Gazeau records that at six o'clock on the morning of 18th June 1825 the remains were transported from  chapel of the Cemetery of Chapelle Saint-Florent in a coffin carried by eight men and followed by the Mayor of La Chapelle.  Inside the Abbey church prayers were said, and the coffin opened in the presence of MM. the curés of La Chapelle and Le Marillais, M. Guérif, the mayor of La Chapelle and various other dignitaries. The bones of the late general de Bonchamp were taken out and placed in the monument by M. the curé of Le Marillais, acting for the curé of Saint-Florent.  The mason Louis Rabjeau, himself a veteran, immediately sealed the opening with  a stone, secured with quicklime.  M. le Comte de Bouillé added  a copy of Chauveau's biography.  

In 1890 when the monument was moved, the procès-verbal was discovered in a tube of glass.  It is recorded that the remains of Bonchamps consisted of the skull and some bones, including the feet still in their silk slippers.  Nearby the biography "by a doctor whose name was illegible", was almost totally eaten away by worms or mites. Everything was placed back inside the monument in a little oak casket. 
See the documents  reproduced in La Maraîchine Normande, post of 28.07.2013. 

No comments:

Post a Comment

Print Friendly and PDF