Wednesday 7 September 2022

The Vendée - La Chabotterie


While the soul of the Vendée is believed to rest at the Memorial of Les-Lucs-sur-Boulogne, its spirit is said to exude from La Chabotterie.  It is the most important site of memory in the département, since it is the place where Charette was taken after his capture, which event marked the end of the Vendée War of 1793.

The presence of the most famous general of the "Great War" haunts this modest, austere-looking manor house, even though he never resided there.  It is impossible to stifle one's emotions when contemplating the scullery table on which the "King of the Vendée" lay wounded, and where we was to spend one of his last nights before being executed by firing squad.  
Philippe de Villiers, quoted in the preface to the English guide to the Logis de la Chabotterie.

We started our second day in the Vendée at the Logis de la Chabotterie, a beautifully restored  manor house at Saint-Sulpice-le-Verdon, about 40 minutes drive south from Nantes.  It was in the nearby woods of La Chabotterie on 23rd March 1796 that Charette, the last of the Vendéan leaders, was finally arrested.  He was then held briefly in the house before being taken to Nantes for execution.

 As I soon realised,  the Logis, like Les Lucs, is a relatively recent addition to the top rank of  tourist attractions associated with the war in the Vendée.

In 1988 or 1989 when John Hayward visited, there was little to be seen on the site:

 Charette fought on till 1796, when he was run to ground in a wood with only thirty followers.  Wounded, he was taken to the neighbouring  Château de la Chabottière, where, if you can find someone to open the door, you can still see the bare kitchen with its stone floor where he was held prisoner.  [Hayward, In search of the French Revolution (1989), p.185]

The present restoration dates from 1992-93 and, once again, was the initiative of Philippe de Villiers.  Apart from a intimidatingly smart  restaurant, and the house itself, there is an extensive modern exhibition space on Charette, equipped with state of the art media technology.

After a sleepless night in a hot hotel room, I struggled to engage with this.  The sequence was confusing, my audio-guide seemed to have a will of its own, and the amount of information, relayed in both French and English was overwhelming.  Looking back, I remember mainly the cool animations - a creepy moving portrait of Charette and a 3D  rendering of LeBlant's Execution of Charette. Here is a video which dates from the opening of the Espace Charette in 2015.

The house itself has been impeccably restored and is (apparently) a fine example of a typical Bas-Poitivin Manor house:

The Logis de la Chabotterie follows the typical layout of a Bas Poitevan manor house, a complex comprising castle and small holding, which was widespread in the Vendée countryside between the 15th and 18th centuries.

Construction commenced in the late 15th century.  Around the courtyard of honour stood tightly packed farm buildings, servants' quarters and noble's house.  

In the early 17th century, major works were undertaken.  A tall four-floor pavilion erected on the corner henceforth flanked the Gothic manor house.  It was served by a fortified staircase pavilion dating from 1611, carrying over its bay facade an heraldic ecu of the armorial bearings of the Bourbon-Chabot family.  In the 19th century, a neo-Renaissance chapel was added to the building and, on the garden side, a tower was built to replace the former latrine tower.

In 1992-1993 the restoration and refurbishment works undertaken by the Vendée Conseil Général restored to the manor house much of its former appearance in the late 18th century. 

 The interior is just incredible; worthy of the Puy du Fou, but with real antiques.  I especially liked the  way 18th-century furnishings  have been added, but the structural features of the older house retained, just as they would have appeared two hundred-and-fifty years ago. 

Here in the kitchen, is the very table on which, we are assured, the wounded Charette was laid to have his wounds dressed.  Among the other rooms is one fitted out as a Republican campaign headquarters

Outside there is a well-tended formal garden and a small maze for the children.  

A kilometre round-trip takes you to the cross set up in 1911 to mark the spot where Charette was captured, where, once, large throngs of pilgrims gathered.  At the moment the steps along the route are marked out by a series of ten splendid cavasses by the local artist Gilles Scheid. 


Sites culturels du Département de la Vendée:  Logis de la Chabotterie

Website of Jean-Marie Borghino, "Les témoins du passé - Le Logis de Chabotterie", posted 01.09.2017.

"Voyage dans l'histoire du Château de la Chabotterie à Saint-Sulpice-le-Verdon"
PHystorique- Les Portes du Temps, post of 13.02.2021.

Maurice Bedon, "Les cartes postales anciennes et les guerres de Vendée",


The following account of Charette's arrest is translated from the writings of the historian Alain de Goué, who owned the Logis in the late 19th century.  

[By the end of February 1796] the Vendean general's situation had become more and more difficult.  He was tracked on all sides by the Republican forces...General Grigny reported, "Charette no longer tried to muster his troops, but only to evade us, which he did with surprising agility and speed, seconded by the absolute silence of the country people, who remained mute before our columns. Sometimes he would sleep in a farm close to our camps, sometimes he preferred to sleep in the woods; we would go straight to where we were assured he would be, but he invariably gave us the slip.  Our troops would come back tired and dispirited at having missed him."

Charette and the last of his companions-in-arms survived for a month in this way in the area around Saint-Sulpice.  On the evening of 22nd March, having avoided the Republican post at Saint-Philbert-de-Bouaine, he arrived, exhausted and soaked to the skin, at the farm of Jean Delhommeau in La Pellerinière, in the east of the commune of Les Lucs. That evening the curé of Mormaison  came with the promise of a ceasefire from Grigny and his aide-de-camp Guinet.   After a peaceful night, Charette was almost prepared to believe it. Just after seven the next morning, he was seated on a wooden bench enjoying a frugal meal of hardboiled eggs, when the alarm was given that a column of Blues was approaching from Rocheservière.  Charette gave instructions to let them pass.  However, it soon became clear that the column was hostile in intent.  Charette fled with his remaining forty-five men...

After an hour and a half of fruitless pursuit, the 4th Battalion of Hérault, commanded by J. Gauthier, lost all trace of the Royalists and set off in the wrong direction.  Charette believed he was safe.  Then at nine o'clock near the village of Guyonnière (Les Lucs) he ran into the Adjutant-General Valentin with 100 to 150 grenadiers from the demi-brigade of Les Vosges et Paris.

A skirmish ensured on a two kilometre stretch of the River La Rue between La Guyonnière and Le Sableau.  Charette lost two men under heavy gunfire.  The Royalists took refuge for a short time in the wood of La Tremblaye, but Valentin's snipers soon compelled them to leave.  The white panache that Charette wore on his hat attracted enemy bullets.  One of his soldiers,  Pfeiffer  a deserter from the 72nd regiment of the line, snatched the hat with its feathers.  He showed himself at the corner of the hedge and was immediately struck down.  This act of self-sacrifice gained Charette and his remaining thirty-five men enough time to escape.

They made for the Bois de l'Essart, a thick wood where they still had munitions concealed.  But now that Gauthier had raised the alarm, the hunt was on.  According to General Grigny, all the men in the guard posts and camps  "gave chase" .  At eleven thirty at the village of La Boulaye,  the Royalists ran into eighty men from the battalion "Le Vengeur" commanded by Dupuis.  But fortunately for Charette, the Republicans failed to recognise them.

The band was now thrown back towards La Chabotterie. They hurried past the farms of La Morinière et Le Fossé where they took a path through a small but dense  wood known as the Bois de la Chabotterie (sometimes Bois Commune).  They managed to reach the village of La Chevasse, where they had a bite to eat whilst a woman stood watch. They believed they were safe since the Bois de l'Essart was close by.

Meanwhile  Charette's great adversary, the Republican Lieutenant-General Travot,  had left La Pitière at six that morning to search the wood and surrounding countryside.  He was in command of a substantial force  -  mounted Chasseurs de la Vendée and the First Battalion of Chasseurs des Montagnes.  Their paths crossed when Travot arrived at the Château of La Chabotterie to eat and rest his troops.

Travot had seen the direction of their flight, but he also interrogated a local peasant, who gave him only vague information.  His infantry rushed in pursuit, whilst the cavalry went on ahead to cut off their retreat.

A new combat, the final one, began in the thickets and marshy meadow around the Bois de la Chabotterie.

At the first shots, the eighty grenadiers from the Vengeur detachment rushed to join Travot, who ordered part of cavalry to dismount and enter the wood.  He positioned his aide-de-camp Messager and Captain Vergèz, commander of the Chasseurs des Montagnes, in a field  near the path into the wood where they could keep watch on the entrance.  Other men concealed  themselves in the gorse.  Travot himself dismounted and ran to join the main body of his troops at the far end of the wood,  by La Chabotterie, where he hoped to catch Charette on his way out.

In fact most of of the Royalists were already out on the path.   Several were killed, others saved themselves with difficulty;  but there was no sign of Charette.

Then Travot remembered the ruse that the Vendean had employed a month earlier at Froidfond, when he had doubled back on himself.   The Republican general, followed by five of his Chasseurs, raced to rejoin his officers on the opposite side of the wood.  In so doing, he lost his hat with its tricolour plumes.

 Charette fought with an energy born of despair.

The Vendean general retreated with his men into the wood, but in his hurry and exhaustion he failed to negotiate the stile, which had its rungs reinforced by brambles and thorns,  as one still sees today in this part of the bocage.

His nearest companions rushed to help him up. He ordered his chaplain, the abbé Remaud, to abandon him and take the message to the comte d'Artois that he died "en chevalier français"  ".  He then mustered his strength and made towards Le Fossé and La Chabotterie, but,  finding the passage barred, he turned instead towards La Chevasse.

As soon as he entered the meadow of La Musse, with two or three companions,  he was spotted by Travot's sentry.  Vergèz, armed with four pistols and his sabre, dismounted and  - - barefoot because the heels of his shoes had stuck in the mud -  pounced on what seemed to be the leader of the little band...

He wounded Charette with a shot to the head and again in the right shoulder.  Charette tried to escape into the dense thicket, but failed to get past the branches that barred his way. Blinded by the blood in his eyes, his strength left him, and he fell unconscious between the two men who were still with him.

His faithful servant Bossard took him on his shoulders and tried to carry him away.  He was hit by a bullet and fell dead.  The chevalier Samuel de Lespinay de la Roche-d'Avau then took up the precious burden.  He attempted to drag him behind a  great ash tree.  He managed to kill the first soldier that approached, but soon he too was dead, slumped over the body of his chief.

"The oak of La Petite-Chevaise where General Charette was arrested during the war of the Vendée".  See Maurice Bedon, "Les cartes postales anciennes et les guerres de Vendée".  This view predates the installation of the memorial cross in 1911.  The oak tree replaced the original "cosse de frêne" - a pollarded "tadpole" ash tree highly characteristic of this area - which was inadvertently destroyed in 1871.

Charette's weakness was only temporarily, but, seated on the ground, weak through loss of blood, he did not attempt to flee.  Vergèz approached and with one blow of his sabre slashed his hand, and with another cut of three fingers of his left hand, and easily disarmed him.

He was hesitating over the coup de grâce, when the  Lieutenant-General arrived.  Travot held him down and demanded his name but Charette did not reply.  However, the chasseur Jannet-Bauduère recognised him.  Charette recognised Travot and made it clear that he would surrender only to him personally.  The supreme combat had lasted a quarter of an hour.

Charette was too weak to walk;  his three or four wounds were not mortal, but he was in severe pain;  his hands and  legs were also badly torn by gorse and thistles.  The Republican chasseurs promptly rigged up a makeshift stretcher from two guns and some branches.  This was soon abandoned and two grenadiers carried him on their shoulders in the midst of a triumphant procession,  making their way along the edge of the woods by the fields to the Château of  La Charbotterie.

The kitchen where Charette spent the first four hours of his capitivity
Illustration from Alain de Goué's book

The Blues deposited their burden in the room which served, then as now, as the kitchen.  It was a long, spacious room, with a beamed ceiling,  huge granite fireplace and windows with transoms and mullions. The oak table and benches were already 117 years old.  Such was Charette's first prison.

Under the watchful eyes of his conquerors, the Royalist general was laid near the hearth in order to dry his clothes, which were soaked from the mud of the woods and fields.  His wounds were washed and roughly bandaged with salt-water compresses;  he was given something to eat, and perhaps a glass of eau-de-vie to revive him. 

It is unanimously agreed that Travot, his officers and his soldiers showed a deep and admiring respect for the noble courage of the wounded hero.  Charette, for his part, acted the galant gentleman ....It was in the kitchen of the château, that Charette, in the style of the chevaliers of old France...offered to Travot his ceremonial sabre  which  was engraved, on one side,  "I will never surrender", and on the other "Given to Charette by England"....

Whilst Charette recovered his strength and talked with the Republican officers, the soldiers who occupied the garden and courtyards of the chateau shouted out cries of victory.  They forgot their fatigue, so great was their joy.  Travot, who wished them to celebrate his success, authorised them to search for provisions and prepare a feast.

The cellar of La Chabotterie, already poorly stocked, was soon emptied, and since there were no livestock in the stables, they went to the  dependent farm of La Morinière, and carried off a three year-old cow and four sheep. 

Charette, revived by a few hours of sleep, was able, at half-past four, to mount a horse and leave La Chabotterie.  The column took the road from La Morinière and Les Landes, crossed the town of Les Lucs and arrived at the château de Pont-de-Vie a little before seven in the evening.  There Charette asked for onion soup and slept peacefully whilst Travot wrote his reports.

The next day, the prisoner was taken to Angers via Montaigu, and thence to Nantes, where he was shot on the place Viarme, on 29th March shortly before five o'clock in the evening.

He gave the order to fire himself.   Placing his hand on his heart, he cried out to the execution squad: "Aim here.  This is where you hit a brave man!"

Alain de Goué,  Monographie de Saint-Sulpice-le-Verdon (1911). p.64-67

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