The ‘White’ Terror

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The ‘White’ Terror

General Hoche, mostly responsible for putting down the White Terror /

General Hoche, mostly responsible for putting down the White Terror /

In my fifty years in education I have found little evidence of this historical peculiarity being taught in schools and universities. Teachers have even put on a blank expression when I mention The White Terror, or worse, demand to know if I am inventing things. That ordinary French people should feel the need for revenge after years of ill treatment and worse from the French Revolutionaries and especially the Jacobins has proved too much for many educators. They spend hours and days explaining every detail about the first serious socialist revolution in History, but are not interested in an inevitable reaction, perhaps because it has nothing to do with Socialism but a great deal to do with Realism.

The Terror known as ‘White’ started in 1794 and lasted until the last years of the eighteenth century. It was an attack on those ex-terrorists who had done rather well out of the French Revolution. Apart from the actual leaders, most of whom had killed each other, millions of ordinary French people had taken advantage of the Fall of the Bastille, the Terror and the murder of the King and Queen to confront their enemies (or simply persons they hadn’t liked) in the name of the Revolution and take their properties and/or businesses as well as their lives.

The name suggests a Bourbon revival, because white was the Bourbon colour. But it was hardly a royalist movement at all. Most of those who took part did not wish for a return to the ancient regime or anything like it. But they did want revenge on those who had taken an active part in the Terror (q.v.); those who had confiscated Church lands; those who had become officials of the government.

The White Terror was not a universal movement in France. It broke out near the great river of the Loire, and in districts to the south of Lyon. In the capital it was enthusiastically joined by the younger generation in the form of progeny of murdered aristocrats and royalist politicians. Both sexes had a special emblem; long hair turned up at the back like people about to be guillotined. They were the Jeunesses Dorées, or gilded youth as left-wing writers described them. The aim of the youth, gilded or not in Paris was to find Jacobins and Sans-Culottes (q.v.) and beat them up. Few people were killed.

In Brittany however the White Terror was more in earnest. Under their leader Jean Cottereau a.k.a. ‘Chouar’ there were serious attacks and outrages, and the ‘Chouars’ gained control of most of the region. Here there were indeed royalist leaders, who sent embassies to Britain to try to gain British support. When the Chouans gathered at Quiberon they had amassed more than 3000 armed troops, and General Hoche, a Revolutionary appointee, who had been forewarned, surrounded them and killed around 700 before sweeping right across Brittany, eliminating Chouans.

In the south of France the White Terror did not make itself felt, though in the Rhône Valley there were massacres of townspeople considered by the new terrorists as those responsible for savage repression during the Federal Revolt: in 1793 the provinces revolted against the dominance of the Paris Commune, the Convention (revolutionary government) and The Committee(q.v.). In these districts prison massacres took place reminiscent of the September Massacres of 1792, but on this occasion the victims were the Jacobins. Many scores were settled, while a horrified Europe looked on. Around 2000 ex-Revolutionaries were killed and the slaughter continued throughout 1796 and for much of 1797.

By | 2013-08-03T10:55:55+00:00 August 3rd, 2013|French History, World History|1 Comment

About the Author:

‘Dean Swift’ is a pen name: the author has been a soldier; he has worked in sales, TV, the making of films, as a teacher of English and history and a journalist. He is married with three grown-up children. They live in Spain.

One Comment

  1. […] had totally been Robespierre’s buddies. Overall, the White Terror of Thermidor would claim 2,000 lives, far less than the actual terror, but still 1,999 more than was really necessary. (The 1 is […]

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