© RMN-Grand Palais / Thierry Le Mage
Publication date: March 2019
University of Evry-Val d'Essonne
The Galerne trip
In November 1793, the Vendée counter-revolutionaries met at the gates of Granville, a town they besieged with the aim of opening a bridge with England and the emigrants there. After the Cholet disaster on October 17, 1793, the heads of the Catholic and royal army decided to cross the Loire, with a cohort of "eighty thousand people, a large proportion of whom were women, old people and children. , [who] accomplish the most incomprehensible gesture of this so singular war ”(Alain Gérard).
This long column begins a journey called "Virée de la Galerne", under the authority of La Rochejaquelein and Stofflet. The city of Saint-Malo, strongly defended, is finally abandoned in favor of Granville.
On November 13, the Vendeans reached Avranches, a town that blocks the entrance to the bay of Mont-Saint-Michel. The group splits into two groups: the fighting troops move towards Granville in order to lay siege, while the families settle in Avranches. The route of the work before its acquisition in 2001 by the Museum of the French Revolution in Vizille is not known.
Whites vs. Blues
The two camps share the foreground of the canvas, with the Vendeans on the left third and the Republicans on the right. The city is controlled by a troop of five thousand soldiers installed inside the wall of the old city, a contingent much lower than the Vendéens, reinforced by the Chouans, that is to say approximately 25,000 combatants. In addition to its mighty fortifications, the city is naturally protected by a vast promontory which offers a dominant position, as suggested in the last plan.
The siege of the city is carried out in two assaults on November 14 and 15. Each time, the attackers are put in difficulty, because they do not have the material and the weapons necessary to attack such a stronghold. They find themselves under artillery fire which is evoked with a series of cannons and a cloud of smoke covering most of the work. The lower town was also engulfed in flames, in particular the rue des Juifs which leads to the rock and the main gate to the fortress. A few soldiers access the ramparts, but no major breakthrough is made and demobilization takes place quickly. In addition, the weather was unfavorable and the British help which did not come: the failure of the military campaign was total!
Granville, Acropolis of the Convention
The Granville episode is frequently depicted, on canvas or in engravings. The artist clearly follows a bias in portraying the event. Granville appears through a series of symbols that make this city an example in the defense of republican freedoms against the royalists.
The topography depicted is totally fanciful, which confirms that the author directs his message in one direction, without knowing the places. Granville is set up as a model of the ideal of the National Convention, in the manner of Athenian democracy. Indeed, the painter adorns his work with a neoclassical decor which is not unrelated to the work of other artists, such as Jean-Baptiste Regnault or Jacques-Louis David. The building depicted in the center of the painting includes columns and a pediment that are more reminiscent of the Propylaea of the Athenian Acropolis than the architecture of the Norman city, despite the caption "Granville" to guide the viewer. In front of this building, a long banner carries the revolutionary motto "Liberty or Death", in addition to a tricolor on the building at the top right. It is likely that the order came directly from the Montagnard Convention. The defense of the city is ensured by Generals Peyre and Vachot. The representative of power is the conventional Jean-Baptiste Lecarpentier who is perhaps the character represented in the center of the painting. Leaning on a lance, he seems to urge a series of extras, men, women and children who embody the resistance of the city. Some are depicted half-naked and dressed in the antique style. In the background, an injured man is evacuated on a stretcher. It could be the municipal officer Jacques Clément-Desmaisons who died in the fighting.
On the evening of November 15, 1793, the Vendée troops were completely demobilized and began a vast movement of withdrawal towards Avranches. A second attempt was planned towards Cherbourg, but it was not followed. On December 12, the insurgents were massacred at Le Mans, sealing the triumph of the Whites over the Blues: "There is no more Vendée". In 1795, the Chouans in turn attempted a breakthrough in the Cotentin, with the same result ...
- French Revolution
- Vendée war
Anne BERNET, General history of Cabbageannerie, Paris, Perrin, 2007.
Émile GABORY, The Wars of the Vendée, Paris, Robert Laffont, 2009.
Alain GÉRARD, The Vendée: 1789-1793, Paris, Robert Laffont, 1993.
Robert SINSOILLIEZ, The Siege of Granville, Chouans and Vendéens, Louviers, L’Ancre de Marine editions, 2004.
To cite this article
Stéphane BLOND, "The siege of Granville during the French Revolution"