On March 11, 1793, about a thousand counterrevolutionary rebels converged on the small French town of Machecoul and over the next six weeks killed many of its revolutionary officials and supporters. The massacres at Machecoul marked the beginning of a popular insurgency in western France called the War of Vendée, in turn igniting the ferocious republican response known today as the Terror. This story explores why these small-town massacres occurred, how they may have unfolded, and what the local and national repercussions of the murders were. The author Edward J. Woell argues that more than any other factor, religion stood at the center of the massacres: in their origins during the late Old Regime, in their enactment amid the wider revolutionary tumult, and in their remembrance over the century that followed. Claiming a greater significance to the episode than most historians have acknowledged, Woell shows that the Machecoul massacres “not only raise the most fundamental, profound, and perplexing questions that scholars have sought to answer, but they also embody the quintessential themes of the French Revolution.”
“Edward J. Woell’s book is an interesting addition to a rapidly expanding literature on the experience of the counterrevolutionary West during the French Revolution…. He understands the nature of clerical influence in the community, and is excellent in teasing out the complexities of the mind set of both conservatives and revolutionaries in the small towns of the West. This is a refreshing piece of research, drawing on very local archives as well as on a broad secondary literature.… It is an effective contribution to a wider debate, on the nature of rural religion and its place in inspiring insurrection in the West.” Review by Alan Forrest, York University, United Kingdom, Edward J. Woell in H-France Review Vol. 6 (October 2006), No. 130.
Edward J. Woell is Assistant Professor of History Western Illinois University.