A Book of the Cevennes/The Camisards
WE are now drawing near to the country of the Camisards, and I must give a brief sketch of the rise of the movement due to prophets and prophetesses, its culmination in revolt, and its suppression.
The Edict of Nantes had been revoked; shoals of Huguenots had left France, where the exercise of their religion was no longer tolerated; the temples had been levelled with the dust, the pastors arrested, imprisoned, and executed. Those who escaped to Geneva or Holland exhorted such of their flock as remained to continue steadfast to their convictions and to their prejudices. In the spring of 1668, near Castres, a shepherdess, aged ten, had a vision of an angel, who forbade her to attend Mass. The news spread everywhere, and crowds went to see the girl and hear her narrative from her own lips. This was the first manifestation, but it was not till twenty years had elapsed that such became common. A preacher, Corbière, from the same district, by some trickery caused two angels armed with sticks to enter the assembly where he was haranguing and to well thrash and expel such as had attended Mass. The intendant of the province sent his agents to take him. Corbière was surprised whilst holding a meeting in a wood. He drew a circle about him with a stick, and thundered, "Get thee behind me, Satan!" The dragoons hesitated, but the commandant shot him through the head.
Now appeared in Dauphiné la belle Isabeau, a shepherdess of about seventeen, who went into trances and preached and prophesied when in them. When she emerged from one of these ecstasies she remembered nothing about what she had said and done when in it. Usually to prophesy she lay on a bed, and this was the position almost always adopted by the prophets and prophetesses who succeeded her.
She was arrested and imprisoned, but treated with the utmost kindness, well fed, and visited daily by good charitable ladies. Under this influence, and when well nourished, her fits became fewer, and finally totally left her. Then she married a lusty young peasant, and ceased to be of consequence in the movement.
Meanwhile a pastor, Jurieu, from the place of his exile, Rotterdam, had proclaimed himself to be inspired. He had a medal struck with "Jurius Propheta" on it, and largely circulated in the Cevennes. Moreover, he printed his prophecies in 1686, and they passed from hand to hand. In them he announced that the Papacy would fall in the year 1690, and that the Reformation would be established throughout France.
But the spirit was not quenched when la belle Isabeau gave up prophesying. It broke out in a peasant of twenty-two named Gabriel Astier, of Clieu. His first solicitude was to communicate the spirit to his father, his mother, and his sisters; then he inoculated his neighbours and all the inhabitants of his village. Finding himself an object of pursuit by the police, he escaped over the Rhône into the Vivarais, and, followed by a troup of prophets and prophetesses, he went through the Boutières. His words propagated the agitation; men, women, and children went into fits and preached and announced the future. The epidemic passed through the country with the rapidity of a fire driven by the wind. No preacher, even at the time when the inspiration was at its height, possessed the power over crowds that Astier exercised.
Vast multitudes attended his assemblies in the mountains, and the meetings were always held in places which commanded a view of the country round, so that they might be dispersed in the event of the dragoons being seen to approach. Often the wandering multitude remained for many days away from their homes, feeding on apples and chestnuts. Nothing like it had been seen since John the Baptist drew crowds to the banks of the Jordan, or the Son of Man had preached in the wilderness of Judea.
The theme of the preacher was always the same: "Repent; do penance for having attended Mass." And the thrilled congregation fell on the ground, screaming out, "Pardon, Lord, O pardon!"
At this very time it was that the Revolution occurredin England, when James II. fled and the nation summoned William of Orange to the throne. William, it must be remembered, drew his title from the Principality of Orange, which he held, and this adjoined Dauphiné, where the prophetic afflatus had first been felt. It was concluded as certain that William would come to the aid of his afflicted co-religionists. Astier was so confident, that he ventured to predict the day on which William would arrive at the head of an army of a hundred thousand men, led by an exterminating angel. Then all the levelled temples would sprout up, built without hands, and the Catholic churches which had replaced them would go off in a puff of smoke. A star would fall from heaven on Babylon and consume the papal chair. He assured his hearers that God had made them invulnerable, so that neither sword nor ball could hurt them. Another prophet, named Palette, made the same assurances to the Calvinists, and as he and his congregation came upon a Captain Tirbon with his soldiers, they rushed on them, flinging stones, and killed the captain and nine of his soldiers, but not till some of the elect had fallen.
This event alarmed Colonel Folleville, in command of the troops in the province.
M. de Broglie, brother-in-law of Bâville, intendant of Languedoc, went to Porchères where he heard that a religious assembly was to be held. In this hamlet lived a poor old man named Paul Béraut, who had for long resisted the Spirit; but one day he heard his children tell of the marvels that took place in the assemblies, and all at once a convulsion shook him; he jumped up in bed, pulled down the canopy of the four-poster and flung it into the middle of the room, uttering incoherent words. This sublime victory of the Spirit over their father filled his children with joy. They ran through the village, entering every house, saying, "Come and see our father who has received the Spirit, and is prophesying!" The old man was in wild excitement when M. de Broglie arrived in the village. Béraut and his eldest daughter Sarah, at the head of all those who had been listening to his prophetic utterances, rushed on de Broglie and his troop, throwing stones. The soldiers retaliated, the new-made prophet and a dozen others were killed, and Sarah was taken prisoner.
Folleville, learning that Gabriel Astier was holding an assembly on the height of Cheilaret, surrounded the mountain. As soon as the dragoons were seen, Astier harangued the faithful: "Children of God, be without fear. I promise you that your bodies will be as adamant against ball and sabre. The angels of the Lord will fight for us."
Before attacking, Folleville sent the provost of his regiment to urge the fanatics to disperse and return to their duty. He was met with shouts of "Tartara! Get thee behind me, Satan!" The cry of Tartara was supposed to have the power to paralyse the enemy. Then one of the Calvinists rushed upon the provost and pelted him with stones, so that he was forced to fly. Folleville, reluctant to proceed to extremities, sent another parliamentary to the crowd; he was received with a volley of stones. The fanatics could be seen breathing on one another to communicate the gift of the Spirit to all. Then they marched in a solid body against the soldiers, shouting Tartara! Some were armed with guns, most carried large stones. They fought valiantly, but their ranks were broken; three hundred were left dead on the field, fifty who were wounded were taken to Privas, and those who recovered were hung.
The prophetic inspiration was really nothing more than an epidemic malady, such as is found among the North American Indians, the tribes in Siberia, and such as broke out among the early Quakers and Wesleyans. It is a nervous disorder, as natural as chicken-pox, though not so common. Roman Catholic nuns have it, so had the pagan prophetesses of old.
Some Calvinist women professed to have received the gift of shedding tears of blood, and showed the crimson streaks washing their cheeks. This was by no means necessarily a fraud. Roman Catholic ecstatics have had the same, and the stigmata as well.
Fléchier, a contemporary, thus describes the ecstasy of Isabeau Charras, one of the principal prophetesses, and not to be confounded with la belle Isabeau. He gives it from the relation of an ecclesiastic who with some friends entered her cottage to see what really took place.
Gabriel Astier was finally taken and broken on the wheel in 1690.
François Vivens was a wool-comber of Valleraux, a small man and lame, but with a robust and indefatigable body. He had gone to Holland, but, on the accession of William to the English throne, felt so confident that the Prince of Orange would bring all the power of his kingdom to assist the Calvinists of Languedoc, that he returned thither. When he arrived in the Cevennes he found the people agitated by the spirit of prophecy. He was the first to organise rebellion. He exhorted to it, and collected arms, manufactured powder, and cast bullets. He soon had four hundred men under arms, and he met Bâville and de Broglie near Florac at the head of a considerable body. A fight ensued. Vivens was obliged to fly and hide in a wood; he lost three men killed, and some prisoners, who were hung next day.
Bâville executed several persons charged with having given him shelter. To revenge this Vivens, with his own hand, killed the curé of Conguérac, and had the priest of S. Marcel and the vicaire stabbed and four officers assassinated, either in their houses or on the roads. "This Cevenol," says Peyrat in his Histoire des Pasteurs du Desert, "had in his soul something of the Tishbite who had four hundred and fifty of the prophets of Baal slain by the brook of Carmel."
Whilst Vivens was ordering these bloody reprisals he was carrying on a correspondence with Schomberg, late Marshal of France, who was at this time in Savoy in command of a regiment of refugee Protestants. He proposed to Schomberg a plan. He was to raise an army of several thousands, make a sudden descent on Mortes, march across the plain, and join hands with the Cevenols. The correspondence was intercepted, and Bâville, seeing he had to do with a dangerous man, put a price on his head.
A preacher named Languedoc, a companion of Vivens, was arrested, and made revelations—amongst others that Vivens had converted four dragoons, who kept him informed of every movement of the royal troops. These men were taken, and one betrayed where Vivens hid, in a cave. The commandant of Alais with a body of soldiers went to the place, which was not far off. The cavern was in a rock that had to be surmounted, and descent to the cave was by a narrow path. Vivens, who was there with two of his lieutenants, was only aware of his danger when the enemy were close at hand. His first assailant, a sergeant, he shot as he descended. Vivens had several guns loaded that were passed out to him by his companions. He killed two more soldiers and wounded the lieutenant, but was himself shot by a man who had succeeded in creeping down in his rear. All but one of the pastors in the Cevennes, Pierre Roman, had been captured and hung. The death of Vivens and the peace of Ryswick deprived the Calvinists there of hope of assistance from the Protestant powers, and resistance ceased. However, although all seemed quiet, the authorities redoubled their measures of severity. Everywhere new excesses of cruelty were committed by the governors of the provinces, the judges and the provosts of the mounted police, against poor creatures who desired only to be let alone to serve God according to their dim lights.
"In 1700," says Court, the historian of the Camisards, "the country groaned with the crowds languishing in prison and in irons. In April a chain of sixty-three were sent to the galleys, whose only crime was fidelity to and zeal for their religion, and among them were several fathers of families with grey heads."
The death of Charles II., King of Spain, at the close of 1700, roused expectations of a new foreign war, into which England and Holland would be drawn to take part with Austria against France. The news of the War of Succession breaking out, spread through the provinces, and revived the hopes of the Reformed; the spirit of prophecy that had languished since the execution of Gabriel Astier burst forth again. At the end of that year, 1700, an old maid who earned her livelihood by tailoring in the villages on the Ardèche brought the prophetic gift into the Cevennes. She communicated it to a number of young boys and girls, and they in turn transmitted it to the population of the mountains. This was done by wild gesticulation, loud invocation of the Spirit, and by breathing into the mouths of those who were to be inspired. The winter had not passed before the epidemic had spread with astounding rapidity, and prophets prophesied by the thousands. Women and children were especially liable to take the contagion. It was calculated that as many as eight thousand children in the Cevennes preached and prophesied. The Governor of Languedoc had a number of them arrested and put in prison, and required the faculty of medicine at Montpellier to examine into the nature of the phenomenon. The doctors observed, discussed, wrangled, and produced an opinion that these children were fanatics. That was the sum of what they had to say.
Bâville released the youngest of the children, but sent the rest either to the galleys or to serve in the army. He announced that he would hold the parents responsible for their offspring who prophesied, and that they should be fined. Dragoons were quartered upon those who could not cure their children or prevent them from taking this epidemic. Things went so far that some parents denounced their own children so as to shelter themselves from these violent measures. They handed them over to the magistrates, and said, "There, take them, and do with them what you will; cure them if you can."
But the spirit of prophecy did not remain with the children, it communicated itself to their elders. Bâville had such arrested as he could lay hold on and hung or sent them to the galleys.
But in spite of these cruelties, or rather in consequence of them, the prophets multiplied more and more. The prospect of the gallows, the wheel, or the galleys only served to fire their zeal to madness.
The number and importance of the assemblies increased, and the Governor of Languedoc began to deal with hearers as he had with prophets. In October, 1701, he sent a company to disperse one of these meetings near Alais. Three of the audience, unable to escape in time, were broken on the wheel. But the most atrocious of these executions was that of Creux de Vaie, in the Vivarais. The massacre was so great that, beside the bodies left on the field, a boat and two wagons were laden with the wounded who were taken captive, and these were conveyed to Montpellier. Among them was a prophet with his four sons. The prophet was hung, one son died of his wounds in prison, three were sent to the galleys; and his house was torn down. Thus, in one day, the wife was deprived of husband, children, home, and substance.
Throughout the Cevennes spirits were stirred with expectation of a great deliverance. A prophetess announced that the millennium was at hand. A prophet declared that a ladder was about to be let down from heaven.
In February, 1702, Durand Fage was at an assembly, carrying arms. The prophetess Marguerite Bolle, aged twenty-three, fell into an ecstasy, and announced that the sword of Durand would smite the enemies of the truth hip and thigh. Later on the great prophets of the mountains, Abraham Mazel, Solomon Couderc, and Pierre Séguier, received similar revelations.
The Abbé du Chayla, archpriest and inspector of missions in the Cevennes, had a house in which he sometimes dwelt at Pont-de-Montvert. He had been a missionary in China, and had there suffered martyrdom, was left for dead, and brought back to life by the charity of a poor Chinese. One Massys, a muleteer, was guiding a party of fugitives who were escaping to Geneva, and on him, with his convoy, consisting mostly of women dressed as men, Du Chayla laid his hands. He was a cruel man; he plucked out the beards and eyebrows with pincers, he put live coals into the hands of his victims and then forced them to clench their fists. Sometimes he surrounded their fingers with cotton steeped in oil and set fire to it.
On the Sunday following the capture of the convoy there was a gathering of the Protestants in the woods of Altefage, on Mount Bougès, when Séguier fell into ecstasy and prophesied. He was a wool-carder, tall, black-faced, and toothless, but a man full of energy and self-confidence. He declared that the Spirit announced that arms must be taken, the prisoners at Pont-de-Montvert delivered, and the priest of Moloch destroyed.
On July 24th, 1702, at half-past ten at night, were heard at Pont-de-Montvert strains of distant psalmody drawing nearer and nearer; it was Esprit Séguier, the terrible prophet, who was on his way with fifty-threeof his men, and as they marched they sang Marot's psalm—
Du Chayla heard the chant, and did not trouble himself much about it. He went to the window and saw the assembled crowd. "Get away with you!" he shouted; "dogs of Huguenots!"
But the door was burst in by a beam of wood driven against it, and the house was invaded. The fanatics occupied the ground floor. Du Chayla and his men held the staircase. "Children of God!" shouted the prophet, "let us set fire to the house of Baal and burn it and its priest." The flames spread. Du Chayla and his men lowered themselves into the garden by means of knotted sheets; some escaped across the river under the fire of the insurgents, but the Inspector of Missions fell and broke his thigh, and could only crawl among some bushes. The Calvinists went through the house shouting for his blood. Finding on the staircase a priest who had not escaped, they murdered him. They hunted for their arch-enemy, and at last, by the light of the flames, found him. To the last he maintained his composure. "If I be damned," said he, "will you damn yourselves also?" Séguier gave the order, and he was despatched, in the place of the little town to which they dragged him. According to Brueys, Séguier fell into an ecstasy, and offered Du Chayla his life if he would apostatise. The priest peremptorily refused. "Then die," said the prophet, and stabbed him. Then began a horrible scene. All the insurgents one after another approached, and driving their weapons into the bleeding body, reproached Du Chayla for some of the barbarities he had committed. "This thrust," said one, "is for my father, whom you caused to be executed on the wheel." "And this for my brother," said another, whom you sent to the galleys." "And this for my mother," exclaimed a third, as he ran his sword through the body, "who died of grief." The body of the Abbé du Chayla received fifty-three stabs, every one of which he had richly deserved. But the astounding thing in the whole story is that he, a man who had suffered all but absolute martyrdom for the Faith in China, should not have seen that barbarities could not turn a soul from one conviction to another.
Séguier and his companions employed the remainder of the night in prayer, kneeling around the corpses. They had murdered all found in the house, except the prisoners whom they had released, one soldier and a servant. When dawn broke they retired in good order, still singing, and ascended the Tarn to Frugères. When the last notes of their psalmody died away, two Capuchins who had managed to conceal themselves in a cellar of one of the houses in the town, crept from their retreat and carried off the body of Du Chayla to the church of S. Germain de Colberte, for burial.
But during the funeral a cry was heard outside, "The insurgents are coming! Frugères, S. Maurice, S. André de Lancize, have been given up to fire and massacre!" At once all the assembled clergy fled for their lives, and some did not stay their feet till they had found refuge behind the walls of Alais.
However, the storm that threatened to break over S. Germain rolled away to the west.
Séguier, whose name in the patois signifies The Mower, had assumed the appellation of Esprit, as he deemed himself a channel through whom the Holy Spirit spoke. He was subject to frequent ecstasies, and he had no doubt but that it was due to direct inspiration that he was prompted to the deeds of blood of which he was guilty. It is deserving of note that when he or any of the prophets and prophetesses gave forth their oracles it was never in their own names. They always spoke as if the Holy Spirit were uttering commands through their mouths, as, "I, the Spirit of God, command."
Whilst the funeral of Du Chayla was in progress, actually Séguier, followed by a band of thirty men singing psalms, had entered Frugères and shot the parish priest. They went on to S. Marcel, but thence the vicaire had escaped. At S. André the curé hearing of the approach of the band, rang the alarm bell. Séguier's men pursued him, flung him out of a belfry window, and then hacked him to death. The schoolmaster was also murdered and his body mutilated. Wherever he went Séguier destroyed the crosses and every emblem of Catholicism. On the night of the 29th July the band surrounded the Castle of Ladevèse, where was a store of arms taken from the Protestants. When summoned to deliver them up, the seigneur replied by a volley which killed two men. The insurgents, furious at their loss, broke in and massacred all the inhabitants of the château, not sparing even a mother aged eighty, or a young girl who on her knees prayed for her life.
The authorities, in serious alarm, took immediate measures to repress the insurrection, and gave the command of the troops to a Captain Poul, who managed to capture Esprit Séguier, and The Mower was tried at Florac and sentenced to have his hand cut off and then to be burnt alive. On August 12th, 1702, Séguier underwent his sentence at Pont-de-Montvert. Neither the blow of the axe nor the violence of the flames could draw from him a cry or a groan. He shouted from his pyre, "Brethren, await and hope in the Eternal One! Carmel that is desolate will flourish; Lebanon that is left barren will blossom as a rose."
The command of the insurgents, who now were given the name of Camisards by their enemies, but called themselves the Children of God, was assumed by Laporte, an ironmonger. He was joined by Castanet, a forester of the Aigoual, by Jean Cavalier, a baker's boy, and by Abdias Morel, an old soldier, who went by the name of Catinat, on account of his admiration for the general of that name; also by the two arch-prophets, Abraham Mazel and Solomon Couderc. Many other prophets and prophetesses joined the band, and excited it to undertake the most daring enterprises.
The execution of Séguier was avenged on the following day. The band, knowing that the Baron de Saint-Cômes, who was especially obnoxious to them as a convert to the Church from Calvinism, was going in his carriage to Calvisson, Catinat and six of his men laid an ambush for him, stopped the carriage, blew out the brains of the baron, and murdered his valet.
The insurrection spread rapidly. Laporte declared: "The God of Hosts is with us! We will thunder forth the psalm of battle, and from the Lozère to the sea all Israel will rise." His prediction was fulfilled; the revolt extended from the mountains to the plain, even to the shores of the Mediterranean. Laporte had sent his nephew Roland into lower Languedoc to collect recruits. Circumstances favoured his project Executions had multiplied of persons merely suspected of having attended the religious assemblies, so that the Calvinists alarmed fled their homes and in great numbers joined the bands of insurgents. The Camisards next caught and killed the secretary of Du Chayla, the prior of S. Martin, and Jourdan, a militia captain who had shot Vivens. Panic fell on the Catholics; fifteen churches were in flames, and great numbers of the curés had fled.
On October 22nd, 1702, being a Sunday, Captain Poul and his corps, led by a traitor, surprised Laporte on a hill at Ste. Croix with a body of the faithful. Laporte had barely time to marshal his men for defence. Unfortunately for him a heavy rain came on that disabled their guns; only three could be fired. Poul, who saw the disadvantage, charged with impetuosity. Laporte fell shot through the heart, but the Children of God effected their retreat without disorder, having left nine of their comrades dead on the field.
Roland, nephew of Laporte, now assumed the command. He had served in the army under Catinat in the campaigns of the Alps, and had consequently acquired military experience in mountainous country. Roland was a middle-sized man with a robust constitution; he had a broad face marked by small-pox, large grey eyes, flowing brown hair. He was naturally grave, silent, imperious, and was aged twenty-five.
The Catholics in derision called him Count Roland, but he assumed the title of General of the Children of God. It was not his military experiences or capacity that gave the young chief the ascendancy over his co-religionists, but his prophetic ecstasies. There were four degrees of inspiration. The first was the Announcement, or Call; the second was the Breathing. Those who had received the breath were highly regarded, but not considered capable of becoming leaders. The third degree was Prophecy, and such as had this were regarded as vehicles for the communication of the will of God. But the highest of all was the Gift. Those who had received this could work miracles; they disdained to prophesy, but were supposed to be exalted into personal communication with God. Roland had passed through all these degrees.
There were now five legions of insurgents under their several captains, but all subject to the supreme control of Roland. This remarkable man now set to work to collect the material of war. He created magazines, powder mills, arsenals, and even hospitals in the caverns that abound in the Cevennes, notably in the limestone mountains. He also required all his co-religionists to pay a tax in money or goods for the maintenance of the army. He formed wind and water mills on heights or by streams, and as the chestnut woods produced abundance of food there was little fear of starvation. When the hosts were assembled the prophets prophesied, and pointed out men here and there whom they declared to be false brethren; these men were at once led aside and summarily shot.
On one occasion a prophet, Clary, pointed out two traitors and demanded their execution. Cavalier had them bound, but a good many of those present murmured and expressed doubts. Clary, who was in a condition of delirious elevation, cried out: "Oh, men of little faith! Do you doubt my power? I will that ye light a great fire, and I say to thee, my son, that I will carry thee unhurt through the flames." The people cried out that they no longer needed the ordeal; they were satisfied, and the traitors should be executed. But Clary, still a prey to his exaltation, insisted, and a huge bonfire was made. An eye-witness, quoted in the "Théâtre sacré des Cevennes," describes what follows:—
"Clary wore a white smock, and he placed himself in the midst of the faggots, standing upright and having his hands raised above his head. He was still agitated, and spoke by inspiration. Some told me that he himself set the pile on fire by merely touching it—a miracle I observed often, especially when one cried, A sac! à sac! against the temples of Babylon. The wife of Clary and his father-in-law and sisters and his own relatives were there, his wife crying loudly. Clary did not leave the fire till the wood was completely consumed, and no more flames arose. The Spirit did not leave him all the while, for about a quarter of an hour. He spoke with convulsive movements of the breast and great sobs. M. Cavalier made prayer. I was one of the first to embrace Clary and examine his clothing and hair, which the flames had respected, even to having left no trace on them. His wife and kinsfolk were in raptures, and all the assembly praised and glorified God for the miracle. I saw and heard these things."
This seems precise and conclusive, but Court, in his account, gives another colour to the story. He says:—
"This incident made a great noise in the province; it was attested in its main features by a great many witnesses, but the information I obtained on the spot went to establish these three points:
"1. Clary did not remain in the midst of the fire.
"2. He dashed through it twice.
"3. He was so badly burnt in the neck and arms that he was forced to be taken to Pierredou to have his wounds attended to. The Brigadier Montbonnoux, an intimate friend of Clary, and one who lived with him long after this event, confirmed all these three points, but nevertheless considered that he would have been more seriously injured but for miraculous intervention."
The condition of wild excitement in which the Calvinists were rendered them incapable of calm observation, and led them involuntarily to pervert facts and imagine miracles. It is curious, moreover, that although the prophecies of the inspired were almost always belied by the event, the insurgents never lost their confidence in these oracles of God.
At this point it becomes necessary to devote a few words to Jean Cavalier, the ablest commander of the Camisards. He was born at Ribaut, near Anduze, was the son of a labourer, had been a swineherd and then a baker's boy. He was short and stoutly built, had a big head, broad shoulders, and the neck of a bull. His eyes were blue, his hair long and fair. Sent as a boy to school, he was encouraged by his mother, a venomous Calvinist, to oppose and hate everything that savoured of Catholicism. Every evening, on his return from school, she sought to undo all the doctrinal teaching that had been given him there. His father, a Catholic, urged him to attend Mass; the boy refused. The persecution to which the Huguenots were subjected led him to quit the land at the age of sixteen, and he went to Geneva, where he resumed his occupation as a baker. Meeting a Cevenol refugee in the streets of Geneva, he was told that his mother had been imprisoned at Aigues-Mortes, and his father, as suspected, at Carcassonne. He determined to return to the Cevennes, and he crossed the frontier in 1702. He found that his father and mother had been released, she on promising conformity. He at once dissuaded her from attending Mass, and he succeeded equally with his father.
A few days later occurred the murder of the arch-priest Du Chayla, at Pont-de-Montvert. Cavalier at once offered his hands to The Mower, and he speedily gathered about him a body of followers, and they secured arms by forcing the doors of the parsonage of S. Martin-de-Durfort, where was a collection of weapons, but no injury was done to the prior in charge there, who had taken no part in the persecution of the Calvinists.
The area of insurrection extended through six dioceses, those of Mende, Alais, Viviers, Uzès, Nîmes and Montpellier—in fact, over the present departments of Lozère, Ardèche, Gard and Hérault.
In January, 1703, the Marshal de Broglie, with a considerable force of dragoons and militia, went to Vaunage in quest of Cavalier, but could not find him, for he, in fact, was then in Nîmes, disguised, purchasing powder. De Broglie was on his way back when some dragoons, who were reconnoitring, came to him to announce that a large body of Camisards was assembled, with drums beating and singing psalms, at two farms forming a hamlet called the Mas de Gaffard. He gave immediate orders to Captain Poul, who was in command, to dislodge them. De Broglie was in the centre, Poul on the right wing, and La Dourville, captain of dragoons, on the left. When the insurgeuts saw the royal troops approach they drew up, prepared for battle, in a situation naturally adapted for defence. The insurgents received the first volley without breaking formation; they replied by a musket discharge that disordered the left wing and centre of the enemy. The militia were seized with panic, and in turning to fly threw the dragoons into confusion. Poul alone rushed forwards brandishing his sword, when a boy threw a stone at him that brought him down from his saddle, and Catinat rushing forward despatched him. Then seeing the royal troops in rout the Camisards pursued, shouting "Voilà votre Poul (cock)! We have plucked his feathers; stay to eat him."
Immediately after this success the Camisards marched to Roquecourbe, near Nîmes, and on the way set fire to the church and village of Pouls and massacred several of the inhabitants. Thence they directed their attentions to Moussac, where was a garrison of militia commanded by M. de Saint-Chattes. They took the place, and the whole detachment was either slaughtered by them or were drowned in the endeavour to escape across the Gardon.
Cavalier now departed at the head of eight hundred men to rouse the Vivarais. The Count du Roure, at the head of the militia, attempted to stop him; a desperate conflict ensued in the night. The Baron de Largorce, wounded in the thigh, a very old man, fell from his horse. Du Roure was forced to retreat with only sixty men. Five hundred corpses of his men strewed the battlefield. Largorce was lying on the snow. He was clubbed to death by Cavalier's men.
But this victory was a preliminary to a disaster. Cavalier was drawn into an ambuscade by S. Julien, the new commander of the troops; he lost two hundred of his men, was obliged to fly and hide himself, and make his way back to his comrades in the Cevennes as best he might.
As the contest went on, each side became more cruel. Forests were set on fire that were supposed to serve as hiding-places for the Camisards, villages were burnt that were known to harbour them.
On their side the insurgents did not spare even the Protestant nobles who hesitated about joining in the insurrection. In December, 1702, the Camisards burnt the church of S. Jean de Ceyrargues, and taking the curé they bound him hand and foot, and putting knives into the children's hands, bade them stab him to death, encouraging them with the words, "Dip your hands in the blood of the ungodly."
In January, 1703, Cavalier burnt the church and thirteen houses in S. Jean de Marvéjols, that belonged to Catholics, and massacred twenty of these latter, among them four women and a child of two years old.
In February, 1703, at Robiac, the insurgents murdered seven persons, among these a woman whom they dismembered alive because she refused to abjure her religion.
On the 17th of the same month, in the same year, the band under Joany entered Chamborigaud and committed atrocious acts. They tied three children up in I sacks and threw them into a furnace. A mother flying with her five children was caught; her eldest son was stabbed with a bayonet and his tongue torn out, the youngest had his eyes scooped out, the third was dismembered; the mouth of the fourth was filled with burning coals, and the fifth was brained with clubs. The mother was then stabbed to death. The six victims were then put on a bed, along with other inhabitants of the place, in one heap, and the whole consumed by fire. Twenty-four victims perished. When Joany left, the Catholics retaliated by destroying the houses of the Protestants, so that only two houses remained standing, those of the Catholics having been burnt by Joany. The two last were burnt by the fanatics on August 27th, 1703, and three more Catholics killed. Next year seven houses that had been rebuilt or repaired were again set on fire and three Catholic families slaughtered.
At S. Génies de Malgoire, Cavalier took the place in April, 1704, and cut the whole garrison to pieces. He set fire to the church and the houses of the Catholics, and burnt in them seven of the inhabitants and the curé and vicaire.
At Ambais Sommière, on September 27th, 1703, the band of Cavalier roasted a girl of three years old over a slow fire.
The war was degenerating into fiendish reprisals on one side as well as the other. But the sad feature in this was that the victims in most cases were not those who had been actively engaged in hostilities, but inoffensive peasants.
Thirty-one parishes in the Cevennes, by order of the governor, were destroyed, every house was required to be burnt, and three days only were accorded to the inhabitants to retire with their cattle and their substance.
It is unnecessary to relate all the engagements in which the Camisards were either victorious or defeated by the royal troops. Cavalier and Roland marked themselves out as the most able commanders, but Roland was defeated at Pompignan, with the loss of three hundred men. A month later, April, 1703, a body of the same number were surrounded in La Tour de Belot; Cavalier, who was with them, escaped; the rest perished by fire, the place catching from the hand grenades cast in.
The last and final victory gained by Cavalier was at Ste. Chatte at the end of 1704, against the royal troops commanded by La Jonquière, who was himself wounded. A whole regiment of six hundred soldiers and twenty-five officers was swept away by the Camisards.
Montrevel, the governor after Bâville, had shown equal incapacity and barbarity. He was now replaced by the Marshal Villars, who at once inaugurated a different system in dealing with the insurgents. He recognised that the cruelties committed had exasperated the evil. He announced that he was come to pacify spirits, not to outrage consciences; all he desired was to bring those who were in revolt into allegiance to the King. He was ready to accept the submission of the Camisard leaders, to grant them commissions in the army, and to let the past be forgotten. Cavalier received a pension and retired, first to Holland and then to England. The revolt lingered on, the most fanatical refusing all compromise; but gradually opposition died away, prophecy ceased—prophecy that had always proved false and had led to terrible disaster. And very many years had not passed before dead indifference had settled down over a people that had gone mad with zeal.
When we come to look at what was the creed and what the moral code of these Cevenols, we are not surprised at this collapse of faith. They had but one article of belief—conviction that they themselves were the infallible oracles of the Holy Ghost. They had but one duty—to overthrow and root out whatever pertained to Catholic faith and worship. They recognised but one sin—attendance at Mass.
Their fanaticism was the natural and irresistible outcome of the cruel persecution to which they were subjected. Their prophetic trances, revelations, visions, ecstasies were due to nervous and cerebral exaltation caused by lack of wholesome nourishment. Had they been treated as was la belle Isabeau at the first, inspiration, as they considered it, would have ceased. Cavalier, with tears in his eyes, when well nourished on English beef and ale, lamented that the spirit of prophecy had left him.
And finally, what was gained to the Church of Rome by these forcible conversions and these butcheries? Ferdinand Fabre well says:—
"No land bears so deeply impressed on it the scars of battles fought for liberty of conscience as does our Cevenol country. Nowhere else in the world were fire and sword employed with more savagery to conquer the human being to God, and nowhere has it succeeded worse. It is the chastisement of all criminal enterprises to lead to ends the reverse of those aimed at. Our mountaineers have remained what the Romans found them—energetic, sober, satirical. Certainly we have no end of processions; corporations and pious congregations abound. But it is a remarkable fact, that these gatherings of the faithful lack that gravity which a religious character should impress upon them. There is prayer, perhaps, but most assuredly there is diversion as well."
Cavalier in England was made a great deal of; he was fêted as a hero, received into the best society, and died Governor of Jersey in receipt of a handsome income; which he certainly did not deserve, as he had shown himself atrociously cruel, not to priests only, but to harmless peasant men and women, whose only crime consisted in adherence to the faith of their fathers.