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Cavalier, Jean (DNB00)


CAVALIER or CAVALLIER, JEAN (1681–1740), major-general, lieutenant-governor of Jersey, was born 28 Nov. 1681 at Ribaute, near Anduze, in that part of Languedoc which is now the department of the Gard. His father was a peasant, and Jean, after herding cattle, was apprenticed to a baker at Anduze. Brought up ostensibly a catholic he was secretly taught protestant doctrines by his mother, and to escape persecution for non-attendance at mass he made his way, about the age of twenty, to Geneva, where he worked as a baker. A report that his parents had been thrown into prison induced him to return to his native district, and on the breaking out of the revolt in the Cevennes (autumn of 1702) he joined the insurgents. His intrepidity and skill, aided by his gift of prophesying and preaching, led to his election as one of the five leaders of the revolt. The region assigned to him was the plain of Lower Languedoc stretching to the sea, though he made frequent forays in the hill-country of the Cevennes. In less than two years he became the most conspicuous of the insurgent chiefs, and with few intermissions his guerilla warfare was successful. His band had grown to be one of twelve hundred men when he was defeated with great slaughter, being surrounded by a superior force under Marshal Montrevel, who commanded in Languedoc, in a series of engagements near Nages, 16 April 1704. This defeat, followed by the betrayal to the king's troops of the caverns in which the insurgents had concealed their stores of all kinds, disposed Cavalier to negotiate with Montrevel's successor, Marshal Villars, especially as hopes of succour from England had been baffled. On 16 May 1704 Villars and Cavalier had a conference in a garden outside Nismes, and Villars (Mémoires, p. 139) bears testimony to the firmness, good sense, and good faith displayed by Cavalier throughout the negotiation, as well as to his military capacity. Ultimately an agreement was signed, in which Villars made some concessions to the protestants of Languedoc. One of its articles permitted Cavalier to select from his band and from the protestant prisoners who were to be liberated under another article two thousand men for a regiment to be despatched to fight for France in Portugal. Cavalier received from the king a colonel's commission and a pension of twelve hundred livres. But the agreement with Villars satisfied neither the other leaders of the insurrection nor Cavalier's own band, and the regiment was not formed. At his request Cavalier was allowed an interview with Louis XIV at Versailles, during which, according to his own account, he pleaded the cause of the protestants of Languedoc, and refused the king's invitation to him to become a catholic. The authenticity of the agreement with Villars and the interview with Louis XIV have been doubted, but on insufficient grounds (Peyrat, ii. 133 n. and 198 n.; Kemble, pp. 420 and 431).

In August 1704 Cavalier received orders from the French authorities to proceed under escort to the Rhine fortress of Neu Breisach. Alarmed by reports that he was to be detained there a captive for life, he escaped from his escort, and with the followers who accompanied him took refuge in Switzerland. Here he entered the military service of the Duke of Savoy, afterwards Victor Amadeus I, who had joined the league against France. At the beginning of 1706 he raised in Holland a regiment of foot, one-third of the expenses of which were to be paid by the Dutch, the other by the English government. After visiting England, and having an interview with Godolphin (Agnew, ii. 63; Calendar of Treasury Papers, 1708–14, p. 16), he proceeded with his regiment to Spain, and commanded it at the battle of Almanza, 25 April 1707, where it was drawn up opposite a French regiment. According to Voltaire (Œuvres, ed. Beuchot, xx. 399), the Marshal Duke of Berwick, who commanded the French at Almanza, frequently described the two regiments as rushing at each other with the bayonet without firing a shot, and as fighting so desperately that not three hundred men of them survived. Cavalier was severely wounded, and before escaping lay for some time among the killed (Cavalier, letter to the States of Holland in Bulletin de la Société de l'Histoire du Protestantisme en France, vi. 70; Oldmixon, History of England, being a sequel to the reigns of the Stuarts, 1735, p. 391).

Cavalier now re-entered the service of the Duke of Savoy, but is found in Holland again in December 1707. While at the Hague he drew up the first of several affidavits, in which he denounced as liars and impostors three of the so-called ‘French prophets’ in London, who pretended to the possession of supernatural gifts, and claimed to have exercised them in the Cevennes. One of them, another Jean Cavalier, claimed a relationship with Colonel Cavalier, by whom it was indignantly repudiated (Nouveaux Mémoires pour servir à l'histoire des Trois Camisards … où l'on trouve les déclarations de Monsieur le Colonel Cavalier, 1708). It was probably during this sojourn at the Hague that he sought in marriage the Mademoiselle Dunoyer who some years afterwards captivated the young Voltaire. The match was broken off, and, according to her mother, under circumstances very discreditable to Cavalier, whom she accused of having retained possession of the dowry, and whom she otherwise vilifies ( Madame Dunoyer, Lettres Historiques et Galantes (edition of 1790), v. 156–62). Writing to the English secretary at war in March 1711, the Duke of Marlborough (Despatches, 1845, v. 269) begs his correspondent to tell Cavalier that unless he complies with the ‘just requests’ of Mme. Dunoyer ‘I shall be obliged to complain of him to the queen, that she may have justice done her out of his pension.’ Cavalier was now settled with a British pension in the United Kingdom. He spent much of the remainder of his life with the French colony founded at Portarlington by Ruvigny, earl of Galway [q. v.], and there he married the daughter of an aristocratic refugee, a Mademoiselle de Ponthieu. He is represented as having suffered frequently from pecuniary embarrassments, and these, it has also been said (Agnew, ii. 64), led to the issue of his ‘Memoirs,’ which were published by subscription at Dublin in 1726, with a dedication (signed ‘Jas. Cavallier’) to Carteret, then lord-lieutenant of Ireland. The volume professes to have been ‘written in French and translated into English,’ and is undoubtedly Cavalier's handiwork, though the ‘Biographie Universelle’ ascribes its composition to Galli, a French refugee. It is written with animation, and is full of military detail, but as a contribution to the history of the revolt in the Cevennes it is very fragmentary. Some of its most startling stories seem to be confirmed by the testimony of hostile witnesses, contemporaries of the events recorded (Peyrat, i. 345 n. and 374 n.) The inaccuracies which have been detected in it are comparatively unimportant, with the exception of a grave misrepresentation of the spirit in which his companions opposed the treaty with Villars. Though the ‘Memoirs’ breathe a strongly protestant spirit, they are silent as to Cavalier's early gift of prophesying and preaching.

In 1727 Cavalier came to England with a recommendatory letter to the Duke of Newcastle from the Irish primate, Boulter. He was made a brigadier 27 Oct. 1735, and in March 1738 lieutenant-governor of Jersey, at several meetings of the estates of which island he presided. Appointed a major-general 2 July 1739, he died at Chelsea 17 May 1740, and was buried in Chelsea churchyard. Voltaire (Œuvres, xx. 397), who had known him, describes him as a ‘little fair man with a mild and agreeable countenance.’

Besides the authorities given below there may be consulted the article ‘Jean Cavallier and the Camisards’ in the ‘Edinburgh Review’ for July 1856. An idealised Cavalier figures in Ludwig Tieck's unfinished novel, ‘Der Aufrühr in den Cevennes’ (English translation, 1845), and he is the hero of Eugène Sue's historical romance, ‘Jean Cavalier ou les Fanatiques des Cévennes,’ translated into English as ‘The Protestant Leader, a novel,’ 1849.

[Cavalier's Memoirs; Peyrat's Histoire des Pasteurs du Désert, 1842; Agnew's Protestant Exiles from France in the Reign of Louis XIV, 2nd edit. 1871; Haag's La France Protestante, 2nd edit. 1877; Mémoires du Maréchal de Villars in vol. ix. of Michaud and Poujoulat's Nouvelle Collection des Mémoires pour servir à l'Histoire de France, 1839; F. Espinasse's Life and Times of Voltaire, 1866.]

F. E.