Camisard Revolt

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CAMISARD REVOLT. The Camisard Revolt (17021704) began in the remote Cévennes mountains of southern France and spread from there to the plains bordering the cities of Montpellier, Nîmes, and Alès (formerly Alais). It resulted from efforts by the monarchy of Louis XIV to destroy orthodox Calvinism following the revocation in 1685 of the Edict of Nantes (1598), which had granted French Protestants limited tolerance. The monarchy proved successful in expelling or executing pastors and elders and dismantling the French Reformed Church, but its success inadvertently opened the way to less orthodox methods of religious expression in the mountains of the Cévennes. Episodes of popular prophetism resulted, and men, children, and especially women began to receive revelations directly from the Holy Spirit. For women, prophetism represented a new and powerful avenue by which they might exercise authority in their faith, and they formed the backbone of support and supply for the rebellion. A male prophet, Abraham Mazel, organized the first of several rebel bands in 1702 with explicit orders from the Holy Spirit to destroy the Catholic Church. Called "Camisards" after the camisa, or white smocks they wore, the rebels attacked and burned churches, killed priests and accused persecutors, and battled royal armies, winning several small victories.

The Camisards fought a strikingly modern guerrilla war, depending on the support of their native villages and intimate knowledge of familiar terrain to ambush royal detachments and disrupt communications. The commanders sent to crush the revolt were used to fighting a very different kind of war and proved incapable of finding and defeating the bands, which seemed to appear and disappear without trace. Convinced that the only way to stop the rebellion was to cut off its supplies, royal officials finally resorted to burning some five hundred villages in the mountains and conducting murderous military pogroms aimed principally at the civilian population.

Still fired by apocalyptic prophetism, but losing popular support and lacking supplies, the rebellion began to fade when a new commander, the pragmatic Maréchal de Villars, employed amnesties to negotiate its end. Jean Cavalier, the most powerful and successful rebel chief, was the first to surrender. The death soon after of the rebellion's most charismatic leader, Roland Laporte, effectively finished the conflict. While some tiny groups of rebels persisted in the mountains for a few years, there were no more religious wars in France.

The Camisard rebellion demonstrated the classic conflict of faith and reason. The rebel prophets never understood the extent to which the church they hoped to destroy had merged with the monarchy to which they repeatedly declared their loyalty. Likewise, royal officials and generals, standing on the cusp of the Enlightenment, never grasped the apocalyptic and mystical nature of the prophetism that fired and motivated the rebellion. Despite its failure, the revolt did ensure that Protestantism would never be entirely rooted out of this region of France, and it laid the groundwork for the reestablishment of a more orthodox French Reformed Church in the years that followed.

See also Nantes, Edict of ; Popular Protest and Rebellions ; Reformation, Protestant .


Primary Source

Misson, Maximilien, ed. Le théatre sacré des Cévennes. Paris, 1996. Eyewitness accounts of prophetism and Camisard memoirs of the conflict originally published in 1707.

Secondary Sources

Bosc, Henri. La guerre des Cévennes, 17021710. 6 vols. Montpellier, France, 19851993.

Joutard, Philippe. La légende des Camisards. Une sensibilité au passé. Paris, 1977.

W. Gregory Monahan

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Camisard revolt: see HUGUENOTS.