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Les Noyades

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Les Noyades

Post  Elena on Mon Nov 21, 2011 12:59 pm





The dreadful noyades or "Republican marriages" began in November of 1793 in Nantes. Under the orders of the Republican Jean-Baptiste Carrier, those citizens who had resisted the Revolution were stripped naked, tied together, put in boats and drowned in the middle of the river. Many innocent, non-political persons, including young girls and nuns, were subjected to such gruesome murder. To quote http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Republican_marriage:
Details of the practice vary slightly, but are generally consistent with the description offered above. One author described how "marriages Républicains... consisted in binding together a man and woman, back to back, stripped naked, keeping them exposed for an hour, and then hurling them into the current of "la Baignoire Nationale", as the bloodhounds termed the Loire".[9] British radical and Girondist sympathizer Helen Maria Williams, in her Sketch of the Politics of France, 1793-94,[10] wrote that "innocent young women were unclothed in the presence of the monsters; and, to add a deeper horror to this infernal act of cruelty, were tied to young men, and both were cut down with sabers, or thrown into the river; and this kind of murder was called a republican marriage".[10]

According to literary scholar Steven Blakemore, Williams seems to have regarded this as a form of "terrorist misogynism".[3] Williams' description of the women as "innocent", in his view, "not only suggests that they were not guilty of aiding the rebels, but that they were young 'virgins'".[3] He argues that in Williams' text, the male Jacobin executioners are portrayed as "sadistic, public voyeurs who delight in tying 'counter-revolutionary' men and women into forced positions of sterile intercourse, in a grotesque 'marriage' of the soon-to-be dead." Thus, "if the Old Regime, for Williams, represents the forced confinement of female beauty, the Terror represents beauty's degrading death."[3]

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Re: Les Noyades

Post  Bunnies on Tue Dec 25, 2012 6:54 pm

I hate to pass psychological judgment on historical figures, since our resources to make such a diagnosis are lacking, but I am under the impression that Carrier was mentally imbalanced.

His situation was this: The Vendean rebels were retreating from Grandville and were heading towards Nantes. The Republicans in Nantes, feeling as endangered at the approach of a Royalist army as Royalist civilians would feel at the approach of a Republican one, fell into a hysteria. Horrible congestion reigned in the prisons and it was feared that the enraged inmates would break out. And added to this concern of physical harm, they feared the pestilence that the ill aristocrats could bring upon the city.

Even a rational man may have been alarmed by the situation in Nantes and so perhaps could have engaged in some executions for the sake of clearing the congestion of the prisons or out of revenge or fear. But your average war-criminal would just take out these prisoners and shoot them - not drown them. Admittedly, a firing squad was Carrier's initial plan. Before he committed his crime he wrote to the Committee of Public Safety, complaining of the overstocked prisons, warning them that, “Instead of amusing myself [interesting phrasing, no?] by giving them a trial, I shall send them to their places of residence to be shot. These terrible examples will intimidate well-wishers.”

But it should be said that Carrier wasn't exactly blessed by the government. Herault de Sechelles, a member of the Committee of Public Safety, seems to have thought that there was something "off" about Carrier, and so wrote him a perhaps too-gentle but still chastising letter advising the Representative to leave the responsibility of the prisoners to his subordinates, the implication being that otherwise he may do something he'll later regret. As the fact that this thread exists testifies, Carrier ignored Herault's sensible advice.

It was at this juncture that Carrier proceeded to clear these prisons, without the formalities of the trial...by drowning the occupants into the Loire River. One witness counted as many as twenty-three boatloads sunk, but it is entirely likely that the number was greater. Some estimate that as many as 2,000 people were murdered under Carrier's orders. As you said, innocents were indisputably victimized: the drowning of children is well-established, as is the sadistic cruelty of one of Carrier's underlings, who hacked off the limbs of the victims trying to flee the boats.

After the drownings, Carrier sent sarcastic reports to Paris alluding ‘miracles’ happening in the Loire river. Rumours had reached Paris of the drownings, but there was no solid report until a spy for the Committee of Public Safety, Antoine Julien, wrote to Maximilien Robespierre, elaborating both the crime and what Carrier's method of defending himself:

I am assured that he [Carrier] had all those who filled the prisons at the Nantes taken out indiscriminately, put on boats, and sunk in the Loire. He told me to my face that that was the only way to run a revolution, and he called Prieur of the Marne a fool for thinking of nothing to do with suspects except confine them.

I find the phrasing of this letter fascinating. I don't believe any correspondence from Robespierre's end survives, but it seems as though Julien is responding to a direct inquiry on the part of the famous Jacobin. Whether or not Robespierre initiated this cursory investigation of Carrier's behavior, it was Robespierre who brought it to a close. Over the objections of the "moderate" Carnot who seems to have believed that Carrier's military merits took precedence over humanity, Robespierre had Carrier stripped of his authority and recalled from his position in Nantes to Paris. Robespierre had wanted to highlight the Republic's disgust with Carrier by sending him to the Revolutionary Tribunal, but Collot d'Herbois threw Carrier under his protection, and would not even sacrifice him to the Radical Purge, lest Robespierre take the opportunity at the trial to announce Carrier's crimes publicly. (Collot had committed a crime equal in depravity, if not in panache, in Lyons and so was wary of a precedent being set for mass-murderers being brought to the scaffold). This episode with Carrier was one incident which antagonized Robespierre to both sides of government: the moderates with Carnot, who valued Carrier's military genius, and the radicals with Collot, who valued their lives.

Carrier would not forget Robespierre's antagonism and was one of the Thermidorians. It is even rumoured that Carrier rode alongside the tumbril leading taking Robespierre to his execution, howling insults at the defeated man.

But Carrier would pay for his crimes in 1795 with the Thermidorian Reaction. This in itself is not an injustice - quite the opposite - but unfortunately it is one of the events that would kick off the rarely-mourned but quite-terrible White Terror.

I'm digressing. In other words, Carrier apparently displayed signs of mental instability (hence Herault’s concerns), and from his arrogant messages declaring that there were ‘miracles’ occurring in the river and his declaration the Julien, I think I am justified in my earlier statement that Carrier was deranged.


Last edited by Bunnies on Wed Dec 26, 2012 3:07 am; edited 3 times in total (Reason for editing : i edit things)
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Re: Les Noyades

Post  Mata Hari on Fri Dec 28, 2012 9:45 pm

Fascinating! This is helpful!!! Smile Thank you!

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Re: Les Noyades

Post  Bunnies on Sat Dec 29, 2012 12:10 am

No problem! But if you will allow me to indulge in Republicanism for a moment:

Carrier was a monstrosity. One would have to be either very naive and believe him to be innocent of the crime or very frightening and believe the crime to be excusable to say otherwise. But it should be said that it is not as though madness, or extravagant brutality, was a trait possessed only by Jacobins. In April 1793 the royalist commander Charette ordered a massacre of imprisoned Republicans, as many as 542. There is little to choose between Charette and Carrier, except that Carrier possibly had a higher death-toll, but this is only because he had the opportunity: had Charette 2,000 Republican prisoners on his hands there is no reason to believe that he would have capped himself at a "paltry" 500. And it should be said that this massacre happened before Carrier dabbled in the Noyades, so the questionable justification of "vengeance" does not hold true. Rather, it shifts over to Carrier. Perhaps as the infamous proconsul watched the ships sink beneath the waves of the Loire he believed that he had avenged his fallen allies. The royalists had shown that they would not give Republicans any mercy. Carrier returned the favor. He was probably genuinely puzzled as to why Robespierre was so upset with him.

War is a nasty business and for every horrendous crime the Republicans committed in the Vendee the Royalists matched them.

This is not to say that Royalists and Republicans shared a mutual monopoly on depravity, either. We can poke the Bonapartists too! It's funny how Carrier's noyades are widely known and unanimously decried, but hardly anyone knows that Napoleon Bonaparte did almost the exact same thing!While on his Egyptian campaign, Napoleon took some 2,000 Egyptian prisoners and drowned them. Not with boats, because why use boats when you can just chase everyone into the ocean?

The quantity and quality of the events in question are virtually identical...and yet Carrier's name elicits horror, while Bonaparte's elicits awe. It's rather frightening. Had Carrier not been executed in 1795 and instead lived a long, eventful life of conquest and adventure, he might very well be known as a hero today. That one time he drowned thousands of people in the Loire River would just be one of those weird, controversial "tidbits" his few critics would drag out of the woodwork but no one would really take seriously in light of all the nifty battles he won.

It's like a twisted inversion of the quote from that 2008 Batman film. You either die a villain, or live long enough to see yourself become the hero.
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Re: Les Noyades

Post  Bunnies on Tue Jan 15, 2013 7:11 pm

(Forgive me if this forum frowns upon double posts.)

As per usual, more research has made me question my previous argument and now I wonder whether Carrier was naturally deranged. This is not to say that my view on the Noyades has become more indulgent, but rather my view on humanity has, I suppose, become more jaded. I now assert that Carrier's flaw was not that he was too monstrous but that he was all too human.

Which isn't saying anything complimentary to humanity.

If Carrier was mentally deranged, as I asserted before, there should presumably have been a sign of it previous to the great bloodbath. I took this for granted, which is unbecoming. But after digging around the man's record a little more I can't help but wonder what Herault de Sechelles had been so worried about when he wrote his chastising letter to Carrier. Obviously, events eventually unfolded to prove that Herault's suspicions to be rooted in something concrete but until the Noyades we must admit that Carrier was a (relatively) clement man.

My previous post made it seem as though Carrier had wrote to the Committee of Public Safety vowing to shoot his prisoners and then proceeded to drown them. I was misinformed. Initially, Carrier was much better than his word and after reporting to the Committee that he was going to go on a bloody rampage...proceeded to do nothing at all. Instead, he secured his army some munitions and ran off to win another battle, leaving the prisoners in prison but unharmed.

After he won this battle, Carrier set up a Revolutionary Tribunal. If you went before it, you had 3/4 odds of being spared the guillotine. While we can debate about the validity of beheading anyone at all, it is clear from these statistics that Carrier's court was not of a kangaroo variety.

The infamous proconsul showed himself wise and prudent in other ways as well. When an assassination plot was denounced to him involving some 132 persons he had the suspects deported to Paris for trial, instead of having them summarily tried and shot, as per Vendean tradition. Once they were in Paris, Fouquier-Tinville found the case against them to be so lacking that he filed them away and all were spared the guillotine. This latter clement action of Fouquier's can't be attributed to Carrier, but had it not been for Carrier's prudence these 132 individuals (apparently innocent, if even Fouquier didn't think he had a case!) would have been killed. Hard to begrudge that. There were other such dabbles, including an incident where some of the more rabid Republicans wanted to brand those Nantese who adopted Vendean children as suspects - Carrier annulled the order and insisted that the Nantese were free to adopt any child under the age of 12.

It would seem then, the Carrier wasn't an out-and-out psychopath as I alluded to. He proved that he could be prudent and comparatively just. I have to conclude then that he finally organized the drownings in the grip of terror. Terror that the Vendean Army would rout itself and march upon his town, open the prisons and slaughter himself, his men, and the Republican civilians - and a concern that even if he survived that onslaught, the Parisians would force him to submit his head to the guillotine do to moderation. So he schemed with two Nantese Jacobins named Fouquiet and Lamberty, who came up with the disturbingly practical solution, commissioned a carpenter to build the proper ships (promising that the ship was meant to be used in a small river as cover against rebels) and proceeded to commit mass murder, preferring this surreptitious way of disposing of his prisoners over firing squad due to the comparatively easy clean-up.

I don't know how to word that more delicately so I apologize for my cavalier description of mass-murder.

I'm not trying to apologize for Carrier by any means. Indeed, I find my discovery...far more frightening than my previous thesis. It's more comforting to think that the men who would commit such atrocities are marked by blatant immorality, possessing all but horns and cloven feet. It makes them easy to pinpoint and you can tell yourself "Yes, I will avoid people like that!" Unfortunately that is not the case. Carrier was an average man who committed a horrendous evil.

...But! Just as I corrected my own post, I would like to respectfully correct Elena. The historian Fleury debunked the theory of Republican Marriages. That is, no one was tied together naked.

Being that people were still drowned by the boatload this doesn't really make anything better, but I figured I'd share.
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