Citoyennes of the patrie? Gender and the mobilisation of France during the revolutionary wars, 1792-1799

Beth Fisher

The execution of Louis XVI in 1792 left a gaping void in French patriotic representation, leaving revolutionary leaders, such as Maximilien Robespierre, with the monumental task of recreating the body politic. Compounding the matter was the fact that France was at the same time embroiled in a war against Austria, and would later war with Prussia, Russia and Britain. To continue the war effort and stabilise society, revolutionary leaders needed to orchestrate a national mobilising mission, aimed at both men and women in order to boost morale and prevent desertion.

This raised the question: should there be a national figurehead? The revolutionaries were wary of reverting to old regime representations of a paternal figure, and in 1792 there was no one unifying leader as Napoleon would become a decade later.[1] The answer, therefore, was to replace paternity with fraternity, allowing revolutionaries to mobilise the nation around an idea – the fatherland – rather than a father.[2] Indeed, the iconography of the radical period of the Revolution featured virtually no emblems of fatherhood and nor did it mythologise a living leader. Leading revolutionaries like Robespierre, Danton, Lafayette and Marat passed from public office without establishing a personality cult, and tended to be depicted more often in death than in life.[3]

Just as paternity was replaced by fraternity, so religion was replaced by the human condition. Instead of worshipping the perfection of a Christian God, the revolutionaries now looked to the perfection of man. In his study of The Old Regime and the Revolution, the 19th century French historian, Alexis de Tocqueville, observed that the Revolution created a new kind of faith that made its ideas accessible, in order to rally large swathes of citizens:

If, with regard to religion, the French who made the Revolution were more unbelieving than we, at least there was left in them one admirable belief which we lack: they believed in themselves. They did not doubt perfectibility, the power of man; they readily became impassioned for his glory, they had faith in his virtue […] they did not doubt in the least that they were called to transform society and regenerate our species. These feelings and these passions had become a kind of new religion for them, which […] tore them away from individual egoism [and] encouraged them to heroism and devotion.[4]

Though at first sight, this replacement of Christianity may not seem particularly relevant to the gender dynamics of military recruitment, as Tocqueville alludes to, faith in the perfection of man helped form an imagined community whereby a ‘modern’ masculinity became inextricably linked with fraternity and a devotion to the fatherland – an idea for which citizen-soldiers were willing to die.[5]

Although self-sacrifice and military duty were central to the new religion of the revolution, the roots of the concepts are found in antiquity. The revolutionaries drew inspiration from classical republicanism, and the duties citizens owed to their patrie (homeland/fatherland) was one such ancient idea.[6]

It is no surprise then, that in much of the radical iconography, the citizen-soldier was portrayed in the guise of the classical youth. In many paintings from the revolutionary period, such as David’s The Oath of the Horatti (Figure 1), the young soldier exudes a Roman-style, militaristic masculinity.

oath of horatii
Figure 1: The Oath of the Horatii, by Jacques- Louis David.

In The Oath of the Horatii, the brothers prepare to fight their enemies, the Curatii, despite the siblings of the two families being linked by marriage. As in the French Revolution, the Horatii put love for the fatherland before familial love, ignoring the pleas of their weeping sisters.

Artists like David almost never depicted actual battle scenes or the gruesome consequences of war. Instead, by drawing upon allegorical and classical references, artists were able to paint the perfect vision of man as a virtuous, selfless soldier. By idealising sacrifice (rather than mutilation or death in battle), the army was ‘one with’ society, mobilising men in defence of the republican nation, inspired by the glory of ancient Rome.

Classical republicanism was equally influential upon depictions of women in the radical iconography used to rally the nation for war. Unlike men, women tended to be depicted in far more abstract forms, usually representing the motifs of liberty, maternity, or the fatherland, rather than appearing as an individual woman. [7]

Patriotic representations of individual women also drew inspiration from the Spartan mother – an ancient Greek concept of womanhood in which females were authoritative and tasked with raising warrior sons. This ancient image was revived by Rousseau during the Enlightenment and subsequently became the basis of republican education. In Emile, Rousseau puts forward the idea that the ideal republican woman is one who is willing to sacrifice her sons for the greater good of the fatherland:

A Spartan woman had five sons in the army and was awaiting news of the battle. A Helot arrives; trembling, she asks him for news. “Your five sons were killed.” “Base slave, did I ask you that?” “We won the victory.” The mother runs to the temple and gives thanks to the gods. This is the female citizen.[8]

Rousseau’s thoughts on women’s ability to mobilise the nation were not just lofty ideals, but found real influence in revolutionary culture. Revolutionary festivals organised by women’s clubs were often variants on this theme, admonishing their sons and husbands to bravely defend the nation, and staging balls and banquets in honour of the volunteers who signed up to the army.[9]

The chaste republican mother became central to the project of social regeneration. In stark contrast to the depictions of scheming, gossiping aristocratic women of the Ancien Régime ‘bitchocracy’, women were now allegorised as the glue that held the nation together.

leave-your-arrow.jpg
Figure 2: Leave Your Arrow and on Some Familiar Tunes Learn my Cherished Moral; be no longer the son of Venus, become the lover of the fatherland, unknown artist.

Ironically, the fatherland was always depicted as a mother, rather than a father (probably because of the negative connotations associated with a king-like figure). In Leave Your Arrow and on Some Familiar Tunes (Figure 2), a womanly figure of La Patrie instructs Cupid to sever his ties with Venus and instead serve the nation. Here, Cupid serves as a latent representation of the French boy, who must learn to reject frivolous love and channel his passion into a love for his nation.

The way in which women were represented in revolutionary iconography ­– as chaste, sacrificial, Spartan – evolved in tandem with the state of warfare. In Devotion to the Fatherland (Figure 3), Pierre-Antoine de Machy depicts the patriotic fervour of 1793, just after the introduction of the levée en masse. In it, mothers offer their infant sons to the enthroned woman, representing La Patrie. The soldier at the far right of the painting has learnt the lesson enshrined in Leave Your Arrow, and ignoring the protestations of his lover, pledges his love and sacrifice for the nation.

devotion to the fatherland
Figure 3: Devotion to the Fatherland, by Pierre-Antoine de Machy

This optimistic fervour later gave way to a more fearful undertone as the French army faced the Second Coalition and the very real threat of invasion.[10]  The Fatherland in Danger (Figure 4) encapsulates the severity of the situation and the even greater need for mobilisation.

the fatherland in danger
Figure 4: The Fatherland in Danger, by Guillaume Guillon-Lethière.

Painted in 1799, The Fatherland in Danger does not show the sorrowful women that are often founded in earlier paintings, but instead portrays women as leading the urgent mission of mobilisation. Surrounded by tricolour flags, the women this time encourage their lovers to join the battle, with one woman even appearing to carry weapons towards the seated figure of La Patrie.

Gender had a profound impact on the iconography of the revolutionary wars. Drawing inspiration from classical republicanism, revolutionaries deified masculinity in the guise of the citizen-soldier, and femininity in the form of the Spartan mother. Ideals of gender were used both to regenerate society, and to mobilise it for total war. Even in Georgian Britain, it became noticed that French soldiers were increasingly more patriotic and masculinised than its own. British masculinity had usually been defined in contrast to French ‘effeminacy’, but during the revolutionary wars the attitude of British officers toward their enemy began to change as they recognised Napoleon had harnessed a formidable military power.[11]  Increasingly, the British army reflected upon the national differences between themselves and Spanish and Portuguese soldiers, whom they had fought alongside in the Peninsula War.[12]

However effective gender may have been in mobilising France, the fact that both masculinity and femininity were used to define what it meant to be patriotic republican shows that, as the country experienced large-scale war, the citizen-army became inextricably linked to civil society. The soldier was no longer simply a man fulfilling an occupation, but a warrior who inherited the ancient duty to protect his community, ushering in the modern age of ‘total’ war.

Beth Fisher is currently an MA student in Modern History at the University of York, having completed her undergraduate degree in History last year at the University of East Anglia. She has specialised in the French Revolution and modern European diplomatic history, and is currently researching a Master’s dissertation on Labour Party foreign policy towards Nazi Germany, 1936-1939.

Images

Figure 1: Jacques-Louis David, The Oath of Horatii, oil on canvas (1784), taken from https://www.jacqueslouisdavid.org/The-Oath-Of-The-Horatii-1784.html, date accessed 20.3.2019

Figure 2: Unknown artist, Leave Your Arrow and on Some Familiar Tunes Learn my Cherished Moral; be no longer the son of Venus, become the lover of the fatherland, unknown artist (c. 1793), taken from Landes, ‘Republican citizenship’, p. 102.

Figure 3: P.A. de Machy, Devotion to the Fatherland (1793), taken from Landes, ‘Republican Citzenship’, p. 108.

Figure 4: Gillaume Guillon-Lethière, The Fatherland in Danger, oil on canvas (1799), taken from http://chnm.gmu.edu/revolution/d/19/, date accessed 21.3.2019

References

[1] Alan Forrest,‘Citizenship and Masculinity The Revolutionary Citizen-Soldier and his Legacy’, in S. Dudink (ed.), Representing Masculinity Male Citizenship in Modern Western Culture (Basingstoke, 2007), p. 112.

[2] Lynne Hunt, The Family Romance of the French Revolution (Abingdon, 1992) p. 53.

[3] Ibid, p.71.

[4] Alexis de Tocqueville, The Old Regime and the Revolution, edited by F. Furet (Chicago, 1998), p.208

[5] Joan Landes, ‘Republican citizenship and heterosocial desire: concepts of masculinity in revolutionary France’, in S. Dudink, K Hagemann and J. Tosh (eds.), Masculinities in Politics and War (Manchester, 2004), p. 98.

[6] Marisa Linton, Choosing Terror Virtue, Friendship and Authenticity in the French Revolution (Oxford, 2013), p. 34-35.

[7] I am yet to find a single refence to a ‘motherland’. Interestingly, France was always referred to as a ‘fatherland’, but it was common for contemporary artists to depict France as a maternal figure. It is not entirely clear why this was the case, but some historians, such as Joan Landes, have suggested that female depictions were used to bolster heteronormative behaviour, particularly within the army which, during this era, became an exclusively male space.

[8] Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Emile or On Education (New York, 1979), p. 40.

[9] Susan Desan, The Family on Trial in Revolutionary France (Berkeley, 2004), p. 78.

[10] Landes, ‘Republican Citzenship’, p. 106.

[11] Catriona Kennedy, ‘John Bull into Battle: Military Masculinity and the British Army Officer during the Napoleonic Wars’, in K. Hagemann and J. Rendall (eds.), Gender War and Politics: Transatlantic Perspectives on the Wars of Revolution and Liberation, 1775-1830 (Basingstoke, 2010), p. 128.

[12] Ibid, p. 139.

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Justifying Terror: virtue in Jacobin France

By Sam Young

Paris in 1793 was a city gripped by uncertainty.

The revolution that ended Bourbon absolutism and established a constitutional monarchy had developed more rapidly than anyone could have predicted. Spiralling food prices, provincial uprisings and incursions by foreign armies led to unbearable tension in the capital. In September 1792, following an explosion of popular violence against suspected reactionaries, the monarchy was abolished. By January, the ex-king Louis was dead.

DavidBrutusSonsCorps

Republican leaders knew that instability required decisive leadership. In July 1793, the hard-line Montagnard wing of the Jacobin Club ousted the faltering Girondin faction and centralised power in the Committee of Public Safety, headed by the ‘incorruptible’ Maximilien Robespierre.

The Committee realised that the threat of violence alone was not enough to consolidate the Revolution. A form of unifying ideology was required. Here the Jacobins fell back on a word that was already widespread in political rhetoric: Vertu, or ‘Virtue’.

The philosophical concept of virtue has its origins in the Enlightenment. In her 2013 study Choosing Terror, Marisa Linton highlights the two key strands of ‘virtuous’ thought that developed over the eighteenth century.[1]

The first is a highly intellectual form of virtue referred to as classically republican. Popular with philosophers such as Montesquieu, this interpretation focuses on the merits of selfless patriotism in safeguarding the democratic republic (modelled on Ancient Greece or Rome). Virtue here represents the philosophical means to a political end: establishing specific intellectual principles upon which governments can base their style of rule.

The second strand is natural virtue. Commonly associated with Rousseau, natural virtue is a more emotional concept than its classical counterpart. It is a popular sentimental force aimed at promoting a ‘sublime level of happiness and fulfilment’ among the people through virtuous acts.[2] This process requires a personal moral development beyond the realms of high intellectualism.

Classical virtue of the first type was what drove the men of the Third Estate when they split from the crown in 1789. To them it remained a ‘high’ philosophical concept, endowing their revolutionary project with a sense of classical destiny steeped in Enlightenment tradition.

This is reflected in the visual art of the time: in August 1789 the Neo-Classical painter Jacques-Louis David exhibited Les licteurs rapportent à Brutus les corps de ses fils (‘The lictors bring Brutus the bodies of his sons’), depicting the Roman republican leader who executed his own sons for plotting with royalists. Emphasising the themes of patriotic sacrifice for the classical-style state, David’s painting portrayed ‘classical republican’ virtue in a clear yet deeply intellectual style.

However, there was a limit to the practical use of lofty Enlightenment idealism. As crises multiplied and French politics edged towards hard-line republicanism, the semantic nature of virtue changed. By 1792 the Jacobins were advocating a form of virtue far closer to Linton’s ‘natural virtue’.

This strongly emotional sentiment was aimed at the streets rather than the drawing rooms of political clubs. Spread by propagandists such as Jean-Paul Marat, natural virtueFrench_revolution_guillotine_hulton_archive represented a ‘passionate commitment’ to the preservation of the patrie and the rooting out of all counter-revolutionary bodies.[3]

The populist appeal of natural virtue gave the Jacobins (or by 1793, the Montagnards) a method of winning support among ‘the urban workers’, particularly in Paris.[4] Virtue was propagandised as a semi-mystical force that existed within all honest republicans – a helpfully ambiguous definition that allowed the Montagnards to use it to popularise actions taken to preserve their power.

The 1793-4 Terror demonstrated this flexibility of meaning. Virtue became the order of the day, acting as the motivation behind the relentless political violence required to sustain Jacobin power. Robespierre summed up the use of natural virtue in the mechanism of terror on 5 February 1794:

‘The basis of popular government during a revolution is both virtue and terror: virtue, without which terror is monstrous; terror, without which virtue is impotent. Terror is nothing more than justice – swift, severe and inflexible.’[5]

Robespierre’s words clearly show the transition of virtue from a philosophical concept to a practical justification for state violence. Semantic ambiguity gave it political potential. From here, one can draw a line to later authoritarian regimes and their use of deliberately vague language to justify violence. For example, the Soviet propaganda machine made liberal use of the term ‘Class Enemy’, changing its meaning to suit the purging of particular social or ethnic groups.

This flexibility is what made Vertu so dangerous. What started out as a highly intellectual term was transformed into a political buzzword used to legitimise terror. The French Revolution introduced many new political ideas to Europe, but perhaps its most remarkable legacy was the realisation that the power of a single word can be virtually limitless.

Sam Young is currently studying for an MA in Modern History at Sheffield. He holds a BA French & History at the University of Nottingham, where he wrote his undergraduate dissertation on the use of ‘Virtue’ in French republican painting. He is currently researching for an MA dissertation on the creation of French-Algerian exile communities in 1960s France. Find him on Twitter: @Samyoung102

References

[1] Marisa Linton, Choosing Terror: Virtue, Friendship, and Authenticity in the French Revolution (Oxford, 2013).

[2] Linton, Choosing Terror, p. 38.

[3] Barrington Moore Jr., ‘Misgivings About Revolution: Robespierre, Carnot, Saint-Juste’, in French Politics and Society 16.4 (1998), pp. 17-36.

[4] Marisa Linton, ‘Robespierre and the Terror’, in History Today 56.8 (Aug. 2006), pp. 23-29.

[5] Quoted in Max Gallo, L’homme Robespierre: Histoire d’une solitude (1968), p. 318.

Images

Image 1: Jacques-Louis David, The Lictors Bring to Brutus the Bodies of His Sons, via Wikimedia Commons

Image 2: ‘French Revolution Execution with Guillotine’ from the Hulton Archive, via Wikimedia Commons

I can’t speak French: Linguistic oppression in Revolutionary France and the rise of linguistic nationalism

By James Chetwood

Over the next couple of days people all over France will participate in the Fête Nationale. The events of the Revolution it celebrates not only altered the linguistic landscape of France, but it also saw the creation of a language policy which transformed language into a vehicle for nationalism, and means through which states could demonstrate their authenticity, as well as demand loyalty from their people.

It was in 1790, barely a year after the Bastille was stormed, that the first ever linguistic survey of France took place. The Rapport Grégoire established that French was the sole language in only 15 of the 83 départements, and that over 12 million citizens – mainly in rural areas – couldn’t speak enough French to carry out a conversation, and that only 3 million people could speak French ‘properly’, with even fewer able to write it. In effect, Paris and its hinterland was virtually an isolated island of monolingual French speakers surrounded by a sea of regional languages.[1]

The initial response of the Constituent Assembly was to have all new legislation

800px-Federation
Fête de la Fédération, woodcut from a picture by C. Monet, 1790, Painter of the King

translated into all the languages spoken in France – a position supported by the federalist Girondins. But with the fate of the Revolution in the balance, the centralising Jacobin faction that took control in 1793 had other ideas. Ruling through the wonderfully Orwellianly-named ‘Committee of Public Safety’, the Jacobin ruling faction acquired far-reaching executive powers, including control of the army and mass conscription, the ability to appoint judges and juries to the Revolutionary Tribunal, the right to set prices, as well as the maintenance of public order.

While it might be a step too far to call this an ‘authoritarian régime’, many of the techniques used by the Committee have been features of authoritarian rule in the centuries that have followed. The ‘Reign of Terror’ they oversaw crushed internal insurrection in the Vendée and eliminated political enemies, executing some 17,000 people along the way. To ‘save liberty’, it was also deemed necessary both to enlighten the people of France and exercise control over their opinions. Liberty of the press was abandoned, patriotic pamphlets and journals were printed, national fêtes were organised, and the theatre was expected to contribute to promotion of the Republic and its ideals.

Language was to play a key role in this re-education of the French people. French, and French alone, was to be the language of freedom and the universal values embodied by the Déclaration des Droits de l’Homme. While it may have, theoretically, been done in the spirit of equality and democracy – a national language ensured that all citizens had equal access to the benefits of the Revolution – the practical application of the policy and the language had a decidedly authoritarian bent.

In 1794 the revolutionary government passed a decree imposing the use of French throughout French territory, private schools were converted into state schools in which the language of instruction was to be French. The revolutionary wish was to see all French citizens understanding ‘the language of liberty’ and using it in their daily lives.

The mastermind of the Rapport du Comité de salut public sur les idiomes – out of which the law of 1794 was produced – was Bertrand Barère. In his report he claimed that, in Brittany:

‘Ignorance perpetuates…they do not even know that new laws exist…The inhabitants of the countryside understand only Breton; it is with this barbaric instrument of their superstitious ideas that the priests…hold people under their sway…and prevent citizens from knowing the laws and loving the Republic.’

Not only was French promoted as the national language of France – the sole means through which to transmit the laws of the Republic – but all other languages were viewed with, at best, derision; at worst, suspicion. To speak a language other than French was to be a potential enemy of the Revolution. Barère proclaimed that the ‘barbaric jargons’ and ‘coarse idioms’ that constituted the other languages of France could only serve fanatics and counter-revolutionaries:

‘The voice of federalism and superstition speaks Breton, the émigrés and those who hate the Republic speak German, the counter-revolution speaks Italian and the fanaticism speaks Basque.’

It wasn’t enough just to teach people French. To secure the future of the Republic, and to silence these dissenting voices, it was necessary to ‘crush’ all other languages and the ignorance and sedition they allowed to flourish.

While the Committee of Public Safety was disbanded a few months later, the nationalist, centralising language policies it created were to last much longer. Throughout the nineteenth century the government stepped up attempts to stamp out minority languages for official purposes. Appeal Court decisions in Corsica in 1830, 1859 and 1875 upheld decisions that only French could be used in legal documents. And in 1881, when universal primary education was introduced by Jules Ferry, it was in large part to ensure that all education was to be carried out in French (even though Corsica hadn’t been part

490px-Le_serment_de_La_Fayette_a_la_fete_de_la_Federation_14_July_1790_French_School_18th_century
Le serment de La Fayette a la Fête de la Fédération, 1791, artist Jacques-Louis David

of France at the time of the Revolution).

The laws weren’t just applicable to the French hexagone either. While Napoleon may have joked that he didn’t care what language his troops spoke as long as their sabres spoke French, the French colonial Empire was also meant to be francophone. The colonies may have been thousands of miles away, but there was (in theory) to be no barrier to their eventual full assimilation into the full nation-state.[2]

While there has been a link between language and ‘peoples’ for millennia, the direct link between nation, people and language as a defining factor in national identity was a new idea, and one that the Revolution helped to create. The role these ideas played in the nationalist movements of the nineteenth and twentieth century would be significant. Language became a tool used to shape the identity of a nation, unite its people and, where necessary, to stamp out alternative identities around which people could unite. It also became a means to influence the people within a state – to mould minds and manipulate opinions – using methods employed so frequently by the authoritarian régimes of the twentieth century, and examined so eloquently by the (other) contributors to this blog.

James Chetwood has recently completed a PhD in the University of Sheffield History Department on medieval personal naming. His research flits about aimlessly between different historical periods and language phenomena in a way that is probably detrimental to his career. He’s organising a conference that you should come to: https://namesandhistory.wordpress.com/.

Selected bibliography:

Bertrand Barère de Vieuzac, ‘Rapport du Comité de salut public sur les idiomes’ (27 janvier 1794), accessed online: http://www.axl.cefan.ulaval.ca/francophonie/barere-rapport.htm 

Abalain, H., Destin des langues celtiques (Gap, 1989).

Ager, D., Language Policy in Britain and France – The Processes of Policy (London, 1996).

Ager, D., Identity, Insecurity and Image: France and Language (Clevedon, 1999).

Fishman, J., Language and Nationalism: Two Integrative Essays (Rowley, 1972).

Judge, A., Linguistic Policy and the Survival of Regional Languages in France and Britain, (Basingstoke, 2007).

Lainé, N., Le droit à la parole (Rennes, 1992).

[1] The numerous minority languages and dialects spoken on its territory effectively carved up the map of France. With Breton in the north-west, Flemish in the north-east, German in the east and Basque, Catalan, Italian and various Occitan varieties in the south.

[2] Language policy today in France is, in practice, only marginally less oppressive than in Barère’s day. It wasn’t until 2001 that the then Minister of Education, Jack Lang, announced that bilingual education would be recognised for the first time in France, and, although France a signatory of the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages, the French constitution blocks ratification of it, meaning no regional languages have protected status. They usually are taught, if at all, as optional third or fourth languages in secondary school.

Image Attributions:

Image 1: Isidore Stanislas Helman [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Image 2: Jaques-Louis David [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons