“Lorient during the French Revolution” by S.M. O’Connor

The city’s fortunes declined once again on either side of the turn of the century because the French Revolution and Napoleonic Wars disrupted trade, and, more importantly caused hundreds of thousands of lives.  In 1789, the silver icon of Our Lady of Victory was lost, along with other liturgical objects.  The next year, the population of Lorient reached 15,399 people.  That same year, 1790, Brossière and the other priests of Lorient took the civic oath of allegiance to the constitution of the First Republic of France and the municipal government gained supervision of the parish as a political body.

In 1791, the municipal government of Lorient requested the National Assembly established a garrison at Lorient to put down an “insurrection” because the priests of Morbihan outside Lorient refused to take the civic oath.  Mayor Jean-Jacques le Cointe died in office on June 22, 1791 and Louis-François Galabert was elected mayor on July 18, 1791.  The Sisters of Wisdom at the Hôtel-Dieu refused to accept a new chaplain who was a priest who had taken the civic oath.  On June 3, 1791, the National Guard started to refuse admittance into the city for any soldier from the 9th Infantry Regiment, which was the port garrison, without permission.  Thirteen young laywomen[1] replaced the sisters at the Hôtel-Dieu. Two local convents were sold in 1791: the Ursuline convent at Hennebont and the Récollets convent at Port-Louis.

In 1792, Tréfaven Castle became a national asset.  In January of 1792, the municipal government reacted with alarm to the increase of the birthrate.  On January 28, 1792, the city council voted “that matrons will no longer be allowed to make pregnancy declarations.” On March 15, 1792, His Serene Highness Prince Louis Philippe Joseph (1747-1793), Duke of Orléans (1785-1793), Duke of Montpensier (1747-1793), and Duke of Chartres (1752-1793), reviewed the French Navy officers at Lorient.[2]  On April 30, 1792, the Lorient City Council promulgated the declaration of war against the King of Hungry and Bohemia (which is how the French Revolutionaries insisted on referring to Marie Antoinette’s nephew Emperor Francis II of the Holy Roman Empire).  Jean Louis Gerard, an On October 31, 1792, the municipal government seized the parish registers.  On November 2, 1792, all the silver objects in Saint-Louis Church were stolen by the State, as were all of the silver objects in all the churches throughout France. On September 15, 1792, Jean Louis Gerard, a merchant and a municipal officer of Lorient, was murdered.  He had been accused of arms trafficking on behalf of royalists in Santo Domingo.  On November 28, 1792, a new Liberty Tree was planted on the Place d’Armes du Port.  On December 22, 1792, the Hôtel-Dieu was renamed the Hospice of Humanity.

In 1793, Lorient received an order to arm four ships of the line, three frigates, three corvettes, and four smaller warships.  On January 17, 1793, the 1st Royal Corps of Colonial Artillery arrived in Lorient.  Five days later, on January 22, 1793, Saint-Louis Parish ceased to exist as a political body and municipal officers took over the accounts of the churchwarden.  On January 29, 1793, Lorient created a fire brigade (again).  On April 21, 1793, the general stores and sail-making facilities were set alight.  The blaze lasted for three days.  On April 28, 1793, the Committee of Public Safety – the committee of twelve men who instituted the Reign of Terror – called for the establishment of police forces in seaports.  On August 6, 1793, the Lorient City Council voted to cut down the forest of Carnac to build additional palisades.  On August 22, 1793, 300 prisoners arrived from Brest, and were imprisoned in Tréfaven Castle.  The next day, the municipal government was denounced to the Jacobins in the National Assembly for alleged failure to enforce a decree that prohibited the export of products.  On September 6, 1793, the Montagnards – the most radical faction of the Jacobins in the National Assembly called La Montagne (The Mountain) who were responsible for the death of Louis XVI and the Reign of Terror – called for the arrest of Lorient Mayor Jena-Jacques Trentinian.  Despite the chaos, the population of Lorient rose to 20,656.  On October 11, 1793, the State requisitioned the goods and ships of the East India Company.  The directors of the East India Company were arrested and some of them were guillotined.  Tréhouard, the representative of the Jacobins, dissolved the Lorient City Council on October 21, 1793.  All First Class Citizens were called up to leave for Hennebont on November 8, 1793.  Punishment awaited any man who was slow to arrive.  The criminal court moved from Vannes to Lorient on November 3, 1793.  The new government requisitioned all the paintings and all the sheets in Lorient on November 13, 1793.  A Revolutionary court took over a chapel on November 21, 1793. Olivier Le Fellic, a refractory priest, was guillotined at midday on December 12, 1793 on the Place de la Montagne (now the Place de la Alsace-Lorraine), having been taken prisoner with the curé of Bubry at Videlo.  A French surgeon who had been captured on an English corsair was also guillotined at six o’clock in the evening on the Place de la Montagne.  A ten o’clock curfew was imposed on December 28, 1793.

The State laid claim to all the shoes in the workshops, shops, and depots of Lorient on January 6, 1794.  January 19, 1794 was the Feast of Reason, a civic and religious festival, during a period when the militant atheists behind the French Revolution attempted to introduce a new religion, the Cult de la Raison (Cult of Reason).  [In Paris, the National Convention had desecrated Notre Dame Cathedral, where they installed a living woman (rather than idol) as the Goddess Reason.  Churches across France were desecrated and turned into Temples of Reason.  Later in the spring of 1794, Maximilien Robespierre (1758-1794), who headed the Committee of Public Safety, replaced the Cult of Reason with the Cult of the Supreme Being.  When General Napoleon Bonaparte came to power, he outlawed both of these religions.]  All carpenter in Lorient were pressed into ship production on January 21, 1794.  On January 29, 1794, the Decadi Festival was celebrated at Kerentrech at the foot of the Tree of Liberty.[3]  The East India Company was permanently dissolved by decree on April 18, 1794.  The sale of all of its (remaining) assets was to be accomplished within three months.  The Celebration of Equality Day occurred at the Temple of Reason on April 29, 1794.  The new council decreed, on November 15, 1794, that the full legal names, nicknames, ages, and professions of all residents of Lorient be posted in legible letters outside their homes.  The Council of Public Safety turned the Arsenal of Lorient into a prison.

On February 9, 1795, there was a district decree that authorized the municipal government of Lorient to ration bread with a limit of half a pound of bread per inhabitant per day.  After the British Royal Navy disbursed the fleet of Vice Admiral Villaret-Joyeuse, on June 27, 1795, 3,600 émigrés landed on the Quiberon promontory in Brittany, having been conveyed there from Portsmouth by British Royal Navy ships.[4]  They linked up with royalist fighters of the Chouannerie rebellion[5] at a time when the Republic had put down the (first) Vandée rebellion.[6]  Refugees who fled before the army arrived at Lorient on June 27, 1795.  An army of 8,000 men besieged Lorient and Port-Liberté on July 3, 1795.  [Louis-Lazre Hoche (1768-1797) defeated the royalist force on July 21, 1795.[7]]  On August 18, 1795, all the boys ages twelve-to-sixteen were organized to fight.  Men described as brigands (but possibly counter-revolutionaries) murdered the justice of the peace, Cordé, on September 3, 1795.  Despite the chaos, Lorient’s population swelled to 27,034 people.  Three artillery battalions were assigned to Lorient that year.

On August 12, 1795, the Minister of the Interior ordered residents of the first enclosure of the port to house soldiers in their homes.  [One of the causes of the American War of Independence is that rather than building barracks for garrisons, the British Government had ordered colonists in some places to billet troops in their homes.]  Another prison opened in Lorient on August 18, 1795, and 300 prisoners were transferred there from Brest on August 21st.  They were mostly used for masonry work and other manual labor.

The Chapel of Mercy was used while Saint-Louis Church was under construction, from 1797 to 1821. Marie-Amélie Thomase Delaunay, who would become a famous actress under her married name (Marie Dorval) was born in Lorient on January 6, 1798.  Also in January of 1798, the municipal government planted a new Liberty Tree to replace one that had been destroyed in the war and celebrated the proclamation of a peace treaty with Emperor Francis II.  On July 18, 1798, 200 more prisoners arrived at Lorient from Brest.  On May 9, 1799, the central government suppressed the Peace Court of the Third Canton of Lorient. Yet more prisoners, 310 men captured at Martinique, arrived from Bordeaux aboard La Confiance, on June 26, 1799.

On January 8, 1800, the City of Lorient authorized citizens who occupied buildings that had belonged to the Roman Catholic Church to continue to do so under the supervision of municipal authorities.  By December 31, 1800, the population of Lorient had risen to 22,677 people.  In 1800, two corvettes – the Géographe (Geographer) and the Naturaliste (Naturalist) – arrived at Lorient with over 100,000 mineral, plant, and animal specimens, including jellyfish and one platypus, as well as portraits of Australian Aborigines.

On February 6, 1801, the newly-appointed mayor of Lorient asked the Minister of the Interior to dissolve the General Police Commissariat.  The next day, the municipal government adopted a project to build public latrines.  [Improvements to public health in the 19th Century owed as much to the promotion of public hygiene as to advances in empirical medicine.]  The public clock was restored later in the month, and a windmill was added on the hospital grounds near the fortifications.

On August 27, 1802, four brothers (not to be confused with monks) of the Institute of the Brothers of the Christian Schools (not to be confused with the Christian Brothers, an Irish teaching order founded in 1802) established a primary school in the north wing of the common house.  The curriculum included mathematics and hydrography.

The City Council of Lorient called for the annexation of Faubourg de Merville (Ploemeur) on May 5, 1803.  Later that same year, on November 26, 1803, the old foundery of the Arsenal de Lorient was destroyed by fire.  A little less than a month late, on December 23, 1803, part of Tréfaven Castle that included a tower, collapsed after a three-day-long storm.

The sum of 25,000 francs was allocated to expand the prison to hold up to 950 convicts on September 17, 1804.  Not quite a month later, on October 10, 1804, the City Council of Lorient decided to open Lorient’s first free secular school on the first floor of a building that overlooked the courtyard of City Hall.  This ensured the children of the very poorest families would receive an education.


[1] I do not know how old they were, but the notation, in translation, reads “13 secular girls,” so they may well have been in their mid-to-late teens.

[2] Upon the death of his father, he was head of the House of Orléans, the senior most cadet branch of the House of Bourbon.  As such, Louis Philippe was the Premier Prince du Sang (First Prince of the Blood) from 1785 until his death in 1793.  He advocated the substitution of a constitutional monarchy for the absolute monarchy.  Later in 1792, after the September Massacres, the Paris Commune allowed him to legally change his surname to Égalité (Equality).  [The motto of the First French Republic was Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité (Liberty, Equality, Fraternity).]  He wanted to be known as Citoyun Égalité (Citizen Equality).  When the French Revolutionaries claimed to abolish the monarchy on August 11, 1792, arrested their king, claimed to strip of his title and name, renamed him Citoyun Louis Capet (Citizen Louis Capet), and placed him on trial in the National Assembly, Louis knew that his conviction and death sentence were a forgone conclusion, but it was painful blow to find out his cousin “Citizen Equality” had voted for his death.  The French Revolutionaries committed regicide with a guillotine on the Place de la Révolution (now the Place de la Concorde) on Monday, January 21, 1793.  Louis requested that the priest who gave him the Last Rite not be one who had taken the civic oath. Given that he or his heirs were due to inherit the French throne if the Royal Family died out, it is obvious Louis Philippe Joseph wanted to move closer to the throne.  Not surprisingly, the French Revolutionaries found an excuse to kill him, too, on November 6, 1793.  Louis XVI’s brother, Louis Stanislas Xavier, Count of Provence (1755-1824), ruled France (and Navarre) as King Louis XVIII from the Restoration of the Monarchy in 1814 until his death in 1824, except for a 100-day-long period that was the second reign of Napoleon I which began with Napoleon’s escape from exile on the isle of Elba and ended in his defeat at Waterloo.  Under pressure from the Allies, Louis XVIII ruled as a constitutional monarch, as he issued the Charter of 1814.  Another brother, Charles, Count of Artois (1757-1836), ruled France (and Navarre) as Charles X, King of France from 1824 until the July Revolution of 1830.  Charles X abdicated in favor of his ten-year-old grandson, Henri, Duke of Bordeaux, and trusted the son of Louis Philippe Joseph, Louis Philippe (1773-1850), Duke of Orléans (1793-1830) to communicate this to the Chamber of Deputies.  Instead, Louis Philippe had the Chamber of Deputies proclaim him King of the French.  He ruled France as Louis Philippe I, King of the French, from August 9, 1830 until the Revolution of 1848.  His regime was called the July Monarchy.  Thus, briefly, Louis Philippe Joseph got what he wanted.

[3] From 1792 to 1805, the First Republic of France and the First French Empire observed its own French Revolutionary Calendar with a ten-day week instead of the Gregorian calendar of the Roman Catholic Church with its seven-day week and many rest days on holidays, the Sabbath Day, and numerous feast days of saints.  It substituted the Decadi Festival for the Sabbath Day (Sunday).

[4] Will and Ariel Durant, The Story of Civilization: Part XI – The Age of Napoleon: A History of European Civilization from 1789 to 1815. New York City, New York: Simon and Schuster (1975), p. 85

[5] Jean Choun was the nom de guerre (war name) of Jean Cottereau.  He and his brothers led the Chouannerie rebellion

[6] Durant and Durant, p. 85

[7] Durant and Durant, p. 85

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