Vivarais, spring 1670. After a hard winter had destroyed all the olive trees of Languedoc, from Montpellier to Aubenas, rumours of new taxes sparked a revolt.
The chronicler Dourille put it like this: “every day one talked of new taxes, real or not, that threatened to plunge the people of Vivarais into their final misery.” Taxes on various items, like hats, shoes and shirts… as well as on the birth of children. The latter is certainly the wildest of the rumours. According to it, families with newborns should be taxed 10 livres if it was a boy and 5 livres if the newborn was of the female gender. It caused quite the outrage, of course, and having struggled to survive said harsh winter, the poor and not so wealthy still feared for their very existence. The spring was not what it promised to be either, strong storms swept over the area and the danger of famine grew. Combined with general economic hardship, it was a rather explosive situation.
As and a gentleman, a commis named Barthélemy Casse, made an appearance at Aubenas to tell the people there was a new contract for the collection of taxes on workhouses and cabaretiers, all hell broke loose. The people of Aubenas chased the commis out of town by throwing stones at him.
What started at Aubenas, soon spread over the whole region. On May 12, between 3000 and 4000 peasants took temporary over Joyeuse and pillaged the shops of merchants. On May 14, a smaller group of 800 to 900 peasants plundered the town of l’Argentiére until they were driven out. While at the same time, other peasant mobs roamed through the country side and pillaged several small villages and the lands and houses of the local officials.
Armed with pitchforks, axes and old muskets, the peasants of Vivarais had plenty of anger, but no real organisation or a leader. This changed as they encountered Antoine du Roure, a petty noble known for his liberal ideas and very popular in the region. Monsieur du Roure, after the which the revolt was named, had a bit of experience in matters of fighting and organisation. He served as captain of a militia company, which was later turned into a regiment and marched in support of Louis XIV’s armies in Flanders. Whether he joined them on his own account or not, is not entirely clear. The Fidéle Relation reports he was forced to lead the rebels against his will. Either way, Roure introduced a certain degree of order and discipline among the mob.
On May 14, l’Argentiére was plundered, Roure headed for Aubenas with around 300 men at his disposal. The gates of the town were closed at the sight, but some men inside, which were in support of the peasant mob, changed that quickly. Monsieur Roure marched in and plundered several houses, while the town officials and noblemen rushed to seek safety in the local chateau, doing nothing to stop the plundering. Being left alone by their officials and noble superiors, thirty of the townsmen armed themselves as best as they could and launched an attack on a group of Roure’s men that were about to leave, with plenty of booty in their arms and pockets. Four of them were killed, several others taken prisoner and the gates closed in a hurry.
Under the sound of the ringing church bells, the people of Aubenas were then confronted with a mob of violent peasants from the surrounding parishes, that threatened to burn their houses and destroy their harvest if the prisoners are not released at once. They had no other chance and released them.
The news of what happened in these towns and of peasants roaming the streets, reached the Marquis de Castries, lieutenant général of the province, the very same day. On May 15, he thus forbade armed assemblies and ordered everyone who spread false rumours of taxes to be punished by death.
The Marquis assembled all the men he could find to hunt the rebels down and asked the local nobility to aid him with whatever they could provide. As he arrived at Nîmes, a Protestant town, his request for 200 men was dismissed by the officials. He warned them thus if they would not provide the men, he would let the King know that “when it was a question of His Majesty’s service one could barely find 200 men in Nîmes, but when it was a question of engaging in acts of disobedience and revolt, one could find 3000.”
While Castries was preparing to make a move, Roure was already on the move again. He decided to launch an attack on Villeneuve-de-Berg in order to drive the grand prévôt, and his archers, out…. and to kill every tax collector there. He marched there with around 2000 men and the grand prévôt fled as soon as they appeared in the distance. The locals barricaded the gates and organised for a small armed force to protect them. It worked, Roure did not manage to get inside. Instead, they let their anger out on the areas outside the walls and withdrew.
The Marquis de Castries, having gathered local troops and inquired for royal support, received word from l’Argentiére and Aubenas. The towns requested royal troops to help maintain order and their request was granted… but some in Aubenas feared having royal troops in their town would only make everything worse. They were right. As soon as the troops arrived, many of them Swiss, they were driven out again and had to flee to the chateau. The town was now in the hands of the rebel supporters.
Roure made an appearance too and ordered the soldiers, which were besieged in the chateau by the mob, to surrender…. but they refused to do so. Instead, Roure was approached by Alphonse Henri Charles de Lorraine, who went by the title Prince d’Harcourt, and promised that he would use all of his influence with the King to obtain a general amnesty for them. Provided that Roure would not attack the chateau, and instead supply it with food, for the next fifteen days, the time needed to have word from Paris. As you might guess, it was a trick. Monsieur du Roure kept his promise and left the soldiers be, but instead of acquiring the promised pardon, the fifteen days were used to dispatch more royal troops.
The Marquis de Castries was, of course, involved in the trick as well. He was in constant contact with Colbert, who wrote him that some of the troops would not arrive until late July, while others, those marching from Lyon, would arrive earlier. Using the fifteen days, Castries ordered those from Lyon to wait for the rest, in order to march into Vivarais together. Said troops consisted of the some of the most experienced parts of the royal army. Like the musketeers of the maison du roi, under command of Monsieur d’Artagnan, six companies of the Gardes Francaises, around 400 Gardes Suisses, 3 regiments of infantry, four squadrons of cavalry, two companies of dragoons, around 800 militia from the local towns and various members of nobility. All together, nearly 5000 men strong.
In the meanwhile, Louis XIV made it be known that he indented to pardon most of the rebels, apart from their leaders, and to make up for the trouble they caused, intended to tax them more over the period of a year…. and again, all hell broke loose.
Luckily, for Louis XIV, the army had arrived by then. On July 25, Roure camped near La Villedieu with a force of around 2000 men and was surprised by Castries. They rebels were attacked and surprised in their sleep. Hunderts of them were killed in what was more butchery than anything else.
Roure, however, managed to get away and hide himself, while the Marquis moved on and entered Aubenas without any resistance. A pardon was promised to everyone who put the weapons down and returned to their houses within three days. On August 7, the Marquis de Castries proclaimed the end of the revolt, the King’s authority reestablished, and justice satisfied…. but not everyone got away with a pardon.
Plenty of them were executed, banished or sentenced to serve for the rest of their lives on the galleys, until Louis le Grand granted a general pardon to everyone, with the exception of Roure and his most loyal followers, later in August. Roure was captured while planning to flee to the Pyrenees and executed on October 20 in 1670 at Montpellier.
But that wasn’t yet the end of it. The cites that housed the most rebels were punished as well. Aubenas had to pay 500 ecus, La Chapelle had to pay 800 livres and Vogüé 500 livres. La Villedieu and Ailhon both had to pay 300 livres, along with the costs of the trials and sentencing. Some of the royal troops remained in the area for some months longer, their foragers claiming grain, livestock, furnishings… while everyone who was found armed, was executed on the very spot.