The Soldiers are Dressed in Red: The Quiberon Expedition of 1795 and the Counter-Revolution in Brittany (From Reason to Revolution)
Publisher: Helion and Company (April 15, 2022)
Paperback: 256 pages
In Paris, the progress of the French Revolution was marked by violent rivalries amongst political factions. Occasionally these spilled out into other regions where there were also truly counter-revolutionary movements which portrayed strong regional characteristics, particularly in Western France. In Brittany, resistance to the Revolutionary regime in Paris merged with local grievances and developed into an insurgency in the countryside, waged by chouans.
When, in 1793, France declared war on Britain the latter’s war policy initially sought peace by seizing colonial territories by which earlier conflicts had been concluded but by 1795 it was considered that peace could only be obtained by toppling the regime in Paris by supporting its internal as well as its external enemies.
Thus in the summer of 1795, French émigrés in specially raised military units came ashore in Quiberon Bay, south-eastern Brittany, to not only sustain the chouans but also to expand their fight against the French republican regime. Landing from British ships, they were part of an expedition that was paid for, supplied and supported by Britain. Local Bretons, hoping for the restoration of their religion and king, joined the cause but republican forces, led by an energetic general, Lazare Hoche, soon checked and then defeated the émigrés and their local allies.
Little has been written about the expedition in English and it has tended to be regarded as an episode within the confines of revolutionary or royalist politics. Nevertheless, the expedition and its bloody end remains contentious to this day, inspiring many memoirs, histories and novels in French, echoing regional and political divisions and tensions of the past.
This book seeks to provide a comprehensive account of the expedition as a joint military enterprise – joint in terms of French émigrés and the British Government, and its Navy and Army, as well as in terms of the émigrés and local chouans. Drawing on memoirs, archival material and historical works it seeks to place the expedition within the context of wider events and describe how it was affected by the planning process as well as concurrent events and priorities. Personal and political capacity, ambition, rivalry and co-operation all played their part in affecting events, along with the weather and chance. In essence it seeks to give the reader the story of what happened but also shed light on why it happened.
Alistair Nichols is a retired police officer. His interest in military history emerged after the realisation that he was not very good at painting models. He has studied in particular the history of the foreign units in the British Army during the era of the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars. His published works include histories of the Chasseurs Britanniques and the Watteville Regiment and his most recent is They Turned Out So Ill! The Independent Companies of Foreigners 1812–1814.