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date: 12 December 2019

Emigration in Politics and Imaginations

Abstract and Keywords

Emigration during the French Revolution has many different layers of historical reality, but the most defining of these was the legislation that condemned émigrés to death in 1793, and that was not altered until after Napoleon came to power. This legislation was not without its critics from its inception, and it is important to challenge the very inflexible notion that all émigrés were automatically traitors. The problems of getting émigré protests heard, and the imaginary aspect of their ideal France—usually a constitutional monarchy—was harder to convey while the legislation was in place. Furthermore the issue of justice for a significant minority group tests the principles of the revolutionaries inside France, and has a context that concerns not only the émigrés, but what the Republicans imagined as well. This chapter deals with the elaboration of the legislation and the difficulties of overcoming a very uncompromising stance on the guilt of the émigrés as a collective. These émigrés were in fact genuine refugees, and like any refugees their plight was the worse for the length of time the conflict lasted.

Keywords: émigrés, emigration, refugees, fugitifs français, exile, counter-revolution, legislation, biens nationaux, outlaws, law of hostages

  • Du drame bien long et bien noir,
  • Que nous jouons, sans le vouloir,
  • Sous les yeux de l’Europe entière
  • (Very long and very black tragedy,
  • That we act out, unwillingly,
  • Under the gaze of all of Europe)1

Escaping from the Revolution was a dangerous business, but escaping from the entrapment of emigration politics took much longer. Nearly 130,000 French men and women were registered on the official lists as émigrés in France during the French Revolution.2 This was not a large proportion of the twenty-eight million who made up the French population at the beginning of the Revolution, but compared to the number of nobles (around 140,000) its significance is plain.3 Figures can vary but 73 per cent of the non-ecclesiastic émigrés enrolled on the relief lists in London in 1797 perceived themselves to have aristocratic connections and used the particle ‘de’ before their name.4 They were a politically active minority that long term made a very significant difference—simply by not being defeated and being able to return. They fought to assume their right to be French and to live safely in a hostile France where the Republicans used their majority vote to condemn the émigrés to death. This group braved the perils of exile, experienced poverty and misery to stand up for their right to belong in a Nation determined to blame them for all the evils of absolute monarchy. Some did not return from emigration, dying from exhaustion, in childbirth, of old age and stress, or in war serving with the armies of the allies against Republican troops. If caught, like the émigrés at Quiberon, they were put to death just because their names appeared on the national émigré lists.5

In the European cities of London, Vienna, Berlin, St Petersburg, Madrid and Lisbon, émigrés waited imagining a better France.6 This imagination and hope for a different (p. 331) political future was the life-blood of the emigration.7 It was expressed in all forms of literature from the polemics of Lally Tolendal and the writings of the exiled deputies of the Constituent like Montlosier, to the novels of Madame de Staël, Madame de Souza and Senac de Meihan.8 It can also be found in the work of another later generation affected by those who had known the experience of emigration, and written their memoirs. Rance emphasizes that, ‘Émigré authors were not so much seeking to give a sense to the explosion of violence as to understand how the destruction of a political regime, a system of State, had been possible’.9 Others like Lucie de la Tour du Pin simply recounted how patterns of life were changed in emigration. The trickle-down effect of this recounting can be found later in the nineteenth century in, for example, George Sand: ‘He found her awake. She was accustomed to get up early as a result of the habits of active labour she had acquired in emigration, and she had not been able to lose on recovering her opulence.’10

There is no question that the vast majority of the émigrés wanted to live in a France governed by a Bourbon king.11 The sympathetic reception of the memoirs of Cléry, Louis XVI’s confessor, when they appeared in Britain in 1793 provides proof of the horror that both the British and the French felt at the king’s execution.12 Émigrés provided the written proof that the Revolution could not eradicate all trace of the aristocracy and its supporters, or their habits and ways, simply by killing the king.13

Yet, despite what would come to unite them, in particular the ten years’ average stay outside France that most endured, émigrés came to that status through different routes, and for many it was not a completely free choice.14 From officers pressured to take the chemin de l’honneur and leave loved ones behind them, to those who found that personal views or social position put them at odds with powerful local officials, émigrés found themselves surrounded by hostile attitudes.15 They often had only one option that could be relied upon to leave them alive, or to keep their family intact. For many individuals who were not themselves heads of households, emigration had little of choice about it at all. Dependence upon the decisions of others—fathers, husbands, or other male relatives—was responsible for leaving many women and children individually subject to revolutionary proscription.16 Priests too, who were not officially classed as émigrés until the Law of Suspects came into effect, often had choices forced upon them because they had nowhere to hide inside France without putting others at risk.17 The lists of those condemned as émigrés have become famous over time for their errors.18 There was a large cross section of people who found themselves on these lists or trapped in emigration through no direct political decision of their own—underscoring the point that emigration was fundamentally violent.19 The Courrier de Londres clarified in November of 1792:

There are in England several thousand brave people who have not quitted France because their courage was not equal to the events, but because they were personally persecuted, and they could have become the last victims of the calumnies that time alone could unveil and against which their heroism served no purpose.20

(p. 332) So what explains the slippage between the imaginings and expectations of the émigrés, and the reality of politics in France? By whom and how were the distances and divisions created: physical, political and intellectual? And central to this, is the question of whether it is correct to see the émigrés as only a negative influence in regard to the French state in revolution—by whom was this decided, and just how much was determined by the émigrés being legally given the death sentence?

Émigrés have been largely rediscovered since the bicentenary of the French Revolution in 1989.21 Many individuals in emigration have been shown to be colourful, interesting, and rashly courageous. They were a subset of counter-revolutionaries, but their predicament was legally defined by their geographic movements, and the date they left French soil, rather than by their taking arms against the state.22 The Republican government made it a crime for a virtuous Frenchman not to reside on French national soil, and this posed many new administrative and political dilemmas. The codification of the émigré laws by the Convention between 28 March and 5 April 1793 marked a turning point. These émigré laws, some 200 in all, affected not only émigrés but friends and relatives of émigrés as well as public functionaries who were responsible for implementing the law and servicing the debt.23

There are three important issues regarding émigré legislation. First, the definition of an émigré was fixed in 1793 after the war had begun, and throughout the period 1793–1802, the definition remained essentially unchanged. Second, the procedural issues associated with émigré legislation were never properly or legally resolved and, as a consequence, the lack of any significant revision of the émigré legislation was an indicator of the vulnerability of the Revolutionary government’s position. Third, the cumulative rigidity of these laws prevented a political rapprochement taking place between émigrés and moderate ex-nobles within France in the critical period 1795–97. This critical lost opportunity arguably prevented the institution of a constitutional monarchy years before the eventual Restoration.24

Penal legislation targeting the opponents of Revolution was an inevitable product of the deposition of the king, and the property of émigrés had already been the subject of penal taxation then confiscation after the outbreak of war. On 23 October 1791 émigrés were first banished in perpetuity from French soil, and those caught on French soil were condemned to death. A short amnesty of fifteen days was accorded to allow those who wished to re-enter the country to do so, but the decree was vetoed by the king and did not take effect. Nevertheless the unbending severity of the universal condemnation sent shock waves through the émigré community.25 Émigrés who had hoped to return to their homes after only a short absence were made brutally aware by the first two articles of the legislation that their exodus was permanent. From 1793 onwards émigrés could be condemned to death on the strength of a simple identification test and put to death by local officials in complete accordance with the law and without right of representation or appeal.

The 28 March 1793 legislation was unsurprising coming as it did in the wake of the king’s execution, and amid massive alarm at provincial revolts. The émigrés had been tarred liberally with accusations of treachery and desertion since before the outbreak of (p. 333) war, and these had been further reinforced by the image of émigré soldiers serving with the princes’ army alongside the Revolution’s enemies. Prevailing attitudes permitted no moderation or challenges to commonly accepted legal definitions.26 Confusion, panic, and paranoia surrounded the legislation which stripped the émigrés of their political rights, of their possessions and of their families and friends.

The legislation covered all aspects of emigration from identity of an émigré and the exemptions, to providing a formula for a certificat de résidence which was the effective proof that an individual was not an émigré because he or she had resided in France during the required period. It also included procedures for assessment and disposal of émigré property and a multitude of very detailed procedural issues including debts and creditors. These were subject to several modifications during 1793 as they went into practice, but the important articles remained unchanged.27

Exceptions were made for children less than fourteen years old as long as they had not taken arms and as long as they returned within three months. In future, younger children would have to return by their tenth birthday in order to avoid being subject to the law. Persons banished and deportees were exempted as were those whose absence pre-dated 1 July 1789, as long as they were not living on enemy territory. The wives and children of government officials and diplomats were exempted but domestic servants had be of a number ‘habitually employed by that functionary’ and had to have been in the service of that employer prior to his foreign appointment. Increasing the entourage of an official was a recognized way to slip émigrés in and out of the country. Frenchmen whose purpose for being abroad was the study of science, arts or crafts and the acquisition of new knowledge were exempted provided they were ‘notoirement connus’ (publically recognized) before their departure.

The crime of emigration could also be applied by association to those who had aided the émigrés or furthered their hostile projects; those who had sent their children abroad; those who had supplied arms, horses, munitions or financial assistance to émigrés; those who had solicited émigrés by promises or financial rewards; those who had knowingly hidden émigrés or helped them to return to France; those who were responsible for false certificates of residence. The vague nature of the crime of aiding émigrés or furthering hostile projects threw the net very wide and left much to interpretation and misinterpretation.28

The law itself initiated its own contradictions because it was more specific about who was and was not an émigré than what an émigré’s defining characteristics really were. An émigré was a criminal more because of what he or she had chosen not to do—return to France in the designated, brief, amnesty period—than for what any émigré had consciously or deliberately done in person to harm the French nation. From the very beginning, the gaps and insufficiencies in the justice of the legislation, and the deputies’ unwillingness or powerlessness to do anything about it became apparent.29 Parallels can easily be drawn between the urgency with which the Revolutionary government passed the initial émigré laws, and the similar degree of haste which accompanied the Aliens Act in Britain requiring all French citizens as foreigners to carry passports whilst in the British Isles.30 As in that case, the practicality of the legal process was lost in the (p. 334) precipitous rush to put the legislation into immediate operation.31 All this gave rise to many problems faced by the deputies of the Convention in their impatience both to enforce the law and to see justice done. Some members were more aware than others of the treacherous nature of such a legal definition, which left so much to the discretion of those designated to administer justice.

As early as 1793, while asserting the need to bring to justice those Frenchmen prepared to take arms against the Republic, concerns were raised for those to whom the legislation might be applied unjustly and without provision for appeal (requiring, as it did, the execution of the sentence within twenty-four hours of the judgment). Jean-Baptiste Michel Saladin, a Montagnard and a lawyer, was one such individual who flagged the potential abuses.32 He argued fiercely for the premise of the presumption of innocence which he felt was taken away by a law which prematurely condemned the accused:

Because, if it is true that to condemn an individual to a punishment no matter which, there needs to be a moral certitude that he has violated the law, that he has committed the crime against which the law has established this punishment. If such is the maxim of even the least civilised of peoples, without this moral certitude, the condemnation is an injustice, and its execution an act of violence. It is necessary to conclude that the first and the most rigorous of duties of the legislator is to find the term where the law must stop and to do so in a way that this point is precisely the one that leaves the innocent the greatest conviction possible that he will not be condemned, and the guilty the least hope possible, to see his crime go unpunished. 33

The absence of this ‘moral certitude’ was precisely what was holding up the sale of biens nationaux, and the problem would only become greater as more and more Frenchmen became less and less sure that the properties being sold had been legally obtained and would not be imminently subject to reversion to their former owners. Saladin, while loudly condemning those émigrés who had deliberately betrayed their country in language which the Jacobins appreciated only too well, pleaded for the need to pay attention to the application of these laws and to ensure that the innocent may not be accused without recourse to a fair trial.34

This issue was first exposed after the defeat at Verdun (1 September 1792), when émigrés caught with the invading armies were subject to prosecution by military tribunals created specially for the purpose. These tribunals were the first to question the legislation and Saladin, with his own legal training to draw on, made an impassioned plea for the competence of the commissions militaires to be restricted to only those émigrés caught red-handed or ‘en flagrant délit’. He argued that up until 9 October 1792 the death sentence was part of the penal code, and could only be rendered by tribunals established by the law of 20 September 1791 and composed of juries.35 The clause of the legislation providing that the sentence be carried out within twenty-four hours of the judgment of the commissions militaires rendered it even more important to establish with exactitude the crime of the accused. Saladin argued for a distinction to be made between those taken in arms and more anonymous émigrés who may have fought (p. 335) against the Republic but whose case needed a proper inquiry to prove their guilt or innocence and the nature of the legislation allowed no time. He therefore argued that the difference in the two circumstances was too pronounced for both offences to share the same legal procedure.36

In the second case he argued that the proof of the crime must be established. When he wrote ‘the law alone is powerful, the law only must reign’, he said only what many more would say before the end of the century, whether pro or anti the émigré cause. Marie Joseph Chénier, a man with no émigré sympathies, asserted for example that ‘liberty consists of depending solely on the law’.37

Saladin’s plea to have émigrés whose crimes were not conclusive transferred for trial in the ordinary courts did not gain a majority, but it echoed across the Revolutionary years. The bureaucratic haste, the euphoria of victory and the impending trial of the king, whose death Saladin voted for, all compounded to set reason and law to one side. In 1792, the Convention was already acting on the premise that Robespierre enumerated in the wake of 14 Frimaire (that the government owes national protection to good citizens; to enemies of the people it owes only death)38 and he dismissed those who counselled caution as ‘stupid or perverse sophists who seek to confound opposites’.39

Saladin was one of the first to read the writing on the wall both in regard to the application of the émigré laws and the extension of the military machine to assume jurisdiction over the punishment of émigrés. That both these aspects of law were the subject of reports to the Convention in 1793 at the very beginning of the history of the emigration is of extreme importance. These reports show that the deputies were made fully aware of the difficulties and potential for injustice in taking an extreme approach to guilty verdicts where the émigrés were concerned. The same issues of guilt and innocence would receive fuller treatment under the Directory, but then too the political circumstances dictated a negative response. ‘The revolutionary tribunal made equality triumph by showing itself as severe for the porters, and for servants as for the aristocrats and financiers’.40

Throughout the latter years of the Revolution the émigré laws could not be repealed, in part due to the immediate political threat the émigrés posed, but essentially because any re-examination of the validity of the laws questioned the foundations of the Revolution itself. If the émigrés were unjustly accused then the injustice was not a matter of Girondin versus Montagnard or confined to the Terror, but it undermined the more universal claims of Revolution going back as far as the Declaration of the Rights of Man of 1789.41

After the fall of Robespierre the laws against émigrés were still in force, émigrés were still registered on the police lists, but there were few deaths. During the Thermidor period only the most extreme cases were deported, and this was deplored by those who wanted the enemies of the Republic brought to justice more quickly. Marie Joseph Chénier wrote scornfully:

It has finally happened that the constituted authorities, disconcerted by rumours that one would like to mix up with public opinion, have so feared that they might (p. 336) be punished for executing your laws, and even your recent laws, that the paralysed tribunals have not felt the vigour necessary to render justice … 42

A revision of November 1794 scaled down the punishment of émigrés to banishment in perpetuity and the forfeit of their possessions to the state, but still referred to émigrés as ‘atrocious men who breathed only the ruin of their country’.43 Infraction of that banishment was punishable by death. This perhaps had more to do with revulsion for bloodshed in the aftermath of the Terror than any revision of policy on émigrés.44 Eschasseriaux wrote that ‘there have been so many questions raised and complaints lodged on the subject of these laws that all prove the necessity of the essential measure that has been adopted’.45

Most importantly all possibility for trial of émigrés by jury was ruled out, and they remained at the mercy of the criminal tribunals.46 Fears of election victories for deputies with constitutional royalist sympathies led to the passing of the Decree of Two-Thirds that ensured Republican dominance in the Assemblies. The 13 Vendémiaire revolt and the repressive law of 3 Brumaire an IV (25 October 1795) prohibited three groups from holding elective public office. These were any member of the primary or electoral Assemblies, anyone who had been listed as an émigré without obtaining full radiation (removal from the émigré list), or any relative of a listed émigré. Women related to émigrés were required by the same law to return to their domicile of 1792 and remain under the surveillance of the municipal authorities. These measures ensured a continued rigidity on issues regarding émigrés and their relatives, biens nationaux and refractory priests during First Directory. There were many inconsistencies in the sale of biens nationaux and many sales and potential sales were being contested and held up due to doubts about their validity.47 The laws against the priests that had effectively been suspended were re-imposed. Catholic issues were of central importance for a variety of political and private reasons because almost without exception emigration and Catholicism went politically hand in hand.48 Catholicism of the sort Chateaubriand celebrated in the Génie du Christianisme advocated a return to a religion of mystic purity, innocence and imagination—a view that drew widespread support.49

The contradictions around émigré issues were apparent to at least some members of the Council of Five Hundred. The irony could hardly cease to strike the observer that Malouet, the Lameth brothers, and Girondins who escaped the purge of 1793 were, as far as legislation was concerned, no different to émigrés like Calonne, Breteuil and the royal princes. The law allowed for no such nuance or for any lenience for good service to the Revolution at an earlier date. Yet while all émigrés were declared to be enemies of the state, as time went on, more and more people were prepared to argue that this was not so. Les fugitifs français was a term adopted in an attempt to disentangle the former from the émigrés or les royalistes-aristocrates.50 The term ‘French fugitives’ was designed to provide a category of émigré where the crime was less severe and previous good service to the Revolution taken into account.

Roederer, a lawyer and a former member of the Constituent Assembly, proposed three categories of extenuating circumstances for emigration on the condition that (p. 337) these men, the French fugitives, had not taken arms against France.51 He pleaded for ‘those who have quitted France between 10 August and 20 October 1792; those who quitted in the interval 20 October to 31 May (1793); those finally who quitted between 31 May and 10 Thermidor’.52 He argued that there could not be any fugitives post-dating Thermidor, because the suppression of the Jacobins and the committees had put an end to the rivalry. ‘A state cannot condemn to perpetual banishment citizens who quitted their country only because the social guarantee was insufficient to protect them from violence’.53 Arguments like this gave rise to a certain re-examination of the crime of emigration and to questions about what exactly the émigrés were guilty of: ‘To what exactly reduces the action from which tyranny has made a crime for the refugees—to have withdrawn their head from that tyranny?’54

Roederer did not convince the majority, but he made it clear that the émigré he was pleading for was a modern political refugee:

All was calm in France when the émigré left; all was in turmoil when the fugitive escaped. The émigré could serve his country, the Refugee was prevented from doing so. The émigré experienced a delay in coming back. The Refugee did not have one leaving. The émigré only left his country to seek war against it, the Refugee only quitted it when it had made war on him. The émigré has not ceased to turn his arms on France, the Refugee unarmed in France did not take up arms outside it. The émigré wanted to shed blood in our homes, the Refugee only sought an asylum—the one has brought us death, the other tried to defend himself against it.55

This sort of analysis emphasizing the difference between former patriots and soldiers of the armée de Condé made little difference to the actual legislative condition of the émigrés, but in the long term it did matter. It showed in many cases that what was missing was conclusive proof against the émigré not caught gun in hand, and in that circumstance the date of emigration was the only indicator of intent—and that was arguably a rather flimsy one.

What is there to find in common between these men armed against their country, between the soldiers of Artois or the Legion of Condé and these refugees so much more respectable for the fact that most of them came from the privileged classes, that they have made for the happiness of their fellows and for their philosophy the sacrifice of their pretentions and their pride? God, what difference between the French and the Americans, the men who made the revolution in America constantly esteemed and venerated their compatriots, and we have sent Brissot to the scaffold, and the principal actors of the Revolution of 1789 languish in exile and in misery, and no voice is raised for them. Oh height of ingratitude, Oh shame of the century.56

Yet by the coup of 18 Fructidor so many very high hopes for change to the émigré situation had vanished to a point where the Marquis de la Maisonfort, who had taken to publishing on French politics from exile could write, ‘The 18th Fructidor destroyed our (p. 338) hopes, the royalists reassembled in Paris, for want of being able to agree, like the workers at Babel, dispersed.’57 In 1796 there had been a window in the political situation that almost transformed itself into a complete repeal of the émigré laws. Constitutional royalists were in a strong position due to their moderation by contrast with the Jacobins, and their link to the period of revolution that was not associated with the Terror. This royalism also appealed to provincials for whom the more radical aspects of revolution and, in particular, the de-Christianization and continuing attacks on religion made little sense.

Many émigrés had clandestinely returned to France between mid-1796 and mid-1797 in anticipation of a royalist victory, and the imminent relaxation of the émigrés laws.58 There was even a question of letting returned émigrés vote, and in fact those who had managed to obtain provisional radiation in the provinces were allowed to do so which showed how much ground had been gained. On 27 April 1797 Boissy d’Anglas gave a speech in the Council of Five Hundred where he referred to the ‘barbarous justice’ by which the émigrés could be condemned to death on the strength of a simple identification if caught on French soil and pleaded for trial in the ordinary courts. On 4 May the above-mentioned law of 3 Brumaire was amended to allow relatives of émigrés to hold office, and on 27 June 1797 it was withdrawn altogether. It was this same time that polemics like Lally Tolendal’s Défence des Émigrés appeared in print in exile insisting:

People of France, and it is time to correct an error in which you have been studiously kept in order that the name of Emigrant might remain in your minds, attached to each sacrifice, to each grief, to each vexation, to each punishment, the law might bring down upon you.59

Election results favouring constitutional royalists, and the repressive Directorial Terror that followed the coup was initiated by a two-week amnesty allowing émigrés to return to their places of exile. The fact that this was declared before the émigré laws were re-imposed suggests not only how many émigrés had attempted to return, but also a disinclination to make widespread émigré arrests. Deportations to French Guiana replaced public executions in Paris. The law of 3 Brumaire was reinstated, and that saw the émigré position return to what it had been in 1792–93. Priests had to take an oath of hatred to royalty in order to ensure that they were not conspiring against the government but many refused. By a further law of 9 Frimaire an VI (29 November 1797) ex-nobles were excluded from public office and regarded as foreigners, if they could not prove that they had served the Revolution. Because no test for proving service to the Revolution was included in the legislation, this law was implemented very sparingly because it threatened former nobles in very high places like Barras and Bonaparte.

The events of Year VI offered little hope of change to the émigré situation. The war, the economy and the renaissance of Catholicism in France all contributed to keep government policy rigid. Elections were always contentious, those of Year VI produced the Floréal Coup which purged the Assembly of legally-elected radical Jacobin deputies in (p. 339) order to prevent a shift to the far left, those of Year VII preceding the Brumaire coup by a few months were characterized by an even more unsatisfactory result. The Second Directory had to go on maintaining its rigidity on the émigré question. The deterioration of the economy and the desperate need of conscripts for the army resulted in the Law of Hostages (24 Messidor an VII, 12 July 1799) which outlawed any resistance to new measures. By that law local authorities were empowered to arrest relatives of émigrés, imprison them at their own expense and impound their property to pay for damages.

The next return opportunity for the émigrés did not come until the Peace of Amiens was signed on 25 March 1802. From the arrival of Bonaparte as First Consul the signs of a pending reconciliation between the moderate royalists and the Jacobins emerged. In November 1799 the Law of Hostages was repealed, and the government also lifted the legal penalties on the relatives of émigrés and commuted the oath of hatred to royalty to one of loyalty to the Constitution. Relatives of émigrés and nobles were restored to full voting citizenship, and on 3 March 1800 a further decree closed the émigré list and a commission was appointed to speed up the radiation process. Although émigrés began to return, it was still dangerous.60 After Bonaparte’s dazzling victory at Marengo, Pope Pius VII, despite the views of the émigré Bishops in Britain, was persuaded of the desirability of reconciliation—the Concordat signed on 15 July 1801, achieved it.61 This was the point at which the vast majority of émigrés, including the clergy, returned to France: free, after a decade, to do so without risking exposure to penalties. Those who remained in exile after 1802 were those who refused to give up plotting to restore the absolute monarchy.

The émigrés may have disagreed with the political notions of the popular regime, but legislation made their position untenable, and once outlawed, their recourse to justice was remote. Literary channels were among the only avenues for protest and output was prolific.62 Historians like Philip Mansel have shown that many supporters of Louis XVIII were less ultra than historically portrayed, and that the assumptions which abound about emigration must be treated with great caution.63

It is inescapable that the injustice of the émigré laws was brought to the attention of the Revolutionary government and ignored in 1792, and this makes a significant difference to traditional approaches to emigration which assumed a degree of treachery implicit in every individual case of emigration. It should now be recognized that this was not necessarily so, and that many émigrés were at peril of their lives if they stayed in France, leaving only as a last resort. Women, children, servants and priests were among those who made no deliberate decisions but followed those they loved and trusted. Lally fulminated:

Women. Great God! Women guilty of cowardice or treason … The whole body of society is bound to protect the mothers of families, the wives, the sisters, the female friends who support or cement or embellish the social bond. The coward is he who abandons them; the traitor he who gives them up.64

Emigration harboured diversity and talent. Nowhere is this plainer than in the numerous geographic routes that émigrés took to leave France and the panoply of countries (p. 340) and regional locations within them where the French took refuge to work and write until they were free to return. A significant proportion never saw their homes again, and the only trace they left was their writings, giving proof of a patriotic French counter-identity without which the Revolution would not have been such a truly European event. Madame de Staël wrote of her hero Le comte d’Erfeuil:

This man had borne the loss of a very large fortune with perfect serenity. He lived by his musical talent and supported an old uncle whom he cared for until his death. He constantly refused the offer of money that others pressed upon him. He showed the most brilliant valour, French valour, during the war, and the most unshakable good humour in the midst of adversity. 65

Anatole France in Les dieux ont soif portrayed the émigré from the point of view of Evariste, Jacobin, judge, and someone who prided himself on the sincerity of his commitment to revolutionary ideals.66 He was one of the first authors to point to the fact that it was the abuse of the legal system which was significant both in the cases of the émigrés and of Dreyfus—and importantly what was being protected by such abuse was the political establishment. The complex jigsaw of individual émigrés within the wider context of French Revolution politics continues to emerge from the archives and the literature.67 Emigration had no universally happy ending and was fraught with internal factionalisms and financial crises. Those who survived were scared both psychologically by the loss of family and friends, and financially by the loss of their properties and fortune. But these often well-connected refugees who had shown determined commitment to a way of life and to a preferred form of government were able to return to France in the nineteenth century and play key roles in the growth of the modern French Republic. The time the émigrés had spent outside France imagining a better society contributed to diplomatic careers and politics when the individuals were no longer banished, and women authors like Madame de Staël, and Madame de Souza gained secure literary reputations.

Never at any moment in our [French] history have minds shown themselves more compulsive, more prompt to submit to the impression of the moment and to transform it. … into a rigid law that endured.68

Selected Reading

Aprile, Sylvie, Le siècle des exilés, Bannis et proscrits de 1789 à la Commune (Paris, 2010).Find this resource:

Baldensperger, Fernand, Le mouvement des idées dans l’émigration française 1789–1814 (Paris, 1924).Find this resource:

Bellenger, Dominic A., The French Exiled Clergy (Bath, 1986).Find this resource:

Bourdin, Pierre, ed., La Révolution 1789–1791 Écriture d’une Histoire immédiate (Clermont-Ferrand, 2008).Find this resource:

Burrows, Simon, French Exile Journalism and European politics, 1792–1814 (Woodbridge, 2000).Find this resource:

Carpenter, Kirsty, Refugees of the French Revolution, Émigrés in London 1789–1802 (London, 1999).Find this resource:

Carpenter, Kirsty, and Philip Mansel, eds., The French Émigrés in Europe and the struggle against Revolution 1789–1814 (London, 1999).Find this resource:

Diesbach, Ghislain de, Histoire de l’émigration (Paris, 1975).Find this resource:

Doyle, William, Aristocracy and its Enemies in the Age of Revolution (Oxford, 2009).Find this resource:

Greer, Donald, The Incidence of Emigration during the French Revolution (Cambridge, 1983).Find this resource:

Goodden, Angelica, Madame de Staël, the Dangerous Exile (Oxford, 2008).Find this resource:

Martin, Jean-Clément, ed., La Contre-révolution en Europe, XVIII-XIX siècles, réalités politiques et sociales, résonances culturelles et idéologiques (Rennes, 2001).Find this resource:

Mansel, Philip, Paris Between Empires, 1814–1852 (London, 2001).Find this resource:

——, Louis XVIII, revised edn (London, 2005).Find this resource:

Simonin, Anne, Le Déshonneur dans la République. Une histoire de l’indignité 1791–1958 (Paris, 2008).Find this resource:


(1.) French newspaper L’Ambigu, Les loisirs d’un émigré, ouvrage posthume, dédié aux honnêtes gens. Poem dedicated to honest men. IHRF, FOL-L2C-1027 no. III, p. 71.

(2.) Donald Greer, The Incidence of the Emigration During the French Revolution (Cambridge, Mass., 1951), 20 puts the figure at 129,099.

(3.) The population figure is from William Doyle, Oxford History of the French Revolution, 2nd edn (Oxford, 2002), 2, and the number for nobles from William Doyle, Aristocracy and its Enemies in the Age of Revolution (Oxford, 2009), 16.

(4.) PRO T(93) 57. (78% of this list came from the former first or second estate.)

(5.) These were compiled by local authorities in the provinces in mid- to late 1792, and centralized in Paris in 1793. In February 1795, it was decided that only the Paris authorities could approve removal from the émigré lists known and referred to as radiation. On the Quiberon expedition, see Maurice Hutt, Chouannerie and Counter-Revolution, Puisaye, the princes and the British government in the 1790s (Cambridge, 1983).

(6.) On London see Carpenter, Refugees of the French Revolution. On Vienna see Philip Mansel, The Prince of Europe. The life of Charles Joseph de Ligne 1735–1814 (London, 2003). On Russia see Angelica Goodden, The Sweetness of Life, A biography of Elisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun (London, 1997), chs 8 and 9. On Prussia see Thomas Höpel, ‘French Émigrés in Prussia’, in Carpenter and Mansel, eds., The French Émigrés and the struggle against Revolution, op cit., 101–8. On Portugal see David Higgs, ‘Portugal and the Émigrés’, in Carpenter and Mansel, eds., The French Émigrés and the struggle against Revolution, op cit., 83–100.

(7.) See Fernand Baldensperger, Le Mouvement des idées dans l’Émigration française 1789–1815 (Paris, 1924).

(8.) On Madame de Staël see Angelica Goodden, Madame de Staël, the Dangerous Exile (Oxford, 2008). On the comte de Montlosier see Pierre Serna, ‘Du noble radical à l’aristocrate tempéré: le comte de Montlosier’, in Philip Bourdon, ed., Les noblesses françaises dans L’Europe de la Révolution (Rennes, 2010).

(9.) Karine Rance, ‘La violence révolutionnaire au crible des émigrés. Entre discours performatif, exemplarité du passé et prospective’, in Philippe Bourdin, ed., La Révolution 1789–1791 Écriture d’une Histoire immédiate (Clermont-Ferrand, 2008), 210.

(10.) George Sand writing of Raymon de Ramière’s mother; George Sand, Indiana, reprint edns (Paris, 1984), 223.

(11.) See Philip Mansel, ‘From Coblentz to Hartwell, the Émigré Government and the European Powers 1791–1814’, in Carpenter and Mansel, eds., The French Émigrés in Europe and the struggle against Revolution 1789–1814 (London, 1999) 1–27.

(12.) Jean-Baptiste Clery, Journal de ce qui s’est passé à la Tour du Temple pendant la captivité de Louis XVI (London, 1798). (It was reprinted several times after the original appeared in 1793.) For the British reaction see David Bindman, The Shadow of the Guillotine, Britain and the French Revolution (London, 1989), 16–25.

(13.) William Doyle, Aristocracy and its Enemies in the Age of Revolution (Oxford, 2009), 275.

(14.) This is made clear particularly in novels such as Madame de Souza’s Éugénie et Mathide, vol I, chs XXII–XXV MRHA Critical Texts, vol. 26, 2014, 89–94. Senac de Meihan, l’Émigré (Bruswick, 1797), and see also Malcolm Cook, ‘Utopian Fiction of the French Revolution’ Nottingham French Studies, 2006, No 45.

(15.) Charles Tilly, The Vendée (London, 1964), 195.

(16.) See Lynn Hunt, The Family Romance of the French Revolution (London, 1992). Chapter two makes it clear how affected women and children were by the authority of male family members. Works that treat issues affecting émigrées include: Carla Hesse, The Other Enlightenment, How French Women Became Modern (Princeton, 2001) and Jolanta T. Pekacz, Conservative Tradition in Pre-Revolutionary France: Parisian Salon Women (New York, 1999).

(17.) On the clergy in emigration see particularly the work of Dominic Aidan Bellenger, The French Exiled Clergy in the British Isles after 1789 (Bath, 1986).

(18.) John Dunne, ‘Quantifier l’émigration des nobles pendant la Révolution française: problèmes et perspectives’, in J-C Martin, ed., La Contre-révolution en Europe, XVIII-XIX siècles, réalités politiques et sociales, résonances culturelles et idéologiques (Rennes, 2001), 133–41.

(19.) See Karine Rance, ‘La violence révolutionnaire au crible des émigrés. Entre discours performatif, exemplarité du passé et prospective’, op cit., 200.

(20.) Courrier de Londres, 9 November 1792. Section: Bulletin de Londres.

(21.) Accounts of emigration in English include Carpenter, Carpenter and Mansel, eds., The French Émigrés and the struggle against Revolution, op cit.; Simon Burrows, French exile journalism and European politics, 1792–1814 (Woodbridge, 2000) and William Doyle, Aristocracy and its Enemies in the Age of Revolution (Oxford, 2009).

(22.) See e.g. Didier Michel, Du Héros de Rennes en 1788 à la Contre-Révolution Blondel de Nouainville, L’itinéraire d’un noble normand (1753–1793) (Cherbourg-Octeville, 2012), 126–7.

(23.) Charles Delacroix, Opinion Sur les valeurs qu’il convient d’admettre en paiement des biens fonds des émigrés et autres biens nationaux, imprimée par arrêté du Comité d’Alienation des Domaines, (Paris, 1793), 2.

(24.) See Philip Mansel, Louis XVIII (London, 1998) and Munro Price, The Perilous Crown: France between Revolutions, 1814–1848 (London, 2007).

(25.) Mme de la Châtre confided to Fanny Burney that she would be able ‘to gather together a small débris of her fortune, but never enough to settle in England—that, in short, her parti étant pris—that she must go to America’, Diary and Letters of Mme d’Arblay edited by her niece (London, 1842), vol V, 366.

(26.) Kristian Jensen, Revolution and the Antiquarian Book, Reshaping the Past, 1780–1815 (Cambridge, 2011), 34 notes the drop off in sales of law books. The book trade favoured books that did not challenge contemporary politics.

(27.) An émigré was: any French citizen who had quitted the territory of the Republic after 1 July 1789 and had not justified his return by 9 May 1792; or who was found absent from their domicile and unable to produce a certificate of residence without interruption since 9 May 1792; or who, although present during this time, had been absent at any given point; or who left the Republic without fulfilling the necessary formalities; or a government agent who did not return to France within three months of receiving his recall; or a French citizen who during enemy invasion left non-occupied territory to reside on enemy territory; or a girl or woman who married a foreigner or left France or sold her possessions. See John Hall Stewart, A Documentary Survey of the French Revolution (New York, 1951), 414. And in Greer, Incidence of Emigration op cit., 30.

(28.) Anne Simonin in her work, Le Déshonneur dans la République. Une histoire de l’indignité 1791–1958 (Paris, 2008), looks at this issue of collaboration as a criminal act and explores this separation of military and other emigration crimes. While Greg Burgess’s Refuge in the Land of Liberty, France and its Refugees, from the Revolution to the End of Asylum, 1787–1939 (Basingstoke, 2008), 10 looks at Republican refugees and the fine line between national objectives and the Revolution’s universal promises.

(29.) Marcel Ragon, La législation sur les Émigrés 1789–1825, thèse de droit, ed., Arthur Rousseau (Paris, 1904), 3.

(30.) The Aliens Act passed through the British Parliament on 4 January 1793 and required all foreign citizens on British soil to carry passports.

(31.) See Kirsty Carpenter, Refugees of the French Revolution, the Emigrés in London 1792–1802 (London, 1999), 36–9.

(32.) See Marcel Dorigny, ‘Saladin, Jean-Baptiste Michel’, in Albert Soboul, ed., Dictionnaire historique de la Révolution française (Paris, 1989), 953.

(33.) Rapport et Projet de loi sur le mode de juger les exceptions particulières, non-prévues par la loi contre les Emigrés à la Convention nationale au nom des quatres comités réunis de Législation, des Finances, Diplomatique et de la Guerre. Développement, p.5, Maclure collection.

(34.) Ibid.

(35.) By the terms of the law of 28 March 1793 émigrés had to be brought before a criminal tribunal in their département of domicile. By a subsequent law of 17 September 1793 they could be tried before the criminal tribunal of the département in which they were arrested. In the Revision of 1794, it is pointed out that when an émigré was caught with no proof of his identity or his crime on his person and constantly denied that he was an émigré that the authorities had only the list of émigrés to consult, and that only people who knew the accused could verify that he was the person inscribed on the list and that these people could only logically be found in the accused’s département of origin. Rapport fait au nom de la Commission chargée de la révision des Lois contre les Emigrés Eschasseriaux, 24–5.

(36.) Saladin, Rapport et Projet de Décret sur la compétence des commissions militaires pour le jugement des Emigrés pris les armes à la main, au nom du comité de législation, Convention Nationale, 5–6; Les uns sont accusés, jugés mêmes par le fait et par la réunion de toutes les circonstances qui parlent plus haut que les preuves légales ou juridiques. [ … ] Les autres au contraire n’ont contre eux aucun de ces caractères du même crime, que peut-être ils ont commis, mais dont la preuve à leur égard est plus difficile.

(37.) Convention nationale, 15 Brumaire an II.

(38.) Robespierre, ‘Sur les principes du Gouvernement révolutionnaire’, 5 nivôse an II, Convention Nationale, from Robespierre; Ecrits, présentés par Claude Mazauric, (Paris, 1989), 286.

(39.) ‘Sur les principes du Gouvernement révolutionnaire’, 288.

(40.) A. France, Les Dieux ont soif, 140. Although this statement is written in a work of fiction, it is statistically correct: see Donald Greer, The Incidence of the Terror in the French Revolution. A statistical interpretation (Cambridge, Mass., 1935).

(41.) This was made explicit in the declaration of rights for the Constitution of 1791 which promised freedom to go, to stay and to leave. This was not the only article of the 1789 Declaration which was infringed. Articles 9 [man is presumed innocent until proved guilty … ] and 17 [the right of property is inviolable and sacred … ] were blatantly ignored in regard to émigrés.

(42.) M-J Chénier, Rapport et Décrets sur le prompt jugement des Emigrés trouvés sur le territoire de la République; l’expulsion des individus rentrés après déportation; et les peines portées contre ceux qui provoquaient l’avilissement de la Représentation nationale ou le retour à la royauté etc, 12 Floréal an III, au nom des comités de Salut Public, de sureté générale et de législation réunis.

(43.) Rapport au nom de la Commission chargée de la révision des Lois contre les Émigrés, L’imprimerie de la Convention nationale, Paris, 3, Maclure collection vol. 386.

(44.) Ibid., 3.

(45.) Ibid., 2.

(46.) Ibid. Section première of the Décret, Article XIV concerning the judgement and condemnation of émigrés stated that, Les émigrés ne pourront, dans aucun cas, être jugés par jury (at 96).

(47.) See Marc Bouloiseau, l’Etude de l’émigration et la vente des biens des émigrés 1791–1830 (Paris, 1963), and André Gain, La Restauration et les biens des émigrés (Plancy, 1929), 2 vols.

(48.) The liberty of cultes had been declared but there was much mistrust of the counter-revolutionary designs of the Catholic Church whose interests would be best served by a restored monarchy. Chénier’s speech of 12 Foréal an III underlined this: ‘On dit souvent qu’il ne fallait point parler de religion dans la Convention nationale, et rien n’est plus vrai; les religions sont un domaine de la conscience: mais lorsqu’une opinion religieuse devient un prétexte pour violer la loi, ce n’est pas l’opinion religieuse que le législateur doit punir, c’est la loi voilée qu’il doit venger.’ Op cit., 6.

(49.) See Emmanuelle Rebardy, ‘La Révolution contraire. Chateaubriand et le Génie du Christianisme, 1802. Genèse d’une pensée réactionnaire’, Annales historiques de la Révolution française, 309 (1997), 492–501.

(50.) Roderer defined les royalistes-aristocrates in Des Fugitifs Français et Des Emigrés as ‘les hommes pour qui ce qu’il avait de bon et de grand dans la révolution de 89, a été un malheur insupportable, et qui ont trouvé dans les maux qui l’ont suivie, plutôt une consolation ou une vengeance, qu’un nouveau motif de la détester.’

(51.) Pierre-Louis Roederer [1754–1835] Lemay, ed., Dictionnaire des Constituants, 1789–1791, vol. II L-Y (Paris, 1991), 820–4.

(52.) Roederer, Des Fugitifs Français et Des Émigrés, 5 Floréal an III, p. 5, Maclure collection. ‘Ceux qui ont quitté la France depuis le 10 du mois d’août, jusqu’au 20 octobre 1792; ceux qui l’ont quitté dans l’intervalle du 20 octobre au 31 mai; ceux enfin qui l’ont quitté du 31 mai au 10 thermidor.’

(53.) Roederer, Des Fugitifs Français et Des Emigrés, 5 Floréal an III, op cit., 6.

(54.) Ibid., 7.

(55.) Ibid., 19.

(56.) J. Marchena, ‘Quelques réflexions sur les Fugitifs Français depuis le 2 Septembre an III’ (Paris chez Gorsas Imprimeur-Libraire rue Neuve des Petits-Champs No. 74), 13.

(57.) Marquis de la Maisonfort, Mémoires d’un agent royaliste, sous la Révolution, l’Empire et la Restauration, 1763–1827 (Paris, 1998), 129.

(58.) Some were able to get themselves taken off the émigré lists using devious tactics. Madame de Souza e.g. used Talleyrand plus her own outright lies and the authorities—too frustrated to follow up further—granted her radiation. Baron de Maricourt, Madame de Souza et sa famille, Les Marigny, les Flahaut, Auguste de Morny, 1761–1836 (Paris, 1907), 210–14.

(59.) ‘Defence of the French Emigrants’ addressed to the People of France translated by John Gifford Esq. (London, 1797), 195.

(60.) See: Emmanuel de Waresquiel, ‘Joseph Fouché et la question de l’amnistie des émigrés (1799-1802)’ in Annales historiques de la Révolution française, n° 372, Armand Colin, Paris, 2013/2, pp. 105-120

(61.) An account of the reception of this news in London can be found in: Mémoires de la comtesse de Boigne née Osmond, tome I Du règne de Louis XVI à 1820 (Paris, reprint 1986), 135–6.

(63.) Biography of Louis XVIII (1981), Paris Between Empires 1814–1852 (2001) and the biography The Prince of Europe. The life of Charles Joseph de Ligne 1735–1814 (2003). Mansel has worked to put the royalist faction around the exiled French King Louis XVIII in a more broadly contextualized perspective.

(64.) ‘Defence of the French Emigrants’ op cit., 39.

(65.) Madame de Staël, Corinne ou Italie (Paris, reprint 1985), 34.Cet homme avait supporté la perte entière d’une très grande fortune avec une sérénité parfaite; il avait vécu et fait vivre, par son talent pour la musique, un vieil oncle qu’il avait soigné jusqu’à sa mort; il s’était constamment refusé à recevoir les services d’argent qu’on s’était empressé à lui offrir; il avait montré la plus brillante valeur, la valeur française, pendant la guerre, et la gaieté la plus inaltérable au milieu des revers.’ On Madame de Staël as an émigré: Aprile, Le siècle des exilés, 49–56.

(66.) Evariste finds himself in sympathy with the plight of the émigré he is bound by a revolutionary’s honour and law to condemn, and his inner struggle leaves him no peace beyond a vague sense that he is doing his duty and that future generations will benefit from his blood-stained hands.

(67.) For recent biographical work on émigrés in English, see Simon Burrows, A King’s Ransom, The life of Charles Thaveneau de Morande (London, 2010); Caroline Moorehead, Dancing to the Precipice, the Life of Lucie de la Tour du Pin Eye-witness to an Era (London, 2009); Goodden, Madame de Staël the Dangerous Exile, and Angelica Gooddens, The Sweetness of Life, a biography of the painter Elisabeth Louise Vigée Lebrun (London, 1997).