Tag: Basques in the French Revolution

June 3, 1795: Sentencing for those responsible for Lapurdi deportation

One of the grimmest episodes in the whole French Revolution took place in 1794 with the forced deportation of thousands of Basques from several border communities in Lapurdi, a forced population transfer (long before Stalin’s infamous demographic machinations) that was part of the Jacobin excesses associated with Robespierre’s reign of terror and that resulted in deprivation and death for many innocent people; an event we covered  in a previous post here.

City Hall in Donibane Lohizune (1823). Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

City Hall in Donibane Lohizune (1823). Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

With the fall of Robespierre and the Jacobins, the Girondins returned to power and set about seeking revenge for their own persecution during the reign of terror. In the Basque Country, this was played out against the backdrop of the deportation, with those responsible being sought out. Thus on June 3, 1795, in Donibane Lohizune, a military judge from the Army of the Western Pyrenees (one of the French Republic’s military forces) sentenced six councilmembers from that town, including the former mayor Alexis Pagès, as well as two people from neighboring Azkaine, to prison for their role in the deportation.

For more information on the French Revolution in the Basque Country, check out Philippe Veyrin, The Basques of Lapurdi, Zuberoa, amnd Lower Navarre, available free to download here.

September 8, 1749: Birth of Dominique-Joseph Garat, early advocate of Basque political unity

On September 8, 1749, Dominique-Joseph Garat was born in Baiona, Lapurdi. An important political figure in the Northern Basque Country, he drew up plans, which he presented to Napoleon, to unite all the Basque provinces in one political unit–New Phoenicia–that would have remained an autonomous part of the French Empire. Napoleon, however, rejected the idea.

Garat painted by Johann Friedrich Dryander (1794). Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Garat painted by Johann Friedrich Dryander (1794). Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

After studying law in Bordeaux, in 1777 Garat moved to Paris where he worked as a journalist (covering the American Revolution) and teacher. In 1789, he was elected representative of the Third Estate for Lapurdi and in 1792 he was appointed the minister of justice in Revolutionary France, charged with communicating to King Louis XVI his death sentence. Garat resigned after this decision and was arrested twice by the Jacobin authorities. However, following the Jacobin fall from power, from 1794 to 1795 he led the commission charged with implementing the new educational system and in 1798 was named French ambassador to Naples. That same year, he was elected president of the Council of Elders (the upper house of the French Directory) and later became a senator in Napoleonic France.

Garat, c.1814-1816. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Garat, c.1814-1816. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

As a senior statesman, Garat subsequently used his political influence to present a plan to Napoleon to create what he termed New Phoenicia, incorporating all the Basque provinces north and south of the Pyrenees. This would, in Garat’s scheme, be an autonomous political unit within the French Empire, and serve as a buffer state between the French Republic and the Kingdom  of Spain. He lobbied to implement his plan on several occasions between 1803 and 1811, but ultimately to no avail. In part, wider events–including the course of the Peninsular War of 1807-1814 (covered in a previous post here)–hindered the feasibility of the scheme.  After opposing Napoleon during the events associated with the arrival of Louis XVIII on the French throne and Napoleon’s subsequent (although brief) return to power in 1814–15, he retired from his post in the senate. He abandoned politics altogether and settled once more in Iparralde, where, in Basusarri, on December 9, 1833, he died.

Igor Ahedo Gurrutxaga discusses the importance of Garat at length in his The Transformation of National Identity in the Basque Country of France, 1789-2006.  According to Ahedo (p. 53):

Garat is a key figure in the political history of Iparralde for his role after the abolition of the Basque institutions with the triumph of the French Revolution. Furthermore, he is also important for the plans he drew up to unite the Basque provinces of both Iparralde and Hegoalde in one political unity: New Phoenicia, a confederation that would have formed a part of the Napoleonic French empire.

 

July 6, 1808: The Baiona Statute and the brief rule of Joseph I

On July 6, 1808, Baiona (Bayonne) in Lapurdi assumed center-stage once more in the dramatic events unfolding in Napoleonic Europe when the Baiona Statute was officially approved, paving the way for Joseph Bonaparte, brother of Napoleon, to become Joseph I of Spain.

Joseph-Bonaparte

Joseph Bonarparte, the brief Joseph I of Spain (1808-1813). Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

This agreement formed part of a wider strategy on the part of Napoleon to control Spain as yet another part of his satellite outposts in his enduring (and almost successful) quest to rule Europe as a whole. For the background context to these events, and the later consequences of Napoleon’s Iberian adventures, see an earlier post we did here.

In 1808 the Spanish Kingdom was officially in an alliance with the French Empire, but following the abdication of Charles IV of Spain and the brief rule of his son Ferdinand VII, Napoleon sought to install his brother on the Spanish throne as the best means of controlling the country.

In order to demonstrate that this was fully compliant with a due legal process, however, Napoleon convened a meeting of Spanish notables in Baiona to draft and approve the constitutional basis for the new regime. The resultant so-called Baiona Statute was duly approved on July 6 and promulgated on July 8. In effect, though, Joseph was a puppet ruler, with most decisions regarding Spain being taken by Napoleon and his military staff.

Joseph I of Spain abdicated after the French loss at the Battle of Vitoria-Gasteiz in 1813. As Philippe Veyrin notes in The Basques of Lapurdi, Zuberoa, and Lower Navarre: Their History and Their Traditions,

in June 1813, the loss of the battle of Vitoria-Gasteiz obliged the French armies to fall back on our frontier. King Joseph was responsible for the defeat. He took refuge in a house in Senpere—Suhastia in the Elbarron (Helbarron) district—where, on July 11, he received the Emperor’s emissary bringing him notification that he had been stripped of his command, which was handed over to Marshal Soult, who turned up the very next day and took over straightaway.

 

March 18, 1795: French Revolutionary proclamation in Basque

On March 18, 1795 (28 Ventôse, year III in the Republican calendar), the French Revolutionary “people’s representative” or envoy to the High and Low Pyrenees, (Jean-François) Auguste Izoard (1765-1840), issued a declaration. Tellingly, the declaration was published jointly in French and Basque.

Izoard

Freedom, Equality. In the Name of the French Republic: The people’s representative sent to the two départements in the mountains of the High and Low Pyrenees

This proclamation is particularly interesting because it indicates a backtracking of sorts, on the part of the Revolutionary authorities, when it comes to Basques who had fled from Iparralde to Hegoalde (on this, and particularly the internment and deportation of thousands of Basques, see our March 3 post here). Previously, under the infamous “Reign of Terror,” many Basques had suffered persecution, for their religious beliefs, for speaking their language, and for refusing to fight in France’s Revolutionary Wars.

By the spring of 1795, however, Izoard’s declaration would indicate a relaxing of attitudes (to some extent at least). The text refers to numerous inhabitants of Uztaritze (Lapurdi) who had fled to Hegoalde in the wake of the Terror and internment. It suggests that they may not be aware of a new amnesty-like law that would allow them to return unpunished. In Izoard’s words:

The inhabitants, all Basques, driven into the interior of Spain, deprived of all relations with their relatives and friends, all speaking a particular language, unaware of either the French language or the Spanish language, cannot, or only with great difficulty, manage to understand the beneficent decrees of the National Convention

The proclamation goes on to extend the amnesty period, and underscores the fact that:

The present decree shall be translated into the Basque language, read, and published wherever it should be necessary.

Quite apart from the general importance of the document as regards the history of the Basque Country during the French Revolution–for example, to see how the language attitudes expressed here contradict, to some extent, previous Revolutionary notions, see our previous post in this respect here–the fact that the declaration was published in Basque would appear to reveal that, not only was it widely spoken at the time, but that it was also a literary language for a literate people. The French Revolutionary authorities had to publish in Basque, a language they were not especially interested in and even hostile toward, to get their message across.

On the Basque experience during the French Revolution, check out The Transformation of National Identity in the Basque Country of France, 1789-2006, by Igor Ahedo Gurrutxaga. See, also, Hills of Conflict: Basque Nationalism in France, by James E. Jacob.

March 3, 1794: The Lapurdi “communes of infamy” deportation

March 3, 1794, marks the anniversary of the beginning of one of the murkier tales from the French Revolution: on that day, an order was decreed for the internment and deportation (and ultimately death for many) of thousands of Basques in Iparralde by Revolutionary forces, suspicious of their connections with Basques on the other side of the border during the war with Spain at the time.

622px-Raffet_DerniereCharrette

“The Last Cart” of the Reign of Terror before the Thermidorian Reaction. Drawing by Denis Auguste Marie-Raffet, French illustrator and lithographer. From Hector Fleischmann, La guillotine en 1793 (Paris: Librairie des Publications Modernes, 1908), courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Philippe Veyrin describes the events surrounding the deportation in The Basques of Lapurdi, Zuberoa, and Lower Navarre: Their History and their Traditions (p. 239):

In spring 1794, following the desertion of forty-seven young men of Itsasu, all inhabitants, men, women, and children, of the villages near the frontier—Sara, Azkaine, Itsasu, Ezpeleta (Espelette), Ainhoa, and Zuraide, decreed to be “communes of infamy”—were arrested en bloc and deported to Landes and Gers. Several other localities in Lapurdi were also subjected to a partial raid. All in all, several thousand of these unfortunate people were crammed haphazardly into disused churches, badly fed, deprived of all hygiene, and forced to endure sufferings that were often fatal—barely half of them escaped with their lives. When, on September 30, the survivors were allowed to return home, they found that their property had been pillaged or auctioned off; they were able to regain very little of it, and never received compensation. This internment of Basques remains the darkest episode of the Revolution in the southwest of France.

For Igor Ahedo Gurrutxaga, in The Transformation of National identity in the Basque Country of France, 1789-2006 (p. 64):

Ultimately, this would be an easy decision for the revolutionary authorities to make, because it served as a good excuse to explain the military failure of the campaign against Spain, punishing the inhabitants of the borderland by accusing them of collaborating with the enemy under the influence of a recalcitrant clergy. Consequently, in simplistic and Manichean fashion, the inhabitants of these communes were accused of being “aristocrats” and counterrevolutionaries.

Moreover, as Cameron Watson observes in Modern Basque History: Eighteenth Century to the Present (p.p. 57-58), free to download here:

Iparralde was viewed by Paris as a weak point in its state-building aspirations, especially given the potential of the rural clergy to foment dissent among the Basque population. The deportees were eventually allowed to return that same fall, but fewer than half those deported survived the involuntary exile. Those who did survive returned to find their property in the hands of French “patriots” (a factor contributing to later emigration from the region).

As Watson goes on to note, a revenge of sorts was carried out two years later: On the night of March 16-17, 1796, Jean-Baptiste Munduteguy, a native of one of the villages involved (Ainhoa) and an architect of the deportation, as well as being involved first-hand more generally in implementing many elements of the Revolutionary Terror in Lapurdi such as execution by guillotine, was murdered in his home in Uztaritze. According to subsequent accounts, “numerous” people appear to have taken part in the murder.