Revolt of Lyon against the National Convention

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The revolt of Lyon against the National Convention was a counter-revolutionary movement in the city of Lyon. It involved a revolt against the revolutionary government, breaking out in June 1793 and ending in December of the same year.

The city confronts economic crisis[edit]

In 1789 Lyon was the only city in France other than Paris with a population above 100,000. The city was a regional focus for banking, commerce and manufacturing. In terms of employment its leading industry was silk weaving, which directly supported a third of the population. The silk industry in 1789 was in crisis, reflecting the wider economic crisis afflicting France at that time. The city was visited by the keen eyed English documentary writer Arthur Young in December of that year: he estimated that 20,000 people were living from charity and starving.[1]

Tax riots broke out in June 1789 and again in July 1790. Citizens hoped that the Estates-General of 1789 would cancel the taxation privileges of the city's merchant oligarchs whereby the burden of taxation fell on those least able to pay, by means of the octroi, a tax on basic necessities. However, city elections returned a local government that retained the octroi, triggering a new riot in the city. Continuing mutual intransigence over the taxation issue led to fresh riots accompanied by the ransacking of several of the houses belonging to Lyon's richest citizens along with a continuation of the taxation on necessities.[1]

These social conflicts bound together the interests of the old royalist elite under the leadership of Jacques Imbert-Colomès with those of the revolutionary patriots surrounding the local industrialist turned politician Jean-Marie Roland. Lower down the social scale, small-scale employers were opposed to taxation that increased living costs of employees whose salaries could therefore not be further cut, and the affected employees thereby felt closer affinity with their bosses and with the manufacturing interest in the city than with the desperate plight of the large numbers of unemployed.[1]

Political opposition 1790–1793[edit]

Louis François Perrin de Précy, Leader of the Lyon insurgents, painted by Jean-Joseph Dassy.

During September 1790 the city's working class activists established 32 revolutionary societies to which they gave the name "Peoples' associations of friends of the [revolutionary] constitution" («Sociétés populaires des Amis de la Constitution»). These were established in opposition to more bourgeois revolutionary societies such as "The association of friends of the revolution" («Société des Amis de la Révolution»), membership of which was restricted to "active citizens", and the "Friends of the constitution" («Amis de la Constitution»), which was affiliated to the network of Jacobin Clubs springing up around France in the wake of the revolution. A central committee, which quickly became known as the "Central Club" («Club central»), provided a meeting point for delegates from the city's many sectional revolutionary societies. The "Central Club" was initially controlled by the Rolandin faction, but quickly came under the direction of the more dynamic elements around Joseph Chalier.[2]

At this time each department was governed under a local version of the national directoral structure, and the departmental directory of Rhône-et-Loire, which since 1790 had been the department centred on Lyon, was dominated by constitutional royalists. The Rolandin Louis Vitet became mayor of Lyon in 1790. The "Central Club", headed up by Chalier, was strongly opposed to the approach taken by the local regime.[3]

In the summer of 1792, the troop of revolutionary volunteers passed through on their way from Marseilles to Paris, which radicalised the mood in Lyon. While the local manufacturer Roland was in Paris, serving as the nation's Interior Minister, eight officers and four priests were killed.[3]

In November 1792, the girondin Nivière-Chol was elected mayor of Lyon in place of Vitet who had been elected to sit in the National Convention in Paris. Confronted by economic stagnation, he persuaded the assembly to agree an interest free loan of three million francs to be divided between the citizens in proportion to their wealth. This enraged the bourgeoisie but gained approval from royalists.[3]

Matters came to a head in February 1793 when Chalier's "Central Club" called for the creation of a Revolutionary Tribunal. The mayor was not in favour of this idea and set about mobilising troops. which provoked a popular insurrection.[3]

To try to defuse the crisis, Mayor Nivière-Chol now resigned and was re-elected. Meanwhile allies and opponents of Chalier argued in the various "Peoples' Associations" which were now finding themselves opposing the "Central Club". Mayor Nivière-Chol resigned again, and was replaced by the moderate Jean-Emmanuel Gilibert who was elected in a contest against an ally of Chalier's named Antoine-Marie Bertrand. However, as news came through of the treason (in Jacobin eyes) of Dumouriez, Gilibert's position became unsustainable and he was succeeded as mayor on 9 March 1793 by Bertrand: this ushered in a period of 80 days during which the city hall operated under the control of Chalier's faction.[3]

A series of radical enactments followed, starting on 14 March 1793 with the establishment of a municipal bakery. Taxation was imposed on food (which disappeared from the shops) and a volunteer force was recruited. A seven man Lyon Committee of Public Safety (taking its name and inspiration from the national institution of that name established under Robespierre a few weeks earlier in Paris) was set up on 8 April 1793. Urging further progress down the revolutionary path, on 4 May the "Central Club" proposed the guillotine become a permanent fixture, together with the "Popular Associations" and called again for the creation of a Revolutionary Tribunal. They also called for a Committee of Revolutionary Surveillance and of a Revolutionary Army to replace the National Guard which had itself been established only in 1789 as a force for stability. And they called for a forced cash levy on the rich. A few days later, on 14 May 1793, the city council duly voted to create a Revolutionary Army and a 6 million franc fund, to be created from taxing the rich, to pay for it all.[4]

They also voted for a joint meeting, every day, for representatives from the department, the district and the commune. This last measure triggered a counter-offensive. During the days that followed a growing proportion, and ultimately a majority, of delegates at these meetings opposed the municipal law of 14 May. Meanwhile in Paris, the Girondist deputy Chasset persuaded the revolutionary government to annul the laws originating with locally based extraordinary "tribunals". Events in Lyon, France's second city, were of particular concern to the national government which now sent four of its own members to Lyon, these being the deputies Albitte, Dubois-Crancé, Gauthier and Nioche. Their doubts thus endorsed, virtually the entire Lyon tribunal voted down the law of 14 May 1793.[5]

Chalier's fall[edit]

On 29 May a meeting at the Arsenal building of the various sectional delegates decided to replace the radical municipal government, which in military terms was only lightly defended. Gauthier and Nioche, two of the high-level representatives from the national government, arrived and were placed under guard. During the night Chalier's partisans were arrested and a moderate named Bénami was nominated as provisional president. The following day a man named Coindre became mayor and Judge Ampère (better remembered by posterity as the father of the electricity pioneer, André-Marie Ampère) received instructions to launch the trial of Joseph Chalier and his friends.[5]

Meanwhile events in the capital were moving fast, and the violent events of 31 May – 2 June 1793 saw the girondists ejected from the national government, under pressure from Paris based extremists. The newly extremist national government saw the events in Lyon as part of a more widespread Girondist revolt threatening the authority of central government: Such concerns proved well justified a couple of weeks later, as during June 1793, the municipal leaders in Lyon were linking up both with neighbouring departments and with other "insurgent cities" in the French south, Marseille, Nîmes and Bordeaux. Lyon now insisted on a meeting among the potentially separatist municipalities and departments to be convened at Bourges, as a form of alternative to the National Convention meeting in Paris. The municipality also had command of an army of approximately 10,000 which, though largely popular in its composition, was commanded by royalists led by the Count of Précy, with an aristocratic group of officers including Stanislas Marie Adelaide, comte de Clermont-Tonnerre, Virieu, Pantigny, Nolhac, Villeneuve, La Roche d'Angly and de Melon.[5]

The National Convention sent Robert Lindet to negotiate with the leaders in Lyon, but he found the local representatives in the Arsenal Building in an uncompromising mood: intransigence was stiffened by the presence at Lyon of Jean Bonaventure Birotteau, one of the girondist deputies whom the government had so recently expelled from their own National Convention. On 30 June 1793, 207 delegates representing nearby cantons, the department and the urban districts appointed a "Popular Republican Commission for the Public Safety of Rhône-et-Loire", which published an "Address from the authorities duly constituted at Lyon to the armies, the citizens and all the departments in the republic". The National Convention, its orders having been ignored by the leaders in Lyon, now promulgated a series of decrees on 12 and 14 July 1793. They declared Birotteau an outlaw, dismissed the Lyon leaders, confiscating their assets; and they ordered the Revolutionary Army of the Alps to re-establish in Lyon the Laws of the Republic.[5]

It was in this context of exacerbated conflict that Chalier found himself condemned to death on 16 July 1793. He was guillotined the next day, followed on 31 July 1793 by Ryard, the man who had commanded the commune troops on 31 May 1793. A partisan of Chatelier's called Higgins killed himself in prison, and another of the local montagnard leaders was cut down in the street. At the same time within the city leadership moderate republicans were being progressively replaced by royalists.[5]

Siege of Lyon[edit]

Siège de Lyon

The Army of the Alps, under the command of Kellermann, was engaged in a campaign in Savoy against the Piedmontese when it received the assignment to head west in order to re-establish central government authority in Lyon, and was able to turn its attention to its new mission only a month later, on 10 August 1793. Two days after that, on 12 August 1793, the rebellious department was split into two, creating on the western side of the river the department of Loire with its capital at Feurs and, on the eastern side, the department of Rhône. Just over a week later, on 21 August, the Paris government sent to Lyon a high level team that included Georges Couthon, a leading member of the Committee of Public Safety and a close colleague of Robespierre himself. The next day the revolutionary army began its bombardment. During September Lyon was encircled, and on 29 September 1793, on the south-western side of the city, the fort at Sainte-Foy was destroyed.[5]

On 3 October 1793 Couthon called upon the Lyonnais to surrender, and a truce was observed until 7 October. The various representatives leading the city held a succession of group discussions, and on 8 October they sent a team to negotiate with the government representatives, albeit in the face of the opposition of Précy. At the same time two more of the defenders' forts fell, at Saint-Irénée and Saint-Just.[5]

The next day, at dawn, Précy escaped via a district in the north-west of Lyon called Vaise, and went into hiding, turning up shortly afterwards in Switzerland. The city's civil authorities surrendered to the central government representatives at midday.[5]

On 11 October the government delegates decided on the destruction of the city walls. On 12 October Barère, a leading member of the government, put a decree through the convention that Lyon was to lose its name, and would instead be known as Ville-Affranchie (Liberated City) and would be destroyed. All the properties occupied by rich people would be demolished, leaving just the houses of the poor and the homes of duped or banished patriots, buildings specially dedicated to industry and monuments dedicated to humanity and public instruction. On the ruins of Lyon would be erected a commemorative column which would testify to posterity the crimes committed and the punishment received by the city's royalists, with the inscription "Lyon made war on liberty: Lyon is no more!". In the event, of 600 houses scheduled for demolition, only about fifty were actually destroyed.[5]

Retribution[edit]

Moving quickly, on 9 October, the government representatives had created both a "Military Commission", charged with judging people who had taken up arms, and a "Commission of Peoples' Justice" which was to judge the other "rebels". Three days later, however, the National Convention itself decided to created a five member "Extraordinary Commission" which they tasked with imposing "immediate military punishment" on the "criminal counter-revolutionaries of Lyon".[6]

Joseph Fouché

The "Military Commission" began work on 11 October and ordered the shooting of 106 people who had served the rebels' military leader, Précy. The "Commission of Peoples' Justice" got off to a slower start, beginning its work only on 21 October: it ordered the guillotining of 79 people including three of the moderates who had replaced Chalier back at the end of May, Bénami, Coindre and Judge Ampère. Both these commission disappeared on 9 December, by which time the centrally mandated "Extraordinary Commission" had taken over the application of retributive justice in Lyon.

The "Extraordinary Commission" sat between 30 November 1793 and 6 April 1794. It was presided over by General Parein, and decided early on to substitute collective shootings for the individual firing squad killings and guillotinings which had been imposed by the earlier commissions. On 4 December 1793 60 of the condemned were killed using three canons loaded with grape shot, and a further 208 or 209 were killed in the same way the next day. The killings ordered by the Commission took place on open ground in the Les Brotteaux quarter, near to the granary at La Part-Dieu. This method of killing was abandoned on 17 December 1793, however.[6]

These massacres have been blamed both on Commission Chairman Parein and on the government representatives Jean-Marie Collot d'Herbois and Joseph Fouché whom the Convention had appointed the previous month when they recalled Coulthon to Paris. The victims of the commission were a diverse and in many cases distinguished group, including a former president of the department called Debrost, a former member of the Revolutionary Constituent Assembly called Merle, the architect Morand, the executioner who had executed Chalier, the Canon Roland, the Hôtel-Dieu Head Surgeon Pierre Bouchet,[7] Feuillants, Rolandins, priests and other members of religious orders, merchants and manufacturers along with other aristocrats and commoners. The list also includes counter-revolutionaries sent to the Commission at Lyon from Feurs, from Montbrison, from Saint-Étienne and from the neighboring departments of Loire, Ain, Saône-et-Loire, Isère and Allier. This variety makes an objective quantification of the executions difficult. At its final sitting on 6 April 1794[8] the "Extraordinary Commission" itself reported that it had ordered the execution of 1,684 and the detention of a further 162: however, 1,682 were reported as having been acquitted.[9]

Aftermath[edit]

Commemoration[edit]

A list of the victims of Parein's commission is kept in a Carthusian Chapel of Penitence erected on the site of the mass shootings. It was compiled using the commission's own records.

The bones of the 209 Lyonnais shot dead on 3 December 1793 at Brotteuax have been conserved in the crypt of the Chapel of Brotteaux in the sixth arrondissement, in the north-eastern part of central Lyon since the Bourbon restoration.[10]

In 1989 France celebrated the two hundredth anniversary of the French revolution, and two organisations named Lyon 89 and Lyon 93[11] brought together descendants of the victims of the siege and of the ensuing repression. A third organisation, called Rhône 89, though overtly republican and secularist, also placed a greater priority on historical understanding of the events[12]

The siege of Lyon also inspired several popular songs.

Main source[edit]

  • Albert Soboul, Dictionnaire historique de la Révolution française, Quadrige/PUF, 1989, p. 688-696, entrée « Lyon » de Jean-René Suratteau

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c Jean-René Suratteau, « Lyon », in Albert Soboul, Dictionnaire historique de la Révolution française, 2005, p. 689.
  2. ^ Jean-René Suratteau, « Lyon », in Albert Soboul, Dictionnaire historique de la Révolution française, 2005, p. 689-690.
  3. ^ a b c d e Jean-René Suratteau, « Lyon », in Albert Soboul, Dictionnaire historique de la Révolution française, 2005, p. 690.
  4. ^ Jean-René Suratteau, « Lyon », in Albert Soboul, Dictionnaire historique de la Révolution française, 2005, p. 690-691.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i Jean-René Suratteau, « Lyon », in Albert Soboul, Dictionnaire historique de la Révolution française, 2005, p. 691.
  6. ^ a b Jean-René Suratteau, « Lyon », in Albert Soboul, Dictionnaire historique de la Révolution française .....[chargée de] « punir militairement et sans délai les criminels contre-révolutionnaires de Lyon, 2005, p. 693.
  7. ^ Louis-Auguste Rougier (1839). Eloge historique de Claude-Antoine Bouchet, ancien chirurgien-major de l'Hôtel-Dieu de Lyon: lu à la Société de médecine de Lyon, le 30 décembre 1839, par... Rougier. Impr. Louis Perrin. Retrieved 22 April 2013. 
  8. ^ The date is sometimes shown according to the revolutionary calendar, as 17 Germinal
  9. ^ Jean-René Suratteau, « Lyon », in Albert Soboul, Dictionnaire historique de la Révolution française, 2005, p. 693-694.
  10. ^ At the end of the nineteenth century the chapel was destroyed and rebuilt twenty meters along the road
  11. ^ L'Association Lyon 93 a été fondée par l'ingénieur Jacques Tournier en 190 ans après les événements. Voir Daniel Bideau, Lyon sera détruite, Lyon, La Taillanderie, 1988, 143 pages, p. 132.
  12. ^ Bruno Benoit, L'identité politique de Lyon, entre violences collectives et mémoire des élites (1786–1905), Paris, L'Harmattan, 1999, 239 pages, introduction de Maurice Garden, p. 14 .