The White Terror of 1815: Royalist reprisals against Napoleon's generals
Despite the loss of the Battle of Waterloo, the French army could still be rallied to defend Paris but the politicians in Paris sensed the shift in fortunes and began calling for a change in government. Napoleon ignored the advice of such diverse political figures as Marshal Davout, General Carnot, and his brother Lucien Bonaparte and abdicated rather than using the military to repress any political opponents. Davout, as Minister of War, still controlled the army and was determined to protect the French army to prevent civil war and give the new government a stronger negotiating position with the Allies.
The French provisional government and Marshal Davout opened negotiations with the Duke of Wellington and Field Marshal Blücher to surrender Paris to the Allied armies. As part of this agreement, the French army would be ordered south of the Loire where they would stand down and not resist. A French victory at Rocquencourt on July 1st bloodied the Prussians and helped to show the Allies that France was far from defeated. As part of the terms, the French citizens who had supported Napoleon during the Hundred Days would not be punished for their actions during the Hundred Days. The Convention of Saint-Cloud was signed on July 3rd, 1815.
Although brought back to power by the Allied powers, King Louis XVIII considered the terms from Saint-Cloud as not applicable to himself or his government since he did not sign the document. Furthermore, French royalists, in particular the old nobility, were incensed at being humiliated and chased out of power for the Hundred Days, especially given that Napoleon's triumphant return in March of 1815 was unopposed by the French army. Therefore they demanded vengeance.
On July 24, 1815 Louis XVIII issued an ordinance that named specific individuals that were to be arrested immediately and held for trial for their actions during the Hundred Days. Meanwhile royalists throughout the country acted with impunity against prominent supporters of the French Revolution and Napoleon in what became known as the White Terror. (White was the official color of the royalists in contrast to the tricolor of Revolutionary and Imperial France).
With the exception of Tsar Alexander personally intervening to protect Caulaincourt, the Allied powers did nothing to protect their former military adversaries from royalist persecution. The Duke of Wellington was frequently criticized for not intervening in the farce that was the trial of Marshal Ney. The Allied powers stated that they did not want to intervene in internal French politics, ignoring the fact that they had just forced a regime change through military force and had installed Louis XVIII on the throne over the wishes of many of the French people.
The Ordinance of July 24, 1815
At the chateau of Tuileries, the 24 July 1815.
Louis, by the grace of God, King of France and of Navarre,
Wanted, for the crime of an attack without precedent, but in degrees of punishment and limiting the number of perpetrators to reconcile the interest of our people and the dignity of our crown and the tranquility of Europe, for which we need justice and the complete security of all other citizens without distinctions, we have declared and do declare the following:
Article 1. The generals and officers who betrayed the King before the 23rd of March, or who attacked France and the government with weapons, and those who by violence have seized power, will be arrested and taken before the qualified councils of war in their respective divisions, namely:
Ney, Grouchy, Labédoyère, Clauzel, the two Lallemand brothers (Henri and François), Delaborde, Drouet d'Erlon, Debelle, Lefebvre-Desnouettes, Bertrand, Ameil, Drouot, Brayer, Cambronne, Gilly, Lavalette, Mouton-Duvernet, Rovigo
Article 2. The individuals whose names follow, namely:
Soult, Dejean the son, Allix, Garrau, Exelmans, Réal, Bassano, Bouvier-Dumolard, Marbot, Merlin (de Douai), Felix Lepeletier, Durbach, Boulay (de la Meurthe), Dirat, Méhée, Defermon, Fressinet, Bory-Saint-Vincent, Thibaudeau, Félix Desportes, Carnot, Garnier de Saintes, Vandamme, Mellinet, Lamarque (the general), Hulin, Lobau, Cluys, Harel, Piré, Courtin, Barrère, Forbin-Janson the oldest son, Arnault, Le Lorgne-Dideville, Pommereul, Regnaud (de Saint-Jean-d'Angely), Arrighi (de Padua)
will leave the city of Paris within three days, and retire to the interior of France to the places that our Minister of Police indicates to them, and where they will remain under surveillance, while waiting for the Chambers to rule on those that will leave the kingdom versus those that will be handled by the courts.
Those who would not go to the place assigned to them by our Minister of Police will be arrested on the spot.
Article 3. The individuals who are condemned to leave the kingdom will be allowed to sell their goods and properties, dispose of them, or transport them out of France within the period of one year, and can receive income from foreign countries during this time, as long as they provide evidence of their obedience to this order.
Article 4. The list of all the individuals to which articles 1 and 2 may be applicable, are and shall remain set by the initial designations included in these articles, and they cannot be extended to include others, under whatever pretext may be, other than in the manner and following the constitutional laws which are expressly waived for this case only.
Given at Paris, at the chateau of Tuileries, the 24th of July of the year of his grace 1815, and of our reign the 21st.
Signed by Louis the King and the Minister of State and Police the Duke of Otranto
Fates of those proscribed on the ordinance of July 24, 1815
- Article 1: All individuals listed on Article 1 were condemned to die except the three who were acquitted at trial. Those who were not in France were tried and condemned in absentia.
- Ney: Captured and then executed on December 7, 1815
- Grouchy: Took refuge in the United States
- La Bédoyère: Captured and then executed on August 19, 1815
- Clauzel: Took refuge in the United States
- François Lallemand: Took refuge in the United States
- Henri Lallemand: Took refuge in the United States
- Delaborde: Acquitted at trial
- Drouet d'Erlon: Took refuge in the United States
- Debelle: Captured at Grenoble and condemned to die, but his sentence was commuted by Louis XVIII
- Lefebvre-Desnouettes: Took refuge in the United States
- Bertrand: Accompanied Napoleon into exile on Saint Helena
- Ameil: Took refuge in England
- Drouot: Acquitted at trial
- Brayer: Took refuge in the United States
- Cambronne: Acquitted at trial
- Gilly: Took refuge in the United States
- Lavalette: Captured and condemned to die but escaped prison on December 20, 1815
- Mouton-Duvernet: Captured and then executed on July 26, 1816
- Savary: Attempted to accompany Napoleon into exile on Saint Helena, but instead was imprisoned at Malta before escaping and then taking refuge in England
- Article 2: All of the individuals listed in Article 2 were exiled from France, though some had already evaded capture and fled the country. Their inclusion in Article 2 was based on one of a few reasons:
- Supported Napoleon notably during the Hundred Days but their actions were not considered as treasonous as the names on Article 1
- Supported putting Napoleon II instead of Louis XVIII on the throne after Napoleon's abdication in 1815
- Regicides who voted for the death of King Louis XVI in 1793
- Individuals who figured prominently in Revolutionary events such as the storming of the Bastille of July 14, 1789
Persecuted generals not included in the ordinance of July 24, 1815
Despite Article 4 explicitly stating that Articles 1 and 2 could not be extended to more individuals, a number of other prominent generals were targeted for retaliation.
- Belliard: Arrested in November of 1815 and imprisoned at l'Abbaye until June of 1816.
- Bonnaire: Arrested in October of 1815 and sentenced to deportation, but died in prison before the sentence was carried out.
- Brune: Assassinated in August of 1815.
- Caulaincourt: Originally included in the ordinance, but Tsar Alexander used his influence to remove Caulaincourt.
- Chartrand: Arrested in 1815 and executed in May of 1816.
- Colbert (Edouard): Imprisoned in 1815 and released in 1816.
- Decaen: Arrested in December of 1815 and imprisoned until February of 1817.
- Dessaix: Arrested in May of 1816 and imprisoned at the fortress of Fenestrelles until September of 1816.
- Dufour: Arrested in January of 1816 and released in September of 1816.
- Faucher (César): Arrested in July of 1815 and executed in September of 1815.
- Faucher (Constantin): Arrested in July of 1815 and executed in September of 1815.
- Flahaut: Originally included in the ordinance, but Talleyrand used his influence to remove Flahaut.
- Gruyer: Arrested in December of 1815 and condemned to die, but his sentence was then commuted to imprisonment at Strasbourg until he was released in February of 1818.
- Marchand: Accused in December of 1815 and acquitted in June of 1816.
- Milhaud: Was to be exiled as a regicide, but he personally appealed to King Louis XVIII for mercy and his request was granted (probably due to his sabotage of Davout's negotiations with the royalists).
- Moncey: Arrested in August of 1815 and imprisoned at the fortress of Ham until November of 1815.
- Morand: Exiled to Poland and then condemned to die in absentia, but he returned to France in June of 1819 and was acquitted.
- Poret de Morvan: Imprisoned in January of 1816, escaped, and amnestied in 1817.
- Radet: Arrested in January of 1816 and imprisoned at the citadel of Besançon until December of 1818.
- Ramel: Assassinated in August of 1815.
- Rigau: Condemned to die in May of 1816, but he escaped to Belgium and then the United States.
- Travot: Arrested in January of 1816 and condemned to die, but his sentence was then commuted to imprisonment.
Generals killed in retaliation for supporting Napoleon's return
Two of Napoleon's marshals and six of his generals were killed in acts of vengeance during the White Terror. Ironically, the two who were assassinated by mobs, Brune and Ramel, could hardly be called Bonapartists. Brune was out of favor with Napoleon for years and Ramel had been exiled for being a royalist in 1797 during the coup of 18 Fructidor. Three executions were carried out on those included in Article 1 of the ordinance, namely Ney, de la Bédoyère, and Mouton-Duvernet. De la Bédoyère was executed almost immediately while Ney went through a public and controversial trial in the Chamber of Peers. Mouton-Duvernet went into hiding, only to reveal himself in 1816 and discover that the authorities still wanted vengeance. Not included in the ordinance and exempt from retaliation by Article 4, the twin Faucher brothers and General Chartrand were executed regardless.
- 1815-08-02: Marshal Brune was assassinated at Avignon.
- 1815-08-15: General Ramel was assassinated at Toulouse.
- 1815-08-19: General La Bédoyère was executed by firing squad at Grenelle.
- 1815-09-27: Twin brothers Generals César Faucher and Contanstin Faucher were executed by firing squad at Bordeaux.
- 1815-12-07: Marshal Ney was executed by firing squad at Paris.
- 1816-05-22: General Chartrand was executed by firing squad at Lille.
- 1816-07-26: General Mouton-Duvernet was executed by firing squad at Lyon.
- Elting, John R. Swords Around a Throne: Napoleon's Grande Armee. USA: Da Capo Press, 1997.
- Six, Georges. Dictionnaire Biographique des Généraux & Amiraux Français de la Révolution et de l'Empire (1792-1814). 2 vols. Paris: Gaston Saffroy, 2003.
- Wouters, Félix. Histoire de la Famille Bonaparte. Paris: Librairie Ethnographique, 1849.
Updated January 2023
© Nathan D. Jensen