A mother’s agony of soul during the Terror at Nantes

July 21, 2011

Although a great number of children were sacrificed, the republicans seem to have made some attempts to save them. The entrepôt was a huge building, used before the revolution as a storehouse for merchandise. During the reign of terror it was turned into a prison, as its proximity to the river adapted it for the noyades*. There, on one occasion, a vast number of Vendean women were confined, many of them with babes at the breast; and it was announced that any women of Nantes who wished to save the children of the Vendeans might be admitted to the entrepôt, and that each might rescue one of the little creatures. A great number of charitable women rushed to the prison; and the Christian mother can alone picture to herself the scene which ensued. On seeing them enter, the broken-hearted Vendeans fell upon their knees, and holding up their infants in their arms, appealed to the strangers to take them away and save them from a cruel death. But scarcely were their prayers heard, when they besought the strangers to restore them again; they begged to be allowed one last embrace, and then one more; and the little children, struggling to escape from the strangers, threw themselves into the arms of their mothers, and clung to their bosoms, and refused to be taken away; and then was the scene of heart-breaking misery to be enacted over again.

Stained glass window in the Saint-Pierre church of Les-Lucs-sur-Boulogne.

The widow of an insurgent was among the prisoners who were to die the next day. She saw among the women who had come to the prison to save the children a person whose appearance denoted easy circumstances. The widow thought she could not do better than confide her child to her care. “Madame,” she said, “have pity on me, and adopt my child,” “Yes,” said the unknown, “I will, and will educate him.” “God bless you!” said the widow comforted; “teach him to love God, and imitate his father, who died for the king.”

“Do not distress yourself,” said the stranger, embracing the child; “I am rich. He shall want for nothing. I will teach him to love and serve the Republic.”

“Give him back to me! Give me back my child!” cried the royalist widow; “you will destroy his soul. I had rather he should die with me than live to be perverted and forget God and the king.” And with a mother’s strength she snatched her child away, and together they were engulfed in the Loire the next day.


* Noyades: execution by drowning, esp. as practised during the Reign of Terror at Nantes from 1793 to 1794.

George J. Hill, The Story of the War in La Vendée and the Little Chouannerie (New York: D. & J. Sadlier & Co. n.d.), pp. 132-133.

Short Stories on Honor, Chivalry, and the World of Nobility—no. 93


Previous post:

Next post: