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  • Writer's picturejoyce hampton

The first "dragonnade" in Poitou (1681)

I would like you try to imagine what it would have been like to fell forced to flee your homeland, especially during unfavourable weather conditions. For Huguenots this became a necessity with the heightened activities of the King’s dragoons. Let me tell you about the King's Dragoons and their 'Dragonnades' do please read on:

The King’s dragoons were sent throughout France in order to persuade one way or another the ‘heretic protestants’ to convert to the Catholic faith.

In 1681, the first dragonnade was tried out in Poitou, it was the initiative of Intendent René de Marillac (Intendent in Poitou from 1677 to January 1682), who must have been encouraged by François-Michel Le Tellier, Marquis de Louvois and minister of France.

Louvois had sent a cavalry regiment to Poitou for winter quarters. Marillac decided to lodge them mostly in Reformed homes and permitted them to plunder and ruin their hosts with

their outrageous demands and cruel tactics. Examples of the Dragoons actions is evidenced in how they forced their hosts to pay and feed them. When the ‘host’ families ran out of

money, the dragoons would callously sell the furniture or destroy it. If the Huguenot host refused to convert, he was mistreated, hit and taunted by these ruffians. Women and

children also endured all kinds of torture. Once the unfortunate man had recanted, the dragoons went to the next home.

Within months, the priests registered 38,000 conversions. The Poitou area was soon left in ruins and its inhabitants fled to England or Holland. The news aroused indignation in the Protestant communities of Europe. The soldiers were recalled and Marillac was moved elsewhere. But that was not the end of tribulations suffered by the Huguenots, far from it!

Even before the Revocation of 1685, Huguenots had been greatly persecuted and as many troops had been freed from other duties once the Truce of Ratisbon was signed in 1684 which ended hostilities between Spain and France their numbers soon swelled the ranks of the King's dragoons.

In July 1685, Foucault, king’s Intendent in Pau, was permitted to use these soldiers against the Reformed community. He even improved the system Marillac had begun in Poitou to a point where their fierce reputation preceded their arrival, in fact often an announcement of the arrival of dragoons would lead to entire villages converting. Indeed, Foucault announced thousands of conversions without any violence.

As this policy was so very successful, Louvois sent the dragoons to other Superintendents in other Provinces. The dragoons went to Bergerac, Montauban and then Castres, the Rhône valley and Dauphiné. In the face of the terror they provoked, the Reformed community in Montpellier and Nîmes recanted to prevent abuse and so did those in Cévennes, so terrified were the inhabitants that they converted before the arrival of these soldiers. Three quarters of the Huguenots recanted thanks to the “military missionaries”, that were the dragoons.

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