Long Live the Revolution

There’s nothing like local politics for heating the blood and bringing together partisan groups…at least so it seems here in France. Recently my village, Ste. Colombe, has elected a new Mayor (a powerful office in a small village). The election was fought by two candidates and the new Mayor’s regular news sheet is swiftly followed by an independent bulletin issued by some of those who supported the unsuccessful candidate. This latter news-sheet is intended to give us all the real skinny about what’s going on in the mayoral offices. It’s funny, ironic and even satirical. This comes as no surprise as the village has a history of revolution and counter-revolution.

In the latter days of the French Revolution what was then the town of Ste. Colombe was joined, administratively, with a neighbouring large village, Rivel. Ste. Colombe held firm for the new Republic and its citizens were a mix of moderate republicans and anarchists. Citizens of Rivel on the other hand had always taken an opposite view. Administratively it was intended that the two villages would each have representatives on the local council.

Chief in the brouhaha that followed were the Rolland brothers, Pierre batting for Rivel and Etienne for Ste Colombe. The Rivel camp was bolstered by the Viviès family, notably Jean-Marie who had been the agent for the local aristocracy. This gave rise to the insult that they had sold out to the aristocracy.

In March 1797 the citizens of the two villages met in Ste. Colombe to elect numerous officials to form their new administration. The chief posts, President and Secretary went to Ste. Colombe men but this did not meet with approval from the Rivel faction and especially Monsieurs Rolland and Viviès. Quickly the Rivel group headed, with malice aforethought, for the President and Pierre took the opportunity to hurl a few insults and threats at his brother Etienne. So the newly-elected president adjourned the proceedings and disappeared precipitously.

This was a mistake for it gave the Rivel group time to put in place a crafty plan to overthrow the election results. Pierre Rolland (who seems to have been leader) sent men to all the hamlets and tenant farms of Rivel to tell the people of a dastardly plot on the part of the newly-elected President and his minions to expel their beloved village priest. Naturally this was thirsty work and wine flowed in abundance. Next day, the electors of Rivel headed for Ste Colombe armed with staves and rocks, oh yes…and with a large skin of wine.

At Ste Colombe, the assembly formed again and voting began to yet more official posts (the famous French bureaucracy). During the vote count the Rivel faction spread out into the town taverns to pass on the rumour. Some hardy Ste Colombe citizens tried to tell them that they had been duped – their priest was safe and it was all a ruse, but to no avail.

After the count finished, it appears that 346 votes had been cast but there were only 343 voters. Uproar followed as the President tried to declare the vote null and void. Pierre Rolland and Agent Viviès set on the President closely followed by the rest of the Rivel faction. Ste. Colombe citizens came to his aid and a right old set-to followed. Folk got hurt, blood flowed “staining the council table”. Agent Viviès so far forgot himself as to belabour some poor soul with his sword-stick, finishing him off with a wallop with a stone for good measure. He then nicked the ballot box and ran off with it “for safety”.

In the aftermath two entirely different sets of minutes documented the affair and were sent to the public prosecutor, regional governor and the Ministry of Justice. In these documents each party naturally accuses the other of being the aggressor, of creating “scandalous scenes” and of “raising the standard of revolt”.

The outcome – the newly-elected President feeling his life in danger resigned as did the secretary and one of the deputies. Quickly, the Rivel faction acted to call a new assembly and vote in their own candidates including M. Pierre Roland and M. Viviès. No-one appears to know where those extra 3 votes came from!

The Ministry of the Interior hearing of these shenanigans in south west France demanded of this new administration a full report. In response they provided a detailed account, refuting all allegations against themselves and describing the Ste Colombe faction as being responsible for disorder, anarchy and creating civil war in the canton. They described adherents of Etienne Rolland (the Ste Colombe Priest in case you’re totally lost) as “ferocious beasts calling themselves republicans”.

The success of the Rivel faction was not long lived but at least the next elections, two years later, were conducted with a little more sang-froid and possibly less wine.

The street where I live c.1900

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