March 2012 Print

Book Review: The War of the Vendée by Christopher Check

Book Review: The War of the Vendée by Christopher Check

Scott Quinn

Christopher Check continues his excellent series of audio lectures of interest and importance for Roman Catholics (see Henry VIII and the Anglican Schism, The Cristeros and the Martyrs of the Mexican Revolution, and Lepanto: The Battle that Saved the West, CDs available at with an installment on the Vendée, an inspiring episode during the French Revolution (1789-1799). This is the story of the heroic and brave peasants and nobles of a staunchly Catholic and royalist region of France who stood up for their faith and their king against the murdering hordes of revolutionaries who were seducing the world with the lies and cries of “Liberty, Equality, and Brotherhood!” In just over an hour, Check delivers a thorough overview of the direct cause of the rebellion, the French Revolution’s all-out assault on the Church throughout France, and introduces the listener to the major players on both sides of the conflict. This lecture would serve easily as the basis for a lively evening of conversation and education for any family or school.

The dominant theme woven throughout this lecture is the seemingly paradoxical Catholic notion of localism in temporal matters and adherence to Rome in matters of faith against the all-encompassing and all-consuming appetite of the modern state. Check cites one example in particular where the Vendée armies were improbably winning battle after battle against the government’s army and actually had Paris in their sights when they chose a different target. According to Napoleon, had the Catholic army marched on Paris, victory would have been theirs. To think how much differently (for the better) world history would have transpired had Paris been reclaimed by the Catholics!

Check’s riveting delivery draws in the listener with discussions of the unique topography of the region, stories of courageous men (and the women who prodded their men to courage!), and sadistic, genocidal reprisals by the revolutionary government, yet never gets bogged down with too many details, instead painting an impressionistic picture that will inspire even the most history-averse to learn more about this sad—and proud—time in the history of the Church. There have not been many occasions for Catholics to cheer military and political successes over the last few hundred years, and the rebellion of Catholic Vendée ends in terror and tragedy. Total war became the strategy of the revolutionary government’s army. Genocide ensued at a pace at which even the efficient guillotine could not keep up. The elderly, women, and children were not spared the fury of those who promised liberty and equality and brotherhood.

To those who think the sad history of the Vendée is ancient history, Check notes the legacy of the French Revolution’s total war strategy on General Sherman’s genocidal march through Georgia, the use of atomic bombs, and un-Christian calls for “unconditional surrender,” and warns us that, sooner or later, we may be called to “answer so sacred a call to arms.”