Perigny on the Great Fear peasant uprisings (1789)


Perigny was a royal official based in Paris. In this letter of August 1789 he discusses the Great Fear peasant uprisings currently gripping the nation:


“Sir, the flames are sweeping through Anjou and Maine. The comte de Laurencin read out to us yesterday the terrible events suffered by Madame, his sister, at two chateaux in Dauphine: papers burnt, the chateaux pillaged and roofs removed if they were not burnt. They were not even left with the means of gathering and securing their harvest.

At the end of her letter, M. de Laurencin’s sister says that she is in despair because she was not killed by theĀ first shot which reached her room; she has been hounded through the two chateaux and then to a friend’s house, and with her was her young and beautiful unmarried daughter. The two of them, with her husband, were pursued for thirty-five hours without respite.

The monks at Cluny were more clever and more fortunate. The inhabitants of that small town have become so attached to them, through their good deeds and the renunciation of their rights and dues, that under the leadership of one of the monks, the townsfolk wiped out the whole gang of marauders. The citizens of Cluny hid themselves, well armed, in the abbey, they concealed two cannon in a shed facing the main road into the town.

The brigands had thought to take the abbey and the townsfolk by surprise; the inhabitants let them all come in, closed the gates of the town while at the same instant they uncovered the two cannon loaded with shot, and all fired at the same time. Not a single outlaw escaped. They were all killed or taken off to the royal prisons. They were found to be carrying printed papers ‘On the king’s orders’. These documents encouraged the burning of abbeys and chateaux, on the pretence that the nobles and abbots hoarded supplies of grain and poisoned wells, and intended to reduce the people, the king’s subjects, to the direst misery.

In Alsace the inhabitants destroyed the superb forests at Bitche and Hagueneau, destroyed the fine glass-making establishments at Baccarat, and the king’s own magnificent ironworks. They are at work now in the forest of St-Germain, cutting down the finest trees.

It is impossible to be sure now, and for the immediate future, where to live in France, or who can preserve their wealth. The king is in a state of despondency and in reply to complaints, says that there is nothing he can do.

Signed, Perigny
August 13th 1789”