The White Terror of 1815: Royalist reprisals against Napoleon's generals


Despite the loss of the Battle of Waterloo, the French army could still be rallied to defend Paris but the politicians in Paris sensed the shift in fortunes and began calling for a change in government. Napoleon ignored the advice of such diverse political figures as Marshal Davout, General Carnot, and his brother Lucien Bonaparte and abdicated rather than using the military to repress any political opponents. Davout, as Minister of War, still controlled the army and was determined to protect the French army to prevent civil war and give the new government a stronger negotiating position with the Allies.

The French provisional government and Marshal Davout opened negotiations with the Duke of Wellington and Field Marshal Blücher to surrender Paris to the Allied armies. As part of this agreement, the French army would be ordered south of the Loire where they would stand down and not resist. A French victory at Rocquencourt on July 1st bloodied the Prussians and helped to show the Allies that France was far from defeated. As part of the terms, the French citizens who had supported Napoleon during the Hundred Days would not be punished for their actions during the Hundred Days. The Convention of Saint-Cloud was signed on July 3rd, 1815.

Although brought back to power by the Allied powers, King Louis XVIII considered the terms from Saint-Cloud as not applicable to himself or his government since he did not sign the document. Furthermore, French royalists, in particular the old nobility, were incensed at being humiliated and chased out of power for the Hundred Days, especially given that Napoleon's triumphant return in March of 1815 was unopposed by the French army. Therefore they demanded vengeance.

On July 24, 1815 Louis XVIII issued an ordinance that named specific individuals that were to be arrested immediately and held for trial for their actions during the Hundred Days. Meanwhile royalists throughout the country acted with impunity against prominent supporters of the French Revolution and Napoleon in what became known as the White Terror. (White was the official color of the royalists in contrast to the tricolor of Revolutionary and Imperial France).

With the exception of Tsar Alexander personally intervening to protect Caulaincourt, the Allied powers did nothing to protect their former military adversaries from royalist persecution. The Duke of Wellington was frequently criticized for not intervening in the farce that was the trial of Marshal Ney. The Allied powers stated that they did not want to intervene in internal French politics, ignoring the fact that they had just forced a regime change through military force and had installed Louis XVIII on the throne over the wishes of many of the French people.

The Ordinance of July 24, 1815

At the chateau of Tuileries, the 24 July 1815.

Louis, by the grace of God, King of France and of Navarre,

Wanted, for the crime of an attack without precedent, but in degrees of punishment and limiting the number of perpetrators to reconcile the interest of our people and the dignity of our crown and the tranquility of Europe, for which we need justice and the complete security of all other citizens without distinctions, we have declared and do declare the following:

Article 1. The generals and officers who betrayed the King before the 23rd of March, or who attacked France and the government with weapons, and those who by violence have seized power, will be arrested and taken before the qualified councils of war in their respective divisions, namely:
Ney, Grouchy, Labédoyère, Clauzel, the two Lallemand brothers (Henri and François), Delaborde, Drouet d'Erlon, Debelle, Lefebvre-Desnouettes, Bertrand, Ameil, Drouot, Brayer, Cambronne, Gilly, Lavalette, Mouton-Duvernet, Rovigo

Article 2. The individuals whose names follow, namely:
Soult, Dejean the son, Allix, Garrau, Exelmans, Réal, Bassano, Bouvier-Dumolard, Marbot, Merlin (de Douai), Felix Lepeletier, Durbach, Boulay (de la Meurthe), Dirat, Méhée, Defermon, Fressinet, Bory-Saint-Vincent, Thibaudeau, Félix Desportes, Carnot, Garnier de Saintes, Vandamme, Mellinet, Lamarque (the general), Hulin, Lobau, Cluys, Harel, Piré, Courtin, Barrère, Forbin-Janson the oldest son, Arnault, Le Lorgne-Dideville, Pommereul, Regnaud (de Saint-Jean-d'Angely), Arrighi (de Padua)

will leave the city of Paris within three days, and retire to the interior of France to the places that our Minister of Police indicates to them, and where they will remain under surveillance, while waiting for the Chambers to rule on those that will leave the kingdom versus those that will be handled by the courts.

Those who would not go to the place assigned to them by our Minister of Police will be arrested on the spot.

Article 3. The individuals who are condemned to leave the kingdom will be allowed to sell their goods and properties, dispose of them, or transport them out of France within the period of one year, and can receive income from foreign countries during this time, as long as they provide evidence of their obedience to this order.

Article 4. The list of all the individuals to which articles 1 and 2 may be applicable, are and shall remain set by the initial designations included in these articles, and they cannot be extended to include others, under whatever pretext may be, other than in the manner and following the constitutional laws which are expressly waived for this case only.

Given at Paris, at the chateau of Tuileries, the 24th of July of the year of his grace 1815, and of our reign the 21st.

Signed by Louis the King and the Minister of State and Police the Duke of Otranto

Fates of those proscribed on the ordinance of July 24, 1815

Ordinance of July 24, 1815

Persecuted generals not included in the ordinance of July 24, 1815

Despite Article 4 explicitly stating that Articles 1 and 2 could not be extended to more individuals, a number of other prominent generals were targeted for retaliation.

Generals killed in retaliation for supporting Napoleon's return

Execution of Marshal Ney

Two of Napoleon's marshals and six of his generals were killed in acts of vengeance during the White Terror. Ironically, the two who were assassinated by mobs, Brune and Ramel, could hardly be called Bonapartists. Brune was out of favor with Napoleon for years and Ramel had been exiled for being a royalist in 1797 during the coup of 18 Fructidor. Three executions were carried out on those included in Article 1 of the ordinance, namely Ney, de la Bédoyère, and Mouton-Duvernet. De la Bédoyère was executed almost immediately while Ney went through a public and controversial trial in the Chamber of Peers. Mouton-Duvernet went into hiding, only to reveal himself in 1816 and discover that the authorities still wanted vengeance. Not included in the ordinance and exempt from retaliation by Article 4, the twin Faucher brothers and General Chartrand were executed regardless.


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Updated May 2024

© Nathan D. Jensen