The Unseen Terror: The French Revolution in the Provinces by Richard Ballard - review by William Doyle

William Doyle

The Western Front

The Unseen Terror: The French Revolution in the Provinces


I B Tauris 267pp £25

Living in, and clearly loving, the Charente-Maritime, Richard Ballard became fascinated by how this relatively remote and tranquil region of western France was affected by the Revolution that swept the country just over two centuries ago. Conversations with local noblemen about the fate of their ancestors fanned his interest, and in the municipal library at Saintes he found a detailed unpublished manuscript diary of the Revolution by a lawyer whose life was turned upside down by it. François-Guillaume Marillet’s increasingly jaundiced observations on life in Saintes as the Revolution unrolled form the backbone of what is more a series of sketches than a systematic analysis of the upheavals. There are real sketches, too – accomplished line drawings by the author of some of the more important buildings mentioned, as well as a number of contemporary engravings. Little has been written in English about a region chiefly known on this side of the Channel for its brandy and its beaches, but Ballard shows that for much of the revolutionary period it was in the front line of the struggle to establish the Republic.

Remote it may have been, but the area then known as the department of the Charente-Inférieure, and before 1790 as the provinces of Saintonge and Aunis, had crucial strategic significance. If Saintes, a beautiful old town full of relics of its Roman origins, remained relatively sleepy as an

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