Renée Bordereau: The Heroine “Langevin”

Located in a department in the Pays-de-la-Loire region in west-central France is the region called Vendée, and it was there in 1793 that a peasant revolt occurred. The violence swept up Renée Bordereau and others. Those revolting formed an army, which became known as the Royalists. They opposed the Republicans, who disliked anyone who held royalist sentiments, and so the Republicans gathered an army to put down the revolt and that army became known as the “Bleues.”

Renée Bordereau

Renée Bordereau. Author’s collection.

Renée Bordereau was born in the month of June in 1770 in a village near Angiers, where her humble parents worked the land. They raised her with great piety, but she had little education and was illiterate. The things she knew best were how to ride and how to handle weapons and these skills proved fortuitous. Moreover, it did not take much to convince Renée Bordereau to take up arms against the Bleues:

“Forty-two individuals of her family perished by their hands [Bleues] successively, but the murder of her father, before her eyes, so transported her with rage and despair, that from that moment, she took resolution of devoting herself entirely to the king; and solmenly offering her soul to God, swore to avenge herself on his and her enemies, and to conquer or die.” [1]

Not allowed to fight as a woman, Renée Bordereau disguised herself as a man and took her brother’s name Hyacinthe to fight against the Bleues. A zealous supporter of the Royalists, she attacked her enemy riding triumphantly into the fray with a horse bridle between her teeth, a sword in one hand, and a pistol in the other. She was such a good rider and fighter she quickly acquired the nickname “Langevin” or “The Angevin.” The men that fought alongside Langevin admired her. In fact, they thought so highly of her, they emulated her valor and skill, never realizing she was a woman.

Renée Bordereau

Cover Image used for Renée Bordereau’s Memoirs. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Over “the course of six years [Langevin or The Angevin] fought on foot and on horseback in more than two hundred battles, with the most determine intrepidity.”[2] Moreover, at the first battle Renée Bordereau supposedly killed seventeen Bleues “and was present at so many engagements … Vendeans came to look upon her as invulnerable.”[3] She was also so zealous in her support of the Royalists and their cause that when one of her uncles joined the Republicans, she beheaded him. In another battle she was equally fierce, reputedly killing “four Bleues at St. Lambert with her own hands.”[4] Moreover, the Staffordshire Advertiser claimed:

“Always on horseback, in the very advance of her company, soliciting to be preferred to the most dangerous posts, she never quitted the field of battle, till compelled by wounds, or the toils of the day. Her only ambition, her only passion, were the triumph of Religion, and the re-establishment of her lawful King.”[5]

Of one of her own experiences in war, she wrote:

“Arriving near the Loire, I destroyed five of my enemies, and finishing off the day, I broke my sword on the head of the last one … Seeing only one horseman near me, I doubled back to our army. I alone, killed twenty-one that day. I’m not the one who counted them, but those who followed me, and if they hadn’t said so, I wouldn’t have spoken about it myself.”[6]

There were numerous witnesses to Renée Bordereau’s heroics. For example, one day the de Bouëre family was hiding from the Bleues, who had them surrounded. The Bouëre family could not escape and cried out, “Sauvons nous, nous sommes perdue.”[7] The family then heard the triumphant cry of “Vive le Roi.” Six Royalists riders appeared out of nowhere and with saber and pistol in hand, Renée Bordereau rode in front. The Bleues fled immediately, and, according to Madame de Bouëre, it was Langevin who saved them.

Napoleon at the Tuileries Study, Courtesy of Wikipedia

Napoleon in the Tuileries Study. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Napoleon Bonaparte did not have such a high opinion of Renée Bordereau. He considered her extremely dangerous. In fact, he set a price of 40,000 francs on Langevin’s head, which resulted in her arrest and imprisonment. While imprisoned, it was claimed she survived by living off “black bread and water which fell from the clouds, and which she collected in a bason [sic].”[8] She remained imprisoned for several years, until the accession of Louis XVIII when she became viewed as a Royalist hero.

In 1814, Renée Bordereau published her exploits under the title Mémoires de Renée Bordereau, dite Langevin, touchant sa vie militaire dans la Vendée. Because of her heroism, she also met King Louis XVIII in September of 1816 and she received the Order of the Lily. The Public Ledger and Daily Advertiser mentioned the event writing:

“Yesterday, before Mass, the heroine of La Vendee, the Demoiselle, Renee Bourdereau, was presented to the King by the Marquise de la Rochejaquelin. His Majesty received with his accustomed goodness this extraordinary female, who was covered with wounds, which she received in fighting for the Throne and the Altar.”[9]

Portrait of Louis XVIII by François Gérard. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Her fame continued until 1824. That was the year she died in her native village at the age of fifty-four.  Madame de la Rochejaquelein, wife to Louis Vergier of Rochejaquelein (the younger brother of Henri, who was the youngest general of the Royalists during the Vendean revolt), sent a letter to Madame de Bouëre announcing Renée Bordereau’s sorrowful passing:

“This letter, which bears signs of the Marquise’s tears, is a flower placed on the grave of the obscure and valiant peasant who had testified her fidelity to God and to her King by twenty years of combats, sufferings, and imprisonment.”[10]

References:

  • [1] Kirby, R.S., Kirby’s Wonderful and Scientific Museum, Vol. 6, 1820, p. 105.
  • [2] “Renee Bordereau,” in Morning Advertiser, 5 August 1822, p. 3.
  • [3] Maxwell-Scott, Mary Monica, The Life of Madame de la Rochejaquelein, 1911, p. 106.
  • [4] “Renee Bordereau,” p. 3.
  • [5]  “Paris, October 21, 1814,” in Staffordshire Advertiser, 5 November 1814, p. 2.
  • [6] Yalom, Marilyn, Blood Sisters: The French Revolution in Women’s Memory, 1993, p. 199.
  • [7] Maxwell-Scott, Mary Monica, p. 106.
  • [8] “The Heroine of Vendee,” in Hull Packet, 22 November 1814. p. 4.
  • [9] —, in Public Ledger and Daily Advertiser, 26 September 1816, p. 2.
  • [10] Maxwell-Scott, Mary Monica, p. 107.

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