Located in a department in the Pays-de-la-Loire region in west-central France is the region called Vendée. It was in Vendée in 1793 that a peasant revolt occurred. Those revolting formed an army, which became known as the Royalists. The Royalists opposed the Republicans and saw those revolting as counter-revolutionaries. Because the Republicans disliked anyone who held royalist sentiments, they gathered an army to put down the revolt and that army became known as the “Bleues.”
The counterrevolutionary violence swept up Renée Bordereau and others. She was born in the month of June in 1770 in a village near Angiers, where her humble parents worked the land. They raised Bordereau with great piety, but she had little education and was illiterate. The things Bordereau knew best were how to ride and how to handle weapons.
These skills proved to be fortuitous. Moreover, it did not take much to convince Bordereau to take up arms against the Bleues after “forty-two individuals of her family lost their lives in the Revolution, and her father was butchered before her eyes.” Not allowed to fight as a woman, she disguised herself as a man, took her brother’s name Hyacinthe, and fought as a Royalist against the Bleues.
A zealous supporter of the Royalists, Bordereau 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.
Over “the course of six years [Langevin] fought on foot and on horseback in more than two hundred battles, with the most determine intrepidity.” Moreover, at the first battle she supposedly killed seventeen Bleues “and was present at so many engagements …Vendeans came to look upon her as invulnerable.” 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.”
There were numerous witnesses to 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.” The family then heard the triumphant cry of “Vive le Roi.” Six Royalists riders appeared out of nowhere. With saber and pistol in hand, Langevin rode in front. The Bleues fled immediately, and, according to Madame de Bouëre, it was Langevin who saved them.
Napoleon Bonaparte did not have such a high opinion of Langevin. He considered her extremely dangerous. In fact, he set a price of 40,000 francs on her head, which resulted in her arrest and imprisonment. While imprisoned, she survived by living off “black bread and water which fell from the clouds, and which she collected in a bason [sic].” She remained imprisoned for five years, until the accession of Louis XVIII.
With Louis XVIII’s accession, Langevin became a Royalist hero, and, in September of 1816, she met the King. The event was mentioned by one newspaper who reported, “His Majesty received with his accustomed goodness this extraordinary female, who was covered with wounds, which she received fighting for the Throne and Altar.”
In 1814, Langevin’s published her exploits under the title Mémoires de Renée Bordereau, dite Langevin, touchant sa vie militaire dans la Vendée. Her fame continued until 1824. That was the year she died in her native village at the age of fifty-four. A 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 Langevin’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.”
- —, in Public Ledger and Daily Advertiser, 26 September 1816
- Kirby, R.S., Kirby’s Wonderful and Scientific Museum, Vol. 6, 1820 – Take off
- Maxwell-Scott, Mary Monica, The Life of Madame de la Rochejaquelein, 1911
- Michaud, Biographie des hommes vivants ou jistoire par ordre alphabétique de la vie, 1816
- “Paris, October 21, 1814,” in Staffordshire Advertiser, 5 November 1814
- “Renee Bordereau,” in Morning Advertiser, 5 August 1822
- “The Heroine of Vendee,” in Hull Packet, 22 November 1814