A few days ago, on the Fourth of July, Independence Day in the US, we brought back an article by Prof. Robert P. Clark in which he discussed the role of the Basques in the war that gave birth to the United States.

Ten days later, the French celebrate the “Storming of the Bastille,” chosen by the French as an appropriate day to commemorate the birth of the French Republic.  It’s quite curious that this is the chosen date, and not, for example, August 26, when the Declaration of the Rights of Man was signed.  Or, even better, October 6, 1789, when, thanks to a revolt by the women of Paris, Versailles was “taken” and marked the de facto end to the monarchy.

But we’re not here to cover historical events or the machismo that the French Revolution is steeped in, which was the cause of the martyrs for freedom, such as Olympe de Gouges (BBC video).

Jean Claude Larronde
Jean-Claude Larronde (Bayonne, 1946) is an attorney emeritus with the Bayonne Bar Association.  He has a PhD from the University of Bordeaux in Law, diplomat for the Institute of Political Studies in Bordeaux, with a degree in History from the University of Pau.  From 1972, when he defended his thesis on the birth of Basque nationalism in the works of Sabino Arana Goiri, he has been deeply interested in the modern history of the Basque Country, and more specifically, in the history of Basque nationalism, on both sides of the Bidassoa.

We’re going to be a bit more specific: we’re going to cover the centralization process that was pushed so strongly by the French Revolution onto the Basques north of the Pyrenees.  And we’re going to do so with an outstanding article by Basque historian Jean-Claude Larronde, from Labourd (who’s brought us other articles), in which he analyzes the terrible repression by the republicans of the Basques of Labourd.

This isn’t the first time we’ve covered the terrible impact (see here for example) this event had on the northern Basque Country.  The imposition of a unitary, uniform Republic that sought to turn all of France into “Greater Paris” was devastating, as they believe that Paris was actually the true center of the true France that needed to be spread nationwide.  Even today, we hear similar ideas coming from the current president of the Community of Madrid, Isabel Díaz Ayuso.

The French Jacobin centralists manage to establish a repressive republic over anything and everything that didn’t fit the “Parisian French” model.  Even so, 200 years after they imposed their education and structures nationwide, they still have not been able to finish off the languages, cultures, and nations that made up the erstwhile Kingdom of France and which are still quite alive, much to the republic’s dismay.

At the moment the Basque rights were abolished in the Northern Basque Country, there were already movements among the Basques to have them restored.  But the new part of that was that now they were defending the idea that the Basque territories on both sides of the Pyrenees were part of the same entity.

The Kingdom of Spain, in imitation of the French centralists, tried to do the same thing.  They “treasonously” imposed a unitary constitution that would turn the king’s possessions into a “nation” as if by magic.  This decision was the seed of the conflict between the Southern Basque Country and that unitary State which had taken away from the Basques their laws, their parliaments, their ways of organizing towns and the larger community by imposing strange, foreign (and much less democratic) rules.  Consequently, there was a social reaction both within the country and in the diaspora, which first organized as a movement to defend the fueros, and ended up turning into the Basque Nationalist Movement.

But coming back to July 14, and the horrible consequences brought by the French Revolution to Basque society (first north of the Pyrenees, then south).  We leave you with the article by Jean-Claude Larronde, which helps us to understand the breadth and intensity of said horrible consequences.

La Ikurriña ondeando por primera vez
The Ikurriña waving for the first time

By the way, quite coincidentally, July 14 is also the commemoration of the first time the Ikurriña, the flag of the Basques, was raised, becoming a symbol for the Basques in all the territories of our country.

A regretable episode of the French Revolution:
the deportation of the people of Labourd in 1974

Jean Claude Larronde

Published in Muga Nº 69 year IX – June 1989

The French Government has wanted to highlight the bicentennial of the French Revolution quite brightly.  To do so, they’ve spared no expense, and have invested huge sums to help finance the great variety of marches, commemorations, conferences, exhibitions, etc. that are planned.

However, it cannot be said that this huge effort and indeed permanent institutional “noisemaker” have not met with the utmost success.  Hype in public opinion is rather lacking and unenthusiastic, which is leading the French Government to lower some its more high-flying projections.

To top it all off for our readers who are devotees of the 1789 Revolution: a few months ago, during a television broadcast, a majority of the French said they were in favor of absolving Louis XVI!

Indeed, for the last few years, there has been an air in literary media and universities of how the Robespierre followers and other followers of the Jacobin tradition have been losing speed.  The studies and theories of Albert Mathiez (1874–1932) and Albert Soboul are no longer taken as a given.  After François Furet, a pleiad of young, quality historians has renewed the historical analysis of this major event and has, with great talent, given a different interpretation to the French Revolution that is much more cultural and political than social and economic.

Jean Clément Martin’s book about the Vendée[1] is an excellent example of these new historical studies which are unyielding to all types of ideological catechism and which firmly place themselves outside of all hackneyed paths.  Consequently, the accent was frequently placed on the excesses of the Revolution, on the least glorious episodes of the Reign of Terror (June 1793–July 1794) and the bloody, dictatorial régime, were there one.

Governmental ideologues therefore saw themselves forced to back down on the legislative front, particularly on the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen (August 26, 1789) which, nonetheless, was not the first of its kind, as it was quite posterior to the English Declaration of Rights (1689) and the American Bill of Rights (1766).

Even in this restricted field, troubling facets arise of figures which the always “one and indivisible” Republic has wished to honor and promote.  Thus, Abbé Gregoire, whose ashes, as stated by François Mitterand on April 18, shall be moved to the Pantheon, is undoubtedly a defender of the Jews and the slaves in the colonies.  But was he not also the author of a report in Year II “on the need and the means to annihilate the patois and make the use of the French language universal”?  Among those patois that were to be annihilated was, of course, Basque, a language that is “an obstacle to the propagation of light.”  At the same time, his colleague at the Convention, Barrere, wrote, “…fanaticism speaks Basque.”

In the rich and hectic history of the French Revolution in the Northern Basque Country, we shall limit ourselves to speaking only of one episode, which was nevertheless undoubtedly the most horrible and atrocious: the deportation and internment of the people of Labourd in 1794.

I. The First Reports

They came from the “patriotic” authorities located in the commune of Chauvin-Dragon (the revolution’s name for St-Jean-de-Luz): the General Council of the commune, the Surveillance Committee, the Commissioners of the Revolutionary Society.  On November 25, 1793, those making up that meeting passed a motion harshly attacking the residents of Sare: “Considering that the commune of Sare has constantly shown the most marked hatred towards the Revolution, that this community is in habited by aristocrats…(sic).  It is ordered that the representatives of the people before the army of the Western Pyrenees shall be invited to evict the entire commune of Sare in as little time as possible, sending the workers to the departments of Lot and Lot-et-Garonne, the sailors and carpenters to the ships and shipyards of the Republic, and to the craftsmen to the communes of Auch and Condom, leaving the elderly and ill of both sexes, as well as the children too young to work, at national homes in some faraway departments; the grain of Sare is to be sold to Chauvib-Dragon, the hay and straw to the civil servants of the Republic’s arms; the beasts at neighboring fairs and markets…”

The motion finished by evoking the need to establish a no man’s land along the whole of the Labourd border: Louhossoa, Itxassou, Espelette, Ainhoa, Saint Pée, Sare, Ascain, Urrugne, and Hendaye[2].

It is precisely these proposals from the Meeting at St-Jean-de-Luz which are applied a few months later with the greatest rigor and limitless cruelty.

The many relations that Sare had established since time immemorial with the neighboring communes in Navarre and Gipuzkoa could barely even be suspected by the French revolutionaries, as France had been at war with Spain since March 9, 1793.

However, weren’t these good-neighbor relationships the most natural thing in the world between rural towns which spoke the same language and practiced the same religion?

Other sources of discontent for the French “patriots” at the time: the priests in Sare had completely refused to swear the oath written out by the Civil Clergy Constitution; moreover, the inhabitants of this commune had provided practically no resistance to the advance of the Spanish troops on April 30, 1793.

By then, the representative of the people (a deputy who the Convention sent along with the armies or post to the departments), Pinet, had, on January 27, 1794, suppressed the canton Sare was the capital of.  La Palombière (the “revolutionary” name for Sare) was incorporated to the Canton of Saint Pée.  But the desertion, on the night of February 19–20, 1794 by 47 Basque volunteer soldiers from the commune of Itxassou, enlisted by the emissaries of the Earl of St. Simon, at the service of King Charles IV of Spain, was the straw that broke the camel’s back.

Five days later, the three representatives of the people from Monestier (from Puy de Dome), Pinet, and Cavaignac sent a letter to the Committee of Public Salvation in which the Basque towns were reported for unheard-of violence: “You are informed that for a long while, a large part of the so-called former Basque Country, mainly the part closest to the Spanish borders, is inhabited by men whose superstition, fanaticism, and love of gold have sold them to the Spaniards…This country is so gangrenous that no progress can be expected of it for public spirit while the current generation lasts; only terror, only terrible punishments can contain these men who are monarchical in their hearts and Spanish by fanaticism and interest.  Their hearts are closed to the love of the fatherland and republican principles…This Basque Country must be purified like the Vendée, with iron and fire…”[3]

“And the inevitable came, atrocious, unstoppable.”[4]

II The Pinet-Cavaignac Order of March 3, 1794 (Ventôse 13, Year ll)

This order had been preceded by others dated February 22, 1794 given by Pinet and Cavaignac themselves, which set out to persecute the parents of the deserters and the confiscation of their assets.

The preamble to the March 3, 1794 order indicated that it was necessary “to take measures, on the fly, that are so rigorous that they spill the blood of the traitors in that instant…make lightning strike the heads of those who are guilty…bring horror, terror, and fear to the men who detest their country…chain them up like ferocious beasts.”

Article 1 stipulated:

“The inhabitants of the infamous communes of Sare, Itxassou, and Ascain shall be taken out of their domiciles and taken to inland departments that are at least 20 leagues (100 km, 60 mi) from the borders.  The same will be done with all those whose useful domiciles are not located more than one league from the border in the interval that separates the communes of Ascain and Ainhoa.”

The inhabitants of these communes are classified as “monsters unworthy of being French.”

Article 2 added:

“The inhabitants of the communes of Espelette, Ainhoa, and Souraide upon whom the slightest suspicion of hatred for the Revolution of love for the Spanish falls shall be subject to the same punishment, along with their families…”

Finally, this order confiscated all movable and non-movable assets of the deportees and named an extraordinary commission[5] to judge counter-revolutionary crimes.

This order was carried out immediately: the “revolutionary” authorities of the Ustraritz district, with a strong escort, went to Sare and locked up practically all inhabitants, 2,400, in the church; they were led down the roads to Saint-Pée, St-Jean-de-Luz, and Ciboure.

There were also arrests in Ascain, Biriatou, Itxassou, Cambo, Espelette, Ainhoa, Sourai- de, Larressore, Macaye, Mendionde, and Louhossoa.

In total, more than 150 ox-drawn wagons were filled.  All these unfortunate souls were locked up in the abandoned churches in the Bayonne region.

But that was just the first step.  No time was spared in distributing them throughout the churches of the Landes department: Dax, Saubion, Thil, Saint Geours-de-Maremne, Saint-Lon, Saint-Andre de Seignanx, Soustons, Saint-Vicent-de-Tyrosse, where 300 women were locked up in the church.

The number of victims of this internment, those who died of cold, hunger, or disease, is not easy to calculate after the fire in the Lower Pyrenees Department Archives on November 21, 1908 destroyed practically all of the L series (on the revolution).  Investigations may still be carried out in bordering and nearby departments.  But this work has thus far never been carried out, and it is difficult given the very high number of communes that would have to be visited.

It is, however, generally estimated that more than 3,000 people were thusly removed from their homes and deported; of them, approximately 1,600–1,00 perished.

The Order dated May 24, 1794 (Prairial 5, Year II) organized the internment of the Basques[6].

Pinet and Cavaignac wrote about the deportes in the preamble:

“It is in large part the ignorance that the priests have kept them under that their crimes must be attributed to,” thereby revealing the role played in this tragic episode by the anti-Catholic character of the “revolutionaries.”

Article 1 of this Order stipulated that the Ustaritz district would draw up a list of detainees as they were brought in.  Then, they would be redistributed: 20% to the department of Lot, 16.67% to Lot-et-Garonne, 20% to Gers, 16.67% to the Landes, 13.33% to Lower Pyrenees, and 13.33% to Upper Pyrenees.

In the Upper and Lower Pyrenees, the detainees would be settled at least 10 leagues (40 km, 25 mi) from the border to prevent their emigrating.  Each municipality would be obliged to provide housing and food for them; all, “both men and women and children” would be employed in public and individual jobs.  Article 10 prohibited the deportees from leaving the commune they had been assigned to under any pretext, under penalty of six years in chains for men, six years of prison for women, and for all, as a prior penalty, being shown for an hour each day for three days on the gallows in view of the town.”

On Thermidor 9, Year II (June 27, 1794), Robespierre was brought down, ending the Reign of Terror.

Soon, the people of Labourd would be allowed to return to their homes.

III The Return of the Deportees

Starting on September 28, 1794, the new representatives of the people, Baudot and Garrau, issued an Order authorizing the return of the inhabitants of the Ustaritz district who had been deported, except priests and nobles[7].

Two days later, the same representatives ordered that the deportees be given back all their movable and non-movable assets and existing effects.  The administrative authorities were obligated to give a reckoning of how they had handled the goods of the deportees.  Nevertheless, those returning home found only ruin and desolation.  Their homes had been sacked and half-burned down; their goods had been stolen and pilfered.

The measures taken by the representatives of the people regarding their assets was a moot point, given that these unlucky souls now had nothing.  They did, however, have enough courage to lodge a solemn protest with the authorities.

Thus, the mayor of Sare, Martin Dithurbide, and 33 of his administration addressed Representative Monestier (de la Lozere) with a moving letter[8] that described the tortures and suffering they had undergone during the 200 days they had been deported, and denounced “the leading agent of tyranny in our lands,” Daguerressar, the national agent for the Ustaritz district and a native of Mouguerre.

This petition joined the denouncement in Paris of Pinet and Cavaignac by the Popular Society of Bayonne (215 signatures).  Both representatives of the people were made responsible for the death by misery and disappearance of 1,600 Basques deported in March 1794[9].

On February 16, 1795, Representative Monestier (de la Lozere) confirmed the preceding orders: all inhabitants of the Ustaritz district must have all their assets returned; all the civil servants in charge of their seizure and sale must give a reckoning of their operations, and sackers must be indicted.

As a consequence of this order, the Ustaritz district, on March 4, 1795, justly decided, a year after the deportation order, to name an Investigation Committee.

On March 18, 1795, Representative Izoard issued a pacification order: the inhabitants of the Ustaritz district who had fled to Spain to avoid the horrors of the deportation had until May 20, 1795 to return home.

As for the rest, a decree on April 10, 1795 ordered the disarmament of the “terrorists” and an order of the representatives of the people on June 3, 1795 ordered the provisional cancelation of all public service, the arrest, and the imprisonment in the citadel at Bayonne, of the members of the municipality, of the General Council of St-Jean-de-Luz, as well as the commissioners of the Popular Society for their deliberations on November 25, 1793, causing the deportation of the inhabitants of Sare and other communes.

The Investigation Commission worked in Sare until the end of July 1795; as a result of the interrogations of the suspects of sacking and pillaging in Sare during the deportation of its inhabitants, it is possible to calculate to what extent the robberies and pillaging took place, thanks to the fact that the suspects often accused each other in order to lessen their sentence.  It is also possible to calculate how hateful Pinet was in his memoirs, as he didn’t hesitate to write, “By taking this measure, we also, at the same time, take the necessary precautions to preserve the properties of these perverse men intact.”[10]

After the fall of the Reign of Terror, the country could finally take a breath, and the Directorate of the Ustaritz District, on April 8, 1795, passed a motion during the Thermidorian Convention, where they clearly state that they are satisfied the previous reign has ended:

“Yes, lawmakers!  May these gold- and bloodthirsty creatures go far away; may they leave loaded down by our waste and their crimes!, but may they be gone forever…  Lawmakers, do not hesitate, our district has also seen horrors: some day, you will well understand what treatment was received by the Basques and those from Bayonne who make them up…we shall limit ourselves only to tell you that on Thermidor 9, the only thing missing from our disgrace was death…”[11]

On October 25, 1795, on the evening before the dissolution of the Convention, general amnesties were voted on except for the unyielding émigrés and priests: thus those responsible for and the authors of the deportations of the Basques were saved and freed from all upset.

The victims of the deportations were reduced to abject poverty, and their fair claims were unanswered.  However, the inhabitants of Sare and Ascain, and the commune of Sare itself, did not give up, and increased their petitions of the government authorities in Paris.

It was all for not.  The damage caused in the commune of Sare was set at 782,000 francs.  Only in 1817 did the Restoration Government twice agree to pay the whole commune of Sare the sum of 1,409.29 francs.  A pittance of compensation!

The memory of this terrible repression, and this terrible injustice has continued to be remembered among the inhabitants of Sare.

But collective memory, if not stimulated and reinforced by teaching in schools, is bottled up and the data and situations and quickly confused, as seen in the story of Madeleine Larralde[12].

Now, however, the story of the deportation of the people of Labourd in 1794 has been carefully hidden, and still is, by the official education system of France.

How many inhabitants of the communes that were declared “infamous” in Labourd today know the terrible suffering their forebears withstood two centuries ago?  Very few, undoubtedly…[13]

It should not be paradoxical that at the celebration of the bicentennial of the French Revolution in 1789, we recall this dramatic episode.


[1] Jean-Clément Martin: «La Vendée et la France» – L’Univers Historique Editions du Seuil – París 1987, 404 p.


[2] Abbé P. Haristoy: «Le martyre d’un peuple ou internement des Basques sous la Terreur, suivi de chants ante-révolutionnaires» Pau, Imprimerie Vignancour, 1894, p.1–3.  Actually, in this minor work, Abbé Haristoy devotes no more than a chapter, “Sare pendant la Révolution” of the 6th manuscript registry of Capt. Duvoisin: «Cocuments historiques, statistiques, topographiques sur le Pays Basque» pp 166-174.


[3] Albert Darricau: «Scénes de la Terreur á Bayonne et aux environs 1793-1794» Bayonne-Imprimerie A. Lamaignére, 1903 pp. 60-62.

[4] Dominique Dufau: «Saint-Pee D”Ibarren (Baugard) et Sare (La Palombiére) sous la Révolution Francaise» Eusko Jakintza, 1949, Vol. III, P. 391.

[5] This Commission, in just over two months (March 3–April 29, 1794), gave out 61 death sentences, which were carried out immediately. See also V. Dubarat: «Jugements rendus par la Commission Extraordinaire de Bayonne»: Etudes Historiques et Religieuses du diocése de Bayonne: 1900 IX (pp. 97-105; 145-156; 271-274; 304-313; 338-351; 399-413; 485-496; 533-544), 1901 X (pp. 37-39; 86-92; 134-144).

[6] René Cuzacq: «L*Arrété du 5 Prairial an II et l’internat des Basques»: Gure Herria 1933, n.* $, pp. 456-465. Commenting on the considerations of this order, René Cuzacq wrote: «Aux yeux de l’historien impartial, l’accusation de trahison nationale et de trahison en masse ne tient pas debout (In the eyes of the impartial historian, the accusation of national treason and mass treason does not hold water.)».

[7] Regarding the end of the deportation and the return of the deported people of Labourd, see also H. D. d’Argain (pseudonym of Henry Dop): «Le retour des victimes de l’Internat des Basques (1794-1795): Gure Herria: 1980: n.* 3 (pp. 208-212); n.* 4 (pp. 339-354); 6 (pp. 519-528); 1981: n.* 1 (pp. 70-81); n.” 3 (272-279); n.* 4 (pp. 366-371); 1982: n.* 1 (pp. 33-50).

[8] See the text of this petition in Lt. Vedel: «La Commune de Sere en 1847 – Description physique Notice historique»: Bulletin de la Société de Sciences, Lettres et Arts de Bayonne, 1935, n.º 15 pp. 42-74,

[9] Vote made at the behest of Léon Basterreche, a wealthy man from Bayonne, titled: «Exposé succint de la conduite de Bayonne depuis lecommencement de la Révolution, et de quelques faits relatifs au gouvernement de Pinet et de Cavaignac, Repfesentants délégués pendant plus d’un an prés de L’Armée des Pyrénées Occidentales» Voir Claude Jouffre: Bayonne sous la Terreur». Master memoirs under the direction of Professor Albert Soboul at the University of Paris I- 1982, pp. 239-245.

[10] Henri Labroue: «Le Conventionnel Pinet d’aprés ses Mé- moires inédits.» Paris, Félix Alcan éditeur, 1907, p. 61.

[11] Extract of the Registry of Orders from the Directo of the Usaritz District: Séance publique du 19 Germinal an III: 8 avril 1795. A Bayonne, de l’Imprimerie de Fauvet Jeune (Archives Départamentales de Pau: district d’Ustaritz-7L1: Piéces diverses, an Il, an 1D).

[12]  Medeleine Larralde, de Sare, guillotined in 1794 for “intelligence with the enemy”; at the time of her execution she was 35 years old, and not 15 or 16 as is popularly known.  See also: J. B. Daranatz: «Deux victimes de la Réolution a Sare»: Bulletin de la Société de Sciences, Lettres et Arts de Bayonne, 1936, n.” 20, pp. 299-310.

[13] So, the current mayor of Sare, who was born there and has always lived there, recently commented that he did not known these facts until he was…40 years old.

Last Updated on Dec 3, 2023 by About Basque Country

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