Drownings at Nantes  

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Noyades (French for drowning) were drownings superintended during the Reign of Terror at Nantes, France by Carrier in 1793. They inspired Algernon Charles Swinburne's poem "Les Noyades".



The drownings were carried out by cramming some 90 priests in a flat-bottomed craft under hatches, and drowning them in mid-stream after scuttling the boat at a signal given, followed by another in which some 138 persons suffered like "sentence of deportation"; of these drownages there are said to have been no fewer first and last than 25.

Jean-Baptiste Carrier was responsible for the execution of around 2000 people by tying them naked in sealed barges. the barges were then holed and sunk in the Loire estuary.

One of the gruesome features of the noyades were what have been termed the 'underwater marriages', where a priest and a nun would be tied together before they were drowned. The drownings were also referred to as 'republican baptisms' or republican marriages.


Early in October 1793 Jean-Baptiste Carrier was sent to Nantes, under orders from the National Convention to suppress the revolt of anti-revolutionists. He established a revolutionary tribunal as mentioned above, and formed what was called the Legion of Marat, to dispose quickly of the masses of prisoners heaped in the jails. The form of trial was soon discontinued, and the victims were sent to the guillotine, shot or disposed of in a more inhumane way. Carrier invented a variety of extremely torturous means of killing. He put large numbers of prisoners on board vessels with trap doors for bottoms, and sunk them in the Loire river. He also lined up hundreds of prisoners in fields and called the National Guard to shoot them down one by one. As Adolphe Thiers states in The History of the French Revolution, "This frantic wretch imagined that he had no other mission than to slaughter."

Republican marriages

There may well have been a sexual motive to some of the developments he introduced to the killings, including the proposal that young male and female prisoners be tied together naked before the drownings, a method which was called a "Republican marriage". Carrier's violent means of carrying out orders to suppress the revolts against the Convention were what made him infamous.

Wanton cruelty

The Noyades and Carrier's increasing haughty and torturous demeanor, gained him a reputation for wanton cruelty. In his mission to Normandy he had been very moderate, and it has been suggested that his mind had become unbalanced by the atrocities committed by the Vendean and royalist armies. He is quoted as being "...one of those inferior and violent spirits, who in the excitement of civil wars become monsters of cruelty and extravagance." As Carrier's violent actions continued, more of the French people began to question his true motives. He was recalled by the National Convention on February 8, 1794, took part in the attack on Robespierre on the 9th Thermidor, and was brought before the Revolutionary Tribunal on the 11th. The jury that heard Carrier's case was left dumbfounded as the trial closed and a unanimous vote for the execution of Jean-Baptiste Carrier was passed. Carrier was guillotined on 16 November 1794.

See also

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