For God and King: A History of the Damas Legion (1793-1798):
A Case Study of the Military Emigration during the French Revolution
Hughes de Bazouges and Alistair Nichols
Helion & Company (2021), paperback
Images: 4 b/w illustrations, 17 colour illustrations, 11 b/w maps, 19 tables
Helion & Company have published another excellent addition to their Reason to Revolution series. Authors Hughes de Bazouges and Alistair Nichols have brought to life the oft mentioned but rarely examined role of France’s Royalist émigré units during the French Revolutionary Wars (1792-1801) through a study of the Damas Legion a formation raised by Étienne-Charles Damas-Crux (1754-1846). This examination charts the legions service over five years 1793-1798 in the armies of three kingdoms and the final fate of these veterans with the dissolution of the legion in the villages of present-day western Ukraine.
Bazouges’ and Nichols’ research is a truly in-depth guide to the foundations of the legion, the life and personal experiences of the men who served in the Damas Legion. Commencing with the French Revolution and the flight of the Royalist officers to the growing émigré communities forming in the German Principalities bordering France, the authors march on with the legion to examine its formation following the first failed attempt by Francisco de Miranda (1750-1816) to besiege Maastricht in 1793, where the threat of mass reprisals by the victorious Republicans encouraged many Royalists to enlist in the defence of the city and subsequently in the Legion. The first flag the legion served under was that of the United Provinces of the Netherlands, until the fall of the Stadholder in 1795. Damas and his legion then took the King’s shilling and enlisted in the British Army, although sadly in time for the failed Quiberon Expedition in 1795, which saw the infantry component of the Legion cease to exist.
While the infantry may have been lost and many of the officers executed, the cavalry of the legion survived, as they were saved by failing to reach Brittany in time to take part in the landings. Their path led them to Germany in service with Bourbon Army of the Louis Henri, Prince of Condé, joining these forces as they left British service in 1798 and instead enlisted in the hosts of the Tsar, Paul I of Russia. Here the remainder of the legion lingered on the borders of the Russian Empire until Condé’s Army was disbanded in 1801.
While this is the general thrust of the narrative, this book is not just a single narrative of regimental history. Bazouges’ and Nichols’ research have uncovered a wealth of material to flesh out the experience of the Damas Legion and the men and woman who served in their ranks. This includes biographies of many of the key officers within the legion and their subsequent fate after the Napoleonic Wars. The authors chart the composition of the legion following the recruitment of not just French émigrés, but also the incorporation of many of the soldiers of the Irish regiments of the former Royalist Army including the Dillon and de Walsh regiments.
The authors flesh out the experiences of these individuals by drawing on their personal reminiscences, including those written by Louise-Françoise-Claudine de Bennes. Forced to abandon her children and escape France with her husband, this indomitable woman served in uniform alongside her husband, and continued to fight in the ranks until her capture and subsequent escape following the failed Quiberon expedition. These personal touches help to bring the history of the Damas Legion to life, bringing a much-needed voice to the émigrés whose first-hand accounts are rarely translated into English.
These first-hand experiences are aptly complemented, by a wealth of detail on the composition of the regiment, including the various ranks and organisation of roles, details about the regiments uniform and the overall narrative. Ultimately making this case study of the Damas Legion an excellent regimental history but also a great introduction to the experience of France’s Royalist regiments during the French Revolutionary Wars.