The Ubiquitous Brigand: The Politics and Language of Repression

  • Alan Forrest


Brigands were familiar figures on the eighteenth-century landscape — only too familiar for traders and travellers between major cities if the reports of the local police and the story lines of early novels are to be taken as a guide. Thieves gathered in bandes to attack mail coaches and rob passing traders, often secure in the knowledge that, as local men, they could expect to enjoy a degree of protection from their own communities against the attentions of the law. They congregated on frontiers, mingling with bands of smugglers and contrebandiers who were assured rich pickings in the sand dunes around Dunkerque or the mountain pastures of the Pyrenees, areas where only they knew the hidden paths that led across into Spain or the Austrian Netherlands. Or they simply formed themselves into casual bands when famine threatened, groups of local men who had fallen on hard times and hoped, like so many others, to inspire sufficient trepidation within their community to deter informers and thwart the efforts of the maréchaussée. Often, it would seem, they succeeded only too well, since policing in many parts of France was ineptly organized and seriously underfunded, as Iain Cameron’s account of the police of the eighteenth-century Auvergne makes clear. Here the attentions of the maréchaussée were focussed almost entirely on capturing vagabonds and army deserters along the principal highways — the latter being a particular priority in times of warfare such as the American War of Independence.


Public Order French Revolution Mountain Pasture Casual Band Familiar Figure 
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© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 2005

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  • Alan Forrest

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