The “War of the Maidens”

In 1829 the population of Ariège was continuing to increase and the peasants sank deeper into poverty. Ignorant of these realities and anxious to restore the forest that had been devastated by centuries of exploitation, Charles X decided to take back from the communes control of the dominale lands by installing a new forestry administration. Since the middle ages the Couserans and the high valleys of Ariège had lived in quasi autonomy. The forest, and all it provided, assured the survival of the population and the people considered it their own. The peasants of the valleys of Bellongue, Bethmale, Biros and Massat revolted and the "Demoiselles" made their appearance.

Disguised as women with long white shirts, head scarves and wigs, their faces blackened or hidden, the men attacked, often at night, large land owners, forestry wardens, gendarmes and forge masters. Unorganised and lacking political consciousness, the peasants conducted this "war" with few weapons. However, in spite of this carnavalesque aspect, the "demoiselles" succeeded in instilling fear. The king had to eventually impose amnesty measures and relax the forestry laws.

This conflict, intense between 1829 and 1832, would endure until 1872.


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