The Assembly moved quickly to stop any likelihood that the church become a focus for counter-revolutionary thinking and plotting. This was to some extent fed by the Enlightenment thinking on the church being at the root of many societal evils.
In August 1789 religious tithes were abolished; tithe literally means a tenth-part. Three months later the property of the church was seized to prop-up the new assignat currency (see earlier); the church property at this time represented one-fifth to one-quarter of France.
In February 1790 the Assembly’s ecclesiastical committee was doubled in size and told to consider the reorganisation of the clergy. In just one week they came back to pass a rule that forbade monastic vows. Most ecclesiastical orders were dissolved except those that provided education for children or hospital services. In March Pope Pius VI unsurprisingly condemned this legislation. In April the rules were updated so that all church properties were forfeit.
In July 1790 the Assembly drew all of their thinking together in to the Constitution Civile du Clergé (Civil Constitution of the Clergy) which also demoted the Roman Catholic Church to be subordinate to the French government.
This decree reduced the number of bishops from 134 to 83, one per département. Bishops and priests would be elected locally; the electors not necessarily Catholic but they had to swear allegiance to the nation. The Pope would merely be informed of the outcome.
Bishops and priests answered to the Assembly and had to swear allegiance to the nation; half of their number refused and became known as ‘refractory priests’ (being refractory in the refectory!).
Louis XVI proved slow to approve the Constitution Civile, there was an exchange of letters between he and Pius VI on the subject. In October thirty bishops made public their disagreement with the proposal. Louis finally approved in it December 1791.
These actions had the opposite effect to that desired, in that it bred resentment amongst the religious peasantry. This would be ignited by the subsequent decree in March 1792, which enabled the official confiscation of grain around the country to stop any hoarding.
In 1791 the people of Vannes, in the Morbihan département of Brittany staged protests in support of their local bishop, who refused to swear the oath of loyalty. Over the next year open support of the monarchy spread through Brittany. One of the leaders was Jean Cotterau who was known as Jean Chouan, his name was used to describe this movements as the Chouannerie. He had to escape to Britain when identified by the Republic as one of the leaders.
The Republic built a series of fortified towns from where they could attack the Chouans, they even despatched phoney Chouan forces to seek to undermine their local support. In March 1793 a law was instituted that said any captured rebel was to be shor or guillotined within 24 hours.
When the National Convention in 1793 decreed its Levée en masse (mass mobilisation) it required that 300,000 citizens should be called up to serve in the Republican army – the region rebelled.
This anti-Republican feeling would fester from uprisings to guerrilla warfare and full battles until 1800 when this north-western France revolt was finally defeated.