Quakers, Revolutions, and Cockades

The Quaker movement began in the mid-1600s as a group of people who wished to worship God in a way different from the established state church. They believed in non-violence and the equality and priesthood of all believers. Their opposition to slavery, refusal to take oaths, conscientious objection to war, and allowance of female leadership all brought them into conflict with the culture of their day.

Oh and one other item of conflict - their refusal to wear cockades!

We tend to picture the Quakers mostly in Great Britain and America, but by the late 1700s there was a branch in France as well.

The French Revolution began in 1789. You would think a revolution that touted "Liberty, Equality and Fraternity" as its slogan would perfectly sympathize with the equality- and peace-loving Quakers. In fact, Jacques-Pierre Brissot de Warville, a prominent Girondin leader of the Revolution and a friend of Quakers observed, "We are all striving for the same object, universal fraternity; the Quakers by gentleness, we by resistance."

Unfortunately, that's not the view that the French National Assembly took of the matter. Quakers were not viewed kindly by the French revolutionary government. It was obvious to them that Quakers were a "public menace" because - wait for it - they refused to wear the tricolor cockade!

The Quakers had submitted a petition to the National Assembly asking for exemption from military service, exemption from taking civic oaths, and permission to carry on their own method of recording births, marriages and deaths. These liberties had already been granted to British and American Quakers, they reminded the Assembly.

Benjamin Angell's cockade
The issue was so important to Quakers internationally that American and British leaders of the sect visited France to plead for their brethren. Even though Quakers frowned on cockades and other "worldly" devices, cockades were required in revolutionary France. So this cockade was worn by one of the foreign suppliants, Benjamin Angell.

But in spite of this international support, things didn't turn out well for the French Quakers.

One of their leaders, Jean de Marsillac, observed, "It has pleased the lord to suffer us to fall under divers tryals, which in our weak state, we have found painful & grievious, the civic oath, the obligation imposed by the National Assembly to mount guard personally & the Arm, & to declare the arms every one had in his Possession, under the pain of being found guilty of treason & punished by Death….I was arrested at Paris because I had not the National Cockade, & signified my reasons for noncompliance, before the Judges of the Peace, & since that, before Petition Mayor of Paris, who had me set at liberty." 

Many French Quakers simply left France for England, which was more tolerant of their beliefs - and their refusal to wear cockades. A snarky cartoon of the times shows a Quaker asking a drover (symbolizing a recruiting officer), "Friend, where driveth thou that Calf - & why put a Cockade on his horn?" The recruiting officer answers, "He is a young Recruit & I am driving him to the slaughter house." This shows not only the Quakers' view on war but also their view of military cockades.

Pygmy Revels 1801. British Museum.

By 1801, apparently tolerance for Quaker beliefs was growing in France, as noted by two American travelers.

"It may not perhaps be amiss to mention how we were treated at the municipality, where we attended to present our passports. We were stopped by the guards, who had strict orders, it seems, not to suffer any man to pass unless he had what is a cockade in his hat, but on our desiring our guide to step forward and inform the Officers that we were of the people called Quakers, and that our not observing those signs of the time was not in contempt of authority, or disrespect to any office, but from a religious scruple in our minds, - it being the same with us in our own country – they readily accepted our reasons; and one of the officers came and took us by the guards, and so up into the chamber, where we were suffered to remain quietly with our hats on, till our passports were examined by two officers and again endorsed under the seal of the republic."

Cockades are wonderful emblems, in my opinion - but only when you are free to choose whether to wear one!

Memorial Day Sale

If you are a Quaker, you may not need my cockades. :) But the rest of y'all will be glad to know that I'm having a Memorial Day Sale for the rest of May!! Use the coupon code MEMORIALDAY for 10% off in my shops!

All non-custom items in my shops are ready to ship immediately. Custom orders usually only take an extra day or two, unless you are making a large order. As always, I'm happy to help you out with whatever cockades you need!

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