8° (25 x 19.5 cm / 10 x 7.5 inches): Collation Complete: 4 pp. letterpress, printed on a single folded sheet, unbound as issued (Very Good, crisp with dark printing impression, very slight chipped loss to inner corner of last page, not affecting printed area, light old guard stains to corners of last page).
This is the very rare Marseille imprint of the official decree which changed the name of Île de Bourbon to Île de la Réunion, as ordained by the French Revolutionary Convention Nationale.
The island today known as Réunion was first claimed by France in 1638, and, in 1649, was named Île de Bourbon, after the French Royal Family.
During the French Revolution, after the overthrow of the French monarchy and the execution of Louis XVI (January 21, 1793), the new Jacobin regime was determined to erase any and all traces of the Bourbon family – in both Metropolitan France and throughout the colonies.
On March 19, 1793, the Convention Nationale (the Revolutionary Parliament) decreed that the name of the Île de Bourbon should henceforth be changed to Île de la Réunion. He name was chosen to commemorate the reconciliation, or ‘reunion’, of the Revolutionary factions of Marseille with the National Guard of Paris, which occurred on August 10, 1792.
Consequently, the first edition of the present Décret was promptly printed in Paris by the Imprimerie nationale exécutive du Louvre.
The present edition was printed in Marseille some days thereafter, specifically to assert the validity of the decree in the Bouches-du-Rhône Department. This was rather fitting given that the name Réunion celebrates the reconciliation of the Marseillaise and Parisian Revolutionary factions. Like the Paris edition, the present issue of the decree is signed by the Revolutionary officials Gaspard Monge and Louis-Jérôme Gohier. However, the Marseille edition features an extra paragraph of text noting the local acceptance of the decree and its deposition in the departmental archives, dated April 8, 1793.
The name-change decree took some time to reach the Île de Bourbon/Réunion. There the news – and any anything else Revolutionary – received a mixed greeting. While the island was home to some die-hard rabble-rousers, the plantocracy was inherently conservative, and tended to harbour Royalist sympathies. The planters, in reference to the name change and the island’s famous coffee exports, exclaimed “Pourquoi aller si vite ? ...Le monde entier connaît le café de Bourbon; si le nom change personne ne l’achètera plus!” [“Why go so fast? ...The whole world knows the coffee of Bourbon; if the name changes nobody will buy more!”].
Nevertheless, on February 20, 1794, the island’s Republican-dominated colonial assembly voted to approve the change to Île de la Réunion. However, the colony’s Royalist governor, Jean-Baptiste du Plessis, vetoed the measure. Shortly thereafter, Plessis was deposed the by Pierre Alexandre Roubaud, the new interim governor, sent by the Revolutionaries to quell Royalist sentiment on the island. Therefore, the Réunion name stuck, at least for a time.
In 1801, Following Napoleon’s takeover of France, Réunion’s name was changed to Île Bonaparte. The island was conquered by Britain in 1810, upon which the occupying regime preferred the name Bourbon. However, the island’s name was not officially changed back to Île de Boubon until it was retuned to (Royalist Restoration) France in 1815. The Bourbon name persisted until 1848, when the Bourbon family was once again (and for the last time) deposed. From that point to the present day, the island had been known as Réunion.
A Note on Rarity
The present Marseille edition of the Décret is very rare; we cannot trace any institutional examples, although surely there is an example in the archives in Aix-en-Provence. We are aware of only a single other example offered on the market during last generation. The Paris edition is also rare, we can trace only 2 institutional examples.
References: N/A – Seemingly not recorded in literature or in institutional catalogues; Not cited in Jackie Ryckebusch, Inventaire des ouvrages concernant l'île Bourbon, l'île de la Réunion (Paris, 2005). Cf. [Re: Paris edition:] Ryckebusch, no. 2317; OCLC: 221653016.