Chouan

Chouan

This article deals with the name, its origins and usage. For the course of the revolt itself, see Chouannerie, and for the family in particular, see Chouan family.
Chouan ("the silent one") is a French surname. It was used as a nom de guerre by the Chouan brothers, including Jean Chouan, who led a major revolt in Bas-Maine against the French Revolution. Members of this revolt (and even French royalists of this period in general) came to be known as Chouans, and the revolt itself came to be known as the Chouannerie.

Origin of the word

Jean Cottereau and his brothers all inherited the surname chouan from their father, a clog merchant and "homme honorable". It is thought this nickname originated from his talent for impersonating the cry of the owl (chouette in French) or horned owl (chouan in old French, survives in dialectal French: gallo, etc... In modern French: chat-huant, wrong etymology based on chat = cat and huant = shouting, in fact pop. latin cavannus of Celtic origin). According to another authority, the only reason the members of the Cottereau family had long borne the surname Chouan (in patois, chat-huant, or chouin, local name for the Tawny Owl) was that their grandparent was sad and taciturn by nature, and according to yet another, because they used owl-calls as warning and recognition signals whilst out of smuggling trips.

One possible reason the name was extended to the royalist troops of Maine, Normandy and Britanny is the riot at Saint-Ouën-des-Toits on 15 August 1792, in which (among others) Jean and René Cottereau participated. There, they signalled to the Laval authorities. Another is that the royalist troops mustered at night using the owl call as a signal.

Spread

The opinion of some historians (including abbot Paulouin) writing on the revolt states that "the insurgents of the Sarthe did not receive the nickname Chouans, but took it up of their own accord at the beginning of their resistance career".

The 19th century historians - Savary, ; Lequinio ; the author of Mémoires d'un Administrateur des Armées Républicaines dans la Vendée - were different. Puisaye above all, the best-informed on the topic after having been the Chouannerie's supreme commander, affirmed that the Chouan brothers gave their name to the revolt which they had first organised.

A curious shield of the revolt seems to bear a sort of official use of owls (also the emblem of Minerva) in representing the Chouannerie. It bore the arms of France, right, , supported by two owls, with a double motto, IN SAPIENTIA ROBUR at the top, SIC REFLORESCENT at the bottom. It is to be found on some publications emanating from the "Royalist agencies in England", notably on the frontispiece of l’Almanach Royaliste pour l'année 1795, troisième du règne de Louis XVII, à Nantes (Londres) et se trouve dans toutes les villes de la Bretagne, de la Normandie, du Poitou, du Maine, du Perche, de l'Anjou, etc., et bientôt dans toute la France or, in English, "The Royalist Almanac for the year 1795, third year of the reign of Louis XVII, at Nantes (ie London) and found in all the towns of Britanny, Normandy, Poitou, Maine, Perche, Anjou, and soon throughout the whole of France".

Notes and references

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