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Chouans

CHOUANS (a Bas-Breton word signifying screech-owls), the name applied to smugglers and dealers in contraband salt, who rose in insurrection in the west of France at the time of the Revolution and joined the royalists of La Vendée. It has been suggested that the name arose from the cry they used when approaching their nocturnal rendezvous; but it is more probable that it was derived from a nickname applied to their leader Jean Cottereau (1767-1794). Originally a contraband manufacturer of salt, Cottereau along with his brothers had several times been condemned and served sentence; but the Revolution, by destroying the inland customs, ruined his trade. On the 15th of August 1792, he led a band of peasants to prevent the departure of the volunteers of St Ouen, near Laval, and retired to the wood of Misdon, where they lived in huts and subterranean chambers. The Chouans then waged a guerrilla warfare against the republicans and, sustained by the royalists and from abroad, carried on their assassinations and brigandage with success. From Lower Maine the insurrection soon spread to Brittany, and throughout the west of France. In 1793 Cottereau came to Laval with some 500 men; the band grew rapidly and swelled into a considerable army, which assumed the name of La Petite Vendee. But after the decisive defeats at Le Mans and Savenay, Cottereau retired again to his old haunts in the wood of Misdon, and resumed his old course of guerrilla warfare. Misfortunes here increased upon him, until he fell into an ambuscade and was mortally wounded. He died among his followers in February 1794. Cottereau's brothers also perished in the war, with the exception of Rene, who lived until 1846. Royalist authors have made of Cottereau a hero and martyr, titles to which his claim is not established. After the death of Cottereau, the chief leaders of the Chouans were Georges Cadoudal (q.v.) and a man who went by the name of Jambe d'Argent. For several months the Chouans continued their petty warfare, which was disgraced by many acts of ferocity and rapine; in August 1795 they dispersed; but they were guilty of several conspiracies up to 1815. (See also Vendée.)

See the articles in La Révolution française, vol. 29, La Chouannerie dans la Manche; vol. 32, La Chouannerie dans l'Eure; vol. 40, La Chouannerie dans le Morbihan (1793-1794); Sarot, Les Tribunaux répressifs ordinaires de la Manche en matière politique pendant la première Révolution (Paris, 1881), 4 vols.; Th. de Closmadeux, Quiberon (1795), Emigrés et Chouans, commissions militaires, interrogations et jugements (Paris, 1898), the only authority on the celebrated affair of Quiberon; E. Daudet, La Police et les Chouans dans le Consulat et I'Empire, 1800-1815 (Paris, 1895). Also the works of Ch. L. Chessin mentioned under Vendée.

Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)

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