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This article is about the origins and use of the name "Chouan". For the course of the Chouan revolt, see Chouannerie. For the Balzac novel, see Les Chouans. For the 1988 film, see Chouans!

Chouan ("the silent one", or "owl") is a French nickname. It was used as a nom de guerre by the Chouan brothers, most notably Jean Cottereau, better known as Jean Chouan, who led a major revolt in Bas-Maine against the French Revolution. Participants in this revolt–and to some extent French anti-Revolutionary activists 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 nickname Chouan from their father, a clog merchant and homme honorable from Saint-Berthevin in Mayenne, on the border with Brittany. One view is that this nickname originated from his talent for impersonating the cry of the owl (chouette in French), or specifically the tawny owl, which was called chouan in old French (French chat-huant), a designation that survived in the western langue d'oïl dialect spoken in Mayenne. According to another authority, the only reason the members of the Cottereau family had long borne the surname Chouan 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 on smuggling trips. Writing within living memory of the events, Jacques Duchemin des Cépeaux insisted that,

The surname of Chouan was given to Jean Chouan's grandfather because he was by nature taciturn and sad and because, at meetings, he kept himself out of the way in a corner. Since that time, the Cottereau family has maintained this surname. It was in turn given to all men who mustered to fight under the command of Jean Chouan, and finally to other royalists in arms in the western provinces. As for the account that the first Chouans imitated the cry of birds of the night to recognise and call each other, it is a supposition made by those who - not knowing the true explanation - nevertheless wanted to have some explanation to satisfy their curiosity... Maybe some insurgents had this idea which was suggested to them by their nickname. Although it is only some, it is to be noted that the bird formerly dedicated to armed wisdom became a sort of emblem for the bellicose piety of our peasants."

One possible reason the name was extended to the royalist troops of Maine, Normandy and Brittany 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.


The Chouannerie (from the Chouan brothers, two of its leaders) was a royalist uprising or counter-revolution in twelve of the western départements of France, particularly in the provinces of Brittany and Maine, against the First Republic during the French Revolution. It played out in three phases and lasted from spring 1794 to 1800.


Lazare Hoche

Louis Lazare Hoche (24 June 1768 – 19 September 1797) was a French soldier who rose to be general of the Revolutionary army. He won a victory over Royalist forces in Brittany. His surname is one of the names inscribed under the Arc de Triomphe, on Column 3. Richard Holmes says he was "quick-thinking, stern, and ruthless...a general of real talent whose early death was a loss to France."

A famous statement of general Hoche: "Facta, non verba" ("acts, no words")


Jun 09, '21
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