Jean Chouan rises for the King in Brittany

January 27, 2011

General Jean-Nicolas Stofflet

It was the 15th August 1792. An order from the directory of the district had summoned to St. Ouen-des-toits all the young men of the neighboring parishes, to enroll themselves in the national guard by voluntary enlistment. Most of them obeyed the summons; but the very sight of the officers with their registers inspired them with indignation, and when the names were called over, they replied only with hootings. The gendarmes threatened to arrest the ringleaders, and were about to put their menace in execution, when Jean Chouan shouted, “No national guard! No volunteers!” The cry was repeated on all sides. “If it is the king who commands us, we will all march for the king.” “All of us, all of us,” cried the peasants. “But not a man will march for the nation,” added Jean. “Not a man! Not a man!” echoed the crowd. Upon this they fell upon the commissaries, tore up their registers, upset the tables, wrenched off the legs, and therewith beat the gendarmes. This exploit was crowned by a general tumult, in the streets of Laval, between the insurgents and Graffin the mayor, at the head of the soldiers, for the possession of the tricolor flag, which ended in the discomfiture of the republicans.

Jean Cottereau took advantage of the enthusiasm created by their first success to organize an avowed insurrection….


Women rebuking the fleeing men. Painting by Alfred de Chasteignier

The Little Vendée, with Jean at their head, followed the grand army through all its fortunes, and shared with it the reverse at Granville and the glorious victory at Dol. When all seemed lost, and the entire army had taken to flight, amid the reproaches of the women and the recriminations of the men—when Stofflet himself was at the head of the runaways, and the very cavalry suffered themselves to be carried away by the general panic—then Jean Chouan stood firm with his Little Vendée between the army and certain destruction. He it was who, with Talmont, kept the enemy at bay, till the return of Larochejacquelein, and the heroic exhortations of the curé of St. Marie-de-Rhé, had restored some degree of courage to the enfeebled Vendeans, and the disaster was changed into a triumph. At La Flèche he was again instrumental in beating off Westermann.


Battle at Mans by Jean Sorieul

At Mans he kept up the struggle from house to house long after every vestige of hope had fled the Vendean party; and after the rout of Savenay, when there was no longer an army to fight, he returned with a small remnant of his followers to his old quarters in Misdon Wood.

George J. Hill, The Story of the War in La Vendée and the Little Chouannerie (New York: D. & J. Sadlier & Co. n.d.), pp. 179-180, 182-183.

Short Stories on Honor, Chivalry, and the World of Nobility—no. 44

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