The Chouans and the Downfall of Napoleon – Guest Post by Catherine Delors, Author of “For the King”

Catherine Delors is the author of “Mistress of the Revolution.” Her latest book, which I recently reviewed, is “For the King.” She’s here today giving more background as to some of the different groups that arose after the French Revolution. In particular, the Chouans, who play a large role is “For the King.”
The Chouans
On Christmas Eve 1800, a group of Chouans, royalist insurgents, detonated a bomb along Napoléon Bonaparte’s path. This assassination attempt provides the backdrop of my new novel, FOR THE KING. Readers have asked me for more information about them. Why the name Chouans? What drove them to political violence? Were they a major political force?

First the name comes from one of the early leaders of the insurgency, Jean Cottereau, nicknamed Jean Chouan. Chouan was a colorful character, already in trouble with the law years before the French Revolution for, among other misdeeds, killing a tax collector. Then the Revolution brought many changes. The Constitution Civile du Clergé required priests and nuns to pledge allegiance to the new Constitution of the kingdom, a step many considered a violation of their religious vows. Then King Louis XVI was guillotined. The war against the Austrians and their Prussian allies was off to a disastrous start. Soon the French armies were outnumbered, requiring the legislative body that ruled the country to decree a draft. That was the real trigger for the insurgency.

Jean Chouan

Peasants from the western provinces, already outraged by the persecution of their priests and the execution of their King downright refused to go die in faraway lands for a Republic they loathed. Fight they would, but against it, and from home.

The insurrection turned into a full-blown civil war. Soon the Republic had to fight not only the foreign war, but the Chouannerie in the West. The Chouans called themselves the Catholic and Royal Army. Atrocities were committed aplenty by both sides, but civilian populations bore the brunt of the hostilities. Entire villages were razed, churches burned to the ground, tens of thousands became refugees in their own country. The war raged on for years, with much British gold financing the Chouans, until Bonaparte put an end to the Revolution by the bloodless coup of the 18th Brumaire in 1799.

Bonaparte presented himself as the bearer of national reconciliation after the bloodshed of the Revolution. He offered the Chouans a full amnesty if they would lay down their arms, and he proclaimed the West pacified. Prominent leaders of the Catholic and Royal Army rallied to the new regime, but its most charismatic leader, George Cadoudal, scornfully declined Bonaparte’s offers.

Jean Chouan

Some Chouans went on fighting, engaging Bonaparte’s troops in skirmishes, attacking stagecoaches to steal the hated Republic’s gold, and also rob travelers. In 1800, at the time of FOR THE KING, the West was “pacified” in name only. Towards the fall of 1800, hundreds of Chouans converged on Paris, with the design of assassinating Bonaparte. As explained in FOR THE KING, they came only a few seconds away from succeeding.

They failed in 1800, only to try again in 1804. Again the assassination attempt missed its target, and again Bonaparte deftly used the fallout to crown himself Emperor Napoléon. But the Chouans, though defeated, had not lost the war.
In 1815, when Napoléon was facing an entire Continent united against France at Waterloo, a good part of his troops was far away, in the West, fighting… the Chouans. The insurgency had arisen once again. The Chouans never succeeded in assassinating Napoléon Bonaparte, but they were instrumental in his ultimate defeat.

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For the King by Catherine Delors – Book Review

For the King by Catherine Delors

It is Christmas Eve of 1800 when Paris is rocked by an explosion that narrowly misses killing First Consul Napoleon Bonaparte. Chief Inspector Roch Michel is called in to investigate. His investigation is not without danger for him and his family, however. Although Roch is convinced that the Chouans – royalists who wished to reinstate the French monarchy – are behind the attack, the Prefect of the police is adamant that the culprits are the Jacobins – a group to which Roch’s father has some ties. Soon it becomes clear that Roch must solve this case or risk his father’s safety, or even his life.

As is probably evident from the above description, “For the King” is something of an historical mystery or thriller, but it is written to flow more like standard historical fiction than a thriller or mystery. That combination worked brilliantly for me, I loved Delors’ writing.

Perhaps the best thing about “For the King” was how vivid the story way. Delors brought her characters and plot to live so well that I assumed the entire thing was a product of her imagination, just loosely based on the real struggles happening in France post-revolution. This turns out not to have been the case at all. Although she did take some historical liberties, melding or creating a few characters, etc in order to tell the story more fluidly, “For the King” is directly based upon real events. I was absolutely stunned to read that in her author note, after how much life she breathed into the story.

I really enjoyed “For the King” and would highly recommend it to those interested in a bit of historical mystery, or in the aftermath of the French Revolution.

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This review was done with a book received for a blog tour.
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