Nicolas Chauvin

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Nicolas Chauvin is a legendary, possibly apocryphal French soldier and patriot who is supposed to have served in the First Army of the French Republic and subsequently in La Grande Armée of Napoleon. His name is the eponym of chauvinism, a term for excessive nationalistic fervor.

According to the stories that developed about him, Chauvin was born in Rochefort, around 1780. He enlisted at age 18, and served honorably and well. He is said to have been wounded 17 times in his nation's service, resulting in his severe disfigurement and maiming. For his loyalty and dedication, Napoleon himself presented the soldier with a Sabre of Honor and a pension of 200 francs.[citation needed]

Chauvin's distinguished record of service and his love and devotion for Napoleon, which endured despite the price he willingly paid for them, is said to have earned him only ridicule and derision in Restoration France, when Bonapartism became increasingly unpopular.

Historicity

Historical research has not identified any biographical details of a real Nicolas Chauvin, leading to the claim that he may have been a wholly fictional figure. Researcher Gerard Puymège concludes that "Nicolas Chauvin did not exist. It is a legend, which crystallized under the Restoration and July Monarchy, from the pen of songwriters, vaudeville and historians.". He argues that the figure of Chauvin continues the long tradition of the mythological farmer-soldier or Miles Gloriosus from ancient times in Greek mythology [1]

Many writers and historians falsely attribute to Chauvin the exploits of other Bonapartists. It is claimed that he served in the Old Guard at Waterloo, which is unlikely considering his age and the severity of his disabilities. When the Old Guard was surrounded and made its last stand at La Belle Alliance, he supposedly shouted in defiance to a call for their honorable surrender: "The Old Guard dies but does not surrender!", implying blind and unquestioned zealous devotion to one's country [or other group of reference]. This apocryphal phrase was in fact attributed to the Old Guard's commander, Pierre Cambronne whose actual reply was later asserted by other sources to be "Merde!" ("Shit!").[2]

References

  • Gérard de PUYMÈGE, Chauvin, le soldat-laboureur. Contribution à l'étude des nationalismes, Paris, Gallimard, 1993.

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