Following Louis XIV’s revocation in 1685 of the Edict of Nantes, many Huguenots (Calvinists) quickly left France. My Huet ancestors fled to Zweibrucken in the German Palatinate. I’ve yet to learn where they lived in France, but have found some data on where members of the Huet family lived in 1645-1685, the four decades leading up to the revocation.
As of mid-2001, the genealogical web-site maintained by the L.D.S. (Mormon) church contained 95 records of births, christenings, and marriages of people with the surname Huet in France in those years. Over two-thirds of those events (65 of 95) took place in what is now the department of Maine-et-Loire. In Angers, the department’s main city, and the historic capital of the province of Anjou, a single parish, Saint Augustin, accounted for nearly half of the recorded events in the nation (47 of the 95). These records also show some events in Finisterre (in northwestern Brittany) and in a scattering of other places. (The L.D.S. web-site may have additional data by now.) Those 95 records strongly suggest that the Huet family originated in Anjou, but they don’t prove it, since the records at the web-site may not be complete.
Current distribution of Huets in France
Three centuries later, the French Huets have spread out over a larger area, but are still concentrated in Anjou and nearby regions to the north, northeast, and northwest. You can see this for yourself by going to a French web-site: www.notrefamille.com. Look for the box in the upper right that says “Votre nom en France depuis 1890!” Type in Huet and you will then be able to get a map showing how many children with the surname Huet were born in the various departments of France for the 100 years up to 1990, or for any of the four 25-year periods that make up those hundred years. Each shade of blue indicates a range of numbers, and by putting the cursor on a department, you will see the exact number. Notrefamille.com also has additional information on individual towns, but they may now be charging for this more detailed information. Last year I found some towns in which Huet was a common name.
About forty years ago, my great-uncle, Daniel Huyett, who did a great deal of genealogical research, wrote, “Huet is an old Roman word meaning owlet.” “Chouette”, and “huette” are modern French words for owlet. In Cassell’s French-English Dictionary, the entry for “chouette” translates it as “screech-owl, barn-owl”, and the entry for “huette” refers one to “hulotte” meaning “chat-huant” or “chouette des bois” or, in English, “wood owl, tawny owl”.
Loredan Larchey’s “Dictionnaire des Noms” mentions two nearly synonymous French verbs “huer”’ (to hoot) & “crier” which are the roots of the phrase “hue & cry”. Perhaps “hue” originated as the “hoot” of a huet, owlet.
Owls have been associated with Athena and Minerva, and thus with intelligence, wisdom and philosophy for thousands of years. ( “The Owl of Minerva” is what the Hegel Society of America calls its web-site. Hegel was a major nineteenth century philosopher.).
Albert Dauzat’s Dictionnaire Etymologique des Noms de Famille et Prenoms de France suggests a link between surnames such as Huet and Hue with the first names Hugo and Hugues (French equivalents of “Hugh”), and says that the root of such names is “hug-” meaning intelligence.
Another word for owl is “chouan”. About 1795-96, following the Vendee War during the French Revolution, the leader of a group of royalist rebels, Jean Cottereau, began calling himself “Jean Chouan”, and his group became known as the “Chouans”. “He was accustomed to warn his companions of danger by imitating the screech of an owl.” (During the Vendee War, the rebels captured the town of Cholet in Poitou, and Angers & Saumur in Anjou.)
Many French Huets live in wine-making areas. The New Columbia Encyclopedia says that Anjou “is chiefly an agricultural area with excellent vineyards that produce the renowned Vouvray and Saumur sparkling wines.” A famous vintner by the name of Huet has his vineyards in Vouvray, just east of Tours in the Loire Valley. Using Google.com you can find an article about a “Huet-a-thon”, a celebration of Huet wines.
Saumur and Angers were Anjou’s chief towns. Saumur’s chateau was beautifully depicted about 1420 in the “Belles Heures of Jean, Duke of Berry, Prince of France”.
(Feeding “Saumur” & “Berry” into Google.com, I found the image on the web: http://humanities.uchicago.edu/images/heures/september.jpg )
In the 1660s, France’s leading Huguenot college/academy was housed in Saumur’s chateau. The young William Penn, who later founded the colony of Pennsylvania, became a student there after being expelled from Oxford for his religious non-conformity. The chateau (which survived, is being restored, and can be visited) is on a promentory, between the Loire and a tributary, the Thouet. Apart from Saumur at its mouth, the main town along the Thouet is Montreuil-Bellay. The Michelin Green Guide to the Chateaux of the Loire says “In 1025 Fulk Nerra, Count of Anjou, gave this stronghold to his vassal Berlay (distorted into Bellay) who made it into a powerful fortress.” (In 1154, Fulk Nerra’s descendent, Henry Plantagenet, who was married to Eleanor of Aquitaine, became King Henry II.)
I would like to think that the Huet family originated in this part of Anjou near Saumur, that a family that owned land in the Thouet valley took its surname from it, that after a century or two the family moved to Anjou’s capital city, Angers, and that the spelling evolved (or was “distorted”) from Thouet to Huet.
P.S. Pierre Daniel Huet (1630-1721, born in Caen, in Normandy) seems to have been the most historically significant Huet. His grandparents were Huguenots, but his parents converted to Catholicism about the time of his birth. He became a famous scholar and was appointed a tutor of Louis XIV’s eldest son. (Louis XIV (1638-1715) outlived his son and grandson, so his successor, Louis XV, was his great-grandson .) Pierre Daniel Huet was a key member of the group of intellectuals in the salon of Madame de Sevigne, along with La Fontaine (famous for his Fables), and La Rochefoucauld (famous for his Maxims).
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