Administration of the French Army

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Budget categories

Finances (specifically budgets) of the French Army can roughly be divided into 7 categories each known as a treasury. Each of the seven budgetary bodies was headed by a tresorier-général.

1- Ordinaire des guerres: a small, regulatory budget, which accounted for around 10,000,000 livres per annum for the maintenance of the army. This small budget originated from the days of Louise XIV when armies were relatively small in comparison to the Seven Years War.

2-Extraordinaire des guerres: this was originally money allocated, in addition to the above peacetime budget, for the maintenance of the regular army during wartime. This budget was quite erratic and comprises a large part of the budget during wartime, and sometimes in peacetime, since the original Ordinaire des guerres by 1756 was often not sufficiant to meet the task of maintaining the army.

for both the ordinaires and extraordinaires, Money was obtained by something called a taillon, or supplementary taille (tax). Another means was the assessment of taxes/contributables for the maintenance of the militia. Further assessments were made for quarters and lodgings which were often converted into cash levies, since the soldiers were often in Germany. In wartime, further money could be raised by levying impositions on the conquered populations.

3- Artillery & engineers: a budget specifically intended for the maintenance of the artillery and engineers.

4- Maréchaussée: a budget dedicated to the maintenance of the military body charged with police duties in the kingdom of France.

5- Gratifications: basically a budget that acted as a primitive military pension.

6- Invalides: apparently this was somehow different from the gratifications, but again, it's not specific. The gratifications were probably just for retirement while the actual budget was specifically for men rendered unfit for duty by war. This budget and the previous one (gratifications) drew money from an assessment on the appropriations of the extraordinaire des guerres, at 1 denier per livre for the invalids and 3 deniers per livre for the gratifications.

7- Ecole Militaire: the budget for the famous military college of France, established just prior to the war. The revenues that went into funding this one came from a special tax on playing cards.

Payment process

There was no real "statement of expenses", nor was there any ordonnancement au comptant (cash payment) in the ministry of war (which ran all seven of the above treasuries), so the money was raised as follows:

  1. minister initiated pay order;
  2. the treasurer responsible for providing the money (again from the above seven budgets) would turn it over to the recipient;
  3. the payee then presented it to the office of controller-general where royal approval was obtained and a fund assigned for the payment.

Note: the process could take months, depending on the fiscal state of the responsible treasury.

The government also tried to avoid sending bullion over to the army, whenever possible. It rather used the services of court bankers, particularly Paris de Montmartel, who in 1757 helped transfer 16,000,000 livres from France to the army in Germany by means of letters of exchange with the Meinerzhagen brothers of Cologne. Impositions on conquered territories were repeatedly attempted, but always yielded disappointing results. Foe example, when 16,000,000 livres were demanded of the Hanoverian and Hessian territories under French occupation, to be given to the army no later than December, 20 1757, only some 4,000,000 had actually been collected by February 1758, when the French army was forced to retreat.

The money from the budget was disbursed to the soldiers and officers by means of a group of disbursement officers, each representing one of the seven treasuries, and all under the immediate supervision of the field army's intendant. These officers disbursed the money to the majors of the various regiments. The disbursements were generally divided into 3 categories: the prêt, the masse, and the ustensile. The prêt was the soldier's pay, distributed every 10 days. The masse was an equipment allotment meant for the captain to use on his company, which works out to 12 deniers per soldier. The ustensile was for winter quarters and often as supplement to the often inadequate masse. There were also minor allotments, such as for shoes, waistcoats, etc. A considerable amount of the military budget went to maintain the various companies and boards, who were to provide bread, forage, medical aid (the one truly great feature of the French army in this period), etc. Again, specific revenues went to specific areas; the prêt came from contributions levied from conquered territories.


In spite of all these measures, and in fact because of them, there was a massive deficit in the treasury of France, and there was often a shortage of funds for the army – a situation not helped by widespread corruption and embezzlement. Many officers resorted to fraud, not always out of greed, but out of necessity. France also had the highest per capita allotment to soldiers of all nations with known finances: calculations from Mr.Guibert indicate that 140,000 men were maintained by 106,000,000 livres, while 180,000 Prussians were provided by using only 56,000,000 livres (converted from thalers) and another 180,000 Austrians were maintained with 62,000,000 livres. Although these are postwar figures, Guibert asserts the same disparity existed during the Seven Years War, and further calculations bear this out: it cost France 500 livres a year to maintain a single soldier, while it cost Frederick II only some 300 livres per year. Part of this high cast for maintaining a soldier was from Corruption; another was from the overly large officer corps in the French army. the dual accounting system of the ordinaires and the extraordinaires also added to the problem.

in fact, by the end of the war, Franch had contracted a staggering 2,000,000,000 Livres in debt, an enormous sum by 18th century standards. It was this poor financial management that contributed to the French revolution, 40 odd years later.


Kennett, Lee; The French Armies in the Seven Year's War: A Study in Military Organisation and Administration, N.C., 1967


User:Ibrahim90 for the initial version of this article.