French Heavy Cavalry Uniform

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Introduction

The uniforms of the French cavalry of the Seven Years' War were regulated by the ordonnance of June 1st 1750. This regulation was quite similar to the previous one issued on March 28 1733. A new regulation was published in 1762 but not implemented before the end of the war.

The distinctives of the various cavalry regiments were simpler than for the infantry. They mostly concerned the colours of the turnbacks, cuffs, lapels and collars and of the housings and their braids.

N.B.: saddlery and harnessing of the horses are covered in a distinct article: Generalities about horses and their equipment.

Uniform Plates

The two following plates have been made by the famous French uniformologist Michel Pétard and originally published in the magazine Uniformes Number 38 circa 1979. Mr. Pétard has kindly authorised us to reproduce these plates in our article but retains full copy right on them. These plates depict the uniform of a trooper of Fumel Cavalerie in 1750.

Typical uniform of a French cavalryman at the beginning of the Seven Years' War – Copyright: Michel Pétard
Details of the uniform of a French cavalryman at the beginning of the Seven Years' War – Copyright: Michel Pétard


Hat and Fatigue Cap

French Cavalry Tricorne - Source: Jean-Louis Vial

Most regiments wore the tricorne reinforced with an iron skullcap for combats (see Fig. 4 and 5 in the rightmost plate). This iron skullcap differed from cavalryman to cavalryman, being a matter of personal taste. The tricorne was made of black lamb wool and was bordered with a silver braid.

In the 1750 regulation, it was stated that "No cavalry regiment could wear bearskin hat except the Germans that used to wear it" (Royal-Allemand, Royal-Cravate). However, the Cuirassiers du Roy adopted it in 1750 while other regiments also wore bearskin hats after 1758. This was the case of Orléans, Penthièvre, Royal-Pologne, Fitz-James and the Cavalerie Liégeoise. This bearskin was dark brown or black and measured approximately 30 cm high. It was decorated with a double braid terminated by a tuft. In certain regiments, the back of the hat was ornamented with a coloured flame bordered with a braid. Similarly, the front of the hat could be decorated with a metal plate as for the Cuirassiers du Roy.

Cavalrymen also had a fatigue cap. This cap was of the same colour as the coat and was bordered with a braid of the distinctive colour. The cap also had a turned up peak that was sometimes decorated with one or three embroidered "fleur de lys" of the distinctive colour. As for the dragoons, the cap had a flame.

Hair was natural, not very well-groomed, braided or pony-tailed and maintained by a leather purse.

Cockade

The cockade was made of ribbon or paper. It was hold in place on the left side of the tricorne with a black silk ribbon fastened with a small button. During the 18th century white and black cockades were worn and we do not know what reasons determined the choice of one or the other.

One could consider that the cockade was not a major distinctive attribute since authors like Père Daniel do not even mention it. Similarly in the États militaires from 1758 to 1769 for infantry, cavalry and dragoons, the colour of the cockade is never described. The sole descriptions concerned the Gendarmerie who wore black cockades till 1769 when it changed to white.

This apparent lack of interest is however contradicted by a passage of the Mémoires pour servir à l'histoire de l'Europe who describes the War of the Austrian Succession where we can read:

“After the total withdrawal of French troops, all was quiet in Prague to the exception of those who had seemed attached to the emperor. A tribunal was established against those of this party who were soon dispersed; the most important having first been removed and sent to Hungary. It was forbidden to have any commerce with the French or with the Imperials. The young Prince von Mansfeld, for having visited the Great Burgrave with a white cockade, experienced the most cruel treatment from a lieutenant of the hussars, who excused himself stating that he had taken him for a French officer, even if the prince had told him his name.”

As can be seen, the colour of the cockade has, towards the middle of the 18th century, clearly marked the affiliation to a nation or to a coalition. And the white cockade was the attribute of the French nation.

In contemporary iconographies, Taccoli's manuscript of 1760 attribute white cockades to the Maison du Roi for which we know that cockades were black. Raspe's publications of 1761 give white cockade to infantry, cavalry and dragoons. In 1754, La Porterie in his Institutions militaires wrote that, for cavalry and dragoons, cockades were made of black coarse grained silk. Finally Pajol indicates that at the Franco-Imperial Army of the Maréchal de Soubise which in addition to French regiments, included an Austrian contingent as well as troops from the Reichsarmee under the Duke of Saxe-Hildburghausen, the cockades worn were white and green.

Here is a small piece of fabric who brings up many questions...

Coat, Waistcoat, Breeches

The justaucorps (coat) was made of blue fabric for all the royal regiments and of grey-white fabric for the other regiments. Noticeable exceptions were Conti Cavalerie, wearing a steel grey coat, and the Colonel Général, La Reine, Harcourt, Fitz-James and Noailles regiments wearing red coats.

The lapels of the coats went down to the level of the pockets. They measured 48,6 cm long and were 10,8 cm wide at the top and 7,2 cm wide at the bottom. Pockets were placed horizontally.

The collar was turned up. It measured 3 cm high and was fastened with a small button.

The coat had 38 large buttons: 7 buttons on each lapel, 4 on the coat below the left lapel (with corresponding buttonholes under the right lapel), 4 on each pocket, 2 in the small of the back, 2 to fasten the turnbacks, and 4 buttons on each cuff. It also had 3 smaller buttons: 2 to fasten the shoulder straps and 1 for the collar.

Turnbacks were turned up to show the distinctive colour and fastened with a hook.

Carabiniers wore a 2,2 cm silver lace on their cuffs.

The coat also had two woollen shoulder straps of the livery braid pattern. The shoulder straps were fastened with a small button near the collar.

The aiguillettes officially suppressed were still worn as the contemporary drawings clearly show it. La Chesnaye in his 1759 dictionary indicated that : "leurs couleurs différentes pour l'ordinaire de celle qui habille la troupe, fait qu'elles servent comme d'un sur-uniforme, par le moyen duquel chaque commandant peut communiquer sa livrée au corps qu'il commande indépendamment de l'uniforme constant de ce corps".

The buffle (a buff leather jerkin) was worn under the coat as a waistcoat. It offered a very good protection. It was fastened in front with hooks. This leather jerkin had a small collar fastened with a small button. In the Prussian fashion, the jerkin was bordered with a braid. The sleeves were cut "à la marinière" (short enough to be hidden by the sleeves of the coat) and fastened with three small buttons. The jerkin also had 5,7 cm wide red cuffs. By regulation, the Cuirassiers du Roy were the only regiment to wear a waistcoat instead of the leather jerkin. However, contemporary drawings show regiments wearing waistcoat of the distinctive colour rather than the leather jerkin.

The breeches were of buff leather. They were fastened with straps and buttons at the ankles and with a buckle and buttons at the knees.

Boots

Boots were of black leather. The vamp and shaft were waxed but not the knee pad which was simply brushed to avoid stains on the breeches. Furthermore, white knee covers were worn to prevent wear and stains caused by the rubbing of boots against the breeches. Boots remained almost identical since the regulation of 1733. However, the spurs had been reinforced and the knee pad modified.

Armament

French Cavalry Pistol - Source: Jean-Louis Vial

Each trooper was armed with a carbine, two pistols and a sabre according to the dimensions and lengths prescribed in the regulation of May 28 1733.

The carbine was of the 1733-1734 Model, measuring 107 cm (78 cm for the gun barrel) and weighed approximately 3 kg. It had a wooden ramrod with a metal fitting at one end. The carbine was fastened muzzle down to the right side of the saddle.

The two pistols were of the 1733-1734 Model similar to those of the dragoons. They measured 48,5 cm (31 cm for the gun barrel) and weighed 1,2 kg. They were worn in leather fonts on the pommel of the saddle. Troopers used them in melee or during pursuits.

French Cavalry Sabre - Source: Jean-Louis Vial

The main weapon of the cavalryman was the sabre. The regulation of 1750 is very concise concerning the sabre: "le sabre à monture de cuivre, à double branche, la lame à dos, 33 pouces de longueur ( 89,1 cm )". In fact, the pattern is the same as in the regulation of January 16 1734 given by Chenevières: the double edged blade was 2 feet 9 inches long and weighed one pound 5 ounces. Cavalrymen may also used a single edged blade. The main improvement brought by the regulation of 1750 was the second branch of the hilt increasing the protection offered to the hand.
The cuirasse was worn by all line cavalry regiments (excluding dragoons and hussars) during battles. However, it was worn reluctantly and as rarely as possible despite the regulations. The cuirasse consisted of a breastplate of blackened iron worn on a leather jerkin with straps crossing in the back. Only the Cuirassiers du Roy wore a waistcoat instead of a leather jerkin. The complete "armor", with back and front plates was worn only by the Gendarmerie de France, the Cuirassiers du Roy and the officers (again excluding dragoons and hussars). According to contemporary paintings, officers and Gendarmes wore their coat above the breastplate, and the Cuirassiers du Roy probably did the same. The cuirasse was abandoned in 1767.

La Chesnaye in his dictionary writes that the front plate was bullet-proof while the internal face was made of linen with blue or red "serge" (also linen) and silver or gold lace (according to the colour of the buttons). The ordnance of May 28 1733 required the breast plate during the service.

Officers had to wear the double cuirasse (breastplate and backplate) but most of the time, they did not wear it despite the example set by their sovereign, Louis XV. Indeed, most of the king's portraits show him wearing a cuirasse.

Leather Equipment

For the sabre, the regulation of January 11 1734 prescribed a wooden sheath covered with black leather. The sheath was reinforced with a copper tip. The cord of the sabre mixed the colours of the braid.

The line cavalrymen were also equipped with a cartridge box made of Russian leather (red leather) and containing 12 cartridges.

Gloves were of thick leather and had buff coloured cuffs.

The strap slung across the shoulder was 6,7 cm wide. It was white for the royal regiments and buff for the others.

Peculiarities of Kettle drummers and Trumpeters

French Cavalry Musicians - Source: Jean-Louis Vial

The kettle drummers and trumpeters of the cavalry wore brightly coloured uniforms. Regulations attempted to prevent excessive luxury but the unit commanders mostly ignored these regulations.

Kettle drums were similar to those used nowadays in symphonic orchestras. They were fastened to the saddle on each side of the pommel. One drum had a low register, the other a high one. The kettle drums were covered with richly laced and fringed silk banners with cords ended by knots on the upper part. Trumpets had similar banners attached to them. These banners were usually of the colour of the field of the flags.

While the rest of the regiment had moustaches, musicians were completely shaved. They were usually mounted on grey horses.


Peculiarities of Non Commissioned Officers

no information available yet

Peculiarities of Officers

The Maréchal des logis's housing was bordered with a 2,7 cm silver lace. His hat had a silver lace.

The brigadier had a double silver lace on his cuffs.

References

Funcken, Liliane and Fred: Les uniformes de la guerre en dentelle

Hauteville des Amourettes, Drumont de Melfort, d': Essais sur la cavalerie

Jaisse, Lémau de la: États Militaires from 1730 to 1745

La Chesnaye des Bois: Dictionnaire Militaire, 1751 and 1759 editions

La Porterie: Institutions militaires, 1754

Ordonnances from 1750 to 1762

Pétard, Michel: L'homme de 1750 – Le cavalier du régiment de Fumel, in Uniformes, No. 38

Roussel and Montandre: États Militaires from 1757 to 1764

Yahoo Lace Wars User Group] Message No. 7141

...and the studies of Lucien Rousselot

Acknowledgements

Jean-Louis Vial of Nec Pluribus Impar for the initial version of this article