French Line Infantry Uniform

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Introduction

The uniforms of the French infantry were very similar to civilian clothing of the same period.

Uniform Plates

The two following plates have been made by the famous French uniformologist Michel Pétard and originally published in the magazine Gazette des Uniformes Number 40 of November-December 1977. Mr. Pétard has kindly authorised us to reproduce these plates in our article but retains full copy right on them.

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

Hat and Fatigue Cap

Since 1697, the tricorne had become the standard headgear of the French infantry. It was edged in false-gold or false-silver, depending on the colour of the buttons, and carried a black or a white cockade. At the beginning of the Seven Years' War, French grenadiers of the line regiments still wore tricornes while the Grenadiers de France wore bearskins. However, towards 1759, bearskins became increasingly common among grenadiers of the line infantry regiments.

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.

The regulation of April 25 1767 finally made clear that the cockade of the infantry had to be white. 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 Gardes Françaises and Gardes Suisses who had black cockades or for 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 describe 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 of 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, as the anonymous manuscript of 1757, the tricornes of most depicted regiments have no cockade. When they have one, as the Grenadiers Royaux or the Fusiliers de Montagne, it is white. The fusiliers depicted in Taccoli's manuscript in 1760 all carry a white cockade, but he also 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. Becher's gouaches give white cockades to fusiliers to the exception of those of a single regiment (probably Bresse Infanterie) illustrated with a round red within white cockade. Furthermore, Becher illustrates a drummer of Piémont Infanterie with a round red cockade while the fusilier of the same regiment carries a white cockade. In 1754, La Porterie in his Institutions militaires wrote that, for cavalry and dragoons, cockades were made of black coarse grained silk. Finally Pajol indicate 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

Most regiments wore white coats made of unbleached woollen fabric with brightly coloured cuffs of the "distinctive colour". The exact colour of this unbleached woollen coat has given rise to several debates. Since it directly depended on the colour of the wool used, its colour probably varied form a very light grey to off white. Contemporary works such as Taccoli's book and Troupes du Roi, Infanterie française et étrangère, année 1757 depict very light grey (almost white) uniforms; while Raspe's publications in 1761 and 1762 depict white coats.

Ordonnances did not yet specified the number of buttons on the front of the coat for each regiment. The number of buttons on the right side down to the pockets of the coat varied from 9 to 12 yellow or white buttons. Furthermore, there was a yellow or white button on each side in the small of the back; and a shoulder-strap on the left shoulder fastened with a smaller yellow or white button. This shoulder-strap was of the colour of the coat and served to hold firm the cross-belt of the cartridge pouch.

Each regiment was further distinguished by the colour and quantity of buttons, and the shape and position of pockets. These distinctions were specified by the ordonnances. As per the regulation of April 20 1736, the coat was now buttoned up down to the waist and coat lapels were introduced in a few regiments. When they reached the waist, they were called bavaroise. Turnbacks also gradually appeared. In fact, the basques of the coat could be turned back or left unfastened. With the regulation of 1757, collars of the same colour as the cuffs appeared in many regiments. Coloured lapels were also introduced. The cuffs became smaller and the turnbacks began to be decorated with a hearth shaped piece to reinforce the hook.

Swiss and Irish regiments wore garance red coats; Scot and German regiments turquin blue coats.

Depending on the regiment, the long sleeved waistcoat could be of unbleached woollen fabric or dyed in the "distinctive colour". The waistcoat had two rows of 11 yellow or white buttons and horizontal pockets with flaps but without buttons. The regulation of April 20 1736, stipulated that coloured waistcoat should be suppressed but this measure was rarely applied.

Breeches were usually made of unbleached woollen fabric. They were fastened by buttons at the waist and in front. They also had flaps fastened with 5 small buttons on the outer face of each knee.

Gaiters and Shoes

Gaiters were usually white, fastened with small buttons on the outer face and held in place by a narrow leather strap under the knee. Around 1761 and 1762, black gaiters seem to have been increasingly common.

Armament

The most important weapon was the musket who had an effective range of approximately 160 m. but was unusable under rain.

Around 1744, the cartridge was introduced. Now the ball, the powder and the priming powder were put together into this cartridge. Thanks to the introduction of the cartridge, loading was now accomplished in 12 steps and 17 movements, thus increasing the firing rate to three shots per minute. The flint had to be changed after 20 shots.

The fusiliers were also armed with a bayonet and a brass hilted sword (replacing the sabre in 1753) hanged to the belt while the grenadiers had a sabre instead of a sword. Swords were provided by the captains of each company who, at the beginning of a campaign, had to replace all swords lost the preceding year. In 1756, Héricourt wrote:

“Swords are so cumbersome at war and so rarely useful that most soldiers throw them away or sell them during the campaign”. According to the Encyclopédie Méthodique of 1787, they disappeared during the Seven Years' War.
“It is only since the beginning of the last war that one has neglected to carry them and that gradually they were suppressed”.

In fact in Taccoli's manuscript of 1762, fusiliers do not carry swords any more. However, grenadiers and some light troops retain their sabres.

After the Seven Years' War, a regulation, dated April 25 1767, officially suppressed the swords of the fusiliers of most regiments (to the exception of the Gardes Françaises and Gardes Suisses). The proponents of the ordre profond and hand-to-hand fighting immediately asked for their reintroduction.

Leather Equipment

As soon as 1684, as instructed by Louvois, the Gardes Françaises and Gardes Suisses replaced the cumbersome baldric by the more adapted ceinturon (belt) made of buffle (buff soft porous leather). The French line infantry adopted the ceinturon in 1688.

Ceinturon (belt) of a French infantryman at the beginning of the Seven Years' War from Michel Pétard's article Le Ceinturon d'Infanterie en 1767 – Grenadiers et Fusiliers, in Uniformes - Les Armées de l'histoire n° 22, pp 4-7.
Copyright: Michel Pétard
Original plate from the work of La Porterie published in 1754, depicting the ceinturon of the dragoon (identical to the ceinturon of the infantryman to the exception of stitchings which were present only on the ceinturon of the dragoon):
1- the band
2- the copper buckle and its two wrought iron tongues
3- the loop
4- the barre (bar)
5- the face or rear-bar
6- the pendants (hangings)

Despite this regulation, during the Seven Years' War, there were in fact three different types of ceinturons in use.

After the Seven Years' War, a regulation, dated April 25 1767, introduced a new ceinturon with minor variations for the grenadiers, who still carried the bayonet and the sabre, and the fusiliers, who now only carried a bayonet.

The fusiliers also carried a leather cartridge box initially containing 19 cartridges and was held by a 14 cm wide natural leather shoulder-belt. For the grenadiers, this cartridge box was replaced by a large leather pouch called grenadière containing 30 cartridges. Around 1750, the fusiliers also received larger cartridge pouches containing 30 cartridges. These cartridge pouches were usually made of cuir de Russie" (red leather) but could also be made of black leather.

Maintenance of leather equipment should not use any greasy material to avoid stains on the uniform. Pipe clay ground in a fine white powder and mixed with soap and water was used instead to clean leather equipment.

Peculiarities of Drummers and Fifers

Drummers often wore the livery of their colonel to the exception of drummers of the royal regiments who wore the king's livery.

The drum belt was usually edged with the corresponding lace.

The drum shell was made of oak or chestnut. The drumhead was stretched on this shell with two wooden rims pierced with holes through which cords were run. These tension cords could be stretched as desired. The somewhat grave sonority of this type of drum was improved by a cord tended across the drumhead. Initially, drums measured approximately 82 cm high and 82 cm wide environ. This obliged the drummer to place the drum very high on his left flank to be able to beat it while marching. Towards 1750, drum dimensions were probably reduced. The regulation dated April 25 1767 fixed the height of the shell to 33 cm and its width to approximately 37 cm. Other sources indicate that drums were 55 cm high and 55 cm wide.

Until 1777, only fifers and "clarinets" supplemented the drummers as musicians. During the same period, horns and other brass began to appear in the regiments. Until 1766, the uniform of all musicians remained similar to the one of the drummers.

Royal Livery

Drummers and fifers of royal regiments, and of some regiments who had explicitly received authorisation to do so, wore the “Royal Livery”.

This livery had a blue field originating from the azure field of the Royal Arms. This field colour was the exclusivity of the King and of his heir apparent: the “Dauphin”. The Queen had her own livery with a red field. Since the royal decree of February 6 1753, blue was reserved to the people of the “Maison du roi”. It was forbidden to everybody to use the Royal Livery for his servants, unless he had been granted this particular privilege. Similarly, officers could not use this livery for their musicians if they had not received prior authorisation by the “Grand Écuyer de France”. Therefore, some officers belonging to the “Maison du Roi” could dress their servants with the Royal Livery. Another decree isued the same day, forbade everybody, whatever his quality and condition, to dress his servants with a livery with a blue field even if the braid used was different from the braid of the Royal Livery. These decrees had been preceded by several others, among which the decree of September 12 1703, forbidding tailors and secondhand clothes dealers to sell or make any blue coloured servant outfit (from Traité de police générale by de Friminville in 1758).

The Royal Livery was decorated with aq braid. A first model was worn under Louis XIII till the reign of Louis XIV. Beneton de Morange de Peyrins, in his Traité des marques nationales indicates:

“:the braid of the Royal Livery, which was fashionable at the time of the marriage of Louis XIV, was a checker board with white, red and blue squares opposed one to another... it is only since this marriage that the braid has been changed.”

The second type of braid adopted for the Royal Livery around 1670 and retained till the end of the monarchy is described as follows:

“a wide red velvet band on which is stitched a triple white cord, which meeting together in chain, formed large circles. In what we call the small livery, the braid is simple and in the great, it is doubled with, separating them, a smaller white braid decoreated with opposed red triangles, thus forming kinds of cup-and-ball device. There also exists another narrow small braid, the “bordé”, sewn on the edges of the coat and at the base of the collar.
French Royal Livery - Source: reconstruction based on a sample from Jean-Louis Vial's collection

Concerning the livery worn by the drummers of the French infantry, the decree of 1738 indicates:

“It will be used in the dressing of the drummers the same quantity and quality fabric and of buttons than for those of the soldiers with the small livery arranged in brandebourg only down to the pocket in the regiments wearing His Majesty's Livery as well as in those wearing their colonel's livery.”

Peculiarities of Non Commissioned Officers

By 1747, NCOs wore the standard uniform of the privates. Sergeants were only distinguished by silver of gold lace on the cuffs. Corporals had the same laces but they were made of white or yellow wool.

Sergeants were carrying partizans since 1715.

Peculiarities of Officers

Officers wore uniforms very similar to those of the privates. They were only distinguished by rich embroideries and by the quality of the woollen fabric. The most noticeable insignia of their rank was the gorget. It was made of gold for French and Irish officers, of silver for Swish officers and of gilded iron for German officers.

Officers also wore tricornes laced in silver or gold.

The stern instructions contained in repeated regulations tend to indicate that many officers were reluctant to dress as the troop and often disobeyed regulations.

Before 1762, it was almost impossible to determine the various rank of officers of a regiment by any characteristic of their uniform.

Even though the regulation of 1710 prescribed that officers should now carry a musket rather than a spontoon, it was not until 1758 that French officers abandoned the spontoon in favour of the musket.

References

This article is built around two plates created by Michel Pétard and initially published in the magazine Gazette des Uniformes Number 40 of November-December 1977.

Other sources

Anon.; Manuscript Troupes du Roi, Infanterie française et étrangère, année 1757, tome I"; Musée de l'Armée, Paris

Bakshian, Aram Jr.; Soldiers of New France - French and Indian War, The Armchair General Vol. 1 No. 3, 1968

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

Pétard, Michel; Le Ceinturon d'Infanterie en 1767 – Grenadiers et Fusiliers, in Uniformes - Les Armées de l'histoire n° 22, pp 4-7.

Taccoli, Alfonso; Teatro Militare dell' Europa, Part 1, vol. 2; Madrid, March 1760

Yahoo Lace Wars User Group] Message No. 18878, 19798

Yahoo SYW User Group] Message No. 3921

Acknowledgements

Jean-Louis Vial for the information on the French cockades, on buttons, sword, leather equipment and on the Royal Livery