Gardes Françaises

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Origin and History

Soldier and officer of the Gardes Françaises in 1757. - Source: Alfred de Marbot Tableaux synoptiques de l'infanterie et de la cavalerie...

The regiment was created at Rouen in Normandy by the Queen-Mother on August 1 1563 under the name of Enseignes de la Garde du Roi and disbanded in 1573. It was re-established the following year on October 1. The Gardes Françaises had precedence over the Gardes Suisses and over all line infantry regiments.

From 1670, the guards brigade had many privileges. Often, the Gardes Françaises occupied the centre of the first line and the Gardes Suisses the centre of the second line. During sieges, they opened the trenches, were at the head of all assaults and were the first brigade to enter into a conquered city.

The command of this regiment has often been assumed by a Maréchal de France. Its lieutenant-colonel had the rank of a lieutenant-general, and its major was also major-general of the French infantry. By a regulation of March 27 1691, the captains of the regiment had the rank of colonel, its lieutenant the one of lieutenant-colonel, its sous-lieutenants and ensigns the rank of captain, and its sergeants the rank of lieutenant.

The regiment did not recruit any foreigners including French subjects from newly conquered countries such as Strasbourg and Alsace.

During the War of the Polish Succession, the regiment served on the Rhine in 1733 and 1734.

During the War of the Austrian Succession, the regiment initially served in Flanders in 1742. In 1743, it was part of the French army who invaded Bohemia but it was soon back on the Rhine where it took part in the Battle of Dettingen (June 27). From 1744 to 1748, the regiment operated in Flanders. On May 11 1745, the 6 battalions of the regiment took part in the Battle of Fontenoy where the Comte d'Auteroche made the famous statement "Tirez les premiers, Messieurs les Anglais". The regiment lost 400 men from the first salvo of the British infantry and was almost broken. Only the intervention of its 5th and 6th battalions along with a counter-attack led by Irish and Swiss regiments prevented this and turned the impeding defeat into a victory.

From 1751, the first battalion of the regiment exercised with the Prussian drill.

The regiment counted 6 battalions for a total of 30 companies of fusiliers and 3 of grenadiers. Each battalion had 5 fusilier companies and half a grenadier company. Its staff consisted of:

  • 1 colonel
  • 1 lieutenant-colonel
  • 1 major
  • 5 battalion commanders
  • 6 adjutants-majors
  • 7 sub-adjutants-majors

A fusilier company counted 146 men and officers and consisted of:

  • 1 captain
  • 1 lieutenant
  • 2 sub-lieutenants
  • 2 ensigns
  • 6 sergeants
  • 3 corporals
  • 9 sub-corporals
  • 118 fusiliers
  • 4 drummers

A grenadier company counted 117 men and officers and consisted of:

  • 1 captain
  • 1 lieutenant
  • 2 sub-lieutenants
  • 2 ensigns
  • 6 sergeants
  • 3 corporals
  • 9 sub-corporals
  • 88 grenadiers
  • 4 drummers

So that put a battalion at 788 men and officers (including about 58 grenadiers). During peacetime, 4 companies (changed every 4 months) guarded the outside of the palace where the king resided.

During the Seven Years' War, the regiment was under the command of:

  • since May 26 1747: Duc de Biron

The regiment was disbanded on July 31, 1789.

Service during the War

The first battalion of the regiment did not take part in any campaign of the war.

By August 1 1757, the 6 battalions of the regiment were stationed in Paris. Later during the year, 4 battalions were sent to Aunis to defend the province against a possible British landing. However, they were called back when they reached Tours as the French commanders realised that this British landing would not take place.

In 1758, 4 battalions of the regiment were sent to the coast of Flanders and garrisoned Dunkerque and Saint-Omer from March to December.

In the summer and autumn of 1759, 300 volunteers of the regiment stationed in Flanders were assigned to Thurot's squadron which was blockaded in the harbour of Dunkerque by a British squadron under the command of Commodore William Boys. In October, Boys's squadron was driven from his station by a gale. On October 15 at 5:00 p.m., Thurot seized the opportunity, slipped out through a thick fog and made to the northward. He then sailed for Ostend, then to Göteborg in Sweden, partly to procure stores, and partly, no doubt, to baffle pursuit or observation. There he remained for 19 days, going next to Bergen in Norway. On December 5, Thurot's flotilla quit Bergen and proceeded to the British seas, by way of Streymoy in the Faroe Islands.

On January 25 1760, Thurot's flotilla reached the neighbourhood of the Irish coast. The weather confounded an intended descent near Londonderry, and scattered his flotilla. On February 15 (or 17), Thurot's flotilla put into Claigeann Bay, in the Island of Islay in Argyleshire to refresh. They boarded and plundered two small sloops lying at anchor in the small bay of the island. The French crews then landed on the island. On February 19, Thurot left Islay. On February 20, he anchored in Belfast Lough, opposite Kilroot Point. On February 21, the detachment of the regiment took part in the attack on Carrickfergus which soon capitulated. On February 25 at 8:00 p.m., Thurot re-embarked his troops. On February 27 at 10:00 p.m., Thurot finally sailed from Carrickfergus for France. On February 28 at 4:00 a.m., 3 British frigates got sight of Thurot's flotilla as it rounded Copeland Island and gave chase. At 6:00 a.m., they caught up. At 9:00 a.m., they engaged the three French frigates. The engagement lasted about 90 minutes before the French were forced to strike theirs colours. The French prisoners were brought to Ramsey on the Isle of Man then to Belfast where they arrived on March 2. On May 10, they were freed and transported to France. Meanwhile, in April, 4 battalions of the regiment were sent to Germany to reinforce the Army of the Duc de Broglie. By May 23, these four battalions were part of the Gardes and Gendarmerie Reserve of Broglie's Army, placed under the command of M. de Duras. On July 10, these battalions encamped at Berndorf. By July 14, these battalions were part of the corps deployed between Mühlhausen and Berndorf to link the positions of Saint-Germain's Army with Broglie's Main Army.

In 1761, these same 4 battalions served in Germany under the command of the Prince de Soubise. On July 3, they took part in the engagement of Schaffhausen (or Werle ). On July 15 and 16, they were at the Battle of Vellinghausen. In September, they took part in the siege of Meppen led by Condé. In October, the 4 battalions returned to France.

In April 1762, the 4 battalions returned to Germany where they took part in the actions of Grumberg (August 22) and Johannisberg (August 25).

Uniform

The following description has been verified against the manuscript "Troupes du Roi, Infanterie française et étrangère, année 1757, tome I" and Taccoli's book published in 1760.

Privates

Uniform in 1758 - Source: PMPdeL
Uniform Details as per
Etrennes Militaires 1756 and 1758 1758,
and Etat militaire 1758, 1760 and 1761 and Abrégé du Dictionnaire Militaire 1759
Headgear
Musketeer black tricorne laced silver with a black (white as per Taccoli) silk cockade
Grenadier black tricorne laced silver with a black silk cockade (Taccoli, around 1759) illustrates a black bearskin with a red flame edged white)
Neck stock black silk
Coat blue lined red with white buttons and white laced buttonholes arranged 3-3-3
Collar none
Shoulder Straps n/a
Lapels none
Pockets horizontal pockets, each with 3 white buttons and 3 white laced buttonholes
Cuffs red, each with 3 white buttons and 3 white laced buttonholes
Turnbacks red
Waistcoat red edged white with one row of white buttons and white laced buttonholes on each side
Breeches red for court dress and blue in the field
Gaiters white in summer, black in winter
Leather Equipment
Crossbelt natural leather edged white (white as per Taccoli)
Waistbelt natural leather edged white (white as per Taccoli)
Cartridge Box natural leather
Bayonet Scabbard n/a
Scabbard black with white metal fittings


Armaments consisted of a musket and a bayonet. Fusiliers carried a sword (brass hilt) while the grenadiers had a sabre.

Officers

Grande Tenue Uniform in 1758 - Source: PMPdeL
Petite Tenue Uniform in 1758 - Source: PMPdeL

Officers wore a gilded gorget.

Musicians

n/a

Colours

Colonel colour: white field with a white cross; each branch of the cross carried a golden crown at its end.

Ordonnance colours: white cross with 4 blue cantons; each cantons carried golden fleurs de lys; each branch of the cross carried a golden crown at its end.

N.B.: another interpretation of the ordonnance colours depict each canton with 10 golden fleurs de lys arranged in 4 rows (3-2-3-2 from top to bottom).

Colonel Colour - Source: Gilbert Noury and Richard Couture
Ordonnance Colour - Source: Gilbert Noury and Richard Couture

References

This article incorporates texts from the following books which are now in the public domain:

  • Pajol, Charles P. V., Les Guerres sous Louis XV, vol. VII, Paris, 1891, pp. 23-25
  • Taccoli, Alfonso; Teatro Militare dell' Europa, Part 1, vol. 2; Madrid, March 1760

Other sources

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

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

Marbot, Alfred de: Tableaux synoptiques de l'infanterie et de la cavalerie françaises et des régiments étrangers au service de la France de 1720 à 1780, Paris: Clément, 1854, detail of plate no. 174

Menguy, Patrice: Les Sujets du Bien Aimé (a website who has unfortunately disappeared from the web)

Mouillard, Lucien: Les Régiments sous Louis XV, Paris: 1882

Rigo: Maison du Roi - Régiment des Gardes-Françaises Drapeaux 1745 in Le Plumet, série AR, planche AR1

Service Historique de l'armée de terre: Sommaire des forces armées Françaises à l'intérieur et à l'extérieur de la France - 1er Août 1757

Vial, J. L.: Nec Pluribus Impar

N.B.: the section Service during the War is mostly derived from our articles depicting the various campaigns, battles and sieges.