Gardes Suisses

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Origin and History

Officer and soldier of the Gardes Suisses in 1757. - Source: Alfred de Marbot Tableaux synoptiques de l'infanterie et de la cavalerie...

On March 16 1616, the Swiss Galatty Regiment, already in the French service since 1567, was renamed Gardes Suisses. They had hold their first guard duty in front of the royal apartment at Tours a few days before, on March 12. The regiment ranked immediately behind the Gardes Françaises. During campaigns the two guard regiments formed the Guards Brigade. When campaigning without the Gardes Françaises, the Gardes Suisses ceded precedence to the most senior French line infantry regiment but ranked before all other line infantry regiments.

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, it opened the trenches, was at the head of all assaults and was the first brigade to enter into a conquered city. 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.

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 at Valenciennes, Douai and Lille in 1742. Between 1744 to 1748, it took part in several battles and sieges: Courtrai, Fontenoy, Raucoux, Lawfeld, Maastricht.

The regiment counted 4 battalions, each of 3 companies of 200 men (including officers). Each company was recruited in a different Swiss Canton. Before 1763, the regiment had no company of grenadiers and the 16 best soldiers of each company assumed this role. A company consisted of:

  • 1 captain
  • 2 lieutenants
  • 1 sub-lieutenant
  • 2 ensigns
  • 8 sergeants
  • 1 surgeon
  • 4 veterans
  • 6 drummers
  • 1 fifer
  • 6 corporals
  • 6 sub-corporals
  • 162 fusiliers

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

  • from March 10 1743 to August 25 1767: Baron de Zurlauben (Taccoli mentions the Comte d'Eu as commander of the regiment in 1759)

Service during the War

By August 1 1757, the 4 battalions of the regiment were stationed in Paris. Later during the year, 2 battalions were sent to the Province of Aunis to defend it against a possible British landing. However, they were called back upon reaching Tours, as the French commanders realised that this British landing would not take place.

In 1758, 2 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, 200 men of the regiment 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, two battalions were sent to Germany to reinforce the army of the Duc de Broglie. By May 23, these two battalions were part of the Gardes and Gendarmerie Reserve of Broglie's Army, placed under the command of M. de Duras. On July 10, the regiment 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, 2 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 2 battalions returned to France.

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 1758
and Etat militaire 1761
Headgear
Musketeer black tricorne laced silver with a black cockade (white cockade as per Taccoli)
Grenadier no grenadiers in this regiment (Taccoli illustrates a grenader with a black bearskin in 1759)
Neck stock black
Coat red lined blue with pewter buttons and white laced buttonholes arranged 3-3-3-3-3 down to the lower edge of the coat
Collar none
Shoulder Straps n/a
Lapels none
Pockets horizontal pockets, each with 3 pewter buttons and 3 white laced buttonholes (as per Mouillard)
Cuffs blue, each with 3 pewter buttons and 3 white laced buttonholes
Turnbacks blue (when buttoned up)
Waistcoat blue edged white with one row of pewter buttons and narrow white laced buttonholes on each side
Breeches blue
Gaiters white in summer, black in winter
Leather Equipment
Crossbelt natural leather laced white with a pewter buckle
Waistbelt natural leather laced white with a pewter buckle
Cartridge Box red leather with the King's arms in copper
Bayonet Scabbard black with white metal fittings
Scabbard n/a


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 silver gorget.

Musicians

The drums were blue with blue hoops and were decorated with golden fleurs de lys.

Colours

Colonel colour: white field with a white cross.

Ordonnance colours (11): a white cross and flamed opposed cantons. Each canton was decorated with flames: turquin blue, red, aurore (light orange) and black.

Colonel Colour - Source: PMPdeL
Ordonnance Flag - Source: PMPdeL

References

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

  • 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. 175
  • Pajol, Charles P. V.: Les Guerres sous Louis XV, vol. VII, Paris, 1891, pp. 25-27
  • Taccoli, Alfonso: Teatro Militare dell' Europa, Part 1, vol. 2; Madrid, March 1760, pp. 21-23

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

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

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.