Royal Cantabres Infanterie

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Origin and History

The unit was raised on December 15, 1745 in the Basque countries of Labourd and Basse-Navarre (Bayonne, Hendaye, etc.) by Colonel Chevalier Jean-Philippe de Bela as a light infantry unit for mountain warfare. The unit was originally known as the “Volontaires Cantabres” and initially consisted of one battalion of 504 men (10 companies, each of 50 men). Officers had to belong to the countries beyond the Adour and the County of Armagnac.

During the War of the Austrian Succession (1740-48), the unit served in Flanders. In 1746, it was present at the siege of Bruxelles and at the Battle of Rocoux. On July 1, 1747, the “Volontaires Cantabres” became a regiment under the name of “Royal Cantabre.” This regiment consisted of infantry and cavalry: 1,604 foot (including 2 grenadier companies, each of 50 men and 16 fusilier companies, each of 75 men) and 324 hussars (6 companies, each of 1 captain, 1 lieutenant, 1 cornet, 1 quartermaster and 50 hussars) with two field guns. At the end of the war, on December 1, 1748, the regiment was reduced to 450 foot and 50 hussars with only one colour.

On August 1, 1749, a new ordonnance disbanded the regiment, leaving only 4 free companies of 2 officers and 40 fusiliers each under the name of “Cantabres-Volontaires.”

On July 8, 1757, the unit was incorporated into the French regulars as Royal-Cantabre. It counted a single battalion of 642 men (including staff) and consisting of:

  • staff of:
    • 1 colonel-lieutenant
    • 1 lieutenant-colonel
    • 1 major
    • 1 aide-major
    • 1 chaplain
    • 1 surgeon
    • 4 drummers
  • 8 companies of
    • 4 officers
    • 11 sergeants
    • 2 drummers
    • 6 grenadiers
    • 56 fusiliers

On March 1, 1759, the battalion counted 635 men (excluding staff) and consisted of:

  • 1 grenadier company of:
    • 3 officers
      • 1 captain
      • 1 lieutenant
      • 1 second-lieutenant
    • 8 NCOs
      • 2 sergeants
      • 1 fourier
      • 1 capitaine d'armes (master-at-arms)
      • 4 corporals
    • 1 drummer
    • 4 anspessafes (lance corporals)
    • 43 grenadiers
  • 8 fusilier companies of:
    • 3 officers
      • 1 captain
      • 1 lieutenant
      • 1 second-lieutenant
    • 9 NCOs
      • 3 sergeants
      • 1 fourier
      • 1 capitaine d'armes (master-at-arms)
      • 4 corporals
    • 1 drummer
    • 4 anspessafes (lance corporals)
    • 54 fusiliers

Finally, on November 1, 1760, the battalion counted 720 men (excluding staff) and consisted of:

  • 1 grenadier company of
    • 3 officers
    • 7 NCOs
    • 1 drummer
    • 37 grenadiers
  • 8 fusilier companies of
    • 3 officers
    • 12 NCOs
    • 2 drummers
    • 66 fusiliers

During the Seven Years' War, King Louis XV was the nominal colonel of the regiment while its successive colonels-lieutenants were:

  • from 1747: Chevalier Pierre-Marie de Luppé (promoted to colonel-lieutenant on July 8, 1757)
  • from 1760: Baron de Poudenx

The regiment was disbanded on November 25, 1762. Sergeants, corporals, anspessades, fusiliers and drummers who asked for it were allowed to serve in the artillery or in the Boulonnais, Foix or Quercy infantry regiments stationed at Saint-Domingue. The grenadier companies were incorporated into the Grenadiers de France till the end of their appointment.

Service during the War

In 1756, the four free companies took part in the French expedition against Minorca and in the Siege of Fort St. Philip, where Captain de Castera was wounded on May 22. On October 19, the four companies were regrouped in a regiment.

In 1757, after its incorporation into the French regulars, the regiment was stationed in Auch.

By June 1761, the unit had joined Soubise's Army of the Lower Rhine. By August 10, it counted 685 in a single battalion. In November, it was part of Andlau’s Corps posted in the district of Liège, in the camp of Cornelimunster, in the Country of Roermond and along the Meuse from Venlo to Aachen.

In 1762, the unit formed part of the French Contingent sent to the assistance of Spain for the planned invasion of Portugal.

Uniform

Privates

Uniform in 1760 - Source: Ibrahim90
Uniform Details as per
Les Guerres sous Louis XV by Charles P. V. Pajol
and the États Militaires of 1758, 1760, 1761
Headgear
Musketeer sky blue beret with a white pompom and two white tassels

a plate dated 1757 shows a black tricorne laced white with a white woolen clover leaf shaped decoration in front

Grenadier after the reform of 1749, there were 6 grenadiers per company and they probably wore the same headgear as the fusiliers
Neckstock black
Coat sky blue lined white with 8 white buttons and 8 white button loops on each side, and 1 white button loop on each side in the small of the back
Collar red
Shoulder Straps sky blue shoulder strap fastened with a small white button on the left shoulder
Lapels none
Pockets horizontal pockets (3 white buttons loops on each pocket)
Cuffs small “Polish style” red cuffs laced white
Turnbacks white
Waistcoat white
Breeches white
Gaiters white
Leather Equipment
Crossbelt natural leather
Waistbelt natural leather
Cartridge Box natural leather
Bayonet Scabbard n/a
Scabbard n/a

Soldiers were armed with a musket, a bayonet and a Hungarian sabre.

NCOs

NCOs wore the same uniform as the rank and file but with silver lace instead of white lace.

Officers

Officers wore uniforms similar to those of the rank and file with the following distinctions:

  • sky blue beret with a pompom and two white tassels of silver thread and crimson silk
  • silver laces
  • gorget with the painted arms of Navarre

Musicians

Drummers wore a scarlet beret with a dark blue coat.

Colours

The colonel flag was white with a white cross bearing the crowned arms of Navarre surrounded by a laurel wreath in its centre. Each canton consisted of a plain white triangle and a white triangle decorated with 16 golden fleurs de lys.

Ordonnance flags had a white cross bearing the crowned arms of Navarre surrounded by a laurel wreath in its centre. Each canton consisted of a plain red triangle and a blue triangle decorated with 16 golden fleurs de lys.

Colonel Colour - Source: Kronoskaf
Ordonnance Colour - Source: Kronoskaf

References

Bacquet, Capitaine d’infanterie: L’infanterie française au XVIIIe siècle – L’organisation, Paris: Berger-Levrault, 1907, p. 53

Carles, P.: Une Mitre d<Officier des Cantabres 1745-1756 1st Semester 1993

Depréaux, Albert: Le Chevalier de Bela et les coiffures du régiment Royal – Cantabre, in Carnet de la Sabretache, June-July 1933

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

Grosser Generalstab Kriegsgeschichtliche Abteilung II: Die Kriege Friedrichs des Grossen, Part 3 Der siebenjährige Krieg 1756-1763, Vol. 5 Hastenbeck und Roßbach, Berlin, 1903, Appendix 1

Pajol, Charles P. V.: Les Guerres sous Louis XV, vol. VII, Paris, 1891

Rogge, Christian: The French & Allied Armies in Germany during the Seven Years War, Frankfurt, 2006

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

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

Acknowledgements

Jean-Louis Vial for additional information on the history of the regiment and on its uniform