Volontaires Étrangers de Clermont Prince
Origin and History
The history of the creation of this unit is quite original, sometimes confused and full of developments. The origins of the three units from Liège who served France during the Seven Years War are intimately interwoven.
Reading the correspondences of this period reveals that it is to the initiative of M. de Hallet, a gentleman from Liège, that we owe the raising of this unit. Hallet had served as captain in the Volontaires Liégeois of the Comte de Raugrave created in 1743 and who, on February 1 1758, were incorporated into the French cavalry under the name of Raugrave Cavalerie Liégeoise. Hallet quit this unit when it ceased to be a light troops unit. However, as soon as 1757 and on several occasions, Hallet had proposed to the Maréchal de Belle Isle, then minister of war, to raise a second units of volunteers in Liège, but his requests received no attention.
In 1758, Hallet was serving under Louis de Bourbon-Condé, Comte de Clermont who then commanded the French “Army of Hanover”. Hallet submitted him his project and the comte accepted and asked to Louis XV and to the Maréchal de Belle Isle the authorisation to raise a corps of light troops under his name, the “Volontaires Étrangers de Clermont Prince”. The king accepted and, on May 7 1758, issued an ordonnance ordering the craation of the unit. Originally, the unit was supposed to consist of 1,800 men, all foreigners essentially from the region of Liège, including 1,000 foot and 800 horse. By August, the unit consisted of:
- a staff
- 1 colonel-lieutenant (Antoine Joseph de Neuvile, Baron du Blaisel)
- 1 lieutenant-colonel (Comte Bar de Saint Rome)
- 1 second lieutenant-colonel (Chevalier du Blaisel )
- 1 major (M. de Romans)
- 2 aide-majors of infantry
- 2 aide-majors of cavalry
- 1 chaplain
- 1 surgeon-major
- 1 maréchal-des-logis (quartermaster)
- 1 auditor
- 1 provost
- 1 registrar
- 2 archers
- 1 justice executioner
- 9 fusilier companies, each of :
- 1 captain
- 1 second captain
- 1 first lieutenant
- 1 second lieutenant
- 1 sub-lieutenant
- 4 sergeants
- 4 cadets
- 1 fourrier
- 1 armourer
- 6 corporals
- 6 anspessades (lance corporals)
- 2 gunners
- 2 carpenters
- 2 drummers
- 72 fusiliers
- 2 grenadier companies, each of:
- 1 captain
- 1 lieutenant
- 1 sous-lieutenant
- 2 sergeants
- 3 corporals
- 3 anspessades (lance corporals)
- 1 drummer
- 41 grenadiers
- 16 cavalry companies, each of:
- 1 captain
- 1 lieutenant
- 1 cornet
- 2 maréchaux-des-logis
- 4 brigadiers
- 2 cadets
- 1 trumpeter
- 43 troopers
- 2 guns à la Suédoise attached to the infantry.
Exceptionally, since it belonged to a prince de sang, this unit of light troops should have had a kettle-drummer. A report concerning this unit specified that the paletot of this kettle-drummer had cost a lot.
Initially, the Comte de Clermont grossly underestimated the cost of the unit, asking to the king only 125,000 livres for the raising of the troops. However, reality soon increased the total cost of the enterprise to 355,000 livres. Events accelerated and the unit was not yet raised when, on June 23 1758, the Comte de Clermont was defeated in the Battle of Krefeld, an action where the Maréchal de Belle-Isle lost his unique son: the Comte de Gisors. The Comte de Clermont immediately resigned his command and quit the army where he was replaced by the Marquis de Contades.
At this time, a conflict arose between the colonel-lieutenant of the “Volontaires Étrangers de Clermont Prince”, Antoine Joseph de Neuvile, Baron du Blaisel et his lieutenant-colonel, M. de Hallet, who was charged of recruitment. Blaisel preferred to recruit exclusively officers of French origin to whom he sold the companies. This profoundly irritated M .de Hallet, when he had repeatedly submitted his project to the Maréchal de Belle Isle and to the Comte de Clermont, he was expecting to receive the charge of colonel-lieutenant of the new unit and to recruit officers in Liège. As per his correspondence, it seems that the Comte de Clermont was embarrassed by the promises made to the Baron du Blaisel and to M. de Hallet.
The conflict was such that M. de Hallet wrote once more to the Comte de Clermont and to the Maréchal de Belle Isle to ask for the autorisation to raise another unit of light troops under the name of “Volontaires Liégeois”. The Comte de Clermont supported Hallet in his project. In August 1758, Belle Isle, who had just lost his son at Krefeld “by the fault of the Comte de Clermont”, decided to reduce the strength of the “Volontaires Étrangers de Clermont Prince” to 1,200 men divided up into 2 grenadier companies, 7 fusilier companies and 4 cavalry companies de cavalerie and authorised Hallet to raise an new unit of volunteers. After this reduction, the “Volontaires Étrangers de Clermont Prince” were not authorised to field a kettle-drummer anymore. Furthermore the aprons of the trumpets were limited to two and the colours to two (no guidons for the cavalry companies).
The misadventures of the “Volontaires Étrangers de Clermont Prince” did not stop there. In February 1759, the Baron du Blaisel was promoted maréchal de camp and had to resign his function of colonel-lieutenant of the unit. The Marquis de Commeiras succeeded him. However, part of the officers of the unit mounted a cabal to oust him from his function of colonel-lieutenant. The affair required the intervention of the Comte de Saint Pern, general inspector of the infantry, and the mutinous officers, including the lieutenant-colonel Comte Bar de Saint Rome who was succeeded by M. de Romans, were declared unfit for service and dismissed.
In July 1759, the official strength of the unit was still 1,281 men. On November 22, considering the losses of the campaigns, the prisoners taken, and the difficulties of recruitment, the unit was reduced to 948 men in 8 fusilier companies of 3 officers and 71 men each, 1 grenadier company of 3 officers and 60 men and 8 dragoon companies of 4 officers and 40 men each; with a staff of 5 officers and 2 men.
From its creation in 1758 to 1766, the unit was under the nominal command of Louis de Bourbon-Condé, Comte de Clermont.
During the Seven Years' War, the unit was commanded by the following colonels-lieutenants:
- from May 7, 1758: Antoine Joseph de Neuvile, Baron du Blaisel
- from February 10, 1759 to 1776: Marquis de Commeyras
At the end of the Seven Years' War, in 1763, the unit was reduced to 9 companies: 1 grenadier company, 4 fusilier companies and 4 dragoon companies.
In 1766, the unit became the “Légion de Condé”. In 1776, it was disbanded and its troops incorporated into the dragoon regiments.
Service during the War
On March 13, 1759, upon request of the Duc de Broglie, d'Armentières sent forward a corps (1,400 foot and 1,200 horse, including the Volontaires de Clermont) under the command of d'Auvet. This corps took post at Hachenburg with detachments at Siegen. By April 26, the unit (about 1,200 men) was part of Broglie's Corps. In June, at the beginning of the French offensive in Western Germany, the regiment was part of the “Right Reserve” under the command of the Duc de Broglie who had taken position at Friedberg in Hesse. On July 6, the unit, along with companies of Grenadiers Royaux and some hussars, attacked Allied hussars posted at Halle and forced them to retire upon the Castle of Ravensberg (unidentified location) where the Hanoverian jägers and Prussian light infantry were posted. The French detachment advanced on the castle but was repulsed, loosing about 20 men. The Allies then reinforced their light infantry with 5 grenadier bns and 4 dragoon sqns. Seeing this, the French detachment abandoned Halle. On July 28, the unit was occupying Osnabrück which was attacked by a small Allied detachment under the command of Schleiffen. The Allies forced a gate and made themselves master of the town while the Volontaires de Clermont abandoned the place, leaving 2 guns, and retired on Hille and Münster. By September 25, during the Allied counter-offensive in Western Germany, the unit was attached to d'Armentières's Corps operating on the Lower Rhine. By October 25, the unit was posted at Dorsten and Marl.
By the end of January 1760, the unit had taken its winter-quarters in the third line of the French Army along the Rhine and the Main from its mouth. By May 23, the unit was part of the left vanguard of Broglie's Army. On August 2, the unit was part of the corps sent by Broglie, under the command of the Prince de Condé, to dislodge the Légion Britannique from the woods on the left of his army. The Légion Britannique abandoned the woods without opposing resistance. On August 30, the Prince de Condé at the head of a strong corps (Volontaires Étrangers de Clermont Prince, Volontaires du Dauphiné, grenadiers and chasseurs of the army) took dispositions to attack Zierenberg. However, the attack was cancelled when the Allies retired from Zierenberg to the camp of the Hereditary Prince at Breuna. The Prince de Condé immediately threw the Volontaires Étrangers de Clermont Prince and the Volontaires du Dauphiné into Zierenberg and posted Turpin Hussards at Bodenhausen. On September 5, Ferdinand resolved to attack the Volontaires Étrangers de Clermont Prince (max. 600 horse and 600 foot) and Volontaires du Dauphiné (max. 600 horse and 600 foot) totalling 1,900 men stationed at Zierenberg. He ordered 5 bns and 150 Highlanders under the command of Captain McLeod, and 8 dragoon sqns to be ready to march at 8:00 p.m.. During the night of September 5 to 6, the Allies launched a surprise attack on Zierenberg. The colonel of the unit, M. de Comeiras and his entire staff were taken prisoners as well as 161 privates belonging to the unit. By September 17, the regiment acted as a detachment to protect forage activities. By December 30, the unit had taken its winter-quarters in Nordhausen. Meanwhile, the mounted elements of the unit had taken their winter-quarters in Alzey and Kreuznach.
On February 9, 1761, the unit was posted at Eisenach in Western Thuringia as part of Galbert’s detachment. On March 7, at 8:00 a.m., the unit along with French dragoons under the command of M. Delva were attacked at the bridge of Wickstadt by Allied troops belonging to Kielmansegg's Corps and forced to retire on Bruchenbrücken, leaving outposts on the left bank of the Wetter. On March 21, the unit took part in the Engagement of Grünberg. On March 25, during the French counter-offensive in Hesse, M. de Montchenu's at the head of a detachment of his vanguard (Orléans Dragons brigade and mounted companies of the Volontaires de Flandre, Volontaires du Hainaut, Volontaires Étrangers de Clermont Prince and Volontaires d'Austrasie) drove the Allies out of the village of Mengsberg before catching up with Zastrow at Leimsfeld. Montchenu successfully engaged the Allied rearguard. On June 13, the unit was part of the leftmost column of Soubise’s Army when it passed the Lippe. On June 14, Voyer was detached with 2 dragoon rgts, the Volontaires Étrangers de Clermont Prince, the hussars and the Volontaires de l'armée upstream along the left bank of the Emscher to cover the left flank of the army. On June 22, Voyer sent detachments to simultaneously attack Unna, Lünen and Kamen. M. de Turpin at the head of Volontaires de l'armée commanded by M. de Pedemont and the Volontaires Étrangers de Clermont Prince, supported by the Talaru Brigade stormed Lünen, capturing 300 prisoners. On July 16, the unit was present at the Battle of Vellinghausen. By August 10, the unit was posted in Wesel. On August 12, M. de Commeyras at the head of the unit took position at Buldern to prevent any Allied attack from Appelhülsen. In September, M. de Viomesnil at the head of the Volontaires de Soubise and the Volontaires Étrangers de Clermont Prince burnt several magazines in the County of Dinklage. He also burnt a large magazine at Osnabrück. By November, the unit was posted in the district of Kleve on the right bank of the Rhine.
In mid-April 1762, at the beginning of the [[French campaign in West Germany, the unit was part of Viomesnil’s detachment, which was posted near Wesel. In mid-May, the unit took position on the Issel. By the end of May, it was attached to the Army of the Lower Rhine under the Prince de Condé. On June 21, the unit attacked Scheither Corps (about 450 men) at Schermbeck, driving them back and capturing 50. On November 20, Louis XV issued his instructions regarding the French armies serving in Germany, specifying which units should return to France right away and which should stay in Germany till the final evacuation. The unit was among those which remained in Germany.
These light troops wore a uniform at the livery of the House of Bourbon-Condé: chamois with red distinctives.
|Coat||ventre de biche (chamois) lined red with 12 pewter buttons on the right side and 12 white laced buttonholes down to the pocket on the left side and a white button on each side at the small of the back
|Waistcoat||red with pewter buttons on the right side and white laced buttonholes on the left side|
|Breeches||ventre de biche (chamois)|
|Gaiters||black or white|
Armaments consisted of a musket a bayonet and a short sabre.
|Headgear||crested brass helmet with a red turban; with 2 brass rosettes; white aigrette|
|Neck stock||black cravate|
|Coat||ventre de biche (chamois) lined red with 3 pewter buttons and 3 white laced buttonholes under the lapels and a pewter button on each side at the small of the back
|Waistcoat||red with pewter buttons on the right side and white laced buttonholes on the left side|
|Greatcoat||ventre de biche (chamois) with a red collar|
Cavalrymen were armed with a carbine 2 pistols and a sabre.
Officers wore uniforms similar to those of the privates with the following distinctions:
- front of the coat, collar and cuffs edged silver
- silver epaulets
- scarlet waistcoat laced silver
- no turnbacks on the coat
no information available
The trumpeters of the cavalry and the drummers of the infantry wore the livery of the House of Bourbon-Condé: chamois with red distinctives. A contemporary illustration by Becher suggests that they wore black tricorne bordered with chamois plume.
The apron of the trumpets, the saddlecloth and the housings were red bordered white with three white fleurs de lys surmounted by a white crown.
Colonel colour: probably a white cross with white quarters
Ordonnance colours: white cross with two ventre de biche (chamois) cantons wearing diagonal red lozenges and two red cantons wearing vertical chamois lozenges.
This article is mostly a translation from a document contributed by Jean-Louis Vial who mentions:
- This article has been realised in great part thanks to research work undertaken by Albert Dépreaux and published in the Carnet de la Sabretache of 1937.
It also contains some texts taken from the following book which is now in the public domain:
- Pajol, Charles P. V.: Les Guerres sous Louis XV, vol. VII, Paris, 1891, pp. 242-243
Anon.: Recueil de toutes les troupes qui forment les Armées Francoise, dessinés et illuminé d'après nature; Nuremberg: Nicolas Gabriel Raspe; 1761
Becher, Johann Christian: Wahrhaftige Nachricht derer Begebenheiten, so sich in dem Herzogthum Weimar by dem gewaltigen Kriege Friedrichs II., Königs von Preußen, mit der Königin von Ungarn, Marien Theresen, samt ihren Bundesgenossen zugetragen, Weimar, ca. 1760 (Stiftung Weimarer Klassik)
Etat Militaire de France, 1759, 1761 and 1762
Funcken, Liliane and Fred: Les uniformes de la guerre en dentelle
Menguy, Patrice: Les Sujets du Bien Aimé (a website which has unfortunately disappeared from the web)
Military Answers - Volontaires Etrangeres, in 18th Century Military Notes & Queries No. 2
Mouillard, Lucien: Les Régiments sous Louis XV; Paris 1882
Pétard, Michel: Les Volontaires Étrangers de Clermont Prince 1758-1766
Raspe, Gabriel Nicolas: Recueil de toutes les troupes qui forment les armées françoises, Nuremberg 1761
Raspe, Gabriel Nicolas: Recueil de toutes les troupes qui forment les armées françoises, Nuremberg 1762
Rogge, Christian: The French & Allied Armies in Germany during the Seven Years War, Frankfurt, 2006
Taccoli, Alfonso: Teatro Militare dell' Europa, Part 1, vol. 2; Madrid, March 1760
N.B.: the section Service during the War is mostly derived from our articles depicting the various campaigns, battles and sieges.