Volontaires Royaux

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Hierarchical Path: Seven Years War (Main Page) >> Armies >> French Army >> Volontaires Royaux

Origin and History

On August 15 1745, several free companies, most of them serving in Flanders, were amalgamated into a single unit under the name of “Volontaires Royaux” who initially consisted of 12 light infantry companies and 100 dragoons.

During the War of the Austrian Succession, in 1745, the unit initially served in Flanders. In 1747, it was sent to the Alps and then served in Provence till the end of the war. During this war, its total strength reached 2,370 men. At the end of the conflict, an ordonnance dated December 30 1748 reduced the unit to only 640 men.

At the outbreak of the Seven Years' War in 1756, an ordonnance dated November 18 increased the unit to 950 men and 72 officers. The unit then consisted of:

  • a staff of 4 officers and 3 men
  • 2 grenadier companies (each of 3 officers and 45 grenadiers)
  • 12 mixed companies (each of 6 officers, 40 fusiliers and 30 dragoons)
  • 1 company of workers (2 officers and 20 workers)

N.B.: in the above enumeration, the number of officers in each unit does not balance with the total number of officers stated.

The ordonnance of February 25 1758 increased the unit to 1,304 men (including staff) by strengthening the mixed companies and the company of workers. The unit then consisted of:

  • 2 grenadier companies (each of 3 officers and 45 grenadiers)
  • 12 mixed companies (each of 8 officers, 50 fusiliers and 40 dragoons)
  • 1 company of workers (2 officers and 30 workers)

On May 7 1758, the unit was renamed “Légion Royale”. Each mixed company received 10 additional men and the worker company received 2 more officers and 30 additional workers. A company of hussars was also raised and two 4-pdr guns à la Suédoise were attached to the unit who now counted a total of 1,537 men (including staff) and consisted of:

  • staff
    • 1 colonel-commandant
    • 1 major
    • 1 aide-major for the infantry
    • 1 aide-major for the dragoons
    • 1 chaplain
    • 1 surgeon-major
    • 1 aide-surgeon
    • 1 provost
  • 2 grenadier companies, each of
    • 1 captain
    • 1 lieutenant
    • 1 second-lieutenant
    • 2 sergeants
    • 3 corporals
    • 3 ansepessades (lance corporals)
    • 36 grenadiers
    • 1 drummer
  • 12 mixed companies, each of:
    • 60 fusiliers commanded by 4 officers:
      • 1 captain
      • 1 second captain
      • 1 lieutenant
      • 1 second-lieutenant
      • 3 sergeants
      • 4 corporals
      • 4 ansepessades (lance corporals)
      • 1 drummer
      • 48 fusiliers
    • 40 dragoons commanded by 4 officers:
      • 1 captain
      • 1 second captain
      • 1 lieutenant
      • 1 second-lieutenant
      • 1 maréchal-des-logis (quartermaster)
      • 2 brigadiers
      • 36 dragoons
      • 1 drummer
  • 1 hussar company of:
    • 1 captain
    • 1 lieutenant
    • 1 second-lieutenant
    • 2 maréchaux-des-logis (quartermasters)
    • 1 fourrier
    • 6 brigadiers
    • 67 hussars
    • 1 trumpeter
  • 2 cannon à la suédoise attached to the infantry
  • 1 company of workers of:
    • 1 captain
    • 1 lieutenant
    • 1 second-lieutenant
    • 3 sergeants
    • 3 maîtres ouvrier (master workers)
    • 3 sous-maitre ouvriers (assistant master workers)
    • 21 carpenters
    • 29 apprentices
    • 1 drummer

On February 10 1759, the “Légion Royale” was further increased and now counted 1,918 men (including staff). It consisted of:

  • staff
    • 1 colonel-commandant
    • 1 major
    • 2 aides-majors for the infantry
    • 2 aides-majors for the dragoons
    • 1 chaplain
    • 1 surgeon-major
    • 1 aide-surgeon
    • 1 provost
  • 2 grenadier companies (each of 3 officers and 45 grenadiers)
  • 12 mixed companies (each of 8 officers, 75 fusiliers and 50 dragoons)
  • 2 hussar companies (each of 6 officers and 70 hussars)
  • 2 cannon à la suédoise
  • 1 company of workers (4 officers and 60 workers)

On May 7 1759, the staff of the regiment was increased by the addition of colonel-commandant en second (M. de Sicard) and a lieutenant-colonel (M. de Ballancourt de Courcolle).

During the Seven Years' War, the unit was commanded by the following colonels-commandants:

  • since January 20 1747: Charles Louis, Comte de Chabo La Serre
  • from March 10 1759: Antoine, Chevalier de Chabo La Serre
  • from May 10 1760: Louis Drummond, Comte de Melfort
  • from February 20 1761 till May 1763: Louis Florent, Chevalier de La Vallière

The Légion Royale remained in existence until 1776.

Service during the War

Along with the Chasseurs de Fischer, this unit was the most important French light troops formation during the Seven Years' War if we consider its total strength and the numerous military actions where it saw service.

In 1757, as part of the Army of the Lower Rhine, the unit was among d'Estrées's light troops. It consisted of 2 grenadier companies (48 men each), 12 mixed companies (43 fusiliers and 33 dragoons each) and 1 company of craftsmen (22 men) for a total of 1,030 men. On April 5, together with the Chasseurs de Fischer under M. de Chabot, they were sent forward from Burich to seize ammunition that the Prussians had left in Wesel and to prevent the populations along the Lippe to pay taxes to the King of Prussia. On June 14, the unit was at Gusterlo. At the end of June, together with the Chasseurs de Fischer and Turpin Hussards, they formed an observation corps in front of Cumberland's position near Herford and Minden. After the victory of Hastenbeck, the unit took part in the invasion of Hanover. On August 20, it was sent ahead to Drakemburg with Bercheny Hussards. At the end of the year, the regiment took its winter-quarters in the first line of the French army on the Wümme River.

In April 1758, when the Comte de Clermont redeployed his army along the Rhine, the unit was placed in the second line at Zülprich on the Eiffel Heights. After the successful crossing of the Rhine by the army of Ferdinand of Brunswick on May 31, the unit retired towards Rheinberg where it joined Clermont's Army on June 2. It then remained in this camp until June 12. On June 23, the unit was present at the Battle of Krefeld, 200 foot and 200 horse occupying Anrath. About noon, they fell back on the French camp. In Mid August, after Ferdinand's retreat to the east bank of the Rhine, the unit, as part of the Army of the Lower Rhine now under the Marquis de Contades, recrossed the Rhine to follow the Allies. On August 20, the unit was encamped near Wesel where it formed part of the Reserve. At the beginning of October, the unit was attached to Chevert's Corps which was sent to reinforce Soubise's Army in Hesse. On October 10, the unit was at the Battle of Lutterberg where it was part of Chevert's Corps which won the day by turning the Allied left flank. On November 17, when the French army retired to the left bank of the Rhine to take its winter-quarters, the unit, under the command of M. de Chabot, remained on the right bank of the Rhine at Hattingen.

By May 10 1759, the unit was part of the corps under the command of d'Armentières who had taken position at Düsseldorf. The unit was deployed on the frontier of the Duchy of Bergh. At the end of May, when the French Army of the Rhine launched its offensive in Western Germany, the unit (about 1,920 men) remained on the Rhine as part of the corps of the Marquis d'Armentières. On July 5, during his advance on Münster, d'Armentières sent this unit to Dülmen. On August 1, when d'Armentières appeared in front of Lippstadt with his corps, he deployed the Légion Royale and Thianges Dragons northward at Warendorf and Telgte to guard his communications with Münster. On August 18, during the French retreat after the defeat of Lippstadt, the unit occupied Fritzlar. By August 31, the unit was attached to Chabot's Corps of light troops. On September 23, the unit was in the area of Usingen.

On January 2 1760, Broglie sent the unit towards Weilburg. On January 3, it arrived at Greifenstein and sent an advanced party to Merenberg. It was charged to cover Voyer's right flank from Greifenstein up to the mouth of the Dill on the Lahn. By the end of January, the unit had taken its winter-quarters in the first line of the French army. On March 28, after the retreat of the Allies, the unit returned to its initial positions in the Bailiwicks of Schwarzenfels, Brandenstein and Brückenau. By mid March, the unit under M. de Chabot was billeted in Brückenau (present-day Bad Brückenau), still in the first line of the French army. By May 23, the unit was part of the right vanguard of Broglie's Army. On May 25, the unit was part of Prince Xavier's right reserve who advanced towards Lohr. Early on June 24, the unit, supported by Du Roy Dragons and La Ferronnaye Dragons, attacked the Allied rearguard near Homberg and forced it to retire. On September 13 at daybreak, the regiment was part of M. de Stainville's Corps who was marching towards Frankenberg when it clashed with a retiring Allied corps between Rhadern and Münden/Ork. Both forces were separated by a wood and a small stream flowing into the Eder. Stainville reinforced his left with Bouillon Infanterie (2 bns) placed in the Castle of Lichtenfels. Combat began around 10:00 a.m. M. de Scey at the head of Du Roi Brigade and M. de Melfort with the Légion Royale advanced. The Allies occupied positions on a steep hill. Nevertheless Auvergne Infanterie stormed these positions on the double. Fersen counter-charged the dragoons of the Légion Royale at the head of his cavalry but was made prisoner with some of his men. Then, the grenadiers and chasseurs of the brigades along with the dragoons of Légion Royale; du Roi, Auvergne, Bouillon and Royal-Pologne infantry brigades pursued the Allies up to the village of Neukirchen near Sachsenberg. Bülow was forced to abandon some guns to pass the defiles. In this action M. de Stainville took 400 prisoners and 8 pieces and considerable baggage. On October 4, M. de Maupéou's Corps (including this unit) left for the Lower Rhine. By December 30, the mounted elements of the unit had taken their winter-quarters in Oberweimar and Niederweimar.

To do: campaigns of 1761 and 1762

Uniform

Dragoons, fusiliers, grenadiers and workers were almost identical uniforms. The few differences are specified in the following table.

Privates

Uniform in 1758 - Source: Richard Couture adapted from a template by Jean-Louis Vial
Uniform Details as per
Etat Militaire of 1758, 1760 and 1761
La Chesnaye in 1759 and the Abrégé du Dictionnaire Militaire of 1759

completed where necessary as per Becher and Raspe
Headgear
Fusilier black tricorne laced silver
circa 1757, they adopted the black bearskin
Grenadier black bearskin with a tin grenade as frontal decoration
Worker blue fatigue cap edged red; white fleur de lys on the front of the cap; blue and red tassel
circa 1757, they adopted the black bearskin
Dragoon black tricorne laced silver
Neck stock black
Coat blue lined red with white buttons arranged 2 by 2 on both sides
Collar red
Shoulder Straps n/a
dragoons had a white aiguillette on the right shoulder
Lapels none
Pockets horizontal pockets, each with 3 white buttons
Cuffs red with 3 white buttons
Turnbacks red
Waistcoat red with two rows of white buttons
Breeches white
buff leather for dragoons
Greatcoat blue lined red (only worn by dragoons)
Gaiters white
dragoons wore black boots
Leather Equipment
Crossbelt white
Waistbelt white
Cartridge Box natural leather
Bayonet Scabbard n/a
Scabbard black
Horse Furniture
of the dragoons
Saddlecloth red bordered with a white braid decorated with a white fleur de lys in each rear corner
Housings red bordered with a white braid decorated with a white fleur de lys


N.B.: we did not find any description of the uniforms of the hussars of this unit.

Armaments consisted of a musket and a bayonet. Fusiliers and dragoons carried a sword (brass hilt) while the grenadiers had a sabre. The swords of the dragoons were adorned with a white woolen cord.

Officers

Infantry officers wore uniforms similar to those of the privates with the following distinctions:

  • black tricorne laced with a silver Spanish point braid; white plume; white cockade on the left side
  • silver gorget with the arms of the king
  • silver brandebourgs and buttons on the coats of the captains and majors
  • no turnbacks on the coat
  • ponceau red velvet collar and cuffs on the coats of lieutenants and second-lieutenants
  • white epaulet

Dragoon officers wore uniforms similar to those of the troopers with the following distinctions:

  • captains and majors wore a waistcoat decorated with silver brandebourgs; a silver aiguillette at the right shoulder of their coat and silver buttons; black tricorne laced with a silver Spanish point braid; white plume; silver gorget to the king's arms
  • brigadiers had red velvet cuffs and collar; cuffs and pocket flaps edged silver
  • lieutenants and second captains had ponceau red cuffs and collar and a silver aiguillette
  • aide-major wore a waistcoat with a single row of buttons and the pockets of the waistcoat laced with 2 silver braids
  • maréchaux-des-logis had red velvet collar and cuffs and silver and white silk aiguillettes

NCOs

Infantry NCOs wore uniforms similar to those of the privates with the following distinctions:

  • collar edged silver for fourriers
  • cuffs edged silver for sergeants

Musicians

The drummers of the regiment wore the Royal Livery: blue coat lined red; red cuffs, waistcoat and breeches; laced with the braid of the small Royal Livery.

Drummer wearing the Royal Livery - Source: Jocelyne Chevanelle

 
 
 
 
 
 
 

French Royal Livery - Source: reconstruction based on a sample from Jean-Louis Vial's collection


The drummers of the dragoons also wore the Royal Livery. In addition their coat had a white aiguillette and a white cross on the chest and back. Surprisingly, by an ordonnance of 1763, they were authorised to abandon the Royal Livery and to wear the livery of their colonel.

Colours

Colonel colour: white cross with white quarters, each of these quarters was decorated with 3 golden fleurs de lys

Ordonnance colours: white cross with royal blue quarters, each of these quarters was decorated with 3 golden fleurs de lys

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

References

This article is mostly a translation from the following books which is now in the public domain:

  • Pajol, Charles P. V.: Les Guerres sous Louis XV, vol. VII, Paris, 1891, pp. 230-232

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)

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

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

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

Service historique de l'armée de terre - Archives du génie, article 15, section 1, §5, pièce 23.

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.