Origin and History
This company was initially created as a Chevau-légers unit on April 1, 1668 after the first conquest of Franche-Comté.
In August 1674, King Louis XIV became captain of the company which was transformed into a company of gendarmes.
During the reign of Louis XIV, the Gendarmerie de France had fought in first line in all major engagements in Flanders, Germany and Italy.
During the Franco-Dutch War (1672-78), the Gendarmerie de France served in Flanders.
In 1688, at the beginning of the Nine Years' War (1688-97), the Gendarmerie de France served in Flanders, where it distinguished itself at the Battle of Leuze (September, 18, 1691), and on the Rhine. In 1693, it served in Italy under Catinat and distinguished itself at Marsaglia (October 4, 1693).
In 1701 and 1702, at the beginning of the War of the Spanish Succession (1701-13), the Gendarmerie de France served with the Army of Italy and fought in the Battle of Luzzara (August 15, 1702). In 1703, it served with the Army of Germany and fought in the Battle of Speyerbach (November, 15). In 1704, it was crushed in the disastrous Battle of Blemheim (August 13). From 1706 to 1713, it served in Flanders and on the Rhine and took part in the Battle of Oudenarde (July 11, 1708) and in the Battle of Malplaquet (September 11, 1709).
In 1715, the Gendarmerie de France was posted in Paris; in 1719, at Metz and Thionville; and in 1721, in Franche-Comté.
In 1733, at the outbreak of the War of the Polish Succession (1733-35), the Gendarmerie de France joined the Army of the Rhine.
In 1742, during the War of the Austrian Succession (1740-48), the Gendarmerie de France joined the Army of Westphalia. In 1743, it campaigned in Alsace. From 1745 to 1748, it campaigned in Flanders, and distinguished itself at the Battle of Fontenoy (May 11, 1745), where four of its squadrons punched a hole in the famous column of the Duke of Cumberland; and in the battles of Rocoux (October 11, 1746) and Lauffeld (July 2, 1747).
For the organisation of this company, please refer to Gendarmerie de France Organisation. At war, it was the senior company of the third squadron of the Gendarmerie de France, paired with the Gendarmes d'Aquitaine.
Until 1763 the headquarters of the Gendarmerie de France were at Châlons-sur-Marne while the company was quartered at Versailles.
During the Seven Years' War, the company was under the nominal command of King Louis XV while a captain-lieutenant assumed effective command:
- from May 2, 1744: N. Le Bret, Comte de Salles
- from June 22, 1758: Claude-Constant-César, Comte d'Houdetot
- from November 1761 to 1764: Comte de Lyons
The company was disbanded in 1788.
Service during the War
In 1757, the eight squadrons of the Gendarmerie de France, including this company, were sent to reinforce the Army of the Lower Rhine. They joined the main body in Hesse in August. At the end of the year, they took their winter-quarters in the Hessian County of Hanau.
By July 1758, all Gendarmerie squadrons had joined Soubise's Army assembling near Friedberg in Hesse. On October 10, the Gendarmerie was present at the Battle of Lutterberg where it was placed on the left wing of the first line. It was not involved into any serious fighting during this battle.
At the end of January 1759, hearing of a possible involvement of the Netherlands in the war, Belle-Isle prepared 20 bns, 4 dragoon sqns and 15 pieces for Dunkerque; and 15 bns, 20 sqns (including the "Maison du Roi") and 10 pieces for Ghent ready to march on Antwerp and Bruges if the Dutch entered the war. At the beginning of June, the Gendarmerie was at Cologne as part of the corps under the Marquis de Poyanne. By June 18, it had joined the French offensive in Western Germany and was at Stadtberg (present-day Marsberg on the Diemel River). It was attached to the Cavalry Reserve. On July 4, it was part of a corps who took position in front of the village of Schildesche, 3 km north of Bielefeld. On August 1, the regiment took part in the Battle of Minden where it was deployed in the third line of the cavalry centre under the command of the Marquis de Poyanne. Along with the Carabiniers, they attempted a third attack upon the 9 battalions (mostly British) who had already repulsed 2 cavalry charges. Their charge was more successful and they broke through the first line of Allied infantry. However, the second line received them with deadly fire and forced them to retire with heavy losses. On August 30, when the French main army took position between Bauerbach and Amöneburg, the Gendarmerie formed part of the Reserve. The Gendarmerie was so depleted that each squadron counted only some 120 men.
By May 23 1760, the company was part of the Gardes and Gendarmerie Reserve of Broglie's Army, placed under the command of M. de Duras. By September 13, the Gendarmerie was posted at Lichtenau between the Fulda and the Werra. By October 1, part of the unit was attached to d'Auvet's Division which was instructed to march towards Hachenburg. On October 13, the unit arrived at Neuss with Castries. On October 16, the Gendarmerie de France, under the Marquis de Lugeac, fought in the Battle of Clostercamp where it formed part of the Reserve deployed behind the left wing. On October 21, Castries sent the unit to Andernach. On November 1, the unit who had heavily suffered at Clostercamp, left Andernach and marched back to Thionville in France.
In 1761, the company took the field with Soubise's Army. On July 16, it was present at the Battle of Vellinghausen but was not engaged.
In 1762, the company formed part of Condé's Army of the Lower Rhine. On August 30, it was present at the Combat of Nauheim but was not engaged.
|Headgear||black tricorne laced silver, with a black cockade|
|Neck stock||black cravate|
|Coat||scarlet lined scarlet, bordered with a silver braid, with silver buttons and silver buttonholes, and a silver braid on each sleeve
|Waistcoat||buff leather jerkin fastened with hooks and eyes and edged with a silver braid|
|Breeches||scarlet (probably buff at war)|
Troopers were armed with a sabre (silver handle and green cord), a pair of pistols and a rifle. Officially for combat they wore a blackened breast plate over their leather jerkin and they often removed their coat and folded it on the porte-manteau. In such an outfit, French cavalrymen looked quite the same as Prussian cuirassiers. In cold weather, the coat was worn over the breast plate.
The horses of the troopers were of various colours. A green rosette was knotted at their mane and tail.
NCOs wore uniforms similar to those of the troopers.
They also wore a blackened breast plate over their leather jerkin for combat.
Officers wore uniforms similar to those of the troopers with the following peculiarities:
- silver braids on all seams of the coat
- silver buttons
- full cuirass worn over the coat
Officers were armed with a strong sword.
Trumpets and kettle-drummers wore a blue coat heavily laced with braids at the king's livery alternating with silver braids.
The saddle cloth, housings as well as the aprons of the kettle-drums and the pennants of the trumpets were blue decorated in silver.
The musicians were mounted on grey horses.
The silken standard (exceptionally called guidons in the Gendarmerie de France) had a white field fringed in gold and silver; heavily decorated with silver and gold embroideries, and bearing a large red cross of Burgundy in its centre and 4 smaller ones in the corners. As for all company standards of the Gendarmerie de France, the obverse and reverse were identical.
Standards were carried on green tournament lances by troopers designated as porte-étendards (even though the standards of the Gendarmerie de France were called guidons).
This article incorporates texts from the following books which are now in the public domain:
- Susane, Louis: Histoire de la cavalerie française, Vol. 1, Paris: Hetzel, 1874, pp. 240-243, 252-253
- Pajol, Charles P. V.: Les Guerres sous Louis XV, vol. VII, Paris, 1891, pp. 16
- Guignard, Pierre Claude de: L'école de Mars; Paris: Simart 1725; p. 565
Chartrand, René: Louis XV's Army (1) Cavalry and Dragoons; London 1996
Funcken, L. and F.: Les uniformes de la guerre en dentelle
Lienhart & Humbert: Les uniformes de l'armée française 1690-1894; Leipzig 1897-1906
Marbot, Alfred de: Les uniformes de l'armée française de 1439 à 1815; Paris 1848
Menguy, Patrice: Les Sujets du Bien Aimé (a website which has unfortunately disappeared from the web)
Mouillard, Lucien: Les Régiments sous Louis XV; Paris 1882
Pengel & Hurt: French Cavalry and Dragoons 1740-1762; Birmingham 1981
Rigondeau (Rigo), Albert : Planches Le plumet – Série Ancien Régime; Paris 1980
Rogge, Christian: The French & Allied Armies in Germany during the Seven Years War, Frankfurt, 2006
Rousselot, Lucien: L'Armée française, ses uniformes, son armement, son équipement; Paris 1943-1971
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.