Page images

mained very large. At Rocroy, the Duc d'Enghien had 7000 horse out of an army of 22,000, while Turenne, at the battle of the Dunes, had only 9000 infantry, with 6000 horse.

Cardinal Richelieu, who dealt such rude blows to the adventurous and independent spirit of the nobility by creating cavalry regiments, reduced the captains of gendarmes and chevau-légers companies to the rank of subalterns, and thus their position lost much of its importance. Mazarin followed another plan to attain the same result: he gave all those who wished for them commission as cavalry mestres de camp, and allowed the poorer gentry to raise companies. The result was that both were ruined. In order to give the scions of the nobility-who were reduced to beg for the crumbs that fell from the royal table-employment which did not offend their pride, Louis XIV. placed his military household on a colossal footing quite disproportionate to the effective strength of the army. This household brigade was composed of 10,000 men (3000 cavalry and 7000 infantry), exclusive of picked men, allowed to join at the beginning of a campaign, provided that they possessed the qualification either of birth or wealth. Of this brave phalanx it was said, "A town is not captured until the citadel is held, nor is a battle lost till the king's household has given way." Among the horse guards, the four companies of the guards du corps, splendidly attired, formed an effective strength of 1600 men. One of these companies, through a reverence for historical traditions, still retained the title of the Scotch company, though it was only so in name. Their arms were a cuirass, helmet, sword, pistol, and, when on guard, a demi-pike, with a triangular blade. Their standards bore a sun dazzling the world,

and their master's motto.

The company of gendarmes, armed cap-à-pie, 215 in number, had for their motto, "Quo jubet iratus Jupiter." The 295 chevau-légers, with scarlet pourpoints and white facings, armed with sabre and pistol, bravely bore their motto, "Sensere Gigantes," and obtained the favour of not being reckoned among the gendarmes of the king, in consideration of the glorious recollections attaching to their institution. The two companies of musketeers had especially distinguished themselves in the sieges of the preceding years. Like the dragoons, they served on horseback or on foot, according to the nature of the soil. They were distinguished as the Grey" and the "Black," from the colour of their horses. Their arms were a musket, pistol, and sword. The first company bore on its standards a mortar discharging a shell against a besieged town, with the motto, "Quò ruit est Lethum," while the second had round a bundle of darts, "Alterius Jovis altera tela."


The infantry of the king's household was composed of the regiment of Gardes Françaises, the company of the Hundred Swiss, created in 1478, and the regiment of Swiss Guards. The regiment of French Guards, created in 1503, and composed of thirty companies (3340 rank and file), kept as its motto the following eulogium of an enemy hostile to France: "It has justly acquired the title of the first regiment in Christendom." Among its privileges was the right of choosing the post of honour in action, holding the sap heads in sieges, and being the first to enter a captured town. Among the marshals of France who emerged from this glorious band were Guébriant, Foiras, Vauban, Montesquiou, La Feuillade, and Catinat. The regiment of Swiss Guards, created in 1567,

consisted of twenty companies (3400 rank and file), it had precedence of all other troops of that nation in the French service, and had as motto, "Invictis Pax." The fidelity of the men could be depended on so long as they were regularly paid.

The Grenadiers were created in 1667. The first hand-grenades had been thrown at the siege of Arles, in 1536, and since that period the dangerous office was entrusted to volunteers called enfans perdus. Louis XIV. wished to employ the spirit of glory that animates the French soldier under difficult circumstances, and to secure men who combined skill with intrepidity, by instituting in each company four picked men, whom he called grenadiers, and paid highly. This creation produced a marvellous effect, and the men who were the subject of this choice distinguished themselves in the campaigns of Flanders and the Franche Comté by deeds of extraordinary daring. Hence the grenadiers rapidly multiplied: in 1670 the regiment of the king had one entire company of these picked men. The measure was soon extended to the thirty senior regiments, and eventually to the whole of the line. At the outset, these men were armed with an axe and a sword in 1671 they received the fusil, and they also carried twelve to fifteen handgrenades in a small pouch. A decree of February 25, 1670, which regulated the uniformity of the armament, and threw the expense of it on the state, abolished the pikes and partisans, and, at the same time, reduced the depth of formation. The general adoption of fire-arms at the close of the seventeenth century reduced the depth from ten to four deep, and this rendered the evolutions in the field far more easy.


Another important creation, that of the Fusiliers of the King, took place in 1671. Hitherto, the artillery had fared much like the infantry. The nobility, in their haughty ignorance, despised the artilleryman's profession as a mechanical art, which could only be practised by men of low birth. It would have been derogatory for a gentleman to cultivate his mind, study mathematics, drawing, and the natural sciences. The establishment of this corps is in itself a great event, which marks precisely the moment when the kingly power had attained its apogee, and when the mere expression of his will checked all chivalrous prejudices. Louis XIV. was colonel of the new regiment, which he armed with the terrible bayonet and uniformed magnificently. At first, some difficulties were raised against the new organisation, but so soon as the royal colonel gave handsome pay to those officers who were fit to command companies, and the artillery was suspected to be a road to court favour, the nobility altered their tone. Even the privates, ever ready to model themselves as their chiefs, would have fancied it dishonouring to lay down the pike or musket and take up the cannon. As M. Charpentier

tells us :

Up to this time the guns had been served by artisans appointed by the grand master of artillery, as gunners, bombardiers, and workmen, under the direction of certain engineers called commissaries of artillery. These men were not regarded as soldiers, but, in return for certain advantages they enjoyed, they were in a state of permanent requisition, and in a position bearing some analogy to that of officers of marines. In the field, the guard of the ordnance and ammunition was confided to the infantry, and generally to the Swiss were there any with the army.


2 K

Such a state was no longer in accordance with the improvements made in the ordnance, and the part it was destined to play on the battle-field. Louis XIV., therefore, determined to render the artillery military, and inaugurate this innovation in a brilliant manner, which fully manifested his idea. The men who formed the new regiment were selected from among the best of the old corps, and the officers taken from the guards.

In spite of all these reforms and improvements, it must not be assumed, however, that things went on for the best. In spite of Colbert's probity, the pay did not always reach its destination, and the healthy discipline which the inflexible Louvois had introduced was too often broken through. The generals, too, so skilful in leading the troops in the field, were ignorant of the art of forming them or preparing them for war. With the campaign of 1674 various measures were taken in this important matter, and in the camp before Besançon a great number of officers were cashiered because "their company or regiment was in a bad state of drill, discipline, and instruction." But for all that the French troops fought magnificently, even while they were too inclined to make no distinction between friend and foe when plunder was concerned.

The Dutch war, terminated in 1678 by the peace of Nimeguen, raised the power of Louis XIV. to its apogee. While the peace was being negotiated the king was completing the constitution of his troops; he doubled the cadre of general officers, created eight Marshals of France, and prepared to continue the war with more energy than ever. An army organised in a manner so superior to that of other European armies, and led by Turenne and Condé, must perform prodigies. But Condé retired, and his rival in glory, Turenne, fell at Salzbach. The successors of these great men, whom Madame de Sévigné cleverly called "Turenne's small change," had talent but little genius. Luxemburg alone, misunderstood at that period, was destined to maintain the glory of the French army intact.

The Seven Years' War had increased the army by several regiments, principally foreign. Some survived till the Revolution, but no sooner was the war over than a considerable reduction took place, and the infantry was reorganised at sixty-eight regiments. The peace was of short duration, for the other European powers took the alarm at the king's unbounded ambition, and formed the league of Augsburg. The French army was hastily increased, and in 1684 thirty new regiments were added, levied under the name of so many provinces. These regiments were especially employed to relieve the old battalions, which henceforth took the name of service regiments. Permanent camps were also established for the triple object of always having an imposing force under arms, drilling the troops, and preparing them to endure fatigue. It was then for the first time that the army was employed on grand works of public utility, the fortification of towns, making the Maintenon and Briare canals, on the works at Marly, &c. During the ensuing years fresh corps were raised, so that when the war seriously broke out again in 1688, the number of regiments was more than doubled. As the wealth and strength of France sensibly diminished in contending against her numerous foes, all means were considered good. In order to deceive the enemy, Louis XIV. employed a subterfuge which was imitated under the first Empire. He formed out of poor garrison troops, and even

militia, corps that assumed the titles of the most celebrated regiments, and which served in the covering armies. Thus, while the regiments of Picardy, Champagne, &c., were fighting in Flanders and on the Rhine, there were on the Alps and in Catalonia battalions of the same name, which had nothing in common with the old corps save the title. After the capture of Philipsburg, the coalition became more menacing than ever, and it was found necessary to have recourse to an extraordinary measure. The militia-that is to say, the ban and rear-ban-who had been slumbering ever since the legionaries of the sixteenth century, were called out. The decree of November 29, 1688, produced one hundred regiments, each of a single battalion, called out in turn to garrison the strong places. Towards the close of the war, the weakening of the regular army compelled the enrolment of militia regiments, and at the peace of Ryswick these men were arbitrarily incorporated with the permanent troops instead of being allowed to return home.

The Catalonian war caused the renewal of an experiment tried many times before, but which the methodical tactics of that age prevented completely succeeding. The armies that served on the Pyrenean frontier had been obliged, during previous campaigns, to fight against the Spanish guerillas. These bold scouts, taking advantage of their knowledge of the mountain passes, gradually crushed the armies by cutting the convoys and massacring rear-guards and stragglers. Maréchal de Noailles, who commanded the Catalonian army in 1689, therefore, had the idea of opposing to them troops trained in their own fashion. Hence he raised in Roussillon a regiment of French scouts, who became celebrated under the name of the Mountain Fusiliers, and did great service. This innovation was soon appreciated as it deserved, for on all the frontiers the nature of the ground favoured that partisan fighting known as "la petite guerre." All the armies soon had corps of light troops organised on the pattern of the "Miquelets," and who bore the name of Border Fusiliers.

[ocr errors]

Owing to the successive creations that took place up to the peace of Riswick, the main body of the army, the infantry, comprising the militia, consisted of 252 regiments, the cavalry of 72. The reforms made in

1698 reduced these exorbitant amounts to 142 for the infantry and 45 for the cavalry. The colonels, whose regiments were disbanded, or incorporated with others, were attached to the regiments as supernumeraries till their services could be employed. In order to get rid of this dead weight, the king also took two measures which were perfectly just, but aroused the anger of the nobility. The first was the creation of the order of St. Louis. Hitherto France had possessed but one military decoration—the blue ribbon and cross of the St. Esprit. It was very rarely granted, and the recipients must be men of the very highest birth, By the advice of Vauban and D'Aguesseau, Louis XIV., by a decree registered on April 10, 1693, founded this new order, which, instead of demanding nobility, conferred it. In order to become a knight, the recipient must be an officer of not less than twenty-eight years' standing, or have distinguished himself by some brilliant action. The other measure was entailed by the abuses occasioned by noblemen possessing regiments, and the impossibility in which the king often found himself of promoting brave but poor officers. The lords, who owned regiments,

derived enormous profits from them, and refused to sell them save at so disproportionate a price that even marshals of France would remain colonels of regiments, to the great detriment of the service. The only remedy the king could find for this crying abuse was that all general officers should give up their regiments. This measure temporarily lowered the price, and allowed some of the colonels made supernumeraries after the peace of Riswick to be re-established.

In the early part of 1698, after sending to their garrison towns the remains of the old regiments, Louis XIV. announced that, so soon as the fine weather occurred, he would assemble at Compiègne a camp of 60,000 men. It was, he stated, for the instruction of his grandson, the Duke of Burgundy, and he proposed to be present with the whole of his court. Nearly every year, indeed, Louis XIV. spent a few weeks under canvas, and his presence among the troops produced a noble emulation. Owing to this enthusiasm, the army was as fine as it had ever been when the War of the Spanish Succession broke out in 1701, and it was capable of curbing all Europe once again; but the king had aged, and, as often happens to old men, he had his weaknesses, and flatterers who knew how to take advantage of them. His obstinate attachment to men who had been boys with him, and in particular for Maréchal de Villeroy-the singular aversion he felt from competent ministers, and which made him select Chamillard, the most honest but most insignificant of his secretaries of state-and, lastly, his excessive complaisance towards Madame de Maintenon, were the principal causes of the misfortunes that signalised the War of the Spanish Succession, and all but ruined France eternally.

At the outset of the campaign, it is true that a sensible measure was taken. A decree of January 26, 1701, ordered the levy of fifty-seven battalions of militia volunteers, intended to raise all the existing regiments to the strength of two battalions each. It is indubitable that this was a good step, for the recruits, mingled with the old troops, would have obtained some idea of discipline. Unfortunately, the king yielded to the intriguers, and ordered the raising of one hundred new regiments, each of one battalion, and granted commissions to officers, who raised them at their own expense. This step consummated the ruin of the army. Seven thousand officers, who must be gentlemen, but need not know anything of military matters, had to be appointed, and the result was that while the soldiers were formed in a single campaign, the officers remained as they were, and constantly paralysed-by their want of discipline, vanity, and ignorance-the good-will and courageous efforts of the troops. Blenheim, Ramilies, and Turin offer sufficient proof of this fact.

The campaigns of Flanders, Italy, and Germany finished the exhaustion of France, and the dismemberment of all the constitutive portions of the army. Any means were considered good, and the most scandalous abuse took place in the depôts. The army of the North still remained a fine body of men, but in order to compose it all the best men were withdrawn from the reserves: it amounted to ninety thousand soldiers, with eighty guns, and an immense matériel, and the whole of the king's household served with it. It was this army which had the honour of saving France by gaining the victory of Dénain, which broke up the coalition, and enabled Louis XIV. to sign a peace the terms of which were, at any rate, not dishonourable.

« PreviousContinue »