Musketeers in France

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Musketeers in France

Post  Lyrrinne on Fri Aug 22, 2008 2:37 pm

The Musketeers of the Guard were a junior unit of roughly company strength of the military branch of the Royal Household or Maison du Roi. They were created in 1622 when Louis XIII furnished a company of light cavalry (the "carabiniers", created by Louis' father Henri IV) with muskets. Musketeers fought in battle both on foot (infantry) and on horseback (dragoons). As a junior unit in the Royal Guard, the Musketeers were not closely linked to the royal family. Traditional bodyguard duties were in fact performed by the Garde du Corps and the Gardes suisses. Because of its junior status, the Musketeers were open to the lower classes of French nobility or younger sons from noble families whose oldest son served in the more prestigious units. The Musketeers soon gained a reputation for boisterousness and fighting spirit as the only way for social and career advancement was excelling at their task as mounted light dragoons.

Their high esprit de corps and can-do attitude gained them royal favour and they became a popular fixture at court and in Paris. Shortly after their creation, Cardinal Richelieu created a bodyguard unit for himself. So as not to offend the King with a perceived sense of self-importance, Richelieu did not name them Garde du Corps like the King's personal guards but rather Musketeers after the Kings' junior guard cavalry. This was the start of a bitter rivalry between both corps of Musketeers. At the cardinal's death in 1642, the company passed to his successor Cardinal Mazarin. At Mazarin's death in 1661, the cardinal's Musketeers passed to Louis XIV to the disgust of both the King's Musketeers and the Cardinal's Musketeers. The Musketeers were subsequently reorganized as a guard cavalry regiment of two companies. The King's Musketeers became the first company, popularly known as "Grey Musketeers" (mousquetaires gris) from the color of their horses while the Cardinal's Musketeers became the second company, known as "Black Musketeers" (mousquetaires noirs) because they rode black horses.

The Musketeers were the among the most popular of the military companies of the Ancien Régime. This popularity was due to the lower entrance requirements. The senior guard units were in effect closed to all but the most senior and wealthy of French nobles so for the vast majority of French nobles (many of whom lived in genteel poverty), service in the Musketeers was the only way to join a cavalry unit in the Royal Household and perhaps catch the King's eye.

In 1776, the Musketeers were eliminated by Louis XVI, for budgetary reasons. Reformed in 1789, they were eliminated shortly afterward. They were reformed on July 6, 1814, and definitively eliminated on January 1, 1816.

Decades later, starting in 1844, this group was the subject of the now-famous serial publication The Three Musketeers, in the magazine Le Siècle between March and July 1844. The author, Alexandre Dumas, père, based his work on the book Mémoires de Monsieur d'Artagnan, capitaine lieutenant de la première compagnie des Mousquetaires du Roi (Memoirs of Mister d'Artagnan, Lieutenant Captain of the first company of the King's Musketeers) by Gatien de Courtilz de Sandras (Cologne, 1700).

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