Monday, December 29, 2008

French Cavalry Uniforms and Dress in the 17th Century

There are few references to uniforms or uniformity of dress in the French cavalry before 1690, when the first uniform regulation for the cavalry was enacted. Before then, uniformity of dress, if any, was up to the mestres de camp. For example, the Gardes du corps were said to have worn blue “turquin” with red bandoleers. The gendarmes had long worn cassocks, or cloaks, emblazoned with the devices or mottoes, or in the liveries, of their captains, and Francis I had ordered that the archers, ancestors of the chevau‑légers, should have the sleeves of their cassocks in the colors of their captains. So, it is reasonable to assume that at least within companies the regular cavalry presented a uniform appear­ance.

Sydenham Poyntz, an Englishman serving in Gallas' army against the Cardinal La Valette's army in 1635‑‑and a reliable witness‑‑described the French cavalry as "the goodlyest sight that I ever beheld":

A World of brave horse and men coming up a Hill in such order: and the first day they were clad all in horsemens coats of scarlet colour and silver lace; the next day having laid by their coats they were all in bright Armour and great feathers wonderfull beautifull to behold . . . (Poyntz, 120).

However, it was not until 1690 that the French cavalry was uniformed. This was a good 20 years after the infantry was uniformed. Tricorns were not worn until 1697.

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