Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Organization of the French Cavalry in the 17th Century

Prior to the reign of Louis XIII the company, commanded by a captain and averaging 100 maîtres, was the largest basic tactical organization.

Under Louis XIII the horse was organized for combat in squadrons of 200 men (2 companies; apparently because that was the largest number of troopers that could be controlled by voice command).

In 1634, there were 91 100-man companies of cavalry and 7 companies of carabins. In 1635, the companies were formed into 24 regiments of cavalry, 1 of carabins, and 6 of dragoons, each commanded by a mestre de camp. There were, besides, the 16 Weimarian cavalry regiments. The total was 22,000 horse. The French regiments consisted of 2 squadrons, each of 2 companies (Dussieux, Armée, 2:58-59). The inference is that the French cavalry regiments were 400-men strong. This tallies with the total strength of the cavalry establishment, since the Weimarian regiments were usually stronger than their French counterparts.

In 1636, there were 36 French regiments of 9 companies (8 of light cavalry, 1 of musketeers [so says Dussieux, probably meaning carabins]). A short time later 9 new French regiments were formed, and the number of foreign regiments had risen to 25. There were thus 70 regiments altogether. There were 70-170 regiments of cavalry in the period 1638-1659 (ibid., 59).

In 1668, an important reorganization of the cavalry was begun by Turenne and the chevalier de Fourilles. At the same time the duc de Lauzun reorganized the dragoons.

In 1670 the squadron organization was temporarily re-adopted, but the cavalry was definitively organized into regiments by the ordinance of 4 February 1672, which established the regiment as consisting of 6 companies in 2 3-company squadrons. There were 66 regiments altogether.

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.

La Florida: Actors

LF can be played by no fewer than three players. The upper limit of players is potentially quite large, considering the number of real historical actors whose personae are available for players to control (to the extent permitted under the rules).

Actors in LF belong to one of the following categories:

GOD – The Game Organizer and Director
French Huguenots
Indigenous Peoples (Indians and others living beyond the control of the Europeans)

Categorical Actors

Not surprisingly, players gaming these categories are called Categorical Actors. They are the directing or overarching actor in their category and are responsible for all policies, strategies, operational orders, and tactical combats within their purview.

Next: Brief Descriptions of Categorical Actors

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Carabins and Light Cavalry

Dur Écu sallies forth on yet another foray into the French cavalry of the Thirty Years’ War and finds that the pickings are getting mighty slim.


Efficient light cavalry like the Croats, Poles, and Cossacks that served the Imperialists so well was an essential element of the armies of the period. The French, however, were generally quite deficient in light cavalry. This is remarkable, considering the light cavalry tradition of the French army. But the excellent stradiots and useful but shabby argoulets of the Italian Wars and the Religious‑Civil Wars had disappeared, replaced during the reign of Henry IV by the more disciplined carabins, who did some things better but most things worse.

The carabins, so-called because their principal weapon was a 3½-foot long carbine (usually a large-caliber wheellock shoulder arm), originated in the small troops of 25-50 men attached to units of gendarmes and chevau-légers during the latter stages of the Religious-Civil Wars to perform the duties of true light cavalry. Also, some companies were raised as bodyguard units for the princes and generals. Thus, according to Ambert (1:260), the 1st Company of Mousquetaires of the Maison orginated as a bodyguard of carabins of King Henry IV.

Indeed, Henry IV was so enamored of the carabins, who were the elite of his army, that his enemy Parma referred to him as a "carabin." The tradition of excellence, combined with a propensity for derring-do was enshrined in a phrase of the time, applied to any spectacular feat, which was described as an action plutot digne d'un carabin, or a "deed worthy of a carabin."

Besides the large-caliber arquebus, the carabin was armed with one pistol and a sword. He usually wore the cassock and gaiters--not boots--which facilitated his ability to fight on foot (Bellon, Principes de l'art militaire, cited in Ambert, 1:262).

During the reign of Louis XIII the carabins became a separate corps of light cavalry, organized under their own chief, the Mestre de camp général des carabins de France (who reported to the Colonel général de la cavalerie légère). This was likely in 1609, when Balzac de Gié was named Mestre de camp général des carabins (this according to Ambert, 262; Choppin states that the carabins received their own Mestre de camp général only in 1621).

The Mestres de camp général des carabins during the Thirty Years' War were:

Pierre de La Mothe Arnauld, 1621-1622
Isaac Arnauld de Corbeville, 1 April 1622-

The carabins wore a burgonet or a soft hat, the cuirass enchancrée, which appears to have been cut away at the right shoulder to allow the carbine to be couched, and the casaque. Many wore buff coats as well.

On 3 October 1634, there were 7 companies of carabins in the French army. This was 7% of the total of 98 companies. In 1636, the French army in Italy had 16,000 foot and 2,000 horse, including 700 carabins. Thus, the carabins were 35% of the horse in one French army that was deficient in cavalry. But, it would appear that generally the number of carabins in any French army was equal to the number of gendarmes. The Annuaire militaire of 1643 states that there were 12 regiments of carabins.

The carabins gradually died out. They were last mentioned in an ordinance in November 1665, and finally in 1684 they were suppressed.

"Eastern" Light Cavalry

An appreciable number of "eastern" light cavalry served France. These consisted of Hungarians, Croats, and Germans, and were true progenitors of the regular hussars, the first regiment of which was established in 1692. The comte d'Espenan raised a regiment of Hungarian light cavalry that existed from 8 July 1635 to December 1637 and served at the Battle of Avein (1635). There were in addition the Croat regiments of Chack and Raab, which served at Rocroi (1643). Chémerault's Regiment at Lens (1648) may have been Croatian. There were, apparently, 3,000 German and Hungarian light horse serving with the French army in 1640, nearly 17% of the total cavalry establishment, and Louvois is said to have disbanded the same number at the conclusion of Franco-Spanish hostilities in 1656.

The actual representation of light horse in field armies was somewhat smaller, usually because of the participation of ephemeral units of battle cavalry (units of "volontaires," and of the ban and arriere-ban), plus in many instances the participation of foreign heavy cavalry (the Weimarians, etc.). Moreover, in actual battle, the light horse do not appear to have contributed in any important respect to the decision. Two cases illustrate these points.

In the Rocroi campaign the service of light cavalry and dragoons for the French army was performed by the Croat regiments of Chack and Raab and by the Fusilers à cheval (Aumale, 4:41). At the Battle of Rocroi the Croats were deployed "en fleche" with the Gardes de M. le Duc on the extreme right of the first line of cavalry of the right wing. Each of the Croat regiments was organized for combat as one squadron. The peculiar deployment of these units, in which the Croats and the Gardes were thrown forward of the main line of battle en echelon (to the left rear) suggests that they did not participate in the combat in the formal manner of the battle cavalry.

The Fusiliers à cheval were deployed on the extreme left of the first line of cavalry on the left wing. Likewise, they do not appear to have participated in the formal combat of the line of battle. Aumale describes them as being "en observation." The regiment of Fusiliers à cheval was organized for combat in two squadrons.

At Rocroi the French had 6-7,000 horse in 24 regiments and 7 independent companies. These were organized for combat in 32 squadrons, of which 4 were light horse or dragoons. If, as seems likely, the squadrons were of approximately equal strength, about 12.5% of Enghien's horse was light cavalry. (Depending on the total number of cavalry, the squadrons averaged 188 or 219 men, and the total of light cavalry was 750 or 875 troopers.)

At the Battle of Lens only 1 of 45 squadrons in the French order of battle can be positively identified as light horse. The unit was the squadron formed from the carabins, and it was deployed on the left flank of the first line of cavalry on the left wing. Again, if the cavalry squadrons were of approximately equal strength, the representation of light horse in the army would have been just 2.2%. If the squadron formed by Chémerault's Regiment (right flank of the second line of cavalry of the left wing) was Croatian, which is possible, the percentage of light horse would have been 4.4.

Saturday, December 27, 2008


Continuing with our survey of French cavalry during the period of the Thirty Years' War and the later 17th c., we describe the chevau‑légers--initially poor relations of the gendarmes, they later came to predominate among battle cavalry.

The chevau‑légers (light horse) made up the bulk of the French line cavalry. The name seems a misnomer, since the chevau‑légers were cuirassiers, not really "light cavalry," but it was a holdover from the 16th Century, when the chevau‑légers were indeed "light," at least compared to the more heavily armed and armored gendarmes whom they supported in combat.

Until 1635 the chevau‑légers were organized in companies, usually of 100 maîtres (since the troopers were gentlemen), commanded by a captain, who was assisted by a lieutenant and a cornet (i.e., a standard‑bearer). In 1634 alone, with war imminent, 91 100-man companies were formed (list in Choppin, 100).

On 16/26 May 1635 a royal ordinance prescribing the formation of cavalry regiments was promulgated. Initially, 12 French regiments were formed, and three foreign corps, which were already organized as regiments, were taken into French service. The French regiments were created by redesignating the 12 oldest compa­nies of chevau‑légers, the "compagnies d'anciennes ordon­nances," as regiments. All the captains of the old companies, save one, were named mestres de camp of the new regiments. The other companies, and there were a multitude of them, were assigned to one of the new regiments. The average regiment would appear to have had an assigned strength of 600 troopers in 6 companies, although some authors state that the regiments formed at this time had 12 companies.

The French regiments formed, with the dates of their disband­ment shown in parentheses next to their names, were:

Sourdis (1636)
Sauveboeuf (1636)
Chaulnes (1636)
La Meilleraye (1661)
Canillac (1661)
Treillis (1657)
Matignon (1636)
Le Ferron (1636)
Castellan (1661)
Guiche (1661)
Nanteuil (1636)
Anguien (1650)

Two of the foreign corps taken into French service at this time were units that had formerly served the Duke of Savoy. The other was the Franco‑German cavalry regiment of the remarkable French soldier‑adventurer Jean de Gassion. Gassion, who had served Gustavus Adolphus and Bernhard of Saxe‑Weimar as a cavalry­man, commanded a regiment of 1,400 men, organized from 12 companies of horse and 2 companies of dragoons. All the horse were well‑mounted, with pot helm and cuirass.

It should be noted that this was a very large regiment by the standards of the time, and we may infer that Gassion had benefited from his position as a favorite of the Swedish king. In 1638, the regiment was with the army of Maréchal Chatillon; at that time it had a strength of 1,700 troopers in 16 companies (and Gassion had found a new patron in Richelieu).

The new regimental organization was meant to bring the cavalry more effectively under the control of the central government by diminishing the privileges of the captains, which had been much abused, and by diminishing too the number of units. However, it proved very difficult to persuade the heretofore independent captains to obey the new mestres de camp. For example, at the camp of Drouay in Picardy in 1636, an insubor­dinate captain quarreled violently with his mestre de camp Canillac in front of the troops. Swords were drawn, and it was only with difficulty that the Duke of Soissons was able to intervene to stop the fighting.

The recalcitrance of the captains forced the government to rethink its policy on regimenting the cavalry, and for a brief period, beginning in 1636, the ordinance was revoked and the companies were recon­stituted. However, on 24 July 1638, the regimental organization was again adopted--this time for good. At this time there were 36 600-man regiments.

An ordinance of 24 February 1647 incorporated the foreign regiments into the French army, ending the exalted privileges of the Weimarian colonels. At that time there were 68 cavalry regiments, of which 12 were foreign.

In 1654, the strength of the company was fixed at 46 troopers, and that of the squadron at 96. Thus, a squadron formed for battle in three ranks would present a front of 30 files.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Gendarmes d'Ordonnance

The line cavalry of the French army at the time of the Thirty Years' War and during the late 17th century included three types: gendarmes; chevau-légers (also called cavalerie=cavalry); and carabins (also called cavalerie légère=light cavalry). This post describes the first of these types.

Gendarmes d'Ordonnance

The gendarmerie of France was the most ancient corps of line cavalry in Europe, and as such it had the precedence of all other French line cavalry. The corps had been established by King Charles VII in 1445 and had existed continuously since. However, the gendarmes of the Thirty Years' War little resembled their ancestors. They were still organized in companies, as they would remain until their disbandment, but they had abandoned the lance in 1605 and were no longer armored "cap à pie." In fact, they had become pistoleers, armed and armored in all respects like the more common chevau‑légers.

The gendarmerie had suffered terribly in the Religious‑Civil Wars and was further reduced in the disbandment of 1598. Purposely neglected by Henry IV, the companies dwindled. In 1602 there were only 200 gendarmes, in two compani­es‑‑the Queen's and the Dauphin's. On the other hand, this pathetically small number did represent 12 per cent of France's line cavalry. In 1640, at the height of the Thirty Years' War, there were 2,338, representing 13% of the line cavalry.

Captains of the gendarme companies were nominated by the king. The recipients were invariably grand seigneurs--princes, dukes, and other nobles. One reads frequently in the biographical notices of the great military men of the period that they were, inter alia, "captain of 100 [or so, the number varied] gendarmes." Of course, very few of these captains actually took the field with their company in our period. Companies in the field were commanded by lieutenants.

The gendarmes were essentially cuirassiers, but they were not heavily armored like their predecessors. Armor for the thighs and arms (cuissards and brassards) generally had not survived the reign of Henry III, and during the reign of Louis XIV the casque, the cuirass, and the gantelets were gradually abandoned. But this did not occur until after the Thirty Years' War. Bellon, writing in 1641, stated that the defensive armor of the French horse consisted of cuirass (proof against the arquebus), tassets, genouilleres, hausse-col, brassarts, gantelets, and salade with visor (cited in Ambert, 1:306). Still, cavalrymen had to be kept in armor by royal decree, an ordinance of 1638 stipulating that gentlemen had to have defensive armor under pain of degradation.

Louis XIV abolished nearly all the gendarme companies after the Treaty of the Pyrenees (1659), permitting companies only to the princes. The corps recovered only gradually afterward. By 1700 there were 16 companies.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008


I think I first encountered this term in George Gush's venerable and much-beloved Renaissance Armies. (Yes, on checking, there he is, page 51.) It always struck me as quite strange, language-wise, not least because it's practically unpronounceable for a native English-speaker. Moreover, I could never find it in any halfway decent Spanish-English dictionary, and I always wondered about its etymology. Not to worry -- after foraging in Google Books, I was able to pin it down.

This was a Spanish term for reiter-type heavy cavalry. According to contemporary sources, they were German cavalry, not necessarily Spanish. The name probably came from the application of the Spanish term for a short coat with a collar but no cape (herreruélo or ferreruélo) to the armor worn by the reiters. This armor, according to Nuñez de Alba (Dialogos del soldado) first appeared in 1547 in the Schmalkaldic War. The Titian portrait of the Emperor Charles V in his “Mühlberg harness” is a good example of this armor (at least as worn by a wealthy warrior). The armor worn in the portrait consists of: back- and breastplates; taces; tassets; gorget; espaliers reaching to the elbow over mail sleeves; gauntlets; and morion. The emperor is armed with a javelin and a pistol.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Worth Reading: C. V. Wedgewood

When and how I came to acquire my paperback copy of C. V. (Cicely Veronica) Wedgwood’s The Thirty Years War is lost in memory. I suppose it must’ve been sometime in the late Sixties, since it’s a Doubleday Anchor edition, dated 1961, and it’s not likely I’d have bought it in high school. I must say, it’s held up quite well binding-wise, and the pages are very little yellowed. So it’s still robust and presentable, unlike many of its compeers.

As elegantly and engagingly written as it is, it’s not a book one reads straight through. The sheer scope of the subject and the breath-taking erudition of the author, which must be savored in small dollops, forbid that. That’s probably why it’s been my chosen companion over the years on required forays into the time-wasting, mind-numbing world of various state bureaucracies, not to mention travel near and far.

I returned to the book recently and noticed that I’d tabbed Wedgwood’s comments on her approach to the subject and to the place of war in human history. Her remarks, written in 1956, seem particularly apposite today.

Many of my generation who grew up under the shadow of the First World War had a sincere, if mistaken, conviction that all wars are unnecessary and useless. I no longer think that all wars are unnecessary; but some are, and I still think that the Thirty Years War was one of these. It need not have happened and it settled nothing worth settling. No doubt it assured the replacement of Spain by France as the dominating power in Western Europe, an event of some importance in the history of the western world. But the same result might have been achieved without a generation of war among the Germans who were only indirectly concerned in the matter at all. Several statesmen of genius outside Germany from time to time dominated the course of the war; no statesman of genius inside Germany appeared to put a stop to it. The dismal course of the conflict, dragging on from one decade to the next and from one deadlock to the next, seems to me an object lesson on the dangers and disasters which can arise when men of narrow hearts and little minds are in high places.