The French Household Regiments

La Maison du Roy

Louis XIV was the first to turn his bodyguard into a separate part of the armed forces. Here it's called La Maison du Roy, but that's in fact short for La Maison Militaire du Roy. In civilian use 'La Maison du Roy' meant the gigantic organization that was the royal household of France.

Just like the Guards in England the Maison du Roy was an elite force. In general one could expect these troops to be more effective than regular troops and in many descriptions of engagements these troops are mentioned conspicuously. This is the list of French Household troops:

The French Household regiments on 1 January 1703.

The Gardes du Corps

The four companies of the Gardes des Corps were the oldest household cavalry units. Each numbered 360 men without counting the officers, meaning that each company was larger than a regular cavalry regiment. In total the four companies of the Gardes du corps numbered 1,523 men. They outranked all other army parts and while in battle they held the extreme right. Each was commanded by a captain and though the Scotch outranked the other three on grounds of anciennity, amongst themselves the others only ranked by the date of the appointment of their captain.

Amongst the Gardes du Corps the first and oldest was the company of the Scotch Guards. It had been instituted by Charles VII somewhere between 1453 and 1461 1). By our time there were however very few Scotsmen in the company. The elite part of this company was formed by 24 men called the Gardes de la Manche, who were commanded by the 'Premier homme d'armes de France, a title with little content at the time.

The first French company of Gardes du Corps was originally a company of a hundred noblemen with two hundred archers founded in 1474. After the noblemen were discharged in 1475 only 200 archers were left. These were then called the La petite garde du corps du Roy to distinguish them from a corps of 100 noble lancers. In 1479 a company of 100 archers was created as the second French company of Gardes du Corps by Louis XI. The third French company of Gardes du Corps was also instituted as a company of archers, but this time François I was the founder in 1515. One would suspect these Gardes du Corps to be foot soldiers, but they indeed served on horseback while in the field and as foot soldiers while on guard.

Up till the reign of Louis XIV these four companies of Gardes du Corps numbered a hundred men each, but then this changed. Somewhere around 1667 the Gardes du Corps are mentioned as containing about 300-400 noblemen each, a number that would finally stabilize at 360 maitres each. In battle these each fielded two squadrons2

The Grenadiers a Cheval

The Grenadiers à Cheval were founded by Louis XIV in December 1676. After the peace of Rijswijk they counted 150 maitres. The task of the Grenadiers à cheval often consisted in clearing the terrain for the passage of the Gardes du Corps, which they also did during sieges. Unlike the Gardes du Corps they often fought on foot. Their position in battle was to the right of the Scottish Guard and they were usually under the command of the commander of the Gardes du Corps. In battle they formed one squadron3

La Compagnie des Gendarmes de la Garde

La Compagnie des Gendarmes de la Garde or simply 'les Gendarmes de la Garde' or in English: 'the company of Gendarmes' has to be distinguished from the Gendarmerie. Les Gendarmes de la Garde were a company that was brought under the command of the Dauphin in 1609 by Henry IV (1553-1610). Originally it was not a part of the king's bodyguard, but simply a company of the most distinguished noblemen of the realm, but when Louis XIII became king he continued as its captain. This also meant that the company became a part of the bodyguard, because this was the reason Louis XIII had for continuing as its captain. It counted 200 men and was commanded by a captain-lieutenant. Originally it had precedence over the Gardes du Corps but it lost this under Louis XIV.

La Compagnie des Chevaux-Legers de la Garde du Roy

The company of Chevaux-Legers was a company that already existed when Henry IV made it a part of his household troops somewhere before December 1593. If I understand it well it also claimed that it came from Navarre 4). The Chevaux-Legers numbered 200 men without its senior officers and the king was its captain. It ranked after the Gendarmes de la Garde, but before the Mousquetaires.

The two companies of mousquetaires de la Garde du Roy

Because of the three musketeers the mousquetaires de la Garde du Roy are the most famous of the King's troops. They were composed of young nobles and petty nobility. In these musketeer companies these young noblemen learned to be soldiers before they went to serve as officers in other army parts. Just like other parts of the household troops the musketeers fought on horseback as well as on foot, and this of course creates confusion because one does not expect a musketeer to be on horseback. The first company of musketeers was founded in 1622 by Louis XIII, but it was later disbanded and re-established in 1657. In 1660 a company under the command of Cardinal Mazarin became the second company of musketeers. From 1668 onward each company numbered 250 men and the king was captain of both. It seems that each company of musketeers fielded one squadron5).

Regiment des Gardes Françoises

Some of the abovementioned parts of the Maison du Roy sometimes fought on foot, but can all be considered to have been cavalry units because they did have horses. The French Guard regiment was the first infantry unit of the royal household and also the highest ranking infantry unit of the French army. It had been founded in 1563 or 15646) and unlike the cavalry guard units its recruits were not drawn from the nobility. In February 1692 Boufflers officially took command of the French Guard, but after becoming captain of a Gardes du Corps company he left the charge in 1704. He was succeeded by the Duc de Guiche on 13 October 1704. The regiment had 30 regular companies and 2 grenadier companies. Each company contained 126 soldiers while the grenadiers had 110 making for a total of 4,000 men. I do not know if this includes the officers. In battle the French Guards usually took the center of the first line of infantry. In parades it was on the extreme right of the infantry.

On 19 May 1691 it was in camp near Hauterive and held its position in the center of the first line with four battalions7. In April-March 1691 it then participated in the siege of Mons with at least 5 battalions8. On 24 July 1692 it was near Namur with two battalions in the center of the first line9. In the battle of Steenkerque on 3 August 1692 the French Guards participated with probably four battalions10. On 26 May 1708 the French Guard was in camp at Soignies with 6 battalions11.

Regiment des Gardes Suisses

The Swiss Guard was a regiment that could trace its ancestry back to at least 1590. In 1615 it was first mentioned as a guard regiment and it was completed and functioning as such by 1616. By 1700 it numbered 12 companies of Swiss soldiers, but like elsewhere these were larger than French companies, so that the Swiss Guards could field four battalions. All companies were commanded by Swiss captains, but the 'general's' was commanded by a Frenchman. The traditional position of the Swiss Guards was in the first line just to the left of the French Guards.

On 10 October 1685 Pierra Stuppa (1620-1701) became colonel of the Swiss Guard12. On 19 May 1691 the Swiss Guard was in camp at Hauterive. Here it fielded two battalions which were in there traditional position to the left of the French Guards, while three more were in the second line13. In April-March 1691 it participated in the siege of Mons with three battalions14. On 24 July 1692 it was near Namur with two battalions in the first line and two in the second15. In the 3 August 1692 battle of Steenkerque it participated with at least two battalions, who were ranged to the left of the French Guard16. On 6 January 1701 Colonel Stoppa, called the old Stoppa died at age 8317. On 10 January 1701 he was succeeded by Wagner18.

From 25 June 1702 till 1721 the Swiss Guard was commanded by François Reynold of the Canton Fribourg19. On 26 May 1708 the Swiss guard was in camp at Soignies with three battalions20.

Les cent Suisses

'Les cent Suisses' or Hundred Swiss were first mentioned in 149621. The Cent Suisses were a kind of personal bodyguard of the king and this was especially true inside the palaces. Ordinarily the Cent Suisses were armed with halberds and very long swords with guilded ornaments. In case they took to the field with the king they were provided with rifles and sabres. They were commanded by the Capitaine Colonel des cent Suisses, who held a very esteemed post. As of 1692 the Cent Suisses were commanded by Michel François le Tellier Marquis de Courenveaux, second son of the Marquis de Louvoy. He died on 11 May 1721.

Notes

1) Histoire de la Milice Françoise tome II page 121. Most of the content about the composition of the French army is based on this book.
2) Histoire de la Milice Françoise tome II page 116 explicitly states that each company of the Gardes du Corps fielded two squadrons.
3) Histoire de la Milice Françoise tome II page 180 explicitly states that the grenadiers a cheval fielded one squadron.
4) Histoire de la Milice Françoise tome II page 198
5) Histoire de la Milice Françoise tome II page 213 seems to indicate that each company fielded one squadron by referring to: 'l'escadron de la seconde compagnie des mousquetaires'
6) Histoire de la Milice Françoise tome II page 260,261
7) See 'Campement welches Ihr. Konigl. Maj. bei Hauterive, den 19 Maij 1691gesteller haben. HStAM WHK 7/76.
8) See the map of the siege of Mons present in the DIGAM HStAM WHK7/72.
9) See Bataile formée par les François contre les Alliées devant Namur en Brabande le 24 Juillet 1692.
10) See Bataile formée par les François contre les Alliées près de Steinkerque en Braband en l'année 1693 (really 1692).
11) See Ordre de bataille sous son altesse le prince et Duc de Bourgogne au camp de Soigny le 26 May 1708, where the French Guards are in indeed in the center of the first line.
12) Histoire Militaire de la Suisse tome VI, page 101 for Stuppa's appointment.
13) See 'Campement welches Ihr. Konigl. Maj. bei Hauterive, den 19 Maij 1691gesteller haben. HStAM WHK 7/76.
14) See the map of the siege of Mons present in the DIGAM HStAM WHK7/72.
15) See Bataile formée par les François contre les Alliées devant Namur en Brabande le 24 Juillet 1692.
16) See Bataile formée par les François contre les Alliées près de Steinkerque en Braband en l'année 1693 (really 1692).
17) Mémoires de Marquis de Sourches under 6 January 1701 for the death of the old Stoppa.
18) Mémoires de Marquis de Sourches under 10 January 1701 for Wagner's appointment.
19) Histoire Militaire de la Suisse tome VI, page 452 for Reynold's appointment.
20) See Ordre de bataille sous son altesse le prince et Duc de Bourgogne au camp de Soigny le 26 May 1708.
21) Histoire Militaire de la Suisse tome VI by M. May de Romainmotier, Lausanne 1788, page 349 for the Cent Suisses.