French infantry regiments

Scroll down for the list of individual French infantry regiments

Thumb of French infantry regiments founded before 1684 Thumb of French infantry regiments founded 1684-1700 Thumb of French infantry regiments founded 1701-1703

Origin of the French infantry regiments

It's useful to say something here about how the French regiments came into existence. According to Daniel1) the foundation of the first regiments took place during the reign of Henri II (1519-1559). He started out with 'vieilles bandes' (old companies), which were called 'vieux corps' when combined in battle, and 'nouvelles bandes' (new companies) a designation for troops which had been raised recently or by Henry II himself2).

During his reign he then formed 'legions' from the nouvelles bandes in 1558. These 'legions' were in fact provincial militia regiments raised in a province and consisted of inhabitants of the province. The situation did however create a lot of confusion for historians because it led to legions and regiments of the same name. One can therefore be tempted to consider the 'Legion Picardie' to be the same as the Picardie regiment, but this was not the case. For the history of the regiments of Louis XIV the legions of Henry II and François I should be disregarded.

Royal regiments, régiments gentilhommes and the king's units

There was a distinction between royal regiments and régiments gentilhommes. The royal regiments were essentially owned by the state, and were therefore often named for a province. The régiments gentilhommes were owned by private individuals and therefore bore the names of their owners. Some units were owned by the king himself as colonel.

Les Vieux Corps

From the abovementioned 'vieilles bandes' Henry II formed regiments that were also designated as regiments. Other regiments that were designated as such were raised by the nobility. Four of these regiments which could trace back their history to the time of Henry II were called 'Les Vieux Corps' together with two others. The Vieux Corps were:

Les Petis Vieux

Les Petits Vieux were those regiments which ranked right after Les Vieux Corps. We have to look for the origins of the Petits Vieux in the years after 1601 when all regiments except the four oldest of the Vieux Corps were disbanded. Of course new ones were raised in the years following 1601 and the ancestors of les Petits Vieux have to be sought among these. When Louis XIII became king most of the existing troops were disbanded again except for the four oldest regiments and some others. These became known as the Petits Vieux and got the privilege of not being disbanded after a war. Later on the Regiment du Roy became one of them too. These are the regiments of les Petits Vieux:

Other French infantry regiments part 1; 119 battalions founded before 1684

We now get to the rest of the French infantry regiments. Some of the most famous deserve to be mentioned here:

Other French infantry regiments part 2; 133 battalions founded before 1684

In 1684 a great expansion and reorganization of the French army started. These are the regiments founded from 1684-1700.

Post 1700 regiments:

Regiment d'Aunis

The Regiment d'Aunis was created in 1684. In 1704 it fought in the Battle of Blenheim. The Aunis regiment was disbanded in 174850.

21 Foreign infantry regiments

The French army did have a lot of foreign troops and some regiments that had a foreign origin. Here we're concerned with the regiments that were really composed of foreigners. First among these were the Swiss regiments, which could also include other nationalities. In the battle of Oudenaarde the French advance Guard included 7 Swiss battalions.

Regiment De Chandieu Villars

The oldest of the Swiss regiments was that of Villars. It had been levied by the Bern Canton in 1671100. Its first colonel was Jean Jaques d'Erlach (1628-1694). In 1673 the Erlach regiment participated in the Siege of Maastricht100b. In 1674 the Erlach regiment fought at Seneffe where it suffered heavy losses. In 1684 Erlach became a Roman Catholic. This meant that he was expulsed from the patriciate of Berne, and should thus have lost the regiment because membership of this patriciate was a condition for commanding the regiment. Erlach then became a patrician of Freiburg, and in spite of the treaty by which the regiment had been raised he retained it till his death. Erlach was succeeded by Albert Manuel (1640- 4 January 1701). Manuel became lieutenant-colonel of the regiment in 1690 and commanded it in the Catalonian campaigns of 1691-1693. In 1694 Manuel became its colonel and defended Catell-Folit in that capacity.

The Protestant Captain Charles de Chandieu Villars from Lausanne in Bern Canton (1659- 10 April 1728) became colonel of Manuel's on 18 January 1701100c. This was again a violation of the treaty because the colonel should have been chosen from the officers of the regiment, and at that time De Chandieu Villars was a captain in the Swiss Guard. As a consequence the Bern Canton refused to supply recruits to the colonel's company during the War of the Spanish Succession and only recognized De Chandieu Villars's command in 1715. In 1788 this was the Ernest regiment.

Regiment Brendlé, previously Vieux Stuppa

The second Swiss regiment was levied in February 1672101. Its first commander was Pierre Stuppa from the County of Chiavenna (1620- 6 January 1701). Under his command the regiment participated in the 1672 invasion of the United Provinces. In 1674 the regiment participated in the Battle of Seneffe101b. On 10 October 1685 Pierre Stuppa became colonel of the Swiss Guard, but retained this regiment. It was given to Jost Brendlé of Oberwyl (1642-1738) on 17 January 1701101c. In 1788 it was the regiment Salis de Samade.

Regiment Castellas

The third Swiss regiment was levied in 1672102. Its first colonel was Rudolph Baron de Salis de Zizers (? - 16 October 1690). On 18 November 1690 Salis was succeeded by Jean Polier from Lausanne Bern Canton, who had been colonel of another Swiss regiment up till that moment. On 3 August 1692 Colonel Polier was killed in the Battle of Steenkerque. Polier was succeeded by François de Reynold from Freiburg, who quitted his place of lieutenant-colonel of the Gardes Suisses on 30 September 1692. On 25 June 1702 Reynold left the regiment to become colonel of the Swiss Guard and was succeeded by François Albert de Castellas from Freiburg. Castellas was also lieutenant-colonel of the Gardes Suisses. He succeeded in retaining that position and the attached company till his death on 4 August 1722. In 1788 it was the regiment of Sonnenberg from Luzern.

Regiment de Pfyffer

The fourth Swiss regiment was levied in 1672103. Its first colonel was François Pfyffer seigneur de Wyher. Pfyffer died on 17 November 1689. He was succeeded on 20 December 1689 by Gabriel Hessy from Glarus Canton. Hessy had been lieutenant-colonel of the Vieux Stuppa regiment up till then. Gabriel Hessy died on 21 November 1729. In 1788 this was Rodolphe Castellas regiment.

Regiment de Greder Suisse

The fifth Swiss regiment was levied in 1673104. One company was levied in Bern, 5 were levied by the Catholic cantons, the 'Ligues Grises' one, the Vallais one and Geneva two. Its first colonel was Wolfgang Greder, who held it from 18 December 1673 till 15 January 1691. On 15 January 1691 he relegated it to his second son Louis Greder, up till then major of the regiment. On 4 February 1703 Louis Greder died. He left the regiment to his younger brother Balthasar Greder. On 28 February 1703 Balthasar, who had up till been lieutenant-colonel of the German Greder regiment, held by the older brother François Greder, became colonel of this regiment.

In an order of battle projected on 10 May 1707 there is indeed a Greder regiment of 3 battalions and a 'Greder allemand' regiment of 2 battalions104b. On 14 December 1714 Balthasar died. On 22 December 1714 he was succeeded by François d'Affry. In 1788 it was the François Robert de Vigier regiment.

Regiment de Surbeck

The sixth Swiss regiment was levied in 1677105. Its first colonel was Jean Baptiste Stuppa, a younger brother of the 'old' Stuppa. At first this regiment was however not created by a treaty with Swiss authorities, but by uniting 8 free companies into a regiment. On 9 April 1677 the regiment went to aid the Sicilian uprising. In April 1678 it returned to Toulon and then campaigned on the Rhine. In 1679 it was enhanced by a third batallion formed of a Freiburg company, a Neufchatel caompany and two Grisons. During 1680 and 1681 all these companies were acknowledged by their constituant cantons.

On 23 August 1692 Jean Baptiste Stuppa died from wounds received at Steenkerque. On 16 October 1692 he was succeeded by Jean Jacques de Surbeck, up till then colonel of a German regiment. Surbeck died on 5 May 1714. On 8 May 1714 Jean Jacques d'Hemmel, up till then Lieutenant-colonel became colonel of the regiment. In 1788 it was the Jaques André Marquis de Lullin de Chateauvieux from Geneva regiment.

Regiment de May

The seventh Swiss regiment was levied in 1689106. In December 1689 a treaty was made with the Catholic cantons, Appenzell, the Grisons and Vallais for twenty new companies of 200 men each. Twelve of those were made into a regiment for Jean Baptiste Baron de Salis de Soglio, who became the first colonel of this regiment on 22 December 1689. In order to distinguish it from the other Salis regiment it was designated Young Salis. Salis de Soglio died on 24 January 1702. On 15 February 1702 he was succeeded by Jean Rudolphe de May from Bern, up till then Lieutenant-colonel of the (later) Chandieu-Villars regiment. On 27 May 1715 May died and on 28 May he was succeeded by Amy Buisson from Geneva. In 1788 it was regiment of the Comte de Diesbach.

Regiment de Courten

The eight Swiss regiment came into existance in 1690. The fact that it was said to have been raised in 1689107 or 1690107b was caused by the fact that it was raised on account of a February 1690 treaty. On account of this treaty King Louis combined four companies which had been raised in 1689 into one regiment with all the other Vallais companies then in French service107c.

On 16 February 1690 Jean Etienne de Courten (1651- 26 February 1723) became the first colonel of the regiment. In 1788 it was still the Courten regiment, held by a family member of the first colonel.

Regiment de Louis Pfyffer

The ninth Swiss regiment had been raised in Luzern in 1702 under Louis de Pfyffer seigneur de Wyher108. It was disbanded in 1715.

Notes

1) Histoire de la Milice Françoise tome II page 330 For this difficult subject.
2) Histoire de la Milice Françoise tome II page 352 says the vieilles bandes dated from the first years of the reign of François I or before and the nouvelles bandes were disbanded after a war.
50) Histoire de l'ancienne infanterie française volume IV, page 324 for a note about this Aunis regiment.
100) Histoire Militaire de la Suisse tome VI by M. May de Romainmotier, Lausanne 1788, page 54 for the regiment oldest Swiss regiment.
100b) Histoire Militaire de la Suisse tome VI, page 95 for the participation in the siege of Maastricht.
100c) Dangeau under 15 January 1701 states that the Protestant Captain of the first company of the Swiss Guard got this regiment.
101) Histoire Militaire de la Suisse tome VI, page 54 for the second Swiss regiment.
101b) Histoire Militaire de la Suisse tome VI, page 100 for actions of this regiment under Stuppa's command.
101c) Dangeau under 15 January 1701 states that the king gave Brendlé the Stoppa regiment and that is ranked second.
102) Histoire Militaire de la Suisse tome VI, page 54 for the third Swiss regiment.
103) Histoire Militaire de la Suisse tome VI, page 54 for the fourth Swiss regiment.
104) Histoire Militaire de la Suisse tome VI, page 54 for the fifth Swiss regiment.
104b) Pelet tome 7 page 298, Projet de l'ordre de bataille de l'infanterie et de la cavalerie, le 10 Mai 1707 for the two Greder regiments.
105) Histoire Militaire de la Suisse tome VI, page 54 for the sixth Swiss regiment.
106) Histoire Militaire de la Suisse tome VI, page 55 for the seventh Swiss regiment.
107) Histoire Militaire de la Suisse tome VI, page 55 for the eight Swiss regiment.
107b) Histoire Militaire de la Suisse tome VI, page 122 for the Courten regiment having been established in 1690.
107c) Histoire Militaire de la Suisse tome VI, page 122 for the combination of all the Vallais companies into one regiment.
108) Histoire Militaire de la Suisse tome VI, page 55 for the ninth Swiss regiment.