Origin and History
Charles VIII had been the first King of France who, in 1486, took German lansquenets in his service. Since that time and until the Revolution, there has always been German troops in the French Army. After the death of Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden, in 1635, all German regiments of his army were taken in the French service.
At the end of the Thirty Years' War, in 1648, Louis XIV was king of France since five years under the regency of his mother Anne and of Cardinal Mazarin. By the Treaty of Westphalia, the Holy Roman Empire ceded the Landgraviates of Upper and Lower-Alsace to France. However, this new French province spoke German and counted a very important Protestant community. The principle establishing that the religion of subjects must be the same as the one of their prince led to new persecutions against protestants and to forced conversions. Furthermore, the question of suzerainty left open by the ambiguity of the Treaty of Westphalia did not appease tensions. The sovereignty of the king of France was largely contested by the towns and the nobility who wanted to maintain their privileges and the emperor's authority. To make things more complicated, several German princes, among which the Landgrave of Hesse-Darmstadt and the Count of Hanau-Lichtenberg, still owned fiefs in Alsace.
Immediately after the Thirty Years' War, Mazarin had to face insurrections from the parliament and from the nobility. These troubles known as Frondes lasted till 1653.
On April 16, 1656, a treaty was signed between the king of France and Jean Louis de Nassau-Weilburg, Comte de Nassau-Ottweiler and Comte de Nassau-Saarbrück for the creation of Alsace Infanterie. However, even though the regiment wore the name of a province, it was not considered a provincial regiment. In fact, throughout the “Ancien Régime”, it was considered a foreign German regiment owned by its successive colonels.
From 1656, the regiment was involved in the last years of the Franco-Spanish War (1635–59), taking part in the siege of La Capelle. In 1657, it initially assumed garrison duties in Landrecies. It was then assigned to the escort of a convoy destined to the troops besieging Saint-Venant which was intercepted by a large cavalry corps. In the ensuing combat the regiment suffered heavy losses. In 1658, the regiment took part in the siege of Gravelines
After the Treaty of the Pyrenees, the regiment was increased to 20 companies on December 12, 1659 by the incorporation of “Broglie-Allemand Infanterie.”
In 1667, the Comte de Nassau ceded the regiment to his brother-in-law of the Birkenfeld-Zweibrücken (known as Birkenfeld-Deux-Ponts in France) branch of the House of Wittelsbach-Bayern whose members would command the regiment for more than 100 years until 1776. In December 1667, the first colonel of this house was Christian II de Birkenfeld, Comte palatin de Birkenfeld-Bischweiler.
In 1667, during the War of Devolution (1667–68), the regiment took part in the sieges of Tournai, Douai and Lille; in 1668, in the sieges of Dôle and Salins. It then assumed garrison duties in Arras.
In 1671, the regiment obtained the first prize in the contest organised at the camp of Dunkerque.
In 1672, at the outbreak of the Franco-Dutch War (1672–78), the regiment joined the army placed under the direct command of Louis XIV and took part in all sieges undertaken during this campaign. In 1673, the regiment took part in the siege of Maastricht. In 1674, its second battalion took part in the defence of Grave while its first battalion fought in the Battle of Seneffe. In 1675, the entire regiment took part in the capture of Dinant, Huy, Limbourg and Thuin; in 1676, in the siege of Condé, in the covering of the siege of Bouchain, in the siege of Aire and in the relief of Maastricht; in 1677, in the sieges of Valenciennes and Cambrai, and in the relief of Charleroi; in 1678, in the sieges of Ghent and Ypres, in the Battle of Saint-Denis; and in 1679, in the Combat of Minden.
In 1683, the regiment took part in the siege of Courtrai. In 1684, it was attached to the corps who covered the siege of Luxembourg.
In 1688, at the beginning of the Nine Years' War (1688–97), the regiment joined the Army of Flanders. In 1689, it campaigned in Flanders once more. In 1690, it was sent to Roussillon where it took part in the recapture of Saint-Jean de las Abadezas and Ripouilles, and in the blockade of Girona. It took its winter-quarters in Provence. In 1691, the regiment was transferred to the Army of the Alps and took part in the capture of Villefranche, Sant'Ospizio, Montalban, Nice, Veillane, Carmagnola and of the Castle of Montmélian. In 1692, two battalions campaigned in Italy while the third battalion was recalled to Flanders where it took part in the siege of the Castle of Namur. In 1693, the third battalion guarded Menin while the two other battalions served in Catalonia where they took part in the siege of Roses. In 1694, the entire regiment fought in the Battle of the Ter and took part in the siege of Palamos, in the capture of Girona, Ostalrich and Castelfollit, and in the defence of Palamos. In 1695, it took part in the relief of Castelfollit. In 1696, the regiment was increased to four battalions. It took part in the relief of Palamos. In May of the same year, the eldest son of Christian II, Christian III, Comte palatin de Birkenfeld-Bischweiler succeeded him at the head of the regiment (the latter would become Duc de Deux-Ponts in 1731). In 1697, the regiment was at the siege of Barcelona.
After the war, the regiment returned to France. On March 17, 1698, it incorporated the “Milices d'Alsace.”
In 1701, at the outbreak of the War of the Spanish Succession (1701-13), the regiment served in the Spanish Netherlands. In 1702, it took part in the affair of Nijmegen; in 1703, in the Battle of Ekeren; in 1705, in the defenced of the Lines near Elixhem; in 1706, in the Battle of Ramillies; in 1708, in the Battle of Oudenarde; in 1709, in the Battle of Malplaquet; in 1711, in the attack on Arleux; in 1712, in the Battle of Denain, in the siege of Marchiennes and in the capture of Douai, Le Quesnoy and Bouchain; and in 1713, in the siege and recapture of Landau and in the siege of Freiburg.
During the War of the Polish Succession, the regiment served on the Rhine in 1733 and 1735.
In 1734, Christian III ceded the regiment to his youngest son Frédéric Michel, Comte Palatin de Deux-Ponts-Birkenfeld and Comte de Rappolstein, who was only 10 years old.
During the War of the Austrian Succession, the regiment initially served in Bavaria in 1741 where Frédéric Michel, assumed effective service. In 1742, it was part of the French army which captured Prague. In 1743, its colonel, Frédéric Michel, was promoted maréchal de camp. In 1744, the regiment was stationed in Alsace and in 1746 on the Sarre. In 1747 and 1748, it served in Flanders.
In July 1752, Frédéric Michel ceded the regiment to his eldest son Charles-Auguste, Prince Palatin de Deux-Ponts, aged 6 and too young to assume command.
The regiment counted three battalions.
During the Seven Years' War, the regiment ranked 36th and was under the command of:
- since July 4 1752 to November 12 1770: Christian Prince de Deux-Ponts
On January 18 1760, when the German Infantry was reorganised, the regiment incorporated the disbanded Bergh Infanterie which counted a single battalion. Thus, the regiment total strength was brought to 4 battalions.
Service during the War
In 1757, the regiment was supposed to be part of the Auxiliary Corps that should be sent to support Austria. Events in Germany changed this initial plan and the regiment was sent to the Army of the Lower Rhine. From April 27 to June 17, the regiment was part of the Reserve under the Prince de Soubise. On July 26, the regiment was at the Battle of Hastenbeck where it formed part of the right wing under d'Armentières. It attacked a strong redoubt at the outskirt of a forest where one of its captains captured 8 guns and 2 howitzers. After the victory, the regiment was part of the vanguard under the Duc de Richelieu in charge of the conquest of Hanover. In August, it took part in engagements at Rotheburg and Otterberg. On September 3, it was ordered to move to Kloster-Zeven, along with all the grenadiers. On September 4, it was at the combat of Bevern. After the Convention of Kloster-Zeven on September 8, it followed the main body, led by the Maréchal de Richelieu, who encamped at Halberstadt from September 28 to November 5. The regiment was placed in the centre of the second line. When the Allies repudiated the Convention of Kloster-Zeven, the regiment advanced against them and took part in an engagement at Vegesach. It also participated in the capture of Bremen where it finally took its winter-quarters in the first line of the French army.
At the end of January 1758, the regiment was once more assigned to the corps destined for Bohemia to assist Austria. However, in February when Ferdinand of Brunswick launched his winter offensive in West Germany, the regiment retreated towards Düsseldorf and Deutz with the bulk of Broglie's Army. From March 30 to April 4, it was in the first line of Clermont's Army in the camp of Wesel on the Lower Rhine. It passed the Rhine on April 3 and 4. By July, it had joined Soubise's Army assembling near Friedberg in Hesse. On October 10, it was present at the Battle of Lutterberg where it was placed in the centre of the first line.
On April 13 1759, the regiment took part in the Battle of Bergen where it formed part of the second line of the right wing under the command of Prince Camille de Lorraine. The regiment was deployed in column behind the village of Bergen. On August 1, it also took part in the Battle of Minden.
By May 23 1760, the regiment was part of the left reserve of the first line of Broglie's Army, placed under the command of Saint-Germain. On June 17, the regiment was part of a small division, under M. de Leyde, who reached Düsseldorf, on its way to join Saint-Germain. On July 4, as part of d'Auvet's Division, it reconnoitred the area of Arnsberg. On July 31, the regiment was attached to the Corps of Maréchal-de-Camp de la Morlière posted at Welda 6 km to the south of Warburg in support of de Muy. On October 3, Ségur's Corps (including this regiment) was dispatched towards Hachenburg and Cologne. On July 31, the regiment took part in the Battle of Warburg where it was deployed in the first line of the left wing. On October 13, the regiment arrived at Neuss with Castries. On 16 October, it played an active role in the Battle of Clostercamp where it was posted in the first line of the left wing who bore the brunt of the attack of the Allies. At the end of October, the regiment, who had heavily suffered at Clostercamp, was sent back to France.
To do: details for the campaigns from 1761 to 1762
The États militaires of 1758-1759-1760-1761-1762 and La Chesnaye in 1758 all describe the blue uniform illustrated below. Furthermore, the plates in the manuscript of 1757 kept at the Musée de l'armée and in Raspe's publication of 1761 both depict a similar uniform. However, Taccoli's plate dating from 1760 illustrates a white uniform (white collarless coat, white waistcoat and breeches, and red cuffs, lapels and lining, white buttons, horizontal pockets, silver laced tricorne with a white cockade).
This could be a simple mistake in Taccoli's work but the same type of problem arises with Royal Deux-Ponts Infanterie. This tends to suggest that, in some German regiments in the French service, a blue and a white uniforms have been in use during the Seven Years' War.
After the battle of Clostercamp in October 1760, Alsace Infanterie was among the decimated regiments and had to retire to Cologne to replenish its ranks. It would not be combat ready before the campaign of 1762. Could the white uniform be a temporary uniform attributed to the new recruits raised in German territory because blue uniforms were not available at that time? After all, we know that Alsace Infanterie belonged to the nephew of the Duc de Deux-Ponts, just a child in 1757 when his uncle the duke raised Royal Deux-Ponts Infanterie for the French service. Until 1761, this latter regiment had a white uniform with red distinctives. It then changed to a blue uniform after 1761.
Considering these facts, the temporary existence of a white uniform for Alsace Infanterie seems very possible.
|Coat||blue lined red with 2 pewter buttons below each lapel
|Waistcoat||white with pewter buttons|
Armaments consisted of a musket and a bayonet. Fusiliers carried a sword (brass hilt) while the grenadiers had a sabre.
The drummers of the regiment wore the livery of the house of Deux-Ponts.
Colonel colour: white field with a white cross.
Ordonnance colours: a white cross, their first and fourth cantons were red, their second and third green. These ordonnance flags remained unchanged from 1656 to 1791.
This article incorporates texts from the following books, which are now in the public domain:
- Susane, Louis: Histoire de l'ancienne infanterie française, J. Corréard, Paris, 1849-1856, Tome 5, pp. 373-384, 396
- Pajol, Charles P. V.: Les Guerres sous Louis XV, vol. VII, Paris, 1891
Anon.: Manuscript Troupes du Roi, Infanterie française et étrangère, année 1757, tome I"; Musée de l'Armée, Paris
Funcken, Liliane and Fred: Les uniformes de la guerre en dentelle
Menguy, Patrice: Les Sujets du Bien Aimé (a website which is unfortunately not online anymore)
Mouillard, Lucien: Les Régiments sous Louis XV, Paris, 1882
Rogge, Christian: The French & Allied Armies in Germany during the Seven Years War, Frankfurt, 2006
Rohan Chabot, Alix de: Le Maréchal de Belle Isle ou la revanche de Foucquet, Perrin, Paris, 2005
Service historique de l'armée de terre: Archives du génie, article 15, section 1, §5, pièce 23
Taccoli, Alfonso: Teatro Militare dell' Europa, Part 1, vol. 2; Madrid, March 1760
Vial, J. L.: Nec Pluribus Impar
N.B.: the section Service during the War is mostly derived from our articles depicting the various campaigns, battles and sieges.
Jean-Louis Vial for the additional information on the origins of the regiment and on its uniforms