Hierarchical Path: War of the Spanish Succession (Main Page) >> Armies >> French Army >> Alsace Infanterie
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 from 1648 to 1653.
On 16 April 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 consisting of 1,500 men in 12 companies. 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 12 December 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, 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 the 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 17 March 1698, it incorporated the Milices d'Alsace, raised on 8 October 1692.
By the time of the War of the Spanish Succession, the regiment counted four battalions.
During the War of the Spanish Succession, the regiment was commanded by:
- since 1 May 1696 until 10 March 1734: Christian III de Bavière, Comte palatin de Birkenfeld-Bischweiler
At the end of the War of the Spanish Succession, the regiment was reduced to two battalions.
Service during the War
By July 1701, the regiment served in the Spanish Netherlands where two of its battalions guarded the lines along the canal from Ghent to Bruges while the two others were posted behind the lines of Steeken in front of Hulst. By 3 October, its four battalions garrisoned Bruges. The regiment took its winter-quarters in Malines and Lierre.
By 22 April 1702, the regiment was attached to the French Army posted in Upper Guelderland. On 11 June, the regiment took part in the affair of Nijmegen.In September, the regiment was part of the army under the Maréchal de Boufflers which was encamped at Beringen near Limbourg in the Low Countries. The regiment took its winter-quarters in Namur.
In May 1703, the regiment was attached to Villeroy's Army. On 30 June, it fought in the Battle of Ekeren.
In 1704, the regiment campaigned on the Moselle under the command of the Maréchal de Villeroy. It sojourned in Landau to receive and protect the remnants of the Army of Bavaria and then returned to the Low Countries to relieve Namur.
On 18 July 1705, the regiment distinguished itself when the Allies broke into Villeroy's lines near Louvain. British troops having broken through the lines near Elsem, the Alsace Brigade was suddenly surrounded and charged by Marlborough's cavalry. The four battalions rapidly formed squares and opened a devastating fire on the enemy. They then orderly retreated without being broken.
On 23 May 1706, the regiment took part in the Battle of Ramillies.
On 11 July 1708, the regiment fought in the Battle of Oudenarde.
On 11 September 1709, the regiment took part in the Battle of Malplaquet where his lieutenant-colonel, M. de Steckemberg, was killed in action.
In 1711, the regiment took part in the attack upon Arleux.
On 24 July 1712, the regiment fought in the Battle of Denain where it distinguished itself. It then took part in the siege of Marchiennes and in the capture of Douai, Le Quesnoy and Bouchain.
In 1713, the regiment was transferred to the Army of Germany. It first took part in the siege and recapture of Landau. For its conduct during this siege the regiment received an letter of congratulations written personally by King Louis XIV. It then marched to Freiburg to participate in the siege of the place. On 14 October, it was among the regiments at the head of the columns of attack, being charged of the attack on the left. It debouched at two places in good order on the covert way. A lively artillery and musket fire from the place did not stop its grenadiers from sawing the palisades. The rest of the regiment then rushed in the opened passages and engaged in a terrible combat. The defenders contested each meter but were gradually driven back into a parade on the left and almost completely exterminated. In this attack, the regiment lost four captains and 683 men. The Maréchal de Villars wanted to exempt the regiment from service for the rest of the siege but officers and soldiers, represented by Lieutenant-Colonel de Monera, who had done wonder, asked to share peril and fatigue with the other corps.
|Coat||turquin blue lined red with pewter buttons on the right side and 1 pewter button on each side in the small of the back
|Waistcoat||white with pewter buttons (turquin blue as per Funcken)|
|Stockings||red (white as per Funcken) fastened under the knee with a natural leather strap|
|Gaiters||none at the beginning of the war, white later|
Armaments consisted of a musket and a bayonet. Fusiliers carried a sword (brass hilt) while the grenadiers had a sabre.
Illustrating the uniform of the regiment circa 1720, Marbot depicts a turquin blue uniform with copper buttons; no lapels; horizontal pockets, each with 5 buttons; red cuffs, each with 3 buttons; a red waistcoat with copper buttons; and red breeches.
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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 colours 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
Funcken, Liliane and Fred: Les uniformes de la guerre en dentelle, p. 55
Lemau de la Jaisse, P.: Abregé de la Carte Générale du Militaire de France, Paris, 1734, p. 112
Lienhart, Constant; Humbert, René: Les Uniformes de l'Armée Française de 1690 à 1894, Vol. III, Leipzig 1899 – 1902
Marbot, Alfred de and E. Dunoyer de Noirmont: Les uniformes de l'armée française, T1 "1439 à 1789"
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.