Bretagne Infanterie

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Hierarchical Path: War of the Spanish Succession (Main Page) >> Armies >> French Army >> Bretagne Infanterie

Origin and History

Ensign of Bretagne Infanterie circa 1715 - Courtesy of The New York Public Library

The regiment was created in Germany on 4 February 1644 by the Cardinal Mazarin. It was initially designated as “Mazarin-Français” and consisted of 2,500 men in 30 companies. Soldiers came from the remnants of regiments who had been decimated at Rothweil, including two regiments from Bretagne who had belonged to the Maréchal de Guébriand and to the Marquis de Castelnau-Mauvissière.

In 1644, the regiment served under Turenne and took part in the Battle of Freiburg and in the capture of Philisbourg, Landau, Worms, Spires, Mainz and the Castle of Kreutznach. In 1645, it participated in the Battle of Mariendhal and in the Battle of Nördlingen; in 1646, in the capture of Schorndorf. It was then transferred to Flanders where it took part in the sieges of Mardyck and Dunkerque. In 1647, the regiment, then counting 15 companies, was reviewed by the king at Amiens before being sent to Catalonia where it participated in the second siege of Lérida , in the capture of Ageret and at the relief of Constantin. It then returned to France. In 1648, reduced to only 400 men, the regiment joined Turenne's Army on the Rhine and took part in the combat of Zusmarhausen. It was then transferred to the Army of Champagne and fought in the Battle of Lens. In 1649, it campaigned in Flanders and took part in the siege of Cambrai and in the capture of Condé.

In 1650, during the Fronde (1648-1653), the regiment defended Mouzon against the rebels, took part in the relief of Guise, defended Laon, in the relief of Mouzon and in the capture of Réthel. In 1651, when the Cardinal Mazarin was forced to leave France, the regiment became the property of the Queen Mother and received the name of the Province of Bretagne (Britanny). During the troubles of the Fronde, the regiment also took part in the combats of Bléneau, Étampes and Faubourg Saint-Antoine. In 1653, it participated in the submission of Bordelais and in the blockade of Bordeaux.

In 1654, during the last phase of the Franco-Spanish War (1635–59), the regiment returned to Champagne and took part in the capture of Réthel and Mouzon, in the sieges of Stenay and Le Quesnoy. In 1655, it took part in the relief of Le Quesnoy and in the capture of Landrecies, Condé and Saint-Ghislain; in 1656, in the unsuccessful siege of Valenciennes and in the defence of Péronne; in 1657, in the siege on Montmédy, in the storming of Saint-Venant, in the relief of Ardres and in the capture of Mardyck and La Mothe-aux-Bois; in 1658, in the siege of Dunkerque, in the Battle of the Dunes and in the capture of Oudernaarde.

After the war, the regiment was stationed in Péronne where it remained until 1669. In 1666, it was reduced to only two companies.

In 1669, the two companies of the regiment were sent to the relief of the Venetian troops defending the Island of Crete and took part in the defence of Candia (present-day Heraklion). By the time of its return to Toulon, the regiment was virtually annihilated.

In 1670, the regiment was re-established at 4 companies of 50 men each. In 1671, it was increased to 16 companies.

At the beginning of the Franco-Dutch War (1672–78), in 1672, the regiment remained at the camp of Courtrai. In 1673, it took part in the siege of Maastricht; in 1674, in the occupation of the Castle of Weltsbillich and in the combats of Sintzheim and Ensheim; in 1675, in the combat of Turckeim, in the capture of Huy, in the combat of Altenheim and in the relief of Haguenau and Saverne. In 1676, the regiment was transferred to Flanders where it participated in the sieges of Condé and Bouchain before marching to the Meuse for the capture of Marche-en-Famène and of the castles of Condros and Bouillon, and the siege of Zweibrücken. In 1677, it took part in the combat of Kokersberg and in the siege of Freiburg; in 1678, in the capture of the castles of Rotheling and Brombach, in the attack of the entrenchments at Seckingen, in the reduction of the forts between Strasbourg and the Rhine and in the capture of the Castle of Lichtemberg; and in 1679, in the Combat of Minden, the last action of the war.

In 1684, the regiment took part in the siege of Luxembourg

In 1688, at the outbreak of the Nine Years' War (1688–97), the regiment joined the Army of Germany and garrisoned Mainz after its capture. In 1689, it took part in the defence of Mainz where it suffered heavy losses. After the capitulation of Mainz, it was sent to Huningue. In 1690, the regiment was sent from Huningue to Bourg en Bresse and was later transferred to Provence. In 1691, it took part in the capture of Veillane and in the sieges of Camagnola, Côni and Montmélian; and in 1692, in the protection of Pinerolo and Susa; in the Battle of Marsaglia and in the relief of Casale, Saluzzo, Pinerolo and Susa, and in a combat near Morelta. In 1693, the regiment was transferred to Catalonia. In 1695, it returned to the Alps. In 1696, it initially took part in the siege of Valencia but was later sent to Catalonia. In 1697, it was at the siege of Barcelona.

By the time of the War of the Spanish Succession, the regiment counted one battalion.

During the War of the Spanish Succession, the regiment was commanded by:

  • from 22 June 1699: Louis-François d'Harcourt, Comte de Sézanne
  • from 25 December 1704 to February 1719: Michel-François Berthelot de Rebourseau

In 1714, the second battalion, raised during the war, was disbanded

Service during the War

First Battalion

In December 1700, the regiment took the road of Italy.

At the beginning of May 1701, the first battalion of the regiment arrived at Goito. On 9 July, the grenadiers of the battalion fought in the Combat of Carpi. On 1 September, the battalion took part in the Battle of Chiari where it lost it lieutenant-colonel, Pierre de La Chassagne.

On 1702, the first battalion of the regiment was at the capture of Luzzara where its colonel, the Comte de Sézanne, was wounded at an arm. On 15 August, it fought in the Battle of Luzzara. It later took part in the capture of Borgoforte.

In May 1703, the first battalion of the regiment was attached to Vaudémont's Army and was encamped at San Benedetto. The battalion fought in the combat of Castelnuovo de Bormia. It then followed the Duc de Vendôme in his expedition in Tyrol, contributing to the submission of Nago and Arco.

On 29 January 1704, the first battalion of the regiment came out of its cantonments, forced the passage of the Secchia and seized Bastia and Buonporto. It then took part in the sieges of Vercelli and Ivrea. It spent the entire winter in the trenches in front of Verrua.

In April 1705, after the capitulation of Verrua, the first battalion of the regiment was posted at Monzambano in the Duchy of Mantua. On 8 May, Prince Eugène de Savoie, who wanted to relieve Mirandola, appeared on the Mincio. The first battalion along with three cavalry regiments advanced to confront him. Upon arrival, the battalion found ranks of musketeers deployed along the banks of the Mincio while a bridge was being thrown across the river. Colonel Berthelot, not withstanding the disproportion of forces, decided to attack. After a combat of two hours, Eugène was forced to retire after losing some 500 men. For its part, the battalion lost 15 men killed and 75 wounded. The battalion immediately erected a redoubt at this location and remained in this position till the capture of Mirandola. On 31 May, the grenadier company of Captain Martinet distinguished itself in a combat at the farmhouse of Moscolino where it lost 25 men. On 16 August, the battalion was at the Battle of Cassano but was not involved in combat. For the rest of the year, it formed part of the corps of the Marquis de Broglie, detached behind the Adda. On 16 October, it took part in the attack of the entrenchments of Gumbetto. It then took its winter-quarters in Monzambano.

On 19 April 1706, the first battalion contributed to the victory at the Battle of Calcinato and then pursued the remnants of Reventlaw's Army along the shores of Lake Garda. Its grenadiers distinguished themselves in the attack of Salo where the colonel of the regiment was wounded. The battalion then marched to Turin where it took position between the Doire and the Stura. On 7 September, the battalion fought in the disastrous Battle of Turin. It then returned to France after this crushing defeat and was assigned to the guard of the passages of the Alps in Dauphiné.

In 1707, the battalion took part in the defence of Toulon, establishing itself in the entrenched camp of Messicy to the west of the city. After the retreat of the Allies, the battalion returned to Savoy.

In 1708, the battalion served in Savoy and contributed to the capture of the town of Césanne.

Second Battalion

On 1 February 1701, a second battalion was created. It assumed garrison duties in Flanders.

In January 1702, it was resolved to detach 300 men of the second battalion to replenish the ranks of the first battalion operating in Italy. By 18 April, the rest of the battalion was posted in Nieuport, as part of the army under the command of the Marquis de Bedmar. The battalion was still posted in Nieuport in December.

In 1703, the second battalion was initially cantoned in Brabant, between Diest, Louvain, Lierre and Namur. By mid-June, it had joined the field army.

In 1705 in Flanders, the second battalion of the regiment formed part, along with Béarn Infanterie, of a small corps under the command of the famous partisan Colonel Pasteur. In the night of 16 August, this corps was posted at the village of Waterloo where it was attacked by superior forces. After a stubborn resistance which lasted some 90 minutes, the corps was forced to evacuate the village. It retired in good order into the Forest of Soignies from where it harassed the troops occupying Waterloo, forcing them to retire with a loss of some 600 men.

Reunited regiment

In 1709, the two battalions of the regiment were united for the first time as part of the Army of Flanders. On 11 September, the regiment took part in the Battle of Malplaquet where it was attached to the Corps of the Comte Albergotti. At the height of the combat, it reinforced the left wing, which had been overwhelmed, and took position to the right of the Du Roi Brigade, thus forming a potence in the Sart Woods and anchoring its left on a marsh. It then defended this position till it was ordered to retreat.

In 1710, the regiment was stationed in the Lines of the Lauter and took its winter-quarters in Saarlouis.

In 1711, the regiment returned to Flanders where it took part in the attack on Arleux.

On 24 July 1712, the regiment distinguished itself in the Battle of Denain. It then took part in the siege and capture of Douai and in the captures of Le Quesnoy and Bouchain.

In 1713, the regiment joined the Army of the Rhine and took part in the sieges of Landau and Freiburg. In the latter siege, it took post in the Kundersthal at the foot of Fort Saint-Pierre.

Uniform

Privates

Uniform in 1710 – Copyright Kronoskaf
Uniform Details as per
Rousselot, Funcken, Susane, Lienhart & Humbert
Headgear
Musketeer black tricorne laced gold with a black or a white cockade
Grenadier black tricorne laced gold with a black or a white cockade
Neck stock white
Coat grey-white with copper buttons on the right side and 1 copper button on each side in the small of the back
Collar none
Shoulder Straps grey-white fastened with a copper button
Lapels none
Pockets horizontal pockets, each with 4 copper buttons (vertical pockets with 3 copper buttons as per Lienhart & Humbert)
Cuffs grey-white, each with 4 copper buttons
Turnbacks none
Waistcoat red edged yellow, with yellow laced buttonholes and copper buttons (grey-white as per Susane and Lienhart & Humbert)
Breeches red (grey-white as per Susane and Lienhart & Humbert)
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
Leather Equipment
Crossbelt natural leather (often whitened with pipe-clay) with a brass buckle
Waistbelt natural leather (often whitened with pipe-clay) with a brass buckle
Cartridge Box natural leather
Bayonet Scabbard n/a
Scabbard black with white metal fittings
Footwear black shoes with a brass buckle


Armaments consisted of a musket and a bayonet. Fusiliers carried a sword (brass hilt) while the grenadiers had a sabre.

Marbot illustrates the newer uniform, supposedly issued around 1734, with blue cuffs, blue waistcoat and blue breeches.

NCOs

n/a

Officers

n/a

Musicians

Drummer wearing the Royal Livery - Source: adapted from Susane, Louis: Histoire de l'ancienne infanterie française

The drummers of the regiment wore the Royal Livery: blue coat lined red; red cuffs, waistcoat and breeches; laced with the braid of the small Royal Livery.

Please note that in the accompanying illustration, the drummer carries a drum at the arms of Navarre. The drum barrel should be royal blue decorated with golden fleurs de lys.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 

French Royal Livery - Source: reconstruction based on a sample from Jean-Louis Vial's collection


Colours

Colonel colour: exceptionally, this regiment did not carry any royal distinctive on its colonel colour. Indeed, the colonel colour was white bearing the golden arms of Bretagne surrounded by palm branches (right) and laurel branches (left) bounded by a red ribbon. The motto "POTIUS MORI, QUAM VINCI" appeared at the top of the flag (this motto would be replaced in 1757 by "POTIUS MORI QUAM FAEDARI") on a blue scroll with red lining.

Ordonnance colours: a white cross. Their 1st and 4th cantons were aurore, their 2nd and 3rd, black.

N.B.: the hermines appeared on the white cross only in 1735 and the word of the motto, in 1740.

Colonel Colour - Copyright: Kronoskaf
Ordonnance Colour - Copyright: Kronoskaf

References

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. 212-226, 234

Other sources

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. 110

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"‎

Rousselot, Lucien: Infanterie française (1720-1736) (II)

N.B.: the section Service during the War is mostly derived from our articles depicting the various campaigns, battles and sieges.