French Line Infantry Uniform

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Hierarchical Path: War of the Spanish Succession (Main Page) >> Armies >> French Army >> French Line Infantry Uniform

Introduction

Typical uniform of French infantry regiments with yellow metal circa 1710
N.B.: some of the dark grey areas would vary depending on the distinctive colour of the regiment
Copyright: Richard Couture

The uniforms of the French infantry were very similar to civilian clothing of the same period. The first ordonnance regulating the uniform of the French infantry was issued only in 1729. Before this date, the arrival of a new colonel was enough to modify some elements of the uniforms of a given regiment.

Therefore, the uniforms of the War of the Spanish Succession are less well known as those of later conflicts of the 18th century.

Hat and Fatigue Cap

Since 1697, the tricorne had become the standard headgear of the French infantry. It was edged with a narrow false-gold or false-silver braid, depending on the colour of the buttons, and carried a cockade. By 1710, the three sides of the brim of the tricorne had become significantly higher.

Grenadiers wore a dragoon style cap with a hanging flame.

Cockade

The cockade was made of ribbon or paper. It was hold in place on the left side of the tricorne with a black silk ribbon fastened with a small button. During the 18th century white and black cockades were worn and we do not know what reasons determined the choice of one or the other.

Neck Stock

The cravate was white.

Coat, Waistcoat, Breeches

Most French regiments wore ample collarless grey-white coats made of unbleached woollen fabric with brightly coloured cuffs of the "distinctive colour". The exact colour of this unbleached woollen coat has given rise to several debates. Since it directly depended on the colour of the wool used, its colour probably varied form a very light grey to off white. The rear of the skirt was decorated with false buttonholes. By the end of the Nine Years' War, the cuffs, which had earlier started at the elbow, became larger and were worn lower on the forearm.

Ordonnances did not yet specified the number of buttons on the front of the coat for each regiment. The number of yellow or white buttons all along the right side of the coat varied. Furthermore, there was a yellow or white button on each side in the small of the back; and often a shoulder-strap on the left shoulder fastened with a smaller yellow or white button. This shoulder-strap was of the colour of the coat and served to hold firm the cross-belt of the cartridge pouch.

Each regiment was further distinguished by the colour and quantity of buttons, and the shape and position of pockets. These distinctions were not yet specified by the ordonnances. Throughout the period, pockets, who were initially placed very low on the coat, were gradually placed higher. Around 1720, they were usually placed at the level of the button located in the small of the back.

Swiss and Irish regiments wore garance red coats; Scot and German regiments turquin blue coats.

Depending on the regiment, the long sleeved waistcoat, which had recently became widespread, could be of unbleached woollen fabric or dyed in the "distinctive colour". The waistcoat had yellow or white buttons all the way down on the right side.

Breeches were usually made of unbleached or dyed woollen fabric. They were fastened by buttons at the waist and in front. They also had flaps fastened with 5 small buttons on the outer face of each knee.

Stockings, Gaiters and Shoes

Stockings were usually white, but sometimes of the distinctive colour of the regiment, knitted, reaching above the knees over the breeches and fastened with a small strap with a buckle.

Gaiters gradually became more popular during the War of the Spanish Succession. They were usually white, fastened with small buttons on the outer face and held in place by a narrow leather strap under the knee.

Black leather shoes.

Armament

The most important weapon was the musket, which had an effective range of approximately 160 m. but was unusable under rain. Officially, by 1700, the matchlock musket had been replaced by the flintlock musket. However, some units continued to use matchlock muskets well into the 18th century. The flint of the flintlock musket had to be changed after 20 shots.

Since 1671, plug bayonets were in common use in the French infantry. From 1695, socket bayonets gradually replaced the former type.

The last pikes disappeared in 1704.

In 1703, the gargousse (a paper cartridge which did not incorporate a musket ball) became standard.

Fusiliers were also armed with a brass hilted sword hanged to the belt while grenadiers had a sabre instead of a sword. Swords were provided by the captains of each company who, at the beginning of a campaign, had to replace all swords lost the preceding year.

Grenadiers also carried an axe.

Leather Equipment

As soon as 1684, as instructed by Louvois, the Gardes Françaises and Gardes Suisses replaced the cumbersome baldric by the more adapted ceinturon (belt) made of buffle (buff soft porous leather). The French line infantry adopted the ceinturon in 1688.

The fusiliers also carried a gargoussier (cartridge box) and a powder flask attached to the ceinturon.

Grenadiers carried a large leather pouch called gibecière containing grenades. These cartridge pouches were usually made of cuir de Russie" (red leather) but could also be made of black leather.

Maintenance of leather equipment should not use any greasy material to avoid stains on the uniform. Pipe clay ground in a fine white powder and mixed with soap and water was used instead to clean leather equipment.

Peculiarities of Drummers and Fifers

Drummers often wore the livery of their colonel to the exception of drummers of the royal and provincial regiments specifically authorised to do so who wore the king's livery.

The drum belt was usually edged with the corresponding lace.

The drum shell was made of oak or chestnut. The drumhead was stretched on this shell with two wooden rims pierced with holes through which cords were run. These tension cords could be stretched as desired. The somewhat grave sonority of this type of drum was improved by a cord tended across the drumhead. Drums measured approximately 82 cm high and 82 cm wide environ. This obliged the drummer to place the drum very high on his left flank to be able to beat it while marching.

Until 1777, only fifers and "clarinets" supplemented the drummers as musicians. Until 1766, the uniform of all musicians remained similar to the one of the drummers.

Royal Livery

Drummers and fifers of royal regiments, and of some regiments who had explicitly received authorisation to do so, wore the “Royal Livery”.

This livery had a blue field originating from the azure field of the Royal Arms. This field colour was the exclusivity of the King and of his heir apparent: the “Dauphin”. The Queen had her own livery with a red field. A decree of 12 September 1703 forbade tailors and secondhand clothes dealers to sell or make any blue coloured servant outfit (from Traité de police générale by de Friminville in 1758).

The Royal Livery was decorated with a braid. A first model was worn under Louis XIII till the reign of Louis XIV. Beneton de Morange de Peyrins, in his Traité des marques nationales indicates:

“:the braid of the Royal Livery, which was fashionable at the time of the marriage of Louis XIV, was a checker board with white, red and blue squares opposed one to another... it is only since this marriage that the braid has been changed.”

The second type of braid adopted for the Royal Livery around 1670 and retained till the end of the monarchy is described as follows:

“a wide red velvet band on which is stitched a triple white cord, which meeting together in chain, formed large circles. In what we call the small livery, the braid is simple and in the great, it is doubled with, separating them, a smaller white braid decoreated with opposed red triangles, thus forming kinds of cup-and-ball device. There also exists another narrow small braid, the “bordé”, sewn on the edges of the coat and at the base of the collar.
French Royal Livery - Source: reconstruction based on a sample from Jean-Louis Vial's collection

Peculiarities of Non Commissioned Officers

NCOs were mainly distinguished from the privates by a gold or silver braid edging each cuff.

Even in 1720, a few years after the War of the Spanish Succession, very few regiments seem to have given distinctive waistcoats to their NCOs.

Peculiarities of Officers

Officers wore uniforms very similar to those of the privates. They were only distinguished by rich embroideries and by the quality of the woollen fabric. The most noticeable insignia of their rank was the gorget. It was made of gilt copper and usually decorated with arms, flags, cannon, cannonballs and powder barrels surrounding the arms of France surmounted by a royal crown.

Officers also wore tricornes laced in silver or gold.

The stern instructions contained in repeated regulations tend to indicate that many officers were reluctant to dress as the troop and often disobeyed regulations.

Even though the regulation of 1710 prescribed that officers should now carry a musket rather than a spontoon, it was not until 1758 that French officers abandoned the spontoon in favour of the musket.

References

Funcken, Liliane and Fred; Les uniformes de la guerre en dentelle

Lienhart, Constant; Humbert, René: Les Uniformes de l'Armée Française de 1690 à 1894, Vol. III, Leipzig 1899 – 1902

Moller, George D.: American Military Shoulder Arms, Vol. I: Colonial and Revolutionary War Arms

Pétard, Michel; Bilan: L'uniforme d'infanterie 1670-1712

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

Acknowledgements

Jean-Louis Vial for the information on the French cockades, on buttons, sword, leather equipment and on the Royal Livery

Joseph O’Neill for info on the transition from matchlock to flintlock muskets.