Milices provinciales

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

Origin and History

On November 29 1688, a few months after the outbreak of the Nine Years' War (1688-1697), Louis XIV issued a decree to raise a force of 25,050 unmarried men between 20 and 40 years old, distributed in 30 regiments of milices provinciales (provincial militias), excluding frontier provinces and many important cities. Each parish had to contribute a number of men proportional to the amount of its taxes. Each militiaman was chosen by vote among the inhabitants of the parish and had to serve for two years. Officers were proposed by the governor of the province, or, if on leave, by the lieutenant-general, or by the intendant. Each nomination of officer had to be confirmed by the king. The militiamen of neighbouring parishes were grouped into a fusilier company of 50 men (initially, there were no grenadier company).

Among the 30 militia regiments created by the decree of 1688, 1 counted 10 companies, 15 had 15 companies, 7 had 18, 7 others had 20. These militias served throughout the conflict, mainly garrisoning places and guarding the coasts. They also served in the secondary theatres of operation like Catalonia and the Alps. They usually returned to their province of origin for winter and left for campaigning in spring.

Militiamen had no uniform. They were armed with a musket and a sword supplied or paid for by their parish. They received a pay from their parish but, once assembled in regiments for campaigns, they were paid by the king.

As soon as February 26 1690, recruitment was extended to married men. The decree of December 23 1691 changed the mode of recruitment of militiamen who were then chosen by drawing of lots rather than by voting, a system which persisted till the French Revolution and which saw many cheatings. During the Nine Years' War terms of service were not respected and many militiamen had to serve longer terms.

By the end of 1692, there were 31 provincial militia regiments totalling 25,600 men in 512 companies. A decree dated December 12 of the same year increased the size of each company from 50 to 60 men.

Gradually, provincial militias were also raised in frontier provinces, initially excluded, such as Lorraine, Luxembourg, Flandre, Barrois, Alsace and Artois.

In 1697, after the Peace of Ryswick, all militia regiments were disbanded.

Militiamen played an important role in the War of the Spanish Succession, being systematically incorporated into regular regiments.

Militias were disbanded after the war, in 1714.

Service during the War

Annual contributions
Throughout the war, militiamen were raised each Autumn to replace losses in regular infantry regiments:
  • on 10 December 1701: 16,750 men to replace reinforcements sent to the Army of Italy
  • on 2 November 1702: 17,000 men for the infantry and artillery of the Army of Italy
  • on 30 October 1703: 30,000 men for various armies
  • on 30 October 1704: 22,000 men
  • on 15 October 1705: 27,050 men
  • on 20 November 1706: 20,950 men for Italy and Spain
  • on 4 November 1707: 10,000 men for Spain
  • on 15 November 1708: 9,500 men for Spain
  • on 10 September 1709: 17,000 men
  • on 1 August 1710: 17,050 men
  • on 20 September 1710: 28,800 men to complete the infantry regiments of the Army of Flanders when each infantry company was increased from 45 to 50 men
  • on 1 August 1711: 16,800 men
  • on 1 August 1712: 16,800 men
  • in 1713: no levy, at the end of the year, militiamen started to receive authorisation to return home

Thus, during eleven years, a theoretical total of 290,000 men were raised to complement regular regiments. However, annual objectives were never reached.

In 1701, when war broke out, 33,345 militiamen aged between 22 and 40 (and measuring at least 5 feet tall) in 741 companies were called under arms. During this war the pay and supplies of the militiamen were assumed by the king. Militia companies were now organised in 57 battalions of 13 companies of 45 men each (including 2 sergeants, 2 corporals, 3 lance corporals and 1 drummer), as for the regular line infantry battalions. Contrarily to former practices, these 57 militia battalions formed, as recruits, the second battalion of 57 regular regiments, adopting the uniform of the regiment. Thus inexperienced and untrained militiamen plaid an important role in the campaigns and battles of this war. Theoretically, deserters were sentenced to serve on the galleys. However, the king needed more soldiers than galley slaves.

In 1702, the term of service was increased from 2 to 3 years. However, as during the previous conflict, these terms were not respected and militiamen were not assured to return home before the end of the conflict.

From 1703, men from 18 to 40 years old were eligible to be designated by drawing for service in the provincial militias. However, there were so many exemptions that it was mainly the lower class which was targeted by these forced enrolments. The same year, 13 new second battalions, formed of militiamen, were added to the former 57 battalions raised in 1701. Desertion being important, a first amnesty was declared for deserters who would enrol for 4 years in a regiment serving with the Army of Germany (Du Roi Infanterie, La Couronne Infanterie, Sillery Infanterie and Tessé Infanterie).

In 1705, a second amnesty was offered to deserters.

In 1706, a third amnesty was offered to deserters who would join the Army of Flanders.

From 1708, each parish could choose to supply men or to pay for their enrolment.

In 1710, officers of mounted units were authorised to take 10 militiamen in the infantry to reinforce their squadrons.

In 1711, a fourth and final amnesty was offered to deserters.

Finally, on 22 December 1713, militiamen started to receive authorisation to return home.

On 1 July 1714, all militiamen were freed from service.

Uniform

During this war, militia consistently served as second battalion of regular regiments or as new recruits for these same regiments. Accordingly, they wore the uniforms of these regular regiments.

Colours

During this war, militia consistently served as second battalion of regular regiments or as new recruits for these same regiments. Accordingly, they carried the colours of these regular regiments.

References

This article contains text translated from the following books which are now in the public domain:

  • Gébelin, Jacques: Histoire des milices provinciales (1688-1791), Paris: Hachette, 1882, pp. 33-208
  • Hennet, Léon: Les milices et les troupes provinciales, Paris: Baudoin, 1884, pp. 25-

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

Acknowledgements

Jean-Louis Vial of Nec Pluribus Impar for his contribution to this article