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French Royal Army (1652–1830)

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Title: French Royal Army (1652–1830)  
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Subject: May 24, French Foreign Legion, François-Noël Babeuf
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French Royal Army (1652–1830)

French Royal Army (1652–1830)
The Duc de Villars, a marshal of France, leading his troops during the Battle of Denain in 1712
Active 1652–1830
Country  Kingdom of France
Kingdom of France (1791–1792)
Restored Bourbon monarchy (1815–1830)
Type Army
Engagements Anglo-Spanish War (1654)
War of Devolution
Franco-Dutch War
French and Indian Wars
Nine Years' War
War of the Spanish Succession
War of the Polish Succession
War of the Austrian Succession
Seven Years' War
American Revolutionary War
French Revolutionary Wars
French invasion of Spain
Louis XIV of France
Sebastien Vauban
Duc de Luxembourg
Duc de Villars
Duke of Berwick
Duc de Broglie
Nicolas Oudinot

The French Royal Army (1652–1830) served the Bourbon kings beginning with Louis XIV and ending with Charles X with an interlude from 1792 until 1814, during the French Revolution and the reign of the Emperor Napoleon I. After a second, brief interlude when Napoleon returned from exile in 1815, the Royal Army was reinstated. Its service to the direct Bourbon line was finished when Charles X was overthrown in 1830 by the July Revolution.


  • History 1
    • Army of Louis XIV 1.1
    • Louis XV's reign 1.2
    • Collapse of the royal army 1.3
    • First Bourbon restoration 1.4
    • Second Bourbon restoration; July Revolution 1.5
  • Wars participated in 2
  • Major battles 3
    • Anglo-Spanish War 3.1
    • Franco-Dutch War 3.2
    • Nine Years' War 3.3
    • War of the Spanish Succession 3.4
    • War of the Polish Succession 3.5
    • War of the Austrian Succession 3.6
    • Seven Years' War/French and Indian War 3.7
    • American Revolutionary War 3.8
    • French Revolution/French Revolutionary Wars 3.9
    • French invasion of Spain 3.10
  • Notable personnel 4
  • Uniforms 5
  • Weaponry 6
  • Recruitment 7
  • Employment of Swiss mercenaries 8
  • References 9


Army of Louis XIV

Under Louis XIV, the French Royal Army is considered to have been one of the most powerful in the world.[1] When Louis' father, Louis XIII, died, Anne of Austria, the queen, became regent. She and her chief minister, Cardinal Mazarin, ordered the arrest of legislative opponents,[2] causing the enmity of many nobles and common citizens. When the bloody Thirty Years' War, in which France had sided with Protestant-governed countries against other Catholic nations in Europe, concluded, the Fronde civil war broke out and Mazarin was forced to flee.[2]

When Louis XIV came of age in 1652, the Fronde ended and Mazarin was permitted to return and appointed chief minister for a second time. The leader of the anti-Mazarin faction, the Prince de Condé, escaped to Spain, which soon went to war against France and its new ally, England, under the rule of Oliver Cromwell.[3] Under the command of Marshal Turenne, the Anglo-French army decisively defeated the Spanish in Flanders, part of which was a province of Spain.

In 1667, Louis married the Spanish princess Marie-Thérèse. He claimed the Spanish Netherlands as her dowry, starting another conflict with Spain known as the War of Devolution.[4] Turenne and Conde, who had been pardoned and allowed to return to France, commanded the French army. Their forces seized much of the Spanish Netherlands but, pressured by England, Holland and Sweden, Louis was forced to return the conquered territory, with the exception of some fortified towns.[4]

From 1672 until 1678, France was embroiled in the Franco-Dutch War, again aided by England, now under the rule of King Charles II. The war did not go well for France, and England did not pursue the war after 1674. The war ended favorably for the Dutch, although France gained much of Franche-Comté.[5]

The famed engineer Vauban designed his intricate fortifications during Louis XIV's reign. Vauban, a genius at siege warfare,[6] oversaw the building or improvement of many fortresses in Flanders and elsewhere.

In 1688, the Catholic king of England, James II, was overthrown and William of Orange, a Dutch prince and old enemy of Louis, was installed as the next king. James fled to France, which he used as his base for an invasion of Ireland in 1690. As a result of James' ouster and, more directly, a French invasion of a German palatinate,[7] the Nine Years' War broke out in 1689 between France and minor European states on one side and the League of Augsburg, including England, the Holy Roman Empire, and the Dutch Republic on the other.

The war ended with no major territorial gains or losses for either side, and the two alliances were at war again by 1701.[8] The British, under the Duke of Marlborough, aided by Imperial troops under Prince Eugene of Savoy, inflicted major defeats on French troops at Blenheim, Ramillies, and Oudenarde. In Spain (the succession to that nation's throne was the war's cause), Spanish forces allied to the French lost Gibraltar.[8] However, after the bloody Battle of Malplaquet in 1709, Marlborough's reputation was tarnished and, after gossip at the English (now British, after the union of England and Scotland) court, he was relieved from command. The war ground to a stalemate and ended in a treaty that favored the French in 1714.

Louis XV's reign

Louis XV, the great-grandson of Louis XIV, was the only direct heir alive when the elderly king died in 1715. His reign was much more peaceful than his great-grandfather's, although three major wars occurred. First was the War of the Polish Succession of 1733. The second, the War of the Austrian Succession, began when Maria Theresa was crowned Holy Roman Empress in 1740. Her father had appointed her as his heir, and other European countries agreed to respect his wishes. However, the new Prussian king, Frederick II, ignored the agreement, known as the Pragmatic Sanction, and annexed portions of the Empire.[9]

The French and Allied armies confronting each other at Fontenoy. The blue-clad French in the foreground are Gardes Françaises.[10]

Britain allied itself with Maria Theresa, while Louis XV forged an alliance with Frederick. Louis supported [[Bonnie Prince Charlie|Charles]pis],[9] a descendant of James II, when he attempted to invade England with an assortment of Scottish Highlander clans. The Pragmatic Allies defeated the French in the Battle of Dettingen in 1741, while the French won at Fontenoy in 1745. The situation after the war was almost the same as before, but it set the stage for the Seven Years' War, which officially began in 1756, when Prussia and Austria again went to war. This time, however, France and Austria were allied and Britain and Prussia formed an alliance. French forces were defeated at the Battle of Rossbach in 1757. At the same time as the fighting in Europe, raiding parties composed of French-Canadian militiamen and Indians attacked English settlements in North America. This war, known as the French and Indian War, was the last of four wars that occurred in North America at the same time as a European conflict. However, by 1759, the British had gone onto the offensive in America and captured Quebec, the French colonial capital.[11] Fighting also occurred on the Indian subcontinent during Louis XV's reign. During the War of the Austrian Succession, French troops captured several settlements in India, but its allies were defeated by British troops in 1756. On the whole, the Seven Years' War went badly for the French, who were forced to sign an unfavorable treaty in 1763.

Collapse of the royal army

French troops storming Redoubt #9 during the Siege of Yorktown
When Britain's North American colonies rebelled in 1775, France offered limited support. However, after the decisive American victory in the Battle of Valmy in 1792, when an Austro-Prussian army invaded to restore the King's full powers. By now, the army was considered to be loyal to the First Republic, not to the king.

First Bourbon restoration

Louis XVI was guillotined, as were many other aristocrats, in 1793. By 1800, the First Republic, at war with much of Europe, had adopted a weak form of government that was overthrown by General Napoleon Bonaparte, who later proclaimed himself Emperor of the French. When British, Russian, Prussian, and Austrian armies invaded France in 1814, Napoleon, whose empire had once extended all the way to Moscow abdicated. The dead king's brother, the Count of Provence, was declared King Louis XVIII. Under Louis XVIII, no major changes were made to the army. However, when Napoleon returned from exile in 1815, the army, for the most part, went over to his side, and Louis fled.

Second Bourbon restoration; July Revolution

Louis XVIII of France
Napoleon was defeated by a combined Allied army in 1815 at Waterloo, and Louis XVIII was returned to the throne. His government appointed many aristocratic officers to the army, which lost much of its morale, much as it had in 1789.[1] In 1823, a French expeditionary force aided Spanish troops loyal to the Bourbon king of that country when his regime was threatened by an uprising. In 1830, Louis XVIII's brother, Charles X, now king, was toppled in the July Revolution. The army participated in little fighting, and the king's cousin, the Duke of Orléans was installed as Louis-Philippe I in what was supposed to be a constitutional monarchy. The army transferred its allegiance to Louis-Philippe's Orléans Dynasty until his overthrow in 1848, when the short-lived Second Republic was established.

Wars participated in

Mounted grenadiers of Louis XV during the War of the Polish Succession

Major battles

Anglo-Spanish War

Franco-Dutch War

Nine Years' War

War of the Spanish Succession

War of the Polish Succession

War of the Austrian Succession

Seven Years' War/French and Indian War

American Revolutionary War

French Revolution/French Revolutionary Wars

French invasion of Spain

Notable personnel


French troops at Ticonderoga in 1758 in white uniforms
From 1652 until 1685, French soldiers wore no specific uniforms. The first uniforms for the French Royal Army were designed in 1685.[14] The guards regiments wore blue, the regular infantry wore gray-white, and the Swiss mercenary regiments in French service wore red. In 1690, during the Nine Years' War, each regiment was given a uniform. Eighty-eight regiments wore gray uniforms with red trim, and fourteen princely[14] regiments wore blue. The first regulations detailing specifics of uniforms is dated to 1704. Unusually, grenadiers for most of the part wore a tricorn like the fusiliers, rather than a mitre or a bearskin. Bearskins came into full use by about 1770. The change from white or off-white uniforms to blue was completed in 1793, and blue uniforms were kept in use after the Bourbon Restoration, although were modified for a more modern appearance, introducing trousers rather than breeches, taller shakos, and Fleur-de-lis motives.


Like most other late-seventeenth and eighteenth-century armies, the French Royal Army was equipped primarily with muskets. However, fusils became standard firearms.[14] Pikes were used by French forces early on during the reign of Louis XIV.


Conscription was the French Royal Army's standard method of recruitment. However, recruiters sometimes encouraged voluntary enlistment.[14] Most recruiters, though, were much more forceful, some even invading homes and churches[14] to seize military-age men.

Employment of Swiss mercenaries

Massacre of the Swiss Guards, 1792
Swiss mercenaries were employed in the French Royal Army, notably the Swiss Guards. During the 10 August riot of 1792, supporters of the French Revolution, including members of the radical-leaning National Guard marched on the Tuileries Palace. King Louis XVI escaped with his family, but, after a brief skirmish in the palace courtyard, the Swiss Guards were massacred by the mob. Some Guards, including the commander, were captured, jailed, and later guillotined.


  1. ^ a b c The French Army : Military : History : Wars. Retrieved on 2010-09-14.
  2. ^ a b The Fronde: 1649-1652. (1998-10-13). Retrieved on 2010-09-14.
  3. ^ The Anglo-Spanish War: Flanders 1657-8. (2008-06-25). Retrieved on 2010-09-14.
  4. ^ a b War of Devolution, (1667-68). Retrieved on 2010-09-14.
  5. ^ [1]
  6. ^ Sébastien de Vauban. Retrieved on 2010-09-14.
  7. ^ King William's War. Retrieved on 2010-09-14.
  8. ^ a b The Spanish Succession and the War of the Spanish Succession. Retrieved on 2010-09-14.
  9. ^ a b The War of Austrian Accession. Retrieved on 2010-09-14.
  10. ^ LII. LOUIS XV., THE MINISTRY OF CARDINAL FLEURY., 1723-1748. Retrieved on 2010-09-14.
  11. ^ The Battle of Quebec 1759. Retrieved on 2010-09-14.
  12. ^ The French Contribution to the American War of Independence. (1999-02-12). Retrieved on 2010-09-14.
  13. ^ Causes of the French Revolution. Retrieved on 2010-09-14.
  14. ^ a b c d e The French Army : Military : History : Wars. Retrieved on 2010-09-14.
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