The “Grey Musketeers” and the “Black Musketeers”

Between 1659 and 1660, the negotiations conducted by Anne of Austria and Mazarin to conclude the Treaty of the Pyrenees, sealing the peace with Spain, led to the marriage of Louis XIV with the infanta Maria-Theresa. During this two year period, d’Artagnan and his musketeers escorted the King in his journey across France to St Jean de Luz, where the marriage was to be celebrated.

The return to Paris was marked by the King’s triumphant entry into the capital, accompanied in grand pomp by the Company of the Musketeers. However, a second company took up position next to the first company. D’Artagnan’s company even gave priority to this new company that Mazarin had recently given the King. The company was under the command of Marsac and the Marquis of Montgaillard, but Mazarin did not dare give horses of the same color as that of the first company. It was this new company’s first official appearance.

The chroniclers of the time did not hesitate to relate the grandiose event.

“Long, blue tunics with silver braids draped the croups of the (new company’s) horses, ornamented in broidery with the King’s number on the sleeves and four corners. Next, rode the veterans or Grand Musketeers, newly attired for the occasion. They were divided into four brigades, each one distinguished by a feather of a different color [in his cap]: white, white-black-yellow, blue and white, blue and green. Great, embroidered crosses on the sleeves and in the middle of their backs contrasted with the blue of their tunics. In the lead ‘the Seigneur d’Artagnan, well outfitted and astride a prize steed’ was so covered in lace, ribbons and long feathers that he resembled an ‘fraternal altar’.”
Charles Samaran

Cardinal Mazarin died in 1661 and Louis XIV was finally able to take control of his destiny as King. 

He was particularly concerned with the armies he intended to reorganize with the help of Le Tellier, and then with that of the latter’s son, Louvois.

In order to reduce expenses, he (Louis XIV) discharged a great many troops. But, desiring to keep the officers, he placed some of them in the companies of the Gendarmes, Light-Horses and Musketeers, and gave pensions to all the rest. It is in this way that, while forming for himself the most magnificent guard that any sovereign had ever had, he kept in reserve, should the need arise, a great number of subjects capable of training good soldiers in little time. This Prince was convinced, and with reason, that old officers were infinitely more apt than new ones to promptly discipline his troops.

As France enjoyed a period of peace at that time, the second Company of Musketeers would remain active until 1663. From that point, Louis XIV devoted his attention to this company, with the aim of restructuring and perfecting it. He relied more on the first Company in political affairs. Nevertheless, both companies enjoyed the same prestige.

“In addition to being a cavalry school without parallel, the Companies of Musketeers are reputed as an incubator for the officer corps: their most brilliant members advance rapidly into the best regiments with the rank of lieutenant. Are cited the names of young officers of barely twenty years of age, issued from the Musketeers where they have spent their two or three years of training, and who could hope to have a brilliant career.” 
Arnaud Jacomet

So, in 1663, Louis XIV, sent his recently reformed second Company to Lorraine with his Great Musketeers, but it seems that the company did not live up to the King’s expectations. In dishonor, Monsieur de Marsac, sold his commission to Colbert’s brother, the Count of Maulévrier. Louis XIV decommissioned all the officers and dispersed the men.

One year later, he reestablished the Company, which he put on an equal footing with the Great Musketeers and he made himself its honorary captain. He wished to abolish the differences with the other company but nevertheless chose to distinguish them outwardly. This second company would be given black-robed horses while the first company had gray-clad horses. From this point forward the two companies were designated according to the colors worn by their horses, and we can speak of “Gray Musketeers” and “Black Musketeers”. The differences were not completely abolished, however, as the officers of the first company had priority and “receive the privilege to command those of equal rank in the second company.”

“The inauguration of the Count of Maulévrier as lieutenant-captain took place with great solemnity. Immobile and in battle ranks, the six hundred Musketeers of the King awaited the King and his courtesans. The black musketeers donned for the first time their new tunics for the occasion and were impeccably aligned. Each man held his musket against his right leg. In his other had, gloved in buffalo fur, he restrained his quivering mount—not without difficulty, as the muskets’ fuses, affixed to the horses’ hoods between the ears, vexed the mounts. Twenty musicians, attired in long, azure blue coats, were lined up rigidly in front of the companies. There were twelve drummers and eight oboists. It was the first time they would play without fifes or trumpets the already famous march of the Grand Musketeers, as the King had ordered (…) His attitude severe, Louis XIV reviewed the squadrons, then positioned himself at the center of the courtyard. On his order, Maulévrier took the lead of the first company and filed past, followed by all the Musketeers as one man. Then, he commanded alone the brigades’ skilled maneuvers. The long lines of cavalry intertwined and twirled endlessly in a dazzling carrousel.” 
Arnaud Jacomet.

This second company would rapidly become the sweetheart of Paris and of the Court. Lulli even composed a march for them. Maulévrier, somewhat full of himself and rather wealthy, tried to rival the first company –commanded by d’Artagnan– by doting his musketeers with expensive attire and through displays of one-upmanship.

his rivalry succeeded in annoying Colbert, particularly exasperated by his brother’s arrogance and the frivolous expenses of a military corps that had become too ostentatious for his taste.

“When a musketeer with a low salary, he says, has spent his allowance of 360 pounds on useless ornaments, what do you expect him to live on this year? He is obliged, either by charm or by force, to live at the expense of his host.”
P. Clément A History of the life and administration of Colbert, Paris, 1846. 

The harsh reality of war was to bring the two companies back down to earth.

“The Bishop of Munster, who had declared war on the Dutch, had entered their country with an army of twenty thousand men, and he was making great progress. This Republic, thus occupied in resisting the English, solicited the help of Louis XIV. The Monarch sent six thousand men under the command of Monsieur de Pradel along with a detachment of one hundred twenty Musketeers from each Company. This distinction was all the more flattering in that, deploying them in this way for all occasions, the King showed them to be an example of zeal, courage and emulation. This rescue forced the Bishop of Munster to make peace with the Dutch two months later, and to restore to them the territories he had captured.” 
Le Thueux

The Munster episode ended up fostering the coexistence of the two companies, who were forced to mutually test and judge each other in the field, based on criteria that were much more serious than that of simple appearance. The result was a real brotherhood and cohesion between the two corps, which would be mutually beneficial to their reputations. The Musketeers became “brothers in arms”, thus sealing their membership in companies that were united and had the same objectives.