Major military campaigns of the two companies

The death of Philip IV, King of Spain, in 1665, was the catalyst for yet another war between the Spanish crown and France. Louis XIV claimed sovereignty over the Netherlands and Flanders as part of his marriage contract with Maria-Theresa. However, all attempts to assert the rights of the Queen of France were in vain and Louis XIV had no choice but to resort to armed force.

So, in the beginning of the year 1667, he sent an army of thirty-five thousand men into Flanders, under the command of the Marshall Turenne. In May, the King joined him at Tournai, which fell the following month. 

The King entered the city, preceded by his two companies of Musketeers, followed by the Gendarmes, Light-Horse regiments and a detachment of his body guards. Other enemy strongholds fell easily (Douai, Courtrai, Oudenarde and Aloft) and without the help of the Musketeers, but the siege of Lille was to require a considerable mobilization.

“The Spanish, having recovered from their initial shock and fearful for this important city, did not leave out any measures to protect the city from any attack. Nothing was lacking in the defence [of the city]: a garrison of three thousand regular troops, not to mention the bourgeoisie, the majority of whom took up arms, and a government as capable as it was brave. This undertaking appeared so difficult in light of the conjuncture of events, that Monsieur de Turenne himself, the Marquis of Louvois and a good number of the general staff attempted to dissuade the King from his intention. But the Prince had resolved to finish the campaign with this conquest, the difficulties of which could only increase the glory to be obtained.” 
Le Thueux

The battle for Lille proved to be valiant and audacious, undertaken energetically with the strategic support of Vauban. Louis XIV encouraged his forces by positioning himself in the front lines. His Musketeers shocked and awed the Spanish, who capitulated.

“When the Musketeers took the gate which was surrendered to them at the moment of capitulation, the Governor couldn’t understand how the majority of them could only be youths of seventeen, eighteen and twenty years of age.” 
Le Thueux

Louis XIV did not rest with this solitary victory and decided to continue his combat against the Spanish in Franche-Comté, which he subdued in less than three weeks.

The rapidity of these two victories stunned the Spanish, who signed a peace treaty at Aix-la-Chapelle the following May. Nevertheless, the terms of the treaty allowed France to keep in their possession only the cities of the Netherlands. It was no wonder then that Louis XIV came to see Holland as an enemy to eliminate, and he began drawing up plans…

Meanwhile, the Musketeers continued to distinguish themselves on battlefields that one might call more … exotic. Thus, it was out of concern for his prestige that Louis XIV decided to send shiploads of seven thousand men, among them six hundred Musketeers from the first Company and one hundred eighteen from the second, to rescue Heraklion, in Crete, under attack by the Turks.

“This Monarch, avid for reputation and proud of his victories, seized this opportunity to spread his name and the glory of his armies among the Infidels.” 
Le Thueux

The battle would drag on for more than a month in difficult conditions and with numerous casualties.

“On 31st July, the fleet finally embarked from these shores where two thousand five hundred French men had died to save the honor of Christianity and of the King of France (…) The account of the last combat which opposed the Musketeers and the bravest of the janissaries (1) in a burst of bombs and hand grenades became part of the legend of the Musketeers and was repeated in all of Paris, from the richest households to the poorest neighborhoods.”
Arnaud Jacomet


In 1672, the war against Holland began, for which the entire army had spent the past year preparing. The French army was positioned between Maastricht and Charleroi with twelve thousand men under the command of Condé and Turenne. The Musketeers, having been discharged, were incorporated into the King’s troops. Though he retained his command over the first company, D’Artagnan stayed behind in Lille at the King’s request. For the second company, Maulévrier was replaced by the Count of Montbron.

The troops advanced with relative ease along the Rhine and all the strongholds surrendered to them. But, on the other side of the Rhine, the Dutch were getting organized. The French army managed to cross the river and chased the enemy all the way to Utrecht, where Louis XIV made his triumphant entry into the city. The Musketeers and all the cavalry continued their advance toward Amsterdam, but these easy victories ended up turning against the King. The Dutch had time to regroup and they fought furiously, managing to save the city of Amsterdam. After having conquered some territory, the French troops withdrew to their winter quarters in the region of Trêves and near Utrecht.

In the beginning of the year 1673, Louis XIV decided to lay siege to Maastricht, but did not make the mistake of underestimating the stronghold’s capacity to defend itself. So, he asked the English for their help in this delicate undertaking. In May, the King met up with his army in Holland. D’Artagnan had taken the command of the first company of Musketeers and he had even been promoted to the rank of brigadier ; Montbron continued to command the second company.

The first assault was violent and the defence of Maastricht was well organized.

“During the night, the first company of Musketeers received the order to attack the dry demilune, while the second company was to assault the palisades between this trench and the bastion. The signal given, they fell on the enemy and, despite the terrible bursts from an incessant barrage of grenades, they swept away these defences and took up position. The King and the general officers who witnessed the assault unanimously agreed, reports Pélisson, that one had never seen such violent and sustained fire as that of the besieged on this occasion. When the Musketeers had returned to their camp, the enemy fired up an oven in the demilune that had gone undiscovered. Farjaux, Governor of the stronghold (Maastricht), positioned himself at the head of the garrison’s best troops and, taking advantage of the panic that this accident caused among the French troops, he entered this defence and drove them out.”
Le Thueux

The second assault, launched the next day, was to be even more violent and deadly.

“The Musketeers, reports Pélisson again, gave a demonstration of extraordinary valor upon this occasion. Not one was seen to retreat, and those that returned [from battle] all had swords that were bent and bloody up to the handle.”
Le Thueux

It was by this assault that the French were able to retake the demilune, but at the cost of losing d’Artagnan and eighty other musketeers. Another fifty men were wounded, fifteen of them mortally. The second company distinguished itself the next day and Maastricht surrendered. Louis XIV made yet another triumphal entry into a Dutch city, preceded by three hundred of his musketeers. A former major of the King’s body guards, Louis, chevalier of Forbin, replaced d’Artagnan at the head of the first company.

“The Musketeers would harbour a bitter memory of the double assault on Maastricht, which inspired their officers to ignore certain orders in order to avoid having to retake a position that had already been conquered. Continuing to profit from their advantage, the Musketeers aided in the capture of the citadel of Besançon on 21st May 1647 and in the fall of Dôle during the second conquest of Franche-Comté.”
Arnaud Jacomet

In 1675, the Musketeers went to Brittany to put down a rebellion.

In 1676 and 1677, they returned to Flanders, where they perfected their technique of the siege. Valenciennes fell in the face of their war craft, followed by Cambrai and St. Omer. Their courage and boldness inspired the Prince of Orange to exclaim, “If I had troops like these, I would be invincible!”

Their last victories of 1678 led to the Peace of Nimègue, by which France kept possession of Franche-Comté and a number of strongholds in Flanders.

During the peacetime period, the Musketeers returned to Paris.

The first company had its headquarters at number 15 rue du Bac. This three-story casern was grandiose and would continue to be occupied by the Gray Musketeers until 1775. The second company lodged in the Faubourg Saint Antoine, on the outskirts of Paris at that time. There, a casern was constructed just for the company at 28 rue Charenton.

“Robet de Cotte drew up the plans [for the casern]. The city of Paris would finance the construction in exchange for generous terms accorded by the King for finishing the construction of the Place Vendôme. This building, too, had three stories with an attic. It was composed of three hundred forty rooms, each one doted with a fireplace, which was an astonishing luxury for the time.”
Arnaud Jacomet

From 1673 on, the two companies were to have the same uniform: a scarlet tunic and blue cape ornamented with silver crosses, with golden buttons and braiding for the tunic and silver for the cape. Their scarlet tunic would inspire the popular sobriquet of the Red House.

The Musketeers’ life in Paris was often tumultuous, even if strict discipline continued to reign back at the casern. This is not so difficult to understand if one considers their youth, the risks they took on the battlefield and the resulting excess of energy they had upon returning to an ordinary life. This said, the sanctions for bad conduct were rather severe. The King was very demanding of his Musketeers and, in general, they were richly deserving of his confidence. This elite corps was the most prestigious incubator of officers, and all the young nobles dreamed of the opportunity to learn the soldier’s trade in its ranks. 

In 1683, Louis XIV set out to inspect the fortresses in Alsace with his Musketeers and took advantage of the opportunity to mount a “last grand revue of the King’s House, at the summit of his glory” near Besançon.

Then, there were renewed hostilities with Spain. The Musketeers returned to combat in Flanders and along the Rhine, where they again took the lead in the front lines. All Europe was now at war with France.

The Musketeers continued to distinguish themselves in the battlefields of Flanders and against the English in Normandy.

The year 1702 found an ageing Louis XIV and a France facing increasing difficulties. Nevertheless, the Musketeers continued to be the army’s avant-garde. They played the role of catalyst, never hesitating to sacrifice themselves in the field of battle.

“In fact, during these crucial years, the French generals wished to bring these admirable troops to every theatre where the danger appeared the most urgent. This cavalry was the main strength of the army in which it was employed, offering a constant example of zeal and tenacity and maintaining a gaiety and serenity that was stimulating for all in the face of combat and death. Everywhere they prevented disaster; their strength frustrated many an effort on the part of the coalition members.” 
Arnaud Jacomet

Upon the death of Louis XIV, during the Regency, Maupertuis resigned his command of the first company and the Marquis de Vins left the second company.

The two companies were still present on the battlefield against the English in 1743 and 1745, where they demonstrated anew their esprit de corps, their determination and their courage. Indeed, the Duke of Cumberland said that one could not boast of winning a battle if one hadn’t beaten the French King’s House! And it was thanks to the Musketeers that the French were victorious over Cumberland’s English forces at Fontenoy.

It was also to be the last battle for this elite corps: “Their glorious closing chapter”.

The two companies were disbanded the 1st January 1776.

“From Pas-de Suze to Ramilies, from Malplaquet to Fontenoy, the Musketeers of the [King’s] House figured in all circumstances as the epitome of an elite corps, the one that is reserved until the decisive moment of a battle, the one that brings victory or attenuates a defeat. [This corps] will never retire from the field of battle vanquished.
[The Musketeers’] spectacular actions paint the most stunning picture of the French nobility’s courage and of its love for service to King and Country. They are a reminder that, in war, nothing is impossible for men whose only thought is for their courage and their honour.” 
Arnaud Jacomet

The Musketeers were to be reactivated in 1789, then disbanded again in 1791 under the Republic. Resurrected one last time during the Restoration in 1814, when they were integrated into the King’s House, the troupe was disbanded definitively in 1815.

(1) The janissaries were an elite corps of the Turkish army between the 14th and 18th centuries, originally composed of Christian children who had been kidnapped from their families, converted to Islam and forced into a life of soldiery.