Gardes du Corps du Roi (France)

The Gardes du Corps du Roi (King's bodyguard) was the senior formation of the King of France's household cavalry within the maison militaire du roi de France.

Gardes-du-Corps du Roi
Gardes-du-Corps du Roi
Captain (1820)
Country Kingdom of France
 Kingdom of France
Part ofMaison militaire du roi de France
Motto(s)Latin: Erit haec quoque cognita monstris
Latin: Nec pluribus impar

History edit

Foundation edit

The oldest unit in the Garde du Corps was the Company of Scottish Archers, later just the 1st Scottish Company or Garde Écossaise, formed in 1419 from Scots that fought for the French during Hundred Years' War. This unit was created at an uncertain date between 1423 and 1448. Subsequently, two further French companies were raised. A final company was established on 17 March 1515. Each of the four companies initially numbered less than a hundred men.

Active service edit

In the Battle of Fornovo during the Italian Wars the Garde du Corps saved King Charles VIII from being captured by enemy forces. Later in the Italian Wars they failed to save Francis I from being captured in the Battle of Pavia.

The last time the Garde du Corps campaigned was during the War of the Austrian Succession because it only went on campaign when the king was present. The last battle in which the Garde du Corps was present was Lauffeld on 1 July 1747.

Composition and military quality edit

In contrast to other units of the royal household such as the French Guards and the Swiss Guards, the Garde du Corps was an exclusively aristocratic corps. Even the rank and file were drawn from families with appropriate social backgrounds. As such they were noted for their courtly manners but less so for their professionalism and military skills.[1]

Guardsman, ca. 1685

Individual courtier guardsmen stationed at Versailles were not subject to regular training beyond ceremonial drill, and extended periods of leave from duty were common.[2] A critical report, dated 1775, concluded that the Garde du Corps and other "distinguished units with their own privileges are always very expensive - fight less than line troops, are usually badly disciplined and badly trained, and are always very embarrassing on campaign".[3] Officers of the Garde du Corps resented having to wear uniforms (perceived as a form of servant livery) when on duty at Versailles and eventually won the concession of appearing in civilian court dress with their military belts and swords, except when on parade.

Revolution and Restoration edit

The Garde du Corps featured conspicuously in several incidents in the opening stages of the French Revolution. On 1 October 1789 the officers of the Garde hosted a banquet to welcome their colleagues of the Régiment de Flandre (Flanders Regiment); a line infantry regiment of the Royal Army, which had been brought to Versailles to replace the disbanded Gardes Francais (French Guards). The latter regiment had joined in the attack on the Bastille six weeks before. The banquet was reported in Paris as a royalist provocation and an angry crowd of thousands marched on Versailles. During the night of 5 October about 500 members of the crowd broke into the palace, killing two of the Gardes du Corps on duty. Other Gardes du Corps held the doors to the royal apartments until grenadiers of the National Guard – mostly former Gardes Francais – restored order. The Garde du Corps narrowly escaped massacre and, disarmed, was obliged to accompany the Royal Family to Paris. Most of this aristocratic regiment then dispersed to their estates or into exile.[4]

Soldiers of the Garde-du-Corps du Roi, ca. 1814.

The Garde du Corps was formally dissolved in 1791 along with all of the Maison du Roi, except for the ill-fated Swiss Guards. After the abdication of Napoleon I in April 1814 and the Bourbon Restoration, Louis XVIII recreated the Garde du Corps with the rest of the Maison du Roi. These units disappeared during Napoleon's return, at the start of the Hundred Days.

After Waterloo and the return of the Bourbons the Garde du Corps was recreated again, almost the only unit of the old Maison du Roi to be given a further chance after the disappointing performance of these expensive and militarily obsolete regiments in 1815. The Garde du Corps was however reorganised, reduced in numbers to about 1,500 and integrated more closely with the regular army. The reconstituted Garde du Corps served the returned Bourbons loyally until being finally abolished, along with all Guard units, by Louis-Philippe I in 1830 after the July Revolution.[5]

Motto edit

The original motto of the Garde du Corps was Erit haec quoque cognita monstris (They will be recognized, them also, with their brilliant deeds), but during the reign of Louis XIV it changed to Nec pluribus impar (No unequal match for many (suns)), which also was Louis XIV's personal motto.

The swords of the guardsmen were inscribed with Vive le Roi (Long live the King).

Organization edit

The number of guardsmen increased between the reign of Francis I and that of Louis XIV from 400 to 1,600 men. In the eighteenth century, the numbers eventually stabilized at around 1,500 men.

In 1737, each company had 320 men, organized into two squadrons and six brigades.

1st Scottish Company (Garde Écossaise) edit

1st Company
Standard of the 1st Company of the Gardes-du-Corps du Roi
Established by Charles VII
Disbanded11 August 1830
July Revolution
Part ofGarde-du-Corps du Roi
Nickname(s)Garde Écossaise
ColorsWhite and Gold

Despite the name, by the 16th century the company had ceased to be purely Scottish. Little by little the Scottish Company became Scottish in name only.

Captains/Chefs de corps:[6]

2nd Company (1st French Company) edit

2nd Company
Standard of the 2nd Company of the Gardes-du-Corps du Roi
Founded4 September 1474
Established by Louis XI
Disbanded11 August 1830
July Revolution
Part ofGarde-du-Corps du Roi
Nickname(s)Gentlemen with the Beak of Corbin
Hundred Spears
1st French Company
ColorsGreen and Gold

Louis XI, by edict of 4 September 1474, had instituted for the custody of his person a company of 100 French men-at-arms, under the command of Hector de Galard. This troop was for a long time known under the nickname of gentilshommes au bec de corbin, because they carried a balanced ax on its handle by a bent tip.

Each of these gentlemen was to maintain at his own expense two archers. By letters patent given at Rouen on 10 June 1475, the King exempted these gentlemen from the maintenance of the archers; he took them in his pay and formed a special company, which he entrusted to Jean Blosset, Lord of Plessis-Pate. This company of archers was called la petite garde du roi, to distinguish it from the 1st Company (Scottish Guard) which was officially designated under the title of Cent lances des gentilshommes de l’hôtel du Roy, ordered for the guard his person, that is, his escort.

The petite garde served on foot and horseback.

It is this petite garde, transformed by Francis I in the company of 100 men-at-arms, which became in 1515, the 1st French Company of the Garde-du-Corps. This company distinguished itself from others, from the reign of Louis XIV, by the blue color of its banners and shoulder straps.

The company held quarters at Coulommiers and served at Versailles the quarter of April.

Captains/Chefs de corps:[6]

3rd Company (2nd French Company) edit

3rd Company
Standard of the 3rd Company of the Gardes-du-Corps du Roi
Established by Louis XI
Disbanded11 August 1830
July Revolution
Part ofGarde-du-Corps du Roi
Nickname(s)2nd French Company
ColorsBlue and Gold

Louis XI, satisfied with the services of his petits gardes of the 1st French Company, created in 1479 a second similar company, and gave the command to Claude de La Chatre.

It became, like the previous one, a company of bodyguards at the beginning of the reign of Francis I.

Captains/Chefs de corps:[6]

Lauzun, who lost in 1669 the position of Colonel General of the Dragoons, received that of captain of this company, thanks to the support (or the passion which it devotes to him) of Anne Marie Louise d'Orléans, Duchess of Montpensier, who not only obtained the approval of the King, but paid this charge 750,000 livres to the Duke of Gesvres.

4th Company (3rd French Company) edit

4th Company
Standard of the 4th Company of the Gardes-du-Corps du Roi
Established by Francis I
Disbanded11 August 1830
July Revolution
Part ofGarde-du-Corps du Roi
Nickname(s)3rd French Company

Upon his accession to the throne, Francis I possessed a company which was commanded by a lieutenant-captain, Raoul de Vernon, Lord of Montreuilbouyn. He also had a personal guard commanded by Louis Leroy de Chavigny. Wishing to have five companies of the bodyguards, all organized on the foot of the Scottish company, he transformed in 1515, as it was said above, the two companies of archers of the small guard of Louis XI, and added two others trained with his personal guards and with detachments of companies of archers of Crussol and La Chatre.

In 1545 he remodeled the organization of the bodyguards, and he kept only four companies. The 4th company had its yellow flags, shoulder straps and crews. She served the Court from October 1 to December 31, and was usually quartered in Dreux.

Captains/Chefs de corps:

Gardes de la Manche edit

The Gardes de la Manche (English: Guards of the Sleeve) was an elite detachment formed as the king's personal guard by Charles VII with men from the Company of Scottish Archers. They were the 24 oldest men of the 1st Scottish Company. The name came from the fact that they stood so close to the king as to be brushed by his sleeves. In 1775 this guard was reduced to 18 men. The captain of the Garde de La Manche was called the First Man-at-arms of France.

A less successful bodyguard was The Forty-Five, recruited by the Duke of Épernon to provide Henry III of France with protection in the midst of the War of the Three Henrys. They served Henry III and Henry IV of France, but were unable to prevent both monarchs being assassinated.

Gallery edit

References edit

  1. ^ Mansell, Philip. Pillars of Monarchy. p. 144. ISBN 0-7043-2424-5.
  2. ^ Jacques Godechot, page 85 "The Taking of the Bastille", Faber and Faber Ltd 1970
  3. ^ Mansell, Philip. Pillars of Monarchy. p. 27. ISBN 0-7043-2424-5.
  4. ^ Mansell, Philip. Pillars of Monarchy. pp. 129–130. ISBN 0-7043-2424-5.
  5. ^ Mansell, Philip. Pillars of Monarchy. p. 133. ISBN 0-7043-2424-5.
  6. ^ a b c Susane 1874
  7. ^ Bulletin de la Société historique et archéologique du Périgord, Tome 17, p. 134
  8. ^ Père des cardinaux de Richelieu
  9. ^ Sur la démission du marquis de Praslin (1563-1626)

Sources edit