Flags of the French Ancien Regime

France’s Ancien Regime (France with kings) lasted for thousands of years, but when most people talk about it, they refer to the 18th century. Since flags were such an important part of the 18th century battlefield, I will be exploring the French infantry flags of this period.

Line Regiments

The majority of infantry during the 17th century was line infantry. These regiments had the most men and were recruited from all over France. The French had two flags for their regiments: the colonel’s colour and the regimental colour. The colonel’s flag was all white, with a cross in the middle of it. White was the main colour of the Bourbon dynasty of France, so their flags reflected this. The regimental flag was the same except each canton on the side was colored in different shades. Normandy’s regiment had yellow on all four. Auvergne had black and purple cantons; black was in the top left and bottom right.

Flag of Auvergne

Some regiments had more complex designs on their flags with zigzagged lines, fleurs-de-lys, or other markings. Nice’s regiment had waved blue lines on a red background, symbolizing its proximity with the sea. Many regiments that were named after the Bourbons or kings had fleurs-de-lys on their cross. The Du Roi Infantrie had 48 gold fleurs on their flag as well as “Per Dercori Virtus” written on it. The Soissonais had yellow diagonal lines in each of its blue cantons, while the Ile-de-France regiment had black triangles facing outward on a light brown background.

Royal Marines Flag

Irish

The French Irish Brigade had their own characteristic flags with the traditional French style. The main flag had two red cantons running top right to bottom left. Each canton had a large gold crown and a harp in the join of the cross. The flags said “Hoc in Signo Vinces” (With this sign, we conquer) in gold lettering on the red cross. The other cantons would be regimental. The Rooth Regiment was simply a cross of St. George with a golden lion and crown in the centre. The Duke of Berwicks’ had no crowns, but 4 green cantons with red diagonal lines. The colonel’s flag was the same as the other flags except in white.

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The Flag of the Bulkeley Regiment

Guards

The Gardes Françaises were the ultimate regiment of French guards, founded in the mid 16th century. Their dark blue coats had red facings and were commanded by a French Lt.-General. The colonel colour was the simple, white French pattern but on each branch of the cross, there was a golden crown. Their regular colour was blue with a white cross akin to the colonel’s one, except there were 180 small fleurs-de-lys.

 

The Swiss Guards followed the Franco-Swiss format of flags. The colonel’s colour was all white, as per usual, except in the regimental one, there was a collection of rays on each canton. They were orange, purple-blue, black, and red. These bright flags were used by all other Swiss units, but their regimental colours were different colours.

 

Swiss

The 10 Swiss regiments all used the same design as the Swiss Guards, but some were more complex. The Diesbach regiment had “Fidelite et Honeur” on their black, yellow, and red flags. Their colonel’s colour had many small fleurs de lys on it. Others had slogans or crowns on their colonel’s colours.

Boccard Regiment Flag

Others

The French had many other foreign regiments with interesting colours. The Royal Bavarian Regiment’s regimental flag had a white and red border with a smaller cross in white on a light blue field. Inside the cross were fleurs-de-lys. The colonel’s colour had the Virgin Mary in the centre. The La Marck Regiment had wite and red checkers surrounding a blue square with three fleurs, a crown, and golden laurels.

Royal Polish Regiment

There are so many other French flags, but of course, I cannot describe them all. I encourage you to look up more of these flags, because they are so interesting!

 

 

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Matchlocks versus Flintlocks

The turn of the 18th century brought an end to the era of matchlock muskets and the flintlock arrived to reign for over 100 years. Most historians accept the fact that the flintlock was a vastly superior weapon, but how much of an edge did the musket really have?

First let’s look at the basic concept of the matchlock musket. Matchlocks evolved throughout multiple wars, but the first of them were operated by a lever. The lever would trigger the pin with attached match cord to move down and light the powder in the pan. Later, matchlocks developed to have a trigger. The muskets were usually at the shoulder of the musketeer, measuring 140 cm (4’5). To load a matchlock, you would pour some powder in the pan, close the pan and blow off the loose powder, pour powder and ball down the barrel, ram the charge, light the match, and fire. The process would usually take a minute for inexperienced musketeers, but many could fire twice per minute.

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Part of a 17th century French drill manual on firing a matchlock musket

Now let’s look at the flintlock. The flintlock operated with a simple system with a hammer, frizzen, and pan. The musket was similar in length and weight to a matchlock and were used in the latter 17th century and continued to be used throughout the 18th century and even through the Napoleonic Wars, ending in 1815. Loading a flintlock was easy to learn for common infantrymen. The soldier would pour some powder into the pan and close the frizzen over it. Then, he would charge the musket by pouring the ball and powder into the barrel from a cartridge. The bullet would be rammed and then he would pull back the hammer. The flint would strike the pan and spark the powder, firing the musket.

Many would label the flintlock as the superior weapon immediately since it clearly arrived on the battlefield after the development of matchlock muskets. However, the flintlock did not have much of an edge at all. Loading times were staggeringly similar. Trained musketeers in the 1680s and 90s fired flintlocks in 30 seconds, just two seconds less than the average time to fire a matchlock (according to John Tincey in Osprey MAA 267). The weight and lengths of these muskets were comparably the same, too. Both weapons would frequently misfire due to problems with their pans and damp powder would not fire from either musket. Many musketeers continued to use the matchlock into the very early 18th century. So why was it replaced?

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British musketeers at Blenheim, 1704 – The War of Spanish Succession was the first war in which the matchlock truly was replaced on the battlefield. It was still used, however, by some Russians in the Great Northern War.

Matchlock musketeers carried their powder in wooden cartridges slung around their shoulders, nicknamed ‘apostles.’ Musketballs were carried in a pouch, and powder for their pans was in a horn. Including this, the musketeer had wadding in a separate pouch. These were very fiddly to operate, and would waste time. In the heat of battle, a musketeer may forget which ‘apostle’ he used and may forget wadding, causing a muzzle flash but no shot. Musketeers in the flintlock-era solved this problem by using paper cartridges, which were quicker to load and more effective. Flintlock muskets also had the ability to attach bayonets to them. The plug bayonet could be used by matchlocks, but this prevented firing, and many matchlock musketeers relied on swords or their regiment’s pikemen to defend them. Socket and plug bayonets were more common for the flintlock, and when Louis XIV first introduced the socket bayonet, it was exclusive to flintlock muskets. Flintlocks also removed the problems with matchcords, which would fizzle out on many occasions and cause uncoordinated firing from companies. Flintlocks were perfect for volleys and therefore suited the evolving style of European armies.

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The pan of a matchlock musket

The advantage is taken by the flintlock thanks to technological advances away from the musket itself. When presented head-to-head, these muskets were not much different from one another. Mass production in the Industrial Revolution played a large role in the flintlock overtaking the matchlock as the primary weapon on the battlefield, as well as the disappearance of pikes and the evolution of the Marlburian-Era tactics.

Spaniards in the Highlands: The Battle of Glen Sheil

The War of the Quadruple Alliance began in 1717 in the hopes of defeating Spanish power in Europe post-succession. The alliance of Great Britain, France, the Dutch, and the Holy Roman Empire united to prevent Spain under Philip V from breaking the Treaty of Utrecht (1713). The treaty gave Austria the Spanish Netherlands and parts of Italy while England controlled Gibraltar and parts of the Americas from France. Cardinal Giulio Alberoni, reminiscent of the legendary Richelieu, controlled the Spanish king and convinced him into marriages and the rebuilding of a navy. The Quadruple Alliance began to worry, and rightfully so, as Spain was preparing for war. Most battles were fought throughout Italy in 1718 and 1719, but the Spanish created a plan to invade the British Isles.

Irish exile James Butler, Duke of Ormonde, created the idea to overthrow King George I in favour of James “the Pretender”, son of James II. Catholic Spain supported the invasion and began gathering troops to send over to Ireland. With Spanish troops ready to sail for Britain, Butler dispatched his fleet. Just like the Spanish Armada of 1588, a massive storm destroyed the ships off the coast of Galicia. Just 300 Spaniards managed to arrive in Scotland after being blown off course. George Keith and his Spanish troops landed in County Ross where they managed to get the support of Jacobite highlanders. At Eilean Donan Castle, Jacobites learned of British ships sent to attack them.

HMS Worcester, HMS Enterprise, and HMS Flamborough; the strongest of the ships; arrived near Eilean Donan and sent a parlay ashore to negotiate. When the highlanders opened fire, the British rushed back to their ships and began pounding the castle with shell. British Marines snuck ashore on the night of May 10 and caught the defenders by surpise, forcing their surrender. With a good portion of their support gone, Keith was struggling to keep his operations going. The Spaniards and Jacobites fell back to a mountain pass- Glenn Sheil.

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The Battle of Glen Shiel, 10 June 1719

The Spaniards and Jacobites created defenses at Glen Shiel that bisected the road. 200 men of the Galicia Regiment were supported by members of the Clans Mackenzie, MacKinnon, Cameron, McGregor, Murray, and Keith. The entire force numbered about 1,000 men. British forces under the command of Gen. Joseph Wightman arrived on June 10. Montagu’s Regiment and Clayton’s Regiment were sent to defeat the Jacobites along with the Huttel Dutch Regiment, a company of grenadiers, 120 dragoons, and four mortars. The Galicians were positioned on a hill overlooking the enemy while Scottish troops manned the barricades on the road. Murray’s troops were mortared and then charged by the British, cracking after an hour of fighting. George Seaforth attacked the Jacobite left, but he was wounded in the arm by the Galicians in the assault. The flanks began to crumble and the Spanish line caved in, routing uphill away from the deadly fire of the British troops. The Spanish were captured and imprisoned in Edinburgh till the end of the war in early 1720. Keith later became Prussian ambassador to Spain, but the Spanish attacks on Scotland failed spectacularly in a widely overlooked conflict of the early 18th century.

To view a map of the battle drawn by Lt. John Bastide at the National Library of Scotland, click here.

“Seemed to arrest fortune with one glance”: The Battle of Monmouth

October 13th marks the birthday of one of America’s most famous folk heroes- Molly Pitcher. Mary Ludwig Hays, as she was really named, is remembered for her alleged actions at the Battle of Monmouth Court House in New Jersey during the American Revolution. How did Hays get her nickname, and why is Monmouth one of the war’s most important battles?

In June 1778, the British army under General Sir Henry Clinton had been ordered to move its troops to New York after spending the winter camped in Philadelphia. After the defeat at Saratoga, the British wanted to secure a position in the north again. Seeing their opportunity, Generals George Washington and Harry Lee launched an attack on the rear of Clinton’s force in Monmouth, New Jersey, on June 28th. The blazing sun beat down on the Continental troops who had been training at Valley Forge to compete as an army on the open field thanks to assistance from Baron von Steuben, a former Prussian officer. Heat was estimated at 100 degrees Fahrenheit (37 Celsius) with high humidity, no weather to fight a battle in.

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Washington ahead of the Continental Line

Lee was ordered to lay in wait along the Middletown Road for the British column to pass by. This would have allowed Washington to assault Clinton’s main force while the reserves were preoccupied. However, Lee’s attack was poorly coordinated and the Americans were smashed back by British forces, outraging Washington. The rest of the Continental troops arrived to support Lee’s broken forces, rallying on the high ridge next to Monmouth Court House. Washington placed Lee’s troops in command of the Marquis de Lafayette. Generals Greene, Wayne, and Sirling’s divisions held the heights while the British forces prepared to attack.

The American artillery stunned the British troops advancing to attack Stirling’s division and they were soon beaten back in a counterattack. An assault on Greene’s troops failed, but Wayne’s division broke. The heat quickly winded many soldiers on both sides as artillery and musketry whizzed back and forth.

As the story goes, William Hays, a member of the 4th Continental Artillery, collapsed of heat exhaustion. His wife, Mary, stepped up and immediately filled his position at the gun, continuing to fire the cannon in his place. Mary was nicknamed “Molly Pitcher” as she and the Continentals kept the battle raging on. A British musket ball zipped through her skirt, missing her body, and she resumed firing. Joseph Plumb Martin, whose diaries survived and recounted the events of an average soldier in the continental army, confirmed the incident. Molly Pitcher went down in history as one of America’s most important and recognizable women.

Molly Pitcher
Mary Ludwig Hays fighting against the British

By 6PM, the British decided to end the day and fall back. Though a few generals wanted to chase them, George Washington refused and held the heights in case of British attack the next day. The Americans had suffered about 700 casualties and the British, the same number. Washington’s trust in Lee severely deteriorated after the battle, and many called for his sacking. Cries of treason tainted Lee’s reputation.

The question arises who actually won the Battle of Monmouth. While the Americans drove the British from the field, they suffered heavy casualties and their line broke in the centre. The early morning failure of Lee did drag in Washington to fight a different battle that intended, and tainted one of the more important generals in the Continental Army. The British suffered as many casualties, and were forced to march off the field. However, they still made their way towards New York and and also managed to defeat Lee’s initial attack. The battle is certainly up for debate, but most credit the victory to the Americans, as this was their first open battle against the British.

Wargame Figures: The Battle of Fontenoy 1745

Arguably the most important battle in the War of Austrian Succession, Fontenoy pitted French troops against an Anglo-Hanoverian and Dutch force in the fields of Belgium. I made wargame minatures in 15mm scale to replicate each regiment that was present at the battle so you can reenact sections of this engagement. Including generals, infantry, artillery, and cavalry, the set I created is as accurate a representation to the flags and uniforms as possible.

Artillery and Generals (Micro-scale)

Here are all of the links to print off your figures:

British & Hanoverian Infantry

Dutch & Austrian Infantry

Allied Cavalry

French Infantry

French Cavalry

Generals & Artillery

If you would like to learn more about the Battle of Fontenoy, feel free to read the review of Osprey Publishing’s recent book about the battle here.

Book Review: Fontenoy 1745

Osprey Publishing’s recent release, Fontenoy 1745, retells the story of the War of Austrian Succession’s most famous battle. An Anglo-Dutch-Hanoverian force commanded by the Duke of Cumberland came face to face with Marechal de Saxe’s French forces in the small Belgian town of Fontenoy, just outside Tournai. Written by Michael McNally and illustrated by Sean O’Brogain, this book opens up a near-forgotten war in Europe’s history.

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Osprey Publishing’s new book: Fontenoy 1745

Praise: Cumberland’s tactical errors are pointed out bluntly, and rightfully so. The book makes its statements of how the Anglo-Dutch forces were uninformed and very strong-willed to their plans. Saxe’s flexibility and use of multiple columns is depicted in a few maps and really shows what a complex network the French general made. There are also reconstructed uniforms in the book of many units of interest such as the Mousquetaires du Roi of the French army. On-site photographs are always great, but McNally manages to capture the correct weather too. His misty pictures clearly show how hard it was for the early-morning attacks troops made. Osprey Publishing always do a good introduction to a topic, and the War of Austrian Succession is covered briefly and provides a solution to any confusion one may have about what the British or the French fighting in Belgium has to do with the Austrian throne.

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British and French Guards clash at Fontenoy

Criticism: The two battle maps in the book felt boxy too me. While 18th century warfare was very rigid in its structure, the maps feel odd and seem to exaggerate the number of troops on the field with huge blocks of infantry. The illustrations could also have been placed better in the book, as you find a picture of the French Irish Brigade about 10 pages after you hear about their attack.

The War of Austrian Succession is mostly overlooked, but it still remains a very important war. Maria Theresa kept her claims to the throne, and it eventually led to the Seven Years’ War. Saxe’s strategies influenced Napoleon Bonaparte later in the early 19th century. Seeing the British defeat as an opportunity, the Jacobite Rebellion sprang up in Scotland. While the Battle of Fontenoy was 3 years before the end of the war, it remains a turning point, and a remarkable French victory over the British, Hanoverians, and Dutch.

Rating: 4/5