French Marines in the late 17th century



Short history in the 17th Century


The french Navy infantry companies first appeared under Louis XIII and Richelieu, from 1622 to 1627, but were not maintained.

In the mid-17th century a few Marine regiments were raised by the french Navy. Unfortunately, the Army also needed troops... and, for the bureaucrats sitting in offices in Paris, the sea has never been a priority ! So all these nice new Marine regiments were sent far away from the coasts, in north-east France or elsewhere, and were lost for sea service forever.

The Navy continued to raise troops, but desperately tried to hide them. The idea was to raise independant companies, not organized in regiments, and thus less tempting for the Army : the "Compagnies Franches de la Marine" (= "Navy free companies") were created in 1671.

In 1685, to hide them a bit more, they were called "escouades de soldats-gardiens" (= "squads of guardian soldiers") . But from 1688 the War of the League of Augsburg made clear that France actually needed Marine troops : in December 1690 the Compagnies Franches de la Marine were reorganized, and their naval role was not threatened any more.

The 1685 ordinance describes their uniform : "a great justaucorps of grey-white cloth, new, lined with blue reveche (wool), garnished with pewter buttons ; blue serge d'Aumale (serge wool) breeches lined with linen, socks the same, a hat bordered by lace facon argent, one pair of new shoes, two shirts, two cravats, a belt facon d'elan and a sword".


A Marine soldier circa 1700

(from a period drawing)


The 1690 ordinance tells that "His Majesty wants the soldiers to practice, when they will be at sea, everything related to the ship's service". The Compagnies de la Marine also took their share in the guard of the navy harbours, together with line infantry units and coastal militias ; and of course they took parts in naval attacks on the coasts of enemy countries.





According to the 1690 text, each company should be composed of three navy officers (one lieutnant and two ensigns) and 100 men : one captain of arms (senior sergeant), 4 sergeants, 8 corporals, 2 drummers, one fife, and 84 soldiers.

80 companies are created, and garrisoned in the most important navy harbours of the kingdom: Brest, Port-Louis, Rochefort, Toulon, Le Havre, Dunkirk, "and in the neighbouring towns and parishes".



The french marines recreated...


Two Marine soldiers taking part in the maritime festival "Brest 2004"
(recreated by "Sans-Pareil 1690")



The Navy "Bombardiers"


The "Bombardiers de la Marine" were a completely different corps ; but they deserve to be mentioned here, as they took parts in many actions together with the Marine infantry from the 1680s-1690s onwards.

In 1682-1683 were created "galiotes a bombes"(ships carrying naval mortars), the french Navy needing them to attack and besiege enemy harbours and naval strongholds. To man these boats and mortars, volunteer sailors began to be instructed in Toulon.

In 1692, two companies of 50 men each were created : one in Brest and one in Toulon. A third company was created in Rochefort in 1694.

The Bombardiers de la Marine wore a red coat with blue facings :


"Bombardier de la Marine" uniform in Brest in 1702-1703
(from a period drawing)
(we may think that the heavy cap was not wore all the time,
and that the soldiers also had a hat)




Link to the website of the "Association des Amis du Musee de la Marine"
(Association of Friends of the French Navy Museum)
which publishes the magazine "Neptunia"
(where some of the info of this page comes from)


Link to the (non-official) website of the modern french Marine Troops



Historical infos index

Huchehault along the centuries (re-enactments of various periods)

Louis XIV period home page


Write to Huchehault