French Regiments of the "Ancien Regime" in the Seven Years War
In 1756 France had arguably one of the largest military organizations in Europe. It was also as diverse as it was large. I will cover the infantry first. It consisted of 80 Regiments of the Metropolitan Army made up of native born Frenchmen, 32 regiments of foreign extraction, 12 German, 9 Swiss, 7 Irish, 1 Scots, and 2 Italian. It also had 2 regiments of Guards, one French and one Swiss. Each regiment was commanded by a colonel and his staff comprised 1 lieutenant colonel, 1 major, 1 assistance-major, 1 chaplain and 1 surgeon. In the french regiments the Chaplain was a Catholic priest and it was required that the fantassin (the common infantryman) was Catholic. the foreign regiments were authorized to have a Chaplain of the common faith of the soldiers, usually Lutheran for the German and some Swiss regiments, the Irish, Scot and Italian Regiments had Catholic Chaplains. As far as I can tell there was no effort to proselytize the troops into accepting the Catholic faith. Before the Seven Years war the metropolitan army could only serve in France or Europe. The clonial military establishment was controlled be the Ministry of Marine, which furnished French Marines. They where not formed as regiments but as detachments usually about a company but as few as a handful in far off posts, especially in Canada. Their basic uniform was similar to the metropolitan army in the cities but could be indian dress in remote places.
The uniform of the time consisted on a long undyed wool coat called a Justacorps, which varied from time to time since the early part of the 18th century with a different number of buttons. Due to the undyed wool the coat appeared from white, or light grey depending on the quality of the wool. Wool was used because it has natural properties; it is a natural rip-stop (it frays), it will breath and allow sweat to pass through it*, it will warm even when wet, dirt may be brushed out of it,(somewhat),it was cheat and available. Officers at the start were allowed to wear coats of the own specifications but this was ended during the reign of Louis XV. In any case the quality of the wool was better for the officers. Regimental coats differentiated the unit by a various combination of button placement, button colour, cuff design and pocket placement and shape. Various regiments also wore different colour cuffs and later collars. It was all quite perplexing and in many cases the result was a combination of the Colonels desires, the uniform regulations and the amount of money available to be spent. Officers wore gorgets, the last remaining evolution of the knights armor. Some were inscribed with the King cypher.
If that wasn't enough, foreign regiments wore different coloured justacorps, red for Swiss and Irish, cornflower blue for German, dark blue for Scots, and brown for Italian. The French Guards wore a dark blue justacorp and the Swiss guards wore a red justacorp, they copied each other and were different only in the colour of the cuffs, which could be blue or red for the French regiments and different colours for the foreign.
The regiments were not numbered, but were named, for The King, (du Roy), The Queen (de La Reine), the various provinces, and in the case of some of the French Regiments and foreign regiments after the colonel (Regt Dillion, Irish) or country of origin Royal Scots (Royal Eccosais) and Royal Italien.
During the first half of the 18th century the buttons reached all the way from the collar to the bottom of the coat. They were buttoned during cold weather but the bottom was usually left open to just below the waist belt and from the top to about mid-chest. Slowly the amount of buttons were reduced to just neck to the belt. 13 buttons down the front and 3 or more on each pocket which were often only for show.
Under the Justacorps the soldier wore an additional garment called a "gilet, which was really worn as a vest. In the French army this was actually a short coat with sleeves, made from wool, and of the Regimental colour. It can be see in the artists rendition to the right though this portrait is of the Compagnies Franches, French Marines, the pattern was basically the same and its use was the same. These gilets could be worn without the white justacorps as a fatigue uniform, and for training. In America the troops might also fight with these gilets, for comfort and from the heat. Soldiers in every war have always adapted.
Soldiers wore a knee breeches called a culotte, it extended from the waist to just below the knee. It differed from those worn in the American War of Indepedence in that it buttoned down the outside of the fly instead of being hidden. At the knee it had three buttons on the outside and a strap to keep it below the knee. It had a full seat to allow bending over. Made from wool it was in the colour of the regiment.
The legs were protected by canvas leg covering called gaiters, which buttoned up the side and were form fitting. They existed in each European army of the time. I have heard reference made about white in the summer and Black in the winter for English troops but I can't pin down a source for the French. They were hard to put on and hard to take off. The top three buttons were attached through the gaiters to the knee buttons on the culottes. A black leather garter was fastened around the knee to keep the gaiter snug about the knees.
The hat was black wool felt trimmed in gilt or silver depending on the button colour. It was cocked or folded in the french fashion, meaning basically the the leaves were about five inches instead of four as the English wore, and it hooked instead of being attached through the crown with string. A white (or black) cockade was worn on the left side attached by a button and ribbon. The hat was cocked over the left eye to allow a musket to be carried on the left shoulder as was habitual. A wool fatigue cap was usually fabricated from an old uniform coat or scraps left over from manufacturing the coat.
Commands were passed during battle by drums call. The troops knew the calls from memory. Drummers called tambours wore a beautiful coat usually in the Kings livery, a blue coat heavily embroidered with a special kind of lace. The drummers wore the Grande Tenue for ceremonies and special occasions and a Petit Tenue for normal use which was less heavily embroidered. Regoiments who wore white usually had drummers uniform of blue as did most foreign regiments, occasionally the colonels livery was worn but this practice was discontinued, by royal decree. The lace looked like this.
The drummers coat looked like this.
* Note: You are probably thinking, "Wow that must have been uncomfortable and scratchy." Well it is wool, but modern wools and 18th century wools are different. The process for shearing, cleaning and fulling wool has changed, many of the natural softeners have been removed by the modern process.
Vive le Roy!
Much of the art is from Pierre Joux Graphiste, These are excellent representations, albiet some have a mature theme.