My favourite book of all time has to be The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas. Nothing else comes close to this amazing story. It is full of everything; friendship, intrigue, betrayal, swashbuckling adventure and a doomed love story. The central character is D’Artagnan; he does not become a Musketeer until the very end, but he is the hero, his courage, skill and intelligence are unsurpassed.
But did you know d’Artagnan was real and so were the Regiment of Musketeers?
The Regiment of Musketeers were formed in France in 1622, as part of King Louis XIII’s personal bodyguard. Originally a compliment of 100 men, the regiment was made up of gentlemen and members of the nobility who were also proven soldiers; a candidate had to have served in the regular army before being considered for enrolment in the Musketeers.
The Musketeers were a mounted regiment, armed with swords and muskets. The 1st and 2nd companies were distinguished by the colour of their horses; grey for the 1st Company of Musketeers and black for the 2nd. Their captain was, in fact, the king; however, their everyday command was left to a captain-lieutenant, with a sub-lieutenant, an ensign and a cornet as junior officers. Their uniform comprised a blue, sleeveless, tunic with a cross of white velvet on the back and front, which was worn over a scarlet coat.
One thing that does hold true in the Dumas novels, is the Musketeers rivalry with the Cardinal’s Guard. Formed by Cardinal Richelieu for his own protection, the Guard and Musketeers kept up an ‘unhealthy’ rivalry, and competition was fierce between France’s 2 elite regiments.
The Musketeer captain-lieutenant was a Captain Troisvilles (Tréville); while other members of the regiment included Armand de Sillègue d’Athos d’Autevielle (Athos), Isaac de Porteau (Porthos) and Henri d’Aramitz (Aramis). Of course, the most famous Musketeer of all is d’Artagnan or, to give him his full name, Charles Ogier de Batz de Castelmore, sieur d’Artagnan. D’Artagnan was born around 1613/15 in the château of Castelmore in Lupiac in Gascony.
His father was Bertrand de Batz, seigneur de la Plaigne, while his mother was Françoise de Montesquiou, daughter of Jean de Montesquiou, seigneur d’Artagnan; and from whom the hero took his nom de guerre. D’Artagnan was one of 7 children with 3 brothers and 3 sisters. Paula and Jean, who became captain of the guards, were older, whilst Arnaud was younger and became an abbot. His 3 sisters, Claude, Henrye and Jeanne, all made good marriages.
No one could join the Musketeers without having proved themselves in the regular regiments. D’Artagnan joined the guards in the mid-1630s and served under Captain des Essarts. The regiment saw much action in the early 1640s, taking part in sieges at Arras, Aire-sur-la-Lys, la Bassée and Bapaume in 1640-41 and Collioure and Perpignan in 1642. Whether or not d’Artagnan was personally involved is unclear, but it is likely he took part in some – if not all – of these sieges.
D’Artagnan managed to find himself a great patron, in the form of Cardinal Mazarin, Richelieu’s protégé and successor as First Minister of France. With the death of Louis XIII, in 1643, Mazarin was also regent for the new king, Louis XIV, who was only 5-years-old at his accession. With Mazarin’s patronage, aged about 30, d’Artagnan joined the Musketeers in 1644. Unfortunately for d’Artagnan, the Musketeers were disbanded only 2 years later, in 1646.
D’Artagnan, however, continued in the service of Cardinal Mazarin. He was active during the Fronde, the French civil wars that marred Louis XIV’s minority and gave the young king an abiding distaste for Paris. D’Artagnan carried out various missions and acted as a go-between for the Cardinal and his allies, when Mazarin was exiled from France in 1651.
D’Artagnan was ever in the thick of the fighting and narrowly escaped being killed, in 1654, at Stenay, while under the command of Turenne. He fought in sieges at Lancrecies and Saint-Ghislaine and, aged about 40, earned himself promotion, becoming captain of the Guards. When the Musketeers were reinstated, in 1657, d’Artagnan went ‘home’ and the following year he became sub-lieutenant, replacing Isaac de Baas. With Philippe-Julien de Mancini, duc de Nevers and Mazarin’s nephew, in the post of captain-lieutenant, the day-to-day command fell to d’Artagnan.
Although Alexandre Dumas’ hero stayed resolutely single, after the death of Constance, his true love, in reality d’Artagnan married, in 1659, Charlotte-Anne de Chanlecy, baronne de Sainte-Croix. They had 2 sons, born in 1660 and 1661 and both named Louis – after their godfathers, Louis XIV and his son Louis, the Dauphin. The marriage did not last long and the couple officially separated in 1665, possibly due to d’Artagnan’s long absences on duty.
The last few years of his marriage coincided with d’Artagnan’s duty as gaoler to a high-profile political prisoner; Louis XIV’s former Superintendant of Finances, Nicholas Foucquet. D’Artagnan had been ordered to arrest Foucquet in September 1661, on charges of embezzlement and High Treason. The prosecution process was to take 3 years, with Foucquet becoming the ‘fall guy’ for decades of financial mismanagement and corruption; although most believed his real crime was to be more regal than the king himself. D’Artagnan’s duty as gaoler was only finally discharged in January 1665, when Foucquet was delivered to the prison-fortress of Pignerol, in the Italian Alps.
An initial sentence of banishment had been considered too lenient, and so Louis had changed it to one of perpetual imprisonment and solitary confinement, although he was allowed a valet. Foucquet died 15 years later. Some sources suggest that it was Foucquet’s valet, who had served the disgraced minister in prison, who became known as the Man in the Iron Mask, the prisoner in the Bastille, and the inspiration for the character in Dumas’ concluding Musketeer novel, The Vicomte de Bragelonne (Ten Year Later). Another d’Artagnan link to the Iron Mask story is Saint-Mars, d’Artagnan’s friend and second-in-command during the Foucquet affair, and eventual Governor of the Bastille – he was, in fact, still governor there at the time of the Man in the Iron Mask’s death.
With the failure of his marriage, d’Artagnan concentrated on his career as a soldier. In 1671 he was again involved in a high-profile arrest, that of the Duc de Lauzun, who had dared to marry the Duchesse de Montpensier, la Grande Mademoiselle, cousin of Louis XIV. D’Artagnan and his Musketeers again made the journey across the Alps, delivering Lauzun to Pignerol on 16 December; his rooms were those directly below Foucquet, in the Angel Tower.¹
In 1672 d’Artagnan was appointed Governor of Lille, replacing the Mareschal d’Humières. However, by 1673, he was back in his rightful place, at the head of his regiment of Musketeers in the Dutch Wars. In May, 1673, Louis XIV had marched on Maastricht at the head of his troops, several thousand strong. By 10 June the town was surrounded, not only by French forces, but also their English allies, and the siege began in earnest. The artillery bombardment began on 19th June and lasted for 5 days and was followed by an assault which included 4 battalions, 8 squadrons of the King’s Horse, 300 Grenadiers and the 1st company of the Musketeers, led by d’Artagnan.
D’Artagnan’s company attacked a demi-lune (half-moon) fortification, which protected the Tongres Gate. Within half an hour of fierce fighting, d’Artagnan’s men had control of the demi-lune, a flag of the fleur-de-lis planted firmly on the parapet. The Duke of Monmouth, on e of the English commanders, then decided to cross the open ground that separated the demi-lune from the Tongres Gate. It is likely that d’Artagnan, a more experienced soldier, advised against such foolhardy action, but once Monmouth led the charge, d’Artagnan could do nothing but follow, leading his Musketeers into the foray.
D’Artagnan made it to the ramparts of Maastricht before falling mortally wounded from a musket ball:
It was on this occasion that Monsieur D’Artagnan was killed. The intensity of musket fire was such that even hail could not fall more abundantly. Two musketeers trying to pick up Monsieur D’Artagnan were killed at his side, and two others who had taken their place and given themselves the same duty, were killed in the same way next to their captain, without even having the time to pick themselves up …. This battle went on for five hours in the light of day and out in the open, and one could almost say: “And the combat ceased due to a lack of combatants.”³
D’Artagnan died on 25th June, 1673, aged about 60; he was buried in Maastricht. Having lost their brilliant, legendary captain, the Musketeers were grief-stricken. As was Louis XIV, who, that evening, wrote to his wife, Maria Theresa, ‘Madame, I have lost d’Artagnan, in whom I had the utmost confidence and who merited it in all occasions.’²
Intelligent, loyal, steadfast and brave, d’Artagnan was as much a hero in real-life as on the page; but thanks to Alexandre Dumas his legend not only lives on, but grows…
Footnotes: ¹The Man Behind the Iron Mask by John Noone; ²The Death of D’Artagnan (article) Dr Josephine Wilkinson, Facebook page; ³Mercure Galant, June 1673, quoted by Dr Josephine Wilkinson
Thanks to Cindy Barris-Speke who informed me via Facebook that d’Artagnan is buried in Maastricht.
Pictures courtesy of Wikipedia
Sources: The Man Behind the Iron Mask by John Noone; The Death of D’Artagnan (article) Dr Josephine Wilkinson, Facebook page; jospha-josephine-wilkinson.blogspot.co.uk; sirclisto.com; Forgotten History, Unbelilevable Moments from the Past by Jem Duducu; awesomestories.com.
By Alexandre Dumas: The Three Musketeers (Les Trois Mousquetaires); Twenty Years After (Vingt Ans Apres); Dix And Plus Tard (Ten Years After, which includes the story of the Man in the Iron Mask)
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