Alexandre Dumas, Aramis, Athos, battle of Fontenoy, Cardinal Richelieu, D'Artagnan, French Revolution, Garde Republicaine, Harpers Ferry, La Rochelle, Louis XIII, Louis XIV, Louis XV, Louis XVI, Louis XVIII, Musket, Musketeers, Porthos, Richard Lester, Royal Heralds, tabard, The Count of Monte Cristo, The Three Musketeers, Twenty Years After, Vicomte de Bragelonne
Welcome, as always.
In our last, we said that we were having a little holiday from the works of JRRT and we’re continuing that break in this posting, as well. After all, although we have a deep affection and admiration for them, we began this blog with the intention of focusing upon adventure in general.
In this, we want to look at musketeers—three, in fact, plus a fourth, who, although he lacks an official position in their company, has the heart of one.
A musket is now a generic word for a pre-breech-loading long arm, like this one—
made at the Harpers Ferry arsenal in 1809.
Once upon a time, however, a musket was a specific weapon, a heavier firearm which was supported on a wooden rest.
Such weapons were inaccurate at any distance and, in time, soldiers were gradually trained to load and fire in groups, to have more effect upon the enemy.
Certain cavalry were issued lighter versions of such muskets and, in 1622, one company—later two—was formed as a bodyguard for the young Louis XIII.
At this time, the idea of uniforms was only beginning to appear and so these men would have worn whatever they wished (probably a fancier version of period civilian clothes—they were guarding the king, after all).
To identify them as belonging to the king’s household, however, they were issued with a kind of loose overgarment called a tabard, which we can still see today as worn by the Royal Heralds of Elizabeth II.
One of these musketeers was named D’Artagnan (1611-1673)
and, in 1700—27 years after his death at the siege of Maastricht in 1673—a well-known French author of the period, Courtilz de Sandras (1644-1712), published a semi-fictionalized “memoir” by D’Artagnan, supposedly based upon D’Artagnan’s papers.
It depicted his adventures in a complex world of king and the man behind the king, Louis XIII and his prime minister, Cardinal Richelieu, and the court politics and foreign wars of the era.
And, in this equestrian portrait, you can see the Cardinal literally behind the king.
In 1844, there appeared a totally fictionalized account by Alexandre Dumas (1802-1870),
The Three Musketeers,
which proved so successful that Dumas produced two sequels, Twenty Years After (1845), and The Vicomte de Bragelonne (1847). The success of the first book was such that, since its publication, well—just google “The Three Musketeers in film”! The story of a young man from an impoverished noble family coming to Paris and how, through luck and bravery, he becomes a musketeer, is clearly irresistible—certainly for us! (And Dumas had the gift to do this more than once—he is also the author of the equally-irresistible The Count of Monte Cristo—google that to see its history.)
We have read various versions of this since childhood, from comic books to school texts in French, but, of all of the film versions, our favorite is the 2-part Richard Lester adaptation (script by one of our favorite historical novelists, George Macdonald Fraser—more about him in a future posting) of 1973-1974.
This is a version which keeps some of our favorite scenes—the duel in the convent courtyard, where D’Artagnan proves his courage to his new friends-to-be among the Musketeers, Athos, Porthos, and Aramis,
and the wager of the four friends to defend the bastion at the siege of La Rochelle while having breakfast there,
but is, on the whole, a very light-hearted telling of the story (after all, Lester was famous for being the director of several earlier films starring the Beatles—the original idea even being that John, Paul, George, and Ringo were to be the Musketeers), set against a very grainy depiction of the world of the 1620s (which we find very convincing).
As for the real Musketeers, they had a long career as part of the King’s household guards, from the time of Louis XIII
through that of Louis XIV
through a famous charge at the battle of Fontenoy (1745) in the time of Louis XV.
They were swept away at the time of the French Revolution, along with their master, Louis XVI,
but restored in 1814 by his royal successor, Louis XVIII.
In this new edition of the Musketeers, there appeared for a short time a recruit named Dumas,
but, unlike his father (1762-1806), a famous general of the French revolutionary period,
he had another career waiting for him…
Thanks, as always, for reading.
That last reincarnation of the Musketeers was a brief one: they were finally abolished in 1816. We can’t resist, in this ps, showing you a kind of descendant, however—at least in looking French and splendid. Here is the Garde republicaine in Paris. Its name tells you that, although monarchy might be dead in France, guards are certainly not.