They were an early modern type of infantry soldier, especially in Europe. Similar to a dragoon or cavalryman, they were known to fight on horseback. They were the predecessor to the rifleman. They were always armed with a musket (until the rifle replaced it in most western armies in the 1850s). They inspired a candy bar and a classic novel. Of course, the people group being referred to here is none other than the musketeers.
The most popular regime of musketeer is probably those of France, thanks to Alexandre Dumas’ tale The Three Musketeers. Developed in 1622 by Louis XIII, a company of light cavalry with muskets was formed. Known as the Musketeers of the Guard, these men were a junior unit of the military branch in the Royal household. Being a junior unit of the Royal Guard, musketeers were not likened closely to the royal family and were open to lower class French nobility or to younger sons of nobles whose older son had been a part of a more prestigious unit. Musketeers fought both on horseback and on foot and quickly acquired a reputation for being strong fighters, as their only hope of advancement was to excel as skilled dragoons.
Soon after the emergence of the king’s musketeers, Cardinal Richelieu developed his own guard unit, naming them after the king’s junior unit. The result of this action was the birth of a rivalry between the king’s musketeers and the cardinal’s musketeers. 1642 marked the death of Cardinal Richelieu and his company moved to the hands of Cardinal Mazarin until his death in 1661. The cardinal’s musketeers were then passed on to Louis XIV. Both musketeer units were then regrouped into two companies making up a guard cavalry regiment. The king’s musketeers were the “Grey Musketeers” while the cardinal’s musketeers were the “Black Musketeers” because of the color of horse each company rode.
Due to the lower entrance requirements, the musketeers became the most popular of the military companies. In order to get into a senior unit, one had to be a member of the wealthy nobility and a senior. This qualification eliminated the majority of French nobles and thus, the musketeers were the only option to get into a cavalry unit and possibly attract the king’s attention.
In 1776, tragedy struck as Louis XVI disassembled the musketeers, as he was cutting costs. Fortunately, this decision was not long lasting and on July 6, 1814, after the first Bourbon Restoration, the musketeers and other military units of the Royal household were reunited. However, these regiments did not hold up against Napoleon’s return and Louis XVIII went into exile. After the monarchy was restored, the final blow hit the musketeers, as they were once again disbanded on January 1, 1816.
In addition to musketeers of France, these companies also surfaced in other parts of Europe, such as Spain, Britain, and Russia and in China, India, and the Ottoman Empire in Asia. They were influential in many ways in the future development of the military and their legacy us still going strong. To see our musketeer collection and other cavalry clothing, check out: http://www.historicalclothingrealm.com/