Book Review: “French Musketeer 1622-1775” by René Chartrand

French Musketeers book cover

Who doesn’t love the Musketeers? Ever since the French writer Alexandre Dumas, père wrote his series of historical novels in the 19th Century, people have followed the adventures of D’Artagnan, Athos, Porthos and Aramis and their intrepid valets in books and movies. But were these men just characters in a book or did they really exist? Did the Musketeers really duel and fight amongst themselves? Did they actually fight in wars? And what were their uniforms really like? What sort of equipment was issued to them?

This book from Osprey Publishing answers this and many more questions. Chartrand gives an overall history of the various units of the Musketeers. They fought on horseback and on foot in numerous wars as well as fulfilling their duty as bodyguards for the King. The chief ministers of Louis XIII and Louis XIV, Cardinal Richelieu and Cardinal Mazarin had their own companies of Musketeers. Chartrand says there were many instances of duels being fought between the Kings’ and the Cardinals’ Musketeers. So the duel scenes in the stories have a basis in fact.

There is a chapter in the book regarding the fighting of the Musketeers in sieges, battles and wars. They also performed secret missions for the king. The book is filled with colorful illustrations by Graham Turner as well as copies of various prints and paintings depicting Musketeers from the different eras of their existence. A great deal of the book explains the costume and the equipment of the soldiers and how it changed over time. Also included are a chronology, a list of ranks, a glossary of terms and a bibliography.

The information I found most interesting is the historical basis for the characters in Dumas’ novels. Dumas found a copy of a book which was the basis for all of his stories. It was published in 1700 and called “Memoirs of Mr. D’Artagnan, Captain-Lieutenant of the First Company of the King’s Musketeers, concerning a quantity of private and secret events that occurred during the reign of Louis the Great”, written by Gatien de Courtiz de Sandras. Sandras had been a King’s Musketeer for eighteen years. Chartrand explains that Dumas’ characters of D’Artagnan, Athos, Porthos and Aramis are actually based on real men who served in some form or another as Musketeers or soldiers in other units. Sandras may have met the “real” D’Artagnan at some point so his memoirs possibly contain some actual facts of his life. Of course Dumas used artistic license and fictionalized many aspects of their lives.

I distinctly remember seeing the movie version of “The Three Musketeers” from 1973. My college library had a fabulous collection of most of Dumas’ work in old volumes that had been bound in new covers. I read every book I could get my hands on, devouring them. Not only are they entertaining reading but they give the basic outline of French history during the Renaissance and early modern period. So reading this book was a lot of fun and brought back good memories and I enjoyed the illustrations.