The co-existence of these two elite companies at the summit of the State, one devoted to the King and the other to his minister, was not always peaceful. Indeed, Alexandre Dumas exploited this rivalry as major theme in his novel.
One should bear in mind that the “King’s Musketeers”, all qualified gentlemen on horseback, had no reason to compete –and probably never would have – with the Cardinal’s musketeers, simple foot soldiers recruited from amongst the wandering lower ranks of the professional soldiery of the time.
Richelieu’s Guards were comprised of:
• One company of light-horses of 120 men
• One company of 100 armed men, called “gens d’armes” or “gendarmes”
• One company of 100 musketeers on foot, which could increase punctually to 200, bringing the grand total to 420 men.
Richelieu also placed his horse guards before his musketeers and gave the name “Guards” only to his horsemen.
On the other hand, a report on the state of France in 1642 presented the King’s company as such:
“The company of the King’s Musketeers: Its captain is the King with Monsieur de Tréville as lieutenant and has as its soldiers the children of the best families in France, wearing a blue tunic and distinguished by a silver cross. They are 150 men, who follow the King everywhere, even when he goes hunting.”
Any rivalry was between the King’s mounted Musketeers, all gentlemen, and Richelieu’s Horse Guards, all gentlemen in turn. However, the criteria for selection in these two elite corps differed.
Richelieu wished to meet only those candidates that could be vouched for, that were over the age of twenty-five and, if possible, had already served three years in the army. This last condition was not required of gentlemen from very good families. It appears that the Cardinal would only accept Bretons as officers in his company of gendarmes.
“The recruitment of musketeers became based, more and more, on the criteria of region and even family. Montalon et Troisvilles took on all those who, from Orthez to Pau and from Tarbes to Auch, had proven themselves in a spectacular duel.” Arnaud Jacomet.
The other big difference between the two companies had to do with how they were financed. Richelieu maintained his Guards at his own expense and didn’t seem to pay heed to expenses. The King’s Musketeers, on the other hand, were not so well-treated.
“In Richelieu’s house, the salaries were paid with exactitude. As this was far from the case in the rest of the King’s army, due to the State’s perpetual money problems (one often had to wait a long time to be paid, and sometimes one wasn’t paid at all), Richelieu’s pamphleteering enemies took great pleasure in attacking the Cardinal on this point.” Louis Batifol.
Richelieu was very demanding concerning the attire of his Guards, whom he wished to raise as a model for the other corps in the army. Like the King’s Musketeers, the Cardinal’s Guards had a uniform.
“The ordinary attire worn by men during the reign of Louis XIII consists essentially of a pourpoint, a sort of fitted and closed jacket extending from the neck to the waist. Below, this could be prolonged by more or less long coattails, then breeches, ample culottes descending below the knees. Added to that are boots and, on the head, felt or beaver hat with a wide brim, ornamented by a plume. In the city, well-bred folk wear a sleeveless coat over their clothing, draped over the shoulders and attached with clasps and falling to the knees. In the winter, this coat can be reinforced with fur; when fitted with sleeves having an internal fur lining, it is called the ‘hongreline’.
The Cardinal’s horse guards in uniform, don’t have an actual coat, but a similar piece of clothing, uniform, called the casaque [a tunic or jersey], and which is easily recognizable from a distance. It is a sort of sleeveless coat, short, that is it doesn’t descend much lower than the waist and consists of four pieces of fabric gathered at the neck. The first piece covers the front of the torso, the second the back, the last two pieces falling from the shoulders and curving out in trapezoidal form. These four pieces are flowing and separated but can be assembled by buttoning them together, forming in this way a sort of large, closed pelerine.
What makes Richelieu’s Guards recognizable by far is their that their tunic is red and that each of the four pieces, bordered in white, carries a highly visible Greek cross also in white. One can imagine the brilliant figure presented by His Eminence’s horse company on parade, with their large, white-feathered hats and their boots. In fact, the pamphleteers did’t hesitate, in their writings against the Cardinal, to mock his Guards’ red tunic, to which they give, out of derision, the name ‘la roupille’ after a similar Spanish piece of clothing of the same epoch. Red, the ‘color of fire’, ‘scarlet’ or ‘incarnate’, is also Richelieu’s livery color. His pages wore a red jacket and culottes.” Louis Batifol.
The King’s Musketeers, on the contrary, had to buy their uniforms with their salary, which was much lower than that of the Guards.
Finally, the King’s Musketeers criticized the Guards for being soldiers of the parade-ground or antechamber rather than the fighting kind, while they themselves fought on all fronts and at the King’s side.
“The King’s captains and soldiers (who fight hard in the trenches), according to one of them, are demoralized to see themselves reduced to mendacity, while the Guards (of the Cardinal), who are always in the safety of a room, receive a decent and timely-paid allowance for standing guard at the door to a room.” (In “The very humble, very truthful and very important supplication to the King”, 1631, in M. de Morgues, Diverses pièces pour la defense de la Reine mere, 1636.)
The rivalry between the two companies pushed them to provoke each other and even resulted in duels, which were frequent though forbidden. But neither the King nor the Cardinal sought to intervene, happy as they were to see their elite corps test and measure each other.
“The Company of the Musketeers was quite beautiful and Cardinal Richelieu also had a company of Guards composed of very brave men that he had chosen himself. Proud of this Minister’s power, they considered themselves to be the equals of the Musketeers, which brought about frequent combats between these two corps. Louis XIII, who chose to ignore this audacity, merely voiced his joy whenever the Cardinal’s Guards had the disadvantage in these combats, and this imperious Minister applauded in turn when he learned that the Musketeers had succumbed. He made several attempts to have the King abolish this company, but he was not successful.”
“The two troops measured their reputation against each other and incessantly came to blows to prove the truth of their claim to have among them men whose courage gave them victory over all others. If the Guards met the Musketeers by chance during a promenade, they would immediately agree upon a meeting place [for a combat] and would seek out other companions, if needed, to ensure that everyone had a partner! Every day, the Cardinal vaunted his Guards’ bravery and the King would seek to put them down by invoking the exploits of his Gascons.” Arnaud Jacomet.
These skirmishes between the two troops were also fed by the mutual hatred of their respective captains: Richelieu on the one hand and Tréville on the other, who as
Lieutenant-Captain was the commander of the Musketeers. Tréville’s impetuous and indomitable character, as well as his bravery and his devotion to the King, made him a difficult person to subjugate. More, he had the loyalty of his Musketeers who, despite the reputation of the Guards, were more famous than the latter. And Tréville was long-suffering with his young soldiers and refused to reprimand them despite their frequent lapses in discipline.