AskDefine | Define musketeer

Dictionary Definition

musketeer n : a foot soldier armed with a musket

User Contributed Dictionary




  1. In the context of "military": A foot soldier armed with a musket.
  2. In the context of "military": In 17th and 18th century France, a member of the royal household bodyguard.

Extensive Definition

A musketeer (lang-fr mousquetaire) was an early modern type of infantry soldier equipped with a musket. Musketeers were an important part of early modern armies, particularly in Europe.


Musketeers in France

The Musketeers of the Guard were a junior unit of roughly company strength of the military branch of the Royal Household or Maison du Roi. They were created in 1622 when Louis XIII furnished a company of light cavalry (the "carabineers", created by Louis' father Henri IV) with muskets. Musketeers fought in battle both on foot (infantry) and on horseback (dragoons). As a junior unit in the Royal Guard, the Musketeers were not closely linked to the royal family. Traditional bodyguard duties were in fact performed by the Garde du Corps and the Gardes suisses. Because of its junior status, the Musketeers were open to the lower classes of French nobility or younger sons from noble families whose oldest son served in the more prestigious units. The Musketeers soon gained a reputation for boisterousness and fighting spirit as the only way for social and career advancement was excelling at their task as mounted light dragoons.
Their high esprit de corps and can-do attitude gained them royal favour and they became a popular fixture at court and in Paris. Shortly after their creation, Cardinal Richelieu created a bodyguard unit for himself. As not to offend the King with a perceived sense of self-importance, Richelieu did not name them Garde du Corps like the King's personal guards but rather Musketeers after the Kings' junior guard cavalry. This was the start of a bitter rivalry between both corps of Musketeers. At the cardinal's death in 1642, the company passed to his successor Cardinal Mazarin. At Mazarin's death in 1661, the cardinal's Musketeers passed to Louis XIV to the disgust of both the King's Musketeers and the Cardinal's Musketeers. The Musketeers were subsequently reorganized as a guard cavalry regiment of two companies. The King's Musketeers became the first company, popularly known as "Grey Musketeers" (mousquetaires gris) from the color of their horses while the Cardinal's Musketeers became the second company, known as "Black Musketeers" (mousquetaires noirs) because they rode black horses.
The Musketeers were the among the most popular of the military companies of the Ancien Régime. This popularity was due to the lower entrance requirements. The senior guard units were in effect closed to all but the most senior and wealthy of French nobles so for the vast majority of French nobles (many of whom lived in genteel poverty), service in the Musketeers was the only way to join a cavalry unit in the Royal Household and perhaps catch the King's eye.
In 1776, the Musketeers were eliminated by Louis XVI, for budgetary reasons. Reformed in 1789, they were eliminated shortly afterward. They were reformed on July 6, 1814, and definitively eliminated on January 1, 1816.
Decades later, starting in 1844, this group was the subject of the now-famous serial publication The Three Musketeers, in the magazine Le Siècle between March and July 1844. The author, Alexandre Dumas, père, based his work on the book Mémoires de Monsieur d'Artagnan, capitaine lieutenant de la première compagnie des Mousquetaires du Roi (Memoirs of Mister d'Artagnan, Lieutenant Captain of the first company of the King's Musketeers) by Gatien de Courtilz de Sandras (Cologne, 1700).

Musketeers in Britain

The iconic "Redcoat" of the British Empire was the staple unit in the British armies that carved out the widest spanning Empire the world has seen. Originally worn only by British soldiers, it was adopted by the East India Trading Company and given to sepoys in India. The facing of the jacket was a variety of colours, depending on the regiment. The redcoat was equipped with the 0.75 calibre Land Pattern Musket, or Brown Bess. He was the most thoroughly trained musketeer in history, the British army being the only one in the colonial era to train with live ammunition. A fully trained redcoat could fire four times a minute, compared to the French conscripts average rate of twice a minute. This, combined with the British technique of firing by companies (a method wherein blocks of men fired smaller volleys in succession, creating a wave of fire down the front of the regiment) made it possible for the British to win pitched battles against far superior numbers.

Musketeers in Spain

In the Spanish army, the Tercio (sometimes referred to by other nations as a Spanish Square) was a mixed infantry formation of about 3,000 pikemen and musketeers. It was nigh on invincible for its era, capitalizing on the brute strength and close-range abilities of the pikemen and the long-range projectile capabilities of the muskets. In practice, it appeared as a loosely formed phalanx in function, but was far more flexible and deadly. Their reputation was firmly established as a viable fighting force during the Battle of Pavia, where Spanish forces were successful in capturing the French king.

Musketeers in Sweden

Thanks to the reforms of Gustav II Adolf of Sweden, the Swedish Army in the mid-Seventeenth Century had the finest musketeers in Europe. Gustav's training manual revolutionized musketry and transformed the European battlefield.

Musketeers in Russia

Far East

Musketeers in China

In Zhao Shizhen's book of 1598 AD, the Shenqipu, there were illustrations of Ottoman Turkish riflemen with detailed illustrations of their muskets, alongside European musketeers with detailed illustrations of their muskets. There was also illustration and description of how the Chinese had adopted the Ottoman kneeling position in firing while favoring European-made rifles.

South Asia

Musketeers in India

Musket warfare became an integral part of Indian warfare when they were introduced to India in 1519. They were an important defense against the tank-like War Elephants. Both the Mughals and their sworn enemies (such as the Marathas) used musketeers in cover formations while sending volleys of musket fire on unsuspecting soldiers, horses, and elephants.


This article is based in part on the article Mousquetaire from the French Wikipedia, retrieved on September 9, 2006.

See also

musketeer in German: Musketier
musketeer in Spanish: mosquetero
musketeer in French: Mousquetaire
musketeer in Indonesian: Musketir
musketeer in Italian: Moschettiere
musketeer in Hungarian: Muskétás
musketeer in Dutch: Musketier
musketeer in Norwegian: Musketer
musketeer in Russian: Мушкетёр
musketeer in Swedish: Musketerare
musketeer in Ukrainian: Мушкетер
musketeer in Chinese: 火枪手

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

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