Compagnies Franches de la Marine

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Not to be confused with Troupes de marine

Compagnies Franches de la Marine
Franche de la Marine1.jpg
Compagnies Franches de la Marine
Active 1673-1761
Country  Kingdom of France
Type Army
Role overseas
Garrison/HQ France and throughout French colonies

The Compagnies Franches de la Marine (previously known as Troupes de la marine) independent companies of the navy and colonial regulars,[1] were under the authority of the French Minister of Marine, who was also responsible for the French navy, overseas trade, and French colonies.

In New France, they were the only regular soldiers from 1682 to 1755, when several army battalions were dispatched to North America. The Naval Department of France began using the Compagnies to defend the fur trade and the local civilians. They were superseded by the arrival of large units of the army under Montcalm in 1756. The Compagnies ceased to exist in Canada after the fall of Montreal in 1760.

In 1992 the Canadian Forces Naval Reserve revived the Compagnies as a historical re-enactment unit which has toured the country.


In 1622, Cardinal Richelieu ordered the creation of Compagnies Ordinaires de la Mer. Their role was to protect French warships harbored in the different ports of the Kingdom of France. In 1626, the Compagnies Ordinaires de la Mer were unified to form the regiment of La Marine. In 1669, Jean-Baptiste Colbert, minister of la Marine, created two new regiments for the service of La Marine: The "Royal-Marine" and the "Amiral". In 1683, three companies of Troupes de la Marine were sent to Québec to contain the Iroquois who were constantly attacking the commercial routes of the colony. By 1690, it became clear that the forces onboard ships were not capable of defending the French colonies, and so another force was created with that specific mission in mind. This force was also called the Compagnies Franches de la Marine.[2]

These troops originally were recruited from the French mainland from among males sixteen years and older who were at least 5'5" tall. After 1687, the officers were recruited from the population of New France itself.[2] However, throughout their history the Compagnies often did not have their full complement of soldiers, something the colonial leadership complained about to the leadership in mainland France. Even under-strength, they served to defend the major towns of the colony, and had detachments scattered across the small fur trading posts that were so important to the economy.[3]


The main bases of the Companies in France remained the largest military ports: Brest, Rochefort, Toulon, which was added Port-Louis, in the Morbihan . The colonies, the numbers break down as follows:

  • New France. First half of the eighteenth century, twenty-eight companies of 40 men (about 1,200 soldiers). 1756 (beginning of the Seven Years' War): forty companies of 65 men (about 2,700 infantrymen).
  • Isle Royale ( Louisbourg ). 1725 6 companies, about 300 men.
  • Louisiana . 1721 eight companies (about 400 men, maintained by the East India Company ). 1732 thirteen companies (about 650 men, after the handover of the colony to the Crown by the East India Company). 1750 thirty-seven companies (about 1,300 men). 1754 suppression of a company, the workforce is paid in other units.
  • Santo Domingo .
  • Leeward Islands . 1713 ten to fourteen companies, about 600 men divided between Martinique, the Guadeloupe, St. Lucia, the Grenada and St. Kitts . 1755: about 1,200 men.
  • Guyana . 1725 four companies, about 200 men.
  • Indian Ocean . First half of the eighteenth century: about 500 men divided between the Bourbon island, the Isle of France and Madagascar .
  • India . First half of the eighteenth century: about 1,500 men (maintained by the East India Company). 1758: 650 soldiers Companies frank arriving with the expeditionary force of Lally Tollendal and Admiral d'Ache .

New France[edit]

When Governor Joseph-Antoine Le Febvre de La Barre took over leadership of New France in 1682, he soon learned that the colony did not have the forces to defend itself from potential attack by the Iroquois or other potential enemies. He quickly submitted a formal request for troops from the mainland.[3] In 1683, the Naval Department of France sent the first three Compagnies Franches de la Marine to New France. Their main mission was to defend the colonists and prevent disruption of the fur trade.[2] By the following year, the Compagnies had become a separate military force independent of regular branches of the French military.[3] The colony was also defended by militia. The force expanded by 1757 to 40 companies of 65 men scattered across the various settlements in New France.[2] Some 24 companies were also stationed in Ile Royale, principally at the Fortress of Louisbourg, and another 36 in Louisiana in the mid-1750s. A few companies were previously stationed in Placentia (Newfoundland) and Acadia.[4]

Troupes de la Marine

In the early seventeenth century, Cardinal Richelieu ordered the creation of the Troupes de la Marine to serve aboard French naval vessels. About eighty companies of one hundred men each were formed.[1] The Troupes de la Marine were dispatched by Louis XIV in 1682[5] to replace French regulars in New France, and were used to garrison other French colonies. Initially, the troops that were recruited in France and arrived in Quebec by 1683 were composed of three companies. The number of companies in Canada steadily increased over the years and reached as many as 40 companies by the year 1757.[6] The roughly 30 companies stationed in the territory of Canada gradually developed into the first permanent ‘Canadian’ military force.

The companies were considered colonial regulars and were well trained in conventional warfare and became proficient as bush fighters[1] (what today would be called guerrillas or irregulars). In Louisbourg, the canoniers-bombardiers company (artillery company) was established in 1743. Two soldiers were chosen from each company stationed at the Louisbourg Garrison, to be trained by the master gunner at firing and aiming cannons.[7] As a result of their extra training and duties, the canoniers were paid an additional six livres per month in compensation for their inability to earn money in the construction of forts or elsewhere, and were offered cash prizes for good marksmanship.[8] The Louisbourg artillery company was composed of 13 canoniers, 12 bombardiers, one drummer, two corporals and two sergeants, led by a lieutenant and a captain.[8]

Unit Compliment[edit]

Flag of the Compagnie Franche de la marine

The Compagnies were varied in their makeup, and it was not until 1757 that their organization was standardized.[3] Each Compagnie was led by a Captain whose name was used to refer to it. Other officer and petty officers in each Compagnie after the 1757 standardization included a lieutenant, two ensigns, two sergeants, and three corporals as well as two drummers and two cadets who would later be eligible for officer positions.

A company of marines was usually composed of 45 to 65 soldiers, two sergeants, two corporals and one drummer, overseen by a capitaine.[9] The majority of the rank and file soldiers were lower class men recruited in France, although the officers were increasingly Canadian-born and noble. Promotions from soldiers to the officer corps were non-existent and the individual ranks were separated by large pay gaps.[10] Young Canadian-born men were usually admitted into the officer ranks by commissions as cadets or ensigns through the governor.[10] The sons of noblemen or existing officers were usually preferentially selected for positions in the officer corps as well.[10] Cadets constituted a boy or young man who served in a company and was being trained to become an officer in the future.[9] Officers would often exploit the selective nature of admittance to the corps by enrolling their boys sometimes as early as age 5 in order to receive more rations and an extra salary.[9] In 1717, the admission of officers under the age of 14 was prohibited, but the exploitation of the system continued.[9]

Service in the officer corps of the Troupes de la Marine was an important source of economic opportunity and prestige for New France's elite and there was usually a waiting list for commissions in Marine companies. However, colonial enlistment of rank-and-file soldiers was discouraged because it reduced agricultural settlement.[6] During periods of peace, soldiers received additional pay for their services in the construction of forts and roads.[11] Due to a chronic labor shortage, the colonial regulars were also permitted to increase their pay by rendering their services on local farms.[11]

  • 28 Compagnies Franches de la Marine (Naval Corps) 1683-1755
    • 30 companies 1750s with 1500 soldiers and 120 officers
    • Compagnies franches de la Marine of Acadia
      • 4 companies with 200 soldiers and 12 officers by 1702
    • Compagnies franches de la Marine of Plaisance
      • 3 companies with 150 soldiers and 9 officers by 1690s
    • Compagnies franches de la Marine on Ile Royale 1710s
      • 24 companies with 1200 soldiers and 96 officers by 1749


Those serving in the Compagnies were given rations of bread, bacon, and dried peas and received a replacement uniform every other year.[2] The uniform of soldiers in the Compagnies by the 1750s consisted of a white overcoat, tricorn hat, spats over buckled leather shoes and blue garments including a waistcoat, stockings, and breeches.[3] Each soldier also carried a cartridge case which was used to carry ammunition and a model 1728 French infantry musket, or "St. Etienne", although different types of flintlock muskets and fusils were carried at different points in the history of the units.[12] In the winter, the uniforms were supplemented with cold weather gear including capot, moccasins, mittens, and snowshoes. Except during wartime, the soldiers were allowed to supplement their income with outside work, and often worked on local farms or helped build forts and roads.[3]

French and Indian War[edit]

Along with the Canadian militia and France's Amerindian allies, the Troupes de la Marine were essential to the defence of New France in the late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. With the arrival of large numbers of British regulars after 1755, the nature of warfare in North America shifted from irregular to conventional European warfare, with particular importance attached to sieges and fortifications. French army battalions were also dispatched to fight in North America after 1755.

During the Seven Years' War, the Louisbourg Garrison's residents became prisoners to the British when the fortress fell,[1] and after the conquest of 1760, many settled permanently in the new territory,[1] while others were repatriated to France.[1]

Although the strength of the force varied widely over time, by the French and Indian War, there were some forty companies serving in the St. Lawrence Valley and the Pays d'en Haut, about twenty at Louisbourg,[1] and more in Louisiana and Acadia. Large garrisons were maintained at Quebec, Montreal, and New Orleans, with smaller forces guarding posts to secure the frontiers and supply routes throughout France's vast territories in North America by the eighteenth century. Small detachments of troops were sent to protect the advance trading posts, which were integral to the success of the profitable fur trade in New France.[6]

When the French and Indian War broke out, the Compagnies were a major part of the French war effort in North America. Their experience in the colony and with war parties of French Canadien militia and native allies made them skilled in the kind of frontier fighting practised during the war. In addition to leading raids on English settlements, they had helped in the efforts to take over the Ohio Valley that preceded the war and participated in the defeat of the English General Edward Braddock early in the war.[3] By 1755, regular infantry battalions were sent to help protect the colony, and a number of the Compagnies were combined into their own battalion to serve alongside the line troops. These forces helped to defend the French fortress at Louisbourg as well as Quebec City and Montreal from attack by British armies. The Compagnies were eliminated with the fall of New France during that war.[2]

Major conflicts and commitments[edit]

Companies free men took part in every conflict involving France of 1690-1761 in Europe, the Americas and India. Their commitments are normally related to naval warfare, but note that they are very often used on land. Are listed here as their main commitments. Naval battles isolated and "helping hands" delivered during the guerrilla war in America are too many to be presented.

In Europe[edit]

War of the League of Augsburg (1688-1697)

  • Battle of La Hogue (29 May 1692)
  • Battle of Lagos (27 June 1693)

War of the Spanish Succession (1709-1714)

  • Battle of Malplaquet (Sept. 11, 1709)
  • Battle of Denain (24 July 1712)

War of the Polish Succession (1733-1738)

  • Siege of Danzig (1734) (February 22 to July 9, 1734)

Seven Years' War (1756-1763)

  • Battle of Minorca (1756)
  • Battle of Lagos (19 August 1759)
  • Battle of Quiberon Bay (20 November 1759)
  • Battle of Belle-Isle (1761)

In America[edit]

King William's War[edit]

  • Siege of Quebec (16 to 21 October 1690)
  • Shipping Cartagena (2 May 1697)

Queen Anne's War[edit]

  • Defense of Guadeloupe (1703)
  • Shipments Rio (1710 and June 1711 to February 1712)
  • War of the Quadruple Alliance (1718-1720)
  • Naval battle of the Dauphine (Bay Island Mobile ) (19 August 1719)
  • Seat Pensacola (2 September 1719)
  • Wars Foxes (1712-1714 and 1729)
  • Wars Natchez (1717-1719 and 1729-1731)
  • Wars Chickasaws (1736 and 1739-1740)

King Georges War[edit]

French and Indian War[edit]

  • Battle of Fort Necessity (July 3, 1754)
  • Battle of the Monongahela (9 July 1755)
  • Battle of Fort Carillon (8 July 1758)
  • Siege of Louisbourg (June–July 1758)
  • Defense of Guadeloupe (April 1758)
  • Plains of Abraham (September 13, 1759)
  • Battle of Sainte-Foy (April 28, 1760)
  • Defense of Martinique (1761)

In India[edit]

Third Intercolonial War

  • Battle of Negapatam (6 July 1746)
  • Seat Madras (August 21 September 1746)
  • Siege of Pondicherry (Fall 1748)

Fourth Intercolonial War (1754-1760)

  • Battle of Cuddalore (29 April 1758)
  • Battle of Negapatam (3 August 1758)
  • Seat Madras (December 1758-February 1759)
  • Battle of Pondicherry (10 September 1759)
  • Siege of Pondicherry (March 1760 to January 4, 1761)

Notable members[edit]


The Canadian Forces Naval Reserve created a re-enactment group of the Compagnies Franches de la Marine in 1992. The group demonstrates musketry and military drill while dressed in period uniforms. These performances are advertised as family events designed to help the public learn more about military history and interact with sailors.[2]

The military unit of the heritage presentation staff at the Fortress of Louisbourg National Historic Site of Canada consists of costumed interpreters representing soldiers of the Compagnies Franches de la Marine stationed in Louisbourg during the summer of 1744. During the site's operating season, they perform daily musket firings and military demonstrations and stand guard at various locations in the reconstructed eighteenth-century town.[13]


The Compagnie Franche de la Marine exercising during the 400th Anniversary of Québec City in 2008.

See also[edit]



  1. ^ a b c d e f g Sutherland, Stuart. "Troupes de la Marine", in The Canadian Encyclopedia (Edmonton: Hurtig Publishers, 1988), Volume 4, p.2196.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g "Compagnie franche de la marine: History". Naval Reserve of Canada. Retrieved 2009-06-26. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f g Chartrand, Rene; Summers, Jack L. (1981). "History and Uniform of the Compagnies franches de la marine, 1683-1760". Military Uniforms in Canada, 1665-1970. Canadien War Museum. Retrieved 2009-06-27. 
  4. ^ Rene Chartrand, The French Soldier in Colonial America (Alexandria, New York, and Bloomfield, Ontario: Museum Restoration Service, 1984), 16-17.
  5. ^ Sutherland, Stuart. "Troupes de la Marine", in The Canadian Encyclopedia (Edmonton: Hurtig Publishers, 1988), Volume 4, p.2196, says they were created in December 1690.
  6. ^ a b c
  7. ^ Greer, Allan. "The Soldiers of Isle Royale, 1720–45" (Environment Canada: 1979), p. 8.
  8. ^ a b Greer, Allan. "The Soldiers of Isle Royale, 1720–45" (Environment Canada: 1979), p. 9.
  9. ^ a b c d Greer, Allan. "The Soldiers of Isle Royale, 1720–45" (Environment Canada: 1979), p. 7.
  10. ^ a b c Greer, Allan. "The People of New France" (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1997), p. 50–51.
  11. ^ a b Greer, Allan. "The People of New France" (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1997), p. 51.
  12. ^ "Per Mare et Terras". Naval Reserve of Canada. Retrieved 2009-06-27. 
  13. ^


  • René Chartrand. Louis XV's Army (5): Colonial and Naval Troops
  • Greer, Allan. "The People of New France" (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1997), pp. 50–51.
  • Greer, Allan. "The Soldiers of Isle Royale, 1720–45" (Environment Canada, 1979), pp. 7–9.
  • Sutherland, Stuart R. J. "Troupes de la Marine", in The Canadian Encyclopedia, Volume 4, p. 2196. Edmonton: Hurtig Publishers, 1988.