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Researching the Fortress of Louisbourg National Historic Site of Canada
  Recherche sur la Forteresse-de-Louisbourg Lieu historique national du Canada


Extracts of Matters of Historical Interest from "The Huissier, News For and About the Fortress of Louisbourg Heritage Presentation Staff" By The Fortress of Louisbourg Heritage Presentation Staff


(July 21, 2003)

Uniforms and the companies franches de la Marine
by Sandy Balcom, Historian

With the exception of arms and accoutrements, the uniforms of Louisbourg's garrison closely paralleled male civilian attire of the period. Indeed, the style of uniform was largely standardized throughout European armies at that time. The primary article of uniform clothing was a coat (justaucorps). Under this was worn a waistcoat (veste) and a pair of knee breeches, known collectively as the small clothes. A long shirt was the basic undergarment while a narrow cloth cravate was wrapped around the throat. Stockings, low double-soled shoes and a tricorn hat completed the uniform.

In the 1660's, both France and England extended the principle of uniformity in dress throughout their standing armies. The most distinguishing feature was the colour of the coat and national colours were used, particularly in the infantry. England adopted red and France white although the latter colour appeared as a natural off-white. White not only had a close identification with the Bourbon succession and France, but being undyed, it enjoyed advantages of economy as well. A contrasting colour, referred to as the facing colour, appeared on the coat, collar, and cuffs and, if applicable, on the lapels and turnbacks of the coat-tails. Through the variation of colours of the coat, facings, small clothes and stockings, units received uniforms distinctive to the unit. As the number of regiments in the French army increased, more subtle distinctions had to be adopted. The shape and positioning of pocket flaps, the number and positioning of buttons on the pockets, cuffs, and coat-tails and the colour of the hat braid and buttons were all used to differentiate particular units.

The units with the longest service in Louisbourg were the independent companies of the Marine infantry (companies franches de la Marine). These companies garrisoned the town throughout its existence. The units were under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Marine and had their uniforms supplied separately from those of the Army. Their uniform consisted of an off-white coat with buttons the full length of the front, blue cuffs and three buttons on the cuffs and five on the pocket flaps. The small clothes and stockings were blue. Blue facings distinguished "Royal" regiments in the Army and its use by the Marine companies likely symbolized the direct Royal control over the colonies. The uniform also featured brass buttons and corresponding false gold braid on the hats. The absence of coat collars distinguished Marine companies serving in the colonies from those serving in the French ports. Originally similar in cut to Army uniforms, the Ministry of Marine ignored several modifications adopted by the Army in 1736. Most noticeably, Marine troops continued the practice of having coat buttons to the hem instead of just to the waist-belt.