Le Tellier(s)

Michel Le Tellier, l (1603–1685)

François Le Tellier, (1641–1691)

Michel Le Tellier, l (1603–1685)

Appointed “Intendant to the Army of Italy” by Louis XIII (September 6, 1640), Le Tellier developed a system of standardized supply that ultimately included extensive use of magazines. This innovation was further advanced and completed by his son and successor, the marquis de Louvois (François Le Tellier). The idea of maintaining reserves of food, cloth, and fodder for transport horses and cavalry mounts, and dry powder and shot, was an old one. But primitive levels of bureaucracy in early modern states meant that most armies through the end of the Thirty Years’ War were forced to rely on an admixture of plunder and plunder’s handmaiden, contribution, for supply. No European army had its own transport corps before the mid-century mark. Instead, leased civilian wagons and teamsters, or requisitioned wagons on the march-with or without compensation-were standard. Le Tellier changed much of this by imposing tight contracts on merchants, insisting that they actually maintain at the ready all wagons and draft animals leased to the Army, even during the winter months when little to no campaigning was underway. Appointed secretary of war a month before Louis XIII died, under Jules Mazarin Le Tellier set about fundamental reform of French military supply and transportation. For the first time, a systematic study of the matériel requirements of the French Army was made. This led to reforms that much reduced corruption by contracted sutlers and royal officials, who were long used to padding their accounts with bills for phantom supplies and services. Reform included standardization of food, armaments, uniforms, and equipment provided to the troops. Le Tellier even regulated the number of carts and teams allowed officers, strictly according to rank, of course.

Le Tellier then drafted standardized contracts issued to sutlers, through which he could better estimate and control expenses. To further reduce wastage and corruption, contracted goods were no longer delivered directly to colonels of regiments. Instead, they were dropped at central depots under control of royal agents (“général de vivres”). Transport was arranged through major sutlers given special powers to draft wagons and teams, as well as laborers, millwrights, cooks, and bakers. Le Tellier set aside a reserve of government-owned wagons and horses, which carried the first few days’ worth of supplies whenever the Army moved into the field. Beginning in 1643, he set up a series of magazines along the usual routes used by the Army when it moved out of its base area toward the Rhine; that is, at Metz, Nancy, and Pont-a-Mousson. The next year he built a fodder magazine for the cavalry during the siege of Dunkirk. In 1648 he set up more magazines at Arras and Dunkirk for use whenever the Army besieged Ypres, which was often. Le Tellier thus ensured that soldiers received working equipment and regular pay, as well as food, clothing, and shelter. He improved the magazine system during Turenne’s 1658 campaign of sieges against Dunkirk, Brégues, Oudenaarde, and Ypres. These innovations altered the conduct of logistics in early modern warfare and set the standard for the next 150 years. Yet, in Le Tellier’s lifetime, these changes had but a modest effect on specific campaigns. Real progress toward a permanent magazine system was made by his son during the wars of Louis XIV.

Suggested Reading: Louis André, Michel le Tellier et l’organisation de l’armée monarchique (1906).

marquis de Louvois, (1641–1691)

Né François Le Tellier. Successor to his father, Michel Le Tellier, as principal military and strategic adviser to Louis XIV. He was the main transformer of the French Army into an instrument of royal authority and foreign policy. In part, he accomplished this by helping his father and Louis establish the Régiment du Roi in 1663 as a model for all French infantry regiments. He also founded the Royal-Artillerie in 1673 as a professional and concentrated artillery arm. These reforms had influence on military developments far beyond France.

Following a pattern set by his father, with whom he understudied from 1662 to 1670, Louvois lobbied hard for bullying wars as the main basis of French foreign policy. He did so not least as a means of creating opportunities to concentrate more power and wealth in his own hands. He was centrally involved in reorganization of the French Army away from private regiments and mercenaries to a more professional officer corps and to regular units raised from the king’s subjects. He exercised such strict control over officers, however, that tactical and operational mediocrity was often the result. In logistics he found a calling, notably fully developing the magazine system left in rudimentary form by his father. Among Louvois’ more important innovations was to introduce portable ovens to bake bread during halt days while a French army was on the move. At the onset of the Dutch War (1672-1678), Louvois accumulated in forward magazines enough grain to provide the advancing armies with 200,000 rations per day for up to six months-an unheard of achievement in European warfare since the fall of Rome. This effort is widely regarded by historians as his finest. It ensured Louis XIV early military success that would not be replicated in later, longer wars fought without Louvois at his side. For this material accomplishment, regardless of Louvois’ many and deep moral flaws, he is properly regarded by historians as the first great civilian “minister of war.”

Louis XIV drilled himself as a form of childhood play, and continued to play at war as a man, and then as king. He believed that discipline, rather than bloody mayhem, was what won battles and insisted on constant drill, at least twice per week, even for garrison units. His regiments drilled through the winter and during the rare summers when they were not in the field. Early in his reign, Michel Le Tellier and Louvois helped Louis found a special regiment, the Régiment du Roi (1663), to model and demonstrate proper drill to the rest of the French Army. This regiment, and then all French drill, was overseen from 1667 by inspectors-general.

One of Louvois’ most crucial reforms was to institute musketry drill, upon discovering that many French infantrymen, especially peasant conscripts, went into battle not knowing how to load or discharge their main weapon. The French emphasis on drill thereafter grew so fierce that the intendant responsible for drill in the French Army, Colonel Jean Martinet, original colonel of the Régiment du Roi, became so infamous for fussy, even merciless insistence on the smallest detail of uniform discipline and drill that his name entered the universal military lexicon as a pejorative for inflexible drill instructors.

As for his moral failings, they were many and great. For instance, during Turenne’s march through the Palatinate in 1674, Louvois demanded that the harshest methods be used against German villagers who resisted by any means, or who refused to pay contributions. During the War of the Reunions (1683-1684), he again displayed a penchant for personal cruelty and brutality in punishing villagers. He once ordered fully 20 villages be bombarded and burned in retaliation for the loss of two French barns. Although he was patron to Vauban, the two disagreed about whether to use bombardment as an alternative to siege warfare. John A. Lynn, the leading modern historian of the French Army, maintains that Louvois took a savage approach to war and that, for him, bombardment of towns with mortars during the 1680s “became something of a blood lust.” Nor did his none-too-gentle master in Versailles voice any objection. In 1688 Louvois began to raise new provincial militia to supplement the regular regiments. These were gainfully employed when Louis started the Nine Years’ War (1688-1697) that fall. Louvois planned the 1688-1689 devastation of the Palatinate (1688-1689) on a map, reveling yet again in the destruction of German towns and cities, and even individual chateaux. His death on July 16, 1691, removed from inner policy circles a baleful and brutish influence on Louis XIV, a monarch who needed little encouragement to indulge his own vices and a pronounced preference for war over diplomacy.