The Organization of New France

The Organization and Number of Troops in New France

The Governor General's Guard

French navy sailors, circa 1690

Caption: French navy sailors, circa 1690

The Canadian militia now includes regiments assigned to guarding the governor general. These units, composed of volunteer militiamen, were created during the 1860s and 70s. However, a Governor General's Guard, staffed by regular soldiers, had existed since the reign of Louis XIV.

Beginning in the Middle Ages, important officials were generally escorted by a few men-at-arms to ensure their safety. The procedure in Canada was of course simpler than in France, at least until the arrival of the first real guard corps in 1665. It was a unit of 17 men-at-arms, commanded by a captain, a lieutenant and a cornet (a second lieutenant who carried the company standard). These soldiers formed the escort for the Marquis Prouville de Tracy, the lieutenant-general of French America. In keeping with the king's wishes, they wore cassocks similar to those of the musketeers in his own guard.

As the Marquis moved through the streets, he would be accompanied by his entire retinue. Four pages and part of his guard preceded him, and he was followed by several officers, led by the captain of the guard, who was also his aide-de-camp. When the Marquis de Tracy returned to France in 1667 with his retinue, his replacement, Governor Courcelles, was not considered worthy enough to be entitled to his own company of guards.

The appointment of Louis de Buade, Count Frontenac, in 1672, resulted in the creation of a permanent corps of personal guards for the governor general. The energetic Count Frontenac used his guards as a kind of personal police and had them arrest several people, including the governor of Montreal, Nicolas Perrot. This gesture was thought excessive, and it led to Frontenac's recall in 1682. As a result of these abuses, it was specified that the only function of the Governor General's Guard was to ensure his personal safety.

From 1672 until the end of the French Regime, the guard consisted officially of "a company of 20 mounted men-at-arms, known as carabineers," including a captain, a lieutenant and a cornet. Reality, however, was often quite different. First, the men were on foot. Second, since their wages were included in the stipend allowed the governor general, they could become fictional at times, depending on his financial circumstances. By the late seventeenth century, governors general usually limited their guard to two or three men, adding sufficient reinforcements on holidays and ceremonial occasions to bring it up to full strength. Early in the eighteenth century, the Marquis de Vaudreuil had only two men in his retinue, while the wealthy Marquis de La Jonquière disembarked at the town of Quebec on August 4, 1749 with much pomp and circumstance, preceded by his entire company.

Little is known about the clothing and armaments of this guard. However, it appears that Count Frontenac's guards wore cassocks in 1673, as did those of the Marquis de Vaudreuil (1703-25), although there is no known description of their clothing. The Marquis de La Jonquière's guards were dressed upon their arrival at Quebec in 1749 in "green costumes, their muskets on their shoulders." This was obviously the Marquis' own livery, and seems to indicate that guards, after 1672, wore the colours and personal coats of arms of their masters, as was the custom in France.