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Stuart MM18 Mar 2010 1:31 a.m. PST

This is an afterthought from the post by Daniel regarding Renaissance France at war.

I've not really studied French armies of the period so forgive me if this question is a little naive.

Francs Archers; discuss.

What was their role?
Did they fight alongside Gendarmes?
Did they fight both mounted and dismounted?
Were they early dragoons?
What sort of bow were they armed with?

Keraunos18 Mar 2010 2:37 a.m. PST

They didn't have bows.

The term was just a name – they were basically lancers.

Griefbringer18 Mar 2010 2:50 a.m. PST

The term was just a name – they were basically lancers.

I think you are mixing up the Francs Archers (infantry) and Ordonnance Archers (originally mounted infantry, later lance-armed cavalry).

Keraunos18 Mar 2010 3:47 a.m. PST

ah, yes possibly.

Daniel S18 Mar 2010 4:48 a.m. PST

Are you refering to the Archers who were part of the Ordonnance companies and served alongside the Gendarmes?

Or the Francs-Archers who are a diffrent type of troop altogether?

The Ordonnance Archers were mounted archers, a copy of the English mounted archer. A 1446 description describes them this way:
"The archers wear leg armour, salets, heavy jacques line with linen or brigandines, bow in hand, quiver at side".
-Du Costume Militaire des Francais en 1446

Gilles le Bouvier provides a similar description in his later account of the reconquest of Normandy:
"And each of the said men-at-arms had for his lance two mounted archers, armed for the most part with brigandines, armour for the legs , and sallets., many of which were ornamented with silver and at the least all of them had good jacks or haubergeons."

By the 1494 invasion of Italy the equipment seems to have changed somewhat as one eyewitness describes the Ordonnance archers wearing breastplates. (I've misplaced the photocopy of the quote so I'm afraid I can't give you a proper quote)

As copies of the English archers the Ordonnance archers were armed with longbows and fought on foot in battle. The bow was still in use in the Italian wars. The 1494 eyewitness above mentioned the large bows carried by the Ordonnance Archers and the famous print of the battle of Fornovo shows dismounted archers using the longbows alongside the Swiss pikemen. In a similar way the illustrated account of the conquest of Genoa in 1507 also shows archers using their bows in action.
Written sources further confirm the use of the bow as well, Balsac clealry views the archers as just that and laments the decay in archery skill. D'Auton describe archers fighting dismounted and the sources mention archers dismounting at Ravenna as well.

The 1515 Royal regulations laid down that certained named cities were to keep craftsmen employed to supply the Archers of the Ordonnance with bows while the captains were to to recruit archers who knew ho to "well draw the bow". The same part of the 1515 decree also mentions crossbowmen, if I read the old French correctly the crossbowmen were to fill vacancies among the archers. But my French has real limits and google translate is not much help this time.

The 1515 decree was repeated unchanged in 1526 and this partly obscures the process by which the Ordonnance Archers changed into less heavily armed lancers. The 1549 regulations does show the Archers as less well equipped lancers but this probably shows acceptance of a changed that had already happend much earlier rather than showing that actual point of change.

The answer may well lie in other written sources. Monluc provides few details of his service as an Ordonnance Archer in the early 1520's but the text seems to suggest that he served mounted rather than as a archer or crossbowman on foot in combat. Clearly something changed in the years between 1512 were we still have reports of large numbers of dismounted archer and Monlucs early years of service in 1521-1522. But the details of just how the archers came to replace the Coustiliers as the support/2nd rank of the Gendarmes remain elusive.

huevans18 Mar 2010 4:58 a.m. PST

Sounds like the same process wherein dragoons transformed from mounted infantry into "lighter" cavalry in the late 1600's.

Daniel S18 Mar 2010 5:25 a.m. PST

Clearly there are noticable similarities between the two cases. What IMHO sets the Ordonnance Archer case apart is that along the way they replaced the Coustiliers who orginaly served as the "lighter" lancer supporting the Gendarmes. That kind of "usurpation" is unusal.

Daniel S18 Mar 2010 5:51 a.m. PST

The Francs-Archers were infantry, raised from the 1440's onward (the Bretons actually raised theirs from the 1420's) to provide the French with additional archers they were manily armed with longbows together with a small part armed with crossbows. Orginaly 8000 strong they were expanded to 16000 strong in 1466. At the same time the equipment was made much more diverse. Alongside the original archers & crossbowmen men were now accepted into service armed with pike or voulge. A small number of handgunners is also recorded in the musters though handguns were not mentioned in the equipment regulations.

Following the defeat in the battle of Guinegate 1479 Lois XI rearmed most of the Francs-Archers with pike and halbered and only kept a small 'elite' armed with bow. The sources get confusing as the Francs-archers began to be reorganised, suppressed and re-raised in a very confusing manner. Hence later day writers will provide somewhat diffrent details about their fate. Sufficent to say the Francs-Archers were on a downward slope from the 1480's ownard regardless of when one think that their existence ended.

Stuart MM18 Mar 2010 5:55 a.m. PST


Yes, spot on, its the Ordannance Company Archers I'm referring to, thanks for the info.

I'm guessing that as mounted archers they rarely engaged in mounted combat?

I was thinking that a base of dismounted archers could be quite easily knocked up with some spare horses and the Perry boxed set.

I'd like to read more on the French Army of the Italian wars with regard to their appearence equipment & organisation, what can you suggest as a starting point?

Would the English mtd archers fall within the army list description of prickers / border horse – perhaps not? curiously they're not mention in the DBR early tudor listing but I know that there was a mtd archer contingent in the 1513 campaign.

Camcleod18 Mar 2010 6:28 a.m. PST

See the Marbot plates for pics of Ordonnance Archers.
Plates 1 & 8 on page 1.
Plates 5 & 11 on page 2.


Daniel S18 Mar 2010 6:43 a.m. PST

I suspect that the DBR list lumps all types of archer together into a single type. In actual battle there would be no difference as the mounted archers dismouted pre-battle and left their horse behind with the train and baggage in at least 90-99% of the cases. So having the horse on the table woudl just add clutter and complications.

wyeayeman18 Mar 2010 2:10 p.m. PST

Just a thought. The term 'francs archer' presumeably refers to those archers who were not part of the ordonnance, in the sense that they were not permanently embodied and were called up as needed. I have (Burgundian) muster lists from Picardy for 1473 which show that some turn up with bows, some with pole weapons and some with sword and shield. Some have horses and some have not. A mixed bag really. The point being you got what you got, rather than saying 'I want 2000 longbowmen.' (well, you might want that many, but Renee and Pierre might only bring their halberds)
Which leads me to doubt any real possibility of (as Daniel suggests) of anyone rearming them with pole weapons or pikes. This requires too much organisation and therefore money. There is also the reliability issue, both in terms of turning up at all and staying around when things got dangerous.
This in an age where Princes would rather pay for more reliable soldiers from wherever they could get them, than hoping that their appeal to civic responsibility/patriotism/whatever would bring forth mighty warriors from the land.

Daniel S18 Mar 2010 2:40 p.m. PST

Do you read French? There is not much available in English and what is available is spread across dozens of sources.
The French material is pread across multiple works as well, I've yet to find a concentrated study of those subjects.

Daniel S18 Mar 2010 2:45 p.m. PST

But the Burgundian provinces were separate from France in 1473 and did not have anything resembling the Francs-Archers organisation in place AFAIK.

The rearming of the Francs-Archers in the 1480's is well documented. Basicly surviving remnants of the Francs-Archers were combined with new recruits from various sources in a huge military encampment at Pont-de-l'Arche were they were requipped and retrained. They were then kept under arms (except of course for the deserters)a standing force rather than dispersed.
We have detailed list of the weapons ordered as well as partial documentation of the actual deliveries.

wyeayeman18 Mar 2010 10:27 p.m. PST

well there you go…

wyeayeman18 Mar 2010 10:58 p.m. PST

sorry that was more flippant than I intended.
Picardie & Artois – Archer country in French terms were pretty much split between Burgundy and France yes. But the two were little different in administrative terms. And besides there were pockets of Burgundian terriatory within French territory(the Somme towns for instance).
There was no practical difference between these lands save for where the money went -the Somme Towns had the right to appeal to the French parlement for instance. Therefore as a picture of how and what was recruited into armies, its quite accurate for either example. Indeed the B's did drag lots of quite angry and unwilling recruits into their armies from various places as is well documented. However any recruiter in thse areas would be most unwelcome.
I think the example holds good in terms of 'Free' Archers ie not ordonnance who in both regimes were paid uniformed etc.
After 1480, and following the popular fad of copying all things pike, the first thing to be realised was that recruiting on an ad hoc basis would simply not work and as you describe the lucky chosen men had to be embodied and trained.Presumeably this was the blue print for the 'Vielle Douze'
They were therefore no longer 'archers'??.
Also given the rather large number of Archery clubs in the cities of the low countries -Picardy Artois flanders etc, some of them were probably really quite good with the bow.
The Burgundians did not call their men 'Francs Archers' but that is what they effectively were.

Stuart MM19 Mar 2010 2:20 a.m. PST


Thanks again for the wealth of information you have contributed and the discussion that has resulted, TMP at its best.

I have one last question; were these archers comparable to their English counterparts?

It's a shame (though understandable) that there's not much out there in English, unfortunately my grasp of French is limited to ordering beer and attempting to impress the opposite sex!

Daniel S20 Mar 2010 3:05 p.m. PST

You're welcome, I'm happy my musings on the subject is of use to you.

Missed answerign your earlier question about the archers fighting mounted.
Archers fighting mounted does seem not seem to happen before the Italian wars though there a couple of possible places were this could have taken place.
While the archers were well equipped for infantry they were not at that time well suited for fighting "real" cavalry. Compared to men-at-arms they had inferior armour, only swords compared to the heavy lance and rode horses of low quality.
Yet in the pursuit of a defeated enemy or a suprise attack on low quality troops they coudl make a decent & usefull ad-hoc cavalry. And as times passed and the Italian wars began their main role slowly but certainly changed from dismounted to mounted combat. Along the line they picked up more armour and began to use the demi-lance previously used by the Coustiliers.

Ordonnance Archers vs English Archers is a complex question to answer as the reply will be diffrent depending on the year in question and just what one is comparing.

For example the large army brought over by the English in 1475 did not impress eyewitnesses such as Commynes with their overall military skills.

"These were not the Englishmen of his [Charles the Bold] father's day and the former wars with France. They were inexperienced and raw soldiers, ignorant of French ways."

"I tell no lie when I say that Edwards troops seemed to to be very inexperienced and new to action in the field as they rode in very poor order."

It should be noted that this is not merely a question of a French source bashing the English as other remarks show that Commynes held the military potential of the English in high regard

"When the English first come over no one is more stupid or clumsy but in a very short space of time they become very good, clever and brave soldiers."

Nor was their skill with the bow in question as Commynes praises English archery in no uncertain terms:
…the English who are the world's best archers"

But skill with a weapon is only one of several skills needed to make an effective soldier hence Commynes criticism of the English quoted above.

The French use of archery and the performance of the Ordonnance Archers (and other French archers) is a poorly studied subject.
The part they played in the French victories in the final years of the HYW have been obscured by an exaggerated focus on the French use of artillery. The role played by the Ordonnance Archers in the other wars of the late 15th Century is equaly obscure but however one judges the performance of the archers the sheer number of archers used by the French is a clear indication of how important archery was held to be.

The battle of Guinegate 1479 is often held up as an example of the of the poor performance of French archers and their inferiority compared to the English yet those statments are almost invariably based on a superficial study of the battle.
Yet in the battle the French archers (Ordonnance & Francs-Archers, probably some archers of the Petite Ordonnance as well)did:
1. Defeat the Burgundian & English archers in Maximilians army. (DEspite the later enjoying considerable artillery support)
2. Capture Maximilans artillery
3. Together with the captured artillery they inflicted considerable losses on the pike square led by Nassau. This hade been force to halt to defend itself from the charges made by the French Gendarmes who had routed Maximilians men-at-arms fighting on that flank.

The French lost the battle for several reasons.
Many of the Francs-Archers dispersed to loot Maximilians camp which had been taken. This and the fact that the French failed to defeat the men-at-arms supporting the other pike square (led by Maximilian and Romont)
This allowed Romont to launch an effective counter-attack which routed the troops that were attacking Nassau, recapturing the artillery and inflicting considerable slaughter on the looters as well.

The failure of the French to halt Romont is often held up as proof of their poor archery. (Never mind their success against Maximilians archers or against Nassau)Yet the English who supposedly were the best archers in the world failed to halt well equipped pikemen using archery both at Stoke in 1487 or at Flodden in 1513.
The fatal flaw was not the skill of the French archers but the lack of discipline among Francs-Archers as well as the lack of sufficent troops well equipped for close combat.
Without the Gendarmes to pin the pikemen in place the archers & other French foot were at a bad disadvantage due to the shortage of close combat infantry in the French army.

The closer we get to the end of the 15th Century the harder it is to follow the Ordonnance archers. Clearly they were present in both the wars in the Netherlands, in Brittany and in the invasion of Italy but because their presence is overlooked in the sources I have acess to it's hard to judge their impact. On top of that the French began to field massed archers at the very time that the impact of the longbow was in decline due to changing battlefield conditions. Improvements in armour, organisation, tactics and weaponry (i.e artillery) all meant that massed archery no longer as efficent as in 1346, 1356 or 1415.

Texts such as Balsac's treatsie indicates that archers were still an important part in French military thinking in the 1490's as Balsac laments the poor archery skills of Ordonnance Archers at that time.

IMHO the Ordonnance Archers and their predecessors during the period 1425-1453 had an steadily increasing number of men who were roughly equal to the better archers fielded by the English. Indeed they would have been superior to the groups of men of lower quality fielded by the English in the final years.

Once past 1453 it's increasingly hard to judge the performance of the Ordonnance archers, clearly they viewd themselves as an elite from the HYW onwards but I suspect that the quality of their archery varied considerably during the period of 1454 to 1512 (the later year chosen because it's the last time I can find a large force of dismounted archers on a battlefield). But given that the French fought some 60 battles and smaller 'actions' in the period of 1494-1512 alone there might well be a surprising discovery ot two waiting for the historian willing and able to dig deep into the sources.

Daniel S20 Mar 2010 4:02 p.m. PST

You seem to be basing your assertion that the Francs-Archers were recruited on an ad-hoc basis soley because of their name (Free-Archers)?

The name comes from the fact that the men were free from the Taille taxation. There was nothing ad-hoc about the Francs-Archers as they had a fixed system of recruitment & organisation.
According to the ordinnance creating the Francs-Archers all parishes were stipulated to provide archers or crossbowmen at a varying ratio, one man from every 120, 80 or 50 hearths. The men were to be of some standing and were selected by the regional royal officials (prevots). In return for their service they men recived freedom from taxation and were not obliged to provide billets for troops or to preform guard duty. Hence the name. In 1466 the orginal number of 8000 Francs-Archers was expanded to 16000 men in 32 'bands'. The 1466 regulations also implemented changes in the equipment. The more expensive brigandies were to be replaced with "Jacks" made up of 25-30 layers of linen and men were now allowed to be equipped with pike or voulge along side the longbow and crossbow. The preserved muster rolls do show that the majority of Francs-Archers used the bow with crossbows less common and voulges and pikes even less common.
By the 1470's there were some 18.000 Francs-Archers
With a large number of the Francs-Archers killed at Guinegate 1479 the decision was made to reform and rearm the replacements. The orginal force in the Pont-de-l'Arche military camp was 6000 Swiss joined by 4000 new recruits from Scotland, Gascony and the Dauphiné as well as 4000 Francs-Archers from Normandy.
(Additional levies were raised later) To equipp the troops 4000 pikes & 10.000 halberds were ordered as well as 3000 new bows for remnant of archers keept in service.

And of course there was the often forgotten Petite Ordonnance which supplied garrison troops organised into lances of 1 men-at-arms, 2 archers and a page. Between 400 and 2000 such lances were mantained by Louis.

wyeayeman21 Mar 2010 8:17 a.m. PST

Ahh… It seems I will have to read the book.

Jezz Todd22 Mar 2010 9:49 a.m. PST


I am fighting French v Hapsburgs from 1500 ish. My French Archers are based up as Gendarmes but on unbarded horses. I use Impetus rules and under these the Archers play as good quality lance armed cavalry although not as strong (or expensive points wise) as Gendarmes.

I was interested to read about the early foot deployment when they actually use the longbow. I think wargaming wise you would have to make a decision as to whether you are aiming for a French army predominantly in the 16 century or 15th century.


Knight Templar22 Mar 2010 4:15 p.m. PST

Daniel S's posts are like reading a well-written Osprey. :) Glad for your details and you sound like you know what you're talking about.

Stuart MM23 Mar 2010 2:30 a.m. PST

Jez; I think i'll go with early 1500's representations. I've used German light cavalry in a similar role but they are not as fast or effective as their French (or english) counterparts. I'm eagerly awaiting the forthcoming Eureka figures for these, I think they're on track to be available for the summer.

Daniel; There's not much out there about the 1479 battle of Guinegate, what little I can find sounds like it was a close run thing. Was this battle a one off or part of a larger campaign? also, was it the same location as the 1513 'battle'.

P.S. Ditto on your knowledge, I think we should petition Osprey to offer you a commission!

Thanks again.


Daniel S23 Mar 2010 12:32 p.m. PST

Stuart & Knight Templar
Thank for the kind words and the vote of confidence, between the French army being very much a side project for me which I dabble with to take a break from my main area of research and Osprey not being very keen on the Ren. period i doubt you'll see anything in print soon. I have been thinking about put together some sort of 'wargamers guide' in the shape of a pdf offered either free or for a modest charge depending on the amount of work which goes into it.
But time being in short supply it is a long ways off I'm afraid.

Archers as mounted troops
Another subject which needs more study, mostly they are hard to distinguise from the Gendarmes for whom they acted as supports forming a 2nd and possibly 3rd rank. On a few occasions we find them deployed separately such as at Ceriosoles 1544.
As Gendarme companies grew smaller and the number of Archers were reduced the Archers actually began deploying alongside the Gendarmes in a single rank. (Around 1500 a typical company was 50 or 100 lances strong i.e 50/100 Gendarmes supported an equal number of Coustilliers and twice as many archers. By the time of the Wars of Religion the typical company was 30 or 60 lances strong with only 1.5 archer for each Gendarme and no Coustilliers. At the end of the FWOR the ratio was 1:1.

My own Gendarmes were originaly raised for a refight of Pavia so I have mix of 3 Gendarmes and 3 Archers as the basic unit.

Guinegate 1479
Guinegate was part of the war sometimes refered to as the "War of Burgundian succession" in English. Following the death of Charles the Bold in 1477 the French led by Louis XI moved to grab as much of the collapsing Burgundian state as possible. This was opposed by Duchess Mary (of the house of York) various Burgundian partisans and Maximilian of Habsburg who was married to Charles daughter and heir.
To top things off there were also various revolts and internal warfare within the Netherlands.

There is very little indeed written about this war in English and it's not altogether easy to study in other languages either. There are several works on Guinegate in German and Dutch.
It would actually make for a fascinating wargames campaign, on one side you have the French Ordonnance army, on the other Maximilian who commands a mix of Low country militias, the reformed and reraised remnants of the Burgundian Ordonnance companies as well as English, Swiss and German troops (the first two serving as mercenaries)
May well have been some Italian and Spanish mercs in Maximilians ranks as well. We know that he employed Juan de Salazar who went on to fight at Bosworth in the close company of Richard III.

It was in the same area as the 1513 battle, both got their name from the village of Guinegate. Both battles came about due to the operations against Therouanne. At the time Therouanne was an important fortress as well as a French enclave inside the Burgundian territories.

idontbelieveit06 Oct 2012 11:28 a.m. PST

Early in the thread you state that the Ordonnance archers wear leg armor. Do you have any idea what this looks like?

Daniel S06 Oct 2012 3:02 p.m. PST

The descriptions lack details but most likely it is a simpler form of leg harness made up of cuisses protecting the thigh and a poleyn protecting the knee and upper part of the lower leg. I.e what today is often called "3/4 leg armour" by reenactors link

A full leg armour with greaves for the lower leg and sabatons for the feet would be much more expensive and require fiting to work properly. It is also harder to move and fight dismounted with a full leg harness, particularly if the ground is less than even.

An even simpler form would be what today is called an "Archers knee" which can be seen in some of the artwork though there is little clear written evidence of this type of armour.


idontbelieveit06 Oct 2012 6:42 p.m. PST

Thanks. I'm not sure any figure makers make longbowmen like this. Maybe I could add something decent with green stuff….

cameronian16 Oct 2012 3:46 a.m. PST

As far as I am led to believe, they are part of the original 'lance' unit. This consisted of 2 men-at-arms, 2 mounted archers, a squire and two pages. By 1512 at Ravenna, they were lighter versions of the men-at-arms riding un-barded horses, though for some reason or another they kept the name 'archers'. Used at Ravenna detached from their 'lance' as light cavalry to oppose the Spanish Ginettes (Jinetes, whatever).

Griefbringer16 Oct 2012 11:20 a.m. PST

Cameronian, I think you are mixing up the Francs Archers (militia infantry) and Ordonnance Archers (originally mounted infantry, later lance-armed cavalry). Two different things.

cameronian16 Oct 2012 12:08 p.m. PST

As the original poster appears to be referring to mounted troops then my reply is apt in as much as it refers to mounted troops of the Compagnie d'ordonnance in 1512.

Anyway, weren't the francs-archers disbanded in 1479 and subsequently resurrected in 1523, becoming 'legions' in 1534?

I'm not an expert in these matters, I merely rely on the sources available to me.

Daniel S16 Oct 2012 1:10 p.m. PST

At Ravenna the sources clearly describe the Archers as fighting dismounted and Francis I regulations for the Ordonnance companies issued in 1515 require them to have bows and be skilled in their use. Lances or anything like man-at-arms equipment are not mentioned.

GamesPoet Supporting Member of TMP19 Oct 2012 5:07 p.m. PST

Some good reading here, thank you!

Tumbleweed Supporting Member of TMP22 Oct 2012 4:06 p.m. PST

The Viking Forge makes a 15mm French Francs Archer.


Stuart MM03 Sep 2013 2:09 a.m. PST

Hi all

I have renewed my reading into both ordonnance archer cavalry and the francs archers and remembered this really engaging thread. My interest is the French army of 1513 which faced Henry VIII.

I thought i'd resurrect it with a few further queries;

In Renaissance France at War, David Potter cites (in a reference to the Francs archer infantry)that Louis XII ordered a levy of 22'000 in May 1513 for frontier defense although they were disbanded 18 months later.

I'm interested in their equipment; in the same chapter in reference to a later 1522 decree it refers to them being previously equipped with brigandine and crossbow but were now equipped with corselets, mail gorgets, arm pieces, mail skirts and helmets with armnaments of 2/3 pike and the remainder made up of halberdiers, crossbowmen and arquebusiers – all wearing sleeveless coats in the liveries of their captains.

I'm assuming that the decree of 1512 would have perhaps simply been a crossbow armed force different from the 'adventuriers' and also that they wore the liveries of their captains?

Moving on to the ordonnance archer cavalry the information in the discussion thread above and also the same book i've mentioned seems to indicate that during 1513 they were mounted longbowmen of the English fashion.

My interpretation is that in 1515 Louis XII decreed that cities should maintain armourers to manufacture bows for the archers of the ordonnances and that captains should ensure a 'good number of archers and crossbowmen drawing the bow well from saddle or on foot'

A similar decree was repeated in 1526 with the move to medium lance armed cavalry being around 1549 or possibly earlier.

So, just to confirm, in 1513;

Francs archers (infantry) were crossbow and /or bow armed foot reasonably well equipped in the liveries of their captains.

Ordonnance archers (cavalry) were mounted longbow and crossbow armed cavalry able to fight from the saddle or on foot.

There's a lot of confusion across various sources but i hold faith in David Potter's book and take Daniel's views in high regard.

I'm just trying to figure out how i'll represent these troops in miniature.

Thanks again


pete1703 Sep 2013 10:46 a.m. PST

hi Stuart, the link has a picture of mounted Archers in the livery of Stuart d'Aubigny with a rather nifty flag as well. I'm not sure of the date however the horse armour looks appropriate for the earlier part of the Italian wars and I think he died in 1508. Shame the pictures a bit crappy however the blokes on the unamoured horses are definitely carrying bows.

Anyway here's the

cheers Pete

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