1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Gendarmerie

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GENDARMERIE, originally a body of troops in France composed of gendarmes or men-at-arms. In the days of chivalry they were mounted and armed cap-à-pie, exactly as were the lords and knights, with whom they constituted the most important part of an army. They were attended each by five soldiers of inferior rank and more lightly armed. In the later middle ages the men-at-arms were furnished by owners of fiefs. But after the Hundred Years’ War this feudal gendarmerie was replaced by the compagnies d’ordonnance which Charles VII. formed when the English were driven out of France, and which were distributed throughout the whole extent of the kingdom for preserving order and maintaining the king’s authority. These companies, fifteen in number, were composed of 100 lances or gendarmes fully equipped, each of whom was attended by at least three archers, one coutillier (soldier armed with a cutlass) and one varlet (soldier’s servant). The states-general of Orleans (1439) had voted a yearly subsidy of 1,200,000 livres in perpetuity to keep up this national soldiery, which replaced, and in fact was recruited chiefly amongst, the bands of mercenaries who for about a century had made France their prey. The number and composition of the compagnies d’ordonnance were changed more than once before the reign of Louis XIV. This sovereign on his accession to the throne found only eight companies of gendarmes surviving out of an original total of more than one hundred, but after the victory of Fleurus (1690), which had been decided by their courage, he increased their number to sixteen. The four first companies (which were practically guard troops) were designated by the names of Gendarmes écossais, Gendarmes anglais, Gendarmes bourguignons and Gendarmes flamands, from the nationality of the soldiers who had originally composed them; but at that time they consisted entirely of French soldiers and officers. These four companies had a captain-general, who was the king. The fifth company was that of the queen; and the others bore the name of the princes who respectively commanded them. This organization was dissolved in 1788. The Revolution swept away all these institutions of the monarchy, and, with the exception of a short revival of the Gendarmes de la garde at the Restoration, henceforward the word “gendarmerie” possesses an altogether different significance—viz. military police.