From Across The River And Under Shade Trees

"Captain, my religious belief teaches me to feel as safe in battle as in bed. God has fixed the time for my death. I do not concern myself about that, but to be always ready, no matter when it may overtake me. That is the way all men should live, and then all would be equally brave" -Lt. Gen. Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson

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Rhode Islander by Birth, Texan by the grace of God.

Friday, September 09, 2005

All For One and One For All

"Such Noble Valour"
One of my favorite authors is Alexandre Dumas, the great French author of such works as the Count of Monte Cristo, The Three Musketeers, The Man in the Iron Mask, and Twenty Years Later. I have read all but the latter. I do love getting lost in a time gone by, when gentlemen stood for something, fought for what they believed in, and though admitting their imperfections they rose above themselves to serve something greater. However, few realize that many of Dumas' historical works of fiction has some basis in real life characters. Allow me the brief pleasure of telling you about his four most famous characters, The Three Musketeers (Porthos, Athos, and Aramis) and their friend, D'Artanagn.
In the year 1600, King Henry IV created an elite force to serve as his personal guard and armed them with muskets. They were disbanded in 1646, and later reformed in 1657. These 150 musketeers were known as "Gray Musketeers" because of the gray horses they all rode, until the king, on a whim, gave them all black stallions and changed their monicre to "Black Musketeers". They were again disbanded in 1776, again reembodied, and disbanded again for the final time in 1791. Some have asked why the Musketeers in Dumas' writings did not carry muskets (a logical question). The answer lies in the strict code of ethics and honor that these men lived by. The king's Musketeers were personal bodyguards, and were held to be the noblest and most renown fighters of their day, and for them to use a firearm instead of a blade would have been unthinkable, leaving the lesser ranks of Musketeers to kill their enemies from a distance.

Dumas' Characters
In The Three Musketeers, Dumas details the adventures of three musketeers -- Athos, Aramis and Porthos, and the aspiring musketeer, D'Artagnan. Incredibly, all of these characters were based on actual persons. Born in Gascony in 1615, the real D'Artagnan had four brothers and three sisters. One of D'Artagnan's brothers joined the Musketeers in 1633 but died shortly thereafter. Another of his brothers was an army captain that governed a district in the Pyrenees for forty years and died at the ripe old age of ninety-four, having outlived all his siblings. (This was quite a long life, especially in the 1600's!). The real D'Artagnan left for Paris in 1638, though Dumas had him arriving in the city of lights much earlier, 1625. Being that nearly all the residents of the Gascony region were dirt poor, it is also unlikely that he rode to Paris on his own horse. In D'Artagnan's first combat as a soldier he returned unscathed with a bullet hole in his hat and three more through his uniform. He was impetuous and a skillful swordsman, distinguishing himself during various sieges from 1640-1642. By some historical accounts, instead of challenging the musketeers to a duel at the Pre' aux Clercs, he instead had gone there with them to duel several of the Cardinal's guards. D'Artagnan once nursed back to health one of his defeated dueling rivals, a man by the name of Bernajoux, who later became his good friend. Later D'Artagnan was appointed command of the king's Grand Musketeers, the most coveted appointment in France. In spite of his military successes, his personal life was riddled with failure. His first (and last) marriage lasted only six years, his wife leaving him citing neglect (they had no children). After being made governor of Lille, D'Artagnan was shot through the throat and killed in 1673 at the siege of Maastricht, a few feet from Captain Churchill, Winston Churchill's great-great-great-grandfather. Henri D'Aramitz (Aramis) was a squire and a lay priest, the nephew of M. de Tresvilles, the captain of the Musketeers. Armand de Sillegue, Lord of Athos, (Athos) was killed in a duel before D'Artagnan ever joined the Musketeers. Isaac de Portau (Porthos) arrived in Paris only a year before D'Artagnan and was initially turned down by the Musketeers, but was later accepted (1643) after he had proved himself within regiment. Cardinal Richelieu was the de facto ruler of France from 1624 on. Richelieu's older brother had been killed in a duel, and he worked steadily to try to enforce laws forbidding dueling for many years. Milady, Duchesse de Winter was actually the Countess of Carlisle, who was, in fact, an agent of Cardinal Richelieu. (She stole two diamond studs from the Duke of Buckingham!)
Sources:
Cardinal Richelieu, Prime Minister of France. 2003.
Cohen, Richard. By the Sword, Random House / New York 2002. French History. 2003.
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