Colonel General

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Portrait of Louis Ferdinand de Bourbon, dauphin de Viennois painting by Alexandre Roslin (1765)
Musée national du Château et des Trianons (Versailles)
The Dauphin in the uniform of the Colonel-général des dragons.

The Colonel Général was a military service from the time of the Ancien Régime in France . It was a higher-ranking officer who preceded all regiments of one branch of service and originally also assumed the command of the branch. First there is a " colonel général " of the infantry and the cavalry. However, after the " colonel général " of the infantry had taken too much influence on the command of the troops, Louis XIV withdrew all real powers from this post in 1661 and converted him into an honorary position, which also the later created " colonel général des dragons " ( Colonel General of the Dragoons) (1668), and " colonel général des Cent-Suisses et Grisons " (Colonel General of the Hundred Swiss and Graubünden ) concerned. The latter preceded all units of the Swiss in the royal guard ( Maison du Roi ). Furthermore, a " colonel général des Gardes-Françaises " and the " Hussards " (hussars) were created. After the designation Colonel was no longer used, the commanders of the infantry regiments took over the rank designation Colonel and dropped the previously run “ Mestre de camp ”. The “ colonel général ” only continued to exist in the cavalry , for this reason their regimental commanders were still called “ Mestre de camp ”.

After the " colonel général " had been abolished in its entirety during the revolution, Napoleon I reintroduced it to entrust some of his Marshals of France with honor.

During and after the Restoration , the title of " colonel général " was reserved for members of the royal family. After 1830 it was no longer awarded.

The Colonels généraux of the Ancien Régime

The Colonel général de l'infanterie

The Colonel général de l'infantry was an officer instead of the French crown under King Francis I . was established. This officer was in the ranking immediately below the " maréchal de France " and held the supreme command of the infantry. During the Italian wars there was a "Colonel général beyond the mountains" (au-delà des monts) and a "Colonel général this side of the mountains" (en deçà des monts).

Under the Duke of Épernon , the position was first established in 1581 as the Higher Crown Office (Grand office de la couronne).

The "Colonel général" enjoyed considerable powers, so he was the commander of all infantry regiments. All "infantry" affairs, including the appointment of officers , were dealt with by him. This ultimately allowed him to heave his favorites into key positions in the army, which could endanger the king. Cardinal Richelieu , and then Cardinal Mazarin , therefore began to restrict the powers of the “ colonel général ”.

In 1638 Bernard de Nogaret de La Valette d'Épernon succeeded his father in this position, initially in terms of title. When the battle of Fontarabie was lost against the Spaniards in the same year, with France recording 4,000 dead and 2,000 captive soldiers, the " colonel général " was held responsible for the disaster and forced to go into exile in England . On the instructions of Richelieu, the term " colonel général " was no longer used in relation to the infantry. But at the end of 1643 the Duke of Epernon returned from England and was now also entrusted de jure with the position of " colonel général ". In 1645, the term, which had been frowned upon up until then, was once again allowed to be used in matters of the infantry. After the uprising of the Fronde , King Louis XIV, supported by his Minister of War Le Tellier , began to curtail the privileges of the Duke of Epernon more and more, which also led to a number of officers quitting their duties. After the Duke's death in 1661, the position was initially abolished, but reintroduced during the reign of Louis XIV, albeit only as an honorary post.


Colonel General de la Cavalerie

The " colonel général " of the cavalry was established at the same time as the " colonel général " of the infantry. Like him, he led the high command of all regiments of his branch of service, in which the regimental commanders (as with the infantry) were called " mestre de camp ". Only the companies of the "Gendarmerie de France" as heavy cavalry, which did not form regiments, were not under his command. For this reason, the " colonel général de la cavalerie " was also nominally called " colonel général de la cavalerie légère " (ie the light cavalry). He was assisted by a “ mestre de camp général ” and a “ commissaire général ”, functions that soon became honorary posts. Just like the " colonel général " of the infantry, this also exerted a strong influence on the interests of the cavalry and the occupation of officer positions.

The disputes between the " colonel général " of the infantry and the royal administration did not affect the cavalry entirely, which is why the office continued to exist. This means that he was (even if more and more only symbolically) responsible for the concerns of the cavalry, such as the regulations, the revues (inspections) and the appointment of the officers, something that the Colonel General of the Infantry was only allowed to return later. In 1668 the dragoons were subordinated to their own " colonel général ". The Comte d'Auvergne, " colonel général " of the cavalry since 1675, distributed the tasks to a "Corps d'inspecteurs de la cavalerie" (corps of cavalry inspectors) from 1694. However, under his nephew and successor, the Count of Évreux, the cavalry was placed entirely under royal orders.

In 1778 the " colonel général des hussards " was introduced, which further split the system.

Colonels généraux de la cavalerie légère

Colonels généraux des dragons

Colonel général des hussards

Colonels généraux des Cent-Suisses et Grisons

Colonels généraux des Gardes-Françaises

  • ???? - ????: Charles II de Créquy, prince de Poix, seigneur de Créquy, de Fressin et de Canaples, then duc de Lesdiguières
  • 1661–1671: Antoine III de Gramont-Touloujon, duc de Gramont
  • 1672–1691: François III d'Aubusson, duc de La Feuillade
  • 1692–1704: Louis-François de Boufflers , duc de Boufflers
  • 1704–1717: Antoine V. de Gramont , duc de Guiche then duc de Gramont, maréchal de France , colonel général des dragons and the Gardes-Françaises
  • 1717–1741: Antoine VI de Gramont, duc de Gramont
  • 1741–1745: Louis de Gramont, duc de Gramont
  • 1745–1788: Louis Antoine de Gontaut-Biron, duc de Biron

Colonels généraux under Napoleon Bonaparte

Louis Bonaparte , King of Holland and connétable de l'Empire
July 1, 1804 Eugène de Beauharnais ,
December 1804 Auguste Frédéric Louis Viesse de Marmont , Duke of Ragusa , then Emmanuel, comte de Grouchy
1809 Emmanuel, comte de Grouchy
July 6, 1804 Laurent de Gouvion Saint-Cyr ,
December 1812 Augustin, Comte Belliard
June 1804 Louis, comte Baraguey d'Hilliers , † December 1812;
January 16, 1813 Étienne Marie Antoine Champion, comte de Nansouty , † February 12, 1815
1804 Jean-Baptiste Bessières , Duke of Istria , † May 1, 1813; then Louis Gabriel Suchet , Duke of Albufeira
  • Grenadiers à pied de la Garde impériale (Grenadiers on foot of the Imperial Guard):
1802? Louis-Nicolas Davout , Duke of Auerstädt , Prince of Eggmühl
1804 Jean-Andoche Junot , Duke of Abrantes , † July 29, 1813
  • Suisses (Swiss):
1807 Jean Lannes , Duke of Montebello , † May 31, 1809;
1809 Louis-Alexandre Berthier , Prince of Wagram and Neuchâtel, 1809 vice-connétable de l'Empire , then Jean Lannes , duc de Montebello

Colonels généraux of the restoration


One infantry and one cavalry regiment each bore the name "Colonel général":

  • The infantry regiment "de Picardie" was renamed in 1780 in "Régiment d'infanterie colonel général". It led the No. 1 in the regiment list and became " 1 er regiment d'infanterie " during the army reform on the occasion of the revolution . It still exists today.
  • The regiment "Turenne cavalerie" was renamed in 1657 in "Régiment de cavalerie colonel général". It led the No. 1 in the regiment list and became "1 er régiment de cavalerie" during the army reform on the occasion of the revolution . It was initially merged with the " 11 er régiment de cuirassiers " and dissolved in 2009 as "1-11 e régiment de cuirassiers". In its place came the 4 e régiment de dragons , which was re-established for this purpose .

The naming did not mean that the respective colonel général was the owner of the regiment. It only carries the name.


  1. in the plural Colonels généraux
  2. that the matter would be overturned again by the end of the year could not be foreseen and did not change anything in the facts created in this regard
  3. as far as he did not hold this rank himself anyway
  4. However, only the abbreviated designation was generally used
  5. Hofmeister / Court Marshal of the King


  • Paul Courteault, Blaise de Monluc historien. Étude critique sur le texte et la valeur historique des Commentaires , Paris, Librairie Alphonse Picard et Fils, 1907.
  • Arlette Jouanna (sd), Histoire et dictionnaire des guerres de religion , Robert Laffont, “Bouquins” collection, 1998, entrée Monluc, famille de, p. 1111-1116.
  • Sous la direction de Georges Courtès, Le Gers. Dictionnaire biographique de l'Antiquité à nos jours , Société Archéologique et Historique du Gers, Auch, 1999 ISBNdddd 2-9505900-1-2
  • Véronique Larcade, Jean-Louis Nogaret de La Valette, duc d'Épernon (1554–1642): une vie politique , thèse de doctorat sous la direction d'Yves-Marie Bercé, Paris-IV Sorbonne, 1995.
  • Histoire de l'armée française , Philippe Fouquet-Lapar, Presses universitaires de France, 1998. ISBN 2130464726
  • Histoire de l'armée française: Des milices royales à l'armée de métier , Pierre Montagnon, Pygmalion, Paris, 1997. ISBN 2857045247
  • Histoire de l'armée française , général Maxime Weygand , Camille Flammarion , 1961.
  • La France militaire illustrée , lt-colonel A. Dally, Larousse , 1900.
  • Histoire militaire de la France (3 volumes), sous la direction d'André Corvisier, Presses universitaires de France, 1992. ISBN 2130489575

Web links

Commons : Colonel général  - collection of images, videos and audio files