D’ARTAGNAN: THE MAN AND THE LEGEND
Everyone has read or seen the story of the THREE MOUSQUETAIRES and their legendary leader, D’ARTAGNAN. The books by Alexander Dumas have made these people forever famous. But did you know that they all actually existed? And that their leader, D’Artagnan, was indeed their leader, and was, for a time, the head of the Mousquetaires ? For as wonderful and romantic as the stories and exploits of these four men are in the books by Dumas, the story of the “real” D’Artagnan is equally fascinating, romantic and unbelievable.
Here is the story of his life and the history of his veritable exploits and adventures;
CHARLES DE BATZ DE CASTELMORE, known by the name de guerre of D’Artagnan, was born in the small village of Lupiac (which is now in the department of the Gers) in the region of Gascony somewhere between 1611 and 1615. He was the fourth son in a family of what is called minor nobility: his father’s family had made a small fortune in commerce but his mother was a descendant of the Montesquiou family with royal connections.
Charles de Batz was born just after Louis XIII became king after the assassination of his father, Henry IV in 1610. It has become a tradition starting with Henry IV that the king’s guards and his close company of arms outside the palace were young men (gentilhommes – that is of noble heritage) from Gascony.
Little is known of his childhood, but as one of seven children born to a moderately wealthy family, he probably had a private tutor for his education. As a fourth son, he had no chance of inheriting the family fortune or property, and so had to decide what to do.
With two of his brothers and letters of introduction from influential people on his mother’s side of the family, he set off for Paris in 1630 to become a ‘man of arms” and hopefully be an officer in the armies of the king. It is at this time that he decided to use the name D’Artagnan, which was associated with his mother’s family and lands, and added it on to his name of Batz de Castelmore. From this moment on, for the rest of his life, he was known as D’Artagnan.
SOLDIER AND SPY
Clearly versed in the arts of war; fencing, firearms, tactics, he is a cadet or young officer in the royal army and spends a number of years fighting for the king at the time, Louis XIII. During this time, thanks to his bravery, and his absolute loyalty to the crown, he rises through the ranks and becomes a sous-lieutenant, which at the time was a high grade.
Because of his absolute loyalty, he was also sent off on missions as a spy by Richelieu, the king’s prime minister and power behind the throne, with the grade of “gentilhomme-capitain”, gathering intelligence.Tthere were always many plots against the king and Louis XIII needed to make sure his royal soldiers and armies were loyal and Richelieu also needed to have trusted “spies” sent out on missions.
After the death of Louis XIII, in 1643, the “new” king was Louis XIV who was only a child of 8 and the kingdom was governed by the Regente, Anne of Austria and her new prime minister, Mazarin. D’Artagnan joined the Company of the Mousquetaires in 1644 and became one of the king’s personal soldiers. Mazarin, immensely unpopular, decided to use D’Artagnan as a spy too, to try to weed out the various plots against him, a task which D’Artagnan seems to have carried out with great skill.
Mazarin disbanded the Mousquetaires in 1646 but D’Artagnan was kept on as a Lieutenant in the KIngs’ Guards. In 1646 Louis XIV was 12 years old, and became officially king of France, able to rule. For the rest of his life, D’Artagnan protected him, fighting along side him and was one of the king’s most faithful servants, and friends.
In 1654 D’Artagnan was wounded in battle, but for his valor, he was promoted to Capitain of the Guards. In 1657 Louis XIV re-created the Company of the Mousquetaires, and made D’Artagnan the Capitain of the Company of the Mousquetaires and he had 150 men under his commandment.
D’Artagnan stayed very close to the king, who had total confidence in him. D’Artagnan spent the time he wasn”t in battle at the Court, relishing in the reputation he had developed.He had earned enough money to have a “maison particuliere” on the Rue de Bac, but he spent much of his time, when not in battle, being a “courtisan” at the Court in Versailles. During this time he became “friends” with the most influential and important men surrounding the king, one of whom was Nicolas Fouquet, the Finance Minister.
DOMESTIC LIFE IS NOT FOR HIM!
It was also in 1659, after many many years of being a bachelor, that D’Artagnan decided to get married (at around the age of 40). He married a rich, aristocratic widow whom he had met at Court. She was already 35 at the time and because she was quite rich, they had a very detailed marriage contract drawn up.
In 1660 and 1661 she gave birth to sons, and in 1662 she and D’Artagnan separated legally and she went back to her “lands” in Burgundy. It seems that he was never “home”, and that between his going to battle and his hanging out at the Court of Versailles, she decided that there was no reason to continue the marriage. But, as nobility, they had the possibility of making a legal separation.
Ironically, even though the sons as young boys, stayed with her, they remained under the protection of the King and the Queen and the King’s sister, who became their godparents.
THE AFFAIR FOUQUET
In 1661 D’Artagnan was given the heavy task of arresting Nicolas Fouquet, who had been the Superintendant of Finances for Louis XIV, and who, the King discovered, had become literally the richest man in France because he had been skimming money off the monies collected for the King. The task of arresting Fouquet, who had many influential friends, was not supposed to be done by D’Artagnan but the Capitain of the Guard who should have done it was actually a “client” of Fouquet’s.
D’Artagnan, who knew Fouquet well, and who also had the total confidence of Louis XIV, was given the job of taking Fouquet to his prison, where he awaited a trial that lasted two years. For the next three years, until his banishment to a castle in northern Italy, D’Artagnan was Fouquet’s “personal” jailer. FD’Artagnan spent almost all his time in the presence of Fouquet or having his personal guards, check up on him. And although Fouquet was incredibly rich and convincing, Louis XIV’s choice of D’Artagnan, was proven to be valid, as D’Artagnan did not succomb to his bribes or influence. This showed just how much the King’s trust in D’Artagnan was valid.
D’ARTAGNAN THE ULTIMATE SOLDIER
After three years as a jail keeper, D’Artagnan finally asked the king to relieve him of this duty, so that he could go back to being a “real” soldier.
In 1665 Louis XIV, as a reward for his loyal service, made D’Artagnan head of the new company of Mousquetaires which brought him fortune and also great honors. At this time D’Artagnan fought alongside the King in most of his battles, and also fought alongside the Great Condé, the first cousin and Prince who was so important to Louis XIV.
In 1670, believing this to be a reward, Louis XIV made D’Artagnan the governor of the region of Lille, which was a rich, and strategically very important city as France as at war with the Pays Bas (The Netherlands) the Protestant country to the north that was making so much trouble for France.
But governing a territory rather than soldiers was not what D’Artagnan was good at. He did not know how to be diplomatic and came to resent the powerful Vauban, sent to Lille to oversee a new construction of fortifications and who had his “own” soldiers, and who took no notice of D’Artagnan in making his decisions.
Since both Vauban and D’Artagnan were “precious” to the king and he did not want to lose either of them as loyal servants, he relieved D’Artagnan of his commission as governor of Lille (which he had thought would be a reward for an ageing soldier). And so, in 1672, at an age when he should have had a non-combat position, D’Artagnan asked to go back to the front and fight
THE END OF D’ARTAGNAN : 1673
Alongside Louis XIV and his army, they headed for the town of Maastricht where an enormous battle was taking place. Although D’Artagnan was in charge of the troops of the Mousquetaires, he should not have been on the front lines.
The official version of what happened on the 25th of June, 1673, is that D’Artagnan was hit by an bullet or gun powder when he moved to the front lines in attempting to encourage his troops who were being pushed back by the huge Dutch army.
He was hit in the head (or chest) and lay dying on the battle field. Four of his soldiers, all Mousquetiers, died trying to retrieve his body to bring it back behind the French lines. Strangely,t he body of Charles de Batz de Castelmore, Count D’Artagnan, was never recuperated. No one knows exactly where he was buried, although many church crypts and graveyards have been dug up over the centuries in an attempt to find him and bring him back to France. He died the ultimate war hero and soldier trying to save his own troops.
His two sons went on to be honorable soldiers, taken care of by the Crown and given all that was necessary as the sons of a hero and “gentilhomme of the Court”.
Louis XIV is quoted as saying of D’Artagnan, after his death:
“I have just lost D’Artagnan, in whom I have had total confidence and who was good at all things”… “honest, loyal, the best of men, with integrity and generosity”.
In 1700, an ex-mousquetaire, who had become a writer of “false memoires”, Gatien de Courtilz de Sandras, wrote a book entitled “ The Memoires of Monsieur d’Artagnan”, which was a great success, and which became the source of inspiration for the writer Alexander Dumas, when he decided to create the world of the THREE MOUSQUETAIRES which of course, included D’Artagnan.
The success of the three books Dumas wrote starting in 1844 ending in 1848, was immediate, and the rest is history.
There have been 32 films made about the Three Mousquetaires and D’Artagnan– many in English, several in Italian. The first one was made in France by a disciple of Meliès, in 1912 and was the very first “swashbuckler” ever made: a silent film in black and white, but already very popular.
Since then there have been so many versions made (not to mention made-for-tv films and series as well) it seems the interest and fascination in the history of D’Artagnan and his three mousquetaire friends will live forever!
All major cities in France have a D’Artagnan street or square. There are BD versions of his story, graphic novels, the Dumas books are still selling well, and everyone I think would be fascinated to meet and spend time with Charles de Batz de Castelmore, comte d’Artagnan and have him tell stories about his life as a soldier and Mousquetaire.
The Castle of D’Artagnan in Lupiac, Gers
As of June of this year, 2023, the castle belonging to the D’Artagnan – Castelmore family is for sale. For the last two years it has been up for sale but no one wants to buy it. The community in the Gers has offered to take on part of the castle to make it a tourist attraction and tell the history of D’Artagnan, but they do not have enough money apparently. Since it was in private hands even though a part of the building is a historic monument, the owners (without any help it would seem from the government is still waiting for a rich buyer.!!
(700 m2 in habitable, 150 hectares of land) 2,2 million euros last price!