Thursday, May 23, 2013

He was a real Martinet.

The word "martinet" is nowadays used to denote a strict disciplinarian and a person who adheres to the details of forms and methods. Martinet is also the name of a small flogger-like whip used to punish French children in particular, but these words are based on one of the first military drill masters in Europe: Jean Martinet (?-1672).

The French Army during the reign of Louis XIV (1638-1715) was in all likelihood the most powerful army in Europe during the latter part of the 17th century. It was well-led by men like Turenne and Condé, and it was well-drilled. Even the king himself had a keen interest in drill, being convinced that "many more battles are won by good march order and by good bearing than by sword blows and musketry... This habit of marching well and keeping order can only be acquired by drill."[1]

The King's Secretary of State for War, Louvois (1641-1691), also believed in discipline for the troops, and soldiers in garrison where supposed to drill at least twice a week, and during the summers large-scale maneuvers and military reviews were organized. The Office of Inspector-General for the Infantry was created in 1667, and the first Inspector-General was a Lieutenant Colonel Jean Martinet of the King's Regiment of Foot, who supposedly had been drilling soldiers according to his strict doctrine since 1660. 

Martinet was indeed a strict drill master, but he instituted a standardized system of drill and discipline that could turn raw recruits into fighting men within the context of a military unit. The drill patterns and imposed homogeneity of the army units enabled the French marshals and generals of the era to apply more sound tactics. His drill doctrine became the pattern for military training all over Europe, and it was the forerunner of the drill that shaped the armies of Frederick the Great almost a century later.

Lieutenant Colonel Martinet has also been accredited for inventing the plug bayonet which was introduced during the 1660s. This was the forerunner of the more modern socket bayonet, and the name comes from Bayonne in France, bayonet probably being the name of a type of knife used by hunters in that region. The plug bayonet was however fitted into the barrel of the musket, thus making it impossible to fire the musket while the bayonet was mounted. The socket bayonet was supposedly invented by the French military engineer and fortress builder Vauban later in the 17th century, although military conservatism led to the socket bayonet not being fully introduced into the French Army until 1703.

 The plug bayonet.

Martinet also introduced the depot system in the French Army, thereby enabling provisions to be stored and diminishing the need for French troops to forage while on campaign and thus greatly simplifying logistics. Finally, Lieutenant Colonel Martinet was supposed to have invented the copper pontoons that were used by the French Army to cross various rivers during the Dutch War (1672-78)

Louis XIV during the siege of Duisburg

In 1672, just as the Dutch War started, Jean Martinet was appointed marechal de camp during Louis XIVs siege of Duisburg. He was accidentally killed by French artillery fire while leading an infantry assault. The siege also cost the life of a Swiss Captain Soury, and a bon mot (witticism) of the era stated that "Duisburg only cost the king a martin and a mouse."

[1] Louis XIV, Mémoires, vol. ii, pp. 112-13.


John A. Lynn. The Wars of Louis XIV 1667-1714. Harlow: Pearson Education, 1999.

Castra in Lusitania: <>.