Military Uniforms During the Seven Years War

Fashion Flashback: Given that fashion was instrumental in the creation of Canada, this blog series explores the development of what Canadians wore one era at a time.

The Seven Years War (1754-1763) was a real geopolitical game-changer because the end of the conflict saw the complete restructuring of the North American map. France ceded all of its North American possessions to Great Britain in exchange for the islands of Saint-Pierre and Miquelon. So, needless to say, the war was particularly devastating* to France…but hey, at least they looked good while losing!

French/Colonist Military Fashion

How French soldiers looked in Europe was not necessarily how they would have appeared in North America because the uniform was not decided by top-ranking commanders, rather fashion decisions were largely left up to colonels. That being said, grey and white cloth were adopted by most French regiments (likely due to the fact it was less expensive than coloured materials) and remained the traditional colour for infantry uniforms until the French Revolution. Recruits from New France would have worn these colours as well.


Officer of Le regiment de Languedoc in Full Dress, 1758
.
(Artist: R.J. Marrion, Canadian War Museum).

In 1755, French infantry soldiers wore several layers of clothes. The first was a white collarless shirt and greyish-white woolen breeches, grey or white stockings hastened with a leather strap, and black shoes made of leather with metal buckles. On top of their shirts would have been the collarless, long-sleeved waistcoat. Its color depended upon which unit the soldier was part of. The third and final layer was a greyish-white woolen justaucorps (an overcoat that ended at the knee and was split in the back to enable fastening up the material for greater movement).

Despite the fact that most justaucorps were greyish-white, often it was the most ornamental part of their uniform. Regiments were distinguished by “the colour of the collar, cuffs, and waistcoat, the shape of the pocket flaps, the colour of buttons and hat braid, and the arrangement of buttons on the pocket flaps and coat cuffs.” [Source]. Below, you will see some different examples. On their heads were the traditional tricorn hats, which were made of black felt, edged with gold or silver lace, and decorated with a black or white ribbon cockade.

Sergent grande tenue (full dress Sergeant) Bothering an Aboriginal Woman

Grenadier en route

Fun Fact #1: Grenadiers were a specialized soldier whose main task was to throw grenades—a role for the strongest and largest soldiers.


Grenadier Corporal of Regiment de Bearn in the Canadian issue uniform of 1755-1757
.
(Artist: R.J. Marrion, Canadian War Museum)

British Military Fashion

Despite the fact that the British army had more of a variety due to the involvement of Scotland and American colonists, they were all easily identified by one simple uniform detail. Can you guess?

Corporal of the 40th and Private Sentinel of the 45th. Artist: By G.A. Embleton. Note: These two are wearing some non-regulation modifications, namely the beaver skin backpacks.

The term “redcoat” didn’t come out of nowhere! Before the realization that running through fields in easy-to-spot, bright red coats wasn’t the smartest of ideas, for 150 years the British army proudly completed their uniforms with a traditional regimental red coat. For English soldiers, underneath their distinctive coat was a white collarless shirt, a waistcoat (generally red as well), and whitish-grey breeches. Stockings with leather shoes or tall leather boots were worn. Like the French, an embellished tricorn hat topped off the uniform. Regiments were distinguished by different color coat linings, cuffs, and collars, as well as lace and insignia usage. Despite the standardization of British military dress, there were deviations given the aforementioned variety of their army.


Soldier of the 78th Fraser’s Highlanders.
(Artist: R.J. Marrion, Canadian War Museum)

The Highland regiments from Scotland had the most unique uniforms of the British Army. Full Highland dress involved a tartan belted kilt made of wool, a white collarless shirt with a white neck cloth, and a short red overcoat with a turned-down white collar and white cuffs. Knee-high stockings of red and white patterns, leather black buckle shoes, a cap with black feathers, plus a wide leather cross-belt to hold up their broadsword finished off the look. Frostbite be damned, Highlanders wore their kilts even during the winter!


Soldier of the 60th Regiment in campaign dress.
(Artist: R.J. Marrion, Canadian War Museum)

Before they rebelled, American colonists fought alongside the Brits. They were ordered to dress like British soldiers, with the exception that their uniform would not have any regimental lace. The above picture is an example of an improvised uniform as the standard colonist uniform would have been similar to the traditional redcoat look. This individual is dressed for forest warfare. Here, his red waistcoat is being used as an overcoat. On his legs are mitasses (aboriginal stockings) hastened at his knees and ankles. On his feet are moccasins. His tricorn hat has been trimmed down too. This sort of uniform would have allowed the soldier to move more swiftly as the dress modifications have made the outfit less cumbersome.

(Left to right) 37th Grenadier (in a civilian frock coat), Senior officer of the 25th, and Grenadier Officer of the 51st—who clearly isn’t impressed with people making fun of his hat. Note: The two officers are wearing gorgets around their necks. A gorget is a crescent-shaped metal plate that signifies the wearer is an officer and that he is on duty.
Artist: G.A. Embleton.

Another example of making an outfit less cumbersome comes from the British grenadiers. They wore tall mitre caps because they knew the act of throwing a grenade would knock off a tricorn hat in the process. Can’t have a man lose his hat on the battlefield!

Winter (For Non-Highlanders)

(British above, French below). As was the case in my previous fashion post, winter is where the biggest differences occur. Cloaks, stockings, mitts, and boots were all lined with or made of animal fur and skin. Warm beaver hats were everywhere. As were thick scarves and coats. Also, snowshoes quite essential to winter warfare.


* Viewing the Treaty of Paris (1763) as “devastating” is a more modern assessment of the Seven Years War. France wasn’t too bothered by the loss of New France; they considered the area to be costly, unproductive—especially in comparison to their lucrative sugar islands off the coast of what would become Newfoundland. Your loss, France!

* Interested in reading about War of 1812 uniforms? Click here!


This post is the third installment of my seven-part series on the Seven Years’ War.
First: The Causes and Perspectives of the Seven Years’ War
Second: The Acadian Expulsion


Sources
May, Robin and Embleton, Gerry. Wolfe’s Army. 2nd Ed., (Oxford: Osprey Publishing), 1998.

Ribeiro, Aileen. The Art of Dress: Fashion in England and France 1750–1820, (New Haven: Yale University Press), 1995.

Summers, Jack L., and Chartrand, Rene. Military Uniforms in Canada, 1665-1970, (Ottawa: Canadian War Museum), 1981.

Image Sources
http://flintlockandtomahawk.blogspot.ca -> Lots of great stuff here, check it out!

http://www.militaryheritage.com/7ywart.htm -> For those interested in learning more about military uniforms about specific regiments during the Seven Years War.

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11 thoughts on “Military Uniforms During the Seven Years War

  1. franbrz says:

    I feel like those tall grenadiers’ caps could fall off just as easily as a tricorn! A tree branch, a strong gust of wind, a low doorway, that spear/lance the other guy in the illustration is holding…

    Like

    • cadeauca says:

      Haha, that’s a good point! Unfortunately, I can’t find any information on the success rate of the mitre cap. Couldn’t have been too good if they went out of usage less than a century later!

      Like

      • franbrz says:

        Come to think of it my dad knows a lot about 18th century military uniforms, I should ask his opinion. Personally I can never find hats that fit me properly so I probably find this more interesting than I should, haha!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Sue Archer says:

    My first thought on greyish-white uniforms is that they would look dirty fairly fast…not very practical (except for use as camouflage in winter). But red is much worse. 🙂

    Like

    • cadeauca says:

      They would definitely get dirty fast! I remember coming across standing orders for British soldiers and one of the criteria was that they had to maintain the integrity of their uniform, so they must have spent a fair deal of their downtime washing!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Lance Wilson says:

    White coats were worn by the French because white is the house color for the house of Bourbon which is the King’s house. Same goes for red for the English. It is the house color for the house of Hanover. Both French and English miters stay on pretty well. The images above are not to good for the French. I even see drop fronts on one French soldier and they didn’t wear that type. By regulation for the French, you received a new uniform every other year and it is broke down as one year you get the small clothes and then following year the justacorp and shoes. I have researched and reenacted the Royal Roussillon regiment for 34 years.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Tom hurtt says:

      In Europe they received new uniforms in that interval. Not so in New France during the seven years war. The British took command of the sea very early on and snapped up any French vessels that were bringing war materials to the troop de terre. Once on the continent, the French regulars were never resupplied. They had to made due with whatever was already here, patching & repatching uniforms until the conclusion of the war.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. John says:

    The mitre cap was first worn by grenadiers, there’s on rim on the cap so you can sling your rifle easily diagonally over your shoulder allowing the soldier to throw grenades easily, the grenadier guards kept the mitre cap to make them look taller and more intimidating in battle, the british army used red dye as it was the cheapest and more numerous colour dye available

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Jamie Baier says:

    What are the metal “pendants” hanging from chains around the necks of some soldiers in 18th century English and French military uniforms?

    Like

    • cadeauca says:

      Great question! The metal crescent-shaped pendant is called a gorget. English, French, and other European officers wore it to display their rank and show that they were on duty. This picture and description here (http://images.ourontario.ca/1812/71016/data) says they were held up by either ribbon and rosettes, but I have seen them with chains too.

      Thank you for your comment! I will update the original post to include gorgets.

      Like

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