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The Forces of Spanish King Charles III, part 1
King Charles III grand entrance in Madrid
by Museo Municipal de Madrid, Spain
Spain 175988
When Philip V, the first Bourbon King of Spain, ascended the throne in 1700, the army which he inherited from the Hapsburg regime was in a sorry state. From the high point of Spanish power in the Sixteenth Century, the army and state had descended into corruption, sloth and inefficiancy. Long-running, and essentially `unwinable` wars in Europe, together with piracy and mercantile competition in the American colonies, colluded with the anarchic political and fiscal systems of Spain to produce a world power without the capability to feed its own populace, or equip its armies and navies. A grandson of Louis XIV of France, Philip V - while himself a political non-entity - brought a French administration to early Eighteenth Century Spain. Amidst the War of the Spanish Succession, and from the resultant Spanish state - stripped of its European holdings outside the Peninsula - these various able Frenchmen, and Spaniards of similar zeal, set about reorganising the army along French lines, rebuilding the decayed navy, and restructuring the economy according to Colbertian principles. From the shadow of former glory in 1700, the Spanish Army dragged itself up to become a passable Eighteenth Century force. While not a stunning military machine such as the Prussian Army of Frederick the Great, and not even really up to the same standard as the French Army of Louis XV, the Bourbon Spanish Army had a self-confidence and bearing which had not been seen since Rocroi, as shown by the troops who were transported to Scotland in 1719 to support the Jacobite Rising there, or the various campaigns in Italy. True, the Spanish were seldom victorious - but there was a certain panache to their efforts, at least.

The Infantry of King Charles III

Following the disasters of the Seven Years War, Charles III ordered extensive reorganisations of the Spanish Army in 1763, but the troops which fought in that conflict were essentially organised and uniformed as per the regulations issued under King Ferdinand VI (1746-59). Unfortunately, Ferdinand VI was more interested in the Navy than the Army, and the budget reductions caused some deterioration in numbers and quality, but Charles III quickly set about correcting this.

Shortly after the War of Succession ended in 1714, the flintlock musket fully replaced the matchlock, and the socket bayonet had probably replaced the plug version during the early 1730s. The Royal Ordnance of 30 December 1707 instructed that all Spanish infantry were henceforth to be uniformed in white, as opposed to the various colours then in use. This was intended to be distinguishable from the light grey of the French Army. Natural leather belting and harness in French style was worn. There was no standardised pattern of knapsack until 1763, with individual use of slung cloth or leather pouches to transport personal effects. A natural-leather cartouche, worn on the waistbelt at the front, bore the Royal insignia in brass. The uniform was overall in a French style, with front and rear turnbacks on the coat - which did not carry lapels until 1763. The musket was similarly a French pattern, made at the Placencia Arsenal from 1715, but using French-manufactured firing mechanisms until Spanish manufacture was established in 1789! The paper cartridge was probably in general use by this period, with iron ramrods from about 1757. All infantry bore swords. Grenadiers carried a larger cartouche (initially for carrying grenades), and wore the French-style grenadier bearskin hat with coloured cloth bag.

Prior to the Royal Decree of 1760, Regiments were formed from two 600-man battalions. Each battalion held 11 Fusilier and 1 Grenadier companies. From 1760 the battalion organisation was laid down as 1 Grenadier company of 60 men, and 8 Fusilier companies each of 74 men. The Regiment was largely an administrative grouping, with most battalions operating independantly of this.
The Spanish Infantry in 1760 numbered 31 Spanish Regiments, plus 12 composed of foreigners (Walloons, Irish, Italians and Swiss).

by David Gimenez
Article ID 99
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