1902 Encyclopedia > Gendarmerie


GENDARMERIE, a body of troops or police in France, composed of gendarmes, or men-at-arms. In the days of chivalry they were mounted and armed cap-a-pie, and attended each by five soldiers of inferior rank and more lightly armed. They were then furnished by the fiefs, and marched in the train of the knights and esquires. In 1439 this feudal gendarmerie was replaced by the compagnies d’ordonnance which Charles VII. formed when the English were driven out of France, and which were distributed throughout the whole extent of the kingdom for preserving order and maintaining the king’s authority. These com-panies, fifteen in number, were composed of 100 lances or gendarmes fully equipped, each of whom was attended by at least three archers, one coutillier (soldier armed with a cutlass) and one varlet (soldier’s servant). The states--general of Orleans (1439) had voted a yearly subsidy of 1,200,000 livres in perpetuity to keep up this national soldiery, which replaced the bands of mercenaries who for about a century had made France their prey. The number and composition of the compagnies d’ordonnance, were changed more than once before the reign of Lonis XIV. This sovereign on his accession to the throne found only eight companies of gendarmes; but after the victory of Fleurus (1690), which had been decided by their courage, he increased their number to sixteen. The four first companies were designated by the names of Gendarmes écossais, Gendarmes anglais, Gendarmes bourguignons, and Gen-darmes flamands, from the nationality of the soldiers who had originally composed them; but at that time they con-sisted entirely of French soldiers and officers. These four companies had a captain-general, who was the king. The fifth company was that of the queen; and the others bore the name of the princes who respectively commanded them. This organization lasted till 1787, when Louis XVI. dissolved it, only retaining the Gendarmes écossais in his body-guard. The great Revolution swept away all these institutions of the monarchy, and, with the exception of a short revival of the Gendarmes de la garde at the Restoration, the word gendarmerie had thenceforth an altogether different meaning. It has been since that time employed to denote a military police, whose duties are to watch over the public safety, keep order, and enforce the execution of the laws. This police force superseded the old maréchaussée.

The law of the 28th Germinal, An VI. (17th April 1797), and the royal ordinance of the 29th October 1820, organized the gendarmerie, and laid down the general rules that are still in force, dividing it into legions and companies, and the latter into brigades. In time of war a colonel of gendarmerie, with the title of grandprévôt, is attached to the army with a detachment of gendarmes, for maintaining discipline among the soldiers. Though placed under the control of the minister of war, the gendarmerie is also at the disposal of the minister of the interior as a police force, of the minister of justice as agents to secure the execution of judicial sen-tences and police regulations, and also of the minister of marine and colonies for enforcing his authority over marines and sailors in the colonies and sea-towns of France. The gendarmerie of Paris constitutes a special corps established first in 1802, and successively called Gendarmerie de Paris, Garde royale, and Garde municipale. Suppressed by the provisional Government in 1848, the Garde de Paris was soon reorganized. It is now composed of 6 squadrons of cavalry and 24 companies of infantry, and is officially styled Garde républicaine de Paris. Both in the Garde republicaine and in the légions, the gendarmes consist for the most part of deserving soldiers of the regular army, who have been drafted into this ser-vice, where, with other privileges, they have a much higher rate of pay than the soldiers of the line. Their total numbers are about 40,000, made up of the Garde de Paris as above, 31 pro-vincial legions, 1 legion of gendarmerie mobile, and the Gendarmerie coloniale.

Russia also has a gendarmerie, a secret police appointed in all towns of the empire to watch over Russian subjects of all ranks and classes, and to report to the chancery office such information as they receive from their detectives and secret agents.

For the history of the old French gendarmerie before 1789 see Chéruel, Dictionnaire historique des institutions de la France, 2 vols., and Lacroix, Vie militaire et religieuse au moyen âge et á l’é'poque, de la Renaissance; and for the present gendarmerie, Réorganisation de la Gendarmerie, 1871, and Annuaire militaire, 1877.

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