Rudyard Kipling once said of the French; “War is their business, and they do their business”. Disingenuous humour by most of the english-speaking world aside, the last 600 years of French military history have been truly terrifying to anybody who isn’t French, no more so than during the time of both Master of Fortresses games. However, while MoF1 presented France as a military power in decline; falling apart under a corrupt monarchy and overwhelming debt, the French Army of MoF2 will be the army of the Sun King, a revolutionary, unstoppable fighting force which eventually propel France to the position of most formidable land power in Europe.
By the mid-1600s, France could already look back at a long history of professional soldiering. King Charles VII’s Ordinance Companies (Compagnies d’Ordonnance) were one of the first modern standing armies in Europe. It was the eternal rivalry between French and Spanish armies that would spur the Habsburg Emperors to pioneer the Tercios. In response to this, the French Army made changes to its own infantry doctrine based on the Dutch model. Unlike the Dutch Republic, however, the Kingdom of France was more than capable of recruiting and supplying a large army recruited off their own soil. As a result, French light infantry are not militia, but Fusiliers; professional soldiers equipped with a light firearm (a fusil) and well-trained. While not as tough as the Tercio arquebusier or as fast as the Warder, a unit of Fusiliers is still a solid group of fighting men. Fighting in a linear formation as per the Dutch style, Fusiliers served as the bulk of the French army and would eventually evolve into the Line Infantry of the next century.
Above the Fusiliers, at the very top of the army’s hierarchy stood the legendary Mousquetaires de la Maison Militaire du Roi, The Musketeers of the Royal Household Guard. Established by King Louis XIII in the 1620s, the Musketeers were to serve as the King’s personal guard. Like the many other so-called “guards”units to follow, that meant they were also occasionally required to represent the King’s dignity on the field of battle as a force of elite infantry. I have to admit here that the inclusion of the Musketeers as an elite heavy infantry unit comes more from Dumas’ description of the storied unit as a force of swaggering, dashing, mustachioed badasses than any particular historical event. In game, the Musketeers are more than capable of holding their own against rival heavy infantry units, but they are not the be-all, end-all of French doctrine, or even its lynchpin.
No, that would be the French Artillery. Any student of military history would know that the French love their big guns. From the first primitive firepots used to evict the English during the Hundred Years’ War to the 12 pdr Napoleon to the motorcycle mounted anti-tank guns (yes, you read that right, look it up) used in Algeria, the French have had a long and open love affair with artillery. At no time was this more evident than the 17th century. The cannon was THE symbol of French military might. Louis XIV would have the words “Ultima Ratio Regum” (MoF2′s original subtitle, by the way) inscribed on his big guns, proclaiming them to be the last resort of kings.
French Artillery in MoF2 is just better. They do more damage, they fire faster and their great numbers make them cheaper to deploy en masse. It might even be possible to play an entire game as the French armed with nothing but heavy guns. The French special unit takes this concept and runs with it. There is a reason why France had such a wealth of mathematicians during this time: they were all busy advancing the science of ballistics. The French put a great deal of effort into getting the most out of their cannon. The French Master Gunner is there to provide the fruits of those efforts. A veteran of many sieges and campaigns, the Master Gunner will coordinate the efforts of your gunners and provide them with firing solutions quickly, increasing the rate of fire for any gun crew within a certain distance.
The combination of these components created one of the most fearsome fighting forces in Europe, one which would fight wars against both the Spanish and the Dutch and make a fine account of itself, before graduating to fighting most of Europe simultaneously during the Wars of Spanish Succession. Perhaps the best example of this would be the Battle of Rocroi in 1643, when a French Army under the command of the Duke of Enghien was able to use his cavalry and infantry to outmaneuver a Spanish tercio before blasting it to pieces with his artillery. While the Tercio would continue to be a formidable force on the battlefield, Rocroi destroyed the myth of Spanish invincibility forever.
Rocroi was just one of many famous French victories of the period, its hero, the Duke of Enghien, later elevated to the Prince of Condé, was one of many great French generals of the time, standing alongside Marshal Turenne, Vauban, Saxe and of course, Charles de Batz, better known to most of you as the Comte D’Artangnan.