Soldiers of the Sixteenth Century

The Soldiers Of Cartier And Roberval

The First Uniform Worn in Canada

French crossbowman around 1541­42

Caption: French crossbowman around 1541­42

View Multimedia - Voyages of Jacques Cartier

Caption: View Multimedia - Voyages of Jacques Cartier

Insofar as clothing was concerned, the same Spanish spy reported that for the expedition of 1541 Cartier "gave everyone a black and white livery." 21 Whether in the colours of the king, a province, a noble family, a religious group, or a gentleman, livery was of heraldic origin. It was a kind of uniform before they existed, identifying the servants and all the people belonging to a household. It was not uncommon at this time for the soldiers and sailors bound to a particular captain by ties that were still influenced by feudalism to wear livery as well. In 1462, Louis XI authorized the sailors from the Gironde (Bordeaux) to wear clothing of "red and white like our emblem." 22 In 1533, François I ordered his foot soldiers to wear the colours of their captains' livery on their sleeves. Since the Middle Ages, black and white had been the colours of Brittany, and it is thus not surprising that these colours were worn by the sailors of a captain from St. Malo, as well as by the accompanying men-at-arms. The livery of Cartier's soldiers and sailors was therefore, in all likelihood, the first "uniform" worn in Canada.

Weapons, liveries, contingents of troops - all this information indicates the extent of the preparations for this expedition and the importance attached to the military aspect. How would the weapons be distributed? Probably the harquebuses and crossbows, as more expensive and specialized arms, would be given primarily to the soldiers. On a voyage like this, pikes and halberds were most useful to the sailors and the future colonists, in short, to all the men able to bear arms on the ship in case of attack by enemy galleons or even by pirates. These weapons could be used on land as well for defending forts, but were of little use against Amerindians. As for the rondaches, they were for the soldiers armed with swords, who formed the bulk of the infantry at the time. Since soldiers generally owned their own weapons and defensive equipment, in addition to those furnished by the expedition, the men accompanying Cartier on his third voyage were certainly armed to the teeth.

Additional Images

Officier wearing armour, 16th century
Jacques Cartier's ships at Brion, Iles-de-la-Madeleine, June 1534