Whether you’ve read the book or seen the movie, you know that the three musketeers are Athos, Porthos, and Aramis. And D’Artagnan. Written by French author Alexandre Dumas, the story tells about the adventure D’Artagnan, a young man who left his home in hopes to join the Musketeers of the Guard. Unbeknownst to some of us, D’Artagnan’s character was based on a French Musketeer named Charles de Batz de Castelmore d’Artagnan.

The Three Musketeers

In the story that took place in the 1620s, D’Artagnan met and befriended “The Inseparables,” the three musketeers named Athos, Porthos, and Aramis. In the end, he became a musketeer himself after Cardinal Richelieu wrote an order and gave the bearer a promotion to lieutenant in the Tréville company of musketeers with no name written on it. After Arthos, Porthos, and Aramis refused the position, D’Artagnan received it and became a lieutenant of the Musketeers.

What is A Musketeer?

D'Artagnan and Aramis in The Three Musketeers.
D’Artagnan and Aramis in The Three Musketeers.

Before we get to know Charles de Batz de Castelmore d’Artagnan, let’s discuss first what a musketeer was.

A musketeer was a soldier equipped with a musket, a muzzle-loading shoulder gun that didn’t have rifling. This firearm first appeared in the early 16th century.

Muskets and bayonets aboard the frigate Grand Turk.
Muskets and bayonets aboard the frigate Grand Turk. JoJan assumed (based on copyright claims)CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

Musketeers were highly trained specialists during early firearms warfare as the musket was considered a state-of-the-art weapons system at the time, especially in Europe. In France, they were called Musketeers of the Guard or King’s Musketeers, a junior unit accompanying the Royal Household of the King of France. It was King Louis XIII who created the unit in 1622. Musketeers battled either on foot or horseback. Usually, members of this unit were still in their teenage years thus, earning the reputation of unruliness and fierceness. One of the reasons Musketeers tended to be so young is that older soldiers accustomed to edged weapons found muskets terrifying. The muskets themselves took nerves of steel to employ in battle.  They were prone to explode if not carefully loaded and maintained.  The flash of powder in the pan could blind a man or set fire to his clothes.  A musketeer coming out of action would have a face blackened by soot from repeatedly firing his weapon. The boom of it going off was unnerving to most soldiers and the acrid smell and smoke of expended gun powder would make you choke and cough.  Additionally, the strong association between fire and Satan felt among the devotedly Christian soldiers of Europe attached a stigma to the muskets, there was something of the Devil in these foul-smelling weapons belching fire and smoke from Hell. Young men were more willing to take up the musket than the older, more superstitious soldiers.  These were not precision firing weapons either, they were employed in mass fires, like a miniature artillery barrage. Several hundred men would line up, send a shower of lead into the enemy lines, reload, advance a few paces and do it again until you were close enough to draw your sword or later fix a long bayonet to your barrel and charge in for hand to hand combat.  Hard as it is to believe, Musketeers would often aim above the heads of their targets because they closed their eyes after pulling the trigger to avoid being blinded or burned by the powder flash in the pan and this would throw off their aim.  There was a lag between the time the trigger was pulled, the hammer sparking the powder and it discharging the musket ball from the barrel, it could be as much as two seconds.

Given the novelty and risk of this new, high-tech weapon, Musketeers were drawn from members of the French nobility and enjoyed a high social status.

The Real D’Artagnan

Charles de Batz de Castelmore d’Artagnan was a captain of the Musketeers of the Guard who served Louis XIV. He was born near Lupiac in the southwestern part of France. His father was a lord of Castelmore. His grandfather was an ennobled merchant named Arnaud de Batz who purchased the Château de Castelmore, so he was part of a noble family. He used his mother’s last name, “D’Artagnan,” instead of “Batz” when he went to Paris in the 1630s. In 1632, D’Artagnan joined the guards through the help of his uncle’s friend, Monsieur de Tréville.

Statue of Charles de Batz de Castelmore d'Artagnan
Statue of Charles de Batz de Castelmore d’Artagnan (Maastricht). Vitold MuratovCC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

D’Artagnan served as a spy for Cardinal Mazarin, an Italian cardinal who was the chief minister to Kings Louis XIII and XIV. Because of this, King Louis XIV entrusted him with the most confidential information.