The Three Musketeers

Reading a novel that has men using old style muskets, the type you load with powder and fire single shots, the author describes the men as ‘musketeers’.

So the thought occured to me, in the novel, “The Three Musketeers”, why were they called musketeers? Didnt they fight with swords?

Looking at Wikipedia, it seems they were soldiers of the “Musketeers of the guard”, who did indeed use muskets. My question is, in the novel did the musketeers use muskets? Or did they duel with swords?

Swords. I dont think they ever used firearms in the whole of the book (the first book that is). Except when they get in military action. IIRC it ends with the siege of La Rochelle, where they probably use guns (havent read the book in more than ten years).

They used muskets during the war, when they were fighting the enemy; that was their official job. Muskets are pretty much too clumsy and ineffective to use outside of an army/battle context, so for off-duty and unplanned fighting, they still used swords.

Muskets of the time also took a very long time to reload: In most battle situations, you’d only get off one or at most two shots per gun before the enemy closed with you. If you wanted a greater rate of fire, you needed multiple guns, and possibly a lackey who would reload for you. Once the enemy closed, you’d drop any guns you had and draw your sword to continue fighting.

In France, for social reasons, the unit of “Musketeers” had a fighting reputation (briefly: it was open to those not of the high nobility, but was a “royal” unit).

The rep of the unit as an elite open to talents overtook its original meaning.

As a (very rough) analogy, it is sort of like having a story about “the Three Paratroopers” getting into all sorts of adventures, but never once undertaking an actual paracute drop. The understanding is that they are a part of a military elite, not necessarily that they fought in a certain manner.

This is true in the 17th century, when the Three Musketeers stories take place. Towards the end of the 17th century though, folks started sticking pointy things (called bayonets) on the end of their muskets, which allowed the musket to serve a dual role as both a ranged weapon and a pike-like close combat weapon. This allowed the army to carry fewer weapons, since soldiers now did not need a separate weapon for fighting up close, and it allowed for more efficient distribution of weapons since before this they would dedicate soldiers as pikemen to protect the musketeers. Once they switched to bayonets, they no longer needed dedicated pikemen, so everyone could be a musketeer, and everyone could fight at both long range and close up.

Muskets back in those days were effective only in large groups. You really didn’t want to use one for single one on one style combat. Smooth bore muskets were only accurate to about 50 to 100 yards. It used to be said that you could stand 200 yards from a single musketeer and not fear being shot by him, which was a bit of an exaggeration because you never know, he could get lucky. Smooth bore muskets fire curve balls. The round ball is going to randomly strike one side of the barrel as it exits and it’s going to spin. After about a hundred yards, it’s anyone’s guess as to which way it’s going to go.

It takes 15 to 20 seconds to load a musket, and running 100 yards in 20 seconds does not require anything close to Olympic style athletic ability (a high school athlete can do it in about half that time). So, as Chronos said, you are going to be lucky to get more than one shot off before the enemy closes. If you don’t have a bayonet on the end of your musket, it’s time to drop the musket and draw the sword.

Duels were fought with pistols or swords.

French Musketeers used to literally be “soldiers who wield muskets”, back in the 16th century when muskets were a new thing. Since muskets were so unreliable and dangerous, being a musketeer was also a status item. Musketeers were the ones with the big balls.

Flash forward a century and most every soldier carries a flintlock, making the distinction meaningless. But the “Musketeers” still had that macho status even though by that time they’d been relegated to an honour guard unit, which is why they clung to the moniker.
They only wielded their muskets in pitched battles… which they mostly didn’t take part in, because they were an elite honour guard unit by then and relegated to royal body guard duty.

On that subject, early bayonets had an inexplicable flaw - they were designed to fit over the end of the gun’s barrel. So when you put a bayonet on your musket, you could no longer shoot it.

This forced musketeers to have to make a choice about when they would put their bayonets on. Too soon and you rendered yourself unable to shoot at an opponent a few yards away. But wait too long and he could close in on you before you had a chance to fix your bayonet. Worst of all was splitting the difference - while you were fixing your bayonet on your musket you had neither weapon ready to use and were most vulnerable.

It took a surprisingly long time for somebody to invent the obvious solution - a bayonet with an offset ring. This finally allowed soldiers to fix a bayonet to their weapon before the battle began and not have to worry about it interfering with their ability to shoot.

Sometimes I really wonder why it took so long for the bayonet to be invented. Once you’ve got the muskets, the bayonets really don’t require any technological innovation, and no more expense than a pike: You could go straight from the idea to the implementation. It’d pay for itself instantly, since you no longer need separate soldiers to wield the separate weapons. Heck, a common soldier could even invent one in the field, by lashing a knife or dagger onto the barrel with leather thongs or the like-- It wouldn’t be as sturdy as a manufactured one, but it’d have to still be better than no bayonet at all.

Look at how long it took to invent the stirrup. A seemingly obvious invention that is trivially easy to make. But people were riding horses for several thousand years before it was invented.

The bayonet is kind of counter-intuitive, too. If you hand somebody a rifle and ask him to use it as a contact weapon, he’s going to grab it by the barrel and swing it like a club. Which is more or less what people did with early firearms too, and innovations went in this direction (they reinforced the stocks, made them heavier, added spiky bitz, the works).

So in a way, it did take an out-of-the-box thinker to go “you know, why don’t we use them like spears instead ? Heavy, short, unbalanced spears. That can’t shoot any more. Yeah. It’s gonna be awesome”, and an even more out-of-the-box thinker to fund the previous idiot’s project.

I think early firearms were stocky more in an attempt to make them sturdy and minimize recoil rather than a desire to use them as hand-to-hand weapons. They were seen more as an outgrowth of artillery and bow weapons rather than an outgrowth of pikes and swords.

The use of early firearms as hand-to-hand weapons grew out of their limitations as firearms. They took a long time to reload and often misfired. The soldiers wanted a back-up plan if their gun couldn’t shoot.

Those muskets were pretty heavy and unwieldy. I don’t know what the literary trio used, but many of them needed a support under the long heavy barrel. Pikes, spears, swords, and axes would be superior weapons against an unloaded musket with a blade stuck on the end. I’ll guess that bayonets became popular when when most soldiers were carrying muskets. Then the guy with a bayonet has the advantage over the guy without one.

Another factor was the level of technology. Clocks might have been the only devices more complicated than the firing mechanism of a gun. The means of quickly attaching and locking a bayonet on the end of a musket wouldn’t have seemed simple or readily apparent at the time. Maybe the reason nobody thought of adding an offset to keep the end of the barrel unobstructed was that mounting the bayonet was a bigger challenge.

By the way, duels were in fact forbidden at the time in France. Even though I guess this wasn’t zealously enforced, some noblemen were executed for duelling as an example for others. So, swordfights and duels might not have been as common as one could think. I suspect that musketeers like d’Artagnan, belonging to the royal household, would have been wary of engaging in such activities.

The 1970s Richard Lester films The Three Musketeers and The Four Musketeers do show them using muskets at one point, possibly because he was bothered by the name (as, i admit, i have been, too). Why name the book after the weapons the heroes conspicuously don’t use very much?
It’s like I wonder why they named the condoms brand Trojans after the side that lost.

That’s a big part of the story – Multiple duels between the King’s Musketeers and the Cardinal’s men. They always get strong reprimands for dueling before getting their rewards for winning. The victors get to describe the duels, and they always turn out to have been instigated by the other side…

D’Artagnan wasn’t actually a musketeer for most of the story.

From the commander’s point of view, this is another advantage to the bayonet, although not obvious at first: the soldiers no longer need to drop their muskets in order to defend themselves, so there’s a much lower likelihood they’ll lose them in the heat of battle. The musket goes from an encumbrance that endangers a soldier in melee to a critical survival item.

Which leads to one of my favorite exchanges from the Lester versions:

(Athos and d’Artagnan are about to fight a duel when the Cardinal’s guards catch them)

Captain of the Cardinal’s Guard: “Musketeers. Duelling in defiance of the edicts.”
Athos: “Sir, this is a private matter. If you don’t mind…”
Captain: “We have a duty to suppress disorder and arrest brawlers. Put up your swords and come along with us.”
Athos: “Impossible.”
Porthos: “Unthinkable.”
Aramis: “Unlikely.”

Somewhere along the way (at least before the rise of Napoleon), the term Musketeer came to simply mean a regular soldier. The standard, or center, companies of a french battalion were called musketeers. The musket was a matchlock gun. When they received flintlocks, or Fusils, the center companies were renamed Fusiliers. The term Grenadier had become the designation for elite infantry.

You’re right , he was the Musketeers’ peg boy, IIRC.