The Three Musketeers – in Hollywood and History

Everyone knows the story of the Three Musketeers right? The young d’Artagnan goes to join the musketeers, who protect the King of France, only to find that the musketeers have been disbanded by the evil Cardinal Richelieu who wants to seize power for himself. But is there any truth in the story of the ‘Three Musketeers’?

the three muskateers
The three musketeers – fact or fiction?

The story of the ‘Three Musketeers’ was written by novelist Alexandre Dumas in 1844 and then retold in three Hollywood films titled ‘The Three Musketeers’ (1972, 1993 and 2011). But where did Alexandre Dumas get the idea for his story? According to Wikipedia, Alexandre Dumas quoted as his source Mémoires de Monsieur d’Artagnan (1700), a historical novel by Gatien de Courtilz de Sandras.

But where did de Sandras get the idea from? de Sandras was a novelist who lived from 1644 to 1712 – during the reign of King Louis XIV of France. One website claims that de Sandras was the son of the chevalier Jean de Courtilz, seigneur of Tourly, and Lady Marie de Sandras. It is also claimed that while his family were not very wealthy, that he was descended from ‘a long line of aristocrats’. We know that D’Artagnan was a real person whose real name was Charles Ogier de Batz de Castelmore – the captain of the musketeers who lived from about 1611 and died in 1673. So while de Sandras lived in the same time period as Charles, it is unlikely that they knew each other in real life.

But how could de Sandras know so much about the French aristocracy, the musketeers and real people if he had never been a musketeer or if he had never met these people? Did Charles and de Sandras know each other? One website claims that de Sandras, being from a noble background, had actually served as a musketeer under a company commanded by D’Artagnan. For de Sandras to become a musketeer would have required him to be of noble aristocratic background. De Sandras also could not have become the prolific writer he was without an education which only those with money and privilege could afford.

It has been suggested that de Sandras served time in prison at the Bastille – a infamous prison in Paris where those that criticised the king were imprisoned including the famous writer Voltaire. If de Sandras had served time in the Bastile for criticism of the monarchy, it is possible that his writings of D’Artagnan and other people may have been based on true events and real people. This may explain why de Sandras created names for his characters rather than use the real names. It may also explain why de Sandras published the ‘Memoirs of D’Artagnan’ in Holland and not in France.

But it is more likely that de Sandras may have met François de Monlezun, the Marquis of Besmaux – who would have known Charles through the musketeers and his service for Cardinal Mazarin.  What was Besmaux doing at a prison? Its been also suggested that Besmaux was rewarded for his service for the Cardinal with control of the famous French prison – the Bastille.

What do we know about Charles? We know that Charles was born in the town of Lupiac in South-Western France. We know that his father was Bertrand de Batz (de Baatz), whose grandfather Arnaud de Batz purchased the castle of Castelmore – and hence his name of de Baatz de Castelmore. We know that Charles mother was Françoise de Montesquiou d’Artagnan, the sister of Henri de Montesquiou – the count of Artagnan.


According to the movie, D’Artagnan is on his way to join the famous musketeers in 1630.  But the truth is that as Charles’ mother Francoise was a member of the prominent Montesquiou family and that his uncle Henri may have helped the young Charles obtain permission to serve in the musketeers.  It has been suggested that the young Charles took on his prominent mother’s family name of d’Artagnan to help him get the position in the musketeers.

In his journey to join the musketeers, Charles (who we will now refer to as d’Artagnan), met the musketeers Athos, Porthos and Aramis. But were Athos, Porthos and Aramis real people? One website, SparkNotes, says that they were real musketeers as Porthos was known as Isaac de Portau, a member of the Captain des Essarts’s company of the King’s Guards until 1643. The character of Aramis was Henry d’Aramitz, related to Monsieur de Treville – whose real name was Jean-Armand du Peyrer, Comte de Troisville.

Who were the musketeers? The musketeers were the King’s musketeers or the  Musketeers of the military household of the King of France. They got their name musketeers when the previous king of France, Louis XIII, formed the royal guard with muskets in 1622. The Musketeers were the royal guard for the King of France. We know that Charles became a captain of the musketeers during the reign of King Louis XIV – the ‘Sun King’ who ruled France from 1638 to 1715.

Back to the Dumas / Hollywood version of events which would have us believe that the evil Cardinal Richelieu disbanded the Musketeers in an attempt to seize power for himself.  There is no doubt that Cardinal Richelieu was a talented chief minister that wanted to restrain the power of the nobility but Richelieu wanted to increase the power of the King of France. In the film, Cardinal Richelieu disbanded the muskeeters – but we know that it was Richelieu’s successor Cardinal Mazarin that disbanded the musketeers in 1646 and then brought them back in 1657. We also know that Richelieu distrusted the wife of King Louis XIII, Queen Anne, because of her Austrian background.

So why would both de Sandras and later Alexandre Dumas write the ‘Three Musketeers’? For de Sandras, the story was more than a story, but it was about real people and events in French society that he was at times critical of. The works of de Sandras appealed to Alexandre Dumas, also critical of the Ancien Regime and absolute monarchy. Alexandre Dumas would also write famous novels as ‘The Man in the Iron Mask’ and ‘The Count of Monte Cristo’ which were also critical of the absolute monarchy in France.



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