Flintlock Pistols of Old Regime France by Kyle Schottenhammer


The detail and symbolism that is displayed on these eighteenth century flintlock pistols represents the themes of Old Regime France before the French Revolution completely changed people’s ideas about identity concerning fashion. Old Regime France refers to the time before 1789 in France when it was still a kingdom with an all-powerful ruler and an aristocracy. The intricate artwork on the pistols represented the Old Regime because of its emphasis on royal power and prestige. Based on the mechanics of the pistols, it was made to be fired, but most likely was for ceremonial use or as display (de Marolles, Essay on Shooting). The wealth and magnificence that surrounded the monarch was envied by the nobles in France and so they tried to copy the styles of the king because identity was so closely linked to one’s fashion. The grandeur of the pistols was similar to the grandeur that surrounded the monarch on a daily business. After the revolution, the views towards this lifestyle were looked down upon. The French Revolution created a new sense of identity where these intricate pistols would never be displayed like they would be during Old Regime France, where simplicity in dress was praised.

The flintlock pistols were made by Jean Baptiste, the royal gun maker of Paris, most likely for Louis XV or to be used as a gift for another ruler (Hayward, European Firearms). The symbols on the guns portray classical references with the royal seal of France in order to link the greatness of Rome with the French monarchy for the viewer. This symbolism of the monarch was discussed by Peter Burke in his, “Fabrication of Louis XIV.” The monarchy was carefully portrayed to be linked with greatness in order to create an image of the king as divine, which Louis XV continued (Burke, The Fabrication of Louis XIV). The pistols compliment this image with their artwork on the barrels and handles.

This prestige and greatness was also portrayed through the monarch’s clothing, which the aristocracy tried to emulate. This identity link with fashion changed with the French Revolution as the “Definition of the Sans-Culotte.” Simplicity of dress was valued, “he goes to his section, not powdered, perfumed, and outfitted in the hope of attracting the attention of all the citizenesses,” (Definition of Sans-Culotte). Here, the desire to stand out in a crowd because of one’s fashion is frowned upon after the French Revolution, because that type of dress represented Old Regime France. Old Regime France of course was in stark contrast to the values of the new republic. Instead of displaying the monarch in different forms of media like Burke described, the average citizen, or the sans-culotte, is idealized. With this new version of the citizen, ideas of fashion and dress changed due to the implications it had to Old Regime France.

The identities linked to Old Regime France were often associated with what people wore which changed with the French Revolution. Ideas about how one should dress also changed since older aristocratic style fashion was looked down upon for the implications it had towards Old Regime France. The pistols represent this aristocratic France because of the artwork and royal seal of France on the handle. This aristocratic style was rejected after the French Revolution for a simpler style of dress


Burke, “The Fabrication of Louis XIV.” Yale University Press New Haven and London, 1992.

Hayward, J. F., European Firearms, HMSO, London, 1969 cat. 90 A guide to the Museum Collection of firearms first published in 1955. This edition includes a large number of illustrations and a complete text revision. The items described have been selected on the grounds of artistic merit and technical or historical interest.

Hayward, J.F., The Art of the Gunmaker, Volume 2, Europe and America 1660-1830, Barrie and Rockliff, London, 1963, pp. 270, 327, pl. 12 ill.

Mason, Laura. Tracey Rizzo (eds.)”The French Revolution: A Document Collection.” (Cengage, 2009).

De Marolles, Magné  , “An Essay on Shooting” The Eighteenth Century Collections Online, The British Library. 1789. find.galegroup.com

Patterson, Angus, “Power and Glory”, Chapter, Medlam, Sarah, and Miller, Lesley Ellis, Princely Treasures: European Masterpieces 1600-1800 from the Victoria and Albert Museum, V&A Publishing, London, 2011, pp. 62-63


One thought on “Flintlock Pistols of Old Regime France by Kyle Schottenhammer

  1. What initially struck me about this post are the handle ends of the pistols, to me, they looked very similar to the handles of swords. I feel this could have been done on purpose to give the weapons the same social prestige that swords had. In France, in the old regime, swords were symbols of nobility that reflected high-status. They were required if you were in the presence of the king; f you were not carrying a sword, they would loan you one before entering the palace. [1] French author Louis-Sebastien Mercier, writing in his book The Year 2440, which was published in 1771, remarks about the uselessness of these kinds of items, “it was a badge of honor always to carry an offensive weapon. And I have read in one of the works of your time that even feeble old men paraded about with useless arms.” (303). These types of fancy pistols and swords were seen as accessories rather than weapons. However, after the revolution they began to be seen not only as symbols, but also as functional items. With the revolution, common thinking shifted from the old world’s focus of pomp and ostentatious display to concentrate on simplicity and function. In the case of swords, the mode was now saber-like and sharp. Often carried by the sans-culottes, militant-minded lower class supporters of the French revolution, these repurposed swords were visible reminders they would be used if necessary.

    Image of Sans-Culottes with sword and rifle, http://collection.waddesdon.org.uk/search.do;jsessionid=MZEJKQ-N3-N5ri6ZjldXPkVq?id=42740&db=object&page=1&view=detail

    [1] Dr. Stephanie Koscak, “Lecture: Sans-Culotte, or ‘Without Breeches,’” 2-13-14.

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