Governmental Weapon Manufactories Organization in The Engineering Corps | World Anvil

Governmental Weapon Manufactories

Table of Contents

Weapon manufactories and their management are critical for all modern states. It's all thanks to the changes introduced in the last few centuries, that we can arm bigger and bigger armies and make a nice big show on the battlefield!
— Sergeant
Sergeant small.png

The manufactories

France has 8 major arsenals: Auxonne (North of Lyon, near the border with the Holy Roman Empire), Amiens and La Fère (both near the border with the Austrian Netherlands), Grenoble (South of Lyon), Rennes (in Brittany in the West), Metz and Strasbourg (near the border with the Holy Roman Empire), and Toulouse (in the South-West). It is where most of the weapons and ammunition are stored and where some weapons are made. In addition, before the revolution of 1789, there are several big weapon manufactories in the country: Maubeuge and Charleville (since 1701 and 17th century respectively, both almost next to the border with the Austrian Netherlands), Saint-Etienne (16th century, South of Lyon), Tulle (1690, in the middle of the country) and Klingenthal for swords (1730, near Strasbourgh and the border with the Holy Roman Empire).   Those areas were not chosen randomly. Indeed, most of them are in the North-East, ancient metallurgic region with many highly qualified workers and ideally located to have an important exchange of knowledge between countries. However, beyond that several factors are important to create a new manufactory: river with strong currents so as to work the mills, navigable waterways helping to transport the production, wood to make coal, and access to metal resources.   The revolution introduced big changes for weapon manufactories, as an important ideological change was the protection of free enterprise (law Allarde, 1791) and the end of the guilds (with the law Le Chapelier, 1791). As a result, a multitude of small new weapon manufactories appeared: Grenoble, Moulins, Bergerac, Clermont-Ferrand, Roanne, Nantes, Thier, Mutzig, Paris, Versailles... Not all of them are very judiciously positioned, and so many do not survive more than a few years.   King Napoléon reorganised many of those and created new ones in the newly conquered territories: Liège (Southern Austrian Netherlands), Turin (Italy) and Culembroug (Northern Austrian Netherlands). Unfortunately, after Napoleon's death, Austria reclaimed all of those territories, benefiting from all of our military advances while they crippled French armies. Nevertheless, during the retreats, our soldiers left with all the equipment used to forge the weapons, which was costly and difficult to replace.   To avoid further risks, King Lucien Esselin closed the manufactories of the Maubeuge and Charleville in the North, and the manufactories of Klingenthal and Mutzig in the East, and he had a new state-owned manufactory built in Châtellerault in the middle West of France.   Saint-Gervais, a very ancient canon foundry located South of Lyon was closed in the early 18th century. It was reopened during the revolution, but the furnaces had to be made functional again and adapted to the technological changes, and so the manufactory has only recently restarted to make canons. It being close to the military alchemy manufactory in Lyon and the weapon manufactory of Saint-Etienne, Saint-Gervais has also been converted into a mainly experimental manufactory rather than one focused on production. Those three sites make up the research triangle of the army.   Thus, the current major manufactories, all owned by the state, are: Saint-Etienne, Tulle, Saint-Gervais, and Châtellerault.

And I can tell you that nobody was happy when the manufactories closed! Those towns and their surrounding lost all of their activities, and of course no one was going to accept to move to Châtellerault when they had their whole family and small plot to cultivate here! Politicians should remember to never anger those in charge of the weapons... Those idiots thought they were breaking a strike of lowly workers when in fact they were facing a fully armed battalion!
— Sergeant
Sergeant small.png

Weapon manufactory of Châtellerault by MOSSOT on Wikimedia Commons

The chimneys of the weapon manufactory of Châtellerault by Jean-Marie Vugnon on Wikimedia Commons

Weapon manufactory of Saint-Etienne by Daniel VILLAFRUELA on Wikimedia Commons

Working of the manufactories

The manufactories started as independent workshop owned by individual masters, all located in the same city and the masters working for a few merchants. Those merchants were the ones getting a "lettre patente" from the state, giving them a specific monopole. What this meant was that all pieces made by the workshops could not be sold to anyone else other than the state but that the state was giving them the privilege of ordering from them and the assurance of a big order. This system continued during and after the revolution, with just the owner of the manufactories changing.   In practice, the problem with this mode of working is that the state does not pay in advance or regularly, especially in times of war when the governmental funds are limited. The workers or merchants often have to advance the money or to work without pay, sometimes for up to a few years before the state can pay them back. During the revolution, the government also paid them with "assignats", a new kind of paper money that did not take long to be devaluated, thus ruining many. This made the manufactories change hands several times until most of them came back to the state. Another problem with that system is that when orders are made years in advance, the pieces being delivered need to be conformed to the order, thus preventing technological developments during that time.   King Lucien continued to buy the manufactories so as to gain more control over them and to encourage further technological developments. Whereas King Napoléon's major contribution in the army where in its organisation and in tactics, Lucien's is mainly in the technologies and the use of the engineering corps. By 1845, all manufactories providing weapons to the army are owned by the state.   The most important changes that have occurred in the last few centuries in the manufactories is the introduction of new machinery and the standardisation of pieces, which has allowed elements to be used without regard to the model or the manufactory of origin. This has had important consequences for the standards demanded of workers. For changes in the weapons themselves, see Soldiers' weapons.

Of course, all previous attempts were not going to work! The goal here is to make high-quality weapons to save our soldiers life, not to make a profit! Luckily, King Lucien intervened and put all of those industrialists back in their place. It's not as if angering them matter when he has the full support of the army!
— Sergeant
Sergeant small.png
Sabre by Rama on Wikimedia Commons

Sword by Rama on Wikimedia Commons

An example of canon gun by Wikimedia Commons

The workers

Before the revolution, the merchants owning the lettre patente from the state would buy the production from the workers and deliver them to the state. The workers themselves were all organised in guilds. The master, owning their workshop, would work on the most important tasks, while delegating the rest to journeyman and apprentices depending on their skill levels. Apprentices were more often than not their children or the children of other workers, often as young as 9 or 12 years old. Once they would manage to make a masterpiece that passed the approval of the guild, they would be admitted among the journeymen. Becoming a master was more difficult—often only done in someone 40s—and had a lot to do with the politics of the guild. Most workers waited to become a master before marrying. They would also often work well into their 70s.   Once the workers started to gather into bigger workshops and manufactories, further hierarchy appeared, with the leader of the workshop. The state also created new roles of inspectors and controllers so that they could all check the quality of the pieces being made: a controller would put their hallmark on a piece to confirm that its quality was conformed to what was required, while rejected pieces would be destroyed—although sometimes they were illegally sold to civilians. The controllers would be taken from among the ranks of the workers. On the contrary, inspectors would come from the middle class, and they would be more of a real director of the manufactories, fixing the quality and characteristics of the pieces ordered. Both controllers and inspectors are also charged with teaching the workers when required.   With all of those changes, the workers are no longer considered as highly regarded craftsmen, master of their own workshop and having the honour of working for the king in exchange for special privileges. Now they have been reduced to the rank of workers. Nevertheless, those workers have a long tradition of strikes even long before the revolution, as sometimes it has been the only way for them to get paid at all. This continued after the revolution despite the new anti-guild laws also forbidding worker gatherings.   After King Napoléon's time, the exploitation of state-owned manufactories was given to big industrialists for 5-15 years. When they could not deliver the right number of pieces within the time limit, control of the manufactories was taken from them. More often than not, those industrialists ruined themselves because of the inability of the state to pay on time.   Under King Lucien, those industrialists have been replaced by military personnel. The workers have become state workers, several companies of soldiers working directly for the artillery corps. They have a uniform and can follow the army during campaigns. They have some advantages with a constant salary not depending on orders—and paid on time—constant work, but also a stronger discipline and fixed working hours: from the 1st October to the 1st of April 6h-12h then 3-18h with a 30 min break for each half day, then the rest of the year 5h-11h and 13-19h with the same breaks. Break of discipline are punished with prison or by working days without salary.   Children of worker-soldiers are also included on the payroll from 10 to 16 years old. They have to be taught their job and at 16 years old they can decide whether to enrol or to leave. Workers also benefit from a pension depending on their years of work (only work starting after their 16th birthday counts), the number of apprentices they have formed, and work-related injuries. Just as the canuts in Lyon, the worker pay contribution to a mutual which can be used to pay workers in need because of diseases or those who are fired, for orphans.   The director of those manufactories are colonels, captains are leading each workshop, and the worker themselves can have three different classes depending on their skills.

Workers at the Weapon Manufactory of Saint-Etienne by Isidore Aubert, Base Mémoire: APZ0001426

Workers at the Weapon Manufactory of Saint-Etienne by Isidore Aubert, Base Mémoire: APZ0001352

Workers at the Weapon Manufactory of Saint-Etienne by Isidore Aubert, Base Mémoire: APZ0001429

Adalinde was very sympathetic to the manufactory workers, whether the canuts of Lyon or the canoners and staffers from Saint-Etienne. That always surprised everyone, as she was after all from the Flemish nobility—low nobility, but nobility nevertheless. No one of them were known from their compassion for or understanding of the lower classes. Hence the constant revolutions in France.   But no matter how acclimated she had become, Adalinde was Flemish. A foreigner, alone and isolate in a hostile country. When the new and old nobles, the bourgeois and her fellow officers had all looked down on her and try to trap her into betraying France, she had had to find allies where she could. Turn out that paying workers what they were due for the high quality of their work and getting them involved in the research and improvement processes was appreciated. Who would have guessed...

Saint-Etienne and the Stéphanois workers

The manufactory of Saint-Etienne had always been essential in France—during the revolution, its name was even changed to Armeville for a time to highlight the importance of its manufactories—but King Lucien has managed to increase its prominence even more. The manufactories of Saint-Etienne have been joined together in one big manufactory belonging to the state and controlled by the army, and the engineering corps has installed one of its biggest research lab there under the control of one of its colonels.   The main focus of the manufactory is of course staves, but they have since then developed a new specialisation in the devices allowing for long distance aiming of the magic channelled through the staves. They are renown throughout Europe for the quality of their built and the new fabrication secrets that they have developed to make the devices.   The workers of Saint-Etienne are all very pro-revolution, just as most workers in France like the canuts in Lyon are. All of them had hoped that the revolutions would be the occasions to gain better rights and working conditions. This has been partly true so far, but the old quarrels with the state have stayed, and conflicts is always brewing. During the revolutions, they have even had a few directs clashes with the Lyonnais who, apart from the canuts, are more conservative.

Legrand is an imbecile. Always so proud of his rank of colonel and lording over everyone that he is in charge of the staff manufactory rather than mere potions like Adalinde. If he cannot understand the essential role that canons and ammunitions have taken on the battlefield, there is nothing we can do for him!
— Sergeant
Sergeant small.png

Cover image: Weapon manufactory of Saint-Etienne by Wikimedia Commons


Author's Notes


  • French Artillery of the Napoleonic Wars.
  • Infantry Tactics and Combat during the Napoleonic Wars.
  • Du prieuré Saint-Léonard à la fonderie de canons, Histoire de Liège by Claude Warzée.
  • La Fonderie royale de Canons à Liège by Pierre Beaujean.
  • - La Fabrique Royale de canons de Saint-Gervais by Alain Blaise.
  • La vie dans les manufactures d'armes by Jean Rousseau
  • The Production of Muskets and Their Effects in the Eighteenth Century by Richard Moore.
  • Patrick Mortal (2007). Les armuriers de l’État: Du Grand Siècle à la globalisation 1665-1989. New edition. Villeneuve d'Ascq: Presses universitaires du Septentrion.

  • Please Login in order to comment!
    1 Aug, 2021 09:38

    OOOH a quote from Adalinde! nice to get a peak into her mind.

    Eternal Sage AmélieIS
    Amélie I. S. Debruyne
    1 Aug, 2021 10:25

    I should do that more since she is the MC, shouldn't I? But the tone is always more serious with her...

    To see what I am up to: SC list of articles and goals.
    1 Aug, 2021 10:42

    Well the Sergeant is a nice narator. there's no harm in saving Adalinde for the story.

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