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Who Is D'Artagnan?

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  • Written By: Alan Rankin
  • Edited By: Melissa Wiley
  • Last Modified Date: 15 November 2016
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D’Artagnan was the name of a French soldier who served during the reign of Louis XIV in the 1600s. He was a commander of the Musketeers, the famed royal guard that protected the king and other dignitaries. He inspired the character of the same name in Alexandre Dumas’ novel The Three Musketeers. Dumas wrote two other novels featuring the heroic Musketeers. Due to the worldwide popularity of these books, the fictionalized character is now far better known than the real person who inspired him.

His full name was Charles Ogier de Batz de Castelmore, Comte d'Artagnan, the last part of the name being his hereditary title. He served in France’s elite Musketeer corps during the mid-1600s, eventually becoming their commanding officer. During his prestigious career, he also served as a bodyguard, provincial governor, and spy. He was killed, ironically, by a shot from a musket, a primitive firearm, during France’s war with the Netherlands in the 1670s. In 2008, a French historian offered strong evidence that his grave is located in the southern part of the Netherlands, near where he died.

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In 1700, the French writer Gatien de Sandras published The Memoirs of M. d'Artagnan, a novel based on the reminiscences of de Sandras' fellow soldiers, who knew the Musketeer. This work, like d'Artagnan’s life itself, would likely have been forgotten by history had it not been discovered, 140 years later, by the popular author Alexandre Dumas. Dumas made d'Artagnan the subject of his next novel, The Three Musketeers. Like de Sandras’ book, The Three Musketeers was highly fictionalized, but Dumas pretended it was a genuine historical manuscript to make the work more compelling. The novel was so successful that Dumas wrote two sequels starring his Musketeers.

In the novel, d'Artagnan starts out as a young aspiring soldier who meets the Three Musketeers of the title. This is a common literary device, allowing the writer to introduce the characters and their world through the main character’s experiences. The Musketeers Porthos, Athos, and Aramis are also based on real historical figures, but most of their actions and character traits were invented by Dumas. The heroes appear in two other Dumas novels, Twenty Years After and The Vicomte of Bragelonne, better known in English as The Man in the Iron Mask.

Dumas’ d'Artagnan romances have been translated around the world and reprinted many times since their first appearances in the 1840s. Their tales of swashbuckling adventure have proved especially suited to film adaptations. The Three Musketeers, in particular, has been remade as a film every five to ten years since the advent of motion pictures in the 1890s. D'Artagnan has appeared in other fictional works, including the play Cyrano de Bergerac by Edmund Rostand. These appearances have ensured a literary immortality for a man who might otherwise have been forgotten outside his native France.

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