I have already presented the painted horses for the latest regiment in my Napoleonic Cavalry Project, so now it’s time to show them with their riders in-situ. I can announce that the 33rd regiment is Napoleon’s Chasseurs à Cheval of the Imperial Guard.
Wait a minute! That regiment has already appeared in the project, so I’ve got some explaining to do. I felt it was worth attempting this set for a number of reasons;
When they first appeared it was as a mere 5 mounted figures, (certainly not a full ‘regiment’) and were acting simply as an escort to Napoleon himself.
Those figures were by a different manufacturer; Italeri, not Revell.
Italeri’s figures had the men wearing full dress uniform with a pelisse and a plume and bag on their kolpaks. Revell’s men appear in plainer service dress.
Finally, both figures were of sufficient quality as to demand inclusion, these Revell ones being just too good not to attempt.
Unlike the 5 mounted and 2 unmounted figures in the Italeri French Imperial General Staff set, there are plenty of figure in Revell’s Mounted Guard Chasseurs set – a whopping 18 in total which includes a single standing figure.
Did I say they were of ‘sufficient quality’? That undersells it a bit as these Revell figures are very good. My only observation is that the detail is just so finely produced that it makes the painter’s task very tricky. Larger, crisper details may not be reproducing details accurately to scale but it makes the details pop out better to the eye. I’ve matched the basing to my original Italeri versions from 2015. They go together pretty well, I think, the difference between the styles of dress and sculpting can be seen when comparing them to the crisper Italeri versions I painted.
I was particularly impressed with Revell’s officer figure. The pose of his rearing horse with it’s leopard-skin shabraque is an audacious piece of sculpting and works well, I think, with the officer mounted. It’s a piece of dramatic hero posing that’s really memorable.
Other unique figures included in the box was this chasseur below standing on guard with musket and fixed bayonet. The trumpeter meanwhile is unmistakable with his dramatic white colpak and sky blue uniform.
It’s been a pleasure to work with these figures. What a shame that Revell aren’t producing any more Napoleonic cavalry – these guys are over 26 years old now! They didn’t make many Nappy cavalry sets, (aside from reissuing Italeri figures, their only other original set being the excellent British Life Guards), but what they did produce was a real boon to the hobby.
In time-honoured tradition, that just leaves me to share more of the finished figures with a regimental biography to follow:
Biography: Chasseurs à Cheval of the Imperial Guard [France]
The Chasseurs à Cheval of the Imperial Guard originally began life as a part of a regiment of Guides raised by Napoleon when just a general in the Revolutionary Wars in 1796. They would go on to become one of the most prestigious regiments in the army, providing the personal guard to the Emperor and nicknamed by some ‘The Pet Children’!
In 1800, a single company was raised of Chasseurs, commanded by the emperor’s stepson, which formed a part of the prestigious Consular Guides. This company took part in the narrow victory at the battle of Marengo. By 1802, they finally became a full regiment consisting of around 1000 men with a single company of Egyptian Mamelukes joining them as a part of the regiment later.
They performed a distinguished role at the battle of Austerlitz, badly mauling the Russian Imperial Guard. Missing the battle of Jena in 1806, the 1st Hussars (a regiment painted earlier in this project) had the privilege of escorting Napoleon on that occasion. They would return to personal escort duties in time for the triumphal entry into Berlin. They later took part in the great charge of Murat’s cavalry at the battle of Eylau in 1807.
During the Spanish campaign, this regiment performed well but was surprised, outflanked and badly cut up by British cavalry, their commander, Général de Brigade Charles Lefebvre-Desnouettes, being wounded and captured.
In the war of 1812, once more under the command of the returned General Lefebvre-Desnouettes, the regiment (as with the rest of the army) lost heavily over the course of the campaign, though distinguished themselves protecting their emperor from a particularly threatening attack by Cossacks.
During the final campaign that led to Waterloo, they formed part of the Light Cavalry Division of the Imperial Guard, numbering some 1200 sabres. Though leading the initial advance on Quatre Bras, they were not seriously engaged and suffered light losses. At Waterloo, they were deployed as part of the cavalry reserve. The Guard Chasseurs were sent in leading the 2nd wave of fruitless attacks against the Allied squares in the afternoon and thus their proud history as Napoleon’s favoured cavalry regiment would finally come to an end.
Notable Battles: Marengo, Austerlitz, Wagram, Eylau, Somosierra, La Moskowa, Quatre Bras, Waterloo.
I’ve not been idle on the model soldier front over this past week or so. In a return to the venerable Napoleonic Cavalry Project I’ve been turning my brush on to figures of horses; 17 in total, so that’s quite a herd!
In a change to my usual process, I thought I’d shake things up a bit by making a start on the horses before I paint the riders. So, here are the finished equines now let loose on the pasture and patiently awaiting their riders.
I won’t mention the regiment’s name yet, but the green shabraques provide a clue, if not the impressive sculpting. What a tease I am…
There’s an officer’s charger included which wears a very exotic horse blanket made out of leopardskin. You may be able to make out the head of the deceased big cat hanging out over the rump. That was great fun to paint being not at all familiar with painting African wildlife skins!
There’s a trumpeter’s horse too; a grey, naturally, but with a starkly different coloured shabraque to the rest of the regiment.
That leaves 18 cavalrymen for me to paint for those 17 horses. No, I’ve not misplaced a horse somewhere… the riders are currently still untouched in the box, so I ought to pull my finger out, if not my brush, and get painting!
In the process of painting some more Crimean War personalities, I’ve been particularly concentrating on a specific character who, though unnamed on the box artwork, bears an unmistakable resemblance to the 7th Earl of Cardigan.
Strelets’ “Into the Valley of Death” set dedicated to the Charge of the Light Brigade was purchased about 5 years ago and the figure in question is wearing the uniform of a hussar. Given the set’s topic, this means that it must belong either to the 8th (King’s Royal Irish) Hussars or 11th (Prince Albert’s Own) Hussars.
Plastic Soldier Review feel they can identify him – “The [figure] could well pass for Lord Cardigan, the man who actually led the charge.” There’s certainly a strong resemblance. The Light Cavalry Brigade’s commander was Major General James Brudenell, the 7th Earl of Cardigan of the 11th Hussars.
Arriving some months after the Battle of Balaclava, photographer Roger Fenton took some images of officers of the 11th Hussars, survivors of the charge, but not of the Earl of Cardigan himself. Below are his images of Cornet Wilkin and Lt. Yates of the 11th. Also below is Fenton’s famous image he titled “The valley of the Shadow of Death” itself, a gulley strewn with spent cannonballs.
So anyway, who’s Ronald?
That’s Ronald above, Cardigan’s charger shown as a small detail in Caton Woodville’s painting of The Charge. He was a thoroughbred chestnut gelding coincidentally sharing the same russet-colour as his owner’s ginger whiskers. Ronald was the horse that led the Charge of the Light Brigade, over 670 men (and their horses), into – and out of – the ‘valley of death’.
As with his aristocratic rider, Ronald was indeed incredibly fortunate to survive having ridden at the very head of the brigade right into the teeth of the Russian artillery position, escaped from being surrounded by Cossacks, and then returned all the way back again unscathed. Of the famous charge, a shocking 475 other horses failed to do the same. Furthermore, he should be considered very robust for even surviving the trip over to Crimea by troop ship (many horses did not), and then making the same arduous journey back home again.
Ronald continued to prove particularly durable, managing to enjoy life until 28th June 1872, nearly 18 years after Balaclava and a full four years after the passing of his master. There are, it seems, a number of tributes to Ronald on the web. Including:
Of his many depictions, I’ve based my painting of Ronald on the Alfred Frank de Prades portrait. This shows Ronald to have markings consisting of two white ‘stockings’ and one white ‘sock’, although other portraits I’ve seen occasionally differ. I do know (thanks to the perfect preservation of his head!) that he had a star on his forehead and a snip near his right nostril, all of which I’ve been careful to try and reproduce on my own little tribute in 20mm figure form. Strelets horses certainly aren’t their strongest feature (the leg positioning on this figure isn’t quite right, I feel), but otherwise it’s not too bad a sculpt.
The Earl of Cardigan himself is a pleasing figure, I think, and Strelets have captured something of his features and ornate uniform. I’ve used a darker red than I commonly use to achieve the cherry colour of his busby bag and overalls, a feature unique to the 11th Hussars which gave rise to their nicknames “The Cherry Pickers” and “The Cherry Bums” or, for when ladies were present, “The Cherubims”!
On Cardigan and Ronald’s return to the Brudenell home in Deene Park, it became apparent that their adventures had found them considerable fame and both were greeted as heroes by the thronging crowds. Such was the fervour that many tried to pull out poor Ronald’s hair for a keepsake as he passed! A well-deserved long retirement for Ronald ensued until the Earl of Cardigan passed away in 1868, at which point his famous steed was required to follow as part of the cortege. However, it seems that the old war horse very nearly didn’t make the funeral procession thanks to a very comical series of mishaps:-
“However, the old horse, having endured ghastly sea journeys, life on the foreign front, the atrocity of battle, near starvation and probably deep terror, found the whole prospect of a funeral procession far too exhilarating and became boisterous. To avoid the solemn pageantry of the day being ruined by the over-excited horse, they administered laudanum. But, in the heat of the moment the dose must have been inadvertently overdone, for then no one could move the dozing charger. Eventually an inspired individual called for the sounding of the cavalry charge. Stirred to duty, Ronald jumped into wakefulness and set off as required.”
Such was the affection felt for Ronald by the Brudenell family and the British public that, when he did eventually die, the Brudenells preserved his head and tail which continues to be displayed at his home in Deene Park, Northamptonshire. His hoof was turned into an inkwell (a popular tribute for beloved horses of the time) with a sculpture of him and his master atop.
To me, it has sometimes seemed that some of Tennyson’s famous lines on the men of the Light Brigade could have equally applied to the brave horses like Ronald who suffered so much in the charge, dutifully carrying their riders through hell:
Theirs not to make reply, Theirs not to reason why, Theirs but to do and die.
I’ve handful more ‘personalities’ I’m working on, which I’ll doubtless share in due course.
My 32nd regiment in the Napoleonic Cavalry Project reaches its completion with the basing of Merveldt’s Uhlans (Uhlan Regiment No.1). The figures are by Mars about whom’s merits I discussed in a recent post.
I won’t pretend that they were the easiest paint, and I can’t exactly say that they’re perfection incarnate, but I do reckon I’m satisfied with the end result! It’s good to have some Austrians as part of the project at last.
The most tricky aspect of the figures was perhaps the attachment of the lances to the figures. The hands were very indistinct and so I simply attached some old Esci Polish Lancers versions to the hand area with a blob of glue. Job done.
The curious horse poses allow for only certain figure combinations. Hence, one horse appears to be charging hard into the ground, presumably felled by a bullet. The only figure which satisfactorily sits with this equine this the man leaning backwards in a kind of counter-balance. Three of these figures means that a quarter of my regiment is in the process of being felled by a volley! It makes for a unique, dramatic and interesting pose, though.
The rearing horse allows for two standing figures, who, in another pleasing pose, appear to be desperately holding on to their agitated mount by the bridle. This was likely a not uncommon situation in battle.
A spare figure without any horses left to hold I simply gave a lance to, thrusting his weapon in the air and urging his comrades on… or perhaps admiring it… or waving it for attention… OK, possibly an unconvincing pose!
Austrian Uhlan officers would not have had lances and so I’ve attached a sword which came with the Mars set to one of my officers but left the other simply gesturing heroically to his men. They have black pouch belts with gold edging.
The remaining figures include this one urging his horse forward and thrusting the lance.
Also, there is the figure with his arm held high in the air. Another slightly curious gesture, but not a bad one by any means once the lance is attached.
So that concludes regiment number 32 in the old ‘NCP’. Slated as the next regiment in the endless project are some figures which may see me make a return to painting some French cavalry. More on this anon. Until then, I continue the tradition of a sort-of-biography of the latest completed regiment.
Austrian Uhlans were effectively Polish lancers and were dressed as such. Their country came under the leadership of the Habsburgs after 1772 when that empire gained part of the territory (Galicia). The first uhlan unit, the “Uhlan Pulk” was raised in 1784 with 600 men intended for use against a rebellion in the Netherlands. Later it was renamed the “Uhlan Freicorps”.
In 1785, this unit was sent to Vienna and broken up into various uhlan units attached to a variety of chevaux-leger regiments. The first Uhlan Regiment, No.1, was raised on 1 November 1791 from those Uhlans existing in the Kaiser, Karaiczai, Lobkowitz and Levenehr chevaux-leger regiments.
This 1st regiment of Uhlans were known as Merveldt’s Uhlans in 1796, after the regiment’s proprietor (a position similar to that of honorary colonel), Maximilian, Count von Merveldt. Merveldt garnered considerable experience in the Revolutionary and Napoleonic wars against the French and he was considered a very able commander of cavalry, rising to the rank of general.
The No.1 regiment’s headquarters moved over the years, in 1791 it was based in Sárospatak in Hungary, ending the Napoleonic wars in St. Floeian, near Linz. It’s recruiting area was Galicia and most of the uhlans therefore were made up of either ethnic Polish or Ukrainian men.
Uhlan Regiment No 1, as with the three other Austrian Uhlan regiments, wore jackets of green (initially ‘grass green’ but later ‘dark green’) with red facings. The pennons on their lances were black over yellow. Trousers were also green with red stripes with the lower part covered in black leather near the boots, although grey overalls could be worn when on campaign. The sheepskin over the saddles appears to have been black, though this is open to question. The only regimental distinction was the colour of the czapkas; No.1 having yellow czapkas and numbers 2, 3 and 4 being green, red and white respectively.
At Austerlitz in 1805, a handful only of Merveldt’s Uhlans were in the 1st Cavalry Brigade, otherwise the regiment was not represented. During the 1809 War of the Fifth Coalition, the regiment fought at Ursensollen-Amberg. One detachment was at the blockade of the Oberhaus fortress. Parts of the regiment were also involved in the Regensburg battles and later at Stadt am Hof. In July 1809, they were in Bohemia and fought against Saxons in the battles of Gefrees and Nürnberg.
Merveldt’s Uhlans did not take part either in the Battle of Aspern-Essling, being instead kept in defence on the Danube later harassing the French rear lines of communication. After the Battle of Wagram, it retreated to Bohemia when the campaign ended.
The 1st regiment towards the end of the Napoleonic Wars was fighting in the Northern Italian campaign of 1813-14 alongside its sister uhlan regiment No.2 (Schwarzenberg). Consequently, having largely missed out on the key battles of Austerlitz and Aspern-Essling, they were also to find themselves absent from the decisive Battle of Leipzig in 1813. The regiment’s namesake, Count von Merveldt, however was present at the ‘Battle of the Nations’, where he was unfortunately captured when wandering too close to Saxon troops.
In Italy, his regiment continued to do great service however; patrolling, reconnoitring and, as can be seen in the following brief quote I discovered about the Battle of Feistritz, also putting the enemy to flight!
… Austrian Generalmajor Speigel responded quickly, and a very successful charge of the Merveldt Uhlans encouraged the French to withdraw.
The Defense of the Napoleonic Kingdom of Northern Italy, 1813-1814, G.F. Nafziger, M. Gioannini
A glance through my venerable Napoleonic Cavalry Project tells me that since 2015, I’ve attempted sets from 6 different manufacturers representing 7 different nations. My next set of figures brings both a new nation and manufacturer to the project.
Mars are a Ukrainian manufacturer who, I believe, started out producing copies of other manufacturer’s figures (Matchbox, Revell, Esci, etc.) Although I can’t verify claims, some believe that this was effectively piracy of other companies’ work. However, in the plastic model soldier world, some felt that even this bootleg reissuing of out-of-production old sets at least made some old figures, often much in demand by hobbyists, available once more and was so to be welcomed. It’s a contentious issue for sure and one perhaps left to the lawyers to pass judgement over but since (I think) 2009, Mars have been making their own sets instead.
The quality of some of their own-brand work has been criticised as being disappointing by Plastic Soldier Review, amongst others, with PSR saying of one set; “This set is typical of Mars output in many ways. The sculpting is not attractive and the poses quite flat, with some of the faces being particularly messy. Accuracy is good and the selection of poses is adequate if uninspired. The subject itself is unusual and not widely known…”
Once again, however, criticism should perhaps be tempered by the fact that in today’s trading climate, a plastic soldier manufacturer is out there producing sets at all. Furthermore, as PSR suggested, Mars have often concentrated on eras overlooked by other companies, including an extensive 30-Years War range, Crimean Tartars, and the Lithuanian-Teutonic wars (see above). Fancy some late-Mycenaean Light Infantry anyone? Mars has that covered too!
Mars have largely steered clear of the ever-popular Napoleonic period, yet they have produced a few cavalry sets; Russian Dragoons, Russian Uhlans and Austrian Uhlans. The latter are particularly interesting as, to my knowledge, no one has produced Napoleonic Austrian cavalry with the sole exception of HaT’s early Curassiers and Chevauxleger sets in 1998/2000. For such an important participant to the Napoleonic Wars, this seems a real oversight (Great Britain has 11 sets with two more slated for release). Furthermore, it’s been said that during the Napoleonic Wars;
“Austrian cavalry was considered the best in Europe, and one of the best of the time anywhere”
(Fisher and Fremont-Barnes “The Napoleonic Wars”)
The ‘best Napoleonic cavalry in Europe’ surely needs a place in the Nappy Cavalry Project, but can Mars’ Austrian Uhlans figures justify that inclusion?
The set is a bit of an enigma in parts but there’s some real quality there for sure. Even PSR grudgingly admitted that “the sculpting of this set exceeded our admittedly low expectations.” The ‘riot of flash’ of the sprue for the weapons reported by PSR seems to be also present on parts of the figures too for me and I’ve had to spend some time trimming and cleaning them up – never a skill that I excel at!
It’s curious that whilst their Austrian Uhlans seem good, Mars’ Russian Uhlans set doesn’t quite match the same degree of quality. I can only really appreciate the standard of these Austrian’s once I’ve painted them up, so I’ll share how I get on and maybe you can judge for yourself!
So, for regiment number 32 in the Napoleonic Cavalry Project I will be attempting the Austrian 1st Uhlan Regiment (Merveldt’s Uhlans) who, like all Austrian lancers, were made up of Polish men.
As the fourth year of Suburban Militarism on WordPress comes to a close and a New Year looms, it’s a time for reflection. Swedish Napoleonic cavalrymen; Ottoman Turkish artillerymen; Serbian and Austrian infantry of the Great War; Belgian Carabinier cyclists; 28mm Yeomanry figures based on illustrations by Marrion; Saxon Cuirassiers and not forgetting some Napoleonic Poles back in January.
So, here’s a brief pictorial overview of some of the figures painted over 2018.
Looking forward to 2019, I know well enough by now not to forecast my painting plans in any great detail as distractions lead me on to other unforeseen areas over the year! However, currently demanding my attention are:
My Ottomania project – now well under way with the artillery corps progressing nicely;
The Great War project – I have a number of excellent kits I intend to tackle as I continue to develop my WWI collection;
So far as the Napoleonic Cavalry Project is concerned, 2018 has been the year of Swedish cavalry. HaT’s five regiments contained within their Napoleonic Swedish Cavalry set have now all been painted over the course of this year. These regiments were;
I’ve enjoyed painting these Light Dragoons. Being perhaps the least remarkable of the five Swedish cavalry regiments painted this year, it would be forgivable perhaps if I found the painting almost a chore. Instead, it’s reaffirmed my love of painting Nappy cavalry; all that colour, detail and of course the horses.
Those details I mention have included painting a tiny silver and red badge on the centre of the shako in a nod to Småland’s symbol of the red standing lion with crossbow. There’s also yellow cord and a rosette plume holder.
There’s also yellow trim to be found on the shoulder flaps, facings, tunic and waistband.
The pouch belt is buff, not white, as are the overalls.
More yellow appears on the edge of the horses’ blue shabraques.
As with all the other regiments in this box, the poses were limited, the emphasis on the set being on providing a variety of regiments rather than poses. The two poses were nice enough, however.
Pose 1 – charging:
Pose 2 – At the walk:
There are plenty of other great kits I’m still intending to tackle in this long-term project, but with November looming, it’s probably the last cavalry regiment to be painted until the New Year. So, now it just leaves me to present the usual regimental biography!
Biography: The Småland Light Dragoons
This regiment began its history in 1543 when raised in Kronoberg and Kalmar. Called the Småland Cavalry Regiment, the regiment’s name referred to its recruitment area of ‘Småland’ – a province in the south-east of Sweden. During the Scanian War, the regiment took part in the battles of Lund (1676) and Landskrona (1677).
In its early days at the end of the 17th century, a ‘cassock’ had superseded the previous
buff coat and it was decided that the Swedish uniform should be only in one colour; the familiar Swedish blue. The regiment was also allotted grey greatcoats in 1701, with yellow lining, collar and cuffs. For headdress at this time, they wore a tricorn with a narrow gold braid edge. During the Great Northern War, the regiment fought at Klissow (1702), Pultrusk (1703), Warsaw (1705) and Holowzin (1708).
During the Seven Years War, the Småland cavalry took part in a number of minor engagements. One example is of a detachment of 50 men which joined a Swedish force despatched to chase away a force of Prussian cavalry reconnoitring the Swedish positions. During its approach of the Prussian scouting party, the Swedes were attacked by a large body of cavalry. The Swedish cavalry fled the field after firing a single volley. Another detachment of 60 men was part of the Swedish force defending the crossing at Nehringen which they did before undertaking a fighting retreat in good order without casualties.
In 1758 300 men of the Småland Cavalry Regiment, under Lieutenant-colonel Baron Klas Erik Silferhjelm, took part to the battle of Tarmow, being charged and routed by 5 squadrons of Möhring Hussars. Two days after this, four squadrons of the regiment took part in the successful defence of Fehrbellin against a Prussian assault.
In 1790, with the Revolutionary Wards looming, the Småland Cavalry Regiment (Smålands kavalleriregemente) became known as the Smålands Light Cavalry Regiment (Smålands lätta kavalleri- regemente). It was then subsequently renamed again in 1801 as the Småland Light Dragoons (Smålands lätta dragoner), being the subject of the HaT set of figures.
The regiment at this time had adopted a Russian-type shako with long yellow cords. On the shako was a yellow Swedish cockade and a cap plate featuring the provincial coat-of-arms. Swedish cavalry favoured buff instead of the more common white belts. Their standard was yellow with the heraldic sign of Småland, the standing lion with the crossbow, in red.
In 1806, it received another new name; the Småland Dragoon Regiment, (Smålands dragonregemente) . In 1812 part of the regiment was converted into infantry – Smålands dragonrementes infanteribataljon (the Infantry Battalion of the Småland Dragoon Regiment).
The converted infantry battalion later became part of Karlskrona grenadier regiment. The remaining cavalry received its final name change to the Smålands Hussar Regiment (Smålands husar- regemente) in 1822. The regiment was located in Eksjö and was disbanded in 1927.
2018 has so far seen me add another five regiments to the now 30-strong Napoleonic Cavalry Project which was begun back in 2015. In what will probably be the final cavalry regiment produced this year, I’m finishing off the remainder of my 2 boxes of HaT’s Swedish Napoleonic Cavalry. From this kit, I’ve previously painted;
All of which just leaves my final Swedish regiment – the Småland Light Dragoons.
In the contemporary print above, the regiment is shown in 1807 wearing a long-tailed navy blue coat with yellow facings, buff-coloured riding breeches and black shakos. Around the waist is a yellow cord sash. The black shako is shown with a peak and this is also reproduced in the sculpted HaT figures yet in this is not visible in Preben Kannik’s illustration of the regiment of 1808 (found in “Military Uniforms of the World in Colour”).
This style of shako reproduced by Kannik, with a tiny – almost non-existent peak – is seen in another contemporary illustration of a Swedish cavalry regiment; the Nylands Light Dragoons of the same year. From these illustrations, the shako appears to have yellow cord around it, something which is reproduced on the HaT figures. The rest of the uniform appears very similar to HaT’s sculpted figures with its waist length coat, although HaT’s troopers are wearing campaign overalls rather than riding breeches.
The horses supplied by HaT are of course very familiar to me, being the same already used for the 18-strong Mörner Hussar regiment and also for the King’s Horse Guard.
Aside from the headdress, the uniform looks closest to the Scanian Carabineers which I painted earlier on in the year. For that reason, I toyed with painting them with yellow coats instead. This was an undress uniform colour adopted for Swedish cavalry regiments for field duty resulting from wearing the reverse colours of the full uniform.
In the final event, I decided to reproduce the same blue coats wonderfully depicted by Danish illustrator Preben Kannik. His “Military Uniforms of the World in Colour” book was a regular source of pleasure during my childhood and indeed continues do so right up to today. It contains many uniforms or regiments I’ve painted previously in the project and also, it must be said, regiments which I still intend to attempt.
The Småland Light Dragoon figures are already well under way, so I hope to have something to share on progress reasonably soon.
What to do when the girls of my household are in London to see a musical leaving me in the capital city with a few hours to kill until they come out of the theatre? Why, visit a military museum, of course!
I decided that I’d walk down to Horse Guards Parade and take a look around the Household Cavalry Museum which is housed within the buildings there. Horse Guards was subject to some redevelopment in 1758 resulting in the Life Guard being based at the site, a tradition that continues to this day. In the 19th Century, the Duke of Wellington as Commander-in-Chief of the British Army used Horse Guards as the British Army HQ. In the 20th century it shamefully was allowed to become an enormous civil service car park, but it reclaimed its dignity and eventually reverted back to its original purpose as a parade and events ground in the 1990s.
The entrance fee is £8 which, though modest enough, is slightly more than many of the other military museums I’ve visited (many of which are free), but for London that’s positively cheap!
On entry, I soon found the display of the modern-day Full Dress uniform for which the Household Cavalry are famous worldwide. The uniforms are based on a 19th century-style heavy dragoon with polished steel cuirasses. The two regiments of the Household Cavalry have distinctively different uniforms; the scarlet tunics and white plumes of the Life Guard and the navy tunics and red plumes of the Blues and Royals. The colours of these regiments are a tradition which goes back a long way. For the Blues and Royals, their uniform harks back to the Horse Guards of the late 17th century.
Also in this contemporary display were the instruments of the mounted band. It was terrific to see the polished kettledrums and drum banners of a regiment which still uses them even today.
The Royal Horse Guards (The Blues) has a lineage that goes back to the distinctly un-royal cuirassiers in the Parliamentarian Army in the Civil War (known as ‘Haselrigge’s lobsters’). An example of this type of armour is on display.
In the early 19th century, Wellington’s Household Brigade performed a famous role in the Battle of Waterloo, comprising both regiments of the Life Guard and the Royal Horse Guards. The Royals (the 1st Dragoons who would later merge with the Blues) took part in the same general charge as part of the Union Brigade, in the process capturing a French Eagle. Helmets from this charge were on display. The images below show a Royals helmet top and a Horse Guards helmet below:
Back in 2016, I posted on a series of cigarette cards featuring British cavalry uniforms, one of which included this trooper below of the Royal Horse Guards in 1815. The same helmet but with the crest and plume in place can be seen.
A life-sized model reproduced the moment that Captain Alexander Kennedy Clark of the Royal Dragoons captured the French Eagle of the 105th Line. An original heavy dragoon helmet with horsehair plume could be viewed close up in a cabinet too. Great for comparison with my own 1st Royal Dragoon figures painted for the Nappy Cavalry Project a few years ago.
After Waterloo, the British Army enjoyed an unprecedented period of peace in which Britain and it’s forces were largely pre-eminent and unchallenged on the world stage. This allowed the army to explore more extravagant uniforms of immense grandeur, often without such indulgence ever being exposed to the proving ground of hard campaigning. With the prestigious Life Guard and the Royal Horse Guard regiments, this trend reached particularly exuberant proportions in the realm of headdress, as can be seen below in this 1832 Life Guards helmet with its outrageous bearskin plume.
The plume can be seen to be protruding slightly further forward on the helmet seen above compared to the design that it succeeded shown below.
This older 1817 design replaced the iconic, though short-lived, Waterloo helmet. The new design’s astonishing plume had its drawbacks, however, and apparently unbalanced the riders who wore it, hence the 1832 redesign. It must have nonetheless been a terrific sight in Full Dress occasions such as parades or reviews.
My aforementioned series of British cavalry uniforms on cigarette cards also pictured this helmet on a trooper of the Horse Guards in 1818.
Another version of this style of bear-crested ‘Romanesque’ headdress was this version worn by the 1st Dragoons, ‘the Royals’. There are notable differences, however. The helmet has been ‘Japanned’ in a black lacquer and has ornate gold-coloured leaf designs featuring on both the sides of the helmet and on the chin scales.
It’s an imposing piece of headgear, though another piece I discovered was arguably even more so. It was a headdress which I had been hoping to see up close for a long time. Described by the museum as a ‘bearskin cap’, this particular specimen was worn by a captain of the Life Guards at the coronation of the Prince Regent in 1821 and reflected the obsession that the would-be King George IV had with Napoleon’s recently defunct Imperial Guard.
The grenadier badge is a direct reference to Napoleon’s grenadiers. The ‘comb-over’ plume is made of swan feathers. Once again, another of those cigarette cards depicts this headdress. In fact, it reproduced the exact same coronation headdress on display in the museum, describing the illustration as “an officer of the Life Guards in the full dress uniform worn at the Coronation of George IV”. Notably, the artist has wrongly envisaged a direct copy of the French version with a shorter swan plume, a front plate and other Imperial Guard details, different to the original shown in the museum.
It would hardly be the Household Cavalry museum without plenty of cuirasses on display. Below is the cuirass worn at the same coronation as the bearskin cap. It’s quite a curious shape, quite elongated, which I suspect may have made being mounted for long periods uncomfortable.
The difference in cuirass shape can be clearly seen when compared to the version below;
For ceremonial occasions, cuirasses could be incredibly ornate. The black lacquered cuirass in the photo below was worn exclusively for the state visit of the Russian Tsar in 1814, no doubt deliberately resembling the Russian cuirassiers’ own black versions. It was interesting for me to discover that cuirasses were therefore being worn by the Life Guard, albeit briefly, pre-dating Waterloo. I’d always assumed that the regiment’s encounter with the French cuirassiers had been the instigator of a relationship between the cuirass and the Household Cavalry.
There was a particularly nice display relating to Colonel Frederick Gustavus Burnaby of the Royal Horse Guards. To the Victorian public, Burnaby was a famously heroic character; the epitome of the recklessly brave Victorian adventurer. Being a member of the Victorian Military Society, he was already familiar to me and I have encountered a number of accounts of the man and his life. Burnaby was larger than life in every sense; being 6ft 4in tall, immensely strong and 20 stone. In the Victorian era such vital statistics was particularly impressive. As sense of the man’s still considerable stature could be gleaned from standing near his uniform, cuirass and boots.
Feats of his astonishing physical strength and endurance was subject to many anecdotes. Most of all, his adventurous and impetuous spirit guided him through many solo adventures across Central Asia, Spain, the Balkans and Russia at a time when being in the Royal Horse Guards meant limited exposure to direct military action.
Finally, desperate to see some combat, Burnaby took an unofficial appointment in the 1884 Sudan campaign. He subsequently died in desperate hand-to-hand fighting at the Battle of Abu Klea. One wonders whether his ceremonial cuirass would have proved of real value in such fighting? The boots displayed above were the same ones he was wearing when he was killed in the act of recklessly engaging the famously fierce Sudanese Hadendoa warriors virtually single-handed. The knife and it’s scabbard seen above are Sudanese weapons found on the field of battle where he lay. The book is a copy of “A Ride to Khiva”, Burnaby’s own popular account of his astonishingly daring trip to the distant silk road city which was then a newly acquired part of the Tsar’s empire.
Nearing the exit, I saw a poignant exhibit from aftermath of the IRA bombing of the Blues and Royals near Hyde Park in 1982. Four soldiers and seven of their horses died in the atrocity. The ornate dragoon helmet on display has been grotesquely damaged and deformed by the blast, a sobering reminder of just how far removed the smartness and beauty of traditional British army ceremonial uniforms are from being appropriate military equipment in the modern era. With the story of the wounded horse Sefton, it was also a reminder of how much appalling suffering cavalry horses must have endured through the ages.
To conclude with, a few more images of uniforms through the ages included in which is Lord Uxbridge’s artificial leg! Uxbridge was Wellington’s 2nd in command at Waterloo and in command of the Allied cavalry (he even recklessly joined the charge of the Heavy Brigade).
Recently, I also encountered another exhibit relating to a member of Wellington’s senior staff when I saw Lt-General Picton’s top hat displayed in the National Army Museum. Just as Picton’s hat reminded me of a famous scene in Dino De Laurentiis’ superb film “Waterloo”, so this leg also made me recall another scene from it; when Uxbridge (played by Terence Alexander) tragically loses his leg to a stray cannonball at the very conclusion of the battle:
Uxbridge: My God sir, I’ve lost my leg.
Wellington: My God sir, so you have!
On exiting, I took a final snap of a statue situated right outside the museum door. The statue commemorates a former colonel of the Horse Guards, the esteemed Victorian Commander-in-Chief, Sir Garnet Wolseley. He is sitting astride his mount and looking out across Horse Guards Parade. Another colossus of Victorian generalship, Lord Roberts, is just yards away, mounted upon his own plinth.
Glancing at my watch, I decided I still had plenty of time before meeting my wife and daughter. So I walked off down to the excellent Guards Toy Soldier Centre which is outside The Guards Museum and just off Birdcage Walk…