Mamelukes of the Imperial Guard (Nappy Cavalry Project Set #25)

Italeri have produced a number of very impressive Napoleonic cavalry kits and I’m pleased to have finally tackled their Mamelukes set; possibly one of their best.

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It has involved painting a lot of detail in a large range of colours, which in turn has meant a much larger investment in time to produce them. Was it worth it? I like to think so, they are unique in my collection and looks pleasingly colourful.

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Whilst it’s taken quite a while to get them painted, but the sheer exotic value of their turbans, scimitars, etc, etc, has kept me going.

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The Mamelukes made up a very small force in Napoleon’s cavalry, but the impact of their fame gave them an importance far beyond their limited numbers, and it’s no surprise that Italeri and HaT (amongst other manufacturers) have featured them in their range.

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Well, I can now place these figures into the cabinet with the other Nappy Cavalry Project regiments. And that means I can finally get on with packing for my much-needed summer holiday! Until I return, I send my very best wishes to all readers of this humble blog and leave you with the usual regimental biography and photos!

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Now, I wonder if there are any regimental museums where I’m going…


Biography: Mamelukes of the Imperial Guard [France]

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The word “Mameluke” is an Arabic term meaning ‘property’, indicating the status of Mamelukes as being slaves. Since the 9th Century, the Mamelukes were an influential military caste of slaves which rose to become a power in Egypt eventually ruling as the independent Mameluke Sultanate until 1517, and thereafter ruling as vassals of the Ottoman Empire.

In 1798, Napoleon Bonaparte led his French ‘Army of the Orient’ to invade Egypt to both protect French trade and threaten Britain’s own. The most formidable force in the Egyptian army was undoubtedly the Mameluke cavalry. Equipped in an almost medieval fashion, sometimes including chain mail and iron helmets, they were expert horsemen and swordsmen. Armed with curved sabres of very high quality, they could out-fence most conventional cavalry and were observed to have actually sliced through French muskets.

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Napoleon soundly defeated the Mameluke army at the Battle of the Pyramids where he repelled their massed cavalry attacks. The formidable Mameluke cavalry had impressed him, however, as the only effective arm of the Egyptian army. Consequently, on the 14th September 1799, French General Kléber established a mounted company of Mameluke auxiliaries which were soon reorganised into 3 companies of 100 men each known as the “Mamluks de la République”. In 1803, they were again organised into a single company attached to the Chasseurs-à-Cheval of the Imperial Guard.

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Whilst the officers were occasionally French, the rest of the force were at various times made up of Greeks, Egyptians, Circassians, Albanians, Maltese, Hungarians, Georgians and Turks (amongst others. All were armed with a brace of pistols; a long dagger tucked into their waist sash; a mace; and later even a battle-axe.

The Mamelukes served in Poland, Spain and in Russia, fighting at the Battle of Wagram and most notably at the Battle of Austerlitz in 1805 where the regiment was granted an eagle and its roster increased to accommodate a standard-bearer and a trumpeter. Service in Spain led to a famous painting by Francisco Goya depicting their charge against the uprising of the citizens of Madrid on 2 May 1808, a massacre which in part led up to the Peninsular War.

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El dos de mayo de 1808 en Madrid By Francisco de Goya

In 1813, losses accrued over many campaigns meant that the Mamelukes were inevitably reinforced with Frenchmen who were designated as ‘2nd Mamelukes’. Of the 2 companies of Mamelukes, the 1st was ranked as Old Guard and the 2nd as Young Guard.

CHARGE MAMELUKS AUSTERLITZ

On his return to power in 1815, Napoleon issued a decree stating that the Chasseurs a Cheval of the Guard would include a squadron of Mamelukes. It is not known whether they formed a complete squadron at Waterloo, or simply attached themselves as individuals to various units; Mamelukes were almost undoubtedly present, however.

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Following the restoration of the monarchy in 1815, there were widespread reprisals against individuals or groups identified with the defeated Napoleonic regime. These included the small number of Mamelukes who were still in the army. Eighteen of them were massacred in Marseilles by vengeful Royalists while awaiting transportation back to Egypt.

Monsieur Ducel Mameluke de la Garde  1813-1815.
Monsieur Ducel Mameluke de la Garde 1813-1815.

The brightly coloured Oriental dress and exotic weaponry of the Mamelukes gave them an influence far beyond the small size of their regiment; an influence felt beyond the battlefield into fashionable society! The Mamelukes loyalty to Napoleon was never questioned and they, fatally for some, became synonymous with him and his empire.

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Notable Battles: Austerlitz, Wagram, Waterloo.

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