The Female Dragoon: A Farewell to FEMbruary 2020

While painting 20mm British Horse figures for my War of the Spanish Succession armies, I’ve been enjoying the submissions from other participants in the 2020 FEMbruary challenge. With a nod to this, Mark at Man of Tin blog posted about a page he’d found on a copy of an 1893 edition of “The Girls Own Paper”.

This article is most certainly ‘of its time’ yet it contains many inspiring and fascinating stories about “Women Soldiers”, much of which I was familiar (Hannah Snell of the Carnatic Wars, and the Dahomey Amazons) but one account in particular caught my eye. The article mentioned Christian Kavanagh (aka Welsh, Davies and ‘Mother Ross’) who had led a “strange and decidedly romantic career“.

1706 illustration of ‘Kit Kavanagh’ – Public Domain

This “cross-dressing” lady had joined the British Army in 1691, in pursuit of her reluctantly enlisted husband. After fighting in the Battle of Landen and wounded in the ankle, Christian (or Kit) was released from capture and joined the Royal North British Dragoons (Scots Greys). After serving for many years she was said to have been wounded at the Battle of Schellenberg and later found her husband among the French prisoners after the Battle of Blenheim. With her husband now in a relationship with a Dutch lady, they remained simply regimental comrades until Kit was badly wounded at the Battle of Ramillies.

It’s possible that this ended her military career, although Wikipedia have her searching for her husband’s body at the Battle of Malplaquet. It is said that when her gender was discovered by a surgeon, she was nonetheless given a military pension by Lord Hay and ended her days as a Chelsea Pensioner, presented to and honoured by Queen Anne, and eventually buried with full military honours.

Her tale was recounted at the time to author Daniel Defoe and subsequently published as “The Life and Adventures of Mrs Christian Davies“.

As with many old tales, this story has been no doubt subjected to embellishment and myth, but the core of the tale must undoubtedly be true and many similar tales of surreptitious female enlistment into armies exist across different nations and eras (for and example, see my post on Heroic Female Soldiers of Serbia). Even today, the tale of Christian Kavanagh continues to inspire new tales such as this ‘delightful and fun’ work of fiction based on her life, “The Double Life of Mistress Kit Kavanagh” by Marina Fiorato.

The War of Louis Quatorze blog posted on this same story appropriately last February.

All this chimed nicely with my latest venture painting a Marlburian horse regiment. Admittedly, they’re a regiment of horse not dragoons, but when I do paint some, then perhaps I’ll add a feminine touch to the face of one figures so that my own Trooper Davies can secretly take her place in my army too?

Girl Soldier (2)

I’ve happy to say that I’ve recently come in the possession of another postcard from the “Girl Soldier” series by “Ellanbee” (the trading name for Landeker and Brown of London). The illustrator for the “Girl Soldier” series was comic postcard artist William Henry Ellam (1858–1935) and this series I believe to have been created around 1900.

Girl soldier ellam scots greys (3)

This poised and dignified lady is of the 2nd Dragoons, also known as the Royal Scots Greys. So far in the cards that I’ve discovered, she’s the only character to have drawn her sword, holding the blade in her white leather gauntlet gloves in a relaxed manner.

Girl soldier ellam scots greys (1)

The artist, Willam Ellam, has once more notably paid close attention to his military subject. The white pouch belt indicates the lady is a private. Her weapon could well pass for being the Other Ranks 1882 short pattern sword and scabbard.

Girl soldier ellam scots greys (4)

The scarlet tunic with blue facings lined with gold are correct for this regiment, as are the pantaloons of blue cloth with a yellow stripe tucked into black ‘butcher’ boots (identifiable by the V notch) which she would have worn for mounted duties.

Girl soldier ellam scots greys (2)

As a concession to some clue as to her gender, a few loose blond curls appear from underneath her bearskin. The gilt grenade holder and white plume on the bearskin appear to be correctly depicted. The bearskin she wears would have been shorter than for the officers and made of hair from the male bear rather than the female.

As with other cards in the series, I like the portrayal of this woman by Ellam. I’ve stated before that the original intention will have almost certainly been to create a comic image. Yet to a modern eye, it now lacks any overt sense of being absurd. Instead, suggestion of an ‘hourglass’ corset aside, it appears as a quite natural and even empowering view of a woman in the military. Ellam has drawn a lady entirely comfortable in her uniform and with her chosen profession; she is calm, confident, and with the discernible touch of haughtiness that comes with the prestige of belonging to a famous heavy cavalry regiment.

Girl soldier
Woman of the Royal Horse Guards by Ellam

So far in this series, I’ve unearthed a Life Guard, a Royal Horse Guard of ‘the Blues’, a private of the 12th lancers, and a soldier of the Gordon Highlanders.

Only one card that I know of now eludes me; what appears to be a Sergeant Major of the “Grenadears”.


I wonder how many others, if any, were produced in this series and if so, from which regiments.

For more on this series you may wish to visit my original “Girl Soldier” post from 2017 where I discuss this series of postcards and compare it to a series of trade card illustrations depicting historically uniformed female soldiers issued by “Collectables of Spalding”. Likewise, on International Women’s Day this year, I compared this series to another postcard set of female soldiers by a female artist Winifred Wimbush.

British Cavalry Uniforms of the 19th Century: The Royal North British Dragoons

A series of regular blog posts displaying images from “British Cavalry Uniforms of the 19th Century”; a set of trade cards issued by Badshah Tea Co. of London in 1963. 

#8: The Royal North British Dragoons

“Better known as the Scots Greys, this regiment was raised in 1678. In 1700 it was called the Grey Dragoons or The Scots Regiment of White Horse. The trooper shown is here wearing the uniform of the Waterloo period, round about 1815.”

Sites of interest about the Royal North British Dragoons / Scots Greys:

National Army Museum page on the Royal Scots Greys.

The museum of the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards, of which the Royal Scots Greys are an antecedent.

Not forgetting my own painted versions of the Scots Greys, now a part of my Nappy Cavalry Project.

2nd North British Dragoons – Scots Greys (Nappy Cavalry Project Set #15)

Earlier last year, I painted some Esci Scots Greys for the Bennos Figures Forum Famous Waterloo Project. This sparked my enthusiasm for painting Napoleonic cavalry leading ultimately to my Napoleonic Cavalry Project. For some reason, I never showcased the finished regiment but I think they fully deserve a place in the project they inspired, hence this post.I’ve included a section for them on the Nappy project page too.

Looking back, with all I’ve learnt in painting horses in the project over the year, I might have painted the greys a little differently. The hooves should not be black on a grey horse. Secondly, I would have painted the grey colour a little differently or perhaps even tried some different types of grey (e.g dapple or steel). Perhaps some of the horse manes would have been grey too. Otherwise, I think they stand up pretty well.

I should point out that these are my original Esci Scots Greys figures from my childhood collection! So here they are: regiment #15 in the (ongoing) Nappy Cavalry project!

Esci Scots Greys

With some figures from the BFFFP still up for grabs (unless another forum member elects to paint them over the next week or so), I sought out some of my Esci Scots Greys. These little guys were inside a plastic box which contained many other soldiers, the common denominator of these being that they were all figures from my childhood. I’ve mentioned before in this blog how a key driver of my renewed interest in this hobby was to give colour to figures that frustratingly remained unpainted as a child. So, it’s perhaps a little strange that I have hitherto not attempted to paint any of those original childhood soldiers. To some extent, I wonder if I’ve considered them historical relics, or perhaps I’ve been stalling until I feel I can do them justice?

The Scots Greys, or more correctly the “2nd [The Royal North British] Dragoons“, have achieved some fame for their charge in the battle of Waterloo. In truth, they were but one part of the Duke of Wellington’s entire Household and Union Brigades involved in that charge. Indeed, they were supposed to remain in reserve for the charge but took part on their own initiative as the charge developed.  They helped throw back the main French attack and captured a regimental eagle in the process, although fatigue and the lack of any planned objective led to heavy casualties from the French cavalry’s counter-charge. Many artists have chosen to portray the Scots Greys at Waterloo, Richard Caton-Woodville being one notable example, further spreading their fame. But it was the great Victorian military painter Lady Butler who really cemented their legend on canvas with her iconic depiction of their part in the action:

Lady Butler's "Scotland Forever"
Lady Butler’s “Scotland Forever”

This image was reproduced by Dino De Laurentiis in his astonishing and epic 1970 film “Waterloo“, the director even slowing down the sequence to present the image more distinctly:

Scene from the film "Waterloo"
Scene from| the film “Waterloo”

With such depictions as these, it was easy to forget that another four regiments took part in the same charge; the 1st and 2nd Life Guards, the Royal Horse Guards (the Blues), and the 1st (King’s) Dragoon Guards, the 1st (The Royals) Dragoons and the 6th (Inniskilling) Dragoons. But it is the Scots Greys which feature heavily in popular depictions and, of course, in releases from model soldier manufacturers too! Hence this release from Esci way back in the 1980s.

Esci correctly portrayed their Scots Greys with covers over their bearskin shakos (unlike many of the artists who chose to show the more romantically uncovered headgear). I’m no expert on the uniforms but have done my best with some basic research. As for the greys themselves, I’ve suffered a couple of artistic tantrums in painting them up. My wife is an equestrian who has a horse (a dun, not a grey!), so I’m a bit self-conscious about getting it right.  Which I probably haven’t. But I’m happy to leave them as they are – they’re probably good enough after waiting all these years, I think!

Esci Scots Greys on bottle tops!
Esci Scots Greys on bottle tops!

Esci Scots Greys
Esci Scots Greys

Esci Scots Greys painted by me!
Esci Scots Greys painted by me!

Esci Scots Greys
Esci Scots Greys

Esci Scots Greys
Esci Scots Greys

Another figure from Esci Scots Greys
Another figure from Esci Scots Greys

Esci Scots Greys circa Waterloo 1815
Esci Scots Greys circa Waterloo 1815

Esci Scots Greys - Rear view
Esci Scots Greys – Rear view

From childhood relic to full technicolor models!
From childhood relic to full technicolor models!