“La Garde au Feu!”: My 15mm French Imperial Guard (Part 6 – The Light Cavalry)

At long last, with the completion of the Mameluke Squadron of the Guard, I’ve finally ‘finished’ my French Imperial Guard… OK, perhaps I might eventually get some greatcoated Old Guard infantry for 1815… and I should probably spruce up those Berg Lancers I’ve got here somewhere… and perhaps add some Young Guard cavalry for 1813… and perhaps some Eclaireurs for 1814… and perhaps the 3rd ‘ex-Hollandais’ Grenadiers for the hell of it… oh and the Neapolitan Guard Horse Artillery were in the Guard for a while… and… oh bugger…

Anyway, until I start adding more, here are the cavalry of my ‘completed’ Imperial Guard.  As usual, all models are by AB Figures:

Gardes d’Honneur

I’ll start with an oddball unit: the 2ème Gardes d’Honneur.  Following the disastrous Russian Campaign of 1812, Napoleon wanted to rapidly expand the cavalry arm, so placed a levy on the nobility and wealthy bourgeoisie of the Empire (including the Netherlands, Belgium and Italy) requiring them to send one of their sons, equipped and mounted, to become a member of his personal bodyguard (a cash levy was imposed on those without sons to send).  As an incentive, these new recruits would form part of the Emperor’s ‘personal bodyguard’, would be paid the same as Chasseurs à Cheval of the Guard and after a year would be commissioned as Sous-Lieutenants.

Consequently, four regiments of Gardes d’Honneur were raised from this levy in 1813.  However, the existing Imperial Guard resented these ‘entryists’ and resisted their inclusion into the Guard.  So while the Gardes d’Honneur served with Guard, they were never of the Guard.

Despite their high pay and status, discipline among the Gardes d’Honneur proved to be extremely poor and members of the 3e Gardes d’Honneur even attempted a mutiny.  When sent to war in Germany in 1813, the four regiments were split up between the brigades of the Guard Cavalry, in the hope that they might be steadied by the presence of veteran Guard units.  In the event, the Gardes d’Honneur performed well enough on the battlefield at Leipzig and Hanau, though desertion continued to be a large problem, especially among the Dutch contingent.

I painted these chaps about 20 years ago and used French Hussar figures, which fit the bill perfectly except for the very minor detail of the shako-badge.  These figures have the lozenge-shaped badge of the Hussars, while the Gardes d’Honneur had an eagle & crescent badge.  All four regiments wore the same uniform of green dolman with scarlet facings, green pelisse with black fur edging, scarlet breeches and scarlet shako, with all lace and cords white and metalwork silver.  Green overall trousers with a red (or white) stripe were worn on campaign.  Shako-plumes were green, with pompoms coloured by company (there was no élite company).  Shabraques were simple white sheepskins with green vandycked edging, with a green valise, laced white.  Belts were white and sabretaches were plain black leather with a silver eagle badge.

Regiments were identified by the regimental number, which was embroidered on the ends of the valise, shown as a metal numeral on the sabretache and was pierced into the crescent part of the shako badge.  The shako-plume was also coloured by regiment: 1st Regiment – red, 2nd Regiment – sky-blue, 3rd Regiment – yellow & 4th Regiment – white.

Officers’ lace was silver and they had a green pointed shabraque with silver lace edging.  Trumpeters had ‘reversed colours’ of a scarlet dolman with green facings, scarlet pelisse with black fur edging, white lace, black sheepskin shabraque and plumes of the regimental colour tipped with green.  However, some sources show other variations, such as a sky-blue pelisse worn over a scarlet dolman, a scarlet pelisse worn over a sky-blue dolman with scarlet facings, sky-blue pelisse AND dolman, sky blue dolman with green facings, green dolman and pelisse with ‘Imperial Livery’, fur colpacks and various colours of overall trousers and full shabraques…  In other words, as with line Hussars, you can’t go far wrong if you just make up your own trumpeter’s uniform…  The Gardes d’Honneur were not issued with Eagles or standards.

1er Chevaulégers-Lanciers de la Garde (Polish Lancers)

The Chevaulégers Polonais de la Garde were initially raised in 1807, though at that time were not equipped with lances.  Then in 1809, at the Battle of Wagram, the Chevaulégers Polonais distinguished themselves while in combat against the Austrian 2nd (Schwarzenberg) Regiment of Uhlans, using captured Austrian lances against their former owners with great effect (the lance being the traditional weapon of Polish light horse).  Consequently, Napoleon ordered that the regiment be equipped with lances and re-named as the Chevauléger-Lanciers Polonais de la Garde.

In 1810 the creation of the 2nd Regiment of Guard Lancers (see below) meant that the Polish Lancers of the Guard were now designated as the 1er Chevauléger-Lanciers (Polonais) de la Garde.  A 3rd Regiment of (Lithuanian) Guard Lancers was briefly raised in 1812, but ceased to exist at the end of the Russian Campaign.

The Polish Lancers were reconstituted in 1813 following catastrophic losses in Russia, with Young Guard squadrons also being added to the ranks.  In 1814 a single squadron of Polish Lancers accompanied Napoleon in exile to Elba and returned with him to fight at Waterloo (as a single squadron, attached to the much larger 2nd (‘Red’) Regiment of Guard Lancers).

General de Brigade Krasinksi

The uniform of the Polish Lancers was as shown; being mainly dark blue with crimson facings, white epaulette and aiguillette, white lace and silver metalwork, topped off with crimson-over-white lance-pennants.  In full dress they could also add white plumes and cords.  A simpler jacket in sky-blue cloth was also worn as an ‘undress’ or campaign garment.

Trumpeters had a white kurtka coat with crimson facings, trousers and shabraque for parade dress.  However, they often wore a much simpler sky-blue jacket on campaign.  Officers of the regiment also had the option of crimson full-dress trousers and a white ‘gala dress’ kurtka, as modelled by Général de Brigade Krasinski here (right).

The AB Figures Guard Lancers sadly don’t include an Eagle-bearer figure.  I had one lancer with a mis-moulded lance, so I converted him into an Eagle-bearer using an Eagle cut from a spare infantry Eagle-bearer, drilled out and glued onto the existing lance-shaft.  The flag is by Fighting 15s.  I really like the look of having an Eagle in the unit and wish I’d also done it with the Red Lancers (below), which I painted first.

A single Young Guard Squadron was added to the regiment in 1813, but I’m struggling to dig out the uniform details.

3rd Éclaireurs in 1814

In 1814 the regiment was brigaded together with the 3ème Régiment d’Éclaireurs (3rd Scout Regiment – also known as the Éclaireurs-Lanciers, as they were attached to the Lancers).  This regiment was raised from the remnants of the Duchy of Warsaw Uhlan Regiments and wore a much-simplified version of the Polish Lancer uniform, as shown on the right.

The idea figures for making either the Young Guard Lancers or the 3rd Éclaireurs would be AB Figures’ Vistula Legion Lancer figures, which have covered czapkas, full shabraques and simple shoulder-straps.  I might do them one day…

2ème Chevauléger-Lanciers de la Garde (Dutch or Red Lancers)

As mentioned above, the 2ème Chevauléger-Lanciers de la Garde were created in 1810, being raised from the Dutch Royal Guard Hussar Regiment.  Additional officers were drawn from other Dutch cavalry regiments and further drafts of men were drawn from Dutch hussars serving in Spain.  Consequently, this regiment was often known as the ‘Dutch Lancers’.  By the time they went into Russia in 1812 the regiment had grown to a colossal 1,400 men.

After being almost wiped out in Russia, the regiment was rapidly reformed in 1813, with five Old Guard Squadrons and five Young Guard Squadrons being raised, for a total possible strength of 2,500 men.  However, the majority of the regiment were now Frenchmen, rather than Dutch.  Following Napoleon’s abdication in 1814, the regiment became part of the French Royal Guard, before returning to the Imperial Guard again with the Emperor’s return in 1815.

The uniform of the 2ème Chevauléger-Lanciers de la Garde was arguably one of the most spectacular uniforms of the period, being a scarlet kurtka jacket with dark blue facings, yellow epaulette with blue crescent, yellow aiguillette and yellow metalwork, worn with scarlet trousers with a double blue stripe.  This was topped off with a scarlet czapka cap, adorned with yellow lace and the same ‘sunburst’ plate as the Polish Lancers.  White plumes and yellow cords were worn in full dress.  Lance-pennants were white-over-scarlet and shabraques were dark blue, edged yellow with a scarlet valise, also edged in yellow lace.  Dark blue overall trousers with a red stripe were worn on campaign and a simplified ‘undress’ jacket in sky-blue cloth could also be worn as campaign dress.  Trumpeters again had a white version of the uniform, but would often wear a simple sky-blue jacket on campaign.

2nd Lancers Young Guard Trooper 1813

The five Young Guard Squadrons of the 2ème Chevauléger-Lanciers de la Garde wore a uniform in ‘reversed colours’; namely a dark blue kurtka jacket, with scarlet facings and scarlet trousers with blue stripes.  The kurtka did not have the epaulette and aiguilette and instead had simple shoulder-straps.  Horse furniture was the same as for the Old Guard Squadrons.  Some sources (such as Knötel’s print on the right) show the czapka as being of the same pattern as the Old Guard Squadrons.  However, other sources show a simplified version, with a simple brass ‘N’ badge on the black body of the czapka instead of the ornate sunburst-plate.  At least one such simplified Young Guard czapka still survives.

Again, AB Figures’ Vistula Legion Lancer figures are perfect for these troops, albeit with covered czapkas.  I’ll eventually need to do these for Leipzig, as there were an awful lot of Young Guard cavalry at that battle!

Chasseurs à Cheval de la Garde

The Chasseurs à Cheval were the oldest regiment of the Imperial Guard, having originally started life in 1796 as General Buonaparte’s Squadron of Guides de l’Armée d’Italie.   After becoming part of Napoleon’s Consular Guard in 1800, the Chasseurs were expanded to a regiment of two squadrons in 1801, then to four squadrons in 1802.  In 1804 the Consular Guard became the Imperial Guard and the regiment was expanded again t0 five squadrons.

After suffering huge losses during the Russian Campaign of 1812, the regiment was rapidly re-formed in early 1813, this time consisting of eight squadrons (five designated Old Guard and three Young Guard).  With Napoleon’s abdication in 1814 the regiment (now reduced to four squadrons) was absorbed into the Royal Guard, though returned to the Eagles with Napoleon’s return in 1815.

The uniform of the Chasseurs à Cheval de la Garde was of hussar style.  The dolman was dark green, with green collar, scarlet cuffs and aurore lace.  The pelisse was scarlet with aurore lace and black fur edging.  All buttons were brass.  Breeches were pale yellow buckskin, but green cloth breeches, laced in aurore could also be worn in some orders of dress.  Dark green overall trousers with a red stripe could also be worn on campaign.  The black fur colpack had a red bag, piped aurore and had a cockade on the left-side, from which sprouted a green plume with a red tip and a pair of aurore ‘flounders’.  Belts were white and the sabre-scabbard was steel and worn with a heavily-embroidered sabretache (which could be replaced on campaign with a black leather version, decorated with a brass eagle badge).  Shabraque and valise were dark green and edged in strips of aurore and scarlet lace.

A green habit coat could also be worn in some orders of dress and this item was typically worn by Napoleon and by Marshal Bessières (below).  The habit was faced scarlet, with scarlet piping on the lapels and was worn with a scarlet, braided waistcoat.  A bicorne hat was also often worn in this order of dress, which was typically limited to walking-out and to officers acting in staff roles.

The AB Figures Chasseurs shown at the top are modelled on the appearance of the Chasseurs at the Battle of Austerlitz in 1805 (as shown in the painting above), where the order of dress was to wear their pelisse as a jacket, with the green cloak rolled and worn en bandolier, to provide partial protection from sword-cuts.

Trumpeters had sky-blue dolmans, faced in a pinkish-crimson shade and laced in mixed crimson and gold.  These colours were repeated on the bag of the colpack, overall campaign trousers, sabretache and shabraque.  The pelisse was pinkish-crimson with black fur edging and mixed crimson & gold lace.  Plume was sky blue with a pinkish-crimson tip and flounders were mixed crimson & gold.  Some sources have suggested white fur colpacks, but that seems to have been a red-herring, traced back to one Victorian artist (of course, I didn’t find this out before I painted mine…).

Officers had uniforms in the same colours as the rank and file, except all lace was gold and the fur edging to the pelisse was white.  Scarlet breeches could be worn in some orders of dress.  Leopard-skin shabraques were also de rigeur among the beau sabreurs of the Chasseurs á Cheval de la Garde!  Senior officers might also have white egret plumes.

The Young Guard Squadrons raised in 1813 had a significantly different uniform to the Old Guard Squadrons, as illustrated below.  However, I’ve not painted any of these yet, as AB Figures don’t do a suitable hussar-type figure with full shabraque and no pelisse.

The Young Guard Squadrons wore the same dolman jacket as the Old Guard Chasseurs, though they were not issued with a pelisse.  Dark green cloaks were again commonly worn en bandolier, as shown here.  Trousers were dark green with a double aurore stripe.  Instead of the fur colpack, the headgear was a scarlet shako, decorated with a brass eagle badge, edged in aurore lace and topped off with an aurore pompom.  The tall rouleau style of shako was also worn.  Equipment was the same as the Old Guard Squadrons, though the sabretache was of the plain black campaign style.  The shabraque and valise were scarlet, edged dark green and the saddle was covered by a white sheepskin, edged in dark green cloth.

[Edited again in January 2021 to say that Tony Barton has now sculpted the Young Guard Chasseurs à Cheval and they should be available to buy soon! 🙂 ]

Mameloucks de la Garde (Mamelukes)

This last unit of light cavalry is something of an indulgence on my part and will never see action in a game, other than as an additional stand or two of figures to beef up the strength of the Chasseurs à Cheval de la Garde in some scenarios.  Even at their absolute maximum strength, the Mamelukes in game terms would only be represented by 3 figures at the 1:80 ratio I normally game in (using Napoleon’s Battles rules)!  In most scenarios, the Mamelukes would only add a single figure (maybe two) to the strength of the Guard Cavalry!  However, once I saw these figures, I just HAD to paint them…

The Mamelukes originally started life in 1799 as a company (i.e. half-squadron) of mounted Syrian Janissaries attached to the headquarters of General Kléber.  By 1800 they had been reinforced by Mamelukes and increased to a squadron of three companies, totalling 300 men, now titled the Mamluks de la République.  Many of these men were then brought back to France a new squadron of Mamelukes was created at Marseille.  However, difficulties in obtaining recruits meant that this unit was soon downgraded to a single company.  In 1803 the Mamelukes were permanently attached to the Chasseurs à Cheval de la Garde; an association that would last throughout the Napoleonic Wars.  In 1813 a second (Young Guard) company was formed from Frenchmen and the Mamelukes were once again designated as a full squadron.

With Napoleon’s abdication in 1814, seven Mamelukes accompanied the Emperor into exile, while the remainder (now reduced to a company again) joined the Royal Guard.  By this date, only eighteen ‘true’ Mamelukes were still with the unit and these men were massacred by the population of Marseilles!  However, the squadron was formed again in 1815 and 94 former Mamelukes rejoined the unit, which was once again attached to the Chasseurs.

The ‘uniform’ of the Mamelukes was initially a hotch-potch of native Middle Eastern dress, but some uniformity started to appear in the early days in the form of the cahouk cap, which was initially green with a  white turban.  In 1805 the cahouk had become red as standard and was decorated with a white turban, black aigrette plume and brass crescent and star badges.  The baggy trousers were universally coloured dark crimson.  Dark green shabraques and crimson valises were issued; these were edged in crimson & white lace, with a fringe of alternating crimson and white threads.  All Mamelukes wore a high-collared shirt, collarless waistcoat and sash, though the colours varied wildly and these were typically heavily laced in gold.  Belts were traditionally green or red leather, though issued white or black belts also appeared.

Anyway, that’s it for now.  The Guard Heavies are next and that should finally finish off my Guard.

This entry was posted in 15mm Figures, Napoleon's Battles (Rules), Napoleonic French Army, Napoleonic Wars, Painted Units. Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to “La Garde au Feu!”: My 15mm French Imperial Guard (Part 6 – The Light Cavalry)

  1. Martin Radcliffe says:

    They look fittingly impressive for such illustrious units. The Gardes d’Honneur look particularly smart- despite having quite a dubious record.

  2. Valleyboy says:

    These look great Mark, but its also particularly good to have so much complicated info on uniforms and history in one place. The only problem about you displaying these is the temptation it induces for me to start all over again using AB figures (most of my Guard are Minifigs).

    • jemima_fawr says:

      Cheers VB!

      Yeah, I could just do a simple gallery, but there are a few lads I know who are collecting and painting and every time they ask me a question I’d say ‘Hang on and I’ll send you a doc’, which has now become ‘Hang on and I’ll stick it on the blog’. 🙂

      You will be ABsimilated… I’d already done most of these once before using Battle Honours, but they fell apart in the 1990s and early 2000s.

  3. Norm says:

    Beautiful figures and a very nice detailed post – thanks.

  4. Rhys says:

    Superb write-up Mark. Only getting round to reading it now. Will be a great refernce when I do my Guard cav. I need to hunt down the Knotel plates. Hard to find!

    • jemima_fawr says:

      There were several different Knoetels. The one I really like is Richard Knoetel, who along with Carl Roechling during the late 19th Century, did a lot of superb work on the Prussian Army. These plates are by Herbert Knoetel, who I think was his son (?) and who was painting in the early-mid 20th Century. His work was far more geared to the French and his French uniform plates were all collated into several volumes (3 or 4?) by Col John Elting in the 1990s. I almost bought them at the time (for about £200), but decided not to, because my mate Mike (AB Figures) had the whole set and I could refer to them. Idiot… Those plates do have their detractors though, and it needs to be remembered that Knoetel Jr was painting over 100 years after the fact and was reliant upon earlier artists getting it right. I mentioned the white colpacks/bearskin argument, but there are many others.

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