As discussed last time, I’m finally done with the Imperial Guard! So here’s the last part – the heavy cavalry regiments of the French Imperial Guard:
Gendarmes d’Élite de la Garde
Again, I’m starting with something of an oddball unit, as the Gendarmes d’Élite were more of a military police unit than a cavalry regiment and for the first half of their existence included an infantry element. They were nicknamed ‘The Immortals’ by the rest of the Guard, as they would very rarely be committed to battle. However, they did occasionally fight en masse, particularly from 1812 onward, and did well in battle.
I must admit that these figures, like the Mamelukes, are fairly redundant for me as the Gendarmes were rarely present in sufficient strength to be fielded on table as a separate unit and they’re NEVER going to appear as a 12-figure unit! The highest battlefield strength I can find for them is in September 1813, when they had 536 men present and on-strength. That equates to around 7 figures for Napoleon’s Battles! 🙂 So they might turn up as a small unit at Bautzen, Dresden or Leipzig, otherwise they might be adding an extra base to one of the other Guard cavalry regiments. However, I just HAD to have these when they came out (ironically at the same time as the Mamelukes, about two years ago).
The Gendarmes wore a uniform that was almost identical to that worn by the two Carabinier regiments prior to 1810, namely a dark blue habit coat, with scarlet lapels, cuffs and tail-turnbacks and plain blue collar. Buttons were silver and a white aiguillette was worn on the left shoulder, while a trefoil-shaped contre-epaulette was worn on the right shoulder. On campaign a much plainer surtout coat was worn; this was single-breasted and lacked the scarlet lapels and cuffs of the full-dress habit, though the aiguillette and contre-epaulette were still worn (some sources show plain scarlet cuffs on the surtout). Waistcoat and breeches were a deep yellow-buff buckskin and all belts and gauntlets matched this colour. Most (but not all) sources show the belts as having white edging. The sabre-scabbard was brass.
The bearskin cap had white metal chinscales and a black leather visor, edged in white metal. On the back was a scarlet patch, decorated with a white grenade badge. On the left side was the national cockade with a white plume above and hung with white flounders. Hair was worn in a queue and was powdered when in full dress. In 1814 and while I Royal service, the Gendarmes d’Élite replaced their helmets with ornate steel helmets, decorated with brass fittings and a high, black woollen crest. The regiment wore these helmets during the 1815 Campaign.
Shabraque and square valise were dark blue, edged with a double row of white lace and an Imperial Crown badge at the rear corners. Like the Empress’ Dragoons, the Gendarmes d’Élite had three holster-covers on each side of the saffle, again heavily decorated with lace. Like other heavy cavalry regiments, the (dark blue) cloak was normally stowed on top of the valise with the (scarlet) lining exposed. Horses were (ideally) very dark bays.
Officers had the same uniform, except that all lace decoration was silver lace and the aiguillette was moved to the right shoulder. They also had full, fringed epaulettes in silver.
Trumpeters wore ‘reversed colours’ of a scarlet habit with dark blue lapels, cuffs, tail-turnbacks and scarlet collar, all edged in white lace and with white buttonhole-lace on the lapels. Some sources show a blue collar. The aiguillette, contre-epaulette and trumpet-cord were of mixed crimson & white threads. Some sources show the positions of aiguillette and contre-epaulette as being the same as the rank-and-file, while others show them reversed, as for officers (the figure has them reversed, with the aiguillette on the right shoulder). Plume was scarlet with a white tip. Equipment and horse-furniture was the same as for the rank-and-file. On campaign a surtout could again be worn in lieu of the habit. This seems to have initially been sky-blue with crimson facings and white lace, but changed to match the habit colour of scarlet with blue facings and white lace.
The trumpeter’s uniform changed during Royal service in 1814/15 to a sky-blue habit with crimson facings, laced as before. This was worn with a bicorne hat that was edged in white lace and a fringe of alternating crimson & white ostrich-feathers. This was topped off with a tall white plume. Horse furniture was now sky-blue with white lace as before. This uniform was worn during the 1815 Campaign.
The Gendarmes d’Élite had an Eagle and drapeau, but AB sadly didn’t include such a figure. I suppose I could have included a Grenadier à Cheval Eaglebearer (and ignore the lack of a peak on the bearskin), but at the time I could only buy figures in packs from Fighting 15s rather than single figures.
Dragons de l’Impératrice de la Garde (Empress’ Dragoons)
This regiment was formed in 1806 from selected cavalry troopers of the Line and officers from the Chasseurs & Grenadiers à Cheval de la Garde. Initially comprising three squadrons, with a total strength of just over 800 men, the regiment was presented by Napoleon to his wife and titled La Régiment de Dragons de l’Impératrice (The Empress’ Dragoon Regiment). Following its baptism of fire during the Battles of Eylau and Friedland in 1807, the regiment was expanded to five squadrons, with a little over 1,250 men. The regiment was rapidly reformed in 1813 following massive losses in Russia and was increased to six squadrons, though the 5th and 6th Squadrons were designated as Young Guard. Following Napoleon’s abdication in 1814, the regiment was incorporated into the restored Royal Guard. In 1815 they returned to the Eagles and fought at Ligny and Waterloo.
The uniform consisted of a dark green habit, with white lapels, green collar, scarlet tail-turnbacks and scarlet cuffs, white cuff-flaps and brass buttons. An aurore aiguillette was worn on the right shoulder and an aurore contre-epaulette was worn on the left shoulder. The tail-turnbacks were decorated with aurore grenade badges, outlined in white. The habit could be replaced on campaign with a simpler single-breasted surtout, which was coloured the same as the habit, except that it lacked lapels and cuffs.
The helmet was all brass, with a black horsehair mane and a small black horsehair tuft on top of the brass aigrette (in the case of line Dragoons, the aigrette was all black horsehair). In place of the brown sealskin ‘turban’ worn by line Dragoons, the rank-and-file of the Empress’ Dragoons had a faux-leopardskin turban (painted canvas), which extended forward to cover the visor and was held in place by a brass lip to the visor. In full dress a scarlet plume was worn on the left side. Belts and gauntlets were white and the sabre-scabbard was brass.
The waistcoat was white and breeches were whitened buckskin (a very pale buff). On campaign white cloth breeches would be worn, but these had been replaced by 1812 with grey cloth breeches. The shabraque was of exactly the same style as that described above for the Gendarmes d’Élite, though was dark green with aurore lace and crown. Note that the saddle had THREE holster-covers on each side, not two as incorrectly shown in the illustration above. Horses were chestnuts, although with my rubbish horse-painting, I’d describe them more as conkers…
Officers had the same basic uniform as described above, though had gold lace, buttons and aiguillette, as well as gold fringed epaulettes. They also had real leopardskin turbans on their helmets and the helmet decoration was generally richer.
Trumpeters had a full dress uniform of a white habit, with sky-blue lapels, cuffs, tail-turnbacks and white collar, all laced with gold lace, including the buttonholes on the lapels. The aiguillette, contre-epaulette and trumpet-cord were made with mixed gold and sky-blue threads. The helmet had a white horsehair mane and crest-tuft, as well as a sky-blue plume in full dress. Horse furniture was sky-blue with gold lace. On campaign trumpeters could wear a sky-blue surtout, with crimson collar and tail-turnbacks.
As mentioned above, in 1813 the 5th & 6th Squadrons of the regiment were designated as Young Guard. Unlike some other Young Guard contingents, these troops were actually dressed very similar to their Old Guard comrades. The only significant difference was that they lacked the aiguillette; instead having just two aurore contre-epaulettes.
In December 1813 the regiment was reinforced by the newly-raised 2ème Éclaireurs de la Garde (also known as the Éclaireurs-Dragons), who provided light cavalry and reconnaissance support for the Empress’ Dragoons, being primarily tasked with the aim of keeping the Cossacks at bay.
The 2ème Éclaireurs were dressed very similarly to line Chasseurs à Cheval of the period, in green uniforms with scarlet facings and tall scarlet rouleau-style shako. However, they were equipped as light lancers. AB Figures sadly don’t produce anything similar, but Sho Boki Miniatures do some very nice figures for the 2ème Éclaireurs.
Grenadiers à Cheval de la Garde
And so to the last one: Although originally raised as light cavalry in 1799, the Grenadiers à Cheval ‘properly’ started life in 1800 as the junior regiment of the Consular Guard, with the Chasseurs à Cheval being the senior regiment. Within few months, the regiment distinguished itself at the Battle of Marengo. In 1804 the Grenadiers à Cheval, along with the Chasseurs à Cheval and the Mamelukes, became the cavalry arm of the Imperial Guard. By 1812 the regiment had expanded to five squadrons and over 1,000 men, but the terrible Russian Campaign reduced that number to fewer than 200. Rapidly reconstituted in 1813, the regiment took to the field again with four Old Guard squadrons and two Young Guard Squadrons. With the abdication of Napoleon in 1814, they became part of the restored Royal Guard, but returned to Napoleon’s side in 1815 for their final campaign in Belgium.
The Grenadiers à Cheval were uniformed and equipped very similarly to the Empress’ Dragoons described above, except that the habits, surtouts and shabraques were dark blue instead of green. Details of facing colours, lace, aiguillettes, epaulettes, equipment and officers’ distinctions were all exactly the same as the Empress’ Dragoons. The obvious difference is the headgear: the Grenadiers à Cheval wore a tall black bearskin cap, which was fitted with brass chinscales. On the back of the cap was a red patch, decorated with a cross of aurore lace (gold for officers) and on the left was the national cockade. In full dress a scarlet plume was fitted just above the cockade and aurore flounders were suspended on the right. Aurore cap-lines were also sometimes worn in full dress. Unlike the Empress’ Dragoons, the saddle had only two holster-covers on each side and horses were blacks or very dark bays.
Trumpeters had a sky-blue habit with lapels, cuffs and tail-turnbacks in light crimson and collar in sky-blue, all edged with gold lace. As usual, they had the option of wearing a simpler surtout in the same colours. Aiguillette, contre-epaulette, trumpet-cord, flounders and cap-lines were made of mixed crimson and gold cords. Horse furniture was sky-blue, laced gold. The bearskin had a sky-blue plume.
Some sources suggest that Grenadier à Cheval trumpeters’ bearskins were made of white fur, but again this seems to have been a Victorian embellishment. Billions of pixels have gone to their meaningless death during internet flame-wars on this very subject… Thankfully I didn’t know this when I painted these some 25 years ago, so my trumpeter has a lovely white bearskin! 🙂
The two Young Guard Squadrons formed in 1813 seem to have worn the ‘undress’ version of the standard Grenadiers à Cheval uniform, namely the plain blue campaign surtout, which had plain collar and cuffs, no lapels and scarlet tail-turnbacks. They didn’t wear the Old Guard aiguillette, but they did have an aurore contre-epaulette on each shoulder. All other aspects of uniform and equipment seem to have been the same as the Old Guard squadrons.
In 1814 the regiment was reinforced by the 1er Éclaireurs de la Garde (also known as the Éclaireurs-Grenadiers), who like the 2ème Éclaireurs described above, were there to provide the heavies with a light reconnaissance and anti-Cossack capability. The 1st Squadron of this regiment was classed as Old Guard and was uniformed very similarly to the Gardes d’Honneur in hussar style, albeit equipped with a lance. The regiment’s remaining three squadrons were dressed in line Chasseur à Cheval style, much like the 2ème Éclaireurs, though with black, bell-topped shakos, laced red.
Anyway, that’s it for the Imperial Guard… Until the next unit, of course…