Category Archives: cavalry

A dress coat of the Grimston Hussars

Here’s a rather beautiful item I can’t resist posting, which bobbed up unexpectedly during some recent routine browsing. It was lot 56 in the vast and remarkable historic fashion collection of California collector Helen Larson, sold a year ago by Charles A Whitaker Auctions of Philadelphia, and was, I think, the single military item in the collection, most – or all? – of which seems to have been bought by the FIDM Museum of Los Angeles. Described simply as an anonymous “red wool military coat”, it is in fact an example of that rather overlooked garment, a light cavalry officer’s dress coat, and the buff facings and lining, the silver and buff braid, and the crown and “GY” buttons tie it incontrovertibly to the Grimston Yeomanry of East Yorkshire, the 1803 revival of the earlier East Riding Yeomanry detailed on this page. [Click to enlarge all images.]

When the light dragoon field uniform was radically replaced by a jacket and shell in 1784, the officer’s dress coat remained as prescribed in 1768, though now in dark blue. This oddity was ironed out in 1788, when a new dress coat was introduced; a fine drawing of an 11th Light Dragoons example of 1798, in the Welch and Stalker pattern book at the V&A, shows the new style to have been a version of the 1784 jacket, but with longer skirts and full double turnbacks edged with two rows of braid. (For the texts of the 1784 and 1788 orders, see Hew Strachan’s indispensable British Military Uniforms, pages 112 and 115.) This was certainly an update, but meanwhile the officer’s jacket had moved on to the 1796 closed “hussar” style, leaving the coat still a step behind the fashion curve. Two other drawings in Welch and Stalker, both for yeomanry dress coats of 1801 and 1803, show that the final version of the coat used the richly laced and buttoned jacket style front, but keeping the full skirts, with those curious three branched pendant ornaments introduced on the 1784 jacket.

And that’s what we have here. A skirt ornament (a silver star between script “GY”) has gone, and the scarlet is patched here and there, but it’s still a breathtaking item: the heavy silver braid, interwoven with buff, is particularly impressive, and on the cuffs and turnbacks the double edging is laid onto a scarlet “galloon” to show a scarlet light, which is real quality. It’s the only surviving garment I know of for the 1803 Grimston Yeomanry, or “Grimston Hussars” as they also liked to be known. (It could even be the very coat referred to by William Vaughan, tailor to Captain Thomas Grimston, when he enquired if the new “scarlet regimental frock” should “be made Hussar fashion, same as the last.” ) Is it the sole surviving light cavalry dress coat of its type?

Offhand, I’m really not sure how long these coats lasted in the regular light cavalry; for a start, they seem to have been abandoned by regiments converting to Hussar status. I have a vague recollection of an order prescribing them to be worn with cocked hats, breeches and shoes for “court” occasions – or was that for riflemen? Same thing, I guess. Feel free to set me right.

Advertisements

Still more new pages …

Another plug with tags, for three more new pages here. Normal posts will be resumed as soon as possible.

Two pages on more volunteers of 1803 – infantry volunteers of Cheshire and infantry and artillery of North Yorkshire.

And a first page – a pilot, really – in what may become a short series on the principal yeomanry corps of my chosen counties from the 1790’s to the 1820’s, beginning with the regiment of Warwickshire Yeomanry. (Smaller, independent cavalry units may be found within the general volunteer pages.)


Predecessors of Peterloo: the Manchester & Salford Light Horse

No posts for nine months here is pretty poor. Sorry to have slid off the blog wagon.

As I clamber awkwardly back on, let’s join in the applause for Mike Leigh’s acclaimed film of Peterloo. If you haven’t seen it, do so, if possible on the big screen. Be prepared for a couple of hours of wonderful period oratory, as Leigh builds the arguments on either side, moving towards his climactic, seat-gripping and astonishing reconstruction of the mass meeting at St Peter’s Fields. Here the Hussars come out of it relatively well, one officer at least urging restraint. (Though the infantry look a bit Peninsular for 1819, surely?) But the Manchester and Salford Yeomanry are played as oafish John Bulls, amateurs without discipline. Which could be a fair picture, given the number of unarmed civilians they managed to sabre. I suppose this is what happens when the focus of auxiliary forces moves from defence against invasion to the maintenance of internal “order”.

Before the yeomanry arrives: Henry Hunt (excellently played by Rory Kinnear) orates

In the film the Yeomanry wear the light dragoon outfit of the period, as shown in the well known Richard Carlile print of the massacre; since Carlile was on the platform during the mayhem, we can take that as accurate enough. These three troops were raised fresh in 1817, and were disbanded within five years. Not too much continuity then with their predecessors, the Manchester and Salford Light Horse Volunteers, raised in 1797, reformed in 1803 and apparently disbanded in 1809. This seems like a good opportunity to take a quick look at them.

The Light Horse began life as three troops, but in 1798 increased to six under Lieutenant Colonel Comm John Ford. Manchester Library has two copies, for 1797 and 1798, of their Regulating Code of Laws, providing many invaluable details of dress and equipment:

Every Volunteer at his own expence to furnish himself with the following cloathing, arms & accoutrements, all made to pattern: a regimental bridle and saddle, with cloak-pad, and straps; a cartouch box, containing four rounds, fixed on the outside of each holster; a sabre, a buff leather sword knot whited, a black spanish leather waist belt, a pistol, a regimental blue coat-cloak, with white collar and lining; a dress uniform … and an undress … ; each Commissioned Officer to procure a crimson silk sash.

The Dress Uniform is a blue hussar Jacket, with silver lace, white collar and cuffs; white quilted waistcoat, white leather breeches, long black topped boots, plated spurs with horizontal rowels, black velvet stock, with a narrow white turn-over; frilled shirt, hair well powdered, short sides, queue tied close to the head; silk rosette, white wash leather gloves, and helmet with long white feather.

The Undress is a plain blue jacket, corresponding, with the exception of lace; pantaloons of blue cloth with white seams, lined with blue cloth, and half boots …

Further details follow for farriers, trumpeters and “Serjeants in Pay”. For off duty wear, “such gentlemen as chuse it” could wear a blue undress coat with black velvet facings and regimental buttons, which on this coat were to be flat and gilt, with the raised letters “L.H.V.” By 1798 silver chain wings had been added to the dress jacket, and scale wings to the undress.

A fine pastel portrait of Robert Keymer, the colonel by 1800, was made by John Russell in that year and presented to his family by the regiment; the Lancashire folder of the late R J Smith included a photo of this, with detailed notes made by Leslie Barlow when the portrait passed through Christie’s. Keymer’s dark blue dress jacket, of an “Austrian” length, is edged with 3/8″ silver lace and looped with silver cord of about 1/8″. The white collar and cuffs are edged with silver lace and cord on a blue ground. The surprisingly broad black leather waist belt fastens with  a simple white metal buckle, and no sash, pouch or pouch belt are visible. The Tarleton helmet here has a red over white plume, a dark crimson turban and silvered fittings. The visible part of the ribbon reads “M&S LIGHT …”

According to Willson’s 1806 chart and Aston’s 1804 Manchester Guide, the 1803 formation of the Light Horse, now just two troops under Major Shakespear Philips, switched to scarlet jackets faced dark blue, with blue pantaloons or white breeches and silver metal. “The gentlemen are mounted in general upon capital horses,” noted Aston. “Their arms are sabres and pistols. They serve without pay and were individually at the expense of their own appointments.”

Despite such enthusiasm, within a few years these remaining two troops had disbanded, and Manchester had to manage without its yeomanry, until post-war discontent prompted a darker chapter.


“… an Uniform is very proper”: imagining the Georgian Militia

Our culture’s preoccupation with alternative histories often makes the proposal seem more fascinating than the reality. But what-could-have-been can be not just entertaining but also historically revealing. (Take, for instance, the proposed uniforms of Lieut Col John Luard, the mid-19th century military reformer, whose infantry helmets and utilitarian clothing anticipate what would be worn in 1914, but were reactions to his personal experience of what had been worn in 1814.)

Among the flurry of tracts and pamphlets of the mid 18th century arguing for a national militia in preference to a standing army, a few writers tried, in passing, to suggest what a militia man should wear. In A Proposal for a Regular and Useful Militia (Edinburgh, 1745), the anonymous pamphleteer proposed:

“As an Uniform is very proper for Troops of all Sorts, his Majesty may at the national Charge furnish the Foot with a Hat and a Frock of Blue Kersey, and the Horse with a Hat, Coat and Cloak, the Cloak of the same Colour, and the Coat of the same Cloth and Colour, to last four Years at least, to be wore always on Field Days, and on Sundays and Holydays if they please.”

If the militia of the parish was to exercise one Sunday, the same clothes might as well make a Sunday outfit for the other weeks, courtesy of the Crown. Blue was the natural choice for clothing that would emphasise civic duty and identity.

A more elaborate scheme was outlined in Samuel Martin’s A Plan for Establishing and Disciplining a National Militia in Great Britain …, (London, 1745). Martin’s militia was to be two layered: the light cavalry and infantry of a “superior militia” (men of property), and the infantry and heavy cavalry of the “subordinate militia” of the common people, the subordinate companies electing annually their officers, drawn from the superior corps. For these four classes, he proposed as follows:

I would recommend a plain scarlet dress with gilt buttons, a gold laced hat, and light boots, for the habit of the superior cavalry; for the accoutrements, such saddles as our horse-officers now use, with plain scarlet furniture; a light carbine and pistols of musquet bore …

I would recommend [for the superior infantry] only a plain blue cloath coat trim’d with gilt buttons, an hat laced with a gold lace of an inch broad, and white linen gaiters. … To admit no distinction of dress between the officers and soldiers of the militia, except the scarf or sash, seems agreeable both to oeconomy and good policy; for by that means all officers may save the needless expence of gaudy clothes, and be more secure in the day of battle, when the enemy cannot distinguish them at a distance from other men of the corps.

[The subordinate heavy cavalry] to be well mounted, arm’d, and accouter’d, as our regular horse now are, but in uniform blue, faced with red, and trim’d with white metal buttons.

I propose, that each man of the inferior infantry be cloathed in a uniform blue or green coat with white metal buttons, which may serve for a Sunday, and military dress.

… cockades of different colours may be provided for the subordinate militia, horse and foot, suitable to their ensigns, by which each regiment of the county, and each company of subordinate foot may be distinguished from others.

The well dressed militia man, from the Norfolk drawings

In places, this is not so much whimsical as far sighted, particularly on the reduction of distinctions between officers and men. Once again, blue is the dominant colour, and a Sunday best is provided for the “common people” into the bargain.

As for the reality, we know surprisingly little about the actual appearance of the new militia men of the late 1750’s; no form of regulation seems to have defined the clothing their colonels were to provide, and the allowance per private – a guinea in 1758, raised to 30 s in 1760 – was, as J R Western points out in his exhaustive political history, The English Militia in the Eighteenth Century (1965), barely enough for a coat and hat. The classic image is provided by the plates in George, Viscount Townshend and William Windham’s A Plan of Discipline, Composed for the Use of the Militia of the County of Norfolk (London, 1759). I guess that the pleasingly fluent drawings may be by Townshend, an amateur artist and cartoonist, as well as a friend of the militia cause. They show something much simpler and more economical than the dress of the regular: a single breasted coat with simple three button slash cuffs and pockets, and a hat with no lace. This unembodied private has not even yet spent his “marching guinea” on a pair of gaiters. (The coat buttoning – one at the throat, two mid chest, three at the waist – seems odd, but is shown consistently thus.)

So much for Norfolk, but that doesn’t mean that other regiments were clothed exactly the same. Later descriptions of their initial clothing tend to be vague and unsourced, and may be unreliable, so it’s hard to know. At any rate, within the space of a re-clothing their appearance became assimilated to that of the regulars, while during long periods of wartime embodiment the militia became, in effect, a second standing army.

Such reformist enthusiasm for cheaper, simpler clothing found an echo twenty years later in a brief vogue for “light uniform” or “drill dress”, the trending thing among the county militias at Coxheath camp in 1778; the West Yorkshire regiment were reported in

a very neat white uniform, turned up with light green, which we hear was presented to them by her Majesty.

While the Duke of Devonshire awarded the Derbyshires with

a light Uniform which will be their Property when they depart, and which particularly serves them during their Encampment on Account of its Lightness.

Shortly after, in one of his semi-mystical pro-militia pamphlets (Tracts, Concerning the Ancient and Only True Legal Means of National Defence, by a Free Militia, London, 1781), the radical Whig and abolitionist Granville Sharp, among his proposals for reform of the problematic City of London militia, proposed a universal drill dress:

The Appearance, also, of the City Militia might be rendered more respectable, by the addition of drill-jackets, with some proper distinction of uniform facings, to denote the ward or district of each company.

And indeed, as I noted in this post, we find at that time the London Associators in a white drill dress faced blue, and the Newgate Street Association in white faced orange. Such a cheap, light and practical style of clothing might have made a sensible default outfit across all auxiliary forces, but it was not to be; subsequent generations of associators and volunteers found their own sartorial route, while the white jackets of the militia were put aside for fatigue wear, and became “slop dress”.


New pages on volunteers, associations and yeomanry

Despite the attentions of collectors on the one hand and genealogists on the other, general interest in the history and appearance of Britain’s auxiliary forces of the Georgian and Napoleonic periods – militia, volunteers, yeomanry – remains low. There’s no prospect, for instance, of any Osprey titles in the area, simply because not enough would sell. And I have that from the horse’s mouth.

What to do, then, with the files I’ve accumulated over the years on the dress and equipage of the militia, volunteers and yeomanry of the period from my chosen counties – Yorkshire, Staffordshire, Shropshire, Derbyshire, Lancashire, Warwickshire, Worcestershire, Cheshire, Gloucestershire? There’s still much to be done on these: many gaps remain and many sources, particularly archival, are still unexplored and likely to stay that way. But what I have so far may as well be aired and shared here in a more comprehensive form than the occasional mini post.

So here’s a small start, with more to come, bit by bit. These pages certainly don’t claim to be the final word. If anything, they serve to demonstrate how little is known, especially about the more obscure and ephemeral units. But anything is better than nothing. And corrections and additions will always be welcome!

Links here below, or up the top (drop down), or via the Pages menu at the right.

 

Shropshire: volunteer and association infantry of the 1790’s

Shropshire: independent yeomanry and association cavalry

Staffordshire: volunteer and association infantry of the 1790’s

Staffordshire: independent yeomanry and association cavalry

West Yorkshire: association infantry

West Yorkshire: independent yeomanry and association cavalry


When is an Estorff’s not a Lüneburg?

(This post expanded November 2017)

Here’s another King’s German Legion uniform spin-off, and a good example of the sort of existential nightmare we have to tackle when available primary sources are few.

Among the newly raised Hanoverian units with Wallmoden’s Corps in the war in Northern Germany in 1813 was the Lüneburg Hussar regiment, also known as Estorff’s after its commander, also known, in a nod to HRH, as the Prince Regent’s. Among the von Röder paintings of Wallmoden’s forces in the Anne S K Brown collection is an officer of “Estorfsche Husaren” (below left); he wears a scarlet jacket with dark blue collar and cuffs, a scarlet pelisse, both with silver lace, grey overalls and a fur cap with a dark blue bag. The von Röder images are a bit quirky, and don’t always show quite what we might expect, but they do seem to be faithful attempts at an eyewitness record. [Click to enlarge images.]

Left to right: von Röder, Elberfeld, Vernet – a measure of agreement

Roughly compatible with this is an image dated to March 1814, from the Elberfeld Manuscript (“Darstellung … durch Elberfeld passierten Truppen”) in the Lipperheide collection at the Kunstbibliothek Berlin – or at least, from José Maria Bueno’s re-drawing of it, as I don’t have the original handy (above centre). Plus a third primary image of an Estorff, similar but with a dark blue jacket, by Antoine Charles Horace Vernet (Carle for short) from the Royal Collection (above right); the lace should be silver or white, but otherwise it’s a fit. (For a long time, this was catalogued as the King’s German Legion 3rd Hussars, which it certainly isn’t. We’ll revisit that particular confusion in a moment …) Yes, the red/blue jacket issue is a problem, but at least we have a measure of agreement between these three.

Added Nov 2107:

Since posting these three sources, I’ve come across a number of 20th century images by Winand Aerts, based on  primary sources, that confirm this picture, showing the blue cap bag, blue jacket and red or scarlet pelisse, with reversed colours for a trumpeter. One image, in an album at the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris, is a copy of a period sketch by J B Rubens  in the Bibliothèque Royale in Brussels; the hussar wears overalls strapped, cuffed and patched. It’s a fair copy of the original (not reproducible here), though Aerts reduces the number of front loops for no reason other, I suppose, than carelessness. The remaining six are from Aerts’s album of Hanoverians at Paris; these are based on Rubens (supposedly), the Elberfeld Manuscript, a portrait of a veteran, and the recollections of an unnamed officer. Aerts’s work is not invariably watertight, and the second figure here, allegedly based on Rubens, shows inexplicable differences to the cap, collar, cuffs, sash and overalls. It’s also noticeable that one of his Elberfeld figures shows obvious differences (plume, pelisse trim) to the equivalent figure as re-drawn (above) by Bueno, though both have directly copied the same source. These are the sort of annoyances that plague research mediated by secondary sources …

So far, so good. Now let’s see what a more celebrated eyewitness source makes of the same regiment. Here (below left) is the Suhr brothers’ quite different take on the Estorffs (an officer, judging by the sash) – all dark blue with yellow facings and silver lace, including a light between the overall stripes; most surprising perhaps is the cap, maybe an unrolling mirliton type or, perhaps more likely, just peakless with cords. (I’ve borrowed this image from the very useful Napoleon Online site, from the copy at the Kunstbibliothek Berlin.) This startling difference requires modern commentators to posit two quite separate Estorff uniform styles – the “early” uniform as in Suhr and the “later” uniform as in von Röder, Elberfeld and Vernet. Or, as Achard and Bueno suggest in their edition of Suhr: “Possibly, we have here one of the first uniforms of the regiment, which had to wear garments and equipment from various regiments, before the regulation uniform was created.” Well, yes, possibly. And then again, possibly not.

Suhr’s “Estorff” plus Hamilton Smith’s 3rd Hussar equals Neumann’s “Estorff”

Move on a century or so, and we have a plate on the Estorff/Lüneburg Hussars (above right) from the watercolours by Friedrich Neumann known as “Landwehr und Freiwillige Truppen”, also in the Lipperheide collection at Berlin. (Borrowed from Napoleon Online again.) Apparently a private, but broadly similar, despite the grey overalls and the very different headgear and horse furniture. In fact the pose of the figure, and even the background foliage and fencing, seem so similar to Suhr that the derivation is obvious. But wait a minute – haven’t we seen this figure somewhere else? Those overalls, the sheepskin with the yellow scalloped edge, other smaller details – yes, it’s Charles Hamilton Smith’s 3rd Hussar of the King’s German Legion (above centre)! Neumann has borrowed it directly, but curiously, has replaced Suhr’s peakless cap and Hamilton Smith’s dragoon cap with the peaked fur cap associated with the 2nd and 3rd KGL Hussars. What’s going on?

The Elberfeld 3rd Hussar, via Bueno

Though Neumann’s work is sometimes mentioned today with reverence, something has clearly gone adrift here. As a possible solution to the puzzle, I’d suggest that both Suhr’s and Neumann’s figures in fact portray, with more or less accuracy, the 3rd Hussars, who after all were brigaded with the Estorffs/Lüneburgs at the time; either Suhr’s original identification was mistaken, or else at some point along the centuries both attributions have slipped. In support of this, we can point to another figure in the Elberfeld book, labelled as a “Hanoverian hussar”, which, despite some obvious discrepancies of detail, is a close relative to Suhr’s image. Since Elberfeld already contains an identified Estorff Hussar, as seen above, this one can only be intended as the 3rd Hussars. (Again, the version here is that re-drawn by Bueno.) The date of the original sketch, January 1816, would have been a month before the Third was disbanded.

So, I think both blue “Estorffs” – Suhr and Neumann – should be properly understood as records of the 3rd Hussars of the KGL, like their Elberfeld cousin; and on that basis the trio will be added in due course to my page on that regiment, though Neumann’s version, as a much later synthesis from conflicting sources, has to be considered the most artificial and the least valuable of the three.

Incidentally, isn’t Bueno’s drawing admirably stylish? So economically crisp, so fluent and animated; I’ve always liked it, and have always envied his prolific energy. But in this game the devil is in the detail, and such economy of style by its nature tends to eclipse detail …


King’s German Legion revisions

My KGL cavalry pages have seen some fairly extensive revision, correction and expansion lately – particularly those for the Hussar regiments and the Light Dragoons of 1813, which, though I say it myself, are now looking fairly comprehensive. Or as comprehensive as the evidence allows. If more information arrives, it will be added. The menu for these pages is in the sidebar to your right, or up the top and drop down.

As pages here in WordPress Land are not tagged, this post is just a way to throw some tags and images at Google, hopefully to allow searchers to discover the pages in question. Otherwise, please ignore this and carry on …