Category Archives: paintings

Some thoughts on the King’s German Legion

My overwhelming interest, as posts here show, is in the auxiliary forces of the Georgian period, but recent discoveries have sparked a new interest in the dress of the King’s German Legion.

I’m in the process of laying out some aspects of this in a set of pages here, beginning with some thoughts on sources, then moving on to look at elements of the dress of the Legion in the light of those.

It seems to me that it’s a matter of unravelling some of the received wisdom, revisiting some primary sources and trying to take a fresh look. If and when new information comes along, the pages will be amended. And I’m always happy to be proved wrong!

So far, five pages: on sources, the Line Battalions, the 1st and 2nd Light Battalions, the early Light Dragoons and the 1st Hussars. Other elements of the Legion to come in due course.

Links are just to your right, at the top of the side bar, under “Pages”.


A pelisse for the Light Dragoons

HRH Prinny’s scandalously Frenchified “plastron” uniform of late 1811 for the Light Dragoons is familiar from many images, and from surviving jackets. But here, from the Royal Collection, is something less familiar – a watercolour by Denis Dighton of a private of the 12th Light Dragoons with some sort of pelisse flying from his shoulder. [Click all images to enlarge.] But what exactly is it? The depiction is rather vague: dark blue, with a few white buttons and what looks like crimson fur lining and cuffs. Dighton squeezes the shape in awkwardly between cap cords, sabre, pouch and distant horizon, which I suppose might indicate a late addition to the painting. It’s all a bit odd. At the risk of attracting a heap of correcting emails, this is the only image of a light dragoon I know that shows such a thing.

The ledger of tailor Jonathan Meyer (see also my previous post) contains entries for a number of pattern garments made for the Prince Regent in 1811. (My thanks to Meyer & Mortimer and to Ben Townsend for access to images of the pages.) For September 26 1811 an account is made for a pelisse, “pattern for Light Dragoons,” in superfine blue cloth, lapelled (i.e. double breasted) and of jacket size at 1½ yards of cloth. The body was lined with scarlet plush, the sleeves with scarlet silk, two dozen plated half ball buttons were used, the hips were fringed and necklines were attached. Side and sleeve seams, as on the more familiar jacket, were welted in scarlet cloth.

While the Dighton image shows pelisses worn by privates, Meyer’s details indicate an officer’s garment, and the Board of Clothing was charged a whopping £8 12s for it. In his commentary to the Hamilton Smith plate of an officer of the 14th Light Dragoons, Philip J Haythornthwaite notes that the December 1811 regulations authorised for Light Dragoon officers “a short surtout … to be worn likewise as a pelisse on service,” resembling the light dragoon jacket but faced with shag (a coarsely napped cloth in imitation of fur), and cites a description of officers of the 12th at Waterloo in blue cloth pelisses lined with yellow plush (finer and shorter napped).

Anne S.K. Brown Military Collection, Brown University Library

Remarkably, we have a tailor’s drawing of just such a pelisse as Meyer describes – if not the very same one –  in William Stothard’s “Rigementals” book in the Anne S K Brown collection. (See also my previous post.) It’s captioned “Pleece to the Princes Pattron [pattern]. 1813,” though that year seems to be the date of the drawing, not of the making of the garment. Again, Stothard’s entries are invariably of officer’s clothing. Though the nine button front is shown as if intended to be buttoned across, Stothard’s drawing shows the skirts, with fringe and pleats, entirely in the light dragoon style.

The shag or plush is shown on collar, cuffs, turnbacks and lapel facings; interestingly, the false pocket is also shown lined and/or edged with it. The double lines drawn on the side and sleeve seams confirm the piping in facing colour as mentioned by Meyer, though there is no sign of this in the Dighton image. The drawing does not show any necklines.

It would seem logical for the facings of the pelisse to have been in the regimental facing colour. Though the 12th had yellow, Dighton shows the pelisse faced in crimson, as if for the 9th or 23rd; red or scarlet as in the Meyer pelisse would suggest the 8th or 16th. Whether faced in regimental colours or universally in crimson, the men’s pelisse was clearly still enough of a live option in late 1811 for Dighton to include it in his documentation of the new uniform; in the event, along with some other enthusiasms of the Prince Regent, the idea was abandoned as too expensive or too impractical, and it was never issued.


“Soldiers of the People”: the liberty caps of the Nottinghamshire Marksmen

The tightening of nationalist, loyalist and unionist opinion in response to the loss of the American colonies was, as they say, a seismic shift in the zeitgeist of Albion between the close of the American Revolution and the height of the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars with France. Linda Colley, in her celebrated study Britons, has documented this convincingly, if a bit wordily. We now so much take for granted the royalist hegemony of the later years of George III that it’s easy to overlook just how progressive and egalitarian Enlightenment culture had been. In the 1790’s, waving a liberty cap in public could have got you into a spot of treasonable bother. So it’s surprising to find an English militia regiment, only ten years before, proudly flaunting this emblem as a sign of patriotic and constitutional loyalty.

In 1759, perhaps swayed by popular discontent, Nottinghamshire had declined to respond to the militia ballot by raising its regiment, preferring to pay heavy fines in lieu. In 1775, the county at last resolved to raise and embody its regiment, comprising six battalion companies and two flank under Colonel Lord George Sutton. At the time it was styled as the “Nottingham Marksmen” – a possible nod to Robin Hood, and, if so, a hint at the dissenting radicalism that marked its early years. The unusual character of the regiment was set by its first Major, John Cartwright, who designed its regimental button: a cap of liberty resting on a book, with an arm holding a drawn sword, and the motto “Pro legibus et libertate”. [Click all images to enlarge.]

Cartwright in 1789, after a painting by John Hoppner

Cartwright’s family were prominent landowners in Nottinghamshire, and had been ardent royalists during the Civil War. After retirement from a creditable naval career through ill health in 1770, he was appointed Major of the Militia in 1775, and in the general absence of the Colonel and Lieutenant Colonel, had effective charge of the regiment for some years. His progressive approach to command combined rigour with the careful avoidance of unnecessary severity; he was, for instance, one of the first officers to procure a general issue of greatcoats, for the comfort of his men.

Despite Cartwright’s military enthusiasms, he was an advanced Whig in politics, authoring many political tracts and pamphlets, including The Commonwealth in Danger of 1794, which achieved a passing notoriety. In 1791, two years after he had openly celebrated the fall of the Bastille at a London hotel, his commission was withdrawn and he was dismissed. In the post-Cartwright period, the regiment’s new buttons bore prominently the monarch’s crown, and in 1813 the “Marksmen” were re-branded as the “Royal Sherwood Foresters”.

The regiment’s Standing Orders and Instructions of 1778, though credited to Sutton on the title page, have the distinctive stamp of Cartwright’s authorship:

The great end of arming a Militia, is to defend the Nation against foreign attacks, without exposing it at the same Time to that danger to Liberty, which is justly to be apprehended from all other Military Establishments. A Militia Man is therefore, the most honourable of all Soldiers …

… What a difference! To misbehave and to be treated like a base Slave, tormented by the stings of remorse, shame, and fear: Or, to act as becomes the Defender of his country’s Liberty, and to enjoy the grand privilege of Freedom, that of living without fear of any Man.

It was with a Design to impress continually these ideas upon our Minds, that the Device and Motto, which are worn upon the Button, and borne in the Colours of the Regiment, were chosen. – The Book is an emblem of Law; and the Cap, of Liberty: so that the Device represents Liberty supported by Law, and defended by the Arms of the Militia. – The Motto in English would run thus; – “For our Laws and Liberties.” – Such a Standard no Englishman can quit but with his Life. Of a similar nature is the design which adorns the Clasps of the Officers Sword belts.

In a letter of 1775 Cartwright had written:

The militia by its institution is not intended to spread the dominion or to vindicate in war the honour of the crown, but it is to preserve our laws and liberties, and therein to secure the existence of the state. It is in allusion to this specific duty that I thought the sword held up in a posture of defence over the book, and the cap, the proper emblems of law and liberty, a suitable device.

Captain George Nevile of the grenadier company, c 1775

A sermon on The Duty and Character of a National Soldier, preached to the regiment in January 1779 on the delivery of its new colours, and published the same year, elaborates these radical Whig principles of a free militia as opposed to a standing army. The author and preacher is not credited in the published pamphlet, but the sentiments, which approach republicanism, sound very much like Cartwright:

From you is expected all the discipline, all the courage of a British Soldier, without the jealousy that awaits a standing army. You are the Soldiers of the People, more than of the Crown …

… I confess that Obedience is the sovereign duty of a soldier; but obedience to whom – first, to his God, then to his Country; next to the Laws, and last of all to his King.

In 1820 Cartwright went on trial in Warwick for his part the previous year in the “seditious” election by a large pro-reform rally in Birmingham of Sir Charles Wolseley as the city’s “legislatorial representative” or alternative MP, and was fined £100. He died in 1824, and in 1826 his Life and Correspondence was published in two volumes by his niece, Frances Dorothy Cartwright.

Lawson’s 1872 Historical Record of the Royal Sherwood Foresters states that the first colours of the regiment carried the arms of the Lord Lieutenant and those of the county; this may well have been so, but in January 1779, as already noted, the regiment was certainly presented with a pair of colours that bore Cartwright’s regimental “device”, featuring the cap of liberty.

Cartwright’s button design also included the legend “Mil. Com. Nott.”, a Latinisation of “Militia of the County of Nottingham”. The same title appears on the cap plate worn by Captain George Nevile of the Grenadier company in a fine portrait circa 1775, and also, with “Militia” in full, on the gorget of the same period. The rectangular belt plate shown in the Nevile portrait appears to show a standing figure, perhaps allegorical of Liberty. (I’m unaware of the current whereabouts of this portrait, but it’s reproduced in an article on “The 45th: 1st Nottinghamshire Regiment. The ‘Sherwood Foresters.’ Their Honours and Medals” in the British Numismatic Journal for 1913. The author is one Frank Burton, who owned both portrait and gorget.)

Inevitably, Cartwright was sympathetic to the cause of American independence. It’s hardly surprising that radical Whig notions of a free militia as the guarantee of a nation’s liberty should have fed through to those who framed that nation’s constitution. It’s only a pity that their ideals should have been subjected to such distortion in our own times.

(For a slightly later reincarnation of Robin Hood in  Nottinghamshire military circles, see this post.)


The loyal burghers of Dudley

Today the Black Country town of Dudley is part of the West Midlands splurge, but in 1798 it was in Worcestershire. The town is still grandly overlooked by the distinctive silhouette of Dudley castle, now neighbour to Dudley Zoo. In Dudley Museum hangs a rather gorgeous oil painting by Thomas Phillips (1770-1845) showing a parade at the castle of Lord Dudley’s Dudley Loyal Association of 1798. Around the picturesque ruins, before a throng of assembled worthies and admiring townsfolk, marches the Dudley Loyal Cavalry of Captain Thomas Dudley, sandwiching the Dudley Loyal Infantry of Captain Joseph Wainwright. At centre is the Association’s band, “as fine a military Band as any in England,” according to Revd Luke Booker, author of A Description and Historical Account of Dudley Castle (1825). (Click all images to enlarge.)

Though the figures are relatively small within the painting, some useful uniform features are visible; in the usual way of things at the time, a coloured aquatint of the painting was marketed, and a copy of this on the Anne S K Brown site provides some massive enlargement, though a few details in the print are at variance with the original.

Both companies wear blue faced red, while field, staff, trumpeter and band wear the reverse. The cavalry style is an open jacket with shoulder scales or chains and a Tarleton helmet, all the metal being yellow. Benson Freeman noted that the buttons were inscribed “DLC”. A pair of guidons was shown by J Robert Williams in the ‘seventies in Vol 10 issue 4 of The Blackcountryman. At the time these were in the hands of the Queen’s Own Mercian Yeomanry, but they haven’t turned up in the yeomanry bit of the Mercian Regiment Museum in Worcester.

Recently a fine portrait of a cavalryman, tentatively identified as of the Derbyshire Yeomanry, has been offered online by Roy Precious Antiques. (It’s still for sale if you have £6,250 handy.) The dress does not quite match that of the Derbyshire Yeomanry of the period as chronicled by D J Knight in the MHS Bulletin, but is a good fit for the Dudley Loyal Cavalry; both buttons and belt plate are inscribed “DLC”.

As the helmet feather is all white (Phillips shows white for the men, but white tipped red for officers) and as the chain wings show a fringe rather than bullion, the subject must be an enlisted man. The back of the portrait is inscribed “Mr R Parsons 1800” in a period hand; an R Parsons is mentioned in Clark’s Curiosities of Dudley and the Black Country in the context of other names associated with the Dudley Volunteers, and this may indeed be the stolid burgher finely portrayed here.


The trouble with Cecil

Cecil C P Lawson’s five volumes of A History of the Uniforms of the British Army: it’s where I started, back as a kid in the local reference library, hunched over the vast wooden table before the high, glass fronted shelves on a summer afternoon, carefully studying each page of each volume. So I’m quite fond of the reactionary old buffer.

And yet … Nowadays, when I look at the murky, scratchy drawings of the later volumes, I’m painfully aware of the imperfections in Lawson’s work. But it’s not just the haziness of some of the specifics; sometimes there are odd, unaccountable errors of detail too.

A few previous posts on this blog have looked at the cavalry-influenced styles adopted by some light company officers of volunteers and militia. In a bid to find models for these among the regular regiments, I’ve recently been trawling period images, with near zero success. But I did come across one. In William Loftie’s album of eyewitness images appears an officer of the 21st Foot or Royal North British Fuziliers in 1801. [Left below. Click to enlarge.] Given the wings and Tarleton (as opposed to a fur cap), this must be an officer of the light company. His jacket bears two rows of closely spaced buttons, extending well towards the shoulders – a good match for that of the Berkeley Volunteers shown here, and a confirmation that such styling was not confined to the auxiliary forces.

At some point Lawson was commissioned by Anne S K Brown to copy the Loftie watercolours for her own collection, now at Brown University; some of these “copies” were reproduced and described by René Chartrand in 1993-4 in Military Illustrated. Versions also appear in Lawson’s Volume V. Now Loftie’s Fuzilier clearly has at least thirteen buttons showing in each row above his sash, but in the Brown copy Lawson has reduced these to the regulation ten, reverting the jacket to a bog standard officer’s pattern. (If this were so, the buttons would be in twos, this regiment wearing them paired on their regulation coats.)

Look closer and there are other discrepancies: Loftie shows the collar, cuffs and facings edged with a narrow white cord or feathering, but Lawson has changed this to a broad gold lace. The Tarleton has all gilt furniture, but Lawson seems to give it a silver band, and Chartrand describes it thus. Lawson also heightens the shape of the pointed cuffs and adds fringes to the wings. In Loftie the breeches are properly white, but the gloves are buff; Lawson shows buff breeches and white gloves. Why? I’ve no idea.

Similar glitches affect other figures in the album. For example, Loftie shows the light company officer’s cap of the 38th with a green band around the base, a silver cord and tassels, and a two-part silver plate with a crown over some sort of rayed star. Lawson’s copy for Brown adds a silver band around the top edge, while his version in Volume V of A History of the Uniforms changes cord and tassels to green and omits the plate. (The confusion passes through to the Fostens’ Thin Red Line, where the same cap – “after Loftie” – has a green cord, silver bands top and bottom and a plate with no star.)

Details, details, I hear you say. There are more important things in life to get upset about, and so there are, and no doubt uniformology is not an exact science. But how inexact can we afford to be?


Friends reunited

It’s a pleasure to recollate related but scattered images. Not in the annoying Pinterest mash-up sense of “together”, where items are ripped from context, and links and references lost, but in a way that makes a greater sense of the components.

A few posts back I was impressed by a small painting by John Downman of a lieutenant of the Staffordshire Militia, named as “Hall” but possibly R G Hand. Since then, three more similar have swum into view, one unidentified plus a pair named as Lieutenant William Handley and his wife Jane, Mrs H being splendidly cross-dressed in lady-of-the-regiment style. Both Hand and Handley are given in Wylly’s history of the regiment as present at disembodiment in 1783, but Handley’s name is not listed at re-embodiment ten years later. Despite Hand’s lack of hat tape, various features suggest the earlier of the two periods for these miniatures. As Mrs Handley’s clobber is hardly everyday wear, I’d imagine that Downman set up his easel at Warley Camp, where the Staffordshires were quartered in the summer of 1782. Curious that one of the early belt plates is in shield form, rather than the crowned grenades(?) of the others. Click to enlarge:

Downman must have had other sitters at the time, from this and other regiments, though I’ve only noticed one or two possibles in much online browsing of miniatures. As I said before, his later output was largely hack work, but these are fresh, observant and honest, a pleasure to contemplate.


The joy of big lapels

While the familiar post-1799 infantry jacket didn’t allow for much in the way of variation, the immediately preceding transition period, as the long coat morphed by stages into the jacket, was far more fruitful.

Here’s [left] a rather beautiful watercolour (attributed to Henry Eldridge) of an unidentified field officer of the Leeds Volunteers in the late 1790’s, from the collection of Leeds Museum. [Click to enlarge images.] The huge, plastron-like effect of the unusual lapels, with their buttons in threes, is quite a step forward from the orthodox parallel lapels with paired buttons originally worn by the Leeds regiment. The same flamboyant coat, but now cut to allow the lapels to button over in the mode of the time, is shown [right] in the 1802 portrait of Colonel Thomas Lloyd of Leeds (once at York Castle but now in the National Army Museum). Why buttons in threes? I’ve no idea.

But the Leeds Volunteers were not the originators of the style. Here is exactly the same style of coat but faced in green, and a companion jacket, both belonging to an officer of the 1st West York Militia, probably Captain Howard of the light company. Both are now in the Wade Collection of the National Trust, together with a matching red waistcoat with buttons in threes. A portrait [below], attributed to John Downman, of a company officer of the West Yorks around 1800 or soon after shows the same coat buttoned over. But from where the West Riding Militia derived the style, or if it was ever adopted by any other unit, I do not know.

downman-wy

Though here [below] is something else not too distant – a showy style of lapel worn in the late ‘nineties by both regiments of Gloucester Militia, and described in the Pearse tailors’ books as “Broad at top slanting off at bottom”.

pearse-ng-pvt