Tag Archives: King’s German Legion

A “strangely organized corps”: the Gunner Drivers

A new page on this site (go here, or use the menu at the right, bottom of ‘Pages’) is my imperfect attempt to sort out something of the dress of that rather odd affair, the Royal Artillery’s Corps of Gunner Drivers, aka Corps of Royal Artillery Drivers, aka Corps of Captain Commissaries. If not exhaustive, it’s maybe a bit exhausting, and better as a page than a post, so this is just a plug for it and a way to attach some tags.

It’s another of those the-more-you-stare-at-it-the-less-you-find-you-actually-know topics. But I hope it helps to make sense of the different jacket styles, and to throw a little light on the officer’s dress in particular, which is also picked apart on the corresponding page in the King’s German Legion series (on the Pages menu on the right).

Reviewing the state of knowledge of a topic like this brings out the sceptic in me. Modern illustrators and retailers of uniformology have sometimes borrowed and embroidered shamelessly, whipping up castles in thin air from the same pitifully few sources. But then, even at the time, Regency painters and purveyors of military prints cheerfully pirated each other’s “observations”. Maybe the least we can hope for is not to add to the sum total of misinformation in our turn.

Enough philosophy. And now, the Gunner Drivers

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New jackets for the artillery

(This post revamped and extended August 30.)

My revisionist trawl through the dress of the King’s German Legion (ten pages so far, artillery and engineers still to come – menu to your right) has thrown up some small surprises along the way; the more you think you know, the less you really do.

What jackets, for example, did artillery officers adopt with the great uniform shift of 1811-12? All the secondary sources seem to show something with an extended lapel and bags of heavy gold embroidery, often including a loop diagonally at the top, as here in what I think must be a photo from an old JSAHR.

Interesting then that three period tailor’s books show instead for “Foot Artillery” officers a blue jacket with a pointed “strap” lapel, with scarlet facings, turnbacks included, and gold Russia braid loops terminating in crow’s feet. Versions here [below] are from Stothard’s “Rigementals” (Anne S K Brown), a copy of the Hawkes pattern book, and the Buckmaster “Old Regulation” book (the last two at the National Army Museum, with thanks to Ben Townsend for sharing images). There are slight variations: Hawkes shows eight loops in the length of the lapel but the others nine, the scrappy Buckmaster sketch loses the outer two crow’s feet over the buttons at the rear hip, while Stothard alone shows both rear and side seams, and so on. But the broad extent of agreement is impressive. [Click images for slides / enlargements.]

The relative economy of the braid means that this has to be an undress jacket, and it was indeed worn, as shown by this detail from an Occupation print (Le Bon Genre 83) – ten loops down the lapel, but otherwise a perfect match. Two other period images of what may be a variant version of this jacket are attributable to the KGL, and will be discussed on their forthcoming Artillery page.

Le Bon Genre

If this was the undress, what of the dress version? Of the three tailor’s sources, Hawkes alone appends this note: “The Dress Jacket richly Emb[roidere]d with Gold.” And indeed, I find in the Meyer ledger [see KGL pages and posts passim] that a lieutenant of a foot battery of the King’s German Legion ordered in 1814 “An embd Regtl jacket”.  “Embroidered” here has to mean hand embroidered gold loops, doesn’t it? An expensive option, which set our lieutenant back almost £20 – a cool £1280 in today’s money, according to one online historical inflation calculator.

Hamilton Smith

On a related tack, what’s this [above] that Charles Hamilton Smith shows in his 1812-ish chart for the Horse Artillery? Red lapels with braid loops – “unaccountably” according to the commentary by Philip Haythornthwaite, who rightly denies that such a thing was ever worn. Though the crow’s feet, or eyes or whatever, seem to be at the wrong edge of the lapel, this image has to be related to our foot artillery officers’ jackets above, even though it shows what Smith thought the other ranks were supposed to wear. Could it be that a proposed Horse Artillery pattern crept in, only to be dropped by the Clothing Board after Smith’s chart had gone to press?

So it seems, for William Stothard’s notebook also contains, without commentary, this fascinating drawing [below] of a new pattern jacket for officers of the “Horse Artilleory”[sic], in full 1811 light dragoon style, complete with rear pleats and fringe, and a strap lapel with braid loops as per the foot artillery. It becomes obvious that the light dragoon lapel (one button in the top strap, then a gap, then the rest) is the missing style link that explains the form of our foot artillery jacket lapels, both braided and laced.

Stothard’s “Horse Artilleory” jacket (Anne S K Brown Collection, Brown University Library)

So what became of the “”Horse Artilleory” jacket? In the event and by whatever rationale, this slightly left-field idea of the Prince Regent’s was quietly kicked into the long grass, and the RHA kept a proud grip on their existing multi-looped dolmans, as retained even today by the King’s Troop.

As a postscript, here’s a related puzzle – a detail from a watercolour by Denis Dighton in the Royal Collection, dated 1813, showing gunners of the Royal Artillery in lapelled jackets modelled on those of their officers, complete with a diagonal loop of lace at the top. (The lace in this image has a goldish cast but can only be intended for yellow, surely? The shape of the loops – square ended, pointed or perhaps even bastion – is not really clear. The inverted lace triangle on the rear skirts is an odd touch, too.) Such jackets were never worn, so why does Dighton show them? As a record of a proposed pattern for the other ranks that never saw the light of day?


A new pelisse for the light dragoons

It’s usually a good idea to finish researching before posting, but my piece in June on that most mysterious of garments, the light dragoon pelisse of 1811, turns out to have been a bit lacking, so below is a new, expanded version, now with a new postscript and image added at the end on 30th August. (The original post is deleted.)

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.] 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 one of only two contemporary images of a light dragoon I know that show such a thing. But what exactly is it?

The ledger of tailor Jonathan Meyer 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.

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. 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.

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

Shag (coarsely napped cloth in imitation of fur) or plush (finer and shorter napped) 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.

As we’ll see in a moment, the facings of the pelisse should 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. It could be that Dighton was shown a pattern pelisse with crimson or red lining, and, taking that for a universal colour, put it into his image of a man of the 12th. In late 1811 the proposed men’s pelisse was clearly still enough of a live option 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.

But the pelisse was worn by officers; in his commentary to the Hamilton Smith plate of the 14th Light Dragoons, Philip J Haythornthwaite notes that the December 1811 regulations authorised for officers “a short surtout … to be worn likewise as a pelisse on service.” Here are some examples:

The Meyer ledger also contains three orders for pelisses for officers of the 9th Light Dragoons, from 1811 and 1814. These are of superfine blue cloth with gold fringe and necklines, and one is noted as lined with crimson plush.

The Hawkes tailor’s book at the National Army Museum has a brief description of a pelisse of 1816 for the 11th Light Dragoons:

Short Pelesse of do [blue superfine cloth] to be lind with buff Shag Collar Cuffs lappels and turn backs Regl. Butts

Haythornthwaite also cites a description of officers of the 12th at Waterloo in blue cloth pelisses lined with yellow plush.

The Buckmaster tailor’s book at the National Army Museum has notes for a pelisse for an officer of the 14th, probably in 1814 (“strap” here meaning the top of the jacket lapel):

Pelisse same as Jacket, only no Point in centres of strap top facing, Lin’d & Facd with Orange shag

In 1813-14 officers of the Light Dragoons of the King’s German Legion [see page 10 of my KGL pages] bought from Meyer superfine blue regimental pelisses with gold fringe and necklines; the colours of the facings are not given.

Haythornthwaite’s version

Put together, all these examples confirm that the pelisse was cut exactly like the jacket apart from the form of the lapel tops, and that shag or plush was applied to the lining, lapels, collar and cuffs of the pelisse in the regimental facing colour. The mention in Meyer of a gold neckline for an officer of the 2nd KGL Light Dragoons, whose metal colour was silver, suggests that, like the light dragoon officer’s cap cords, the pelisse neckline may have been universally in gold.

As an afterthought, I’m left wondering why the 1811 officer’s pelisse is almost entirely missing not only from period images, but also from modern illustrations. There is, for instance, almost no sign of it in Carl Franklin’s pretty exhaustive compendium. It does show up, shorn of all detail and apparently with a white lining, in a Cassin-Scott figure taken from Dighton’s image of a man of the 12th in (I think) Philip Haythornthwaite’s Uniforms of Waterloo of 1986. The only remotely accurate portrayal appears in the Fostens’ The Thin Red Line of 1989, on an officer of the 13th in Plate XIII (see also below). This is copied wholesale (along with most of the rest of the plate) into the D Lordey page of light dragoons in the Quatuor Les Uniformes des Guerres Napoléoniennes of 1997 by Coppens, Courcelle, Lordey and Pétard. (Was this licensed? Or straight plagiarism?) More importantly, Lordey manages in the process also to alter the correct buff lining to white. Oh well. You can’t have everything …

The Thin Red Line original, and the Lordey copy with incorrect lining

Postscript

Langendijk’s original

And here, a bit late in the day, is the original source for the pelisse of the 13th, in a watercolour of an officer by Jan Anthonie Langendijk in the Royal Collection. (This has been published only in black and white.) The image shows the plush or shag facings well, though, oddly, it includes epaulettes and, below the rear fringe, old fashioned double turnbacks that look like a mistake. Miller and Dawnay’s colour notes describe this pelisse as faced white with silver lace/metal; the “white” is an easy misapprehension for the actual pale buff of the 13th, but silver would be a definite error for the 13th’s gold.

The turnback problem may account for why the Fostens and Carl Franklin choose to show this from the front only.


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, ten pages: on sources, the Line Battalions, the 1st and 2nd Light Battalions, the early Light Dragoons, the 1st, 2nd and 3rd Hussars, the “Heavy” Dragoons and the later Light Dragoons. Artillery and Engineers to come in due course.

Links are just to your right, at the top of the side bar, under “Pages”, or use these:

page1: some sources

page 2: Line Battalions

page 3: 1st Light Battalion

page 4: 2nd Light Battalion

page 5: Light Dragoons 1803-7

page 6: 1st Hussars 1808-16

page 7: 2nd Hussars 1808-16

page 8: 3rd Hussars 1808-16

page 9: ‘Heavy’ Dragoons 1803-13

page 10: Light Dragoons 1813-16