09: ‘Heavy’ Dragoons 1803-13

Period information on the dress of the 1st and 2nd Dragoons, before their conversion in late 1813 to light dragoons, is surprisingly sparse, and some of the filling-in by later interpreters has to be open to question. Some basic aspects – e.g. facing colours and spacing of lace – appear confused.

Most sources mentioned below are detailed on page 1. Click to enlarge images.


Primary sources

A preserved corporal’s jacket at the Stadtmuseum, Hannover, provides invaluable evidence. The Beamish plate, captioned as the 1st Regiment in 1803, shows the familiar dragoon’s cocked hat and single breasted jacket; the figure in the Beamish Centrepiece is broadly similar. Beyond these, the only other period source I’ve found is a Langendijk painting of 1816 or before in the Royal Collection, showing a trumpeter attributed to the 2nd Hussars, but actually (as explained on pages 7 and 10) of the post-1813 Light Dragoons, with the original “heavy” dragoon jacket still in wear.

However, Bryan Fosten’s 1982 Osprey Wellington’s Heavy Cavalry claims that primary sources underlie some aspects of his three figures of KGL heavy dragoons, which may be so, but only to a degree.  His two officers are stated to be “from paintings of the uniforms of the 1st Regiment, executed by a former officer of the corps.” No details of this source are given, and I’d be grateful if anyone can enlighten me. These two officer figures are discussed below under “Officers”, while Fosten’s image of a private is discussed below under “Other ranks / Later versions”.

The Hannover jacket; Beamish plate; Beamish Centrepiece; Langendijk’s musician

Other ranks

As the primary visual evidence I’ve seen is for the men’s dress, it makes sense to look at that first.

The Beamish plate of the First shows a jacket with ten yellow loops, regularly spaced, the buttons at the centre. The collar has two loops on each side, possibly with the intention to show a button at the front end, but this is by no means clear. The red wings, but not the straps, are edged in a yellow braid, and seem to be fitted flat onto the shoulder, rather than projecting. A single braid forms three inverted chevrons on each cuff, the lowest fitting the cuff point, and also edges the turnbacks. Turnbacks and cuffs are clearly blue, though the collar appears black, which has to be an error.

The Centrepiece figure shows the loops in pairs, which is maybe the basis for the National Army Museum’s attribution of it to the 2nd Regiment. Again, the wings are fitted to the shoulders. The collar loops have no buttons, and the cuffs here show just two chevrons, clear of the cuff edge.

The Langendijk image shows the loops singly, with no buttons on the collar loops. Collar, turnbacks and – in this case – wings and straps are all blue, though the cuffs, annoyingly, are hidden. (The wings are heavily laced, as a musician’s distinction. The colour notes by Miller and Dawnay give the lace on this figure as gold, which, as a musician, may be so, or may be in error for yellow.)

The Hannover jacket is, of course, the real thing. Its ten front loops have buttons at the centre, but the collar loops have none. Both the straps (which are relatively broad) and the wings are red, and edged with braid; the outer edge of the wing is indeed sewn down over the shoulder, as suggested by the Beamish figures. The wings cannot therefore have concealed protective plates, as British dragoon wings are said to have done. The cuffs have two braid chevrons, one edging the cuff, one well above. The skirt detail is interesting: the jacket still has rear turnbacks (done away with in 1807 on British dragoon jackets, according to the usual sources) and sports pointed slash pockets with three buttons, supposedly absent on British dragoon jackets. Unusually, the side seams descend to a waist seam (usually a sign of a later period), and are not quite in line with the two rear buttons. The front turnbacks, rather than connecting smoothly with the lower front of the jacket, appear to drop at an angle from this waist seam.

The caption to the black and white photo of this jacket in Hofschröer’s Osprey title (the only source I have) maintains that collar, cuffs and turnbacks here are black, not blue, and attributes the jacket to the 2nd Regiment on that basis. However, as the loops are singly spaced as shown for the 1st Regiment in Beamish, and given that, with the passage of a century plus, the very dark shade of blue generally used in this period is not always distinguishable today from black, it seems quite possible to me that this jacket could be attributed to the First. The chevrons appear to be a metallic braid on a dark ground – presumably gold on dark blue or black.

This question of facing colours is a bit vexed. For what it’s worth, Beamish (Volume 1, page 81) does state that “the heavy cavalry were clothed like the British royal regiments of heavy dragoons,” “royal” maybe implying blue facings for both regiments. And it might seem improbable that the royal distinction of blue facings would be enjoyed by one of the dragoon regiments (as by the line infantry battalions) but not by the other, this being the King’s German Legion. However, Knötel (see “Later versions” below) gives the 2nd Regiment black facings. I don’t know his source for this, and given his unreliability, it might seem suspect, except that evidence in the Meyer ledger (see below) does indicate black velvet collars and cuffs for officers of that regiment. (If so, it’s likely that the men’s jackets were also trimmed with black velvet, that material being commonly used for all ranks of black faced regiments.)

There is, of course, no reason why the pattern of jacket should have remained unaltered for both regiments for a decade, but pulling all these strands together, our best generalised hypothesis might be that the men’s jacket was as that at Hannover, with dark blue facings and single loops for the 1st Regiment, and black facings and paired loops for the Second.

Having said all this, the evidence for the jacket indicates that the two regiments were not clothed exactly as British dragoons, and we need to pause here briefly to clarify the differences.

Carl Franklin’s survey (British Napoleonic Uniforms, 2010) and other sources show square or indented cuffs with buttons for both dragoon guards and dragoons previous to the new uniform of late 1811. In which case, why did the KGL dragoons adopt a pointed cuff without buttons? For British dragoons the shoulder strap with the red wing would be in the facing colour, and not red as here. Franklin dates the introduction of the “tommy” back and the loss of the rear turnbacks to around 1807, but the Hannover jacket has the older form of skirt. As already noted, its later style of waist seam and its slash pockets are far from typical, if not downright odd.

As for the headgear, the Beamish plate shows the hat with loop and cockade but with no chin scales; the Centrepiece shows the later version with the added chin scales worn up, across the back of the hat. The only sign that the regiments also adopted the caps worn in various forms by British dragoons during this period is a source apparently used by Bryan Fosten, discussed under “Officers” below.

Later versions

Knötel’s other ranks: variable reliability

Fosten and Chappell’s versions of men of the Second

As usual, reliability is a tad variable here.

Knötel’s version of the troopers of the two regiments appears in his Volume XIII. Oddly, the collars are edged in braid with a single loop, a detail I just don’t recognise in the evidence examined above. He keeps Beamish’s three cuff chevrons, but for some reason gives the 1st Regiment loops in pairs. (The front of his 2nd Regiment figure is turned away from our view.) Knötel gives the First a blue collar, cuffs and turnbacks and the Second black, as noted above.

Aerts simply copies Beamish. Von Pivka uses the Hannover jacket for his trooper of the First but shows the facings as blue, resulting, for once, in a portrayal that seems essentially correct. Fosten (Wellington’s Heavy Cavalry) states that his figure of a dragoon of the Second is based on Beamish, “Professor Knötel” and a watercolour (no dating given) by a German artist named Nettel that I’ve not been able to trace; however, this figure is taken directly from Knötel, as the odd collar details show, but with the addition of grey overalls with a yellow stripe. Mike Chappell uses the Hannover jacket as a pattern for his men of the Second, with black facings. He also gives them grey overalls with buttons and double yellow seam stripes, but on what evidence I don’t know.



Primary sources: Meyer

For the dress of officers, the only first hand evidence familiar to me is found in the Meyer ledger, though in less quantity than for some other regiments of the Legion. (Thanks to Meyer and Mortimer and Ben Townsend for images of pages.) Five officers of the First and seven of the Second, including two surgeons, had accounts with Meyer from 1809 to 1811.


There are orders for seven jackets for the First and two for the Second, with prices suggesting no significant difference of richness or style between the regiments. Unfortunately, facing colours are not mentioned (though, as already noted, entries for coats for medical staff indicate black for the Second – see below). All the jackets are of superfine scarlet cloth with eight or ten loops of gold “check” lace on the front, depending on the wearer’s height. In September 1809 the major and two captains of the Second each bought 13 yards of gold “regimental” lace, presumably enough to lace a jacket made up elsewhere. In two cases, both for Captain Reizenstein of the First, extra long loops are specified, involving an additional two yards or more of lace. I’m not sure whether this would have been the captain’s personal taste, or whether he was unusually broad in build.

All but one of these jackets was purchased with a pair of wings. No details are given, but the price is constant and the same for each regiment. At two guineas a pair, these are two shillings more than Meyer’s price at the time for the silver chain wings of the officers of the 1st Light Battalion, so gilt scale wings seem like the obvious guess.

These details do not provide a complete picture of the officer’s jacket, but they may be about the best we have. In particular, there are no clues here as to the form of cuff, for which the only period evidence appears to be the source that lies behind Bryan Fosten’s officer images, whatever it may be (see below).


Only two waistcoats appear in the ledger, one for each regiment. Both are of white cassimere, their low price suggesting no ornamentation.


Three pairs, or materials for same, are listed for the First and four pairs for the Second, including three for the surgeons of that regiment. All are of (dark) blue stocking, described as “fine” or as six or eight thread milled. Four pairs are ornamented with blue silk royal cord; one, for the surgeon of the Second, is more “richly” ornamented with blue silk French braid and figuring braid, and two pairs are plain.


Just one officer, a cornet of the First, is noted as buying two pairs in 1811. These are of superfine (dark) blue cloth with chains, one pair strapped with leather, presumably in black.


Three are listed, one for the First, and two for the Second. All are of (dark) blue, either in superfine cloth or milled drab, two with regimental buttons and the third, for a surgeon of the Second, with plain gilt buttons. One is noted as double breasted, two as having linen sleeve lining. One is described as “plain”, and the prices suggest that the other two were also without any cord or braid ornament.

Medical staff

Surgeon Taberger and Assistant Surgeon Seiler of the Second Dragoons both bought uniform coats and other items from Meyer in 1810, while Taberger also had an existing coat altered to match. The two new coats are priced the same, suggesting strongly that they were of the same pattern. The three coats are of superfine scarlet cloth, single breasted, with regimental buttons with twist holes on the front. Collar and cuffs are of black Manchester velvet with 5½ yards of gold “check” lace; since regulations for regimental surgeons prescribed an unlaced single breasted version of the regimental uniform but with collar and cuffs in the regimental facing colour, the collar and cuffs here must have followed the style of other officers. Turnbacks were of white cassimere and “rich gold” skirt ornaments were bought in by Meyer; these are at the same price as those for line battalion officers at the time, so would have almost certainly been the “KGL” lozenge ornaments as illustrated by Chappell and others. Surgeon Taberger’s coat had two “rich gold” epaulettes; Seiler did not buy an epaulette, but would have worn one, by regulation.

The use of black collars and cuffs here strongly suggests that this was indeed the facing colour of the Second – see comments above under “Other ranks”.  However, regulations for staff surgeons and assistants also prescribed unlaced single breasted coats with black velvet collar and cuffs – a slightly confusing coincidence. The use of coats with unlaced fronts, but with collars and cuffs both coloured and laced as for other officers, is consistent with surgeons’ dress elsewhere in the KGL, for which see the pages for line battalions, 1st Hussars and 3rd Hussars.

For a waistcoat, pantaloons and a greatcoat also worn by the surgeons of the Second, see under the headings for these items above.

Fosten’s officer of the First: from an unknown primary source?

Primary sources: the Fosten images

As already noted, Fosten’s 1982 Wellington’s Heavy Cavalry includes a plate with two officers, both said to be “from paintings of the uniforms of the 1st Regiment, executed by a former officer of the corps,” but with no further details. One of these two is an image of an officer of the Second and, as noted below, is apparently borrowed from elsewhere, but the other, an officer of the First, could well be based on an unidentified primary source as claimed. He wears a black cap with a silver garter star and a bag, apparently also black, with two gold tassels – a uniquely important feature if it is founded on primary evidence, making it all the more regrettable that the source is not identified. The facings are blue but the lace is shown paired, which I argue above to be problematic for the First. The cuffs are of the form shown in Beamish for other ranks, but with gold lace – again, a uniquely important detail if well founded. The pantaloons are dark blue; whatever our questions about the sources of Fosten’s two officers, their dark blue legwear does fit with the evidence in Meyer.

Later versions

I mention these not because they are trustworthy, but to suggest why they may not be.

Knötel’s officers: hardly trustworthy

Knötel’s plate showing three officers of the First in 1806 keeps the blue facings and paired loops of his other plate, and shows a hybrid version of the single breasted jacket with coat length skirts; I’m not aware that such a type of coat existed. The older style of double breasted coat was retained by some British dragoon officers for dress and court, and such a coat is also shown here (labelled oddly as Dienstanzug, service uniform), but I’m not aware of any specific source for this. Gilt scale or chain wings are shown on both of these coats, but they appear to have no straps. This plate raises several problems, and I can’t put much trust in it; Knötel’s talent seems to have lain partly in working up from slight evidence a totality of what could or should (in his opinion) have been worn.

Another persistent version appears in Herbert Knötel and John Elting’s postwar Napoleonic Uniforms – an officer of the Second with paired lace, black facings and dark blue overalls with buttons down the sides and black cuffs. Recognisable by the cased feather, this passes directly into von Pivka (1974), where a gold seam stripe is added to the buttons, and then to Bryan Fosten (1982), who seems to have positioned his figure’s legs to avoid committing himself on the overall seams. This is one of the images already noted as supposedly based by Fosten on paintings by an officer of the First, but I can’t trace it any further back than Knötel the Younger. Whatever his source may have been, at least the colour of the overalls matches the evidence of Meyer.

No other modern illustrators seem to have attempted an officer.

Herbert Knötel, von Pivka and Fosten: a persistent version, but with impersistent overalls


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 10: Light Dragoons 1813-16

page 11: Foot Artillery

page 12: Horse Artillery

page 13: Gunner Drivers

page 14: Engineers

page 15: Depot Company, Independent Garrison Company, Veteran Battalion


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