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A distinctly imperial look.

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A distinctly imperial look.

Postby Josh&Historyland » January 12th, 2018, 5:00 pm

Jacqueline Reiter posted on Facebook that she wanted to know what a British General's uniform looked like circa 1820-25, if anyone knows do please let me know and I'll pass it on. But it also made me think about how French the British looked a mere 10 years after Waterloo, when already the 1812 reforms had put Wellington's nose out because it looked too French.

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Re: A distinctly imperial look.

Postby jf42 » January 13th, 2018, 3:48 pm

An interesting thought, Josh. We might say that the profile of the infantry, at least, was as much Prussian as it was French in terms of the flared shako that was adopted in 1816- (although the flared cap originated much earlier in the Danube borderlands, on the Military Frontier of the Austrian empire). Obviously the British uniforms were brighter than the dark blues and greys of the Prussian army. The cap that the so-called 'Regency' shako replaced, variously known as 'Belgic' or 'Waterloo' (but not at the time, as far as I know), was decidedly Portuguese in appearance; whether or not you subscribe to its Austrian origin. The bearskin cap of the First Regiment of Footguards, with their additional title of 'Grenadier,' was superficially French in inspiration, but entire regiments coiffed with bearskin caps, in the form of the 7th, 21st and 23rd Fusiliers, had been seen in Britain since the 1760s, although not regularly in the capital as was the case from 1816.

In the cavalry, the fashion for Polish-style uniforms in the newly converted Lancer regiments of Light Dragoons was undoubtedly borrowed from the French. Likewise, the Hungarian style of Hussar uniforms adopted during the war were probably more influenced by those of the French light cavalry than the Austrians, which were not as flamboyant. Heavy cavalry helmets with their extravagant crests and fur 'chenilles', were certainly remniscent of the Carabiniers of the Guard.

The question I find interesting is the question of how the style of the French army might have influenced the British, given that neither set of combattants saw each other at their best, on campaign or on the field of battle (if they coud see anything at all) and understandably their minds were likely to be on other things than the cut of their opponents' clothing. Military prints, I suppose, exaggerated and romanticised, could have found their way across the Channel.

We might expect that the display of uniforms among the allied armies in Paris, for example, were more likely to have produced a certain cross-fertilisation of fashion in the period following the defeat of Napoleon. The French army was dispersed and in tatters until the restored Bourbons organised an army in their service. Clearly there was some overlap with Napoleonic fashion, which was part of European fashion. The Bourbons were not going to turn the clock back to 1789.

I think we could say that the flamboyant aspects of the French style that emerged under Napoleon (although he himself dressed soberly most of the time) suited the flamboyance of the Prince Regent's court in England (Didn't they know there was a war on? ). And of course, we owed the unforgiving ligne impériale of women's clothes to France, although that did not outlast the Empire.
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Re: A distinctly imperial look.

Postby Josh&Historyland » January 14th, 2018, 5:12 pm

True, JF.
There is indeed a Prussian-ness around the silhouette, especially in the introduction of the double breasted coatee. I think the business of bearskins depends on when you look at it, prior to the Grenadier title being dropped on them, they of course wore those acorn shaped caps, seen in America, and before that the hairless mitre, but species of bearskin given to the Guards after Waterloo seems to me to be in terms of fashion most French in look.
The Cavalry, since 1812 had always been the most Francophile. Although every heavy cavalryman must have rejoiced to be issued a helmet... not so much the greys, the classical look of the new headgear was as you say distinctly French. However at least they were wearing red, the loss of the Tarleton was a curious one I always thought, and I think Wellington's biggest gripe was that the light Cavalry could only be distinguished as British by looking at the tails of the horses. When was it that the Cavalry were briefly uniformed all in red, and what of those breastplates that appeared on the lifeguards around this time but curiously never appear in the field?
Anyway, I agree a trend towards wider shoulders, tighter waists, long legs and much room for gilt and braid suited the modele. One can only assume whichever board it was that decided on the alterations must have studied the uniform plates of Prussia and France quite closely.

(The 1820's had a most interesting effect on the highland regiments, kilts shrank, as did hose as far as I can see, meanwhile bonnets rose and rose!)

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Re: A distinctly imperial look.

Postby jf42 » January 15th, 2018, 8:03 am

Josh&Historyland wrote:True, JF.
There is indeed a Prussian-ness around the silhouette, especially in the introduction of the double breasted coatee. I think the business of bearskins depends on when you look at it, prior to the Grenadier title being dropped on them, they of course wore those acorn shaped caps, seen in America, and before that the hairless mitre, but species of bearskin given to the Guards after Waterloo seems to me to be in terms of fashion most French in look.


That's an interesting point regarding the silhouette of the British bearskin, which had in fact changed its shape officially around 1800 and had been evolving from the 'acorn' shape during the 1780s and 90s, it would seem in emulation of the French bonnet a poil (see the Dayes prints circa 1791). Ironically, perhaps, the French grenadier cap had been done away with temporarily circa 1780 and the French had been among the last to adopt a grenadier cap of any description.

Josh&Historyland wrote: The Cavalry, since 1812 had always been the most Francophile. Although every heavy cavalryman must have rejoiced to be issued a helmet... not so much the greys, the classical look of the new headgear was as you say distinctly French. However at least they were wearing red, the loss of the Tarleton was a curious one I always thought, and I think Wellington's biggest gripe was that the light Cavalry could only be distinguished as British by looking at the tails of the horses.


Although the British 'heavies' were given a helmet with a crest in 1812, arguably it had as much in common with the leather 'helmet-cap' of 'Tarleton' form as it did with the Neo-classical 'Minerva' form seen among French cavalry, both heavy and light. Admittedly, the French cuirassier helmet had a similar 'cap' profile, i.e. a more horizontal 'peak', or 'visor' (nomenclature very tricky in this area), as did the pre-Revolution helmets worn by both dragoons and some infantry regiments. That said, crested neo-classical helmets, with and without peaks, had been worn by light dragoons and light infantry in the British army since the late 1750s. Austrian dragoons had been wearing a similar helmet to that of the British heavies, too, come to think of it.

Josh&Historyland wrote: When was it that the Cavalry were briefly uniformed all in red, and what of those breastplates that appeared on the lifeguards around this time but curiously never appear in the field?


Good point about the re-introduction of breast plates. I guess Russian and Austrian cuirassiers would have been seen in Paris, although I have a feeling they didn't wear the cuirass in the field either- did they?

It was the hyperactive King William IV who ordered that British light cavalry should exchange their blue jackets for scarlet in 1830.
By 1842, all but the 16th Lancers had reverted to blue.

Josh&Historyland wrote: Anyway, I agree a trend towards wider shoulders, tighter waists, long legs and much room for gilt and braid suited the modele. One can only assume whichever board it was that decided on the alterations must have studied the uniform plates of Prussia and France quite closely.


There is much research to be done on the decision-making process behind uniform changes in this and earlier periods, especially given the fatuous, if decorative, nature of some changes.

Josh&Historyland wrote:(The 1820's had a most interesting effect on the highland regiments, kilts shrank, as did hose as far as I can see, meanwhile bonnets rose and rose!)


:D I wonder if the rising hemlines seen in late Regency illustrations before the return of a more sober line seen in photographs from mid-century on, was the result of the Romantic view of Highlanders embraced in the era of King George IV's 'jaunt to Edinburgh and the publication of Stewart's 'Sketches of the Highlanders' (both in 1822), all under the influence of Walter Scott. The higher hemlines may have been presented as more authentic, more 'tribal'. That said, officers of Highland regiments, notoriously, wore the kilt as little as possible!

As for those gravity defying diced hose, I remain mystified.
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