Empire Collections

Standard bearer light Horse Lanciers


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  • pewter standard bearer light horse lancier
Standard bearer light horse Lanciers

In 1807 Napoleon authorized the raising of a guard regiment of Polish light horse. They were to be given French instructors and training. But during their first review before the Emperor, their ranks became so entangled that Bonaparte quipped, "These people only know how to fight!" and dismissed their instructors on the spot. But he kept his Poles by his side and the following year at Somosierra  they would have another opportunity to prove themselves, on the battlefield instead of the parade ground. Napoleon ordered them to charge against a heavily fortified Spanish artillery position. Armed with only sabres and pistols, they overran four batteries, capturing over 20 cannons and decisively turned the tide. Following this, almost legendary, feat Napoleon proclaimed "Poles, You are worthy of my Old Guard I proclaim you my bravest cavalry!". Promoted to the Old Guard, they were then given lances, remained at the Emperor's side until Waterloo, and were never defeated by enemy cavalry.

The 1e Regiment of the Guard developed a rivalry with their fellow Poles of the 1e Vistula Uhlans of the regular Armee. This was not simply based on who was the better unit, but on deep political differences as well, with the Lancers fanatical Bonapartists, while many, if not most, of the Uhlans held fiercely Republican sentiments. Such differences, political and otherwise, between units were not unusual and are well illustrated here. From being instructed by the French, they, along with their Vistula rivals, would go on to serve as instructors and models for the French and most other lancer regiments of the Armée, thus greatly multiplying their fearsome effectiveness.

2e Regt (French-Dutch Lancers) Formed in 1810 from a French and Dutch cadre. They were called Les Lanciers Rouges (the Red Lancers) due to their distinctive uniforms. They too suffered heavily in Russia at the hands of the Cossacks and the hardships of the winter, with most of its men and all but a handful of the horses lost. The regiment was rebuilt in 1813 and it became a powerful unit with its first four squadrons of veterans in the Old Guard and the new recruits of 6 junior squadrons in the young. They would distinguish themselves in numerous engagements, including, finally, Waterloo.

3e regt (Polish) was formed in 1812 as part of the Young Guard. Its officers and NCOs were veterans, but its ranks were filled by enthusiastic yet inexperienced students and sons of Polish and Lithuanian landholders. With little training, they were thrown into the Russian campaign where they were surrounded and the entire regiment wiped out at Slonim, later that year by Cossacks and hussars.