French Napoleonic Polish Lance Cap.
A very rare early 19th century French Napoleonic Polish Lance Cap, the skull of black leather with a tooled leather peak with silver plated brass edging, the mortar top of faded crimson felt with typical fluted design on each of the four sides, the single piece helmet plate formed as a sunburst with a Crowned N with stippled background in the centre, above the helmet plate a typical silk cockade/ rosette surmounted by a silk Maltese cross, the chin scale bosses formed as brass lions heads on four sided silvered back plates.
The Chevau Legers Polonais de la Garde Imperiale were created by Napoleon on his entry into Warsaw in 1807. He was escorted by a honour guard composed of Polish noblemen whose bearing and loyalty so impressed him that he ordered the formation of a regiment of Polish light horse and attached them to his Imperial Guard. Upon its creation the regiment comprised of four squadrons and a headquarters staff, which totalled 968 men. Candidates for the regiment were required to be landowners or the sons of landowners between the ages of 18 and 40 and were to furnish their own horse, uniform, equipment, and harness to a set pattern.
The regiment was quartered at the Chateau of Chantilly near Paris, but for most of its existence it was on active service in Spain and Europe. It was during its service in Spain in 1808 that the regiment was officially taken into the Old Guard after it’s heroic charge at Somosierra. Here the 3rd squadron attached to the Emperor’s duty squadron was ordered to charge up the Somosierra Pass where four Spanish batteries had been entrenched and supported by Spanish Infantry in the hills above. The Poles, without a second thought, charged up the pass taking fifteen cannons and captured the batteries, at the cost of more than half the squadron killed and wounded.
‘It does not matter,’ I exclaimed; ‘the Emperor is there and he insists on the thing being settled. Come, Commandant, the hour will be ours, advance by squads, and forward!’ … I had hardly had time to draw my sword from my scabbard, before they had begun their charge in a column… We charged at full speed, I was about ten paces in front with my head bent down, uttering our war cry…..’
So wrote de Segur of the Polish Lancers at Somosierra.
The Lancers Barracks in Warsaw
Following the battle of Wagram in 1809 and shortly before sections of the regiment entered Spain for the second time, the Poles were issued with the lance; their national weapon, which they used with such devastating effect against their enemies. Consequently, the regiment was renamed the Regiment de Chaveau – Leger Lanciers Polonais de la Garde Imperiale.
On 13 September 1810, Napoleon began the process of incorporating the Royal Dutch into the French Imperial Guard, and so impressed by the record of the Polish Lancers, that a second Lancer regiment was raised for the Guard. The 2e Chevauleger-lanciers de la garde (hollandaise), rose from the status of Middle Guard in 1811 to the having its first five squadrons designated as Old Guard in 1813. The promotion to the status of Old Guard put the Dutch lancers on the pinnacle of the pecking order of the French army. How much more prestige could a unit be granted? The support of Holland was important to France for several reasons and by making Dutchmen members of his personal guard Napoleon sought to show the Dutch that they were highly regarded members of French society, thus both Napoleon.s lancer regiments were formed for political reasons.
In 1812, a fifth squadron was formed and the regiment now totalled 1,500 men upon its entry into Russia. The regiment served with distinction during this campaign being engaged at Smolensk and at the battle of the Moscova (Borodino). During the retreat, the Poles once again distinguished themselves when, in the early hours of 25 October, near the small village of Horodina, the Emperor and his headquarters staff were attacked by cossacks. Part of the Honour Guard that day was formed from the 1st Squadron of the Regiment, under the command of Chef. Esq. Kozielulski. The cossacks were counter-charged in the near darkness by Lieutenant Joachim Hempel together with the Chausseurs-à-Cheval of the Guard. During the struggle Kozielulski, in personal defence of the Emperor, was pierced in the upper left arm by a cossack pike. For his service to the Emperor, Kozielulski was soon promoted to Major.
During the retreat the 1st Polish Guard Lancers wisely had their horses rough shod and managed to save two hundred horses out of a thoU.S.A. nd. The Dutch 2nd Regiment was only able to save a few officers’ mounts.
After the Russian Campaign, remnants from the 3rd Guard Lancers were incorporated into the 1st Regiment, and together with other replacements, allowed the unit’s strength to increase to seven squadrons by July 1813. In December of that year, following the disaster of Leipzig, the regiment was reduced once more to four squadrons.
With the abdication of the Emperor in the Spring of 1814, a single squadron of 150 men under Lt. Col. Jerzmanowski accompanied the Emperor to Elba with only 22 men being mounted. When Napoleon returned to France for the 100 Days campaign, the lancers marched with him carrying their saddles on their backs. The regiment could not be reformed, as what existed of it in 1814 had been disbanded and returned to Poland. However, the Poles were able to form a squadron which was incorporated into the 2nd Dutch Lancers as the senior squadron in its own right. This squadron fought bravely during Ney’s great cavalry attacks on the British centre at Waterloo. The Poles were recorded to have been one of the only French cavalry units to have charged in full dress uniform.
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