Saturday, 28 December 2013

Sapeurs de la Garde

The uniform worn by the Sapeurs of the Grenadiers a Pied is supposedly well known, but from primary archival sources the uniform may not be what we expect to see...


The well-known heavily lace Habit de Grande Tenue is depicted only twice in contemporary iconography, in both instances associated with the Coronation of Napoleon I. The print-maker Hoffmann shows a Sapeur wearing the familiar habit with lavish gold lace to the collar; lapels and button holes; cuffs and cuff flaps and their button holes; turn backs and presumably the turnbacks, long pockets and their button holes.

 The artist David in his depiction of the Presentation of the Eagles (finished in 1808) shows a similar uniform.
Despite this, secondary and tertiary sources such as Commandant Boucquoy and Lucien Rousselot suggest that the heavily-laced uniform was only adopted in 1810 for the wedding of Napoleon I to Marie-Louise of Austria.

This lavish uniform is depicted by Noirmont et Marbot in 1848-1850 in their series of plates and during the Second Empire by Martinet and also by Bastin (1854) in his plates on the Imperial Guard of Napoleon I. From the poses of the figures in his plate, Bastin appears to have been working from the plates produced by Martient during the First Empire. Which of courses raises the question as to what he based his depiction of the Sapeur upon, as Martinet is only believed to have produced one plate of a Sapeur, which is caption "Sapeur [of the ex-] Guard" and presumably dates to c.1814. The same plate, with differing colouring also appears as "Sapeur des Grenadiers" with no indication of  regimental affiliation.

A plate (above) int he Royal Collection shows a "Pioneer" of the Imperial Guard with gold embroidered arm badges, gold and red bearskin cords and Sub-Officer's epaulettes - very plain indeed.

Regimental Accounts - Embroideries

On 1st January 1811 the Grenadiers purchased 34 "paires" of "Garnitures du Hache Croisse" embroidered in scarlet wool thread with a gold edging. Similar badges are clearly depicted in the guache by the artist of the "Otto Manuscript" c.1808 being worn on the Surtout by Sapeurs of the Grenadiers and by Hendschell Brothers on the Surtout worn by Sapeurs of the Chasseurs a Pied in Berlin c.1806 (published in 1810).

30 January 1811, M. Gilles of no.6 Rue de la Grande Traundere, Pairs,  supplied the Sapeurs of the 1st Regiment of Grenadiers with their required embroidery, the costs being as follows:  
Pair of Gold crossed axes for the full dress habit: 15 francs each
Pair of red crossed axes for the surtout: 8 francs each
4 gold crossed axes for the turnbacks (habit or Surtout):  6 francs each
Epaulettes  Sapeur: 19 francs each
Epauelettes Sergent Sapeur:  25 francs each
Cordon du Bonnet: 23 francs each

NB the arm-badges simply consist of cross axes - there is no reference to a flaming grenade or any other emblem associated with them (which contradicts the iconography presented by secondary sources, e.g. Bastin  who shows a flaming grenade above and below the cross axes, which is subsequently copied by Boucquoy).

Lace (Galon)

 Lace in four widths was also purchased

Habit du Petit Tenue
12mm lace: 29cm
22mm lace: 4.45m
Brandenburgs: 5m

Habit du Grande Tenue
12mm lace: 29cm
18mm lace: 1.48m (for the Caporal-Sapeur)
34mm lace: 6.23m
Brandenburgs: 5m

It becomes apparant that the chevron lace on the Undress (Petit Tenue) habit was narrower than on the Full Dress (Grande Tenue). There was also more lace on the latter garment.

The 12mm lace is sufficent to lace a collar of a Habit. Therefore in both instances the collar of the habit in Full and Undress had lace 12mm wide.

The 4.45metres of 22mm lace is sufficient to ornament the turnbacks and to create the "Taille" at the base of the spine.

There is sufficient lace to ornament the cuff facing but not to lace the long pockets. 

The Habit belonging to a Tambour-Maitre of Grenadiers in Moscow, probably captured in 1812 and dating after1809(as it has no blue triangle at the bottom of the tails) has lace c.18mm wide (the same thickness as the rank stripes) on the colllar, cuff facing, turnbacks, long pockets and forming three lozenges around the buttons at the base of the spine. Thr turnbacks are decorated with grenades embroidered in gold wire (not bullion) on a white patch. There is no lace on the lapels (revers).

For the Full Dress habit, 12mm lace decorated the collar: the 18mm lace for the Caporal-Sapeur may have been applied to either the cuff facing (there is sufficient) or around the collar with a second row of 12mm lace placed beneath it, in the same style as the Tambour-Maitre (Drummer-Corporal).

The 34mm lace is sufficient to ornament the turnbacks, to create the "Taille"with the extra 1.78metres being sufficient to ornament the edges of the simulated long pockets.


This, however, leaves the tricky issue of what is meant by "Brandenburg". The plate by Hoffmann clearly shows the button holes of the Sapeur and the Tambour being decorated with lace. A Tailor's Dictionary from 1805, under "Uniforme Militiare" lists a Brandenburg as being a "species of galon which terminates with a drawn-thread fringe".  The plate of a Tambour des Greandiers by Hoffmann clearly shows this: lace c.34mm wide on each of the button holes of the lapel terminating in a fringe.

The only surviving drummer's uniform for the Grenadiers a Pied, however, that of a Tambour-Maitre, has plain gold lace (Galons a Batons) with the button hole loops on the lapels being formed by  12mm lace being laid on to form a point:

It is interesting to note that the drawn-thread fringe does not appear at the "point" but rather at the button hole itself. The lapel is also edged with gold lace, but there was not sufficient lace purchased for the Sapeurs for this extra decoration. Ironically, Knotel shows the lapel edge being laced but no brandenburgs for a Sapeur of the 1st Grenadiers c.1810!

The habit reputed to belong to a Tambour of Chasseurs a Pied in the Brunon Collection (Salon de Provence) has  chevron lace to the collar and cuffs (that on the collar appears to be slightly thicker than the cuffs); the lapels are devoid of any lace and the turn backs are laced.

The Habit belonging to a Tambour-Maitre in Moscow has no brandenburgs at all.

So, what form do the "Brandenburgs" take for a Sapeur in 1811? With an average length of 80mm, the lace on the lapels would require 160cm of lace (say 2 metres); the simulated long pockets (average length 12cm) would need some 72cm of lace. Potentially the three buttons below the right hand lapel were also laced (unlikely). Therefore 5m would lace the coat several times over.

If the brandenburgs were formed as on the Habit for the Tambour Major, then the amount of lace needed would effectively double: around four metres for the lapels and around one metre for the long pockets. It is also possible that the lace on the long pockets  - working from examples of uniforms belonging to the Garde Royale)  - was over a wider thickness than that on the lapels.

This still leaves the issue,  however, of the lace of lace around the edge of the lapels in Full or Undress.


From the Regimental Accouts it is likely that the Undress Habit of a Sapeur of the Grenadiers a Pied had 12mm lace on the collar; 22mm wide lace decorated the turnbacks and formed the "Taille" at the rear and that the button holes on the lapels  were ornamented with lace.

 On the Fulldress Habit, the collar had 12mm wide lace and there was lace 34mm wide decorating the turn backs, "Taille" and edges of the long pockets. The button holes on the lapels were ornamented in a similar manner to the Undress Habit.

 There was no lace on the cuff facing, cuff flap, around the edge of the lapel or along the seams of the sleaves.

In Full Dress the Sapeur-Caporal had additional lace on the collar and/or had lace on the cuff facing.

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