By: Markus Stein based on the original article byJean-Claude Colrat
Translator: Justin Howard
This article previously appeared in Issue 1 of the German-language magazine Depesche, which is published by our partner, Napoleon Online. We appreciate the kindness of the editor, Markus Stein, for giving us permission to publish the translation. It is based on an article in the French-language magazine Le Briquet.
Author’s Note: I would like here to publish an article from our French friends’ collectors’ magazine Le Briquet Issue 3/1984. This deals in great detail with the czapka in the French army, which constitutes a mixture of the traditional Polish headgear and the French shako and therefore serves as a reminder of the origin of the Chevau-léger Lancers of the Grande Armée.
When Napoleon I marches into Warsaw in December 1806 as “Liberator of the Polish People”, several Polish nobles assemble to serve as his bodyguard, or rather guard of honour. Inspired by this “Noble Guard”, Napoleon orders a unit of Polish cavalry to be raised, which is soon incorporated into the Imperial Guard as the 1st Chevau-léger Regiment. As already mentioned, its nationality is indicated by the headgear, namely the czapka.
When the Dutch army of King Louis Bonaparte is disbanded and the former Guard hussars are integrated into the French army, they also adopt the czapka, although there is nothing typically Dutch about it.
And in 1811, when the first six lancer regiments have to put up with the crested helmet as sign of their French origin, the last three – Polish – regiments receive the czapka.
Although the czapka couldn’t compete with the helmet in terms of stability or durability, it was still preferred due to its imposing appearance.
Description of the common model
The czapka has two main components: the upper and the lower parts, whereby according to the regulation of 1812, the total height of both together adds up to 22 cm. The lower part (B) is made from a single 7 cm wide band of blackened cow leather. The upper part, which lends the headgear its typical appearance, is set on top of this.
This upper part is made from card, held together at the sides by means of connecting rods and completely covered with cloth. This cloth is sewn at the edges using a straight stitch. The top of the upper part is flattened and forms a square, which according to the regulation of 1812 should have a length per side of 24.5 cm. Piping (C) decorates both diagonals of the top as well as the edges of the top and the upper part.
“Petal studs” (D) are used for stability at all four of the top corners, with the stud on the right side having a hook to hold the chin strap.
The joint of both parts is hidden by lace (E), which according to the regulation of 1812 should be 3.5 cm wide.
On both sides, in the middle of the lower part, there is a holder for the chin strap (F), which generally took the form of a stylised lion head boss.
The chin strap, or rather the chin chain, (G) consisting of 32 rings (giving a total length of 40 cm), is lined with cloth and fixed on the left side, and can be fastened to either the hook on the right side (the so-called use position) or the hook on the top of the upper part (the so called raised position).
At the front of the lower part, there is a fixed peak (H), which is made of black leather, though the underside is coloured green. The angled peak measures 7 cm at its widest point, and has a metal rim.
Above the peak, there is a plate (I), which reaches to the middle of the upper part. This plate depicts a brass sun with a white metal centre, which is decorated with a brass emblem.
On the left front side of the upper part, there is a tricolour cockade (J), which also covers the loop which holds the plume (K) or pompom for parades.
In addition, the czapka is equipped with a cord (L), which ends in a flounder with tassels. This cord is doubled, knotted at the base of the plume, wrapped twice around the upper part and by forming a sling is fixed again at the base of the plume, so that the flounder hangs down on the left side (M).
On campaign, the czapka is covered by a waxed cloth cover with neck flap.
1st Chevau-léger Regiment of the Guard
The upper part of the other ranks’ czapka is covered with crimson red cloth and decorated with white piping. Plume (height: 47 cm) and cord are also white. The first examples, manufactured in Poland, have brass fittings. From 1808, however, all czapkas were manufactured at Chardon in France and the following fittings were silver-plated: studs on the top of the upper part, peak rim, chin chain and its bosses. The bosses are each decorated with a lion’s head. The tricolour cockade is partly covered by a silver-plated Maltese cross. Only the sunburst plate is brass, though its centre is silver-plated and depicts a stamped crowned “N” in brass.
The troops of this regiment carried the flounders of the cord “long”, the cords being passed under the chin strap.
When the regiment was initially raised, the trumpeters wore the same czapka as the other ranks, except that the cord was 1/3 with silver interwoven. In 1810, probably to mark the marriage of Napoleon and Marie-Louise, a new model was issued. Here the upper part is covered with white cloth, the piping is crimson and the lace is silver. The cord is interwoven with crimson. This model was supposed to be introduced together with the new white kurtka – the lancers’ coat - , was however worn with all trumpeters’ uniforms.
The upper part of the officers’ czapkas are covered with crimson cloth or with crimson ribbed velvet, for the higher-ranking officers this is even sewn with silver thread. All models have silver piping.
The edges of the upper part are protected by polished silver studs, the stud at the front being decorated with a lion’s head and a ring. The plate is gold and silver. The fixings of the chin chain match those of the other ranks, except that they are silver. The peak rim is either plain or decorated with intertwined lines. The white of the other ranks’ cockade is replaced by silver for the officers. The junction of the upper and lower parts is covered by 55 mm wide silver lace for the lower-ranking officers. For the higher-ranking officers, this is achieved by means of a 55 to 65 mm wide crimson cloth band, which is edged with silver and has silver embroidered laurel and oak leaves. The plume is made from white cockerel’s feathers. The Colonel’s czapka has an egret plume over a tuft of red feathers. The cord is silver. The cover for the officers is a slightly transparent oilcloth.
2nd Chevau-léger Regiment of the Guard
The other ranks’ czapka is identical to that of their comrades from the 1st Regiment, although the colours crimson and white are replaced by scarlet and jonquille (a bright lemon yellow). Originally, the bosses for the chin chain were decorated with a gargoyle head, and in addition the flounders of the cord were shorter.
For the Young Guard squadrons, the sunburst plate is replaced by a simple brass plate with cut-out “N”.
The trumpeters wear a czapka with white upper part and scarlet piping. In addition the czapka is decorated by a scarlet/gold cord and a white plume with red tip (see also the article by M. Baptiste, which appeared in Issue 1 of Depesche).
The officers’ czapka is also scarlet, but here the piping is gold and with gold decorative lace for all officer ranks. Except for the centre of the plate, which is silver-plated, all metal parts are gilt. The plume of the lower-ranking officers is made from white vulture feathers, that of the higher-ranking officers is from egret feathers.
The Line Chevau-léger Regiments
The 7th, 8th and 9th regiments had the czapka as headgear, the upper part being covered with a cloth of imperial blue and decorated with piping and lace in the facing colours. These are jonquille for the 7th and 8th and chamois (pale yellow) for the 9th regiment. For all three, the cord is white. The plate is a copper sunburst with stamped crossed lances. The peak rim is copper, as are the chin chains. Pompom in the squadron colour.
This headgear is an evolved form of the czapka and was worn with the undress uniform by Chevau-léger officers as well as sometimes by light cavalry officers.
It is a simple, tight-fitting cap with square top. The upper part consists of smooth cloth and, as for the czapka, has piping. The lower part could also be made of cloth, but was mostly fur – often lamb skin – bordered by lace or embroidery. The cap does not have a peak.
Description of the Plate
1 – Field uniform with beige-coloured linen cover
2 – Czapka of the 7th Chevau-léger lancers: imperial blue with jonquille-coloured (bright lemon yellow) piping and lace, metal parts are copper; green pompom (collar jonquille)
3 – Field uniform with black waxed linen cover
4 – Czapka of the 2nd Chevau-léger of the Guard: scarlet with jonquille-coloured piping lace and cord; metal parts are copper
5 – ditto, except here for the Young Guard, the plate being replaced by a simple “N”
6 – Officer in field uniform with a slightly transparent oil cloth cover, so that the colour of the czapka can faintly be seen
7 – 1st Chevau-léger of the Guard: crimson with white piping, lace, cord and plume and silver-plated metal parts (except for the sunburst and the crowned “N” of the plate)
8 – Officer of the 1st Chevau-léger of the Guard: as number 7
9 – Kettle-drummer of the 1st Chevau-léger of the Guard: lower part from black fur; crimson upper part with gold lace, gold cord, short white plume and white, red and sky-blue ostrich feathers.
10 – Confederatka of a hussar officer: lower part from pale yellow fur; sky-blue upper part; white lace
11 – Using the chin chain to hold the cord, 1st Chevau-léger of the Guard
Collections of the Musée de l’Armée, Paris.
Fallou La Garde Imperiale
Malibran Guide à l’usage des costumiers
Rousselot L’armée française
Placed on the Napoleon Series: May 2010