Trophies Taken by the British from the Napoleonic Army during the War of Spanish Independence (Peninsular War) 1808 - 1814
Translated By Caroline Miley
Barrosa, Cadiz (15-3-1811)1
Crowned eagle of the 8th Line Infantry Regiment
The French 8th Regiment was surprised in line formation by a counter-attack of the 2nd battalion of the British 87th, starting a desperate bayonet fight. Lieutenant Edward Keogh of the 87th struck down the French eagle-bearer Gillemin2, and helped by Sergeant Patrick Masterson he seized the eagle, but it was recovered, beginning a bloody battle in the course of which seven officers, French sergeant majors and privates were killed successively in defence of their standard and the eighth, Lieutenant Gazan, riddled with blows and wounds, finally left the eagle in Masterson’s hands, the only unhurt combatant of the English group which had initially attacked. Raising his trophy, he shouted to his companions: "Bejabers, boys, I have the cuckoo! 3
This eagle, the first won by the English in the Peninsula, was presented in London on 18-5-18114 and was deposited in the Royal Chelsea Hospital (R.C.H.), until its disappearance on the 16th April 1852, when a daring thief broke in through the tile roof, broke its staff and took the eagle. Luckily a good drawing of it existed, made by Lieutenant Pym of the 2nd Battalion of the 87th, which enabled a replica of it to be made5. The original was an eagle of the 1804 Model, which had a sheaf of rays that the eagle held in its right claw, and with the special peculiarity of having around its neck a gold laurel wreath with a blue enamelled bow, which had been granted on 22-9-1808 by the town of Paris to those regiments which had fought at Austerlitz. As a reward for this trophy the 87th was authorized to embroider an eagle with a laurel wreath on their flags.
Foz de Arouce, Portugal (15-3-1811)
Eagle of the 39th Line Infantry Regiment
In the heat of the retreat Massena’s troops began to panic and the 39th Regiment tried to cross the Ceira River6, next to Foz de Arouce, by a ford in full flood. Some soldiers were drowned and the regimental eagle was lost in the river. The regiment’s best swimmers tried in vain to recover it, and later Wellington, who knew of the incident, promised a large reward to the Portuguese peasants, who searched for the eagle for weeks, finally discovering it on 15-67. On 6-10-18128 it was presented in London; it is kept at the R.C.H., and corresponds to the 1804 model.
Arroyomolinos, Cáceres (21-10-1811)
Flag of the 4th battalion, 40th Line Infantry Regiment
In this action the Anglo-Spanish troops managed to surprise and defeat the French under the command of General Girard. The report written by the Spanish General Girón to Castaños9, tells us of the taking of a flag: "a standard taken by the British troops, and those under my orders took the flag of the 4th battalion of regiment No. 40 of line infantry, that I have the honour to send to Y.E. The enemies have also lost an eagle, but it has not been possible up till now to find it". Of course the eagle mentioned, which may not really have been lost, never turned up, and as far as the flag goes, it is not clear whether it was taken by the English or the Spanish, although the fact that it was sent to Castaños, and that its taking is not mentioned in any English source, makes one think that it was probably taken by the Spanish.
Badajoz (7- 4 -1812)
In his report Wellington said:
But in his letter to the Secretary of State, Wellington reports that his adjutant, Captain Canning, took "....the garrison’s flag and those of the Hesse Darmstadt Regiment to lay them at the feet of H R the Prince Regent...."11. So he does not mention the flag of the Picurina fort - surely a tricoloured cloth sencilla flag - which must therefore never have left for England, unless Wellington forgot to mention it in his report.
The two flags of the Graf und Erbprinz infantry regiment of the Duchy of Hesse-Darmstadt were taken in the great assault on the city by Private George Hatton12 of the 4th infantry, after killing their bearers: one was the Colonel’s Colour, "Leibfahne", white with black and yellow rays, and the other the battalion flag, "Ordinärfahne", black with yellow rays, with the initials LXL (Ludwig X Landgraf) appearing in the angles. Both were presented to Wellington, who rewarded Hatton with some money and recommended him for promotion. The battalion flag was deposited in the R.C.H. at least until it was stolen, many years later, apparently by a Frenchman. The other was given to the King's Own Regimental Museum on 28 September 1947.
Arapiles, Salamanca (22-7-1812)
Two eagles and six flags13
The eagle of the 62nd was taken by Lieutenant Pearce of the 44th English, who appeared in front of its bearer at the moment when he was taking it off its staff to protect it under his coat. They got involved in a fight, in which they were joined by a 2nd eagle-bearer, a French soldier and three English of the 44th. The French soldier was going to drive his bayonet into the Lieutenant, when Private Finlay shot him in the head, saving the Lieutenant’s life and spraying the eagle with the soldier’s blood. The two French bearers also died straight away, one of them killed by Lieutenant Pearce, who snatched the eagle from the hands of one of the dead, then nailed their trophy to a sergeant’s pike, carrying it triumphantly throughout the remainder of the battle, presenting it to Wellington the following day14.
The eagle of the 22nd was found on the ground among a pile of dead by a Portuguese cazador, apparently of the 12th, according to the memoirs of John Douglas of the Royal Scots15. Despite this, some authors attribute its taking to Ensign Pratt of the 30th, who was outstanding in one of the Portuguese cazador regiments.
Both are kept at the R.C.H.; both correspond to the 1804 model, that of the 62nd lacking all the socle as well as the sheaf of rays16. Fraser mentions in addition the taking of the eagle of the 101st, but this is not mentioned in the English reports, it does not appear in the allegorical drawings of the period17, and it never arrived at London; in spite of this General d'Hautpoul, in his memoirs, says he saw it at Westminster in 1825; doubtless he is referring to the Chinese "Jingling Johnny", belonging to his band, which was taken by the 88th English.
Of the 6 flags, 4 were really the small flags used on their halberds by the escorts (eagle-bearers of the 2nd and 3rd) of the eagles already mentioned. There were two for each regiment, one white and the other red, kept at present in the R.C.H. – that is, only the two red ones, without their halberds or spontoons; that of the 22nd Regiment measures 19 x 56 cm, and has a small blue border and the motto NAPOLEÓN on the obverse and "22 Regt. DE LIGNE” on the reverse. That of the 62nd measures 27 x 50 cm, with a yellow border and the motto "NAPOLEÓN 62nd" on both sides.
The two remaining were real flags, but unfortunately we do not know their exact identification. We know only that both had spear points , and that one of them was of green cloth, and was taken by the first battalion of the 11th English infantry regiment18.
Possibly the two "ensigns", were those used by the French battalions which did not have flags, from the theoretical reduction of these to a single regiment.
One of these 6 flags, or small flags, was taken by J. Scott Lillie19, another by Lieutenant Francis Maguire of the 4th, and another (surely one of the 22nd’s spontoons) by the afore- mentioned Ensign Pratt, of the 30th.
These trophies arrived in London on Sunday 16th August, taken by Captain Lord Clinton, Wellington’s aide-de-camp:
and on the 30th September were deposited at Whitehall Chapel, and today at least the two eagles and 2 of the small flags are, as I have already said, at the R.C.H.
Bridge of Almaraz, Cáceres (18-5-1812)
Flag of the 1st Battalion of the Prussian Regiment, or 4th Foreign Regiment
According to Lieutenant General Hill’s report to Wellington (Truxillo 21-5-1812):
In fact it seems that the flag was recovered from the River Tagus, where the demoralized Prussians of the 4th Foreign who garrisoned the forts would have thrown it22.
It is of the French 1804 Model, with the inscription L'EMPEREUR DES FRANÇAIS/ AU RÉGIMENT/ PRUSSIEN on the obverse, and VALEUR/ ET DISCIPLINE/ 4e BATAILLON on the reverse. Instead of an eagle, the staff has a spearhead and the flag has a laurel wreath, without a central motif, in each of the corners. Those of the 2nd and 3rd battalions were lost at Aersingue in 1809. There is a small watercolour by Charles Hamilton Smith.
When the English were occupying the old royal palace of the Retiro, turned into a strong-point of the city of Madrid, they found 180 cannon and 20,000 guns stored there and in addition, as Wellington related in his report of the action: "... we have also found the eagles of the 13th and 51st regiments, which I send to England to be presented to H R the Prince Regent by my aide-de-camp Major Burgh". One was the eagle of the 13th Dragoon Regiment and the other of the 51st Line Infantry. Both were left there by their units, which were operating away in detachments against the guerrillas.
The eagle of the 51st was decapitated and badly damaged, whereas that of the 16th Dragoons of the 1804 model with its guidon was still in a good state of repair. Both were presented in London on 30-9-1812, and today they are kept at the R.C.H., the flag of the 16th having disappeared.
Maya, Navarrese (25-7-1813)
In 1814, an eagle of the 28th Line arrived in England, theoretically found on the ground in the pass of Maya. Displayed at Whitehall, it was lent by a high personage to an artist to do a drawing of it, but it was never returned. Due to the class of personages involved the matter was kept quiet23.
I will ignore how and when this eagle could have been taken, but it seems improbable that it was at Maya, because this battle was a French victory, and there is also an order from Soult almost a month later (26-8), in which he designates the 28th as the only regiment of his brigade authorized to continue taking its eagle into combat.
Flag of the 4th Battalion 100th Line Infantry Regiment
Thanks to a letter from Captain Albert of the French 100th Line24, we know that this flag was in fact "....an old fanion of the old 4th battalion, which was in the ambulance cart and thus fell into the hands of the enemy...". Sent, together with Marshal Jourdan’s baton, by means of Wellington’s Captain Adjutant, Mr. Fremantle, it was exhibited at a great banquet given at Vauxhall in London on the 20th July, and is today kept at Windsor. It measures 80 x 80 cm and has a central square, half white and half red, with N.I. in its centre, crowned below in blue and surrounded with gold painted branches of oak and laurel. As a border and on opposite sides there are two red stripes and two white, and a red casing with white braid. The reverse is the same, but with the name of the regiment.
In a solemn ceremony carried out in London on the 18th May 1811 to receive the eagle taken at Barrosa, other trophies taken previously were involved, among them two coming from Spain, but about which we lack all corresponding information: one was the flag of a fort, and another the tricolour of a provisional regiment.
Other Eagles Lost, but not Taken by the English
In 1808, as a consequence of the Convention of Cintra, the French left Portugal to return to France on board English ships. One was shipwrecked, losing both itself and the eagle of the 86th Line, which today still rests on the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean.
During the retreat from Portugal in May 1809, two French regiments lost their eagles: the 47th line buried that of its Third Battalion at Senafelle (Spain) by order of its Colonel Donadieu, and the 18th Dragoons made their 3 eagles disappear, one of which remained in the possession of an officer imprisoned in England until it was given by him to Marshal Davout in 1815.
It is said that on the 28 July 1813 the 32nd Line threw its eagle into a Pyrenean torrent so as to avoid its also being taken by the English, but this is impossible, since from April it was in the depot at Paris.
Perhaps someday some of these hidden eagles will reappear? Who knows? Only time will tell.
4. They accompanied other previous trophies: 5 eagles taken in the Antilles (3 of the 82nd, 2nd of the 26th and 66th); a flag taken in Egypt (21st Demi-Brigade, seized in Alexandria by private Antón Lutz of the Minorcan Regiment); 2 flags taken at Walcheren (2nd and 3rd Prussian Regiments); a flag of the 2nd Battalionn 5th Dutch Line, seized at Veere, Holland (1809); a flag of a Provisional Regiment and a flag of a fort taken in Spain.
8. Royal Gazette 12-11-1812: "Monday the 6 of October 1812 at the White House gave 5 eagles (Arapiles, Madrid and another found in a brook near Ciudad Rodrigo), 4 flags and another seized at Badajoz".
13. Wellington’s report says: "... we have taken 11 pieces of artillery, several ammunition carts, 2 eagles and 6 flags, 1 general, 3 colonels, 3 lieutenants colonels, 130 officers of lesser rank and 6 to 7,000 soldiers who have been taken prisoner......".
17. On the fan dedicated to Lord Wellington (Municipal Museum of Madrid) the eagles of the 22nd and the 62nd, as well as the 4 small flags of their escorts and 2 flags without detailing, can be seen perfectly.
18. Robinson, p. 430. P. Charrié attributes it to the 5th Bn of the Irish Legion, which at that time had already become the 3rd Foreign Regiment, but they did not fight at Arapiles, so this attribution is erroneous.
Placed on the Napoleon Series: February 2005