French Heavy Cavalry Colours

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Description

Since 1740, each squadron counted only two standards. These standards were made of a thick silken fabric known as Gros de Tour. They were embroidered on their obverse and reverse, this practice gave them a longer longevity than the infantry colours which were made of a lighter fabric with painted rather than embroidered pattern. They were also much more expensive and took longer to make.

In the middle of the XVIIIth, standards measured approximately 50 to 55 cm, excluding the fringe which measured between 2 and 3 cm. There were not larger than the aprons fixed to the trumpets.

Since the regulation of 1684 “the lance measured 10 feet minus 1 inch including the finial and the butt”. Its shaped was designated as a “lance tournoi” with two bulges forming the handle. The wooden lance was usually painted to the colour of the field of the standard but could also be left unpainted. The upper part of the lance was reinforced by vertical iron bands. It also had a rail where a ring was affixed to carry the standard in a baldric.

The baldric was made of natural buff leather bordered with a golden or silver braid. In the case of gentlement regiments, this braid could also be of the colour of the livery of the mestre de camp and bordered with his own braid.



Royal regiments carried three distinct models of standards:

  1. a model with similar obverse and the reverse with a blue field carrying a golden royal sun surmounted by a scroll with the royal motto “NEC PLURIBUS IMPAR”, a golden fleur de lys embroidered in each corner, an embroidered gold and silver border and a gold and silver fringe. This model was carried by the regiments: Royal, Royal-Étranger, Royal-Roussillon, Royal-Allemand and Royal-Carabiniers.


  2. a model with a blue field with its obverse carrying a golden royal sun but without motto, and a golden fleur de lys embroidered in each corner; its reverse sown with fleurs de lys sans nombre (i.e. the fleurs de lys located near the edge could be truncated) with a gold and silver fringe. This model was carried by the regiments: du Roy, Cuirassiers du Roy, Royal-Cravate, Royal-Piémont and Royal-Pologne
.
  3. a model appearing only after the reform of December 1761 and the creation of 5 additional royal regiments: Royal Lorraine, Royal Picardie, Royal Champagne, Royal Navarre, Royal Normandie

.

A paper dated January 31 1762 mentions that each standard of this third type was different, particularly because of the t number of fleurs de lys surrounding the arms of each province:

  • Royal Lorraine carried the shiled of the province of Lorraine surmounted by the crown of France on an azure field sown with 10 golden fleurs de lys, 5 on each side of the shield
  • Royal Picardie carried the arms of the province of Picardie surmounted by the crown of France on an azure field sown with 20 golden fleurs de lys, 10 on each side of the arms
  • Royal Navarre carried the arms of the Kingdom of Navarre surmounted by the crown of France and surrounded by the collar of the Order on a plain azure field
  • Royal Normandie carried the arms of the province of Normandie surmounted by the crown of France on an azure field sown with 26 golden fleurs de lys, 13 on each side of the arms.

All other regiment had specific standards. The precise description of some of them has been preserved but for others only partial description are known. It is the regulation of February 1, 1689 who continued to define their main characteristics: “There will be from now on in each squadron of cavalry or dragoons two standards at the livery of the mestre de camp and to avoid confusion and to distinguish them from those of the enemy, it is ordered that standards where there are no fleur de lys, there will be a son on the right side and that the motto of the mestre de camp would be only on the reverse.”

The standard was carried by a cornet who ranked as officer.

Pennants were small flags serving to mark the camp or baggage of the various regiments during marches.


  • camp pennants are described in the instruction for the cavalry of 1755, they were used to align the tents of each company: art. VI “There will also be for each company two tagged white poles measuring seven feet high and having at the other end a pennant of the same colours as those assigned to each regiment.”

  • baggage pennants are also described by La Chesnaye in his dictionnary of 1759 ( T II p 199) “carried at the head of the baggage by an infantry or cavalry servant, it is made of serge at the colours of the livery of the brigadier or of the corps commander.” This description differs from the one made by Hérouville (F 7007 p 70) and from the one contained in the instruction for the cavalry dated June 22 1755 who specifies that the baggage pennant would measure one square foot and would be made of woollen fabric of the colours assigned to the regiment and would have the name of the regiment written on it.

References

Acknowledgements

Jean-Louis Vial of Nec Pluribus Impar for the initial version of this article