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Bearskin hats of the Grenadier Guards

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1286467.  Sun Jun 10, 2018 1:39 pm Reply with quote

Oh dear, oh dear. Looking to confirm a bon mot, I came upon your page on the Duke of Wellington and this gem: The famous bearskin hats of the Grenadier Guards were introduced to Britain after Wellington saw the French wearing them at Waterloo..

To use a technical term, that is best described as balderdash (See: 'piffle').

Bearskin grenadier caps first appeared in the British army in the 1740s, worn by the grenadier company of the 42nd Highland regiment, better known as The Black Watch. The fashion may have been 'borrowed' from the Austrians. They were then authorised for the grenadier companies of all infantry regiments in 1768, while the three regiments of Fusiliers adopted slightly lower caps for all ranks. It seems the expensive and impractical fur caps were rarely worn in the field and were kept for ceremonial use. However, Napoleon's Garde Imperiale did wear their bearskin caps ('oursons) in battle, and in 1815, for their role in defeating the the 'Old Guard' at Waterloo, the First Regiment of Footguards were granted the title 'Grenadier' and all ranks were authorised to wear the bearskin cap, with the other two Foot Guards regiments following suit circa 1830 (Bearskin caps for Line infantry grenadiers and Fusiliers were done away with in 1842).

So, nothing to do with Wellington, who wasn't much interested in uniforms, except to ask that his soldiers should not be given the same headgear as the enemy, since this caused confusion, and once nearly got him captured.

Over and out.

1286554.  Mon Jun 11, 2018 10:54 am Reply with quote

Oooh nice quibble! Sources please? Welcome to the forums :-)

1287526.  Thu Jun 21, 2018 6:53 am Reply with quote

Stand Ready:

Morier paintings, Royal collection
Figure of grenadier of 42nd Highlander Regt wearing bearskin. c 1751 or earlier

There are also French reports from 1749 of Scottish soldiers 'without breeches' with 'caps ornamented with skin' (The Red Hackle, Regt. Journal, Oct. 1932). This is taken to be a reference to bearskin grenadier caps.

A handful of other regiments adopted the fashion and then in December 1768 appeared

Royal Clothing Warrant, 1768

"The caps of the Grenadiers to be of black bear-skin. On the front, the King's crest, fof silver plated metal, on a black ground with the motto 'Nec aspera terrent.' A grenade onthe back part, with the number of the Regiment, (etc.)"

Drummers, Fifers were also authorised 'black bearskin caps.' "The regiments of fuzileers'" were also to have "black bear-skin caps. They are to be made in the same manner as those which are ordered for the Grenadiers, but not so high..."

The 'bear-skin cap' thereafter was the regulation headgear for grenadiers, drummers and fifers of Line regiments, together with all ranks of the three Fusilier Regiments, not forgetting the 2nd Regt of Dragoons, 'The Royal Scots Greys'; a unique distinction in the cavalry.

Then, following the defeat of Napoleon at Waterloo, it was announced in the London Gazette of 29th July 1815: 'His Royal Highness has also been pleased to approve of the First Regiment of Foot Guards being made a Regiment of Grenadiers and styled The First or Grenadier Regiment of Foot Guards in commemoration of their having defeated the Grenadiers of the French Imperial Guards on this memorable occasion.'

It is now commonly recognised that no Grenadiers of the Garde Imperiale were in the final attack on the allied line,. They were battalions from another branch of that corps, the Chasseurs of the Garde who also wore bearskin caps to denote their elite status; in the smoke and chaos of battle a distinction easily missed.

This distinction resulted in all ranks of the First Foot Guards regiment adopting the bearskin cap, which was not worn in battle until the Crimean war 40 years later and then never again.

Last edited by artymcclench on Sat Jul 07, 2018 7:26 am; edited 1 time in total

1287536.  Thu Jun 21, 2018 9:04 am Reply with quote

Good sources - thank you. Please do join in some of the threads on the other forums. Quite Interestrings is a good place for interesting factoids.


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