Sunday, 30 April 2017

Talavera and French Eagles

So one club night just a few weeks before this year's Talavera refight one of the members gave me a 28mm French Eagle standard that he didn't need. This got me thinking if there was a way to use this with my British forces for the Battle.

So we all know that a certain Richard Sharpe captures a French eagle at Talavera, but back in the real world the first eagle captured by a Brit in the Peninsular was taken by the 87th Regiment of Foot from the French 8th Line at the Battle of Barrosa on 5 March 1811, almost two years too late.

Some further digging on the interweb turned up some other information that I had not seen before, apologies I can't remember from where, which gave me scope to produce a British line infantryman clutching an eagle to use in our battle.

So here he is, and the information I dug up.

Talavera (Very nearly Two Eagles and several fanions)

At the battle of Talavera on July 27th-28th 1809 the honour of capturing the first
French Eagles in the Peninsular war very nearly went to the 29th Worcestershire
Regiment and perhaps they did, who knows? The 29th recorded by Wellington as
“The best regiment in the army” took part in the repulse of Ruffin’s French division at
the critical point in the battle. Advancing to the front alongside the 48th
Gloucestershires to plug a gap in the line, the 29th charged, routing the French 24th Regiment and capturing their eagle standard, and wheeled into the flank of the
French 96th Regiment, whom the Gloucestershire boys had just put to the rout. The
official dispatch states that both eagle standards were captured by the 29th, but that
one was destroyed in the melee and the other, when found, was missing the eagle
from the top; it having been unscrewed (a method which the French employed in
time of peril) and possibly spirited away. There is conjecture over whether this eagle
was, in fact, taken, but all that is known is that the surviving eagle standard was
presented to Wellington (Sir Arthur Wellesley as he still was then) and he returned it
to the regiment, since when its whereabouts are unknown. Perhaps it, or even the
eagle which surmounted it, will reappear one day.

The Initial report from the battle told of "five colours or eagles" being captured at Talavera: The two already mentioned and three more by the King’s German Legion.
Certainly these were not eagles or perhaps even colours, which provides a mystery.
However we have the words of Marshal Jourdan who confirmed in his writings at the
time that the “Pretended flags or standards that Wellesley glories in having taken or
destroyed. They are nothing more than small flags (fanions) placed at the right and left of
each battalion to keep the ranks aligned and that are thrown away by those who carry them when they have to use their weapons.” The whereabouts of these remain unknown.

1 comment:

  1. Jourdan may well be correct. Some "marker flags" were inserted into the muzzles of muskets, and would clearly have been an impediment to firing !