The Hussars of the Seven Years War 1756-1763
General Details of the Uniform and Equipment of the Hussars
by Jean-louis Vial
The origins of the hussars went back to17th century Hungarian mercenaries and deserters who came over to the French service. They were ranked amongst the French cavalry from 1692 (baron de Corneberg's hussars).
During the mid-18th century they were not yet the dashing hussars of Napoleon, whose charges were to be immortalised in the great battles of the Empire; rather they were regular light troops, very efficient in the 'petite guerre'. Their task was to reconnoitre the enemy, to worry him, to fall on his foragers and convoys and scatter or seize them. Frequently they were joined by 'free companies', raised according to wartime requirements. Despite their lack of discipline, the hussars proved indispensable to armies on campaign..
Right from the start they were distinguished by their 'eastern' dress, and the first regulation to establish their dress dates from 26th October 1744. There seems to have been some problems with reticence on the part of the unit commanders, thus the regulations of 1752 restated and defined precisely the hussars' dress and distinctive colours. It is remarkable that these first regulations gave the hussars uniforms very dull and uniform outfits, when compared the multicoloured dress worn at the end of the ancien régime or in Napoleonic times, the hussars uniforms in this respect evolving in the opposite direction to those of other corps, which tended to become more sober and functional.
In the regulations of 21 December 1762 the war ministry drew out the lessons of the Seven Years War, and in particular changed the basic colour of the uniform from sky blue to green. This colour seems to have been all the rage since the dragoons adopted also adopted it at the same time.
The Hussar according to the Regulations of 1752
of the hussar regiments'
The pelisse, the vest (i.e. dolman, JB) and the breeches are to be in the Hungarian style, of Lodève or Berry cloth one aune in width between the two selvages, dyed sky blue in accordance with the regulation of 26th October 1744. The pelisse is to be composed of one and a quarter aunes of the same cloth ornamented with one and a half dozen large fully round buttons of pewter for the middle row and three dozen small half-round ones for the side rows, in such fashion there be three rows only; of five and a half aunes of cord made up from white thread, six lignes in width, to serve as buttonholes, and of eight aunes of white-thread braid, six lignes in width, for bordering the cuffs as also the pockets.
The lining is to be of white sheepskin and bordered all around of a similar black sheepskin. The vest shall be shorter than the pelisse by seven inches, made of the same cloth, alike in quality and colour, ornamented with the same quality and quantity of buttons and cord as the pelisse and of seven aunes of the same white-thread braid, lined with strong canvas, the extremity of the sleeve shall be turned up to a depth of one inch in cloth of the colour assigned to each regiment.
The breeches are to be composed of three quarters (of an aune, JB) of cloth of the same quality and colour lined with a strong beige canvas in the Hungarian style.
The caps or shakos are to be of white felt in the manner prescribed, with the exception of those of the Berchiny regiment which will continue to wear them red, and shall be ornamented with the colours assigned to each regiment with a fleur de lis on the front of the cap.
BERCHINY : galon blanc, garniture bleu celeste
The sash shall be composed of corded wool in the length of eight feet, it shall be garance red, but the buttons of the said sash shall be of the colour assigned to each regiment to ornament its caps.
The sabretaches in all the regiments are to be of red cloth decorated with a fleur de lis and bordered with braid of the colour assigned to them for their saddlecloths. Those of the Berchiny regiment are to have a crown in addition.
The cloak is to be composed of three and a quarter aunes of royal blue Lodève cloth one aune in width, made and delivered reversible, including the cape of nineteen inches long and (mot qui manque) feet in breadth.
The saddlecloths are to be red and made up of one and a quarter aunes of Lodève or Berry cloth one aune wide, lined with canvas and edged with thread braid eighteen lignes wide (4cm) in the colour assigned to each regiment for the edge of its caps, having five fleurs de lis edged with a little thread in the same assigned colour. Those of the Berchiny regiment shall also have a crown above each fleur de lis.
ARMAMENT AND EQUIPMENT
A carbine and two pistols conforming in dimension and length to those prescribed by Article VI of the regulations of 28th May 1733.
The curved sabre to have a brass hilt with a simple cross-piece guard. The handgrip is to be covered with patterned boiled leather and on its back a brass plate. The stiff-backed blade to be thirty-five inches long and fourteen lines broad. The scabbard decorated below the hand-guard with a two-inch band of brass, after the Hungarian practice.
The Hungarian-style belt of red leather four feet long and fourteen lines wide with three iron rings and a buckle.
The bandoleer to be of red leather, five feet long and two inches wide.
The cartridge box for twenty rounds covered in red cowhide, worn from left to right.
All the regiments of hussars will continue to have Hungarian style harness as they have always had, and with all the necessary parts for this equipment.
The corporals and private hussars are to be in soft Hungarian boots of black leather.
THE OFFICERS' UNIFORMS
The pelisse, vest and breeches are to be in Elboeuf cloth or other make of like quality, sky blue and similar to those of the private hussars; the captains to have silver braid six lines wide, the lieutenants of five lines only.
The lining of the pelisse shall be of fox-fur, bordered in fur from the fox's throat, the vest to be lined in wool, and the buttons, both of the pelisse and of the vest to be of wood covered in silver.
The caps or schakos of the officers of hussar regiments are to be of white felt, with the exception of those of the Berchiny regiment, who will continue to have them of red, they shall all be bordered with braid à la mousquetaire, eighteen lines wide, and decorated with a silver fleur de lis.
The saddlecloths of the said officers shall be of a colour similar to those of the troopers, with a fleur de lis and bordered with silver braid eighteen lines wide for the captains and an inch wide for the lieutenants.
They are to have uniform sabres, the blade like those of the troopers, the brass hilt gilded and the scabbard of ('chagrin', ici une sorte de cuir?)
The officers' sabretaches will be of scarlet cloth in all regiments, bordered with silver lace of the same width as that on the caps, with a fleur de lis in the middle; those of the Berchiny regiment are to have a crown as well.
The clothing of the sergeants will be of sky blue Romorantin cloth, or other cloth of the same quality, ('de cinq quart de large' Celà, veut-il dire que 'le drap sera d'un aune et quart de large?') with silver braid four lines wide, the pelisse lined with black sheepskin and edged with fox-fur, the caps the same as those of the troopers and bordered with silver braid an inch wide, the saddlecloths of Romorantin cloth or similar quality, bordered with silver braid eight lines wide and otherwise the same as those of the troopers, likewise the sabres.
His Majesty expressly forbids all hussar officers from appearing at the head of their troops in cloaks or riding coats of any colour other than Royal blue or the uniform colour of their regiments.
His Majesty likewise forbids hussar officers to appear at the head of their troops in hats or caps other than the uniform ones of their regiments.
With regard to the horse of the kettle-drummer, the senior captain is to pay 200 livres when it has to be replaced, any surplus of cost to be born by the other captains.
The corporals and private hussars will be obliged to provide their own leather breeches, linen and (chevaux de ferrage: qu'est que c'est?) and to keep their weapons in good condition.
The Hussar of the Seven Years War
To these regulations of 1752 several modifications and clarifications must be added to the hussars' dress and equipment in the Seven Years War.
The white caps soon revealed themselves too easily dirtied and in July 1755 the caps became black, with the same regimental distinctions, the Bercheny hussars still keeping their red caps. The regulations of 1762 would replace the soft felt cap by a stiff shako.
In the special issue of 'The Sabretache' devoted to the hussars, M.D. Mac Carthy reported a letter from the comte de Bercheny, then Inspector-General of hussars, which allows us to clarify that the leather breeches referred to in the text of the regulation were in fact over-breeches: "when they (the breeches) start to wear out, a piece of leather is to be added, running from the belt to mid-thigh". It is this leather addition which is to be paid for by the corporals and troopers."
The pistols and carbine were of the 1733 cavalry pattern. The sabre was of the 1752 pattern, which was actually the first regulation sword to be carried by the hussars. Nevertheless, the armament remained somewhat motley and strongly influenced by Hungarian styles.
The harness was 'Hungarian-style', the bridle, chest strap and crupper being decorated with leather tassels.
The hussars possessed kettle-drummers, attached to the senior company. On campaign they did not follow their regiments but remained in the depot, so were not found on the battlefield (the regulations of 1762 did away with both kettle-drummers and guidons). The coats of the drummers and the uniforms of the trumpeters were in the colours of the regimental proprietors. Their dress was in the normal 'French' cut of the time rather than the hussar style, which lasted until the latter days of the 'ancien régime', when trumpeters dressed in Hungarian style appeared. The trumpeters and drummers wore normal cavalry breeches and boots. The harness of the drum horses was also in normal 'French' style.