Tuesday, May 29, 2012

His Serene Highness the Duke of Brunswick

Frederick William, Duke of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel 
by Johann Christian August Schwartz (1809)

The Duke of Brunswick cuts a somewhat eccentric figure. He ruled the Duchy of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel which was a patchwork of lands, much like most of Germany in the eighteenth century. His father, Charles William Ferdinand, a man of considerable military experience in the Prussian service, had raised the standard against the Republican government of France and missed a vital opportunity to crush in its cradle at Valmy.

Frederick William, the Duke pictured above, was one of Frances bitterest enemies during the Revolutionary and Napoleonic. After the battle of Jena, in which his father was killed, his home was made part of France and become part of the Kingdom of Westphalia. When the War of the Fifth Coalition broke out in 1809, he raised a corps of light troops (his father was acknowledged as an experienced leader of light infantry) in the Austrian service. He managed to liberate Brunswick briefly, but was forced to withdraw to England, where he and his men joined the British service.

Frederick William, Duke of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel 
by Art Minaturen & Krisztian

They did however unlike many foreign corps (i.e. the Chasseurs Britanniques) keep their own uniforms; all in black in mourning for their homeland. They also wore skulls on their hats, without being the baddies. They served,  despite a habit of desertion, creditably in the Peninsula, including at Salamanca, the Pyrenees and Orthez.

Much like Claude Rains in Casablanca*, the romantic in me is attracted to the Brunswickers. Though the corps was marred by its spotty record of desertion, which was mostly a result of recruiting of prisoners of war when they were in the field, there is something deeply personal about their struggle with the French. It reminds me of General Thomas Graham, who only took up arms against the Republic after their soldiers had broken open his wifes coffin and interfered with her.  

The Duke & a horses ass

Brunswick was liberated by the Prussians in 1813, but the Duke did not live to appreciate his return home for very long. When Bonaparte escaped from Elba, he took up the sword again and led a small division of troops to join the Anglo-Dutch army that was to face the French at Waterloo. Sadly, he was slain at Quatre Bras, being killed by a musket while leading a charge. 

Curiously enough, the title lives on in an unusual way - in The Duke of Brunswick vrs Hamer 1849. This is a ruling in the English Law courts (and which has been used for precedent in Ireland) that each instance of a libel constitutes a seperate offence and that a non-resident may sue for libel in Britain. There is reason to believe that this law may be overturned in the near future.

*A shiny sixpence says Stokes knows the line I'm talking about.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhon


  1. A fascinating post. I too have always had a soft spot for the Brunswickers. The uniforms are splendid (and easy to paint) with the litewka frock coats and falling shako plumes (although most 1/72 figures seem to be the later Waterloo uniform which is not so exciting).

    1. Well my Hinton Hunt Brunswickers are well supplied with plumes!

  2. Replies
    1. Tsk Tsk - show your work young swartz

  3. Those are some very serene whiskers in that portrait. I am envious.
    I didn't know that about why Brunswickers wore black uniforms. I thought it was because they all went to art college for night courses.

  4. "I've often speculated why you don't return to America. Did you abscond with the church funds? Run off with a senator's wife?I like to think you killed a man. It's the Romantic in me."
    The only of Renault's lines that comes to mind as applicable.

  5. Hi CK,

    Like many gamers 'of a certain age' I also had some units of Brunswickers in my collection of 1815 20mm Airfix Allied army. I carefully converted a selection of figures from the old Airfix Confederate infantry (wearing slouch hats)set and formed a unit of 20 strong. They performed admirably and usually rather better than the men of the 95th Rifles, whom I also fielded a unit of.

    Halcyon days, long gone but never forgotten.

    All the best,


    1. I've been meaning to invest in a unit of avant garde - which I presume your Rebs were. The hat ones aren't up to much though.

  6. ..."this could be the start of a beautiful friendship"???

    Nice looking figure - I always thought that if I ever went back to Napoleonic's, then the Brunswicker's would make a good order of battle to base a collection on...

  7. Love the Brunswickers, easy to paint too. Had a good read through, I've been struggling to get on with this new Blogging chrome thing. bah!
    Kind Regards,