This Imperial eagle is one of the most iconic objects of the Napoleonic period. In 1804, the new Napoleonic Empire introduced a standardised flag for the French army.
Henceforth, however, the vital symbol, which became the rallying point and focus of the regiment’s honour, would not be the flag itself but the gilded bronze spread eagle, the Aigle Eployée, that sat atop the pole. In 1814, the restored Louis XVIII ordered all the existing eagles destroyed; a year later, the returned Napoleon ordered the issue of replacements.
The new 1815 eagles were produced hurriedly and on a budget, but if they were less aesthetically pleasing than those they had replaced, they signified a direct link with Napoleon’s past victories. The 45eme de la Ligne received its new eagle on June 10th 1815, and it was carried for the Waterloo campaign by Porte-Aigle Pierre Guillot. Born in 1771 in St Remy de Provence, Guillot was a veteran of the Peninsular War, and had been wounded three times before being taken prisoner in November 1813.
At Waterloo the 45eme formed part of Marshal Jean-Baptiste d’Erlon’s I Corps in its mass attack against Wellington’s centre-left. As such, they were on the receiving end of the counterattack launched by the British heavy cavalry and it was then that the eagle was lost, carried off in triumph by Sergeant Charles Ewart of the (Royal North British) Regiment of Dragoons – later known as the Scots Greys. In Ewart’s own account, he says that he took the eagle from its bearer after cutting him through the head.
However, not only did Pierre Guillot survive the battle but he was not even wounded. Was Ewart exaggerating, or had Guillot, perhaps impeded by his old wounds, handed the standard over to a comrade, who thus fell victim to Ewart’s heavy cavalry sword? Ewart’s account is also interesting in that he states that he was then attacked by a French lancer before he could get the eagle back to British lines, which suggests that it was taken not in the cavalry charge itself but in the confused fighting afterwards.
The eagle became a prize trophy, eventually being housed in Edinburgh Castle, where it remains. Ewart was acclaimed as a hero and commissioned as an ensign. He lived until the age of 77, serving as a fencing instructor after leaving the Army. Guillot was discharged from the French army in September 1815, after which nothing is known of him.
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This object is in the collection of Royal Scots Dragoon Guards Museum