The senior grenadier regiments were the elite infantry of the French Army. They had a fearsome reputation as soldiers. Grenadiers had once specialised in throwing grenades. This required tall, strong men, who were both brave and calm when throwing a live, unstable grenade. By 1815 grenadiers were the shock troops in all armies.
This grenadier wears the symbol of a grenade on his cartridge box, cap and coat turn backs. The fur cap and red epaulettes made the wearer look much taller and broader across the shoulders than they really were. Unofficially, they all wore gold ear rings.
Some images show them as white-haired, older men. This was because they powdered their hair. They were not old men. They were generally in their late 20’s and had to have an excellent war record in a line regiment before applying to join the Guard.
The Guard were under Napoleon’s direct control. No general could use the Guard without the Emperor’s permission and this he rarely gave. They were his final reserve.
Everything was better in the Guard. Soldiers had better food, medical facilities, pay, and pensions than the rest of the army. When a line regiment met a Guard regiment on the march the former had to stand to one side and salute. The rest of the army complained about their arrogance and privileges, calling them ‘The Immortals’. This had two meanings. On the one hand they were always well dressed and on duty – and on the other, the Emperor never seemed to use them in battle!
At Waterloo they marched towards the allied ridge through a tremendous barrage as though on parade. Later, they fought ferociously to cover the retreat of the rest of the army. They are the most famous bodyguard in history.
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This object is in the collection of Musée de l’Armée