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The Regency Wardrobe collection - research & making - The Rise and Fall of Empire

Military styling is certainly a consistent, important and exciting attribute of female fashion during the Napoleonic wars. So I'd already begun looking into it during my research, particularly as regards jacket styles. Please see my posts about the Pelisse and the Spencer.

This had lead me onto researching the uniforms of the Hussars, finding a military link between the 11th Light Dragoons (the name of the 11th Hussars prior to 1840) and a military barracks that once stood close to where I was primarily working and researching, in Brighton & Hove, known as Preston Barracks

For more information on Preston Barracks please see:


So when it came time to think about the two male military uniforms I knew I wanted to create for The Regency Wardrobe I thought I'd be drawing on inspiration from some of the stunning decoration on jackets worn by Hussars.

To read how I conducted my initial research into the Hussars and into military uniforms more generally at The Army Museum in London please see my post:

This research lead me to consider medals given out as honours, influenced the design of the ball gown I planned and introduced the Sussex Regiment to me. For more about my research into medals, honours and military badges please see:

Working in Sussex I decided next that I'd surely go down the route of making a red, British jacket inspired by The Royal Sussex Regiment therefore.

I read on Wikipedia that the Royal Sussex Regiment were formed later than my Regency era research allowed: “...a line infantry regiment of the British Army that was in existence from 1881 to 1966." But then I found this site which, with name changes involved in the interim, dated their lineage to 1701:

And further explanatory text tells us:

"The Regiment was officially formed in 1881 as part of the Childers Reforms when The 35th and 107th Regiment of Foot were amalgamated. However the Regiment can trace its history back to over a hundred years earlier. The 35th Regiment was first raised in Belfast by Arthur Chichester (3rd Earl of Donegall) in 1701...As was the tradition until 1750 the Regiment was named after its Colonel, originally ‘The Earl of Donegal's Regiment of Foot’. After 1750 the Regimental naming system was simplified and all Regiments were assigned a ranked number and became the 35th Regiment of Foot. The Regiment went on to serve during the War of the Spanish Succession (1701–1714)...the French and Indian War (1754–1763)...the Battle of Quebec (1759)... In 1782 county titles were added to infantry Regiments in order to aid recruiting from that region and the Regiment became the 35th (Dorsetshire) Regiment. It was not until 1804 that the Regiment became associated with Sussex, after Charles Lennox, (4th Duke of Richmond), who had joined the Regiment in 1787, successfully petitioned to have the title of Sussex transferred to the Regiment from the 25th".

I found more and more information on their history including their involvement in the ongoing conflicts from the end of the 1700’s to the Napoleonic wars.

For more information please see:

I'd already decided that one of the two uniforms I'd make would be linked to the Navy and therefore blue and I wanted a comparison, hence the red of The Royal Sussex Regiment (and indeed of other British regiments at that time, such as I was seeing examples of in museum stores) appeared appropriate. Land and sea, red and blue. It would also reflect the darker red of the ballgown Fading Glory which these jackets, I knew, would be exhibited near.

This image shows a red British military frockcoat from the period from Bath Fashion Museums' store.

For more images from my visit please see:

And here's an example from the National Trust's collection:

But even though the colour was now fixed in my mind's eye the idea of linking to Sussex, or even to the UK Regency era army in general had started to give way.

I don't simply look to mirror real historic garments in paper, and present them as copies, I try to create pieces that interpret and reflect history, feelings, impressions. That might become symbols of a period, a place, or a person, with layers of reflected imagery held in the shapes, colours, images I employ in their design. I try to make something unique each time, I hope to bring out something collective or personal about human nature and put it onto the surface of the material reality of what we wear; thereby producing something new.

The navy uniform I was planning had, by this point, found it's single fashion source in a particular outfit. I knew I would be covering the surface of its paper equivalent with written and drawn impressions all of which would link to a real man, an Admiral.

For more details of my work on this piece please see:

But I knew that in comparison my red jacket needed to be yet more different, to come, perhaps, from somewhere different.

Rather than being based on one real red jacket from the time, then decorated with ideas, it needed, I felt, to be an original design created as a collage of historical pieces; as would be the case for many of the dresses.

In the planned exhibition these two male mannequins, red and blue, were to stand in a room that was attached and open to where the ball gown would stand. I started to think about dance cards, about this one woman and these two men and how they might have vied for her attention. I started to think about tension, the design of the ball gown was after all meant to reflect on conflict and war of the sort that was raging across the continents of Europe, and beyond, during the Regency.

At this stage in the process I was creating the floor designs I planned to get chalked underneath both the ball gown and the uniforms and the idea of including the edges of both the French and British continents was proving interesting to me.

Please click for more information about my design of the chalked floor areas.

And I kept reading about battling the French in particular of course, that is, as the British were more than any other enemy at that time. The 1st battalion of the Sussex Regiment, for example, are noted as having distinguished themselves in 1806 by securing a resounding victory over the French in Malta, see:

And Napoleon was the French figure head, a figure to be revered and reviled, who many of the wars of the time would be collectively named after:

So it was I found myself looking across the channel.

The French army themselves wore mostly blue (except for the Artillery). There are some great illustrations here:

Indeed what turned out to be my favourite, preserved, military frockcoat belonging to Napoleon himself (in The Musée de l'Armée, Paris) is a beautiful combination of blue and gold.

But it's the style of this jacket that I found enticing - and the idea then that I might make a jacket in the British style (aka the navy) corresponding to one in a particularly French style (aka a French military figurehead). I made a sketch.

Then I discovered that Napoleon had in fact worn bright red off the battlefield:

"Here, in a splendid salon, stood Bonaparte, between Cambacères, the second consul, and le Brun the third. They were all three dressed in their grand costume of scarlet velvet, richly embroidered with gold."


Napoleon on his Imperial Throne by Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres

He also crowned himself Emperor of France at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris on December 2nd, 1804, in scarlet, gold and white ermine.

Finally I found this piece, finally sealing the not only my colour choice but also the colouring and style of the trim I would now be attempting to make from paper.

Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2020

Please click the arrow keys for more images

I knew as soon as I saw this stunning cloak owned by the Royal Collection Trust that I had all the elements I needed in order to form a new combined design. A Frock coat in the French style in glorious, brilliant, red with gold and blue and yellow decoration.

Ithen had to work out how to go about it of course.

Thereby I discovered what it was like to work with a combination of greaseproof paper, tissue paper and gold embroidery thread:

Not meant as something Napoleon would have worn actually into battle but reflective of that side of his life through it's styling, yet rather more widely reflective of the personal man and of his ambition, that was my hope now for this piece.

To mirror the naval uniform, it's partner piece, my mind turned again to writing, to what he might have written by the man or about him.

When in the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, researching my naval frockcoat and looking at diary entries written by a sailor aboard the ship of the admiral I was reflecting through that garment I'd noticed a letter hand written by Napoleon in a display. That day it hadn't linked to what I was thinking of so I'd not paid it enough heed. Now I started searching for letter's he wrote and I found these:

A letter to Josephine


For another example of one he wrote to her, please see:

A letter to the Prince Regent concerning his (Napoleon's) surrender.


For more about Napoleon and Wellington and love letters they both sent please see:

And for the story of a letter about Napoleon please see:

Using red Saral transfer paper and print outs of the letters to Josephine and the Prince Regent I reproduced the words onto the tissue paper surfaces of the pocket and sleeve, in his own hand writing

So the cloak had given me the decorative patterns I needed for the trim, the military frockcoat had shown me the style of the jacket and the letters I now knew I would reproduce on the pocket (to Josephine) and on the sleeve (to the Prince Regent). I would thereby have his love and his downfall overlaid on his garment. I wanted only otherwise to represent the hope and ambition he'd had for his own life. For that I turned to the use of symbol. Specifically to the symbol of the bee.

"There seems to be two schools of thought of why Napoleon’s government chose the honey bee as part of its iconography.

One school of thought says the honey bee is representational of the Merovingian kings, the founders of France, with whom Napoleon sought to align himself.

Or... “When Napoleon moved into the Royal Palace at Tuileries he refused to spend money on new decor. However, he could not allow the drapery – with its embroidered fleur-de-lis (the French Royal emblem) – to continue to hang in the windows of the palace. His solution was to have the rich and elegant drapes turned upside down. The inverted symbol of the overthrown monarchy looked like a bee. From then on, the tenacious bee became the emblem of Napoleon Bonaparte.“


" The eagle and bee, emblems of the First and later Second Empire, have become so familiar that it is easy to forget their origin and meaning.."


There is a gold clasp, of Napoleon's, from a cloak of his (the one shown above or another I'm not sure), made of two bees:

"This cloak clasp, captured from the French during the Battle of Waterloo, is decorated with a design of two bees, joined by a central link. This was the personal emblem of Napoleon and a symbol of French imperial power. Whether the clasp was worn by the Emperor himself, or was a present to one of his close aides, its striking design is most definitely linked in some way to the charismatic leader.

Image © Leven's Hall -

The design of the clasp originates from 1804, and the beginning of Napoleon’s reign as Emperor of the French. Napoleon needed a new personal symbol for him and his family, to replace the fleur-de-lys of the deposed French Bourbon royal family. He chose the bee, which symbolised long life and hard work – appropriate given his almost boundless energy. It also linked Napoleon’s new royal house to the earliest French monarchs – a legendary story from 1653 claimed that golden bees had miraculously appeared in the tomb of Childeric I, whose son had united the Franks into the first kingdom of France in the 5th century. By using the bee, a symbol which pre-dated the fleur-de-lys, Napoleon demonstrated his belief in the legitimacy and perceived longevity of his regime.

Discarded during the retreat of the French army following the Batter of Waterloo, the clasp was discovered by the Honourable Major Henry Percy, aide-de-camp to the Duke of Wellington. Napoleon’s army had disintegrated, relentlessly pursued by the Prussian Army. Led by their Head of Staff August von Gneisenau, the Prussian soldiers showed little mercy towards the fleeing French troops. The French baggage train clogged up the roads, as the carts tried to negotiate the village of Genappe, the only crossing over the river Dyle.

The arrival of the Prussians in the town caused panic amongst the terrified French waggoners who abandoned their vehicles, forcing Napoleon to leave his carriage and flee on horseback. In the midst of this chaos Henry Percy found the Imperial baggage train, where he grabbed a cloak adorned with this golden clasp. He cut the clasp loose, taking it with him on his mission to deliver Wellington’s Waterloo dispatch back to London, carrying news of the Allied victory". -

Despite the links I'd made with cloaks he wore and despite having adapted the styling of his military frockcoat I wanted bees I thought as buttons or...perhaps as toggles!

As the halves of the front of a frockcoat lie across each other so is the case for the duffle coat but, that is surely a more modern design I thought and nothing to do with military styling. I was wrong:

"The initial influence of what became the duffel coat, may have been the hooded Polish military frock coat, which was developed in the 1820s. It had the unusual features of a toggle closure and an integrated hood..."


So here are some images of my bee toggles (please click on the arrow keys to see more):

Bee making quilling credit to Xin Harper-Little

And here are some details from the making of the jacket:


This project has been supported by:

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