The Eagle of the 45th

The Eagle of the 45th French Regiment, captured at Waterloo by Sergeant Ewart is kept in the Scottish United Services Museum in Edinburgh Castle. It is a trophy of the Scots Greys that has enormous significance and is treated with reverence. It was used as a symbol of the regiment on badges, guidons and accoutrements for 200 years. The origin of the Eagle was written up in the Bulletin of the Military Historical Society vol IX no.36 of May 1959, in an article by W A Thorburn:

The 45th was first raised in 1643 as Le Regiment La Reine Mere, the title being changed twice between the formation and 1791 when it was known as the 45th Regiment. By an order of the revolutionary National Assembly in Sep 1791 colours and standards were to include the fleur de lys and designs of red white and blue, with the regimental number. These flags seem to have been in use until 1794 when those of the Republic were adopted. The Republican design was basically a white field bearing the Fasces with blue and red designs on the borders. At this time the old regiments ceased to exist and the French infantry were organised as demi-brigades of three battalions each. The demi-brigades had the status of regiments and they were the troops that fought the battles of the First Republic.

When Napoleon arrived on the scene and became First Consul in Nov 1799 he revived the title of Regiment, the 45th receiving the title of 45me Regiment de Ligne in the infantry force of 90 regiments numbered 1 to 122 with 32 vacant numbers. In a decree of 1803 he ordered a uniform flag for the whole army consisting of the national colours arranged with a white diamond shape in the centre with red and blue triangles filling the corners. This version carried the Fasces and RF (Republique Francais). In 1804 Napoleon became Emperor and the Republican colours and standards were replaced by the Imperial Eagles and the inscription L'EMPEREUR DES FRANCAIS AU 45ME REGIMENT appeared. On 5 Dec 1804 all regiments paraded on the Champ de Mars and received their Eagles from the hands of the Emperor, on the scale of one to each battalion of infantry and squadron of cavalry.
The 2nd Dragoons (Royal Scots Greys)
Distribution of the Eagles

However, in a letter of 12 Oct 1811 the 9th Regiment of Artillery who only had one Eagle asked if they could have a second one as all the other units had one for each main subdivision. In the correspondence which followed, the Emperor took the opportunity to say that he had for some time thought that there were too many Eagles in the army, and he intended to cut all regiments down to one each. The complaint of the underprivileged 9th Artillery touched off a complete reorganisation of flags so that in Dec 1811 Napoleon ordered another new pattern to be issued strictly one per regiment. This one had the national colours placed vertically, the Tricolour as we know it, with the inscription L'EMPEREUR NAPOLEON AU 45ME REGIMENT. It also laid down that the battles of Ulm, Austrlitz, Jena, Eylau, Friedland, Eggmuhl, Essling and Wagram would be inscribed as appropriate. The 45th to have AUSTRLITZ, JENA, FRIEDLAND, ESSLING and WAGRAM. The pole for the infantry to be 8 feet in length.

The original intention was to have a distinctive flag for each arm of the service; heavy cavalry scarlet, light cavalry green and infantry white, all with a tricolour cravate (streamer attached to the top of the flagpole). However, the universal tricolour flag was decided upon and was taken into use early in 1812. The regiment does not appear on the list of units that suffered almost complete disaster in the 1812 Russian campaign, and in the 1813 list consisted of 2 battalions. At this time the battalions of regiments varied in number from 5 to 2.

After Napoleon's expulsion to Elba in April 1814 and the first Restoration, units were ordered to stop using their Eagles and plans were made to issue new colours. But after the escape in Feb 1815, and during the Hundred Days, Eagles were provided for those regiments that had been unable to preserve their originals. The new versions were of the 1812 pattern with minor differences due to the speed of production, and it is most interesting to note that both the Eagles of the 45th and the 105th (captured by the Royal Dragoons) are of his period. The number 45 is on the front of the base with nothing at the back, unlike the earlier versions in which the number was carried on the front of the base and the type of regiment named at the back (Infantry, Cuirassiers etc.). The letters of the inscription are not embroidered on to the flag but are made separately on cloth and sewn on. This was no doubt due to the mass production of tricolour flags, the inscription being added later.

A cravate was tied to the head of the pole when in use, but this has disappeared. The historian, Jean Brunon, did a great deal of research on the subject of French colours and was unable to trace more than 6 Hundred Days Eagles in existence (at the time of writing, 1959). This puts the Eagles of the 45th and 105th in the category of very rare objects.

At Waterloo, the 45th, commanded by Colonel Chapuset, along with the 21st 25th and 46th Regiments, formed the 3rd Division (Marcognet's) of D'Erlon's Corps. The leading brigade was composed of the 25th and 45th, each having 2 battalions. Because of their position in an unwieldy formation, the 45th were overrun and lost their Eagle when the Union Brigade struck the head of D'Erlon's column.

It is difficult to trace the significance of the battle honours on the Napoleonic colours, especially when Austerlitz, the first name on the 45th colour was a battle at which they had only one killed and 8 wounded. It is also difficult to find any official reference in French records to the name 'Invincibles' which the 45th are called in many British references to the capture of the Eagle. Their only official title was 45th Regiment of the Line, and although there appears to be some evidence that such a nickname did exist, one feels that a regiment with the same status in its own army as many others, that of a line regiment, may have been exalted in defeat by the victors. After the second Restoration the 45th continued as the "Legion d'Eure et Loire, and in 1820 again became the 45th of the Line. The 105th was not reformed after Waterloo.

The Eagle in 2015 Front and Back of the Eagle
The Original Flag of the 45th
Modern Reconstruction of the Flag Transfer of the Eagle to Scotland 1956

Regimental Details

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by Stephen Luscombe