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Fine Art Sale Lot 904


A FRENCH NAPOLEONIC ARMY GENERAL OFFICER'S COAT (L'HABIT DE GRAND UNIFORME D'OFFICIER GENERAL) PROVENANCED TO JOSEPH BONAPARTE, PRE 1813 dark blue wool with extensive gitlmetal broderie and gilt brass buttons, 101cm l Clarification For the avoidance of doubt Mellors & Kirk makes no warranty as to this coat being personal to Joseph Bonaparte. The account of its seizure at the Battle of Vitoria and subsequent history is as stated. Given the enormous length of the Imperial train, it is to be expected that the ‘baggage’ would have included uniform of high ranking officers of the Grande Armee.  Joseph as King would not have worn a coat of this type (which is Petite tenue) and it has been suggested by Senor Luis Sorando Muzas, Uniformologist at the Museo del Ejercito, Toledo  that it may, for example, have been that of Marshal Jourdan Provenance: Joseph-Napoleon Bonaparte (1768-1844), King of Spain (1808-1813); John Nevill 3rd Earl of Abergavenny (1789-1845) by whom seized at the Battle of Vitoria, 21 June 1813; thence by descent to the present vendors. Of impeccable provenance, there can be few more evocative historical objects, or one so redolent of the Grande Armee, than this magnificent coat of Napoleon's brother Joseph Bonaparte, King of Naples and Sicily, afterwards King of Spain. One of the many spoils of war seized by Wellington's officers and men at the Battle of Vitoria, Joseph Bonaparte's enormous baggage train of over 100 wagons became stuck in the town's narrow streets. His troops' morale shattered by Wellington's tactics and his subordinates' adroitness, the French fled and chaos quickly ensued as the British fell upon the treasure laden train, but this was not without irony, since Joseph had himself looted as much as he could cart away. As an unintended feint the pillage by the British allowed Joseph and his troops to escape. Wellington's army was by late afternoon in complete disarray and the opportunity to drive the French from the Iberian peninsula had been lost causing the Iron Duke to describe those involved as 'the scum of the earth'. Lieutenant the Hon. John Nevill of the 23rd Regiment of Foot witnessed the scene, which by early evening had descended into drunken revelry. Noticing an intoxicated soldier wearing the coat he ordered the man to hand it over. Nevill, who later inherited the earldom of Abergavenny and took Holy Orders brought the coat with him to the family seat of Eridge Castle, Sussex. It was photographed there in 1907 for the Connoisseur article Eridge Castle and Its Contents by R Nevill and L Willoughby, in which the "interesting souvenir of the Peninsular War" is described as being "in splendid preservation, the gold embroidery absolutely untarnished, this dark blue coat might have been made at the present day..." In the 20th century it was loaned to the Redoubt Fortress and Military Museum Eastbourne.

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