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Beaten from a single piece of fine, fire-gilded copper, its rim rolled around a length of wire, its tips pierced for suspension by silk ribbons and bearing three silver mounts finely-cast and chased in high relief: the centre-front mount being a representation of the crowned British Royal Shield of Arms of the period 1714-1801 superimposed upon a trophy-of-arms, flags and musical instruments and cannon and the two tip mounts being stylized Classical trophies-of-arms surrounding and descending from the ribbon holes and terminating in laurel wreaths.
Our superb, and possibly unique, gorget dates from the period immediately after the ending of the American War for Independence. Its size and shape undoubtedly dates it to the mid- to late 1780s and the nature and magnificence of its decoration, together with its overall high quality, indicate very strongly that it may well be the gorget of an officer of His Majesty’s 1st Regiment of Foot Guards.
The rendering of the Royal Arms on our gorget bears similarities to that used on the gorgets of Prussian and Brunswickian officers throughout the eighteenth century (for a Prussian example, see our Catalogue 1999, item 33) and to that used on the gorgets of French officers during the period Circa 1775-89. A French officer’s gorget of the Gardes Françaises, the French equivalent of a British Foot Guards regiment, dating from the reign of King Louis XVI (1774-93), is preserved in the Musée de l’Armée in Paris (accession number 13758); its gilded surface bears a silver cast and chased rendering of the Royal Arms of France superimposed upon a trophy of arms that is very similar in its form to the centre-front mount on our gorget.
On our gorget, use is made of the crowned Shield of Arms alone, without the Crest, Motto or Supporters, superimposed upon an elaborate trophy of arms, flags, musical instruments and cannon and this is very similar indeed to the Prussian and Brunswickian practice of the time, although the descending Classical trophies mounted on each of our gorget’s tips appear to be without precedent as mounted decoration. Until the recorded adoption by the regiments of British Foot Guards of silver-mounted gilded gorgets circa 1790, the general practice throughout the eighteenth century British Army had been for all devices and decoration on the gorgets to be engraved, not mounted (although an exception to this would be the possibly unique silver gorget of the 60th Regiment of Foot, Royal Americans, of Circa 1775 in our catalogue 1995, item 28).
Our gorget appears to be the only recorded example of a British gilded gorget mounted in silver in this way and probably owes the inspiration for its design to continental models. This was not unusual since armies had, and still have, a tendency to copy or adapt their uniforms and equipment from more successful armies. During the 1780s, Britain was still smarting from defeat in America - a defeat that many British soldiers recognised was in no small measure due to the men, skills and matériel provided by the American colonists’ French allies and training of America’s Continental Army by the Prussian Baron von Steuben. The armies of Prussia and France were among the largest, most powerful and the most efficient in continental Europe in the 1780s and the army of Brunswick - whose soldiers had been allies of the British during the American War for Independence - was closely allied to that of Hannover, the north German electorate of the British kings.
In 1796, the British infantry officer’s sword was changed from the pattern that had been worn since 1786 to one that had been worn by Prussian infantry officers since 1740; it would not be at all unusual if, for a short time in the late 1780s, the First Regiment of Foot Guards of the British Army adopted a gorget that consciously aped the gorgets worn by their French, Prussian and Brunswickian opposite numbers.
|Location of Origin: England|
|Dimensions: 22 cm / 9 inches|
|Primary Classification: Antique guns, Antique Swords for Sale|
|Gorgets were the last remaining vestige of armour to be worn by infantry officers and in the British Army they were worn by officers when on duty. They were a reminder of the first piece of armour to be donned and the last piece to be removed. By the end of the 17th century, when the power of firearms had finally banished armour from the battlefield, the gorget was retained as the symbol of the officer - of the classes and ranks in the British Army that had once worn full armour into battle. In the British Army, gorgets gradually diminished in size throughout the 18th century and were very little subject to regulation. In 1768, however, a Clothing Warrant specified that officers’ gorgets were to match, in the colour of their metal, the colour of the lace worn on the officers’ coats: thus, in a regiment in which the officers wore gold lace on their coats, their gorgets were required to be gilded; in a silver-laced regiment, the gorgets were to be silver. In addition, in 1768, regiments were allowed to place regimental badges or numbers on their officers’ gorgets. These regulations obtained until 1796 and many examples are recorded of gorgets dating from 1768-96 that bear the badges of regiments of the British Line Infantry. However, the 1768 Warrant only applied to those infantry regiments that were in the Line; it did not affect the three regiments of Foot Guards which were part of the Royal Household.|
Gorgets with gilded plates bearing mounts in silver - mounts that always included the Royal Arms - are known, from surviving examples and at least one portrait, to have been worn by officers of the Foot Guards from the early 1790s (see our Catalogue 1995, item number 29) and gilded gorgets with such silver mounts remained unique to the Foot Guards until the abolition of the gorget in the British Army in 1830. It seems probable that silver-mounted gilded gorgets were worn from about 1783 to about 1790 by Foot Guards officers and thus that our gorget is an example of one of these extremely rare, and hitherto unrecorded, types. At the time, there were three regiments of Foot Guards, the socially and militarily élite regiments of the British infantry: the First, the Second (or Coldstream) and the Third (or Scots). The Coldstream and Scots Guards each made extensive use of their regimental badges, respectively the Stars of the Order of the Garter and of the Order of the Thistle, on their uniform and accoutrements but the First Regiment of Foot Guards is known to have favoured using simply the British Royal Arms. This fact is another reason why is seems most likely that our gorget was that of an officer of the First Regiment of Foot Guards.
|Price:||Item has been sold.|
|Offered By:||Items may still be available - Please contact The Curator's Eye for more information|
121 Mount Vernon, Boston, MA 02108 USA
Item has been sold.
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