King's College London
Exhibitions & Conferences
The nearest run thing you ever saw: the Battle of Waterloo

Lancers in battle

A mounted lancer charging with lance at the readyA lancer charging Napoleon’s forces at Waterloo included light cavalry units known as ‘Lancers’ which were made up of both French troops and Polish soldiers.

More lightly armed and with better mobility than the French heavy cavalry Cuirassiers, these troops were able to scout and harass opposing forces. When skirmishing with enemy troops, they had the advantage of being able to stab at them from a safe distance, using their long lances.

This book shows how the British Army was thinking about employing – as Napoleon did – foreign troops as Lancers. Though the author of this work, named on the title page as a ‘captain of horse’ recommends the officers to be British, he also suggests that a regiment of lancers could utilise,‘...deserters from the French armies in Spain and Portugal ... Poles, Russians, or Germans, who are accustomed, from their earliest youth, to the management of ungovernable horses, which they glory in breaking.’

From 1816 lancer regiments were indeed formed within the British Army and in 1822 the 16th Queens Lancers were the first British regiment to use the lance in battle, at Bhurtpore, in Rajasthan, India.

The image here shows a lancer charging, with one of his brace of pistols hanging down on one side and his sabre on the other. The text also suggests that ‘shrill bells, suspended between the blade and the flag’ might add to the terrifying effects of the lancer in battle.

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