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 Pelisse and Spencer jackets.


Please see my posts:





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 in Brighton known as Preston Barracks


For more information on Preston Barracks please see:



So when it came to thinking about the two male military uniforms I knew I wanted to create for the collection I'd 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 in turn however had lead me to consider medals given out as honours, which had influenced the design of the ball gown I'd already planned and would begin first then make alongside the uniforms. This had introduced the Sussex Regiment to me and their beautiful badge.


For more about my research into medals, honours and military badges please see:



On Wikipedia it would appear 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".


Suddenly the floodgates had opened and it was obvious that I could use the Royal Sussex Regiment if I wished as inspiration for one fo my uniforms. 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:




By now I'd decided that my other uniform would be linked to the Navy and therefore blue. Wanting a comparison, because of the colour of the ball gown and because of the colour of the uniforms of the Royal Sussex (and indeed of other British regiments, such as I was seeing examples of in museum stores at this time) I started leaning toward making a military uniform in red. Land and sea, red and blue.



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 if the colour was now fixed the idea of linking to Sussex, or even to the UK had started to shift. 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. 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.


By now the navy uniform I was planning had 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.


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


But I knew that in comparison my red jacket needed to come from somewhere different. Rather than being based on one real red jacket from the time and decorated with ideas it needed, I felt, to be an original design created as a collage of historical pieces; as had been 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 be.  I started to think about dance cards, about this one female 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 continents during the Regency and has hardly let up since.


By now I was creating the chalked floor designs I planned to have drawn out underneath both the ball gown and the uniforms and the idea of showing both the French and British continents was interesting to me.


For more about my designing the chalked floor areas please see:


In particular it was mention of battling the French of course that I kept reading about, more than any other British enemy at this 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 figure head, a figure to be revered and reviled and who many of the wars of the time would be named after:


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 particularly that I found so enticing. The idea that I might make a jacket in the British style (aka the navy) and a corresponding one in the French style (aka the French military figurehead). I made a sketch.




Then I discovered that Napoleon did wear blood 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."







Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2020

Please click the arrow keys for more images


And I knew as soon as I saw this stunning cloak owned by the Royal Collection Trust that I had my elements for combining to form a new design. A Frock coat in the French style with glorious blood red and gold decoration.


I had to work out how to make such trim from paper and thread of course. I thereby discovered the combination of greaseproof paper, tissue paper and gold embroidery thread:



Not meant as something he would have worn specifically into battle however but hopefully rather more widely reflective of the personal man and of his ambition.


So my mind turned back to writing, to what he might have written. When in the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich researching my naval frockcoat and looking at diary entries written by a sailor I'd noticed a letter hand written by Napoleon in a display but that day it hadn't linked to what I was thinking so I'd not paid it heed. Now I started searching for letter's he wrote shown online and I found these:


A letter to Josephine





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




And to the Prince Regent concerning his (Napoleon's) surrender. From:


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:


So the cloak had given me the decorative patterns I needed for the trim, the military frockcoat had shown me where I would put this decoration and the letters I knew would be reproduced 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 but I had to represent his hopes... 


Using print outs of the letters and coloured transfer paper I reproduced the words onto the tissue paper surfaces of the pocket and sleeve in his own hand writing 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.."



In fact there is a gold clasp, of Napoleon's from a different cloak of his presumably, 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 with his cloaks I was making a jacket and my bees I wanted I thought as frockcoat buttons or...perhaps a toggle!

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:


The exhibition of The Regency Wardrobe collection has been postponed due to Coronavirus as soon as the collection has been shown more images (with titles dimensions etc) of all the pieces will be made visible on



This project is being supported by:

Arts Council England, The Textile Society and Great Art





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