Object Title

Year IX/XI Light Cavalry sabre

Development

The Year IX Light Cavalry sabre was the first French sword intended for use by all regular light cavalry regiments. At the time of its design - the ninth year of the Revolutionary calendar (1800) - France's state of almost constant war demanded a rationalization of weapon production.

Prior to 1800, the two types of French light cavalry had their own pattern of sword. Hussars carried a traditional stirrup-hilted, broad-bladed hussar sabre, of the type used by hussar regiments all over mainland Europe. The chasseurs à cheval, befitting their conversion from dragoons, carried a straighter, narrower and longer-bladed sword, with a half basket made up of flattened bars of diamond pattern.

The new sword combined elements of two of its predecessors, retaining the general blade form of the hussar sabre, but having the increased hand protection offered by the chasseur model. However, far from simply marrying these elements together, the Year IX had a new type of hilt, comprised of three rounded brass bars that provided protection to the hand whilst not limiting movement. This type of three-bar hilt design was to become one of the standard hilt forms of the nineteenth century, but the Year IX was one of the first swords to make us of it.

The Year IX was followed closely by the Year XI sword in 1802, which had a much sturdier scabbard. As with the first pattern of cuirassier's scabbard, the scabbard of the Year IX was found to be too light and prone to damage, meaning the sword could either not be sheathed or could potentially become trapped inside. As such, the scabbard on the Year XI was significantly thicker and heavier, in order to prevent such problems. In response to another issue of weakness found in the Year IX, the Year XI was made with the bars of the guard extending all the way to the head of the backpiece - or 'pommel' - to make a more robust guard. However, both swords were produced and used simultaneously during the period.

Use and Effect

Although intended for all light cavalry and horse artillery, the Year IX/XI was most enthusiastically received by the more numerous regiments of the chasseurs à cheval, whereas hussar regiments were keen to retain the distinctive sabres of their arm. When lancer regiments were added to French army lists in 1811 they too were armed with the Year IX/XI, and unlike the lance, which was only carried by half a squadrons number, the Year IX/XI was carried by all the regiment's personnel.

Despite the curved, hatchet-pointed blade design it seems that French light cavalry favoured the thrust over the cut. Antoine de Brack, a veteran of the Napoleonic wars as an officer of both the hussars and lancers, remarked that with the Year IX/XI a cavalryman should 'thrust, thrust as often as you can,' because 'the thrust kills, the cut only wounds'. Indeed it was with a thrust that Gudinet, of the 10th Hussars, killed Prince Louis of Prussia at Jena in 1806, after receiving a cut to the face.

Statistics

Blade length 92 cm
Country of manufacture France
Date entered service 1800
Overall length 107.5 cm
Weight 1.218 kg

Author

Henry Yallop