Object Title

Model 1812 Lance


The military lance had largely fallen out of favour with the militaries of western Europe during the 17th and 18th centuries, but the Napoleonic period was to see the the beginning of its widespread return.

The lance had remained in use in eastern Europe and it was through France's connection with Poland that the weapon came back into wider use. Polish soliders had been fighting in France's Polish Legions since 1797, but following the creation of the Duchy of Warsaw in 1807 these Poles in French service were formed into the Vistula Legion, and in 1809 the Polish light horse regiment was issued the lance.

The number of lancers in French service was expanded in 1810 with a second regiment, also of the Guard, being from Dutch troops.

Both these regiments served at Waterloo in a combined regiment. However it was not just foreign troops who served France using the lance. In 1811, in preparation for the invasion of Russia where the Grande Armée would face many lance-armed Cossacks, Napoleon created nine regiments of line lancers. Six of these were formed from French ragoons, two were taken from the Polish Vistual Legion, and the 9th was converted from the 30th regiment of Chassuers à Cheval, which mainly comprised of Germans.

The first pattern of lance to equip these troops was introduced with their formation in 1807. The weapons total length was 9 ft 3 in with a blade of 10 in and a small ball and the foot to the blade, to prevent over penetration.

The Model 1812, issued to the line regiments created that year, was slightly shorter at 9 ft, with an 8 1/2-in blade and no ball-stop.

Use and Effect

The lance as a cavalry weapon divided opinion for the whole of the 19th century.  A 9 ft lance took considerable skill to master, and therefore the weapon's usefulness over sword-armed cavalry was in question. The extended reach was useful at first contact and when skirmishing but in the swirling melee that could ensue they could be an encumbrance and were hard to parry with. Of course, every lancer carried a sword too,  but in the heat of combat there was seldom time to change weapon. This potential draw back was well realised by the French who by Waterloo armed only half their Lancer, the front rank of each squadron, with lances, whilst the remainder had the sword as their primary edged weapon.

At Genappe, the day before Waterloo, French lancers successfully held off British hussars by presenting a hedge of lances in a narrow street, but could not withstand the weight of the charge of the Lifeguards that followed

The lance was extremely useful against infantry. The weapon gave its user the ability to attack infantrymen who had been caught out of formation but had thrown themselves down prone to escape the swords of onrushing horsemen.  Both the 42nd and 44th Foot were badly mauled at Quatre Bras by French lancers. Ensign Christie of the 44th was speared through the eye by a lance in defence of his regiment’s colours and Colonel Macara of the 42nd was killed by a French lance thrust to the head

The extended reach could even be used against infantry in square.  Whereas a sword could not outreach a bayonet on the end of a musket, a lance could.  Sergeant Robertson of the 92nd Regiment of Foot (Gordon Highlanders) describes at Waterloo how after braving musketry from his square the French lancers 'did us considerable damage by throwing their lances into our columns, which being much longer than the firelock and bayonet, gave them a greater reach over us.' French lancers had had even more success against infantry in squares at both the Battles of Katzbach and Dresden (1813), where severe wet weather prevented muskets from operating, effectively enabling lancers to pick off the formed infantry almost at will.

At Waterloo, however, the lancers were most successful against the two brigades of British heavy cavalry. Although in a formed charge the advantage of the lance at first contact could arguably be counter-acted by its length and potential unwieldiness in the following melee, the balance very much shifted in favour of the lancer during pursuit. Groups of lancers were able to pick off the retreating British, already tired and on blown horses, as they attempted to regain their lines - whilst staying out of range of their swords.  Even soldiers who had lost their mount during the charge could not escape, as Private Hasker of the 1st King's Dragoon Guards and Lieutenant-Colonel Frederick Ponsonby of the 12th Light Dragoons were stabbed in the back by pursuing Lancers whilst on the ground.

Such use of the weapon to attack already wounded men, both those unhorsed and later the wounded infantry that lay outside their squares, provoked a degree of distaste for the weapon. However, the British military saw the weapon's merit and in 1816 brought the weapon into service as a result of its effectiveness at Waterloo. For the next century the lance was to play an increasingly important role as a cavalry weapon of almost every nation.


Blade length 214 mm
Country of manufacture France
Date entered service 1811
Overall length 2328 mm
Weight 1.672 kg


Henry Yallop