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Thread: The sword of Hippolyte de Saint-Pol

  1. #1
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    The sword of Hippolyte de Saint-Pol

    I acquired this sword from an on-line seller in March, 2013. French weapons constitute about 20 percent of my collection, and I fell for the motif in the guard, the "fancy" hilt design, the uncommon blade profile, and the fact that the sword was personalized with the original owner's initials. The seller's description was as follows:

    A French Infantry Officer's Sword, Dated 1846
    A good French Infantry officer's sword of the July Monarchy period, dated March (Marz), 1846, in its original black painted iron scabbard. Triple-fullered DE spearpoint blade, inscribed to the obverse fullers "Manuf[actu]re R[oya]le de Chatellerault," and to the reverse "Marz / 1846" with cartouched inspection stamps at the forte. Also stamped to the underside of the guard "ROUART A PARIS" and monogrammed to the front of the pommel "S P." The hilt with helically ribbed hardwood (appears to be ebony) grip, now lacking the wire binding (if ever one was present), pierced gilt brass mounts with decoration in bold relief including a cartouche incorporating oak and laurel leaves, unfurled pennants and Greek helmet with horsehair plumage. The broad rear quillon scrolled and stippled. Overall GC; the handle with age cracks and minor bug damage beneath the pommel but tight and secure. The blade lightly oxidized and with light to moderate pitting in the fullers at the tip. Blade 85 cm., overall in scabbard 104 cm.


    The description of the motif in the guard is accurate, but I learned the motif in question has been indicative of the office of Aide-de-Camp (AdC) since the the regulations of the settlement of 13 Vendemiaire in 1795 or October 5, 1795 (see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/13_Vend%C3%A9miaire). The hilt of the sword is one of the “fancy” versions illustrated on pages 218 to 225 of the first volume of Michel Petard’s Des Sabres et des Épées. The blade is that of the model 1845 for senior officers: straight, double-edged, with three narrow fullers on each side running to the spear point.

    The fact that the sword's fullers are etched with the date, March 1846, told me that all I had to do is find the French army lists for 1846+ and look for an AdC with the initials "SP." Having checked the French army lists for five years before and after 1846, I found only one match for the initials:

    Hippolyte de Saint-Pol, Count of Masles, Staff Officer, and Knight of the Legion of Honor, was born on October 18, 1812 at the family estate in Masles, France (which is today the village of Mâle, southwest of Chartres). Hippolyte's father was mayor of the town, and was the Count of Masles, the Saint-Pols being a very prominent family before the Revolution and still significant after. Hippolyte's older brother, Jules, became a celebrated French military figure. Their sister, Alexandrine de Saint-Pol, was born in 1814.

    Hippolyte graduated from Saint-Cyr and became a Sous-Lieutenant in the 14th Regiment of Chasseurs on Oct. 1, 1832. He then studied at the French equivalent of the Staff College, and by 1838, he was Staff Lieutenant in the 1st Hussars. Between 1840 and 1844, Hippolyte was a staff officer "at large," which I assume means he went wherever a staff officer's help was needed. In 1844, he appears in the lists as AdC and Captain 2nd Class to General Ravi in Troyes.

    In 1846, Hippolyte was promoted to Captain, First Class. On that occasion, I suspect a family member (and very possibly his older brother, who was then commanding a regiment of Zouaves in Algeria) purchased the sword as a memento of Hippolyte's promotion, although it could have also been Hippolyte simply treating himself. During the next several years, Hippolyte served as AdC to a succession of generals including Husson, G. de Laverderie, and De Noüe.

    With the death of Hippolyte's father in 1851, the management of the estate passed to Hippolyte's older brother, Jules. But as the man of action that he obviously was, Jules chose to continue his military career, rather than retire. Hippolyte, having no responsibility for the estate, continued to serve as AdC.

    In August or September of 1854, Hippolyte was made a Knight of the Légion d'Honneur (#486).

    On September 8, 1855, Brigadier General Count Jules de Saint-Pol was leading the third regiment of Zouaves from the front during the assault on Sebastopol's Malakov Tower and was fatally shot. Hippolyte disappears from the army lists after 1855, and I assume he retired to take on the title and manage the estate.

    In 1857, Hippolyte attended the unveiling of a statue of his brother that depicted Jules leading the charge on the Malakov Tower. The statue, located in Nogent-le-Rotrou's Place de Saint-Pol, was destroyed by the Germans in 1943.

    In 1866, 45-year-old Hippolyte married 27-year-old Madame de la Lande de Calan (Charlotte Aubrey Whitcombe, born December 22, 1839, in Guernsey, daughter of Samuel Richard Whitcombe, Royal Navy, and Elisa Pike, widow of Monsieur de Calan).

    A few years later, in the midst of the Franco-Prussian War, Prince Friederich Karl's Second Army moved west from Paris, chasing the Army of the Loire as it fell back upon Le Mans. Hippolyte's estate was in the way. The following is excerpted and translated from documents submitted by Hippolyte in an 1872 bid to obtain a duplicate of his Légion d’Honneur brevet:

    "On the 22 and 23 of November, 1870, a German column, 6,000 soldiers strong, having swarmed the village of Masles, several hundred of them entered the house of Monsieur de Saint-Pol, broke his furniture with axes and burned or stole some of his papers, among them were his brevet and title of Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur."

    This event is noted here: http://www.perche-gouet.net/histoire...?immeuble=4659

    Hippolyte died on December 8, 1884, in Sommervieu.
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  2. #2
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    A wonderful example of a superior officer sword. The helmet of Athena is indeed a mark of the French general staff. What is even more interesting is that it is superimposed on top of the chasseur's arms (battle flags with laurels and oak branches). Those types of hilts are usually associated with chasseurs and colonial troops, but I was not aware that they were alredy present at such an early date. The type of blade with the very angular fullers fits with the early superior officers models. Great find!

    Where do you get your French army lists out of curiosity?

  3. #3
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    Thanks, Max.

    Interesting observation about the chasseurs motif, though the position of the laurel and oak is swapped. For example, my Chasseurs de Vincennes sabre has the oak on the left and the laurel on the right, both positioned in front of the flags (photo below), whereas the AdC motif has the laurel on the left and the oak on the right, both placed behind the flags. I'm not sure that is a meaningful difference, however.

    The French lists are on-line.
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  4. #4
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    As you say, I am not sure it is very important. I know that some chasseurs sabres even have two oak or laurel branches.

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