French Swords that Defined the Napoleonic Era
The French saber is the most iconic French sword that shaped Europe to its core with the march of Napoleon. It is a curved sword that lived through the French Revolution and is still being used in the French army today.
In this article, you will learn about the French saber and its most important types. Then you will find out about their general characteristics as well as their biggest uses. We will briefly go over its history and then discuss if they were really even used all that much.
Types of French Sabers
There are many variations of the French saber which changed throughout the years – from a shorter and slightly curved sword to a much larger, heavier, and straighter blade.
French / Hungarian Style Saber
This sword was not regulated during the Consulate and the First Empire, yet it was used by all infantry officers whether on foot or in a horse-drawn carriage. The specifications of the frame and sheath as well as the size and shape of the blade can be very different, especially its width.
Its general shape, “melon-ribbed” pommel, “checkered” ebony plates, and “more or less beaded” guard branch gave it a lasting style, and many versions of it continued to use these features after the Restoration. When it is in golden color it is meant for the general infantry; when it’s silver it is meant for light infantry units.
French swords have a strong curve with a handle protected by a guard and crossbar. They are usually around 37 inches (95 cm) long.
French Mameluke Sword
In the Battle of the Pyramids, the French defeated the Mamelukes and seized command of Lower Egypt. It was a hard battle and many lives were lost, mainly because of the fearsome charge of the Mamelukes with their swords.
After the battle, the French were enthralled by the beauty of the Mamelukes’ scimitar. Many cavalry officers took it up right away and began using it. This mameluke type of sword was frequently used in the 1800s and was manufactured in France too. It even spread to the United States where it was used as a sword in the Civil War.
The blade is curved which is why it was mainly used by cavalry units in combat. Its overall length is around 35 inches (90 cm).
Saber Model 1767 – Briquet Sword
This is probably the first type of saber that became widely used in France. Its first origins are from around 1767 and it was used more frequently by infantry than by cavalry units. It is much shorter than the regular type of French saber.
Its uses in warfare were limited because of how short it was. The French cavalry often called it the shoe nail because of its small size. Because of its limited use, it stopped being produced entirely in 1831, but its design still played a prominent role in future models.
It was used by grenadiers, artillery, infantry, and cavalry units. Its average length was about 23 inches (60 cm). You may have seen this type of saber used to open a champagne bottle.
Saber Model 1790 – French Revolution Sword
During the French Revolution, the latest design, called the 1790 model, came out with a guard that was all one piece. The design rules were no longer always followed like before, so we often find swords with hollowed sides on the blades and hardware made of red copper.
This design followed the same curvature as before but wasn’t nearly as wide. The guard was also larger so that the user’s hand would be shielded when in combat, something that was happening a lot during the revolution.
It was around 25 inches (65 cm) long. This sword was quickly modified directly after the war ended.
Saber Model 1800 – An Ix
The French light cavalry troop used the An IX-mounted cavalry model saber from 1800-1801. It comes from the new weapon systems and arming plan put forward in 1800 which tried to cut down on the number of regulation sabers for all types of troops.
The Hungarian style saber directly influenced this model. It is very curved but also has a protective guard for the user’s hand. This model is a direct inspiration for the later 1816 and 1820 models.
It is a light cavalry sword and is mostly meant for slashing motions. Its overall length is around 39 inches (1 meter).
Saber Model 1816 – Ancestor of Many
After the collapse of the first empire, it was decided that Colonel Cotty should be in charge of reorganizing the weapons used by the French military. The light cavalry, the heavy cavalry, the artillery, and the infantry would each get their own model and this is the model they received.
This model was employed until the end of the Bourbon Restoration in France. It was the ancestor of all sabers created until the 1896 model.
It was used in mounted and hand-to-hand combat situations. This model is around 41 inches (105 cm) long.
Saber Model 1821 – Identical Infantry Sabre
This sword comes from general Marshal Victor, a general in the French Revolution who led a significant portion of the French infantry. This sword was the classic French sword used by all members of the infantry.
When it started being used, it quickly spread throughout the ranks because of its ideal close-quarters length – 29 inches (75 cm). This sword remained unchanged until the end of the 19th century.
Saber Model 1822 – Montmorency Sword
This style of sword doesn’t curve as much as its predecessors. When it came out, it quickly replaced all the previous models and was favored by the French army for the next 150 years during the Crimean War, campaigns in Mexico, Africa, and so on. It is still used in the French military even to this day.
There were two models of this saber – a light model for the artillery, infantry, officers, and navy; and a heavier model for the heavy cavalry. This heavy model was the first curved sword that was used by the heavy cavalry units.
It is around 37 inches (95 cm) long. It is commonly used with slashing motions that can prove deadly.
Saber Model 1845 – The Straight Officer Sword
This sword arrived in 1845 and became an essential part of the dress uniforms for the French army. This was usually the model used for senior, junior, and warrant officers which is why it had three different variations.
It changed slightly in 1855 when it became even straighter. The model was named after the year of its introduction – 1855. It is very different from the other curved swords and was mostly used for issuing orders to a large group of infantry.
It was used in the First World War and is still being used today. The 1st and 2nd Republican French Guard use it as part of their equipment. The length of this saber model ranges from 33 to 39 inches (85 to 110 cm).
General Characteristics of the French Sabre
The easiest and most common characteristic of the French Saber is that the blade is curved and slim. The guard is also usually closed to fully protect the user’s hand.
The blade of the French Saber is made out of steel and is curved. The earlier models of this saber have more curved blades than the ones that are made later on.
The blades for the French sabers that are meant for the officers, infantry, and artillery are much slimmer than the ones used for the cavalry and the navy. The average length of the blade for the French Sabre is around 27-31 inches (70-80 cm) long.
Most often the French saber will have a closed-off guard. This was harder to spot in the beginning stages but as time went on and later models were introduced, the cavalry sabre almost always came with a closed guard.
This guard provides much better protection to the user’s hands than a word that doesn’t have any guard.
In the beginning models of the French sabre, the handle is curved just as the Hungarian style is, but as time went on, the handle was only curved at the very beginning of it around the pommel.
It provides very good balance and when combined with the guard you will have an especially powerful grip on the sword.
This sabre doesn’t really have a pommel at the base of the handle like other types of swords.The base of the handle is usually made of a metal material and it does give the user an option to bash their opponents.
Also, this pommel is connected to the guard via metal which gives the hand extra protection.
The scabbard played a vital role in the French Sabre, especially for renowned officers of the army. Also, Napoleon himself loved the idea of having very rich metals and decorations on both his sword and his scabbard.
Usually, it is made of wood or steel. This makes it possible to add a lot of accessories to it like gilded gold, jewels, or other designs. Sometimes you are able to find a leather scabbard too for smaller sabres.
Length & Size
The overall length of a French sabre can go from 27 to 50 inches (70-125 cm) long.
This, of course, is different depending on what type of sabre it is. If it is going to be a sabre used by the cavalry, it will be larger. On the other hand, if it is a sabre used by the regular infantry, it will be much shorter and wider.
The French sabre will usually be in the range of 1.3 lbs to 2.8 lbs (600 grams to 1.3 kg). Sometimes though, it can go up to 4.4 lbs (2kg) if it is one of the later heavy cavalry swords.
This makes it a fairly easy-to-hold sword and also very deadly. If it is lighter it would just be used for the infantry and mostly for decorative purposes or giving orders. If it is heavier though, it can pack a punch but needs to be used while mounted on a horse.
Uses for the French Sabres
French sabres had many uses throughout their centuries of existence. Of course the main use was warfare, but at the same time it had a lot of other uses too.
- French Officers – usually for issuing orders and representing their grandeur and higher status. This meant that their sabres had engravings and higher-quality metal.
- French Infantry – hand-to-hand combat which was fairly common in the Napoleonic Wars. Other than fighting, it helped to clear out thick vegetation, was used in daily activities, and even crafting.
- Artillery – there were special slimmer swords that were used by the artillery. They mainly used their swords if they were overrun and needed immediate defense.
- Navy – the navy sabers were much thicker and heavier. They were used for fighting if it came to that, but most of the time for cutting ropes and as a daily tool.
- Music – the sabers that the drummers used were the most decorated ones. They were there for providing the moral support that the French troops might need on the field of battle.
- Ceremonial – whether it is the coronation of the French King/Emperor or a big battle like Austerlitz, the sabre was the defining tool that the leader could use to show off. In the case of Napoleon, he liked to have his own figure engraved on his golden swords.
Today the French sabre is still used in the modern French military. It plays a largely symbolic role, just like this sword had done in the past. It is also very popular in movies and for collectors alike.
There are many reenactors of the Napoleonic Wars that are looking for replicas of these same sabers that were used in the 18th century. Also, there are a lot of sword schools that teach the art of wielding a French model Sabre.
Probably the biggest use of French sabres in the modern era is the big reenactments held in various parts of the world. You will find people dressed exactly as those soldiers in the Napoleonic Era proudly wielding their French Sabres.
History of the French Sabre
The French saber has been around for several hundred years. Just at the conclusion of the 17th century, the saber was used by certain units in France. Around 1695, the Grenadier’s sword or saber on horseback out from Maison du Roy was one of the first designs to become so.
Then, in 1791, the army became national instead of a group of soliders scattered across the state. The constitution began to say that the King is the supreme leader of the military and the royal navy army, so the same rules should apply to everyone.
Before the start of the 17th century, there weren’t any factories in France that made blades for edged weapons. Instead, most of the blades came from Solingen, in Westphalia, and were then put together in the weapon factories. Not until 1730 did King Louis XV give his blessing to set up a royal factory in Klingenthal, Alsace to make bladed weapons. From this point on, France could manufacture and put together all of their bladed weapons.
France started producing sabers and a whole bunch of them too. There were a lot of different sabres that were meant to be used by the infantry, artillery, navy, and the cavalry. It is also a very ceremonial sword, like the one Napoleon used to give out commands and orders. Also, a French sabre was used to coronate new French kings.
Were French Swords used a lot in the Napoleonic Era?
Although one would think that because of the heavy usage of muskets that the sword would basically have no purpose, but you would be wrong. Not only were these French swords heavily used in warfare, but Napoleon also tolerated duels with swords in his empire.
Napoleon was an artilleryman growing up but he has personally said before that cavalry is used “before, during, and after a battle.” He not only said this, but he really did effectively use the power of the sabers that they had in the cavalry, especially in the battle of Austerlitz.
The French sabre was the sword that was a perfect replacement for the older and shorter small sword that was seen as the weapon of the previous French regime. That is why if you want to have a French Revolution sword, the French Sabre is what you should be looking for.