Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Marengo: The Myth of Napoleon's Horse

Marengo - legend has it that it was captured during the Egyptian campaign, that Napoleon rode it on all his famous campaigns from the second Italian campaign, through the retreat from Moscow, to the final battle at Waterloo. The horse reputedly was captured after that climatic battle and taken to Britain, where it was put on exhibition and even today its skeleton is on display in the National Army Museum.
Jill Hamilton has found that no horse with the name Marengo appears in the registers of Napoleon's stables or in any primary source. Historian Dr. Jean-François Lemaire has stated, "The French archives are silent about Marengo." It is possible that Marengo was a nickname of another horse. Napoleon had a penchant for giving nicknames (Josephine's, his wife, real given name was Rose). A number of his horses had nicknames, Mon Cousin was nicknamed Wagram, Intendant was given Coco, Cirus was bestowed with Austerlitz, Cordoue was also known as Cuchillero, Bonaparte was called Numide, Moscou nicknamed Tcherkes, Ingenu also was Wagram and Marie was called Zina.
Napoleon's coach, which had been captured after Waterloo, was placed on display at Bullock's Museum in Piccadilly. Though it has often been said that Marengo was also put on display at the same time, this is not the case. Marengo first appeared on display in 1823 or 1824 in the Waterloo Rooms in Pall Mall. Later Marengo was put out to stud. After the horse's death in 1831, its skeleton was sent to London Hospital to be articulated. Its hide, with its distinctive "N" brand, was lost. The skeleton went on display at the RUSI museum. One of its hooves was incorporated into the Guards' Officer's Mess at Buckingham Palace, another hoof had been lost. Another stuffed Napoleon horse, Vizir, also wound up in Britain. It had been on display at Manchester's Natural History Museum, in 1868 the museum presented it to Napoleon III.
In the end, Marengo remains something of a mystery. Hamilton concludes the horse may actually be Ali (or Aly), a horse Napoleon did ride throughout his career and which could be considered a "favorite."


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