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The Mystery of Marengo

June 2018 by Dr Georgina Downey
An art historian who's published extensively on the domestic interior, Dr Georgina Downey is the human of Classic, the dressage schoolmaster and Angas, the Cairn terrier. In this regular Horses and People in Art column, she provides a unique equine-centred perspective to famous equestrian artworks.

The life of a war horse in Napoleon’s Grande Armée was hard, dangerous, and usually short. Nearly a quarter of a million French cavalry horses died on campaign between 1805 and 1815. Most of these were killed during his disastrous invasion of Russia in 1812. 

Tens of thousands were shot directly by the enemy, as they were easier targets than riders. Others died through the absence of proper food, shoeing and veterinary care while on campaign. The Registry of Horses, kept by the Imperial Stables, Versailles, suggests that horses lasted only an average of four years in the general cavalry.  

However, one of these horses has lived on in legend since the 1830’s - Napoleon’s favourite charger, ‘Marengo’.