When I started this blog one of my hopes was that from time to time a fellow collector would ask me to provide a detailed description of an Austrian or Austro-Hungarian award in which they had an interest but one that they had found difficult to research. I am delighted to say that just such a request was made a few weeks ago. A colleague who specializes in the awards of the Napoleonic era asked me if I had any information on the Villiers en Couche Medal. When I said that I did, he asked if I would consider doing a blog on this medal and its unusual history. I am delighted to do so, thus today’s posting is on the so called “Villiers en Couche Medal”.
The first thing I need to do is to clarify the name of the medal. To the world at large it is usually referred to as the Villiers en Couche Medal (sometimes alternately spelled Villiers en Couchie, Villers en Cauchie) but to the Austrians the medal was known as the Honor Medal for English Cavalrymen (Ehrenmedaille für Englische Kavalleristen)
Background and history
On April 24, 1794 the Holy Roman Emperor Franz II (Figure 1), who would abdicate the Holy Roman Throne in 1804 and become the Austrian Emperor Franz I was in the field observing Austrian and British troops of the First Coalition who were opposing the French during the French Revolutionary War.
As he was advancing towards the area of conflict he became separated from his guarding force and found himself with a small contingent of officers on a hill near the village of Villiers en Couche. While observing the forces assembled below he became aware of a large French force of mixed cavalry and infantry approaching in such a way as to cut off his retreat and this situation caused considerable concern about his personal safety.
As his concern mounted he became aware of a force composed of Austrian Hussars and British dragoons who, as he looked on, charged the French and drove them from the field. The Emperor was very impressed by the bravery exhibited by the British Dragoons and believed that their timely intervention had saved him from possible capture or death at the hands of the French. As a result he sent one of his aides to inquire as to the name of the unit of British cavalry to which he owed his safety.
What he found was that the British unit was composed of elements of the 15 Royal Light Dragoon Regiment (Figure 2) . This unit had been formed in 1759 by George Augustus Eliott a Lieutenant Colonel of the 2nd Troop of Horse Grenadier Guards.
On the 24th April 1793 the 15 Royal Light Dragoon Regiment embarked for service overseas, under the command of Brevet Lieutenant Colonel George Churchill. They formed part of the light cavalry brigade commanded by Major General Ralph Dundas, under the overall command of the Duke of York.
On the May 23, 1793 the brigade saw action at Famars, and then formed part of the force besieging Valenciennes. After the fortress surrendered in July 6th the regiment once again saw action on the evening of the 7th on the heights of Manires. Subsequently the Fifteenth fought at Camp de César, Dunkirk, Lannoy and Cateau. On April 17, 1794 the Fifteenth fought at Prémont.
The unit was then sent towards the French border with Belgium to establish a defensive position in cooperation with the forces commanded by the Austrian Generalmajor Rudolf Ritter von Otto. It was as a result of this maneuver that the regiment was in position to take part in the Battle at Villiers en Couche.
Early in the morning of April 24, two squadrons of the Fifteenth Light Dragoons, under Major William Aylett, composed of 8 officers and about one hundred and seventy eight men, along with one hundred and twenty Austrians serving in the 2nd Leopold’s Hussars, led by Oberst, Freiherr Andreas Szentkerestzy de Zagon attacked the French forces at Villiers en Couche. The outcome of this combat was that twelve hundred French soldiers were either killed or wounded, three cannon were captured, the French forces retreated from the area and the Emperor’s safety was assured. The losses to the 15th Royal Regiment of Light Dragoons as a result of this battle was one sergeant, and sixteen enlisted men killed, and one officer, one sergeant and eleven enlisted personnel wounded, with Major Aylett being the wounded officer.
After the battle General von Otto and Karl Philipp Prince of Schwarzenberg (Figure 3) informed the Emperor of the names of the officers who had led the two squadrons of the Fifteenth in battle. The Emperor impressed by the heroism of the British Dragoons authorized a medal to be struck for the officers to recognize their bravery.
The Fifteenth Regiment of Royal Light Dragoon subsequent to the battle of Villiers en Couche served in Germany and Holland until December 1795. They fought at Tournay on May 3, 1794, Mouveaux May 17, 1794, Roubaix on May 18, 1794, Duffel July 5, 1794, Boxtel July 22, 1794, at Nimuegen in November and at Malsen on January 5, 1795.
The Honor Medal for English Cavalrymen
Now let’s discuss the medal which was issued to honor the bravery exhibited by the officers of the 15th Royal Light Dragoon Regiment at Villiers en Couche
The Honor Medal for English Cavalrymen (Ehrenmedaille für Englische Kavalleristen), the so called Villiers en Couche Medal
Date Issued: May 1, 1798, (King George’s III gave permission to wear the medals on this date)
Reason Issued: To reward eight British officers of the British 15th Royal Light Dragoon Regiment who distinguished themselves in heroically carrying out a cavalry charge against a numerically superior enemy at the battle of Viilliers en Couche on April 24, 1794.
Classes or Types: One, A gold medal as described below awarded to British cavalry offers
- Emperor Franz II (Later Franz I) personally authorized the medals for each recipient
- Eight British Officers received the medal. They were:
- Captain (later Colonel) William Aylett
- Captain (later Major) Robert Pocklington
- Captain (later Major) Edward Michael Ryan
- Lieutenant (later Major) Thomas Granby Calcraft
- Lieutenant (later Major) William G. Keir
- Cornet (later Major) Edward G. Butler
- Cornet (later Major) Robert Wilson
- Cornet (later Captain) Thomas Burrell Blunt
- There was one (some sources say two) examples of the gold medal known to exist in the 1960s
- A silver gilt medal was later awarded by the British to reward the Non-commissioned Officers of the 15th Royal Light Dragoons for their part in the Battle of Viilliers en Couche
- The eight recipients of this medal were awarded the Order of Maria Theresia knight badges on November 7, 1800 on the occasion of the 64th conferral of the order. King George III gave permission for these officers to accept the rank of Knight of the Imperial Order of Maria Thèresa, and to wear the insignia of the order (this honor had never before been conferred on non-Germans)
- When the recipients of the Villers En Couche medals were awarded the Order of Maria Theresia in 1800, one of the conditions of the award was that they would no longer wear the Villers En Couche medal. They were however allowed to keep them.
- Sir Robert Wilson one of the recipients of the medal who had received the knight’s cross of the Order of Maria Theresia in 1800 also received the commander of the Order of Maria Theresia in 1815
Hallmarks: None Known
Design: A round medal with a raised rim and a round flat suspension eye at the top.
Obverse (Figure 6): The bust of Emperor Franz II, Facing to the right, with long flowing hair and a laurel wreath on his head. Above the bust is inscribed: IMP. CAES. FRANCISCVS. II. P. F. AVG. Translation: Emperor Franz II. The pious, providentially saved. Below the bust is the name of the medalist: I.N.Wirt F.
Note: The F which follows the engraver’s name stands for the word Fabrikat which in English translates to fabricated.
Reverse (Figure 7): On a plain field above two crossed laurel boughs is a four line inscription: FORTI. BRITANNO. / IN. EXERCITV. FOED. / AD CAMERACVM. / XXIV. APR. / MDCCXCIV, (translation: The Brave British, Military in the Allied Army, Near Chambray, on 24 April 1794.
- Medal with chain (Figure 8) = 80 ducats (280 g, 9.87 oz.)
- Medal (Figure 9) = 40 ducats (140 g, 4.93 oz.)
Size: = 60 mm in diameter
Type of Material: Gold
- Type I Medal: There are no official variations of the gold medal, thus as described above
- Type II Medal (Figure 10 and 11): Unofficial silver examples of the medal are known to exist. These medals were struck for the collector market and for display purposes. They are the same in design as the type I medal except they are composed of silver.
Type III: Unofficial examples of the medal in pewter have been reported in the literature. If they exist they were probably made for the collector’s trade. They are the same in design as the Type I medals except they are composed of base metal.
Designer: Johann Nepomuk Wirth, Chief Engraver of the Vienna Mint
Manufacturer: Vienna Hauptmunzampt (Mint)
Number Issued: Eight (Some sources say a 9th medal was struck to be kept at the Imperial Chancellery).
Ribbon: None, the medal was worn on a gold “chain mail” chain composed of double interlinked gold rings
Miniature: None known
I hope you have enjoyed reading about this medal and its most unusual history.