Napoleon’s famed steed Vizir to be restored at Paris museum


Some 190 years ago, Vizir, among the most beloved of the scores of horses Napoleon rode into combat, died, having outlived his master and likely all 130 of the other horses the French emperor used during his 14-year reign.

Today, the remains of Vizir, who accompanied the famed warrior at the Battle of Jena in October 1806, in many other battles in the Prussian and Polish campaigns, into exile on the island of Elba in 1814 and then back to France again during The Hundred Days, stands in a glass cabinet in the Musée de l’Armée in Paris, not far from the final repose of Napoleon himself.

Time has left Vizir, a gray-white Arabian stallion, in rough shape, and in May the museum launched a funding effort to enable it to restore the remains of the steed.

More than $23,130 was raised and a pair of taxidermists who are specialists in the restoration of organic material are at work on Vizir’s degraded hide, according to The History Blog.

“They have X-rayed him and are working on a thorough cleaning, rehydrating the hide, filling in several large cracks and restoring the color which has turned a sallow yellowish color over the years, a far cry from the white-gray he was famous for,’’ according to the blog. “The project is expected to take about four weeks. Once the restoration is complete, Vizir will be displayed in a new climate-controlled case which will prevent further degradation.”

The project, which will take about a month, involves repairing tears and cracks, notably a gaping fissure running down one shoulder. The taxidermists will also rehydrate the mounted beast and give it a good dusting, according to Agence-France Presse.

Vizir was born in 1793 in the Ottoman Empire and presented by Sultan Selim III to Napoleon, then-First Consul of France, in 1802, a diplomatic gift marking the peace treaty between the Ottoman Empire and France after three years of war.

Napoleon’s horses were trained to withstand battle, an important consideration given that as many as 20 were shot from under him during his many years of waging war.

Vizir, branded with an N topped with a crown, was fortunate in that he was not enlisted for duty during Napoleon’s disastrous Russian campaign or the subsequent ones in Germany and France because as a 20-year-old he was considered too old for battle. He was at Waterloo in 1815, but kept behind the lines.

After Napoleon’s final defeat at Waterloo and subsequent exile to St. Helena, Vizir was retired and was taken in by Philippe de Chaulaire, a squire of the imperial stables. The horse died on July 30, 1826, at age 33.

Chaulaire had him taxidermied but fearing the anti-Napoleonic political climate of the Bourbon Restoration sold Vizir to William Clark, an Englishman living in northern France.

Clark felt the same political pressure after Louis-Napoleon’s failed coup in 1836 and three years later passed Vizir along to another Englishman, John Greaves. Greaves smuggled the stuffed horse out of France into England by dumping the framing, unstitching his skin and stashing it in his suitcase.

Safe in England, Vizir was remounted and put on display at Manchester’s Natural History Museum in 1843.

Vizir returned to France in 1868 when the museum, forced to close its doors due to financial problems, gifted him to Louis-Napoleon, now Emperor Napoleon III, during a visit to England.

Not knowing what else to do with a large stuffed horse, Napoleon III stored it in the Louvre where it remained out of sight for 30 years until it was rediscovered in 1904 and transferred to the newly founded Musée de l’Armée in 1905.

Today, Vizir is one of thousands of attractions in the museum, alongside the likes of the 16th century sword of King Francis I and a World War I Renault FT17, one of France’s first tanks.

The equine is showcased just a short distance from his master, who rests under the Dome of Les Invalides.

(Top: Professionals work on restoring the remains of Vizir, one of Napoleon’s best-known battle horses.)

13 thoughts on “Napoleon’s famed steed Vizir to be restored at Paris museum

  1. I knew about Marengo but Vizir is new to me. After avoiding Arabians for decades, preferring long striding Thoroughbreds and Warm Blood hunters, I spent the last 12 years of my riding life on a Polish Arabian who won my heart and mind completely. They are truly different from all other horse breeds.

    Interesting post for the horse loving odd-lots among us.

    • My daughters love horses, so they’ve been bringing me up to speed on different breeds. Until they informed me differently, I thought the division among equines was simply: horses, ponies, mules, donkeys and burros. They have since set me straight.

  2. I remember seeing poor old Vizir when I was a student, visiting France and passing a wet afternoon at Les Invalides…he looked in pretty poor nick even then so it’s good to see him being tidied up.

    I have a feeling that i saw the skeleton of Marengo at the Imperial War Museum as a child…

    • I didn’t realize it until I was looking for an image of Vizir, but the famous painting of Napoleon by David shows him astride Marengo. I had always assumed it was just any old horse.

      I suppose being a horse for Napoleon was like being a US submariner in World War II. You got the best food and were treated pretty well when not in action, but the risk of something happening in action was considerable.

      • Reading the accounts of these battles how often the words ‘had his horse shot under him’ recur in relation to general officers.
        Wouldn’t do badly for today’s general officers to have to experience a few trouser changing moments – might make them a bit more careful of their men’s lives – and these days at no cost to the life of an animal.

      • Indeed – a little time at the front by top brass might motivate peace talks or even dissuade those in charge from provoking conflict. Not much chance of that happening, however, particularly since the person in charge, be they president, prime minister, etc., usually is sitting comfortably thousands of miles away.

  3. 🙂 Good thing the three of us don’t rule the world! If we did, wars would be fought by those who most fervently desire it and those who profit from its conduct.

  4. Well, I guess it was a good thing that Napoleon was a 2/3 scale general,because thats at best a 2/3’s scale horse.


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