An Inspection at Blackheath in May 1789: “Masters of Their Business”


In May 1789, following protests at the appalling financial situation in France, Louis XVI was forced to convene a meeting of the Estates-General for the first time since 1614. This was the first sign that the absolute monarchy in France was weak, and led to the French Revolution and nearly 30 years of war.

While these tumultuous events were taking place across the Channel, the 11th Light Dragoons were stationed at Blackheath, outside London, and on the 18th may received their annual inspection from Major General Harcourt. It is interesting, 225 years later, to see what the general thought.

Officers Horses – Tolerably good, two or three excepted, which are very bad and recommended to be cast.

Men – A good body. Young, active and well-sized

Marching in Squadron – Exceedingly well performed

Marching on Foot – Very well done

Manoeuvres – In general well-adapted to the ground, executed on good principles of movement, and with rapidity

Horse Furniture – In good order and well put on; made like those of the Heavy Dragoons; the Bitts of a bad form

General Observations – The Regiment is well composed with respect to the men, some few excepted, which are too tall or too heavy. From the peculiar circumstances of its having a fixed recruiting quarter in Yorkshire, it is pretty sure of being well recruited. These men are well trained and tho they were not quite as uniform in their riding as they might be, and the day was much against them, they appeared to be masters of their business. The horses were in very fine condition, many of them however full large, and like those of the 10th Dragoons very inferior in shape and action to some other Regiments of Light Dragoons.

In May of the following year they were again inspected and these comments were made:

General Observations – This is a highly finished Regiment. The men are graceful and excellent, with a martial countenance and manner that exhibit and exalted state of discipline. They have likewise imbibed military emulation that eminently entitles them to great commendation. They are perfectly formed for immediate service.

In January 1793, King Louis XVI was executed, prompting war between revolutionary France and her enemies: on 9th May that year the 11th Light Dragoons sailed for Flanders – the time for training and inspection was over.