Demystifying Marengo, Napoléon Bonaparte’s stallion

By Amelie Blackwell

Posted on May 19th, 2017 in General

Many mysteries surround Marengo the mythical white stallion of Napoleon Bonaparte. Did he really exist or was he just a mirage created by the Emperor’s predilection for the “oriental” horse? Did the British really capture the old stud after the defeat at Waterloo? And why is he not recorded in the French studbooks listings of Napoléon’s horses?

Napoleon’s legend tells us that his favorite white charger was named Marengo after the famous victory in Italy. This means that he was known after a different name before the battle of Marengo, and perhaps that name could be found in the French Studbooks. Interestingly, one of the horses described in the first ever published French Studbook (1838), fits the known description of Marengo perfectly. This stallion is called Seidiman (Sédiman in French).

Seidiman was a light grey horse, born in 1794 or 1793. He was not taken during the battle of Aboukir as the myth says. Several other stallions were indeed…but this is another story for a later time. Rather he was shipped to France from Hungary by a M. de La Barthe (a royalist of this era) and likely confiscated for the benefit of the new Emperor after his coup d’état. For several years indeed he was one of the Emperor’s favorite war horse. Seidiman was without a doubt at the battle of Marengo. We know this because the French archives record that following the victory, Napoléon left his mount to recover and serve as a stallion at “La Vénerie”, better known as the Stupnitz Stud, in Torino.

The Journal des Haras of 1836 relates the visit of Napoleon, returning from his Spanish campaign (in 1808), to the Stud of Pau, a city near the Pyrenees mountains, in the south-west of France. There, the Emperor met an old friend. My translation of the account follows:

“A first horse is presented; he is an Arabian: one called Seidiman…

The Emperor exclaims: “Ah! This is an old brother in arms, my poor Seidiman, here we meet again. How come he is here? I thought he was at the stud of La Vénerie.

The stud’s director answers: He was indeed, Sir. But as I was passing by Torino, I learnt he was not being used, so the Minister allowed me to bring him here, together with the Ptolemée and the Diezzer, both of which are gone to the Tarbes stud. (Note: Diezzer or Diezzard, is also recorded in the French Studbooks as an Arabian stallion sent from Constantinople around 1808 and was indeed standing at Tarbes).

The Emperor replies: But would you use him better here, with his bad shoulders?

To this the impertinent director would reply: Sir, I made sure to check his shoulders were good when he was used by your Majesty; this defect was caused by an accident, thus I do not consider it hereditary…”

As we learn from this extract, the tough little Seidiman was probably injured during the Marengo battle. Left to recover, he survived in Italy, but finally found his way back to France. At Pau, Seidiman was used from 1808 to 1821. In 1821, he was sold away to some M. Dargué. It was a strange French habit to reform old stallions easily during the 19th century and to sell them very cheap, no matter how brave and how much glory they achieved on the battlefield. To this, I guess most Bedouin breeders would have objected strongly! Many horse dealers likely benefited from it…and so far there is no objection to the fact that this M. Dargué took the horse to England or sold it to some Englis men as the lost “Marengo” of Napoléon.

In France, Seidiman’s progeny suffered from a bad reputation, although the horse himself was greatly admired. The Journal de Haras from the 15th of May 1830 gives more details about this: “Who would know that the beautiful Seidiman, one of the best legged horses, one of the best altogether that ever came to France, whose hocks were of the most perfect conformation, would give bad hocks to his progeny? It is only the truth that this part, so beautiful on the sire, was bad on several of his progeny; that some of the stallions bred from him, and some were remarkably beautiful, had to be reformed early on because of capped hocks; that several of his mares having the same problem, they transmitted it to their own progeny, even with stallion that did not exhibit this defect. But what is more significant, is that this conformation defect occurred more often over the grand-progeny of Seidiman, than on the first generation”.

Napoleon Bonaparte’s Arab Stallion, “Marengo” Antoine-Jean Gros — Sotheby’s

A couple of years later, his progeny had vanished from the purebred bloodlines bred by the National Studs or the private breeders…But here remains the image of the white horse mounted by a famous general during a famous battle.

7 Responses to “Demystifying Marengo, Napoléon Bonaparte’s stallion”

  1. but what if the two are different, and that Seidiman was just another of his stallions in Torino? I say that because Napoleon is supposed to have ridden Marengo at Iena in October 1806, which is not too long before his visit to Pau in 1808, and how the emperor greets the horse as if he had not seen him in a long long time does not match that…

  2. You are absolutely right Edouard! We know that Napoleon Bonaparte had many horses and I believe that several different horses are now blended together under this “Marengo myth”. “Marengo” is no longer a horse it is more like a legend. But every single of this war mount deserves their little memory under their proper name.
    It is also reported that on the battle field Bonaparte would care less about his mount. Taken on the hearth of the moment, he would ride anything that was available even a mule. Sometimes, he would not wait for a more suitable horse to his dignity in accordance to his impatient personality.
    He was a practical men: he had seen with his own eyes, the superiority of the Arabian steed on the battlefield. He experienced it vividly during the Egyptian Campaign. So, he was likely considering the “Oriental” horse as a perfect war “weapon” and planned its import and use in France to provide his army with vigorous, strong and tireless steeds.
    As for his personal mounts, he wanted to look important and be seen on the battlefield. Thus, he favored small horses (that would make him look bigger, he was not as small himself as one might have thought) and light colored ones.
    Seidiman he rode at least during Marengo battle until the horse was injured. But several other stallions were also personal mounts for some times: the bay Bagdad, the roan piebald Heliopolis, the roan Aboukir, then half a dozen grey stallions at least, etc.

  3. Where can we find a reliable list of the Arabian stallions he rode?

  4. The stallions mentioned above are from Journal des Haras vol.70 (1861 issues) including Bagdad, Heliopolis and Aboukir. I think it would be hard to list them all, but those were ridden and used at stud. You also can get a full listing of Napoleon’s horses given to the Haras to be used as breeding horses from the 1838 French Studbook, among them Persians, Turkomans, Barbs and Arabians. But the Journal vol.70 provides more detailed information on some of them. There is list on wiki based on historical researches from the Napoleon’s historical foundation, it is not exhaustive neither does the Haras listing but blending them together provides a glimpse of the huge number of horses ridden by the Emperor. This man was tireless!

    And for the record and maybe to round up this: when the Englishmen recorded and used the so-called “Marengo” of Bonaparte, the Frenches would have their “Wellington” Arabian likely! A chestnut (like the famous “Copenhagen”) of Duke of Wellington (Arthur Wellesley) reportedly Arabian stallion purchased from the Duke himself! Sadly his recorded birth date in the FSB is 1810 while the famous Chesnut Arabian of Wellesley (brother to the Duke) was already siring foals in England in 1805 (from GSB entry) International diplomatic “jokes” I guess 😉

  5. This might be of additional interest: https://hyperallergic.com/310371/taxidermists-restore-napoleons-beloved-white-horse/

  6. A good synopsis concerning Napoleon’s horses can be found in 1. Napoléon I et les Ecuries Impériales, by Dr Godefroy ; éd. du Rocher, 1992

  7. thank you for the reference

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