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23 Oct 2017 3:23 p.m. PST
by Editor in Chief Bill

  • Changed title from ""grognads" " to ""grognards" "

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Le Breton23 Oct 2017 12:52 p.m. PST

Can anyone, using contemporary sources, tie Napoléon to the use of the term "grognard" as a usual nickname for the grenadierss of his guard?


The first usage of "grognards" to describe soldiers, according to several etymological dictionaries (for example : link ), was in this work describing the campaign of 1809 :

Voyage en Autriche, en Moravie et en Bavière: fait à la suite de l'armé française, pendant la campagne de 1809
le chevalier de l'Empire pharmacien Charles-Louis Cadet de Gassicourt (1769-1821)
Paris: L'Huillier, 1818.

On pages 75-76, the author recounts a viviandière saying :
"Tout ce qui compose mon bagage et mes provisions ne m'a pas coûté un sou. C'est le régiment qui me l'a donné; ce sont les grognards (1) qui ont fait ma part au dernier pillage, et c'est aux grognards que je vendrai ces mêmes provisions qu'ils trouveront juste de payer, parce qu'ils n'ont pas eu la peine de les conserver, de les transporter. Le bons lurons! ….
(1) On appelle "grognards" à l'armée, les soldats qui déjà beaucoup de service, et qui portent des moustaches."

"All my baggage and provisions did not cost me a sou. It was the regiment what gave it to me; it was the grognards (1) who did my part in the last looting, and it is to the grognards that I will sell these same provisions, for which they will find it just to pay, because they have not had the trouble of preserving them, of transporting them. Such good fellas!
(1) One calls "gronards" in the army the soldiers who have already seen a lot of service, and who wear mustaches."


The first linking of Napoléon with the term seems to stem from 1815, when a booklet was simulataneously published in French, German and English (the editions are not identical) immediately upon Napoléon's return from Elba. The booklet has all the indications of being a piece of government propaganda.

Une année de la vie de l'Empereur Napoléon: ou précis historique de tout ce qui s'est passé depuis le 1er avril 1814 jusqu'au 21 mars 1815, relativement à S. M. et aux braves qui l'ont accompagnée : contenant son départ de Fontainebleau, son embarquement à Saint-Rapheau près Fréjus, son arrivée à Porto-Ferrajo, son séjour à l'île d'Elbe et son retour à Paris
Paris : Eymery, 1815
Also simulataneously published in France by Imbert, Delaunay, Pellicier and several other publishers.

Ein Lebens-Jahr des Kaisers Napoleon oder geschichtliche Darstellung der Abreise Napoleons nach der Insel Elba, Sein Aufenthalt daselbst und Seine Rückkehr nach Paris. Aus dem Französischen. (Zusatz-Akte zur Staats-Verfassung Frankreichs.).

A Year of the Life of the Emperor Napoleon; or an historical account of all that happened from the 1st of April, 1814, to the 20th of March, 1815, relative to His Majesty and the brave men who accompanied him; his departure from Fontainebleau, his embarkation at St. Rupheau near Frejus; his arrival at Porto-Ferrajo; his residence at the island of Elba; and his return to Paris.
New York David Longworth, 1815
Also published in New York by a French emigré Joseph Desnoues

In all 41 editions of the booklet were immediately printed upon Napoléon's return, in several countries.

The author is given as "lieutenant de grenadiers de la garde impériale A.-D.-B. M ****"
The author is said by the bibliographer Joseph-Marie Quérard to have the surname "Monier".

However, no such officer is listed among the garde at Elba.
Histoire anecdotique, politique et militaire de la Garde impériale
Émile Marco de Saint-Hilaire
See : link
pages 550 et seq.

From page 69 of the Eymery edition:
"L'Empereur se plaisait à causer ayec ses grenadiers, dont il avait si bien jugé le cœur. Comme tous les vieux militaires, ils ne paraissaient jamais tout à fait contens; et par une de ces expressions qui peignent au soldat l'affection qu'on lui porte, beaucoup mieux que les plus belles phrases, il les appelait ses grognards."
"The Emperor liked to talk with his grenadiers, whose hearts he so well judged, and like all the old soldiers, they never seemed perfectly happy, and by one of those expressions which depict to the soldiers the affection which he has for them, much better than the most beautiful phrases, he called them his grognards."


There is another version ….

After re-telling how the pay of the garde on Elba was reduced …..
"Bounaparte fit vendre à Livourne tout ce qui avait quleque valeur, et ne pas plus personnes à l'île d'Elbe (23)…..
"(23) C'est de la suppression de la paye aux soldats de sa garde de l'ile d'Elbe, qu'est venue la dénomination de grognards, que Buonaparte leur avait donnée , et dont on a fourni une autre explication."
"Bounaparte had had sold at Livorno everything that had any value, and did not pay anymore to anyone at the island of Elba (23)….
(23) It is from the suppression of the pay to the soldiers of his guard on the island of Elba that came the denomination of grognards, which Buonaparte had then given them, and for which another explanation was [later] furnished."

Histoire du cabinet des Tuileries, depuis le 20 mars 1815, et de la conspiration qui a ramené Buonaparte en France
Joseph Lingay
Paris : Chanson, 1815
pages 26 and 83

Lingay was a somewhat shadowy administrative functionary of the both the 1er Empire and the restoration, and a intimate of de Montholon, Stendhal, Louis Phillipe and just about everyone else. Blazac modelled the character of Chardin des Lupeaulx on him.
See : link
And from de Balzac (English translation) :

The work is also sometime attributed to a docteur Sébastien Guillié (1780-1865), a former army medicin who, with royal patronage, was appointed to run a school for the blind in Paris during the restoration. The school is most famous for one of its pupils, Louis Braille.


And so ….
"Grognards" for any veteran soldier seems to be legit mid/late 1st Empire slang
It appears that Napoleon's use of the phrase with regard to the grenadiers of his guard started only in 1815 on Elba and so was not his constant or usual nickname for them. Indeed, depending on who is writing about the incident, the phrase was either one of manly endearment (100 Days propaganda) or arose in vexation when the grenadiers complained of a pay cut (restoration-era).
In general, the phrase does not make it into print very much until after 1830 or so. It starts showing in French dictionaries, with the meaning of any old soldier of the 1er Empire, in about 1835.

Personal logo McLaddie Supporting Member of TMP23 Oct 2017 1:02 p.m. PST

Le Breton:

I am not clear on what you mean by 'linked.'

Grognard was fairly common slang just like 'Grunt' later on was for American soldiers @1970 and after. That various officers used the term to describe soldiers doesn't necessarily 'link' the term to them.

I know that the term referred to an veteran and not just the Guard in the uses I have seen as you have documented.

Art23 Oct 2017 1:11 p.m. PST

G'Day Monsieur Le Breton,

According to Bardin, page 2663

GROGNARD, subs. masc. v. Garde Imperiale No 3. v. soldat.

Not much…sorry…and may validate your point:

"It starts showing in French dictionaries, with the meaning of any old soldier of the 1er Empire, in about 1835."

Best Regards

robert piepenbrink Supporting Member of TMP23 Oct 2017 3:31 p.m. PST

Beyond my competence. But it's worth noting that unless someone is deliberately coining a word--not alleged in this instance--spoken usage will precede written, and we can all sit around and argue by how much. That your viviandiere finds it necessary to explain the usage suggests Imperial slang--perhaps c. 1809 as the percentage of old soldiers dropped?

But as you point out, we have it in print in reference to the Old Guard as soon as 1815, and the evidence that it was already slang for an old soldier seems to preclude the story specifically linking it to pay problems in 1814. I'd say 1D6 years earlier than 1815.

Le Breton23 Oct 2017 4:02 p.m. PST

Hi McLaddie,

By "linked", I mean Napoléon using the word, or its use being attributed to him, especially with regard to the grenadiers his guard. There are plenty of modern examples of this, but I was at pains to find them in the era.

Here is a typical modern example :
"A grenadier of the Imperial Guard, the archetypal 'grognard' or 'grumbler' – Napoleon's nickname for his men – wearing campaign dress."
David G. Chandler
Pen and Sword, 2000
page 191

However, it seems from what I could find ….
--- that the word was not in usage at all until the Eylau campaign or afterwards
--- that the term referred to all long service soldiers, and not only guardsmen
--- that Napoléon did not use this term as a common nickname for his grenadiers of the guard
--- that Napléon only used the term in 1815, and possibly with a negative connotation

And so I asked if any other colleague could show a closer, contemporary link between Napoléon and this term.

For your modern parallel, the question would be : Did Creighton Abrams affectionately call his infantrymen "grunts" or not?

"Grognard was fairly common slang"
I am not so sure how common it was. I found only the listed usages (2 in 1815, 1 in 1818 describing 1809). I would be very interested to see other indications that it was a commonly used phrase before 1830. The writer in 1818 felt that the term was obscure enough to explicitly define it in a footnote to his text.

Le Breton23 Oct 2017 4:07 p.m. PST

Hi Robert,

Yes, 1D6 or so looks about right to me. However, it was the author writing in 1818 who added the definition – the vivandière was quoted as using the term in 1809.

Brechtel198 Supporting Member of TMP24 Oct 2017 4:59 a.m. PST

Whether or not Napoleon used the term 'grognard' is irrelevant. What is relevant is that the term was used by the army at large to describe veterans of any branch.

I would suggest taking a look at some of the soldiers' memoirs, such as those by Parquin, Barres, Bourgogne, Coignet, Caulaincourt, Bugeaud, Blaze, Boulart, and others that may help you try to understand soldiers in general and those of the Grande Armee in particular.

Oliver Schmidt24 Oct 2017 10:13 a.m. PST

This morning, in the Napoleon-Online forum:


a son of William Tell brought two examples from Coignet (first published around 1850) that Napoleon called his guard grenadiers grognards for the first time during the 1807 campaign:



Oliver Schmidt24 Oct 2017 11:34 p.m. PST

William's son adds that the incident mentioned by Coignet already happened on the march to Pultusk (December 1806) and that in Bardin's "Dictionnaire de l'Armée de Terre", the two references mentioned by Art are:

Garde Impériale. Napoleon called his guards "les vieux grognards" (p. 2484).

Soldat. "Une rudesse habituelle, un orgueil qui sent la poudre, ont fait donner amicalement aux vieux soldats de Bonaparte, et par Bonaparte lui-même, le titre de grognards." (p. 4892.)

Le Breton25 Oct 2017 1:52 a.m. PST

Please thank our colleague on the German-language forum. It is exactly this kind of reference information which interested me.

"Aber sicher wird uns Le Breton eines Besseren belehren und uns mitteilen, dass Coignet das alles erfunden hat, weil der ja seine Memoiren lange nach den napoleonischen Kriegen veröffentlicht hat"

Well, it is true. The usage after 1830 or 1835 was rather common. And Coignet in general has not been thought of as a source of great precision. On the other hand, the phrase appears in the original 1851 edition numerous times. And we have a specific story of when it was first used by Napoléon.

The Bardin citation, in addition to being from 1841, is not inconsistent with the propaganda pamphlet published broadly during the Cent Jours. As the usage was common by 1841, nothing would have led Bardin to doubt it.

As a source, the Coignet is a slender reed to grasp onto. Our colleague in Germany believes him. And I do also, at least with regard to the usage at Pultulsk. As to an habitual nickname used affectionately by Napoléon, that the term came to have that connotation *after* the restoration, *before* Coignet wrote, tends to undermine the confidence we can place on the Coignet on this point.

Again, please extend my thanks to our German colleague.

42flanker25 Oct 2017 3:30 a.m. PST

Great stuff, Breton et al, – Belles filles</>, grognards, 'Corsican Ogre': there are cherished epithets and anecdotes from every period in the history, military and civil, of most countries.

It is important to 'interrogate' (as pundits like to say) these traditions, particularly in this age of information, to make sure it is information and not fireside chat. History is fun and folklore is fun but it is necessary to maintain the distinction between the two.

Le Breton25 Oct 2017 5:24 a.m. PST

"It is important to 'interrogate' (as pundits like to say) these traditions, particularly in this age of information, to make sure it is information and not fireside chat. History is fun and folklore is fun but it is necessary to maintain the distinction between the two."

Yes! Exactly! Thank you!
I would have written the same if I had the wit and literacy to form the idea into words. You express perfectly what I was thinking about.

42flanker25 Oct 2017 3:59 p.m. PST

Je vous en prie

(Pardon the inept formatting above. I was in a hurry before the wifi faded again. Dateline: Ultima Thule

Brechtel198 Supporting Member of TMP09 Nov 2017 5:24 a.m. PST

As a source, the Coignet is a slender reed to grasp onto.

And why is that?

Personal logo 4th Cuirassier Supporting Member of TMP09 Nov 2017 6:17 a.m. PST

And Angus McBride

Marc at work09 Nov 2017 6:48 a.m. PST

Surely not, a Napoleonic myth that may be true! Le Breton will not allow that, surely…

Interesting though

Personal logo 4th Cuirassier Supporting Member of TMP09 Nov 2017 6:59 a.m. PST

What happened? A whole post just vanished.

Here is a reference to Napoleon calling his grenadiers "grognards" before Elba; it's from a book called "A year in the life of the Emperor Napoleon" and it was published in March 1815.

It says, in part:

L'Empereur se plaisait a causer avec ses grenadiers, dont il avait si bien juge la coeur…par une de ces expressions qui peignent au soldat l'affection qu'on lui porte…il les appelait ses grognards.

Un jour, vers les derniers temps, "Eh bien! grognard, dit-il a l'un d'eux, tu t'ennuie?"

"Non, sire, mais je ne m'amuse pas, toujours."

(The Emperor liked to chat with his grenadiers, whose heart he had so well judged…by one of those expressions that convey to the soldier the affection in which he is held…he called them 'his grumblers'.

One day, towards the final times, he said to one of them, "Well then! Are you bored?"

"No, sire, but I'm not enjoying myself, ever.")

Given this was published before the 100 Days (just) and refers to the "final times" it can't refer to Elba.

Grognard is also found in an 1813 German-French dictionary as the French meaning of Quarrer. This is a noun formed from the archaic German verb quarren, which means to complain or grumble.

Le Breton09 Nov 2017 8:33 a.m. PST

"a book called "A year in the life of the Emperor Napoleon" "

This source was discussed, quoted, translated and linked in my opening post.
The work has key marks of a government propaganda piece : fictional officer given as the author, simultaneous publication in 41 editions in several countries within the Cent Jours, uncritically laudatory of the government and Napoléon, exceedingly hostile to those opposed to the government and Napoléon


As to the first use of "grognard", it was already in the Académie's "dictionaire" by 1798 :
Le Dictionnaire de l'Académie française. Cinquième Édition. T.1
GROGNARD s. mas. Qui est dans l' habitude de grogner. Il est familier.
The Academy was rather conservative in adding usages, so it likely dates from before the Revolution. But this did not have a particular military meaning, let alone any connection to Napoléon.

The question was not as to the first use of the term, although the term seems to have become army slang for a veteran during the mid-Empire.
The question was not if Napoléon ever used the term to show annoyance or displeasure, as reported by Lingay (see above), or just as slang.

The question was : when and how did the term become associated with Napoléon as an affectionate nickname for his old guards?

The answer, so far, is a piece of Cent Jours propaganda.


"As a source, the Coignet is a slender reed to grasp onto."

Why? Because what he wrote (or dictacted, or drafted and had someone else "polish", or had someone to write in his name) appeared in 1851. At that point even dictionaries (such as Bardin's) were echoing the propaganda piece of the Cent Jours, and asserting that Napoléon had an affectionate nickname for his men.


@Marc at work

"Surely not, a Napoleonic myth that may be true! Le Breton will not allow that, surely…"

Can I assume that you are jesting? I really hope so.

I only asked a question : can anyone find contemporary evidence for usage of the term by Napoléon as an affectionate nickname?
Since the usage as an affectionate nickname is in just about every modern work on Napoléon, as an indication of his character, his care for his troops, etc. – I thought it was worth asking where did we learn about this facet of Napoléon's character.

So far, the answer is a pretty obvious propaganda piece from 1815, and then some scattered usages in the 1830's, more in the 1840's and general usage from the 1850's, when Coignet (or whoever it was) was writing.

I say "so far", as we may get more of an answer from other colleagues.
I asked a question, those who were interested answered.
I did not say anything was a "myth".

Do you have a problem with any of this?

Brechtel198 Supporting Member of TMP09 Nov 2017 9:01 a.m. PST

"As a source, the Coignet is a slender reed to grasp onto."
Why? Because what he wrote (or dictacted, or drafted and had someone else "polish", or had someone to write in his name) appeared in 1851. At that point even dictionaries (such as Bardin's) were echoing the propaganda piece of the Cent Jours, and asserting that Napoléon had an affectionate nickname for his men.

Then demonstrate what you have 'proposed.' All you are stating is uninformed opinion, not fact. Prove Coignet wrong.

Le Breton09 Nov 2017 9:13 a.m. PST

The word "grognart" seems to have been used once in 1622, in a book title :
"La chasse au viel grognart de l'antiquité"
It seems othave been an anonymous sketch of life and manners at the court of Louis XIII

The term "grognard" is not found in ….
in the Dictionnaire de l'Académie française [ 1768 ]
Féraud's Dictionaire critique de la langue française [ 1787 ]

in 1798 – no military menetion ….
Le Dictionnaire de l'Académie française. Cinquième Édition. T.1 [ 1798 ]
GROGNARD. s. mas. Qui est dans l' habitude de grogner. Il est familier.

In 1835 – no military mention ….
Le Dictionnaire de l'Académie française. Sixième Édition. T.1 [ 1835 ]
GROGNARD, ARDE. adj. GROGNARD, ARDE. adj. Qui est dans l' habitude de grogner. Cet homme est bien grognard. Cette femme est grognarde.
Il s' emploie aussi substantivement. C' est un grognard, une grognarde. Un vieux grognard. Ce mot est familier.

In 1878 – associated with Napoléon and the vieille garde ….
Dictionnaire de la langue française (Littré). Tome 2 [ 1873 ]
GROGNARD, ARDE gro-gnar, gnar-d' adj.
Qui est dans l'habitude de grogner. Elle est bien grognarde. Il se dit aussi des choses. L'air grognard et maussade des valets
Particulièrement. Nom donné aux soldats de la vieille garde sous le premier empire, et, en général, à un vieux soldat, le plus souvent en un sens favorable.
"Vous forceriez cette pauvre enfant d'épouser un vieux grognard ; car que suis-je autre chose ?" – Ch. de Bernard, Le Gentilhomme Chapagnard II, XXVI [1858]
XVIe s.

Le Breton09 Nov 2017 9:24 a.m. PST

"All you are stating is uninformed opinion, not fact. "

My degree of information is that "Coignet" (or whoever) wrote in the 1850's – after the word had already attained an association with Napoléon as his affectionate nickname for his troops.

No-one is alleging Coignet was "wrong". He wrote what he wrote. He is – in my opinion – a "slender reed" as to usage 40 years before he wrote becasue (i) his actual authorship of his memoires have been questioned – they are very well written and no samples of writing from Coignet show anything other than modest literacy, and (ii) the work post-dates general acceptance of the word as a Napoleonic affectionate nickname – and so may not indicate contemporary usage during the Empire.

The question remains, other than from a piece of Cent Jours propaganda, what *contemporary* evidence do we have for Napoléon's use of "grognards" as an affectionate nickname for his troops , especially his Old Guards?

Do you, Mr. Brechtel, have any such contemporary evidence?

Brechtel198 Supporting Member of TMP09 Nov 2017 12:17 p.m. PST

You should use memoirs together, not as single pieces of evidence. That use would support the idea, as well as the process, of historical inquiry.

von Winterfeldt10 Nov 2017 7:15 a.m. PST

@Le Breton

Indeed Coignets memoires – have to be seen in context – as all sources. I agree – not always that convincing, I have my difficulties in trusting sources when they can retell word for word what they did speak in conversations 50 years before, Coignet's so called memoires are full of it. Also, as most memoire writers did he consulted historical works to refresh his mind and legends like that the Russians at Austerlitz took a "horrible bath" when the frozen lakes broke due to artillery fire, were proven as legend.
So wfar very weak arguments that Boney did use the word grognard or grognards, he did use others.

Also in case I remember correctly Coignet was illiterate and had to learn to read and write to get his NCO position in the Guard, so most likley his memoires were written by a more fluent ghost writer than himself.

Brechtel198 Supporting Member of TMP16 Nov 2017 11:07 a.m. PST

There is an interesting book out, Napoleon (Reputations) by RS Alexander that talks about Chateaubriand and the 'Ogre' theory regarding Napoleon. Chateaubriand apparently referred to Napoleon as the 'Prince of Darkness.'

Stoppage16 Nov 2017 2:30 p.m. PST

Not really on topic -

The best Chateaubriand I've ever eaten was at Gaucho's restaurant in Gibraltar. Served on a hot rock with rosemary and garlic. You had to slide the cooked piece out from under the stack and allow the next piece to start sizzling.

Discovered it on a very rainy evening – garlicky cooking fumes emanating from a small pipe; couldn't get in that evening – got in a few days later. Mmmmmmm.

Brechtel198 Supporting Member of TMP16 Nov 2017 4:29 p.m. PST

You're correct. It should be in the thread 'Battery Names.' I reposted it there.

Brechtel198 Supporting Member of TMP16 Nov 2017 4:29 p.m. PST

…so most likley his memoires were written by a more fluent ghost writer than himself.

And you know this how…?

Marc at work17 Nov 2017 1:07 a.m. PST

Breton – very much joking, and I hope you took it in that spirit. I find you and many others absolute goldmines of information based on solid research, so I applaud your efforts, whilst gently joshing around how much of my youth crumbles away – I just hope you never turn your attention to Robin Hood and King Arthur…

But, Joking aside, from my reading around Shakespeare and other English language sources, it is sometimes the case that the use of words in language can often predate the written recording. So I find these threads interesting even if I am, personally, wary of stating anything definitively.

Anyway – carry on with the research as you are adding to us enthusiasts' knowledge all the time


Le Breton17 Nov 2017 4:45 a.m. PST

The publication history of the Coignet is discussed in some detail in the introduction to an edition of 1965.

[Ses mémoires] furent d'abord publiés à Auxerre entre 1851 et 1853 sous le titre "Aux vieux de la vieille" …. Le premier tirage de ses mémoires, de 500 exemplaires, fut directement vendu par Coignet à ses clients. Ces cahiers étaient écrits dans un français approximatif, Coignet n'ayant appris à lire et à écrire selon ses dires qu'en 1808, entre Friedland et Wagram. En 1883, un érudit, Lorédan Larchey, en révisant le style de l'auteur, publia de larges extraits de "Aux vieux de la vieille" sous le titre "Les cahiers du capitaine Coignet".

[His memoirs] were first published at Auxerre between 1851 and 1853 under the title "Aux vieux de la vieille" …. The first printing of his memoirs, of 500 examples, was sold directly by Coignet to his customers. These were written in approximately French [language], Coignet not having learned to read and write, according to his own words, until 1808, between Friedland and Wagram. In 1883 [18 years after Coignet's death], a scholar, Lorédan Larchey, reworking the style of the author, published large extracts of "Aux vieux de la vieille" under the title "Les cahiers du capitaine Coignet".

'Aux vieux de la vieille' – Les Souvenirs de Jean-Roch Coignet
Paris : Éditions De Saint-Clair, 1965
page 7

von Winterfeldt17 Nov 2017 5:34 a.m. PST

yes indeed, addtional as I pointed ot – context and ciritical revision of all memoires – blind trust – won't do.

Grognards, so far – I cannot see any strong arguments that Boney used it during his active carreer.

Le Breton17 Nov 2017 1:48 p.m. PST


Thanks – I thought I understood you correctly.
" I am, personally, wary of stating anything definitively."

I agree 100% …. I like to look and see what turns up (and not just accept that if some more secondary source says soemthing it mustbe true). We will never know most things about the past with 100% accuracy. But we can avoid *adding* inaccuracy by checking the most original contemporary sources and using them with precision and – as Von Winterfeldt says – with context and critical appraisals.

With the internet, we can put everything we find online – and then let each of us derive their own conclusions – instead of being "instructed" by some "expert" what we should think.

Marc at work20 Nov 2017 10:58 a.m. PST

Well said that man

These Naps threads can so often disintegrate into name calling etc amongst "experts" – passions run hi. So I am always happy to see the research even if I do often get lost in the arguments.

All the best


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