Help support TMP

"Napoleon's Women Camp Followers" Topic

36 Posts

All members in good standing are free to post here. Opinions expressed here are solely those of the posters, and have not been cleared with nor are they endorsed by The Miniatures Page.

For more information, see the TMP FAQ.

Back to the Napoleonic Discussion Message Board

Back to the Napoleonic Media Message Board

Areas of Interest


Featured Hobby News Article

Featured Link

Top-Rated Ruleset

De Bellis Antiquitatis (DBA)

Rating: gold star gold star gold star gold star gold star gold star gold star 

Featured Workbench Article

Current Poll

Featured Book Review

1,170 hits since 27 Oct 2020
©1994-2021 Bill Armintrout
Comments or corrections?

Tango01 Supporting Member of TMP28 Oct 2020 8:34 p.m. PST

"The cantinières who accompanied Napoleon's armies to war have an iconic status in the history of the Grande Armée. Sutler-women and laundresses were officially sanctioned members of the regiment performing a vital support role. In a period when the supply and pay services were haphazard, their canteen wagons and tents were a vital source of sustenance and served as the social hubs of the regiment.

Although officially non-combatants, many of these women followed their regiments into battle, serving brandy to soldiers in the firing line, braving enemy fire…"


Main page


Brechtel198 Supporting Member of TMP29 Oct 2020 3:19 a.m. PST

If these women were 'officially sanctioned' then they were not 'camp followers'-they were part of the units they were attached to.

They are well-described in Chapter XXX of Swords Around A Throne by John Elting, pages 605-616. They are also mentioned in soldiers' memoirs, such as those of Elzear Blaze.

Marshal Lefebvre's wife, the Madame Duchesse, had been one of them and had married Lefebvre when he was a sergeant.

One excellent description is from Alfred Guye's Le Bataillon de Neuchatel on page 199, paraphrased and described by Col Elting on page 605 of Swords:

'The Cossackes came whooping down on the Bataillon de Neufchatel's weary column as is slogged westward from the lost battle of Leipzig. Darting in, wheeling back, howling, but never charging home, they tried to bluff the yellow-uniformed battalion into disorder. Being well-salted veterans, the Neufcahtel 'canaries' closed up and kept marching, their voltigeur company deployed as skirmishers along their threatened flank. Like most Swiss, they were excellent shots: A number of Cossacks unexpectedly 'mordrent la poussiere' (bit the dust); the voltigeurs caught up their riderless horses, which were needed as mounts or pack animals for their own officers. An hour of such frustration satiated the ferocious horsemen of the steppes. But, at the last moment, one noticed that the Neufchatel vivandiere had lagged behind the column and made a determined charge at her. Not pausing to ponder whether he wanted her life, he money, her honor, or just a little harmless fun, that rude femme produced her pistol and shot him out of his saddle. She then mounted the Cossacks horse and rejoined the battalion 'to the applause of all the column.'

The lesson-don't mess with the Swiss, men or women. ;-)

If anyone is interested in this fascinating topic, the following might also be of use:

-Intrepid Women: Cantinieres and Vivandieres of the French Army by Thomas Cordoza.


-Following the Drum: Women in Wellington's Wars by FCG Page.


arthur181529 Oct 2020 11:01 a.m. PST

In the British Army of the period, six wives per company, selected by lot were permitted to accompany the regiment on campaign and draw rations in exchange for acting as laundresses &c. So they, too, were 'officially sanctioned'. Yet they are commonly referred to as 'camp followers' together with others who accompanied the soldiers.

But perhaps this book also covers other women who accompanied the French armies on campaign, whom it would be correct, in your terms, to describe as 'camp followers'…

Did not a French officer, captured by the British in Spain, describe his army to his captors as 'un bordel ambulant'?

Tango01 Supporting Member of TMP29 Oct 2020 11:13 a.m. PST

Thanks Kevin!…


YankeeDoodle29 Oct 2020 12:17 p.m. PST

"..other women who accompanied the French armies on campaign.." judging by the lady in the "hussar" uniform on the cover, possibly so?

forrester29 Oct 2020 12:35 p.m. PST

Would that be Marshall Massena's "aide de camp" ?

Brechtel198 Supporting Member of TMP30 Oct 2020 3:13 a.m. PST

The 'authorized' women of the regiments were not just cantinieres, but they were also vivandieres.

There were also blanchisseuses who were the company washerwomen. The future Madame Lefebvre was one of those.

'Many cantinieres were as brave as veteran grenadiers…Therese brought brandy to the soldiers amidst balls and bullets; she was twice wounded. Don't think that she did this to make money…when we were fighting she never asked for payment…With all these generous feelings [Therese] was horribly ugly, but few women from what I have seen (evil be unto him who evil thinks) had such shapely legs.'-Elzear Blaze.

One place to look for stories on the cantinieres, vivandieres, et al are in the solidiers' memoirs such as Elzear Blaze in his La Vie Militaire. Another helpful memoir is Sebastien Blaze's Memoires d'un Aide-Major sous la Premier Empire and The Diary of Peter Bussell, edited by Ga Turner.

Here is a link to Sebastien Blaze's book:


The Diary of Peter Bussell can be found on Abebooks:


Elzear Blaze's book can be found here:


Tango01 Supporting Member of TMP30 Oct 2020 11:47 a.m. PST

Thanks again!.


Personal logo SHaT1984 Supporting Member of TMP30 Oct 2020 2:19 p.m. PST

Yes I agree- the 'anglophile' terminology, suggestive salacious topic, unweildy ignorance shown the subject (which if truth be told had existed for centuries, if not millenia).

This is hardly worth the authors time- he is however a good one (read two of his books) and as a adherent and sponsor (former?) of re-enactors, no doubt supported 'real' women into these roles with suitable advice.

The 'osspray-MAA' tag has a lot to improve IMHO,
FWIW cup*croissants* d

YankeeDoodle31 Oct 2020 1:18 a.m. PST

"the 'anglophile' terminology" – it's written in English?
You seem to have formed some very firm opinions on a book that hasn't been published yet?

Personal logo SHaT1984 Supporting Member of TMP31 Oct 2020 2:07 a.m. PST

>>– it's written in English?

So you don't think 'camp followers' is an inappropriate term when applied, given the other data to hand? Being about N. per se, perhaps a French and accurate term could have been better applied.

After all, we di understand French as well…

In the English I understand, that means only one thing, always has… as B. has been clearly highlighting, it does not seem an appropriate term, no matter what 'common culture' may reference.
YMMV however, time for catnip…

Brechtel198 Supporting Member of TMP31 Oct 2020 2:37 a.m. PST

"the 'anglophile' terminology" – it's written in English?

Definition of 'anglophile':

"a person who greatly admires or favors England and things English"

It does not mean that the book is written in English…

Brechtel198 Supporting Member of TMP31 Oct 2020 2:55 a.m. PST

And the title of the book is misleading, though the blurb for the book is not.

Vivandieres, cantinieres, and blanchiseusses were authorized women in the French regiments and were not 'camp followers.'

The idea of camp followers was certainly prevalent in the old Royal Army, that tradition being maintained with the coming of the Revolutionary Wars.

Recognizing the problem, the Convention made a decree that stated that the only women allowed with the armies were six blanchiseusses and vivandiers per infantry battalion and four per cavalry regiment.

That was a start to limit the numbers of women, wives included, with the armies, which was never actually solved and dependent on the situation with the individual armies.

In 1800 the number of vivandiers was officially established as four per battalion and two per squadron, and they had to be married to NCOs or soldiers on active duty. And they were issued an official patent by the unit, the patente de Vivandiere, and their official badge was their tonnelet, the small keg they carried usually filled with brandy or any other potent beverage.

These rudes femmes were considered an asset to the army as a whole and they went into the fire with their regiments, some of them exhibiting great bravery and many paying the price of admission by getting themselves killed or wounded.

And most of them wore a semi-military uniform, a uniform jacket of some type and either a bonnet de police or a bonnet tied under the chin to keep it in place.

And then there were the children born to these intrepid women, some of whom would become enfants de troupe if their parents were killed or died, and those that showed aptitude for military service were carefully nurtured in the units, being placed under the care of an officer, two sergeants, and four corporals for his education.

It is a fascinating subject and I do hope the book does the subject justice.

Definition of 'camp follower':

a civilian (such as a prostitute) who follows a military unit to attend or exploit military personnel.

So, the title is misleading, but it should be mentioned that the author may not have had any choice on the title.

Brechtel198 Supporting Member of TMP31 Oct 2020 3:12 a.m. PST

So you don't think 'camp followers' is an inappropriate term when applied, given the other data to hand? Being about N. per se, perhaps a French and accurate term could have been better applied.

Agree completely. Again, well done.


14Bore31 Oct 2020 3:27 a.m. PST

If well read, someone using the term "camp follower" you should know what they imply even if they don't.
Camp followers could mean everyone not in ranks but sanctioned to wives to those who are there in hope of a quick coin.

Had a Russian partisan pack with a few women figures, 2 got on a pack horse stand as suttlers and 1 is in the ranks musket in hand, maybe a wife or other camp follower but in the moment took the place of a soldier.

Handlebarbleep31 Oct 2020 7:50 a.m. PST


Camp followers, although clearly non-combatant, does not mean unregulated in British military speak either, as arthur1815 has already pointed out.

Indeed, when serving abroad, even in the modern period, British Army wives were considered subject to military law. Since the Human Rights Act this may have changed, but for the purposes of the Army Act a wive's Officer Commanding was considered the unit's Quartermaster. Breeches of standing orders and other summary offences were dealt with by him (or nowadays her as well).

However, class boundaries still applied, hence the aprochryphal instruction:

"Officers and their Ladies, Sergeants and their Wives, Other Ranks and their Women"

YankeeDoodle31 Oct 2020 11:32 a.m. PST

"Camp Followers" isn't a pejorative term – unless you're one of the professionally offended.

Handlebarbleep31 Oct 2020 12:08 p.m. PST


It depends, are you are using Camp as a noun or an adjective?

Even then, not really, after all it takes all sorts……

YankeeDoodle31 Oct 2020 2:59 p.m. PST

I intended "row of tents" rather than "as a row of tents"?

Brechtel198 Supporting Member of TMP31 Oct 2020 3:02 p.m. PST

"Camp Followers" isn't a pejorative term – unless you're one of the professionally offended.

In the case of the French, and especially the Grande Armee there is a difference between 'camp followers' and the vivandieres, etc.

Nine pound round31 Oct 2020 3:13 p.m. PST

That was true for dependents of American military personnel overseas as well, under certain circumstances, until Kinsella v Krueger in 1953.

Handlebarbleep31 Oct 2020 3:37 p.m. PST

@Nine pound round

In Germany I think it was codified in the NATO Status of Forces Agreement.

In the British Army it goes back to before the Napoleonic period. I seem to recall Cornwell covered it in one of the Sharpes when our hero was QM of the batallion and had to discipline the wives.

Another good reason for the QM to be from the ranks and a bit more 'worldly wise'. I did a period standing in as 'welfare/families officer'. If it wasn't for confidentiality concerns, I could tell a few stories that would make your hair curl!

Nine pound round31 Oct 2020 3:43 p.m. PST

I've heard ‘em. I spent five years in an artillery battalion. I investigated many, many adultery cases. Those were the days.

Handlebarbleep31 Oct 2020 3:46 p.m. PST


So, how accurate do you think the Nicholette character in Seven Men of gascony is then?

Handlebarbleep31 Oct 2020 3:53 p.m. PST

@Nine Pound Round

I actually thought that it was NAAFI (our version of a PX) that single-handedly kept the "OMO" brand of washing powder in production long after it's time.

Placed in a kitchen window, the title on the packet conveniently stood for "Old Man Out"!

"You see, I've got a problem with my girlfriend Sir"
"What's that Corporal?"
"My wife's found out about her Sir!"

Nine pound round31 Oct 2020 4:11 p.m. PST

(Paraphrasing, and shortening)

Me: "So, Miss X, you say you are not involved in a sexYak relationship with SSG Y. In that case, would you be willing to make a statement to that effect in writing? If you care about him, it would help his case. I can administer the oath now and take your statement."

She: "No, I don't want to get involved."

Me: "Well, that's a shame – it would help his case. I will be going then- but if I were you, I'd get tested. He clapped his wife."

She passed me in the parking lot, and four blocks down, I saw the car she was driving parked in front of a clinic.

Brechtel198 Supporting Member of TMP01 Nov 2020 2:58 a.m. PST

…how accurate do you think the Nicholette character in Seven Men of gascony is then?

A novel? Haven't read it in years, though I do still have it.

Why don't you stick to factual material, such as that posted on the subject? Are you so desperate for material that you have to search in novels now?

Terry Crowdy14 Feb 2021 6:20 a.m. PST

Thank you all for your interest in my forthcoming book.
The title of the book was decided by a panel at Osprey. They perhaps thought this title would be better understood by the USA market.
Were the women 'camp followers'? Well, they were not soldiers. They were not service personnel as we would understand it. Some might have followed the regiment into action (many did not), and they may have helped the odd wounded fellow out, but they were not medics or nurses. They were not paid by the state. They wore no uniform, not even a cockade. They had zero tactical role. They were civilian women married (most of the time) to a soldier and they wore normal civilian clothes. As well as their authorisation to follow the regiment, they also required authorisation to follow the army, so in that context, "camp follower" makes a clear distinction from servicewoman. All that said, they were a common sight in Napoleon's armies, and their essential role needs to be clearly explained. (What's the difference between a vivandiere and a cantiniere?)
There are two plates in the excellent artwork which show women in uniforms. Both are there to tell a true story and to reinforce the fact women were unable to serve as soldiers (after 1792) and that officers' wives were not allowed to follow the army (but did). The woman in the chasseur uniform on the cover (not my choice) is actually "Cleopatra" and you'll understand the context of the picture when you read she disguised herself as a man until she got to Cairo (the rest of the story is famous).
This book is lavishly illustrated. Osprey were planning to include a lot of colour prints, not just the usual black and white images. The colour plates by Christa Hook represent the most accurate depiction of what women wore, probably in the last 190 years. We bury the anachronistic interpretation of women wearing a quasi-uniforms as they did later in the 19th century. And I explain the fashion of working women (French women were as conscious of fashion then as they are now now). So if you don't know about wearing Madras like a Creole, you need to buy this book and find out!
Again, thanks for the interest – the book is out next month.

Nine pound round14 Feb 2021 9:33 a.m. PST

And no time like Valentine's Day to revive this particular thread!

Personal logo deadhead Supporting Member of TMP14 Feb 2021 12:09 p.m. PST

For sure. Bunch of flowers from our local store (almost stripped). Went down well, I threw three sixes there. Shame the middle son was at home however, no benefit.

I still think this is the ultimate wind up Osprey. They cannot be serious. There are so many huge gaps in their range…..

But thanks to Terry Crowdy for the insight. I will take it all back, maybe. I must be less cynical. Actually, in all seriousness, good for him for tackling a difficult and challenging subject. Yes, I got this wrong before even seeing the book. Apologies. Crap title though. Do not underestimate the market amongst King George's rebel colonies in choosing that.

Terry Crowdy14 Feb 2021 1:44 p.m. PST

Work out how many authorised women went to Russia with the Grande Armée in 1812. We are talking thousands of people, so it is a legitimate subject. Then there were the non-regimental cantinieres (with their civilian husbands they were authorised by armies, but were more freelance – they set up bars and restaurants in occupied towns, or in camps), and there were huge numbers of civilian French women who left Moscow with the army on the retreat (they had a really hard time). Add to this all the babies born to the women on the way to Russia (loads), and the children who were not authorised by the regiment, but who followed anyway (young girls would have stayed with the mother until they could be married off, because there was no other solution for them). If you were a Russian peasant watching the Grande Armée marching by, you would have noticed the large number of women with the army. They need documenting: properly!

ConnaughtRanger14 Feb 2021 3:49 p.m. PST

There are a lot of po-faced contributors to this thread. It's certainly a valid topic and there's a gap in the market – the Page book is excellent but very Anglo-centric; Cordoza is very worthy but such a dull read. And Ms Hook's artwork is usually excellent

Personal logo SHaT1984 Supporting Member of TMP14 Feb 2021 4:51 p.m. PST

>>They wore no uniform, not even a cockade.
That's hard to shake. Find me any French women who doesnt wear them! Well, maybe I'll never know..

SO when's the 'Mens' edition coming out…??
;-) ducks____

Sergeant Joe Supporting Member of TMP15 Feb 2021 9:06 a.m. PST

later Marshal Lefebvre's wife, the Madame Duchesse, was called madame sans gêne she used strong words even even in the vicinity of the emperor

Nine pound round15 Feb 2021 9:49 a.m. PST

It's hard being an Army wife in a day and age when there's actually a system designed to help you deal with it all; the stories that come out of that era can be heartbreaking. There's a presumption that was a chivalrous age, but that wasn't always true, and a lot of terrible things happened.

I just finished "Rifle Green in the Peninsula," a history of the 95th. The first volume covers the retreat to Corunna, and includes some stories about wives dropping out of the line of March to give birth, attended by their husbands, and catching up at the end of the day with a baby in their arms; some of the infants survived and some did not. At one point, a group of the wives fell behind; according to the book, the pursuing cavalry advance guard caught them, raped them all, and then sent them on their way back up the road to their husbands.

Interestingly, when the 1/95th returned to Spain in early 1809, they didn't bring any of their women with them, although the other battalions in the Light Division did.

14Bore15 Feb 2021 2:47 p.m. PST

At a convention found a (15mm AB I think) Russian Partisan pack that had 4 women figures, 3 are on 2 horse pack trains and 1 is in a battalion in line, all had muskets.

Sorry - only verified members can post on the forums.