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The Salamanca Eagle

The French Imperial Eagle of the 22ième Regiment de la Ligne was taken at the Battle of Salamanca, 22 July 1812, by Ensign John Pratt of the 30th Foot.

It is the finest and most important military trophy in the possession of the Lancashire Infantry Museum and is listed by the Home Office as a British National Treasure. As such it may not be disposed of or taken out of the country, even temporarily, without Government permission.

The eagle was chosen as the symbol of the Grande Armee by the Emperor Napoleon Buonaparte in 1804. The Eagle bore the same significance to French Imperial regiments as the colours do to British regiments - to lose its Eagle would bring shame to the regiment, which pledged to defend it to the death.

Only Imperial Eagles captured in battle have survived, those still cherished by their original owners being ordered destroyed after the final defeat of Napoleon. Most were captured in Russia or Prussia and were preserved in St Petersburg or Berlin. There is no record of any of these surviving World War II and it is therefore possible that the few held by the British Army are the only examples still in existence.

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The Salamanca Eagle on display in the Museum. It is missing its talons, damage believed to have been caused when it was captured.

Pratt’s Eagle, together with another also captured at Salamanca, one more taken at Badajoz, and two found in Madrid, was sent by sea to London by the Duke of Wellington. On arrival they were the centrepieces of a parade called the Deposition of the Eagles, a ceremonial public humiliation held on Horse Guards Parade in front of the Prince Regent.

They were then consigned to Chelsea Hospital where they remained for the next 135 years, being removed only once, in 1852, when for the Iron Duke’s lying in state they were mounted on black poles and placed beside his body in St Paul’s Cathedral.

The Salamanca Eagle was returned ceremonially to the East Lancashire Regiment, successors to the 30th Foot, in 1947.

It now has pride of place on permanent display in the Lancashire Infantry Regiment Museum.

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