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A pistol from superior officer bodyguards of the King of Spain Ferdinand VII

« Con el alma unida por el mismo clero Que la sangre corra protegiendo el reino »

Himnos de los Tercios

(With one soul united by the same belief May the flowing blood protects the kingdom)

When an exceptional and richly decorated Spanish pistol was discovered in an auction, it raised a good number of questions for a curious mind. Indeed, its golden letters lays of text and bourgeois manufacture we are about to analyze will respond to these questions.

This pistol of civil manufacture was used by a senior officer of the King’s bodyguards during the years 1814 -1821. It would have been manufactured – as evidenced by the hollow hallmarks with a golden bottom “MEN/DIZA/BAL” present on the plate and under the trigger guard – by Juan Andrés Mendizábal, sidelock maker established in Placencia, province of Castile and Léon. The barrel maker who presided over the manufacture of the barrel would have been Juan Esteban de Bustinduy d’Eibar, barrel maker in 1791, as indicated by the beautiful hallmark on the flat of the barrel bearing the name “BUS/TIN/DUY”. This first interpretation of the signatures was made according to the most learned and revered Spanish specialist Juan L Calvó. From my point of view, it could also be the barrel maker Pedro José de Bustindui Y Ruiz de Bernedo (disappeared in 1816) famous barrel maker of Eibar, town of which he was mayor in 1804. According to my point of view, the sidelock maker could also be José Manuel de Mendizábal, chief controller at the Royal Arms Factory in 1814. My opinion is based on the very high quality of manufacture and the style of the pistol which fits – again from my point of view – to the period of the second reign of Ferdinand VII, 15th King of Spain, who lived from 1784 to 1833. Ferdinand VII nicknamed “the Desired” in 1808 and then “The Felon King”, reigned from March to May 1808 and then between 1813 and 1833.The hallmarks of the two barrel makers are very similar; only the shape of the crown above the hallmark differs slightly. Juan Calvo’s assumption is supported by the shape of the crown. My hypothesis is based on the date of creation of the rank of supernumerary captain in 1814 in the King’s bodyguards.

This large pistol comes from a pair, the other absolutely identical sample and bearing the same attribute appears under the inventory number “6466” in the collections of the Army Museum in Madrid.

It is a weapon mounted iron, with a “llaves de chispa” (flintlock) system called “patilla” or “miquelet lock” as they say north of Pyrenees mountains. The miquelet lock is characterized by the presence of the main spring outside of the plate, the presence of an external foot on the cock, this foot resting on a flat sear crossing the lockplate. The action of the finger on the trigger disengages this sear (and of course half-cocked sear) allowing the main spring to violently tilt the cock forward. This causes the flint to shock the frizzen, generating a shower of sparks that ignites the gunpowder charge discovered by the sudden rear tilt of the latter. The pan is bushed with a solid gold insert. The vent in the barrel is also bushed of gold to prevent the oxidation of the steel under the bite of the acidic chemical compounds released by the combustion of the gunpowder. The stock, which has a very arched handle, is of a comfortable grip. It is made of beautiful blond walnut with a checkered handle. The forend extends to mid-barrel and ends with a round nose cap serving as a housing for an articulated iron ramrod. The lockplate body is mirror polished and finished with a burnisher. The cock is of a very complex shape with many complications of form coming from file, which demonstrates the very high mastery of the adjustment of the craftsman who made it!

The smooth barrel in caliber 18 mm (12 balls per pound) is octagonal to the half, then round slightly swamped to the mouth. This one is reinforced by a molding inlaid with a golden striated ring. The junction between the octagonal part and the round part is carved with a frieze of foliage with a mattified golden background. This barrel bluing has turned to a tobacco hue but retains other hues of water blue or peacock-tail colors. It is firmly secured on the forend by a wedge. Its internal finish polished to the extreme allows to see without luminous help the bottom of the chamber, which suggests that this weapon has never been fired.

Let us now turn to the text characterizing this weapon:

We can read about the reinforcement between the butt cap and the breech tang:

(From the Provincia de Guipúzcoa)

And on the 3 faces of the barrel:

(Supernumerary Captain)
(For the person of the King).

The naming of Supernumerary Captain that we read on the barrel is here of crucial importance: indeed, the rank of “capitan supernumerario” was introduced in the new regulation of the King’s bodyguards on July 1st, 1814. This new regulation re-organized this prestigious corps which is now articulated in three squadrons of cavalrymen and a headquarter. The second in command of the unit now has the title of “super numerary” captain with a salary of 5000 Reals per year.

In the years 1816/1820 the post of supernumerary captain was occupied by the Marshal of camp and Marquis of Villadarias y de la Vera (6th of the name). He was appointed to this post on December 29th, 1814 and became marshal on January 2nd, 1815. The province of Guipuzcoa in the Basque Country offered him a pair of pistols, a sample of which is presented here. The pair was therefore necessarily made after the appointment of the Marquis into the bodyguards and therefore not before 1815. He earned his nomination for his loyalty to the Bourbons of Spain. Ferdinand VII was overthrown by the coup from Napoleon Bonaparte’s brother who usurped (in the eyes of the Legitimist Spaniards) the throne in the shadow of the bayonets of the imperial occupation troops. The Spaniards quickly nicknamed him very irreverently “Pepe boteilla” (Joe the drunkard). Because of his age, the Marquis of Villadarias y de la Vera retired to Granada (TN : the Spanish city) where he was when the city was captured conquered in January 1810 by the troops of General Sebastiani. He was still there in 1812 when the city was taken back by the Spanish. The War Council declared him innocent of any collaboration with the occupants on December 14th, 1812. He was rehabilitated by the new souverain Ferdinand VII on August 13th, 1814 who allocated him an annuity of 17.342 Reals as well as rewarding him with the ancient and prestigious, pontifical and military order of Calatrava. He was then promoted lieutenant-general on April 12th, 1815.

Spaniards who chose to collaborate and pledge allegiance to King Joseph Napoleon, known as “Josephinos” or “Afrancesados” (the Frenchized), were hated by the clergy and common people. The ones who did not flee to France in the carriage of the imperial army were slaughtered, in an awful way, during the flight of Joseph Napoleon following the disaster of the Battle of Vittoria in 1813. We also read in the Spanish catechism of 1808 that the children of countless priests taught these sinister omens about the French “malhechores” (malefactors):

Who are the French?

Ancient Christians and new heretics.

Who led them to this slavery?

The false philosophy and the freedom of their perverse customs.

What are the penalties for Spanish who fails to do their rightful duties?

Infamy, natural death as a traitor, and civil death for breaching the laws.

Is killing a Frenchman a sin?

No, on the contrary, it is a meritorious act if thanks to it the homeland is freed from insults, theft and deception.

The Bourbons of Spain saw in fact in the occupants, sons of the French Revolution, the regicides of their cousin of France (TN: Louis XVI of Bourbons, King of France, who was beheaded on January 21st, 1793, during the French Revolution). It was an awful war and one of Napoleon’s worst campaigns, a mixture of civil war, guerrilla warfare and pitched battles! The Spaniards had liberated their country from the occupants but had not won their freedom because the new monarch (the King Felon as they now said!) immediately cancelled the liberal constitution put in place by Joseph Bonaparte on March 7th, 1812, and restored the absolute monarchy and the Inquisition in July 1814. A liberal insurrection broke out and the liberals forced Ferdinand VII to restore the liberal constitution in 1820. His cousin Louis XVIII of France, a Bourbon like him, will send an expeditionary force to support him “The 100,000 sons of Saint Louis” from France: it was in fact an expeditionary force of 30,000 men.

King Ferdinand VII asked the Marquis de Villadarias to reshuffle the squadrons of bodyguards on September 12th, 1823. He managed to form a squadron that he sent to look for horses from Seville. This squadron escorted the King from Cadiz to Madrid. When the royal procession reached the capital in October, the King, who had no confidence in his bodyguards whom he suspected of having liberal sympathies, ordered that they be replaced by French troops. As a paradox, some were former grunts of Napoleon and had fought him 10 years before! Thus, thanks to the help of the French whom he had hated so much, his power was firmly established! This period of his reign was called the “awful decade” (1823-1833, in Spanish: Década Ominosa) and ended with the death of this controversial ruler! To imitate the famous historian, the late Henri Guillemin, I would say about him: “From afar looking at him we saw a lion, when approaching we discovered that it was only a hyena with a mane!”


This pistol accompanied all these adventures in the fonts of those close to the King and constituted a protective rampart for his safety. This pistol twin brother is displayed inside the showcases of the Museum of the Army of Madrid while this other copy has crossed the Pyrenees and made the joy of its owner!

Jil Sigro Y Peyrousère « El Garbanzo »

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    Gilles Sigro-Peyrousère

    Graduated gunsmith from the Saint-Étienne Gunsmithing School, Gilles has a strong passion for history, weapons and militaria. Self-employed gunsmith for more than 30 years, Expert for the French Department of Justice in antique weapons, he has appraised numerous collections for auction all over France.

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