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The briquet is an iconic blade of revolutionary France. Developed in 1767 to replace the longer épée du soldat it was changed again in 1801 under Napoleon and spread to many other armies around the globe. The diminutive saber earned the name of briquet apparently as a mockery of its size compared to the more substantial cavalry sabres: briquet being the French word for  a”lighter” used to light camp fires. The expression became the official name in 1806.

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A selection of infatry side arms showing the variation in length and size. On the far right, the 1767 pattern briquet, followed by the 1790, the An IX, the model of the guard, the 1816,  the 1816 artillery gladius and the 1831 gladius that finally replaced the briquet.

 

It seems that the sword did see some use in combat, namely in duels that were apparently common in the French army. According to the Dictionnaire de l’armée de terre (Infantry Dictionary) of 1841, the use of the briquet was practiced with fencing sticks (paniers in French) using the contre-pointe style of fencing which uses shorter parries and combines the cut and the thrust. As the blade was of course quite short, fighting was done in close quarters and at high speed which resulted in a very deadly type of play. Regimental maîtres d’armes would teach the recruits to fence, and so it seems that even lowly soldiers would receive training in the art of the sword, and that such a saber would be used in the same manner as a regular, more prestigious, infantry blade.

The dictionary was the work of General Bardin (1774-1840), a former revolutionary soldier and officer of the Guard who rose to the rank of general under Napoleon.

Use of the fencing stick in France during the Revolutionary and Napoleonic eras

This illustration is the only one I was able to find of fencers practicing with a briquet sized trainers (possibly paniers or wasters). It was made in 1841 by Auguste Raffet while stationed in Compiègne and is titled “Contre-pointe”.

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Dueling was a strong part of French culture until the 20th century. In the French army, the practice was tolerated to a certain point, even more so under Napoleon. Soldiers would feel that someone who was not willing to duel would be unlikely to hold his rank when confronted with mortal danger, and was then not someone you would trust with your life on the battlefield.

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