…very, very carefully.

Napoleon Bonaparte didn’t ride a horse until military duties required it. He was a bad rider regardless, he rode the very best horses, a benefit of being Emporer. During his 14 year reign, he had over 130 mounts and one of his favorites was a petite, white, Arabian stallion named Le Virzi.

Le Virzi was a gift from the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire in 1802. He name “Le Visir” is a term designating the prime minister of the Sultan who actually presented the horse to Napoleon on behalf of the Sultan. Le Virzi was branded with Napoleon’s personal mark, a large “N” topped with a crown on his hip.

The emperor rode his noble steed in many battles against the Prussians and Russians. In 1814 after Napoleon’s first forced abdication, the horse accompanied his master to exile in Elba. Le Virzi was now an aging stallion and had already been put out to pasture by the time Napoleon was defeated at Waterloo.

Le Virzi outlived Napoleon, spending his twilight years in the care of a French officer, Chanlaire, of the Imperial Stables. When he died in 1826 at age 33, Chanlaire decided to have him stuffed.  Concerned over the turmoil of revolutionary France and afraid the public would vent their rage on the stuffed stallion, Chanlaire sold him to an Englishman.

Le Virzi was smuggled to England. He was unstuffed and his hide packed into a trunk to avoid detection by customs officers. Once safely across the channel, he was restuffed and put on display at the Manchester Natural History Society.

In 1868 when Bonaparte’s nephew came into power, arrangements were made for Le Vizir’s return to France. But his safety was again in jeopardy a few years later when the Prussians overthrew the nephew. Again worried for his safety, Le Vizir’s keepers took him off display and hid him in a storage closet at the Louvre. He languished in the closet for 3 decades.

Eventually he was moved to The Army Museum in Paris though he was not prominently displayed. He was ignobly placed in a hallway on the way to the public restrooms.

Le Virzi was well cared for during his lifetime and less so after his death. A century later the once proud stallion’s hide was now covered with visible tears and cracks including a large gaping fissure running down one shoulder. Le Visir needed help.

The museum made a crowd-funding appeal to finance the little horse’s restoration. With a goal of 15,000 euros, people took up the cause raising over 20,000 euros. Two expert taxidermists were hired to restore Le Vizir. Their efforts took 4 weeks and included repairs and a meticulous cleaning from head to toe. Visitors to the museum were given full access to the process.

“It’s a specimen that has suffered,” was the expert, if understated, assessment of taxidermist Yveline Huguet as she worked putty into a crack in Le Vizir’s chest.

The extra monies raised will be put toward the purchase of a climate-controlled glass display case where the petite white Stallion maybe enjoyed by museum visitors for centuries to come.

Solving Marengo’s Mystery

Napoleon and Marengo painting by Francois Dubois

Napoleon and Marengo painting by Francois Dubois

During the Battle of Waterloo in 1815, Napoleon’s stallion, Marengo, was captured by the British army. He was sold to a member of the Grenadier Guards who took the horse home in Somerset.

When Marengo died in 1831 the family had his two front hooves mounted in silver as keepsakes. One hoof has since been displayed at the officers’ mess at St. James’s Palace but the other was lost, until recently.

A descendant of that Grenadier Guard recently found the second hoof in a kitchen drawer in the Somerset farmhouse. It had been carefully wrapped in a plastic bag. The hoof is now on loan to the Household Cavalry Museum in London.

Marengo’s skeleton was also preserved and is on display at the National Army Museum in London.