The origins of nomadic life of a light cavalryman began centuries ago in many areas of Europe but none more famous than the light cavalrymen or Hussars of Hungary. Even the word Hussar is derived from the Hungarian Huzza meaning twenty. It was customary for the twentieth man of a village to be pressed into service of the sovereign.
Many modern day French military historians credit the establishment of the corps of Hussards in the French army to a Hungarian, Ladislow Count Bercsenyi (Bercheny in the French spelling). Count Bercheny of Transylvania was the son of the famous general who fought with the Hungarian freedom fighter, General Count Rakoczi. The Rakoczi rebellion was instigated by Rakoczi as well as Count Bercheny senior in an attempt to gain independence from the Hapsburgs for Hungary as well as an independent Transylvania.
Born in 1689, Count Bercheny started his military career, as all well bred Hungarian nobles did at that time, in the "Chavallerie Hongroise". The French army in the early 1700's was in dire need of the dashing Hungarian light cavalrymen that were sweeping through Europe. In 1720, Count Bercheny, an exiled Hungarian noble in Turkey, was given permission by Louis XIV to raise a regiment of hussards under his name. As an exiled Hungarian noble in Turkey, the First Hussards, as well as the traditions of all Napoleonic Hussards were born. Count Bercheny was promoted to the rank of general for his heroism in the War of Polish Succession where the Bercheny Hussards, as well as the other famous Hungarian hussar regiments, gained a lasting reputation. During the War of the Austrian Succession, it was the Bercheny Hussards that covered the retreat of the French Army from Bohemia. His splendid service and use of light cavalry during this campaign earned him the title of Inspector General of the Hussards under Louis XV. Finally in 1756 and at 67 years of age, Count Bercheny became a Marshal of France. He died in 1778 after firmly establishing the Hussards as an independent arm of the French cavalry.
Under the Napoleonic period, the First Hussards participated in numerous engagements, battles and campaigns. Of note are, Castiglione, Ulm, Austerlitz, Jena as the Emperor's Horse Guard and with the Franchisi Division in Spain and Portugal culminating its Napoleonic service at Waterloo.
Today the First Hussards are an active parachute regiment stationed in Tarbe, France. Tarbe, in the high pyraneys of southern France, is one of the areas where Napoleon obtained mounts for his light cavalry. It is also the birthplace of the famous French surgeon, Baron Larray. The First Hussards were deployed in Indochina during the Vietnam era and recently as part of the coalition forces in desert storm.
Regimental Colonels commanding over the First Hussars under the Empire:
Begougne de Juniac
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