Victory, trophy, reward, glory… Do we really know what these oft-repeated words mean?

The collectively shared image conjured up when the word “trophy” is spoken is more often than not that of a cup held up by an athlete. However, the origin of the word actually dates back to a military practice inherited from Antiquity: the trophy of arms.

The trophy, the 4th Dragoons returning from a charge (1898) by Jean-Baptiste-Édouard Detaille (Painter)Musée de l'Armée - Hôtel des Invalides

Military emblems, signs of rallying and symbols of the military power in question, became much sought-after trophies, so much so that the number of flags captured from and by the enemy were documented, just like the weapons seized and prisoners of war taken.

Transfert des drapeaux allemands aux Invalides le 7 Octobre 1914 (October 7,1914) by AnonymeMusée de l'Armée - Hôtel des Invalides

In 1914, the first German flags captured by the French armed forces arrived in Bordeaux, which had acted as the seat of the government since the beginning of the War. On 7 October, watched by a crowd of curious onlookers, a company of the Republican Guard conveyed them from the Élysée Palace to the Hôtel des Invalides.

Remise solennelle au général Niox, commandant des Invalides, des six premiers drapeaux pris à l'ennemi, le 7 octobre 1914 (1914) by Joseph-Félix Bouchor (Painter)Musée de l'Armée - Hôtel des Invalides

The troop entered the Cour d’Honneur to the sound of La Marseillaise. General Niox, Governor of Les Invalides and director of the Musée de l'Armée, solemnly received the six emblems from the troop. They were promptly handed to six disabled residents.

Drapeaux pris aux Allemands exposés dans l'église Saint-Louis des Invalides (November 1914) by Agence Rol (Photographer)Musée de l'Armée - Hôtel des Invalides

As tradition dictated, flags were hung in the church of Saint-Louis-des-Invalides. Few flags were captured after 1914, as the warring parties withdrew them from the front. Exhibited, they bore witness to victory and helped keep up morale on the home front.

Incendie des drapeaux dans la cour d'honneur des Invalides, le 30 mars 1814, Emile Defrenne (Painter), Dujardin (engraver), 1855, From the collection of: Musée de l'Armée - Hôtel des Invalides
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Did you know that Saint Louis Church used to contain numerous emblems captured during the Wars of the Revolution and the Empire? Why “used to”? Because in 1814, when the Coalition entered Paris, Marshal Sérurier, Les Invalides’ Governor, ordered the flags to be burned in the Cour d’Honneur so that they wouldn’t be captured.

Piques de drapeaux autrichiens Vue du revers, From the collection of: Musée de l'Armée - Hôtel des Invalides
Piques de drapeaux autrichiens Piques de drapeaux autrichiens, Ca.1792, From the collection of: Musée de l'Armée - Hôtel des Invalides
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The emblems’ metal parts were swept away with the ashes and thrown into the Seine. Radical!
However, some of the debris was recovered and is now conserved in the Museum’s collections in their memory!

Drapeau autrichien, campagne de 1805 Drapeau sans sa hampeMusée de l'Armée - Hôtel des Invalides

This flag, captured during Napoleon’s German and Austrian campaign in 1805, is one of the few to escape the bonfire in Les Invalides’ courtyard. You can still come and admire it, displayed on the Cathedral’s right cornice.

Reddition de Jaffa (1799) by Denis Auguste Marie Raffet (Drawer) and Villain (Engraver)Musée de l'Armée - Hôtel des Invalides

Weapons were also much sought after, especially those belonging to the defeated leader.

Épée de François Ier Épée de François Ier (between 1480 and 1515)Musée de l'Armée - Hôtel des Invalides

What could be a better illustration of Francis I’s defeat than his sword? Even though it was ceremonial, this sword was important enough in the King’s eyes to be included in the personal belongings he kept with him during the Sixth Italian War, which ended with his defeat at Pavia in 1525.

Épée de François Ier DétailMusée de l'Armée - Hôtel des Invalides

According to Spanish tradition, it was there, following Francis I’s capture, that Colonel General Juan de Aldana, in the service of Charles V, took it from the king’s tent as a trophy along with a dagger, a necklace of the Order of Saint Michael and a book of hours.

If you’re interested, the sword remained in Madrid until 1808, when it was brought back to France by Marshal Murat on Napoleon I’s orders. The Emperor kept it in his study in the Tuileries until 1815, a symbol of triumph and revenge.

Canon autrichien de campagne de 6 livres modèle 1753 (1807)Musée de l'Armée - Hôtel des Invalides

This Austrian cannon was captured by French soldiers at the end of the Battle of Magenta in 1859. Artillery was a State privilege. This being the case, cannons were highly symbolic and became prizes of choice in the victors’ eyes.

Les trophées pris aux Allemands sont exposés aux Invalides le 25 février 1915 (Febuary 25, 1915) by Identité Judiciaire (Photo agency)Musée de l'Armée - Hôtel des Invalides

War trophies, above all weapons, worked as powerful stimulants, spurring individuals to outdo themselves in order to gain victory. On 25 February 1915, trophies captured from the Germans were exhibited at Les Invalides: France was holding its own!

Dague SA modèle 1933 Hors fourreauMusée de l'Armée - Hôtel des Invalides

Ceremonial weapons distributed to members of the SA and SS by the Nazi party, these daggers were trophies much prized by Allied soldiers as testimonies to their victory over Nazism. This one was captured in 1945 by Captain Jean Compagnon of the 2nd Armoured Division.

If you’d like to know more about victories in general, whether military, sporting or artistic, rendezvous on 11 October 2023 for the Musée de l’Armée’s temporary exhibition: Victoire ! La fabrique des héros (Victory! The factory of heroes)

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