Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Imitation is the Sincerest Form of . . . ?

Because of other commitments, I don't have time right now to put together my next post on the Royal Regulations of 1772.  But I was surprised the other day by a strange conjunction of events.  The first was that I received a copy of a magazine published in Barcelona that carried a couple of my early illustrations of Catalonian Volunteers in Nootka, British Columbia in the 1780s.

I was contacted by the magazine, Sapiens, at beginning of this year about the illustrations, but had quite forgotten about it by the time the magazine arrived through my home's mail slot earlier this month.

I remember painting these pictures for Parks Canada many years ago, and somewhere I have the black and white photos of my much younger self posing for the various figures (even the drummer boy) using costumes and props borrowed from an friend, a longtime historical illustrator, when I lived in Connecticut.

Then, the other day, I was looking online for something about Spanish colonial soldiers and ran across this, a military miniature based - I believe - on my painting.  I'm not offended in the least, and perhaps a little flattered.

I used to paint military miniatures myself many years ago, and even got to point of modifying figures, building up clothing, hair, equipment, etc. on similar or even nude figures.  And then one day I thought, "You know, you should really put all this effort back into illustration." So I set the figures aside and eventually found my first publisher.  They say that "Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery," which is nice, but I sometimes think that you could substitute "laziness" or "lack of original ideas."  To their credit, the sculptor did modify the pose and equipment a bit. Here is the link to Girona, the manufacturer.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

The Royal Regulations of 1772, part 2 - Chupa Corta


Let’s continue now to reconstruct the uniforms for soldados de cuera as established by the Royal Regulation of 1772 with a look at the chupa corta.  Again, the regulation reads:

1. El vestuario de los soldados de presidio ha de ser uniforme en todos, y constará de una chupa corta de tripe, ó paño azul, con una pequeña vuelta y collarin encarnado. . . [1]    

My translation is:

1. The clothing of the soldiers of the presidio will be completely uniform, and consist of a
short, sleeved waiscoat of blue wool velvet or cloth, with a small scarlet cuff and collar. .

I translate chupa as “sleeved waistcoat.” A chupa corta, then, would be a “short, sleeved waistcoat,” of course.  Others have translated chupa corta as “jacket” or “coat” and, because clothing terms can be both vague and fluid, these are not really wrong, though there are other Spanish words for these garments.[2]  But the Academia Usual dictionary of the Spanish language, published in 1780 (the closest in date I can find to the publication of the 1772 Regulation), defines chupa as “Parte del vestido, que cubre el tronco del cuerpo con quatro faldillas de la cintura abaxo y con mangas ajustas á los brazos: en el vestido de militar se pone debaxo de la casaca.”[3]   That is, “Piece of clothing that covers the torso, with four skirts from the waist downward and with sleeves fitted to the arms.  In military dress, it is worn below the coat.”


Like most of the rest of Europe, by 1700 the sleeved waistcoat/chupa was already a standard piece of men’s clothing for civilians and soldiers in Spain and her New World colonies.  Middle and upper class men wore them not only beneath the coat (in Spanish, casaca) but also alone as informal dress at home and for such vigorous activities as hunting.  Most Spanish soldiers followed a similar pattern of coats and sleeved waistcoats for dress occaisions and the waistcoat alone for fatigue and off duty wear. Working men, whether they were tradesmen, craftsmen, farmers, sailors or whatever, found the chupa comfortable and practical for every purpose and seldom or never wore coats at all. [4]


At the beginning of the 18th century, the chupa/waistcoat’s tails reached nearly to the knees, but fashion dictated ever shorter tails until, by 1760, they came just below the hips.  Ten years later, some men were wearing them shorter still and this is probably why the 1772 Royal Regulations specified a “short, sleeved waistcoat,” (chupa corta).


In New Spain (Mexico), the chupa became an essential part of the national costume. There were those who wore European fashions, including gentlemen in the government and higher professions, and also most soldiers.  But the middle and lower classes created a style of men’s dress that consisted of the chupa, breeches and a flat-brimmed sombrero that can be seen as the ancestor of today’s charro clothing.[5] 

Because this style of dress was so well suited to life spent in a hot climate and often on horseback, the vaqueros (cowboys), from whom most of the rural and provincial cavalry were recruited, made it their own.  Thus their uniforms, including those of the soldados de cuera, were, in fact, mostly a militarized form of vaquero clothing.[6]


In later posts, I’ll continue this description of the soldado de cueras' chupa corta with a look at its cut, fabrics, facings, buttons and other details.

A. Spanish Army chupa corta, 1787 [See B. below)
B. Uniform for a proposed Havana infantry regiment to be raised by Don José Fleming, 1787 - AGI Uniformes 54 – Anne S. K. Brown Collection, Brown University.
C. Cazador cargando su escopeta [Hunter Loading his Musket], 1775, by Francisco de Goya y Lucientes, Museo Nacional del Prado
D. These two casta paintings are part of a set meant to display the different classes, races and costumes of New Spain.  Note that the man on the right wears a longer chupa, while the man on the left has a shorter chupa corta. Anonymous, c. 1780. Private collection. (Katzew 1996)
E. Detail of a uniform proposal for the Regimiento Provincial de Caballeria del Principe, c. 1771-1779. Real Academia de Historia, Madrid.  The authors of the Royal Regulations of 1771 probably had something much like this uniform and equipment in mind for the soldados de cuera. 

[1] Sidney Brinckerhoff and Odie B. Faulk, Lancers for the King; A Study of the Frontier Military System of Northern New Spain, with a Translation of the Royal Regulations of 1772. Phoenix: Arizona Historical Society,1965, p. 18.
[2] That is, chaqueta and casaca.
[3] “Nuevo Tesoro Lexicográfico de la Lengua Española,” is an invaluable resource of the Real Academia de España, containing scanned, searchable Spanish dictionaries from 1495 to the present.  Here is the link:
[4] For a description of the sleeved waistcoat and its evolution in Europe from the early to mid18th century, see Aileen Ribeiro, Dress in Eighteenth-Century Europe 1715-1789. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2002, pp. 20, 121-122. My views on its use by the various classes and occupations of Spain and her American colonies are based on written and pictorial evidence.  See note 5, below. 
[5] After more than forty years of research, I’ve never encountered what I consider a proper history of Mexico’s “national costume” during the Spanish Era.  Most of what I know is based on eyewitness written and pictorial sources.  Of particular value are the casta paintings.  See especially Ilona Katzew, et al, New World Orders; Casta Painting and Colonial Latin America. New York: Americas Society, 1979 and Ilona Katzew, Casta Painting; Images of Race in Eighteenth-Century Mexico. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2004.
[6] The Jesuit father, Ignaz Pfefferkorn, wrote in his memoir of life in northern Mexico and southern Arizona in the 1750s and 1760s, “Through oft-repeated roundups, Sonora Spaniards grow hardened to the most severe fatigue and become such expert horsemen that the proudest and most spirited horse cannot throw them. Resistance to fatigue and expert horsemanship are the two qualities which cause Spaniards born and raised in Sonora to be considered most able for Sonora military service, and hence no others are accepted as soldiers.” A Description of the Province of Sonora. Translated and annotated by Theodore E. Treutlin. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1949, p. 290.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

The Royal Regulations of 1772, part 1

Over the years as I conducted my own research into the soldados de cueras’ material culture, I kept returning to a key document, the Royal Regulations of 1772.  I work from the invaluable publication, Lancers for the King; A Study of the Frontier Military System of Northern New Spain, with a Translation of the Royal Regulations of 1772, by Sidney E. Brinckerhoff and Odie B. Faulk (Phoenix, Arizona Historical Society, 1965).  I treasure my own copy and keep it near. 

The Royal Regulations of 1772 laid out a detailed plan for all of the presidios of the Spanish borderland between New Spain (Mexico) and the Provincias Internas (roughly, today’s American Southwest). Of particular interest to me, they provided detailed guidelines for the soldiers’ uniforms, arms and equipment.

One feature of Lancers for the King that I particularly value, and wish all publications of this kind followed, is that Brinckerhoff and Faulk included the Spanish language original as well as their translation.  This allows the reader to compare the two and draw their own conclusions – kind of an early form of crowdsourcing, in fact. 

For example, here is the original paragraph from the Royal Regulations covering uniforms for the presidial soldiers:

1. El vestuario de los soldados de presidio ha de ser uniforme en todos, y constará de una chupa corta de tripe, ó paño azul, con una pequeña vuelta y collarin encarnado, calzon de tripe azul, capa de paño del mismo color, cartuchera, cuera y bandolera de gamuza, en la forma que actualmente las usan, y en la bandolera bordado el nombre del presidio, para que distingan unos de otros, corbatin negro, sombrero, zapatos, y botines.[1]

And here is my translation:

1. The clothing of the soldiers of the presidio will be the same for all, and consist of a short, sleeved waistcoat of blue wool velvet or cloth, with a small scarlet cuff and collar, breeches of blue wool velvet; wool cape of the same color; cartridge carrier, cuera and bandoleer of buff leather, of the sort that is currently in use and embroidered on the bandoleer the name of the presidio, by which to distinguish each [presidial company] from the others; black neck stock, hat, shoes and leggings.

My translation differs from that of Brinckerhoff and Faulk at a few points, especially the meaning of the words, chupa corta, tripe, encarnado, cartuchera, bandolera, gamuza and corbatin.  

In future posts, I’ll explain what I believe these words meant in 1772 Spain and New Spain and how this might affect the ways we reconstruct the appearance of the soldados de cuera.

Illustration: A soldado de cuera, c. 1772, by David W. Rickman, from The Spanish Army in North America 1700 – 1793 by René Chartrand, © Osprey Publishing, 2011.

[1] Brinckerhoff and Faulk’s translation reads, “1. The uniform of the presidial soldiers is to be the same for all, and will consist of a short jacket of blue woolen cloth, with small cuffs and a red collar, breeches of blue wool, a cloth cap of the same color, a cartridge pouch, a leather jacket, and a bandoleer of antelope hide, as is presently in use (the bandoleer to be embroidered with the name of the presidio in order to distinguish one from another), a black neckerchief, hat, shoes, and leggings.” 1965, pp. 18-21.