1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Guards, and Household Troops

GUARDS, and HOUSEHOLD TROOPS. The word guard is an adaptation of the Fr. guarde, mod. garde, O. Ger. ward; see Guardian. The practice of maintaining bodyguards is of great antiquity, and may indeed be considered the beginning of organized armies. Thus there is often no clear distinction between the inner ring of personal defenders and the select corps of trained combatants who are at the chief’s entire disposal. Famous examples of corps that fell under one or both these headings are the “Immortals” of Xerxes, the Mamelukes, Janissaries, the Huscarles of the Anglo-Saxon kings, and the Russian Strelitz (Stryeltsi). In modern times the distinction of function is better marked, and the fighting men who are more intimately connected with the sovereign than the bulk of the army can be classified as to duties into “Household Troops,” who are in a sense personal retainers, and “Guards,” who are a corps d’élite of combatants. But the dividing line is not so clear as to any given body of troops. Thus the British Household Cavalry is part of the combatant army as well as the sovereign’s escort.

The oldest of the household or bodyguard corps in the United Kingdom is the King’s Bodyguard of the Yeomen of the Guard (q.v.), formed at his accession by Henry VII. The “nearest guard,” the personal escort of the sovereign, is the “King’s Bodyguard of the Honourable Corps of Gentlemen-at-Arms,” created by Henry VIII. at his accession in 1509. Formed possibly on the pattern of the “Pensionnaires” of the French kings—retainers of noble birth who were the predecessors of the Maison du Roi (see below)—the new corps was originally called “the Pensioners.” The importance of such guards regiments in the general development of organized armies is illustrated by a declaration of the House of Commons, made in 1674, that the militia, the pensioners and the Yeomen of the Guard were the only lawful armed forces in the realm. But with the rise of the professional soldier and the corresponding disuse of arms by the nobles and gentry, the Gentlemen-at-Arms (a title which came into use in James II.’s time, though it did not become that of the corps until William IV.’s) retaining their noble character, became less and less military. Burke attempted without success in 1782 to restrict membership to officers of the army and navy, but the necessity of giving the corps an effective military character became obvious when, on the occasion of a threatened Chartist riot, it was called upon to do duty as an armed body at St James’s Palace. The corps was reconstituted on a purely military basis in 1862, and from that date only military officers of the regular services who have received a war decoration are eligible for appointment. The office of captain, however, is political, the holder (who is always a peer) vacating it on the resignation of the government of which he is a member. The corps consists at present of captain, lieutenant, standard bearer, clerk of the cheque (adjutant), sub-officer and 39 gentlemen-at-arms. The uniform consists of a scarlet swallow-tailed coat and blue overalls, with gold epaulettes, brass dragoon helmet with drooping white plume and brass box-spurs, these last contrasting rather forcibly with the partizan, an essentially infantry weapon, that they carry.

The Royal Company of Archers.—The king’s bodyguard for Scotland was constituted in its present form in the year 1670, by an act of the privy council of Scotland. An earlier origin has been claimed for the company, some connecting it with a supposed archer guard of the kings of Scotland. In the above-mentioned year, 1676, the minutes of the Royal Company begin by stating, that owing to “the noble and usefull recreation of archery being for many years much neglected, several noblemen and gentlemen did associate themselves in a company for encouragement thereof ... and did apply to the privy council for their approbation ... which was granted.” For about twenty years at the end of the 17th century, perhaps owing to the adhesion of the majority to the Stuart cause, its existence seems to have been suspended. But in 1703 a new captain-general, Sir George Mackenzie, Viscount Tarbat, afterwards earl of Cromarty (1630–1714), was elected, and he procured for the company a new charter from Queen Anne. The rights and privileges renewed or conferred by this charter were to be held of the crown for the reddendo of a pair of barbed arrows. This reddendo was paid to George IV. at Holyrood in 1822, to Queen Victoria in 1842 and to King Edward VII. in 1903. The history of the Royal Company since 1703 has been one of great prosperity. Large parades were frequently held, and many distinguished men marched in the ranks. Several of the leading insurgents in 1745 were members, but the company was not at that time suspended in any way.

In 1822 when King George IV. visited Scotland, it was thought appropriate that the Royal Company should act as his majesty’s bodyguard during his stay, especially as there was a tradition of a former archer bodyguard. They therefore performed the duties usually assigned to the gentlemen-at-arms. When Queen Victoria visited the Scottish capital in 1842, the Royal Company again did duty; the last time they were called out in her reign in their capacity of royal bodyguard was in 1860 on the occasion of the great volunteer review in the Queen’s Park, Edinburgh. They acted in the same capacity when King Edward VII. reviewed the Scottish Volunteers there on the 18th of September 1905.

King George IV. authorized the company to take, in addition to their former name, that of “The King’s Body Guard for Scotland,” and presented to the captain-general a gold stick, thus constituting the company part of the royal household. In virtue of this stick the captain-general of the Royal Company takes his place at a coronation or similar pageant immediately behind the gold stick of England. The lieutenants-general of the company have silver sticks; and the council, which is the executive body of the company, possess seven ebony ones. George IV. further appointed a full dress uniform to be worn by members of the company at court, when not on duty as guards, in which latter case the ordinary field dress is used. The court dress is green with green velvet facings, gold epaulettes and lace, crimson silk sash, and cocked hat with green plume. The officers wear a gold sash in place of a crimson one, and an aiguillette on the left shoulder. All ranks wear swords. The field dress at present consists of a dark-green tunic, shoulder-wings and gauntleted cuffs and trousers trimmed with black and crimson; a bow-case worn as a sash, of the same colour as the coat, black waistbelt with sword, and Balmoral bonnet with thistle ornament and eagle’s feather. The officers of the company are the captain-general, 4 captains, 4 lieutenants, 4 ensigns, 12 brigadiers and adjutant.

Corps of the gentlemen-at-arms or yeoman type do not of course count as combatant troops—if for no other reason at least because they are armed with the weapons of bygone times. Colonel Clifford Walton states in his History of the British Standing Army that neither the Yeomen of the Guard nor the Pensioners were ever subject to martial law. The British guards and household troops that are armed, trained and organized as part of the army are the Household Cavalry and the Foot Guards.

The Household Cavalry consists at the present day of three regiments, and has its origin, as have certain of the Footguard regiments, in the ashes of the “New Model” army disbanded at the restoration of Charles II. in 1660. In that year the “1st or His Majesty’s Own Troop of Guards” formed during the king’s exile of his cavalier followers, was taken on the strength of the army. The 2nd troop was formerly in the Spanish service as the “Duke of York’s Guards,” and was also a cavalier unit. In 1670, on Monk’s death, the original 3rd troop (Monk’s Life Guards, renamed in 1660 the “Lord General’s Troop of Guards”) became the 2nd (the queen’s) troop, and the duke of York’s troop the 3rd. In 1685 the 1st and 2nd troops were styled Life Guards of Horse, and two years later the blue-uniformed “Royal Regiment of Horse,” a New Model regiment that had been disbanded and at once re-raised in 1660, was made a household cavalry corps. Later under the colonelcy of the earl of Oxford it was popularly called “The Oxford Blues.” There were also from time to time other troops (e.g. Scots troops 1700–1746) that have now disappeared. In 1746 the 2nd troop was disbanded, but it was revived in 1788, when the two senior corps were given their present title of 1st and 2nd Life Guards. From 1750 to 1819 the Blues bore the name of “Royal Horse Guards Blue,” which in 1819 was changed to “Royal Horse Guards (The Blues).” The general distinction between the uniforms of the red Life Guard and the blue Horse Guard still exists. The 1st and the 2nd regiments of Life Guards wear scarlet tunics with blue collars and cuffs, and the Royal Horse Guards blue tunics with scarlet collars and cuffs. All three wear steel cuirasses on state occasions and on guard duty. The head-dress is a steel helmet with drooping horse-hair plume (white for Life Guards, red for Horse Guards). In full dress white buckskin pantaloons and long knee boots are worn. Amongst the peculiarities of these corps d’élite is the survival of the old custom of calling non-commissioned officers “corporal of horse” instead of sergeant, and corporal-major instead of sergeant-major, the wearing by trumpeters and bandsmen in full dress of a black velvet cap, a richly laced coat with a full skirt extending to the wearer’s knees and long white gaiters. There is little distinction between the two Life Guards regiments’ uniforms, the most obvious point being that the cord running through the white leather pouch belt is red for the 1st and blue for the 2nd.

The Foot Guards comprise the Grenadier Guards, the Coldstream Guards, the Scots Guards and the Irish Guards, each (except the last) of three battalions. The Grenadiers, originally the First Foot Guards, represent a royalist infantry regiment which served with the exiled princes in the Spanish army and returned at the Restoration in 1660. The Coldstream Guards are a New Model regiment, and were originally called the Lord General’s (Monk’s) regiment of Foot Guards. Their popular title, which became their official designation in 1670, is derived from the fact that the army with which Monk restored the monarchy crossed the Tweed into England at the village of Coldstream, and that his troops (which were afterwards, except the two units of horse and foot of which Monk himself was colonel, disbanded) were called the Coldstreamers. The two battalions of Scots Foot Guards, which regiment was separately raised and maintained in Scotland after the Restoration, marched to London in 1686 and 1688 and were brought on to the English Establishment in 1707. In George III.’s reign they were known as the Third Guards, and from 1831 to 1877 (when the present title was adopted) as the Scots Fusilier Guards.

The Irish Guards (one battalion) were formed in 1902, after the South African War, as a mark of Queen Victoria’s appreciation of the services rendered by the various Irish regiments of the line.[1] The dress of the Foot Guards is generally similar in all four regiments, scarlet tunic with blue collars, cuffs and shoulder-straps, blue trousers and high, rounded bearskin cap. The regimental distinctions most easily noticed are these. The Grenadiers wear a small white plume in the bearskin, the Coldstreams a similar red one, the Scots none, the Irish a blue-green one. The buttons on the tunic are spaced evenly for the Grenadiers, by twos for the Coldstreams, by threes for the Scots and by fours for the Irish. The band of the modern cap is red for the Grenadiers, white for the Coldstreams, “diced” red and white (chequers) for the Scots and green for the Irish. Former privileges of foot guard regiments, such as higher brevet rank in the army for their regimental officers, are now abolished, but Guards are still subject exclusively to the command of their own officers, and the officers of the Foot Guards, like those of the Household Cavalry, have special duties at court. Neither the cavalry nor the infantry guards serve abroad in peace time as a rule, but in 1907 a battalion of the Guards, which it was at that time proposed to disband, was sent to Egypt. “Guards’ Brigades” served in the Napoleonic Wars, in the Crimea, in Egypt at various times from 1887 to 1898 and in South Africa 1899–1902. The last employment of the Household Cavalry as a brigade in war was at Waterloo, but composite regiments made up from officers and men of the Life Guards and Blues were employed in Egypt and in S. Africa.

The sovereigns of France had guards in their service in Merovingian times, and their household forces appear from time to time in the history of medieval wars. Louis XI. was, however, the first to regularize their somewhat loose organization, and he did so to such good purpose that Francis I. had no less than 8000 guardsmen organized, subdivided and permanently under arms. The senior unit of the Gardes du Corps was the famous company of Scottish archers (Compagnie écossaise de la Garde du Corps du Roi), which was originally formed (1418) from the Scottish contingents that assisted the French in the Hundred Years’ War. Scott’s Quentin Durward gives a picture of life in the corps as it was under Louis XI. In the following century, however, its regimental history becomes somewhat confused. Two French companies were added by Louis XI. and Francis I. and the Gardes du Corps came to consist exclusively of cavalry. About 1634 nearly all the Scots then serving went into the “regiment d’Hébron” and thence later into the British regular army (see Hepburn, Sir John). Thereafter, though the titles, distinctions and privileges of the original Archer Guard were continued, it was recruited from native Frenchmen, preference being (at any rate at first) given to those of Scottish descent. At its disbandment in 1791 along with the rest of the Gardes du Corps, it contained few, if any, native Scots. There was also, for a short time (1643–1660), an infantry regiment of Gardes écossaises.

In 1671 the title of Maison Militaire du Roi was applied to that portion of the household that was distinctively military. It came to consist of 4 companies of the Gardes du Corps, 2 companies of Mousquetaires (cavalry) (formed 1622 and 1660), 1 company of Chevaux légers (1570), 1 of Gendarmes de la Maison Rouge, and 1 of Grenadiers à Cheval (1676), with 1 company of Gardes de la Porte and one called the Cent-Suisses, the last two being semi-military. This large establishment, which did not include all the guard regiments, was considerably reduced by the Count of St Germain’s reforms in 1775, all except the Gardes du Corps and the Cent-Suisses being disbanded. The whole of the Maison du Roi, with the exception of the semi-military bodies referred to, was cavalry.

The Gardes françaises, formed in 1563, did not form part of the Maison. They were an infantry regiment, as were the famous Gardes suisses, originally a Swiss mercenary regiment in the Wars of Religion, which was, for good conduct at the combat of Arques, incorporated in the permanent establishment by Henry IV. in 1589 and in the guards in 1615. At the Revolution, contrary to expectation, the French Guards sided openly with the Constitutional movement and were disbanded. The Swiss Guards, however, being foreigners, and therefore unaffected by civil troubles, retained their exact discipline and devotion to the court to the day on which they were sacrificed by their master to the bullets of the Marseillais and the pikes of the mob (August 10, 1792). Their tragic fate is commemorated by the well-known monument called the “Lion of Lucerne,” the work of Thorvaldsen, erected near Lucerne in 1821. The “Constitutional,” “Revolutionary” and other guards that were created after the abolition of the Maison and the slaughter of the Swiss are unimportant, but through the “Directory Guards” they form a nominal link between the household troops of the monarchy and the corps which is perhaps the most famous “Guard” in history. The Imperial Guard of Napoleon had its beginnings in an escort squadron called the Corps of Guides, which accompanied him in the Italian campaign of 1796–1797 and in Egypt. On becoming First Consul in 1799 he built up out of this and of the guard of the Directory a small corps of horse and foot, called the Consular Guard, and this, which was more of a fighting unit than a personal bodyguard, took part in the battle of Marengo. The Imperial Guard, into which it was converted on the establishment of the Empire, was at first of about the strength of a division. As such it took part in the Austerlitz and Jena campaigns, but after the conquest of Prussia Napoleon augmented it, and divided it into the “Old Guard” and the “Young Guard.” Subsequently the “Middle Guard” was created, and by successive augmentations the corps of the guard had grown to be 57,000 strong in 1811–1812 and 81,000 in 1813. It preserved its general character as a corps d’élite of veterans to the last, but from about 1813 the “Young Guard” was recruited directly from the best of the annual conscript contingent. The officers held a higher rank in the army than their regimental rank in the Guards. At the first Restoration an attempt was made to revive the Maison du Roi, but in the constitutional régime of the second Restoration this semi-medieval form of bodyguard was given up and replaced by the Garde Royale, a selected fighting corps. This took part in the short war with Spain and a portion of it fought in Algeria, but it was disbanded at the July Revolution. Louis Philippe had no real guard troops, but the memories of the Imperial Guard were revived by Napoleon III., who formed a large guard corps in 1853–1854. This, however, was open to an even greater degree than Napoleon I.’s guard to the objection that it took away the best soldiers from the line. Since the fall of the Empire in 1870 there have been no guard troops in France. The duty of watching over the safety of the president is taken in the ordinary roster of duty by the troops stationed in the capital. The “Republican Guard” is the Paris gendarmerie, recruited from old soldiers and armed and trained as a military body.

In Austria-Hungary there are only small bodies of household troops (Archer Body Guard, Trabant Guard, Hungarian Crown Guards, &c.) analogous to the British Gentlemen at Arms or Yeomen of the Guard. Similar forces, the “Noble Guard” and the “Swiss Guard,” are maintained in the Vatican. The court troops of Spain are called “halberdiers” and armed with the halbert.

In Russia the Guard is organized as an army corps. It possesses special privileges, particularly as regards officers’ advancement.

In Germany the distinction between armed retainers and “Guards” is well marked. The army is for practical purposes a unit under imperial control, while household troops (“castle-guards” as they are usually called) belong individually to the various sovereigns within the empire. The “Guards,” as a combatant force in the army are those of the king of Prussia and constitute a strong army corps. This has grown gradually from a bodyguard of archers, and, as in Great Britain, the functions of the heavy cavalry regiments of the Guard preserve to some extent the name and character of a body guard (Gardes du Corps). The senior foot guard regiment is also personally connected with the royal family. The conversion of a palace-guard to a combatant force is due chiefly to Frederick William I., to whom drill was a ruling passion, and who substituted effective regiments for the ornamental “Trabant Guards” of his father. A further move was made by Frederick the Great in substituting for Frederick William’s expensive “giant” regiment of guards a larger number of ordinary soldiers, whom he subjected to the same rigorous training and made a corps d’élite. Frederick the Great also formed the Body Guard alluded to above. Nevertheless in 1806 the Guard still consisted only of two cavalry regiments and four infantry regiments, and it was the example of Napoleon’s imperial guard which converted this force into a corps of all arms. In 1813 its strength was that of a weak division, but in 1860 by slight but frequent augmentations it had come to consist of an army corps, complete with all auxiliary services. A few guard regiments belonging to the minor sovereigns are counted in the line of the German army. In war the Guard is employed as a unit, like other army corps. It is recruited by the assignment of selected young men of each annual contingent, and is thus free from the reproach of the French Imperial Guard, which took the best-trained soldiers from the regiments of the line.

  1. The “Irish Guards” of the Stuarts took the side of James II., fought against William III. in Ireland and lost their regimental identity in the French service to which the officers and soldiers transferred themselves on the abandonment of the struggle.