1st Foot Guards

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Origin and History

By the end of March 1656, King Charles II, who was then living in exile in Bruges in the Spanish Netherlands, negotiated a treaty with Spain. According to this treaty, the King of Spain would assist Charles with a body of 6,000 foot and sufficient ships to transport them to England, whenever the occasion presented itself. For his part, Charles would raise a certain number of troops, nominally for the service of Spain, to be equipped and paid by the Spaniards. The treaty was signed on 21 July and Charles raised three regiments: one of English, one of Irish and one of Scots. The English regiment was initially placed under the command of Lord Wilmot. Charles named the regiment “His Majesty's Royal Regiment of Guards” and gave its command to Thomas Lord Wentworth. The regiment was also known as the “Lord Wentworth's Regiment”. It was then involved in the last years of the Franco-Spanish War (1635–59). By the end of April 1657, the regiment, then counting 400 men, was quartered at Leuze-en-Hainaut near Tournai. The same year, part of the regiment was at the siege of Ardres and at the attempted relief of Mardyck. In the Spring of 1658, the regiment was quartered in Dixmude. On 14 June, it took part in the Battle of the Dunes. In 1659, the regiment was quartered in Nivelles.

In 1660, when Charles II returned to England, the regiment was placed on British establishment even though it had been left in the Spanish Netherlands. It was successively transferred from Nivelles to Namur and then to Dunkerque. The same year, Charles II raised a second regiment of Foot Guards (12 companies of 100 men each) in England which was designated as the "King's Regiment of Guards" and placed under the command of Colonel John Russell. In 1661, the new regiment took part in the reduction of an insurrection in London. It was then distributed among several garrisons where it replaced disbanded companies from the former Commonwealth. The same year, the old regiment, still garrisoning Dunkerque, was brought back to full strength (12 companies of 100 men each). In 1662, when Dunkerque was sold to France, “Lord Wentworth's Regiment” was recalled to England where it was distributed in several garrisons: Windsor, Landguard Fort, Pendennis, Guernsey, Dover, Plymouth, Berwick and Hull. The three companies initially sent at Guernsey were soon redirected to Portsmouth.

In November 1664, a detachment of “Lord Wentworth's Regiment” embarked on board the “Royal Catherine” and “Triumph” at Woolwich. These ships returned to Portsmouth for the winter.

In January 1665, in preparation for the Second Anglo-Dutch War (1665 – 1667), 600 men of “Russell's Regiment” were apportioned for service at sea. After the death of Lord Wentworth, on 28 February, the two aforementioned regiments were amalgamated into a single regiment counting two battalions under the command of Colonel Russell on 16 March. On 13 June, part of the regiment took part in the naval Battle of Lowestoft. In July, when plague broke out in London, six companies of the regiment escorted the king to Salisbury and, in September, to Oxford. In 1666, 10 companies were assembled at Hampton Court.

By August 1668, the regiment counted 12 companies of 80 men each; and 12 companies of 60 men each.

In 1670 and in 1671, detachments of the regiment were sent on board men-of-war in anticipation of a war against the Dutch.

In 1672, when the Third Anglo-Dutch War (1672 – 1674) finally broke out, detachments of the regiment served aboard the fleet, taking part, on June 7, in the naval Battle of Solebay. In August, the 24 companies of the regiment was deployed as follows:

  • at Rochester (6 coys)
  • at Carlisle (1 coy)
  • at Dover Castle (1 coy)
  • at York (2 coys)
  • aboard the fleet (5 coys)
  • in Westminster (9 coys)

In 1673, several detachments of the regiment once more served aboard the fleet, taking part in the naval combats near Schooneveld on June 7 and 14. On 28 July, part of the regiment embarked for the planned landing on the coast of Holland.

In 1677, grenadiers were introduced in the regiment.

In 1678, when England became involved in the Franco-Dutch War (1672–78), detachments of the regiment served aboard the fleet. In March, 8 companies of the regiment were ordered to embark for the Netherlands under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel Lord Howard Esrick. They disembarked at Ostend. In August, 6 additional companies were sent to Flanders. Lord Esrick then died of illness and was replaced by Sir Samuel Clarke.

After the war, at the beginning of February 1679, the 14 companies of the regiment stationed in Flanders returned to England.

In May 1680, 240 men of the regiment were drafted into the new regiment formed to be sent to the assistance of Tangiers which was besieged by Moorish forces.

On 14 December 1681, Henry Duke of Grafton replaced Colonel Russell at the head of the regiment.

In the Spring of 1684, the detachment previously sent to Tangiers returned to England.

In 1685, the regiment was renamed "1st Regiment of Foot Guards". In June, two battalions of the regiment were sent to Western England to quell Monmouth's Rebellion. On 16 July, they took part in the Battle of Sedgemoor.

On 22 February 1686, the musketeers of the regiment received bayonets (previously, only the grenadiers were armed with this weapon).

On 27 June 1688, the regiment joined the force assembled at Hounslow Heath. On 17 July, it returned to London. On 23 July, 1 battalion was ordered from London to Richmond to act as guard over the Prince of Wales. On 7 August, another battalion was ordered to Windsor to attend upon the king during his stay there. Rumours were now persistent that the Dutch fleet was designed for a descent upon England. On 3 November, when William of Orange effected a landing at Torbay, the third battalion of the regiment was despatched towards Portsmouth under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel William Selwyn, while the two other battalions remained in London with the king. On November 8 and 9, Selwyn's Battalion joined the force assembling at Salisbury. On 17 November, the first and second battalion were ordered to proceed to Salisbury. On 24 November, the Duke of Grafton having defected to William, James II appointed the Earl of Lichfield as colonel of the regiment. James' Army then withdrew to London. On 7 December, the first and second battalion of the regiment retired from Marlow to Uxbridge while the third marched from Uxbridge to London. On 11 December, when James decided to leave England, his army was disbanded. On 13 December William instructed to re-assemble all disbanded Protestant soldiers and reinstated the Duke of Grafton as colonel of the regiment. On 17 December, the entire regiment set off from London for Portsmouth through Kingston. At the beginning of 1689, each of its three battalions were isolated at Gravesend, Portsmouth and Oxford.

During these events, the Nine Years' War (1688–97) had broken out on the continent. In February 1689, the Dutch Republic asked William to send back the Dutch regiments who had accompanied him in his expedition in England. William sent back his Dutch foot. In March, William planned to send some English regiments, including 2 battalions of the present regiment, to the Netherlands. However, the landing of James II at Kinsale in Ireland modified William's plans. On 16 March, the Duke of Grafton was removed from command and Henry Sidney was appointed colonel of the regiment. In April, the regiment was sent away from London to Northamptonshire during the events leading to the coronation of William III. On 1 May, the regiment received two additional grenadier companies, it now consisted of 24 musketeer companies of 80 men each and of 4 grenadier companies of 80 men each, organised in four battalions. One battalion was quartered at Windsor, Eton and the neighbourhood; another at Staines and Chertsey; 4 companies at Maidenhead; 5 companies at Colnbrook; and 5 companies at Uxbridge and Hilligdon. In July, the regiment was recalled to London for the first time since the revolution. At the beginning of July, two battalions of the regiment marched to Chester to be transported to Ireland. However, William's victory at the Battle of the Boyne made these reinforcements unnecessary and these two battalions returned to London. Meanwhile, the two other battalions had been sent to Blackheath and Portsmouth to prevent a landing by the French. By the end of August, the entire regiment was back in London. In 1691, eight companies of the regiment were sent to the Hague while another battalion was posted at Portsmouth. At the end of the year, the battalion operating in the Spanish Netherlands returned to England. In 1692, the first and second battalions were sent to Flanders and Brabant while the third and fourth were recalled to London. On 3 August, the second battalion took part in the Battle of Steenkerque. On 19 July 1693, the first and second battalions fought in the Battle of Landen. In May 1694, a contingent of the regiment (12 sergeants, 12 corporals and 300 men) embarked aboard the fleet. In July, it took part in an ill fated landing at Fort Camaret near Brest. The same year, the two battalions stationed on the continent Flanders took part in the campaign in Flanders. In 1695, they took part in the siege of Namur where they stormed the covert way. In March 1696, they were recalled to England to defend the country against a potential French invasion. However, the first battalion soon returned to Flanders. Meanwhile, the second battalion had been posted in London and the third and fourth, in Portsmouth and Sheerness where it joined the Army of Brabant. In May, the third and fourth battalions were recalled to London. In November 1697, the first battalion returned to England.

By 1698, the regiment counted 28 companies and consisted of 99 officers, 224 NCOs and 2240 privates, or 80 per company for a total of 2,563 men. In that year, each company (except the King's company) was reduced to 70 privates. On 26 March 1699, the regiment was reduced by 1 sergeant, 1 corporal and 30 privates per company, making a reduction of 28 sergeants, 28 corporals and 850 men.

By the time of the War of the Spanish Succession, the regiment counted four battalions. In June 1700, King William III augmented the establishment of the regiment: the King's Company from 40 to 80 privates; the four grenadier companies from 40 to 60 each; and the other companies from 40 to 50 each.

During the War of the Spanish Succession (1701-13), in 1701, the first battalion of the regiment were sent to the Dutch Republic to attend upon him and to assist in the defence of the country. In 1702, detachments of this battalion were sent to Kranenburg to cover the siege of Kaiserwerth. On 10 June, the battalion covered the retreat of the Allies to Nijmegen. It later took part in the siege of Liège. The same year (1702), a detachment of 280 men of the regiment stationed in England took part in the expedition against Cádiz (this detachment was converged with 480 men of the Coldstream Guards to form a battalion of Guards). The detachment took part in the Battle of Vigo Bay. In 1703, the first battalion (serving in the Netherlands) was part of the force covering the siege of Huy; it also took part in the capture of Limbourg. In 1704, the colonel of the regiment, Henri Sidney, Earl of Romney, died. He was replaced at the head of the regiment by the Duke of Marlborough. The same year, the battalion serving in the Dutch Republic took part in Marlborough's famous march to the Danube, in the Battle of the Schellenberg, in the Battle of Blenheim. The same year (1704),a detachment of 150 men from the home battalions of the regiment under Captain Peachy sailed for Portugal. In July, a combined battalion of 600 men of the regiment and of the Colstream Guards under Colonel Richard Russell was formed for service in the Iberian Peninsula. In December, this combined battalion was sent to Gibraltar to form part of its garrison. In 1705, the battalion serving in the Netherlands was reorganised in two battalions. The same year (1705) in Spain, the combined battalion posted at Gibraltar successfully defended the place and then took part in the siege of and capture of Barcelona. In 1706, the battalion of the regiment stationed in the Low Countries took part in the Battle of Ramillies. The same year (1706) in Spain, the combined battalion of Guards defended Barcelona and was afterwards transferred to Valencia. In 1707 in Spain, the combined battalion took part in the siege of the Castle of Villena and in the disastrous Battle of Almansa after which it had to surrender as prisoners of war. In 1708, a combined battalion of the 1st Guards and Coldstream Guards was sent from London to Scotland where a French invasion was feared. The battalion serving in the Netherlands was also sent to Scotland. When the danger for Scotland was over, all these units of the regiment sailed for the Netherlands where they took part in the Battle of Oudenarde and then covered the siege of Lille, the grenadiers taking part in the siege. They also took part in the siege and capture of Ghent. In 1709, the two battalions of Guards took part in the siege of Tournai and in the sanguinary Battle of Malplaquet. In 1710, the Guards took part in the siege and capture of Douai. They were also present at the sieges of Béthune, Saint-Venant and Aire. In 1711, they took part in the siege of Bouchain. On 1 January 1712, James Butler, Duke of Ormond replaced Marlborough as colonel of the regiment. On 16 July, Ormond's British contingent separated from the Imperialist army under the command of Prince Eugène and marched to Avesnes le Sec. On 17 July, Ormond published a cessation of arms and notified that Great Britain had made a separate truce with France. As the British troops marched towards the coast, they were insulted by their former allies: the gates of Denain were closed against them, they were denied admittance into Douai; and at Oudenarde they were refused passage through the town. On 29 July, Ormond took possession of Bruges and Ghent, the British Guards taking up their old quarters at Ghent. The Guards remained in Flanders till 1713.

At the end of March 1713, the two battalions of Guards who had served in the Low Countries returned to London.

In 1759, a third battalion was added to the regiment.

During the Seven Years' War, the regiment was commanded by:

Service during the War

Throughout the Seven Years' War, a battalion was stationed around London and Windsor.

In May 1758, the first battalion was sent to the Isle of Wight in preparation for a raid on the French Coasts. It then embarked on the fleet and took part in the expedition from June 1 to July 1. It also participated in a second expedition on the French Coasts from August to September of the same year. On August 7, the battalion landed in the Bay of Saint-Marais near Cherbourg and gained possession of the rising ground in front of its position. On September 11, it suffered heavy losses during the re-embarkment at Saint-Cast.

As of May 30 1759, the regiment was stationed in England and counted 3 battalions for a total of 1,960 men.

In the Summer of 1760, the 2nd Battalion was sent to Germany to reinforce the Allied army of Ferdinand of Brunswick. On August 25, it arrived at Ferdinand's headquarters near Bühne in Germany. It was immediately integrated into Ferdinand's Reserve deployed along the Diemel.

In 1761, the 2nd Battalion was part of Conway's Corps in Germany. On July 16, it took part in the Battle of Vellinghausen.

In 1762, the 2nd Battalion was part of Granby's Corps in Germany. On June 24, it took part in the Battle of Wilhelmsthal. The corps fought stubbornly against the flower of the French infantry until Ferdinand managed to turn the rear of the French position with additional troops. A French corps was nearly annihilated. On September 21, the battalion took part in the Combat of Amöneburg. Late in the afternoon, the British Corps came to the relief of the Hanoverians guarding the bridge and repulsed several French attacks, saving the day for the Allies.

Uniform

Privates

Uniform in 1757 - Source: Frédéric Aubert
Uniform Details
Headgear
Musketeer black tricorne laced white with a black cockade (left side)
Grenadier British mitre with: a blue front embroidered with the "Garter Star" and a crown over it; a small red front flap with the white horse of Hanover surmounted by the motto "Nec aspera terrent"; red backing; a blue headband
Neckstock white
Coat brick red lined blue and laced white (unknown pattern)
Collar none
Shoulder Straps red fastened with a white button (left shoulder)
Lapels blue laced white (same lace as above) with 7 pewter buttons and 6 white buttonholes (same lace as above)
Pockets horizontal pockets with white laces (same lace as above), each with pewter buttons
Cuffs blue (slashed in the British pattern) laced white (same lace as above)
Turnbacks blue
Waistcoat brick red laced white (same lace as above)
Breeches blue
Gaiters white with black buttons
brown, grey or black during campaigns (black after 1759)
Leather Equipment
Crossbelt natural leather
Waistbelt natural leather
Cartridge Box black
Bayonet Scabbard black
Scabbard black
Footgear black shoes


Troopers were armed with with a "Brown Bess" muskets, a bayonet and a sword. They also carried a dark brown haversack with a metal canteen on the left hip.

Officers

Officers of the regiment wore the same uniforms as the private soldiers but with the following differences

  • gold gorget around the neck
  • an aiguilette on the right shoulder
  • silver lace instead of normal lace
  • a crimson sash

Officers wore the same headgear as the private soldiers under their command; however, officers of the grenadier company wore a more decorated mitre cap.

Officers generally carried a spontoon, however, in battle some carried muskets instead.

Musicians

According to the Royal Clothing Warrant of 1751:

The drummers of the regiment were clothed with a heavily laced red coat and wore blue breeches.
The front or forepart of the drums were painted blue, with the royal arms.

Colours

The 1st Foot Guards were unique in carrying the Royal Standard that no other regiment carried. Furthermore, they carried three crimson colours: the colonel's, the lieutenant-colonel's and the major's. Finally, each of its 24 companies carried a company colours in the form of the Union flag with differing devices.

It is most probable that the Royal Standard was only carried abroad when the Sovereign were in attendance. As per Lawson and others, company colours were not carried by each company after circa 1751. Thereafter the time-honored practice of rotational use as a regimental colour became routine.

Royal Standard: crimson field with its centre decorated with the king's cypher surmounted by a golden crown. Corners decorated with the following devices: the crowned rose and thistle, a crowned golden fleur de lys, a crowned golden Irish harp and a crowned white horse of Hanover.

Colonel's Colour: crimson field with its centre decorated with a golden crown.

Lieutenant-Colonel's Colour: crimson field with its centre decorated with the king's cypher surmounted by a golden crown. The Union in the upper left corner.

Major's Colour: crimson field with its centre decorated with the king's cypher surmounted by a golden crown; the Union in the upper left corner; a golden flame emerging from the Union.

Royal Standard - Source: PMPdeL
Colonel Colour - Source: PMPdeL
Lieutenant-Colonel Colour - Source: PMPdeL
Major Colour - Source: PMPdeL

Colours of the 24 companies:

1st Company Colour - Source: PMPdeL
2nd Company Colour - Source: PMPdeL
3rd Company Colour - Source: PMPdeL
4th Company Colour - Source: PMPdeL
5th Company Colour - Source: PMPdeL
6th Company Colour - Source: PMPdeL
7th Company Colour - Source: PMPdeL
8th Company Colour - Source: PMPdeL
9th Company Colour - Source: PMPdeL
10th Company Colour - Source: PMPdeL
11th Company Colour - Source: PMPdeL
12th Company Colour - Source: PMPdeL
13th Company Colour - Source: PMPdeL
14th Company Colour - Source: PMPdeL
15th Company Colour - Source: PMPdeL
16th Company Colour - Source: PMPdeL
17th Company Colour - Source: PMPdeL
18th Company Colour - Source: PMPdeL
19th Company Colour - Source: PMPdeL
20th Company Colour - Source: PMPdeL
21st Company Colour - Source: PMPdeL
22nd Company Colour - Source: PMPdeL
23rd Company Colour - Source: PMPdeL
24th Company Colour - Source: PMPdeL

References

This article is mostly an abridged version of the following book which is in the public domain:

  • Hamilton, F. W.: The origin and history of the First or Grenadier Guards, London: John Murray, 1874
    • Vol. 1
    • Vol. 2, pp. 1-57

Other sources

Fortescue, J. W., A History of the British Army Vol. II, MacMillan, London, 1899

Funcken, Liliane and Fred, Les uniformes de la guerre en dentelle

George II, The Royal Clothing Warrant, 1751

Mills, T. F., Land Forces of Britain the Empire and Commonwealth

Wikipedia - Grenadier Guards

N.B.: the section Service during the War is mostly derived from our articles depicting the various campaigns, battles and sieges.

Acknowledgements

Tim Reese for additional information on the use of colours during the Seven Years' War and on the campaign of 1758