1st Life Guards

The two Life Guard regiments can trace their histories back to the late 1650's, when many English royalists crossed the Channel to join Charles II, son of Charles I who had been executed by Cromwell's parliamentarians in 1649.

Three troops of "horse guards" were raised in Belgium in 1658 and 1659 on behalf of Charles II, when Charles was in exile and England was ruled by Oliver Cromwell's parliament. The first troop was named His Majesty's Own Troop of Horse Guards (raised by one Charles Gerard, a man from a wealthy Lancashire family, who had been a senior cavalry commander for the Royalists during the Civil War, and was later granted a baronetcy as Lord Gerard of Brandon, and in 1679 granted the title Earl of Mackesfield).

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A second troop was named Monck's Life Guards after George Monck, Duke of Albemarle, commander of Charles II's forces. Later the name changed in rapid succession to 3rd, The Duke of Albemarle's Troop of Horse Guards (1660), 3rd, The Lord General's Troop of Horse Guards (1661) and, finally, 2nd, The Queen's Troop of Horse Guards. Monck himself was to play a key role in the restoration of the monarchy in England in 1660.

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A third troop was given the title The Duke of York's Troop of Horse Guards, the Duke of York at that time being Charles' 25 year-old brother, James (the future James II). James himself had previously seen considerable action during the Franco-Spanish War as a cavalry officer, (albeit fighting for the French king Louis XIV whilst his father supported the Spanish).

Charles II's soldiers were primarily Englishmen who had fled to Europe in support of the Royalist cause, although a proportion would have been, no doubt, professional "soldiers of fortune". Many were veterans of the English Civil War (1642-51), and on the continent they saw action in the Franco-Spanish War (1648-59).

When Charles II returned to England in 1660 and the monarchy was restored, the major part of his army, and especially the three troops of Horse Guards, returned with him.

In March 1661, to maintain the king's influence in Scotland, an elite and prestigious cavalry force was mustered in Edinburgh under the command of James Livingston, Earl of Newburgh, an experienced commander from the Civil War. This troop, comprised of young "gentlemen", is often referred to as The Scots Troop of Horse or, occasionally, as the 4th Troop of Horse Guards.

Elegancies were tested when the Protestant King Charles II died in 1685 and his Roman Catholic brother James II ascended to the throne of England, Scotland and Ireland. Just four months after the death of Charles II, the succession to the throne was challenged by the Duke of Monmouth, an illegitimate son of Charles and a Protestant. At that time, James's troops remained loyal and Monmouth's army was defeated at the Battle of Sedgemoor on 6th July 1685.

However, when Protestants in England invited William of Orange to challenge James's rule in 1688, a large proportion of the army deserted James and joined William's Dutch troops. It's uncertain where the four troops of Horse Guards placed their elegance, but with a major part of his army gone, James absconded without bloodshed.

Two years later, encouraged by Roman Catholic support in Ireland, James attempted to re-establish his rule, but his army was defeated at the Battle of the Boyne on 12th July 1690.

In the months preceding the Battle of the Boyne, two troops of Horse Grenadier Guards, in effect mounted infantry, were raised, the 1st Troop of Horse Grenadier Guards mustering in England and the 2nd Troop of Horse Grenadier Guards mustering in Scotland. There is no evidence that William's four troops of Horse Guards and two troops of Horse Grenadier Guards took part in the Battle of the Boyne, but they would certainly have been involved in suppressing the subsequent Jacobite unrest between 1690 and 1746.

In 1788 the establishment of four troops of Horse Guards and two troops of Grenadier Guards was revised into a Household Cavalry brigade of three "regiments". The 1st Troop of Horse Guards plus the 1st Troop of Horse Grenadier Guards became the 1st Regiment of Life Guards with an establishment of 230 men under the command of Lt. Col. John Drouly.

1st Life Guards baptism of fire occurred during the Peninsular War (1807-14), at which time a plumed helmet was introduced. Called to the Spanish peninsular in 1812, the regiment fought many actions. large and small, including Vittoria (1813).

When hostilities ceased on the Spanish Peninsular, the regiment returned to London only to be hastily transported back across the channel to meet Napoleon's resurgence. The scene was set for the climactic battle of Waterloo which was fought on 18th June 1815.

In a prelude to the battle proper, the 7th Hussars were involved in "an affair of cavalry" with French lancers in which the hussars faced serious defeat. The 1st Life Guards charged and saved the day, driving the lancers from the field. The regiment subsequently fought various actions across the battlefield as part of Lord Uxbridge's cavalry.

After the defeat of Napoleon, there followed a period of comparative peace. None of the Household Cavalry regiments were sent to the Crimean War (1853-56), nor did they undertake policing duties in Queen Victoria's expansive empire. Occasionally at home, however, the regiment (like all regiments) was called upon to perform civil policing duties.

In 1882 the Regiment was sent to Egypt for the war against Arabi Pasha, and subsequently they went on to the Sudan for the war of 1884-85 before returning to London in 1885.

The Boer War in South Africa (1900-02) saw the 1st Life Guards overseas again. In South Africa, the Regiment took part in many major actions and returned to London in 1902.

The Regiment's ceremonial duties in London are legendary, where Life Guards have formed a Sovereign's Escort over three centuries.