1st (Royal) Dragoons



In 1661, when Charles II married Catherine of Braganza (a princess from Portugal), he acquired - as part of the marriage settlement - the former Portuguese colonies of Bombay (India) and Tangiers (North Africa). Tangiers was seen as a gateway to trade with Africa, and accordingly Charles decided to send four regiments of infantry and a troop of Horse to protect the city. The Earl of Peterborough's Regiment of Horse was chosen for the task, providing 4 officers and 104 other ranks commanded by Charles Mordaunt, 3rd Earl of Peterborough himself. (Charles Mordaunt would seem to have been something of a 'rake', with a penchant for dueling!)

No sooner had the troops arrived in Tangiers in January 1662 than they were in action against troublesome Moors who objected to the foreign presence. The Moors themselves were excellent horsemen and constant minor skirmishes ensued. In 1664 a serious Moorish army threatened Tangiers, and whilst this threat was repulsed, a new threat in 1680 prompted Charles II to reinforce his garrison with additional infantry and six more troops of Horse.

The investment in Tangiers was considered too costly, however, and very soon the army was withdrawn to England where a Royal Warrant dated 19th November 1683 declared that Peterborough's Horse should be designated The Royal Regiment of Dragoons.

Charles II died suddenly in 1685, and when his Roman Catholic brother James II ascended the throne, his claim was immediately challenged by the Protestant Duke of Monmouth, an illegitimate son of the former king. To meet this threat, the Regiment's ranks were increased to 12 troops, each of 60 men, and they fought significantly at the Battle of Sedgemoor (1685), where Monmouth was soundly defeated.

In August 1685, Lt. Col. Viscount Cornbury was appointed Colonel of the Regiment, which marched to London and then to quarters in Devonshire.

After the Battle of Sedgemoor, James II, perhaps encouraged by the sound defeat of his Protestant enemy, veered towards Roman Catholicism to a degree which worried not only his government, but also many military commanders who were staunch Protestants. When William of Orange was invited to usurp the thrones of England, Scotland and Ireland in 1988, confusion reigned within many regiments of the regular army as to where their loyalties should be placed. Lt. Col. Cornbury being Protestant, he led the majority of the Royal Regiment of Dragoons to join William's army, although a considerable proportion of the Regiment remained loyal to James. (In his history of the Regiment published in 1887, Gen. Charles de Ainslie describes officers and men making decisions on the march - a dawn march on 12th November 1688 - as to whether to ride forward to greet William, or whether to turn back. It would appear that no orders were given in this respect, the decision being left to individual choice.)



Deserted by the major part of his army, James fled to France, and William, together with his wife Mary, were crowned king and queen on 10th April 1689. Where resistance to the change in the monarchy existed, the Regiment marched first to Scotland, and then to Ireland. The Regiment fought at the Battle of the Boyne under the practical command of Lt. Col. Edward Leigh. For the next twelve months, the Regiment fought minor actions against supporters of James II, which included, bizarrely, a former Colonel of the Regiment, Gen. Richard Clifford.

From Ireland, the Regiment returned in 1692 to England, where it was deployed along the south coast for 'revenue duties' (combating smugglers).

The year 1694 saw the Regiment shipped across the Channel to Belgium, where they joined William's army against Louis XIV in the Nine Years' War (1688-97) and were in constant action until the Treaty of Ryswick (1697) was signed, at which time they returned to England.

The outbreak of the War of the Spanish Succession (1701-14) saw the Regiment shipped to Holland to join the Duke of Marlborough in 1702. They fought throughout the war, particularly in Spain and Portugal, but often fought dismounted as there was a shortage of horses until May 1705 when remounts arrived from Ireland. These horses were sold in Spain in 1712, and the Regiment returned to England unmounted.

The Regiment remained in Britain for the next thirty years. By Royal Warrant dated 3rd February 1715, it was ordered that 2 troops from the Regiment be detached to form a new regiment called the Prince of Wales's Own Royal Regiment, later the 7th (Queen's Own) Hussars. At the same time, a Roman Catholic uprising in Scotland (the First Jacobite Rebellion of 1715) caused the Regiment to be sent north, where they remained until 1720 to contain ongoing Catholic unrest.

In 1720, a Royal Warrant established the purchase price for commissions in the Regiment, with a Cornet's commission costing £600 (these sales were negotiated by agents and were unofficially negotiable).

In 1726, the Regiment (at that time an establishment of 852 officers and men in 9 troops) transferred to the Sussex and Essex coast for revenue patrols. For the next fourteen years they patrolled the southern coast of England with frequent skirmishes with smugglers.

In 1742 the Regiment shipped to Belgium to join the allied armies of Holland and Austria for the War of the Austrian Succession (1740-48). Commanded by George II himself, the British troops marched into Germany in 1743. In 1745, elements of the British army, including the Royal Regiment of Dragoons, were rushed back to England to counter a threat to the throne in the form of the Second Jacobite Rebellion. The Regiment remained in England, often furnishing escorts for the Royal Family.

On the outbreak of the Seven Years War (1756-63), the Regiment was employed guarding the English coast until 1760, when it crossed the Channel and spent two years rugged campaigning and fighting major battles such as Warburg (1760). After the war, the Regiment remained on home duties in England until 1779.

In 1779, some troops from the Regiment, together with elements of the 3rd Dragoon Guards and the 6th and 11th Dragoons, were detached to form a new regiment, the 20th Dragoons. The Regiment remained on domestic policing duties for the next fourteen years.

In 1793, the Duke of York (second son of George III) led a British army, including the Royal Regiment of Dragoons, to the Netherlands to join allies in the French Revolutionary Wars (1792-1802). The Regiment was immediately in action, but an aggressive French advance saw the British troops returned to England in 1796.

A 'General Order' dated 10th August 1799 ordered that heavy cavalry (with the exception of the Life Guards and the Horse Guards) should have their horses' tails docked. The same order specified that some regiments, including the First or Royal Regiment of Dragoons should ride black horses.

The start of the 19th Century saw the Regiment once more engaged in policing the coast in search of contraband (with an incentive of £1 per man paid for successful seizures)

In 1807 the Regiment shipped to Ireland, and thence in 1809 they shipped to join Wellington's army in Portugal (Peninsular War 1807-14). On 30th July 1810 the Regiment's Commanding Officer, Lt. Col. Wyndham, was captured by the French and throughout August the Regiment was busy covering Wellington's retreat to Torres Vedras. The following year, Wellington went onto the offensive (assisted by bands of Spanish guerrillas operating behind the French lines). The Regiment was constantly engaged in bitter fighting until events in Russia and Eastern Europe forced the French to retire from the Peninsular in 1813. The Regiment entered France in March, 1814.

In July 1814, after five years continuous campaigning in Portugal, Spain and France, the Regiment shipped from Calais to Dover with some 530 officers and men and 329 horses.

Just ten months later, in May 1815, the Regiment shipped across the Channel once more to meet the threat raised by Napoleon's escape from Elba. In France, the Regiment (together with the Scots Greys and the Inniskillings) formed the 'Union Brigade' under command of General Sir William Ponsonby. After a spectacular review before the Duke of Wellington on 29th May, the army enjoyed two weeks of rest and recreation until, suddenly, they were ordered to move on 16th June. They reached the field of Waterloo on 16th, and the following day a violent thunderstorm broke out.

On the morning of 18th June 1815, the Regiment, at that time under command of Lt. Col. Clifton, moved "fetlock deep in mud" with "every man soaked to the skin". Initially held in reserve, at 2pm the Union brigade charged advancing French troops who had broken through the British lines, and during the ensuing fighting a French Eagle (the 105th) was captured by Captain Kennedy Clark. Rather than consolidating their success, the Union brigade rode on with a lack of discipline which was soon subject to attack by French cavalry which decimated their ranks. General Ponsonby himself, his exhausted horse stuck in a quagmire, was killed by French lancers.

At Waterloo, the Regiment lost 6 officers and 92 troopers killed, with 151 horses killed and 9 officers, 88 troopers and 35 horses wounded. After the battle, the Regiment remained on garrison duty in France until January 1816, at which time they returned to England.

The years after Waterloo saw the Regiment stationed in various regions of England, Scotland and Ireland where they undertook policing duties (it was a period of considerable unrest) and customs and excise duties. In addition they were frequently called upon to provide a Royal Escort.

In May 1836 the 'Roman helmet' with the horse-tail plume was replaced by a brass helmet with the (removable) bearskin crest. In April 1848 this helmet was, in turn, replaced by the 'Albert helmet' with a (removable) black horse-tail plume.

In May 1854, the Regiment (in three separate stages) embarked for the Crimea (due to inadequate ventilation in one of the ships, 25 horses had to be destroyed). The establishment at that time was some 500 officers and men (of whom a proportion remained in England at the Regimental Depot) and 320 horses. On landing in Varna, six men died of cholera in a short space of time. As part of the Heavy Cavalry Brigade commanded by Maj. Gen. James Scarlett, the Regiment's first major engagement was the Battle of Balaclava (25th October 1854).

The Regiment returned from the Crimea in May 1856, and in June the young Queen Victoria visited their barracks in Aldershot and spoke to wounded men. The Regiment was later to furnish an escort for the Queen during her visit to Ireland in 1861.

New breech-loading Snider-Enfield rifles were issued to the Regiment in 1868. The Regiment remained five years in Ireland, embarking for Scotland in 1873. From Scotland the Regiment moved south to England in 1876.

New Martini-Henry carbines were issued to the Regiment in 1878 and in April a '1st Army Corps' was formed with the 1st Royal Dragoons comprising one of the six cavalry regiments therein.

Unrest in Ireland saw the Regiment once more shipped across the Bristol Channel and small units were posted as 'protection' for individual land-owners, acting as personal bodyguards. (On 6th May 1882 the Chief Secretary for Ireland and his Under-Secretary were murdered in Dublin). Corporal Wallace of the Regiment and the man he was protecting were both shot dead in an ambush on 8th June.

A small group of 40 men from the Regiment went to the Sudan War in 1884 to ride camels, of whom Major Gough and 13 troopers were killed at the Battle of Abu (1885) . In November 1899, the Regiment sailed to South Africa to fight the Boer War (1899-1902), where they were immediately employed in the relief of Ladysmith. They remained in South Africa until 1902.