Introduction



Although Henry VIII had established a Royal Navy, after the departure of the Roman armies from Britain in the 6th Century AD, no professional or 'regular' land forces were maintained in the British Isles until the time of the Civil War (1642-51).

In the interval between the departure of the Roman legions and the creation of the New Model Army by Oliver Cromwell in 1645, chieftains, barons and noblemen would arm their servants and retainers in time of war. Usually these armed bands were loyal to the sovereign, supporting campaigns such as Edward I's campaigns against Scotland. Occasionally, however, the barons would use their forces against the sovereign, as was the case during the Wars of the Roses (1455-1485) at which time Richard III was deposed and replaced by Henry VII.

Throughout the years of the Middle Ages and thereafter, some individuals hired themselves out to the highest bidder as mercenaries and on occasions these professional fighters would band together under a charismatic leader.

The first regular force organized and financed by an English monarch was the Royal Navy founded by Henry VIII (1491-1547) in response to a threat from Spain. Henry's daughter, Elizabeth, maintained no regular land forces but organized bands of trained militia throughout England which required every male to own, and be trained in the use of, weapons such as pike and sword.

When the English Civil War began in 1642, the two opposing armies were made up, initially, of amateur soldiers fighting for their political or religious convictions rather than money. As the war progressed, however, the English Parliament was able to accrue money by means of taxation, and this wealth enabled Cromwell, the leader of the Parliamentary army, to pay his soldiers as professionals. The New Model Army was formed.

Many of the regiments referred to in these pages can trace their history back to the years immediately following the Civil War, to a time when a 'regular army' was maintained by the British monarch to fight under generals such as Marlborough (1650-1722). By the time Wellington (1769-1852) assumed command of the British land forces in 1808, the army's line of battle was well established. Whilst the common infantryman or cavalry trooper signed on for 'the King's shilling', usually for a period of three years or longer, officers generally had to purchase a 'commission' in the army. The purchase of a commission guaranteed a certain social standing and, certainly in the longer term, provided an annual income which increased significantly with rank.

During the 1800's, the cavalry units of the British armed forces were stabilised into 32 regiments. There were THREE 'household cavalry' regiments, SEVEN 'dragoon guard' regiments, THREE additional regiments of heavy cavalry designated 'dragoons', and EIGHTEEN regiments designated 'light dragoons'. There was also ONE 'horse artillery' regiment. Later in the century, the 'light dragoon' regiments were re-designated as either 'hussars' or 'lancers', a practice common throughout Europe. There were, in addition, a large number of reserve or 'yeomanry' units not covered by the scope of this book.

The 19th Century saw a dramatic increase in British influence throughout the world, and during the reign of Victoria (1837-1901) the British Empire spanned the globe. The Empire was established and maintained by military muscle. On occasions, British regiments fought bravely for a just cause, but there were many instances when British troops did not distinguish either themselves or their country. In this respect, it is the soldier's lot to follow orders handed down by his political masters.

These pages provide a brief history of the regular army cavalry regiments existing in Britain between 1801 and 1900.