Household Division is a term used principally in the Commonwealth of Nations to describe a country’s most elite or historically senior military units, or those military units that provide ceremonial or protective functions associated directly with the head of state.
In medieval Western Europe, the most able warriors were pressed into service as the personal bodyguards to the monarch and other members of the royal or imperial household; as a result, Household troops are commonly referred to as Guards. From this origin developed the practice of designating a country’s finest military units as forming Household or Guards regiments.
Members of the Household Divisions would accompany the monarch to protect him when he ventured into the public. Hence, as kingdoms grew larger and more politically complex, the Household Divisions naturally became part of the public spectacle of the state. Their uniforms, weapons and even personal attributes such as height were selected to engender awe on ceremonial occasions. The Household Divisions thus developed a tradition of providing a theatrical ceremonial accompaniment to important national events.
The prestige of serving directly with the monarch created an incentive for the Household Divisions to become dominated by members of the upper classes, irrespective of their actual skills as soldiers. From this development comes the association of Household Divisions with wealth, snobbery, and discrimination, which persisted until the middle of the 20th century.
Today, members of the remaining Household Divisions continue to enjoy a certain social prestige within the armed forces and the state at large. They do, however, continue to fulfil their ceremonial roles at state occasions, and to uphold the more enduring traditions of military service.
Since their formation in 2000 in commemoration of the centenary of Australian federation, Australia's Federation Guard have taken on many of the historically ceremonial roles associated with Household Divisions of other Commonwealth countries.
The Canadian Household regiments are all militia rather than a regular force units. The armoured Governor General's Horse Guards is the most senior of all militia regiments, while the Governor General's Foot Guards and the Canadian Grenadier Guards are respectively the first and second most senior infantry militia regiments. All three regiments provide both active soldiers and ceremonial guards.
The Governor General's Horse Guards are Canada's sole Household Cavalry regiment; the Governor General's Foot Guards and the Canadian Grenadier Guards combine on an ad hoc basis to form the infantry Ceremonial Guard. Prior to 1970, the four regular battalions of the now disbanded Canadian Guards provided the infantry element of the Household Division.
Although India is a republic, its history as an empire within the British Empire has left it with a host of institutions of quasi-imperial forms: India thus retains a Household Division, despite recognising the authority of no royal household. The President's Bodyguard, which was founded in 1773 as the Governor's Troop of Moghuls and renamed the Governor General's Bodyguard during the colonial era, is the country's Household Cavalry regiment, with ceremonial soldiers on horseback and combat soldiers in armoured vehicles or heliborne roles. The Brigade of the Guards is the country's Foot Guard regiment, with special responsibilities to the Presidential palace.
In the United Kingdom the Household Division consists of septem juncta in uno (Seven joined in one):
- Household Cavalry (composed of the Life Guards and the Blues and Royals)
- Foot Guards (composed of the Grenadier Guards, the Coldstream Guards, the Scots Guards, the Irish Guards, and the Welsh Guards)
From 1950–1968, the term Household Brigade was used.
The seven regiments that form the Household Division in the United Kingdom are all currently units of the regular army. In 2004, however, the Minister of Defence announced that the Foot Guards would gain a reserve (or Territorial Army) battalion, the London Regiment. The London regiment are however according to HM Regulations for the Household Division neither Foot Guards nor household troops; they are attached to the Division, rather than a constituent part of it.
The Household Division and the King's Troop, Royal Horse Artillery are collectively referred to as the Household Troops. They are under the command of the Major-General Commanding the Household Division, who is also General Officer Commanding London District. The Divisional command is made up of the Major General, his Chief of Staff (usually a Colonel), the Brigade Major (usually a Lieutenant Colonel), the Staff Captain, Staff Officer Ceremonial, Superintending Clerk and the Garrison Sergeant Major. In addition, both the Household Cavalry and the Foot Guards have their own chains of command, as do the individual regiments.
The connection with the Sovereign remains important ceremonially and operationally, and the Household Division provides both ceremonial and operational support for the Crown. The Sovereign is Colonel-in-chief of all the constituent regiments of the Division. One of the five Foot Guards regiments is selected each year to troop their colour before the Sovereign at Trooping the Colour annually in June. This ceremony includes march-pasts in slow and quick time, and is attended by the Household Troops. Orders for the Household Division are conveyed to the Major-General via officers who are part of the Royal Household: the Field Officer in Brigade Waiting (for the Foot Guards) and the Silver Stick in Waiting (for the Household Cavalry).
The Household Division provides two battalions and incremental companies at any one time tasked for public duties, which include the protection of the Sovereign. In the event of crisis or war it is believed that one of these would be responsible for protecting the person of the Sovereign and facilitating his or her evacuation if this were necessary. In the Second World War a special unit, known as Coats Mission, was entrusted with this latter task. In the 1960s, war plans apparently envisaged evacuating the Sovereign to the Royal Yacht Britannia. It would appear that, contrary to persistent rumour, there were no plans for the Sovereign to join the Prime Minister at the Corsham bunker complex known as Turnstile.
Music and the British Household Division
Music is an essential component of ceremonial regimental life in the UK. Each of the five Foot Guards regiments has its own band and its own regimental quick and slow marches. These are on show in the Changing of the Guard ceremony at Buckingham Palace. Similarly, both the Household Cavalry regiments have their own mounted bands and also their own regimental quick and slow marches.
The Massed Bands and Massed Mounted Bands feature annually at Trooping the Colour. The term "Massed Bands" denotes the amalgamated bands of all five Foot Guards regiments, and numbers around 250 musicians. The term "Massed Mounted Bands" denotes the amalgamated bands of the two Household Cavalry regiments.
The mounted bands wear colourful state dress and dark blue peaked equestrian caps. They are led by two musicians on large Shire horses used as drum horses. Since their hands are occupied with the drumsticks, they must work horses' reins with their feet.
- 1st Battalion, Royal Malay Regiment of the Malaysian Army
- Mounted Ceremonial Squadron, Royal Armoured Corps
The Royal Malay Regiment serves as the Household Regiment of the Yang di-Pertuan Agong and the Raja Permasuri Agong, the King and Queen of Malaysia, together with Royal Armoured Corps Mounted Ceremonial Squadron, the ceremonial royal cavalry escort unit. Their responsibilities are at the Istana Negara, Kuala Lumpur as the Royal Household Troops and Guards.
- AU – Australia’s Federation Guard (AFG)
- CA – The Governor General’s Horse Guards
- CA – The Governor General’s Foot Guards
- CA – The Canadian Grenadier Guards
- IN – The President's Bodyguard
- IN – The Brigade of the Guards
- UK – HQ Household Division
- UK – The Household Cavalry
- UK – The King's Troop, Royal Horse Artillery
- British Army Music