Royal Horse Guards

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This article is about the British military unit. For the Danish unit, see Royal Horse Guards (Denmark).
Royal Horse Guards
Member of the Royal Horse Guards, 1826
Active 1650–1969
Country  Commonwealth of England (1650–1660)
 Kingdom of England (1660–1707)
 Kingdom of Great Britain (1707–1800)
 United Kingdom (1801–1969)
Branch Army
Type Cavalry
Nickname The Blues
Motto Honi soit qui mal y pense
March Quick March: Grand March
Slow March: Regimental Slow March of the Royal Horse Guards
Engagements See Battle honours list
Richard Howard-Vyse, Aubrey, Earl of Oxford, Robert Hill, James Manners, Marquis of Granby, John Churchill, Earl of Marlborough,

The Royal Regiment of Horse Guards (The Blues) (RHG) was a cavalry regiment of the British Army, part of the Household Cavalry.

Founded August 1650 in Newcastle upon Tyne by Sir Arthur Haselrig on the orders of Oliver Cromwell as the Regiment of Cuirassiers, also known as the London lobsters, the regiment became the Earl of Oxford's Regiment during the reign of King Charles II. As the regiment's uniform was blue in colour at the time, it was nicknamed "the Oxford Blues", from which was derived the nickname the "Blues." In 1750 the regiment became the Royal Horse Guards Blue and eventually, in 1877, the Royal Horse Guards (The Blues).

The regiment served in the French Revolutionary Wars and in the Peninsular War. Two squadrons fought, with distinction, in the Household Brigade at the Battle of Waterloo.

In 1918, the regiment served as the 3rd Battalion, Guards Machine Gun Regiment. During the Second World War the regiment was part of the Household Cavalry Composite Regiment.

The RHG was amalgamated with the Royal Dragoons (1st Dragoons) to form the Blues and Royals (Royal Horse Guards and 1st Dragoons) in 1969.

Origins and History[edit]

Restoration: Catholics v. Protestants[edit]

The Royal Regiment of Horse Guards began life after the Venner Riots. It suited the new King Charles II and his brother, James, Duke of York, so as to make a force from expediency. Colonel Unton Croke's Regiment of Horse was used, a former Commonwealth officer, to found the Royal Horse Guards. Cromwell's officers were well-drilled, the horses cared for, and properly trained. James Berry replaced Sir Arthur Haselrig in the brutal pillage of Scotland in 1651, but the efficiency of his command, made The Blues most reliable and trustworthy for General Monck at the Restoration. In 1653 Berry's Blues had seized power for the Protector in a military coup. They suppressed the Wagstaffe rebellion, and then the rise of Quakerism in Scotland. The change of leadership came in 1658 when Berry was cashiered for supporting Lambert's rebellion. Unton Croke led the regiment when King Charles arrived back in England in 1660.

Known as the Blues after the colour of the uniform, they first paraded at Tothill Field in London on 6 February 1661. They differed from the previous Blues, who were parliamentarians of the civil wars. However they were identifiably Protestant, although influenced by the French mousquetaires noires.

Early duties included escorts. There were three Troops: King's Troop was at Canterbury, but one was usually at Southwark. Henry Compton's Troop, posted at Bagshot, was responsible for protecting the Navy Office at Portsmouth. They were used to round up prisoners. Early policing included the arresting of contraband tobacco smuggled from the colonies. Sir Henry Jones was a puritan dismissed from the service, but returned to London in 1673, raised a regiment to go to the Siege of Maastricht, where he was killed.[1]

The Royal Horseguards were wealthy gentlemen, sons of the well-to-do, not controlled by parliament. By 1685, Charles II was paying the guards £283,000. But the Blues deployed almost entirely outside London; in 1666, the duke of York's 'Articles and Rules of War' attempted absolute royal control over the army. In disciplinary disputes officers appealed to the Privy Council, the highest executive body in the kingdom. The Earl of Oxford was Colonel of The Blues when the Army Board met for the first time on 5 August 1670.[2]

In 1670, a scandal broke: Capt Gerard, who had assaulted Sir John Coventry MP for sneering at the Court's mistresses, was found to have misappropriated large sums of pay for 'false musters'. The Life Guards were more catholic and under York's influence, whereas the Duke of Monmouth by 1674 was Commander-in-chief. The champion of Protestantism had more support in the country and amongst the Blues. However fears of absolutism and dismissals of catholic officers undermined morale "they being incapable of employment."[3] The successful police work of the Blues may have saved the Treasury money and urged upon the King abandonment of a Pro-French foreign policy. Monmouth's popularity and support of the Blues, led to his dismissal in 1679; and probably directly to the Rye House Plot. A chief conspirator was Sir Thomas Armstrong of the Blues, who had served in Holland with Earl of Oxford, Colonel of the regiment.[4] Armstrong fled abroad, as did Lord Grey. The plotters and former Guards officers Lord Russell and Algernon Sidney were escorted to the scaffold by sentries of the Life Guards.[5] But some like Henry Cornwall adhered to principle during the reactionary era, resigning in 1689 because his loyalty to the Crown was not a religious conviction.[6] Nonetheless The Blues had been with Captain Churchill on the Field of Sedgemoor; Captain Sandys was treated to a conversion lecture on Catholicism from King James.[7]

Under the new instructions started by William Blathwayt, Secretary at War, the Blues became a very respectable regiment, its commissions sought after. Officers were encouraged to move around with the regiment to avoid fraternization with the locals. But the attraction of commissions led to purchasing. Preference and place was dependent on private means. The Blues ranked as the second Cavalry regiment, so on the death of Charles II in February 1685 it was recalled to do policing duties in London.[8] Marlborough the royal household to greet the Prince of Orange in 1688. The following The Blues were part of the allied army that defeated the French at Walcourt, near Charleroi, when they charged the best French infantry, leaving 2,000 dead.[9] On 23 April 1689 The Blues were ordered rehabilitated to a strength of 450 men and ordered to Holland.

wars of succession[edit]

During early eighteenth century the Blues were widely dispersed throughout the north country. They had some distinguished commanders, the Compton brothers, and during the Jacobite risings the Duke of Argyll. But the Dukes tended to be imperious; real leadership came from George Fielding, Francis Byng, and John Wyvilles. In 1740, the Royals moved from Worcestershire to Great Windsor Park for training The Blues in preparation the fields of Flanders. Together they formed General Honeywood's brigade. Finally in August 1742 they arrived in Flanders across rough seas from Gravesend to Ostend.[10] An account of the campaign was provided by Dr John Buchanan, regimental surgeon.[11] During the War of Austrian Succession accounts filtered back of great suffering at the hands of the surgeons, venereal disease, colds and ague.

But the main problem was the heat, and soldiers were often fat and unfit. Officers were encouraged to keep copious notes.[12] The regiments were reviewed by Lord Stair and the Prince of Hess.[13] The Blues moved to Brussels to await the King. Squabbles broke out as to who should be commander-in-chief, but it was agreed they should march north to meet the Hanoverians and Hessians at Hanau. The opportunity had been lost to defeat Marshall Noailles in May. In the heat, problems as forage was nowhere to be had. The King tried to force the army through a forest, trapping them in a narrow corridor. The French bore down n=on the position across the river with artillery, behind at Aschaffenberg.

That night on the ever of battle Earl of Stair formed the battle lines before the village of Dettingen. The Blues were in the second wave of attacks to the left called up in support of infantry. Noailles failed to rally them, and many were drowned in the River Main. Hemmed on all sides, the British could only attack. The Blues joined the front line of seven infantry battalions, one Austrian brigade, and the Household units. As the French faltered, the Household cavalry were ordered on the offensive. The French fell back to the village. At the Battle of Dettingen, the Blues were in the frontline; incorporated with The Royals they numbered five battalions. Only eight were killed in the regiment. They returned to Brussels where ill-discipline spilled over into street brawls; and two desertions. More common was drunkenness. Thereafter the Household Cavalry Brigade was formed for the first time: The Life Guards, Horse Grenadiers, and Blues, under Lord Craufurd. On leaving Brussels: and we have many accidents nixt day and much confusion in passing the Gates. Attended with many inconveniences, carriages are overturned, broke down, men hurt and horses lame.[14]

The Blues were gallant in the defeat at Battle of Fontenoy under the leadership of Lord Craufurd near the village of Vezon. The behavior of The Blue Guards is highly to be commended which must in great measure be attributed to the conduct of their Major Charles Jenkinson and his care of them.[15] But the Blues still suffered the worst allied casualties. At Barri Wood the French cannon had ripped through their ranks causing terrible damage. Morale was a critical factor. The Duke of Cumberland transferred many regiments including the Household Cavalry to the disturbances in Scotland, but leaving The Blues behind.

Granby and Seven Years War[edit]

During the Seven Years' War, the Blues fought alongside Prince Ferdinand. The largest cavalry regiment, The Blues colonelcy was assumed by the Marquis of Granby. This great soldier understood the importance of morale. In the mould of Ligonier, a predecessor he established a brave and efficient force. His successor, Henry Seymour Conway was one of the greatest colonels the regiment ever had over a twenty-five year period. Granby however, retained a passionate interest in the welfare of The Blues; his generosity and hospitality expressed later in a legion of public houses. Granby was in charge of the second division at Battle of Minden Heath. The Blues posted sentries called Vedettes, who were so close when the French attacked that the regiment was thrown back. The Blues were eager to charge in after the infantry surge to Minden walls, but owing to Sackville's orders the reinforcements were delayed. His court-martial was difficult for the regiment, whose officers were called on to give testimony.

The allies had saved Hanover, and driven Marshall Contades back towards the Rhine. By December 1759 The Blues were exhausted looking forward to a winter break at Osnabruck. Lieutenant-Colonel Johnston went to recruit in England; and found Dragoon Guards who wanted to join for the superior conditions in The Blues. Granby was depressed by his son's death and that of his wife too, and the loss of his stud, so he decided to set up a Widows' Fund, and provide better regimental medical care. His cousin, Russell Manners was raised to battalion command; and King George II's interest in The Blues was inherited by George III. Granby commanded The Blues and The Royals on their march south from Paderborn. At Warburg on 31 July 1760, The Blues lined up in the centre. The British force of 8,000 stole a march on the French positions, and charging headlong into the enemy dispersed a force of 24,000. The famous 'Charge' on trumpet and bugle sent Granby's men into history.

'For we Rout'd all before us - Down precipices, over hollow ways we went like a torrent as the French general term'd it, which struck such a panick so that they [led] without firing a shot. The Marquis of Granby persued the enemy above 10 miles.[16]

The casualties were one cornet, six corporals, twenty-three troopers.

In February 1761, The Gold Stick, Granby led The Blues and others in a brilliant campaign. The French were hunkered down when surprised by the British on the march, driving them back 50 miles over muddy roads. The regiment was present in the summer at the Battle of Vellinghausen when they took a force twice their size led by Marshall Soubise, with the flexible use of artillery fire; the cavalry unable to gallop in the terrain. 15th Light Dragoons and The Blues encountered a skirmishing force at Wilhelmstahl on 1 July 1761. The cavalry realizing the enemy's presence took the initiative, demoralizing the French while the infantry finished. ADC Henry Townshend wounded at Vellinghausen, was killed with a trooper and three horses. Henry Seymour Conway marched the regiment to a triumphal return to England in March 1763. On demobilization, the troopers were reduced from 52 to 29 men per troop.[17] Granby used his considerable wealth to endow inns and orphanages, although was unable to prevent the reductions to the regiment.

If Granby's grief at his son's loss was saddening, the crippling reductions to The Blues, according to William Pitt the Elder doomed "the bravest men the world ever saw to be sent to starve in country villages and forget their prowess."[18] The harvest failures of 1760's was compounded by rioting. The Blues were depressed to leave ex-comrades in Germany; they were used as militia and policing duties. Granby died in January 1770, to be replaced by General Seymour Conway as Colonel. A riding-school was built at Nottingham. The Blues were still the biggest cavalry regiment on the bigger horses at 16 and a half Hands.

Reform at Horse Guards[edit]

Through the revolutionary period the Gold Sticks still had direct access to the king. The regiments developed very differently as The Blues were always away from London. In 1788 a Committee drew up the cost of commissions; the pay rates being the highest in the army. The cost of horse and equipage was prohibitive for all but the aristocratic elites. The rank of cornets were abolished for second lieutenants.

The Guards were deployed to keep the King's peace. Life Guards in London feared rioters backlash; and civilians were controlled in Nottingham's 'Framework-Knitters' riot' of 1783 by a detachment of The Blues. No violence was used, but 37 protesters were arrested.

On returning to civil duties again in 1795 they were expected maintain public order in Loughborough and Coventry; developing the doctrinal laws of Absolute Necessity. They also patrolled the shoreline for smugglers. The Blues for the most part remained in the East Midlands.[19] In 1788 and 1789 The Blues were required to come to London to mount up the King's Life Guard, as there were inadequate personnel in the Life Guards thanks to reorganization and reform. The lack of recruits threatened the Expeditionary Forces viability in Holland. The Blues were part of a contingent of 3,500 cavalry who departed Northampton with Sir Charles Turner.

In June 1793 The Blues were royal reviewed at Northampton. Commanded by Lt-Colonel Sir Charles Turner, they disembarked at Ostend on 15 June. They marched to join the allied army at Valenciennes, being besieged by the Duke of Coburg. The Blues and The Royals encountered the French at Dunkirk in a sea board march. Lieutenant Board was unhorsed and killed by a cannonball. Skirmishes continued all year, and by November they retired to winter in Ghent. The new Depot System worked well, and 1794 started with promise of success. The Blues were in Major General Mansel's brigade, as the allies laid siege to Landrecies. Mansel was criticized as being slow to engage the enemy, when an large French force left Cambrai on 23 April 1794. Mansel was still in command when the allies army took a position north on Cambrai on the Beaumont road. Mansel vowed to avenge the shame of 24th, he told the Duke of York, which he did charging and scattering the enemy, but was killed. The French line caught totally offguard were broken in the open, losing 5,000 men. The Blues lost 15 men, Quartermaster John Kipling, and 25 horses. In total allied casualties were 150. The regiment earned the epithet "Immortals" in this action.[20]

Now commanded by Ralph Dundas The Blues and The Royals pursued the French infantry northwards from Beaumont trapping them in a quagmire near the village of Baisieux. A French general was fought to a standstill and run through by Private Joseph White. The battered French army retreated to Tournai. York moved into Roubaix, but the Austrian Emperor had run out on the allies, and returned to Vienna. The Blues returned to the depot at Northampton.

The Blues find a permanent home at Windsor[edit]

In 1796 The Blues received a new sword - the curved sabre, and the Nock Pattern Carbine. A reorganization at Horse Guards posted The Blues to a new base at Windsor. George III liked the regiment, who acted as royal bodyguards. A new barracks was built on 14 acres at Clewer in 1800, where a permanent barracks was built: 62 eight-bed dormitories for the men.

Whilst life in the mess got more expensive and sociable, rates of pay stagnated. It was even more a requirement that all officers came from a moneyed background. By 1790 Cornets aged 18, stabilizing entrants qualifications, and enabling purchasing to advance promotion rapidly. Quartermaster purchases attracted very modest incomers, enabling class mobility. And by 1800 only nine regimental commissions had transferred out in 20 years. But recruitment of Cornets remained difficult in peacetime.[21] Recruits had to pay as much as 5 guineas for a riding lesson. Officer cadets would study Regulations for the formation and Movement of the Cavalry, spending a year at regimental HQ. In 1802, the British Military Library journal was established to educate on military tactics. Stable parades happened four times daily, and great care was taken of horses. Field day drills took place in Windsor Great Park or on Winkfield Plain every Friday. Quartermaster became an increasingly responsible rank. Wives were permitted to share at Clewer Park. Messes were created for NCO's. During the Peninsular campaign gambling became fashionable amongst Blues officers. And several officers ran up huge debts. They became a popular regiment in a royal location. Duelling was common and sent up in a number of parodies as described in the Blueviad.

Under the Regency Act, the King was frequently incapacitated. The Prince Regent demanded The Blues turn out in its smartest dress with the Life Guards. They were on crowd control duties on 19 June 1811. When Princess Amelia died, they escorted the coffin. On the opening of parliament in 1812, they marched with the Regent to Westminster. More serious was the rioting of 1810 which ended in the attempted arrest of Sir Francis Burdett MP. The mob cried out for the Radical Burdett causing the government to order troops in from Clewer Park.

With Wellington's Peninsular Army[edit]

Detachments of Blues were increased from six to eight, as four troops embarked at Portsmouth for Portugal in October 1812. Their new Colonel was the rich Duke of Northumberland, who used had served in American wars, and now wished to spend on the regimental Band. Unfortunately he clashed with Horse Guards over the modernized regimental kit. The youthful troopers dispatched they travelled with light camping equipment, and acquired a regimental mascot, a Newfoundland dog.[22]

In April 1812 General Wellington aimed to make a decisive assault on Madrid. To capture the Spanish capital he sent a cavalry division, including The Blues under General Rowland Hill to the south to prevent Massena from coming up from the south.

In 1813, Major Packe took temporary command. They were involved in the Battle of Vitoria, traversing a deep ravine along the Pamplona road. The Blues, with Household brigade already enganged, wheeled right across the ravine. Bivouaced on the road, General Hill had orders to hold it. The deftness of the manouevre embarrassed the French generals. The defeat ended Napoleon's grip on Spain. The Blues were sent home in 1814. Demobilization was a painful experience: one officer per troop was shed to the half-pay list. The Regent ordered all regiments to act through Silver sticks and Gold sticks. A new barracks was built at King Street.


See main article Battle of Waterloo}

Robert Hill was appointed to command The Blues in his brother's stead. The eldest was ennobled, and the youngest was ADC. They were in Lord Uxbridge's Cavalry corps of 14,550. Not Wellington's first choice, Uxbridge was richly attired, powerful, with influential friends, and a showman. The Blues were in the mid-column when they marched in early hours of 16 June 1815 towards Quatre Bras via Enghien down narrow Belgian lanes. They spent an uncomfortable night; the weather was hot and humid. It rained all night. As dawn broke, heavy rain made the ground a quagmire.[23] On the day of battle, The Blues drew up in the second line behind the Life Guards. They should have held the formation, when Uxbridge gave the order to charge. Robert Hill was wounded in the clash with the 4th Cuirassiers, shot by a Chasseur. Major Packe was run through and fell dead off his horse. Charging through the regiment was in danger of going too far from La-Haie-Sainte, they were rescued by General Somerset. They fought Ney's Cavalry to a standstill, until Blucher's Prussians appeared to the left.

One historical record that emerges is the perfunctory effectiveness of the surgery on the battlefield of Waterloo. For example, only six of the wounded fifty Blues actually died. They lost 44 killed. Some reported barbarism by the French upon prisoners. Waterloo proved the Guards were fit for active service.[24]

...when we was about two hundred yards from the French lines a cannon ball came and took off my horses leg so i dismounted but looking around I saw a horse that somebody had been killed off so I soon got another. So we continued in that state until night the Prussians came up and began to work and the French began to run and a happy sight it was.[25]

Trumpeter Tom Evans who had saved General Robert Hill's life, retired to start a pub in Old Windsor, called the Oxford Blue. The Cavalry left Brussels and rode on to Paris. By February 1816, they had returned to barracks in Windsor. The Blues received five standards emblazoned with battle honours won.

On 22 June 1815, Napoleon abdicated having lost the support of the Assembly. All was lost for the Emperor. Grouchy's corps was still intact, and Marshall Davout in Paris was willing to fight on, but France was beaten. The Household Brigade reached Poissy, a town already looted by the Prussians, only 12 miles from Paris, and the war was already over. The Union Brigade reached Nanterre.

Until early 1816, the British were an army of occupation on french soil. They took time to recover, and restock the regiments, recruit more men, and promote survivors. The Blues returned to the barracks at Windsor. The decisive point in Waterloo came when the Household and Union Brigades had charged d'Erlon's Corps, making the cavalry brigades national heroes for a few years afterwards. On Lady Day, 25 March 1816, a medal was struck for "Waterloo men", the first to be so since Battle of Dunbar in 1651.

The Ceremonial Blues[edit]

The Prince Regent made himself Colonel-in-Chief of Life Guards and The Blues on 29 January 1820. The Blues pay remained lower. They rotated between Windsor, Regent's Park, and Knightsbridge from 1821. On 24 October 1818, The Gold Sticks were ordered to cut 104 men from The Blues - they were to pick only the strongest, fittest and best appearance in the troops.[26] At George IV's coronation on 19 July 1821, he ordered the Household Cavalry to wear bearskins, which were not ditched until 1847. The new King insisted on bright showy parades; shiny tack, and all horses must be black in colour. New and elaborate saddlery, and even golds reins for 1st regiment of Life Guards and he introduced the acorn motif to hark back to Charles II.

In 1805 The Blues had been presented with two kettle-drums, which the Life Guards now had to have in 1831 at a cost of £950. On 7 August 1821 only weeks after the coronation, from which she was excluded, the Queen Caroline died, having first expressed her wish to be buried in her native Brunswick. On 14 August, a squadron of The Blues arrived, led by Captain Bouverie to take her body to Romford. They pulled up at Brandenburg House, Kensington to meet the local magistrate Sir Robert Baker. The mob planned to hijack the procession in The City, but when the hearse arrived to go through Hyde Park, the gates were slammed in their faces. The Life Guards came to their aid. The mob blocked Hyde Park Corner and Park Lane, so Baker had to change the route to Piccadilly. The Cortege reached Tyburn gate but it was barricaded. The Life Guards were involved in containing the violence; whilst the Blues still faced escorting through hostile crowds of belligerent Londoners.

In January 1830, The Blues' entire regiment escorted the funeral cortege for George IV to St George's Chapel, Windsor doing homage to a grateful king.

The Colonels-in-chief[edit]

Wellington was the first Blues Gold Stick and was Colonel of The Blues until 1827. This put the regiment on a similar parity with Life Guards in terms of access to the king. The Duke however did not believe in bucking the chain of command, and declined to exercise extraordinary influence outside the fact that The Blues had become part of the Household Cavalry on 29 January 1820.[27] But Wellington did approve of the appointment of Lord Combermere to the Life Guards, but when duke of York died in 1827, the Iron Duke was finally made commander-in-chief. When Wellington became Colonel of Grenadier Guards (previously 1st Foot Guards) he was made to give up the Gold Stick. His successor was Ernest, Duke of Cumberland and King of Hanover. The royal Duke believed the Gold Sticks-in-waiting should have absolute authority over their regiments. But the old Duke of Northumberland had resigned over this very issue; and the new King William IV had the last word. He ruled that in all operational matters beyond ceremonial duties, the Household Cavalry would fall into the Commander-in-chief's care and command. Cumberland angrily resigned in a huff.

Youngest Hill, Clement Hill who had been Rowland, Lord Hill's ADC, now the Colonel of The Blues, became commanding officer. The trend was moving towards choosing operational commanders as Colonel. The new Queen in 1837 strongly a policy of meritorious promotion. In she selected Lord Uxbridge, now Marquis of Anglesey to succeed Hill as Colonel of The Blues. He had spent 45 years in 7th Dragoons and did not really want the job. For their part the Blues did not want the Tory Lord Londonderry. The Victorian colonels were all former serving soldiers. In 1895, the most famous soldier of the age, Lord Wolseley was appointed Colonel-in-Chief at Queen Victoria's insistence.

Soldiers' well-being[edit]

The cost of commissions for The Blues were broadly the same as Life Guards. But the costs of uniforms, horses and mess bills meant a private income was essential. India was the only opportunity for active service. But Household officers did not often want to transfer there. One Blues officer, Captain Hugh Baillie kept his mistress, Lady Glintworth in Clarence Crescent. But the quality of life for officers, and their level of pay differed markedly with NCO's. In Windsor, the soldiers were by mid-century were living in chronically overcrowded rooms. They slept on straw palliases, and there was no running water, nor private bathrooms. The transmission of disease became epidemic at Knightsbridge barracks, because there was not proper toilet paper. It took the revelations during the Crimean war for army reforms to introduce changes. Dr Logie was the crusading Medical Officer, of The Blues, who wrote a letter condemning Windsor barracks as unfit for human habitation in 1870. GOC Home district could only say it was not the place of a doctor to comment on army accommodation.

The Blues ignored existing regulations allowing wives of 96 families to live outside Clewer barracks by 1841, although poor rented quarters were still all they could afford. An 1836 regulation authorizing good behaviour badges before marriage was permissible was scrapped in 1849, when a 2d marriage allowance, and the commanding officer's timely approval became sufficient. By 1851, separate marriage quarters were introduced in full, except the NCO's mess. Queen Victoria inspected these in 1864 and ordered them to be rebuilt. Many soldiers preferred to leave their families when they rotated. Private Charles Wooldridge left his wife at Alma Terrace, when he went to Knightsbridge barracks with The Blues in 1895. She started an affair, and he stabbed her to death. Wooldridge was sent to Reading Gaol, and executed there. Oscar Wilde wrote in The Ballad of his bravery.

There was no tradition of flogging in The Blues. Between 1816 and 1827 there were about 4 floggings a year, but thereafter it became rare.

Troubles in the Crimea[edit]

Lord Raglan was Colonel of The Blues when he sailed for the Crimea in 1854. He had lost an arm at Waterloo, and was a successful Staff Officer on the Peninsula. But at 65 he had not led an operational army. He was brave, charming, but incompetent. He jumped in the mess when the French arrived, forgetting that they were allies. Horse Guards had thought a Transport Corps unnecessary, as men lay dying of cholera through lack of provision for fresh food, and clean water. Moreover all the horses were dying from glanders and farey. Many horses were shot dead.

The Household Cavalry had not intervened in the Battle of Alma, although Lord Lucan had sworn they would. They could have taken Sevastopol there and then, but as it was they waited, and now had to beseige it for the long haul. A competent commander Sir Colin Campbell was reinforced by Raglan's infantry when at 5 am he had heard the Russian General Liprandi was moving 35 squadrons of Cavalry in 25, 000 men forward to take the Allied positions in front of Sevastopol. At daybreak, Raglan left the Light Brigade and Cardigan in reserve, whilst going with General Scarlett's Heavy Brigade and Horse artillery.

The Russian cannon decimated horses, cutting down their legs. They successfully occupied the redoubts before launching an attack on the British positions at Balaclava. The Horse artillery did return fire, but since the heavy horses had been sent back for supplies, there was no way of getting more ammunition. The 93rd Highlanders stood in a "thin red line" as the Russian Hussars charged down on towards them. The British waited until the last minute to give the order to fire. Almost upon the bayonets the Russians wheeled first left, and then right before disappearing towards their own lines. The Union Brigade (Heavy) of Dragoons and Royals were dressed by Scarlett as the black looking mass of Russian Hussars and Lancers appeared over the hill. 300 of them charged through the lines but were hopelessly outnumbered by 2,000 Russians; and so retreated. Casualties were light as they only had swords, on both sides. A relative success in contrast to the light brigades charge against artillery led by Lord Lucan.

The Russians attacked the British trenches at Sebastopol on 5 November 1855, but cavalry were not involved. On 14 November the Allies camp was destroyed by hurricane. Ten ships were destroyed by fire, the road became muddy, and the rain came down in torrents. Then it began to snow. The soldiers were expected to sleep outdoors without proper equipment, and began dying in their hundreds.

The cavalry moved to near the town of Balaclava, and were not as badly off as the infantry in the esposed trenches. More tragic for the cavalry was the loss of their horses as transports. On 12 December they were ordered to produce 500 every day. By January 1856, the cavalry had managed small wooden huts, and life slowly began to improve[28] In February 1856, a light railway was built, which aided the arrival of remounts and recruits. A suppy enquiry commission was despatched from London to investigate. Thereafter the conditions began to markedly improve. To many Campaign medals looked out of kilter with what they knew. There were attempts to raise morale, Sebastopol fell in September 1855 with heavy losses to the infantry. In March 1856 a peace was negotiated in Paris.

The Cardwell Reforms[edit]

Before the war in 1853, the sandy land near and around Aldershot was acquired by the War Office. When the Cavalry returned some of the regiments were sent back to that town. A permanent camp was ordered to be established here after the war. More garrisons were establishd at Colchester, Essex, Shorncliffe, Kent, and The Curragh, County Dublin, Ireland. From 1868 Edward Cardwell began a series of significant Liberal government reforms to the War Office and the army. He faced considerable opposition from the royal Duke of Cambridge, Commander-in-chief. Cardwell's reforms were impactful for a generation. One important change was abolition of the purchase system. Cambridge led a spirited defence in parliament. The barrier in the cavalry to advancement was not so much purchase of a commission but the high cost of horses, uniform, and mess life.

From 1850 to 1899, 39 peers sons served in The Blues. The highest concentration in the regiment's history (77 in Life Guards). John Brocklehurst was the son of Henry Brocklehurst as successful Macclesfield silk miller, who went on to be a major general. Typical of industrial classes contributing to the Blues.

The problem was the failure of the Crimea was down to the lack of professional education amongst the General Staff. One failing was that the legislation did not adequately replace the purchase system with an excellent substitute. So seniority became the main decision-maker when determining promotion. In practice promotion by merit on experience rarely happened. It was not until the Boer War that the chain of command itself was examined for weaknesses; and a committee established that it layed the blame on insufficient officer education. In 1872 the system that Charles II had introduced in which Household officers automatically assumed a rank above other regiments was finally abolished.

Other reforms included making the C-in-C subordinate to the Secretary for War. In 1868 Cardwell abolished flogging and reorganized the regimental system. Cardwell recognized the advantage of a territorial army system. He realized the success of the German army in 1870 was due to speed, artillery, and the more efficient German breach loaders. He introduced 156 more artillery; but the officers could not agree that breach loaders were more efficient that the old muzzle loaders. The cavalry were increased by 1,700; rifled carbines were introduced, and the squadron replaced the troop as the main administrative unit during peacetime. Troopers had always been more respected than infantrymen on the field, stemming from that fact as men of substance they provided their own horse. But since 'Waterloo men' had received a medal, more substantial changes had occurred: statutory periods of service allowed soldiers to serve for shorter periods, introduced a proper career plan, formalized record-keeping, and regularized pensions. Every soldier killed after 1870 had a headstone. Cardwell moved the C-in-C to the War Office, and the Financial Secretary and the Surveyor-General to War Office in Pall Mall, and then placed the QMG under the Adjutant-General; but stopped short of the 'Chief of Staff' option. The Cardwell reforms showed in the defeat of the Mohammed Arabi revolt in 1882.

An Expeditionary Force[edit]

In 1871 speech to the Commons a Liberal MP hinted that due to the success of German Uhlans in defeat of the French, the era of Heavy Cavalry was over. He urged a radical solution being to scrap them as being too costly to the Exchequer at £100 per man. Captain Reginald Talbot MP retorted that Uhlans at 20 1/2 stones were little lighter than the British Heavies at under 23 stones. But this remark referred to the Life Guards only. Talbot also pointed out that a cavalryman was on duty almost twice per every week, and in fact the allegations of drunkenness, the Guards being very disciplined soldiery. He quoted the Duke of Cambridge, a former Commander-in-Chief that the guards were the flower of the imperial army. Sarcastic articles appeared in the press imugning their ability to stand in the rain without umbrellas.

The Arabi revolt was provoked by the overthrow of Khedive Tawfiq in Cairo, and the massacre of the British residents of Alexandria. The Life Guards lobbied for a return to the Waterloo system of a composite regimental system; one regimental battalion doing ceremonial duties, the other operational. The Adjutant-General and Colonel of The Blues in a famous letter of 7 July 1882 explained to Horse Guards that they could raise 450 officers and men for the Egyptian expedition, and that a squardon from each of the Household regiments would make up the force. This consisted of the two Life Guards squadrons and The Blues squadron. The latter was led by Lieutenant-colonel Milne Home. As they departed Southampton Water under the overall command of Sir Garnet Wolseley, they sent thanks to the Queen at Osborne House in early August 1882. On 24 August the Household Cavalry were in action for the first time since Waterloo 1815. They took the towns of El-Magfar, Mahsamah and the Kassassin Lock on the Suez canal, to gurantee the safety of their communications with Cairo. They were very short of food, and it was very hot. The huge British cavalrymen and horses towered over their enemy. They carried razor-sharp sabres on the 1848 steel pattern, Martini Henry carbines, and pistols. There was a false alarm before the cavalry saw action at Mahsamah, charging Arabi infantry, who were supported by cannon. "Then the cheer we gave, then the few seconds of silence, and then the havoc and slaughter.".[29] The Blues on the left "For the first few minutes it looked as if they meant to shoot us down; and then it was our men's turn to butcher them."(John Brocklehurst).[30] One casualty Private Bennet was killed. The Blues were part of Wolseley's laudatory summation for the War Office.

By 12 September 1882, Wolseley was prepared enough to plan an attack on the strongly fortified Tel-el-Kebir.[31] He had 30,000 Sudanese and Egyptians, and 70 guns. Wolseley planned a surprise night march, and a dawn raid. On 13th at 5 am they attacked with the Household cavalry on the right rolling up the flank, causing panic in the arab ranks. They rode 60 miles in 24 hours, reaching Cairo the following day. On 20 October The Blues landed to a triumphal reception at Southampton. They processed amidst cheering crowds towards Regent's Park barracks. The Queen was relieved Arthur, Duke of Connaught had returned. Both Victoria and the Prince of Wales, who was temporarily staying at Bad Homburg wrote the regiments with congratulations[32]

In 1884 Mahomet Ahmed, a tribal leader claiming to be the Prophet Mahdi, led a Nationalist rising. General Hicks defeated the Khedive's troops at Kordofan on October 1883. But Valentine Baker was defeated by the Mahdi's General Osman Digna near Suakin. An expedition by General Graham from Cairo won two victories at El-Teb (Feb 1884) and Tamai (March 1884). Wolseley was called upon to rescue General Gordon from Khartoum. But the loss of Suakin made it impossible to execute the operations. Wolseley took the radical step of forming a Camel Corps from the Household cavalry regiments and The Royals totalling 200 hand-picked men. He also picked a light Guards regiment as infantry. They left Aldershot via Southampton to Alexandria by 24 September, travelling down the Nile to Aswan, and thence by Camel they had reached the big bend in the Nile by Christmas.

Imperial Heroism[edit]

The Blues were led by a renowned officer, Fred Burnaby. At 6 ft tall, and 20 st he was very strong, a weightlifter. Joined the Blues in 1859, paying £1,250 for a Cornet's commission. He achieved fame by travelling to Khiva in the Russian Steppes. From "forbidden" Khiva, he went to Bulgaria campaigning with his friend Pasha Valentine Baker. He was involved in the Carlist revolt of army officers in Spain. He crossed the channel by balloon. The Times reported on Gordon's plight, and Burnaby was their reporter in the Sudan. He stood in Birmingham as a Conservative against Joseph Chamberlain. Some officers complained that their extra marital affairs were made public. But Burnaby was admired by the men in the regiment. In 1884 Burnaby was wounded at El Teb. But the public were dismayed to learn that he had fought in 'civvies' armed with a shot-gun. Leading the charge over the ramparts, blasting his shot-gun as he went, he was wounded in the arm, but rescued by a Highlander.[33] Burnaby again stood for parliament in Birmingham. He was determined to join the regiment and rescue his friend General Gordon. The War Office prohibited it: and so he announced he was going on holiday to South Africa, joining the Camel Corps at Korti, Sudan on 30 December 1884.

Wolseley detached the Camel Corps under Sir Herbert Stewart to march across the desert to Metemma, securing the wells as Gadkul on 12 January 1885. Having learnt how to handle camels in the saddle, they were expected to employ carbines and full kit as mounted infantry. They then had to secure more wells, and eventually encountering on foot, the enemy at Abu Klea, where 700 Mahdists charged them. The Gardner machine-gun jammed. They formed a defensive square, during which hand-to-hand fighting Burnaby fell, defended to the last by Corporal Mackintosh, who was killed. Lord Binning crept out twice to give Burnaby water. Major Lord Arthur Somerset of The Blues squadron wrote commanding officer to inform him of the heroic actions. On the second occasion he had been speared. In total 9 Officers and 65 men were killed, 94 wounded. As the British made their way to the Nile they were constantly harrassed, exhausted and thirsty. But Sir Herbert was killed; and his Intelligence Officer to whom command was devolved dithered. Sir Charles Wilson reached Metemma on 19 January but was not able to repair down the Nile; Gordon was killed and Khartoum taken on 26 January.

  |The soldier's friend, the best of men,|
     |Beloved of all his corps,|
  |So mourn you Royal Horse Guards Blues| 
     |Brave Burnaby no more.[34]|

Twentieth century warfare - Boer War[edit]

Charles Villiers joined The Blues in 1887, was fluent in Swahili and Arabic, was a veteran of the Unyoyo campaign, East Africa, decorated by the Sultan of Zanzibar. He was seconded to Rhodes, and then took part in the jameson Raid on 29 December 1895. Villiers was returned to the Blues with a promotion, and in 1899 was given command of South African Light Horse. In 1901, Major Hanbury-Tracy was eager to get into action, with a personal retinue of 50 men and 45 camels.

Battle honours[edit]

  • Flanders Campaign 1745
  • The Second World War: Mont Pinçon, Souleuvre, Noireau Crossing, Amiens 1944, Brussels, Neerpelt, Nederrijn, Nijmegen, Lingen, Bentheim, North-West Europe 1944-45, Baghdad 1941, Iraq 1941, Palmyra, Syria 1941, El Alamein, North Africa 1942-43, Arezzo, Advance to Florence, Gothic Line, Italy 1944

Colonels —with other names for the regiment[edit]

from 1750 Royal Horse Guards Blue

On 1 July 1751 a royal warrant provided that in future regiments would not be known by their colonels' names, but by their "number or rank".

from 1877 Royal Horse Guards (The Blues)
from 1969 Blues and Royals (Royal Horse Guards and 1st Dragoons) amalgamated with the Royal Dragoons

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Barney White-Spunner, Horse Guards (Macmillan 2006), p.56
  2. ^ White-Spunner, p.70
  3. ^ Sir G. Arthur, The Story of the Household Cavalry, 1, p.92.
  4. ^ Barney White-Spunner, "Horse Guards" (Macmillan 2006), p.47
  5. ^ Arthur, p.149
  6. ^ White-Spunner, p.121
  7. ^ Diary of Abraham de la Pryme, ed Charles Jackson (Surtees Soc. 1870), pp.43-44, cited in Childs, "The British Army under William III", p.5; White-Spunner, p.111
  8. ^ White-Spunner, p.83
  9. ^ George Malcolm Thomson, "The First Churchill: The Life of John, 1st Duke of Marlborough" (Secker and Warburg, 1979), p.69
  10. ^ White-Spunner, p.197
  11. ^ Household Cavalry Museum, White-Spunner, p.198
  12. ^ White-Spunner, p.200-3
  13. ^ Edmund Cox's Diary, NAM 8208-195-1
  14. ^ Dr Buchanan's Diary, cited in White-Spunner at p.212.
  15. ^ Dispatches of the Duke of Cumberland, cited in White-Spunner, p.215
  16. ^ Diary of Edmund Cox, cited in White-Spunner, p.242
  17. ^ White-Spunner, p.249
  18. ^ White-Spunner, p.252
  19. ^ 5 locations: Hertford, Hertfordshire; Peterborough, Cambridgeshire; Stamford, Lincolnshire; Derby, Derbyshire. London for George III's Ceremonial duties
  20. ^ It was the Duke of York's words. The story was handed down to Edmund Packe by his father, who joined The Blues in 1799 and fought at Waterloo.
  21. ^ White-Spunner, p.277
  22. ^ White-Spunner, p.304
  23. ^ Private Peel, The Blues, a letter to his sister, (Household Cavalry Museum, f.22/572/2)
  24. ^ White-Spinner, p.338
  25. ^ Private Robert Peel, HCM, no.22/572/2
  26. ^ The Historical Record of The Life Guards, p.23
  27. ^ White-Spunner, p.349
  28. ^ White-Spunner, p.382
  29. ^ Capt Reginald Talbot, as cited by Marquess of Anglesey, History of the British Cavalry, 2, p.286-7
  30. ^ Anglesey, p.287
  31. ^ White-Spunner, p.397
  32. ^ White-Spunner, p.400
  33. ^ White-Spunner, p.402
  34. ^ the tribute to their heroic c/o was written by Private Cameron, The Blues, - White-Spunner, p.407
  35. ^ White-Spunner, p.356



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  • Arthur, Sir George (1926). The Story Household Cavalry(1914-1918) 3. William Heineman. 
  • Atkinson, C T (1921). Marlborough and the Rise of the British Army. New York. 
  • Cooper, Leo (1973). British Regular Cavalry 1644-1914. Mercury Press, Northampton. 
  • Fortescue, J W (1910). A History of the British Army. 20 vols. London. 
  • Hills, R J T (1970). A Short History of The Royal Horse Guards. Leo Cooper. 
  • Houlding, J A (1981). Fit for Service: The Training of the British Army 1713-1795. Oxford. 
  • Kochanski, Halik (1999). Sir Garnet Wolseley: A Victorian Hero. Hambledon Continuum. ISBN 1852851880. 
  • Orr, Michael (1972). On Dettingen 1743. London. 
  • Packe, Edmund (1847). A Historical Record of the Royal Regiment of Horse Guards or Oxford Blues. 
  • Skrine, Francis (1906). Fontenoy and Great Britain's share in the War of the Austrian Succession 1741 –1748. William Blackwood, Edinburgh. 
  • Warner, J N P (1993). The Story of the Blues and Royals. Leo Cooper Pen and Sword Books. 


  • Fitzmaurice Stacke, Henry (October 1934). "Cavalry in Marlborough's Day". Cavalry Journal. 

External links[edit]