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British Army Guards

Updated on May 22, 2009

Guards are the regiments of the British Army that form the Household Brigade. They are the personal bodyguard of the Sovereign. The Household Brigade consists of the Household Cavalry and the Guards Division. The Guards regiments were originally raised to protect King Charles II after his restoration to the throne in 1660. Nowadays, their peace-time duties are mainly ceremonial. But they are fully trained for modern warfare, and take their turn at overseas duties. Their fighting qualities in wartime have earned them a high reputation.

The ceremonial duties of the Guards Division include mounting guard at places of royal residence. These include Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle.

Different Types of Guards

The Household Cavalry consists of two regiments, the Life Guards and the Royal Horse Guards. The gentlemen who had formed Charles IPs bodyguard while he was in exile were formed into a troop of horse after the Restoration. In 1788, this regiment was reorganized as the 1st and 2nd Life Guards. But, in 1922, the two regiments were united. The Royal Horse Guards regiment was formed from one of the Parliamentary regiments of the English Civil War. Most of the Parliamentary forces were disbanded in 1661, after the Restoration. But Col. Unton Crook's regiment of horse was retained, and became the Royal Regiment of Horse. Later, it was nicknamed the Oxford Blues, because its members wore blue uniforms and the Earl of Oxford was their commander.

The Life Guards' full-dress uniform is red, faced with blue, with white plumes. The Royal Horse Guards' full-dress uniform is blue, faced with red, with red plumes. Officers' uniforms are trimmed with gold lace in the pattern of oak leaves, commemorating the day when Charles II hid in an oak tree while escaping from Cromwell's soldiers. The musicians and trumpeters of the Household Cavalry wear gold-laced coats and velvet caps. This dress is a royal uniform, not a military one. The bandsmen of the two regiments are dressed alike. But they can be distinguished by the way their horses' manes fall—to the offside (right) for the Life Guards and to the nearside (left) for the Royal Horse Guards.

The Household Cavalry provides mounted sentries who guard the Horse Guards building in Whitehall. The ceremony of Changing the Guard takes place there every morning. The two regiments also provide mounted escorts for state processions.

The Guards Division consists of five regiments of foot-guards. The Grenadier Guards was formed from the foot soldiers who accompanied Charles II in his exile. At the Restoration, the regiment became the 1st Foot Guards. At the Battle of Waterloo, the regiment defeated the grenadiers of Napoleon's Old Guard, and received the official title of Grenadier Guards as an honour. Napoleon's grenadiers had taken this name from the men who threw grenades.

The Coldstream Guards regiment was formed from a Parliamentary regiment that Gen. George Monk raised in 1650. It was named after the little town of Coldstream, on the River Tweed in Berwickshire, where the regiment crossed from Scotland to England in 1660. The Scots Guards regiment was raised in 1642, in Scotland. The Irish Guards regiment was raised in 1900 during the Boer War. An earlier regiment of Irish Guards left Britain after King James II fled the country in 1688. The Welsh Guards regiment was formed in 1915.

The uniform of the Guards Division is scarlet and blue, and is based on the royal livery (household uniform) of Charles II's time. The main differences between the uniforms of the regiments are the buttons on's tunics and the plumes in their bearskins (fur caps). The Grenadier Guards have their buttons spaced at regular intervals, and wear white plumes on the left of their bearskins. The Coldstream Guards have their buttons grouped in pairs, and wear red plumes on the right of their bearskins. The Scots Guards have their buttons grouped in threes, and their bearskins have no plumes. The Irish Guards have their buttons grouped in fours, and wear blue plumes on the right of their bearskins. The Welsh Guards have their buttons grouped in fives, and wear white and green plumes on the left of their bearskins.


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    • Alex Jackson profile image

      Alex Jackson 8 years ago

      nearly all right, but that bit about horses manes falling to one side, denotes which squadron is incorrect, the manes are trained to either side depending on which way the mane falls. Plus the royal horse guards is only one half of our other name, its RHG/1D, stanfing for Royal Horse Guards/1st Dragoons, or the more common name, the Blues and Royals. I didnt know that about the oak leaves though, non commissions have them on one side of their helmet as well though. regards