Dec 01 2011
This is the third of four articles about the Household Brigade. The first three articles deal with the three regiments which made up the brigade, and next month the fourth will examine the part they played at Waterloo.
1st King’s Gragoon Guards, 1820
Like the Life Guards and the Horse Guards, the 1st Dragoon Guards had their origins in the 17th Century. When James II came to the throne in 1685, the accession of a Catholic king was deeply unpopular in protestant Britain. The Duke of Monmouth, Charles II’s illegitimate son, played on this sentiment to launch a bid for the throne. In response James raised a number of regiments, one of which was Lanier’s Regiment of Horse, named after its first colonel, but then renamed the Queen’s Regiment of Horse in honour of James’ wife, Mary of Modena. The regiment’s first task was to escort Monmouth to London (and eventual execution) after his defeat at the Battle of Sedgemoor.
By a strange irony of history, the regiment’s first experience of active service was as part of William III’s expedition to Ireland in 1690 against a rebellion raised by the now dethroned James during which they saw action at the Battles of the Boyne and Aughrim.
In 1714 they became the King’s Own Regiment of Foot, in honour of the accession of George I.
They were part of Marlborough’s army during the War of Spanish Succession, earning their first battle honours at Blenheim (1704), Ramillies (1706) and Oudenarde (1708). They were also present at the Battle of Malplaquet in 1709.
At Dettingen (the last battle commanded by a British king in person) in 1743 they stood their ground under prolonged French cannon fire and then engaged in a fierce hand to hand fight against a regiment of Gendarmes.
British governments have always regarded the army as a prime source for cuts when they need to save money, which was the situation in 1746. Regiments of horse were more expensive than dragoons, so money could be saved by downgrading the King’s Own to dragoon status, a decision which was bitterly resented. A compromise was eventually reached. In 1751, along with several other regiments of horse, they became dragoon guards, and were given precedence over the existing dragoon regiments.
Their next continental expedition was during the Seven Years’ War when they twice saw action in 1760. At Corbach their successful charge was said to have saved the British army, while at Warburg they took part in another crucial charge, most famous for being the occasion when the Marquis of Granby lost his wig. (There are many pubs named the Marquis of Granby and the signs still denote the wigless marquis.)
John Manners, Marquis of Granby
Legend has it that the Marquis was given to setting up old soldiers with a pub of their own, hence the very large number of pubs named after him.
The 1st Dragoon Guards took part in the first British expedition against the French revolutionary forces in 1793 and won a battle honour at Beaumont. Thereafter they were on home service until 1815. Brigaded with the Life-Guards and the Blues at Waterloo, they may well have felt that they had something to prove.