History of the Foot Guards

Service to the Crown

Image: Foot Guards aboard ship in the 1660s

In 1665-7 both the First and Coldstream Guards fought as sea soldiers in the war against the Dutch. In 1664 the Coldstream Guards provided a detachment, which took part in the capture of New Amsterdam now called New York from the Dutch. The First Guards fought in many naval actions as a consequence one of its customs is that the regiment adopted playing ‘Rule Britannia’ before the National Anthem at Retreat. In 1672 a Composite Battalion was formed for the first time from both the First and Coldstream Guards during the Second Dutch War of 1672-4.

Tangier came to the British Crown when King Charles II married Katherine Braganza in 1662. The Moors resented it being in the hands of infidels so repeatedly attacked it. Charles sent a number of regiments to defend it including the First and Coldstream Guards. After time Charles decided it was not worth defending and so withdrew leaving the city to the Moors. From their actions both Guard regiments gained their first Battle Honour ‘Tangier’.

In 1678 the Guards were ordered to form Grenadier Companies, these men were the strongest and tallest of the regiment, they carried axes, hatches and grenades, they were the shock troops of their day. Instead of wearing tri-corn hats they wore a mitre shaped cap.

All three Guard regiments took part in the defeat of the Duke of Monmouth rebellion at the Battle of Sedgemoor on 7th July 1685. In 1686 the Scottish Regiment of Foot Guards came onto the strength of the English Army for the first time. They had a strength of 14 Companies split into two battalions. One of which came south to Hounslow Heath to a training camp set up by the King. Being the junior Guards Regiment they were greeted with the nickname of ‘The Kiddies’ a name that stands today.

On 5th November 1688 Prince William of Orange landed in Devon with the view or deposing James and putting the country back to a protestant base. James with his regiments marched to meet him. Officers of the Guards were in a dilemma do they serve a very unpopular catholic King or join a protestant invader. Two of the Guards regiments stayed with King James but the Scots went over to William as did a number of senior army officers. James decided not to contest the invasion and fled England on the night of 11th December. When William was eventually crowned he did not fully trust his Guard regiments and he ordered them all out of London. With the Coldstream Guard going to Flanders. The commanders of the other two Guard regiments were restored to their commands.

In 1689 all Guard regiments were sent to Flanders under the command of the Duke of Marlborough. The Battle of Steenkirk was fought on 3rd August 1692. A dawn attack was ordered led by the 2nd Battalion First Guards, after initial success the attack failed. The next action was at Landen on 29th July 1693, it was the first time that the Guards fought as a brigade under Guards officers, a system that followed from then onwards. The Guards with the 1st and 7th Regiments of Foot and some Hanoverians were dug in and were attacked all day by 26 French battalions, only when their ammunition ran out and with the loss of 4,000 men did they withdraw. They were saved by numerous cavalry charges and the army as a whole retired. On 30th August 1695 the army captured the fortress of Namur where the Guards formed the assault troops. Here they won their second Battle Honour ‘Namur’.