History of the Foot Guards

The wars of the 1700s

Image: Soldiers have the barrels of their muskets pushed down to prevent them shooting too high

The War of the Spanish Succession 1702

The First Foot Guards were the only Guards regiment to fight under the Duke of Marlborough in Europe for the first six years of his campaigns. In 1704 a force which included the First Guards attacked the French and Bavarian forces on the Danube where they had fortified a hill called the Schellenberg. The Grenadier Company spearheaded the attack. In an hour and a half the fortress was taken. Six week later on the 13th August the Battle of Blenheim took place and the First Guards won the Battle Honour ‘Blenheim’ The First Guards formed up with five Line Regiments attacked a fortified French position, but were unable to take it, but they did make the French take their eye of the ball and pave the way for the cavalry to charge with great success and defeated the French.

On the 23rd May 1706 once again the First Guards were the only Guards regiment involved in the victory at Ramillies. In 1708 The Coldstream Guards joined them and both regiments were present at the Battle of Oudenarde on 11thJuly 1708 and Malplaquet on 11th September 1709. The Guards eventually returned home in March of 1713.

In 1704 the Rock of Gibraltar was captured from the Spanish. Reinforcement were needed to hold it. A Composite Guards battalion was formed consisting of 200 First Guards and 400 from the Coldstream Guards and sent to Gibraltar where they successfully repelled several attacks to retake the Rock. From these actions they acquired the Battle Honour ‘Gibraltar’. From there they took to the Spanish mainland and captured Barcelona. In 1707 the British forces were defeated at the Battle of Almanza and forced to surrender. In 1710 the Scottish Foot Guards had joined the British Army in Spain. The army was once again defeated at Brihuega. This second defeat ended operations in Spain.

In 1707 the Act of Union was completed and the Scottish Foot Guards were brought south as a whole for the first time, also at this time they took to wearing the Order of the Thistle badge and changed the facing colour of their uniform from white to Royal Blue, to match the other two Guard regiments. They did not return to Scotland again until 1911. In 1712 the regiment was given the title Third Regiment of Foot Guards a title they held until 1831 when they took on the title Scots Fusilier Guards.

War of Austrian Succession 1740-1748

At home a threat arose when Charles Stuart grandson of King James II landed in Scotland, stirring up trouble and forces were needed to combat this threat.  The Guards were hurriedly ordered home from Flanders. The Duke of Cumberland pursued the Jacobite army with mounted troops, surprisingly some 400 where taken from the Guard regiments. He eventually brought the Jacobite’s to battle at Culloden Moor on 16th April 1746. No Guard regiments were involved in this action.

Saw the 1st Battalions of all three Guard regiments sent to the continent where they took part in the battles of Dettingen on 27th June 1743 and Fontenoy 11th May 1745.

The Seven Years War 1756-63 Against France

In 1758 a Guards Brigade was formed from the 1st Battalions of all three Guard regiments taking part in the attack against St Malo where they where heavily defeated, 800 were killed and as many captured. In 1760 a Guards Brigade under General Julius Caesar composed of the 2nd Battalion of all three Guards regiments was sent to Germany to support our allies against the French. They saw little action until 24th June 1762 at the Battle of Wilhelmstal and a year later they returned home. This ended sixty years of the British fighting the French and the Foot Guards twenty four years on the continent of Europe.

The War of American Independence 1775-1783

Trouble was brewing in North America so the British government decided to act. A composite battalion from all three regiments was formed and sailed for America in March 1776. After a journey of almost five months they landed and were immediately in action, being involved in the capture of New York. The Guards were involved throughout the campaign in most of the engagements of 1776-1777 which was followed by two years of garrison duties in New York. From there they headed south to Carolina joining General Cornwallis. Because of the nature of the terrain and the muted clothing of the local population, the British had a hard time of it, with the same drills and in the red clothing they wore when fighting on the continent, this gave the opposition a great advantage in covert operations. So much so that it was decided to form a Light Company who fought independently to the rest of the army as skirmishers, this was the first time that Light troops were used in the Guards and it was not until 1793 that each regiment of Foot Guards had a permanent Light Company. 

The Guards Brigade distinguished itself when they waded waist high for some 500 yards across the river Catawba in North Carolina under heavy fire and drove the American defenders back. On 15th March two battalions of Guards took part in the Battle of Guildford Court House where they defeated a superior American force. Unfortunately the army lost half of it strength here and it was the start of the end of the British campaign in America. The British were defeated at Yorktown and on the 19th October 1781 Cornwallis surrendered with his entire force of 6,000 men including some 500 men of the Guards Brigade. The American colonies were granted their independence in November 1782 and the army sailed home to England.