The Life Guards grew from the four troops of Horse Guards (exclusively formed of gentlemen-troopers until the transformation of the last two remaining troops into Regiments of Life Guards in 1788) raised by Charles II around the time of his restoration, plus two troops of Horse Grenadier Guards (rank and file composed of commoners), which were raised some years later.
• The first troop was originally raised in Bruges in 1658 as His Majesty’s Own Troop of Horse Guards. They formed part of the contingent raised by the exiled King Charles II as his contribution to the army of King Philip IV of Spain who were fighting the French and their allies the English Commonwealth under the Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell in the Franco-Spanish War and the concurrent Anglo-Spanish War.
• The second troop was originally founded in 1659 as Monck’s Life Guards.
• The third troop, like the first troop was formed in 1658 from exiled Royalists and was initially known as The Duke of York’s Troop of Horse Guards.
• The fourth troop was raised in 1661 in England.
• The first troop of horse grenadier guards was formed in 1693 from the amalgamation of three troops of grenadiers.
• The second troop of horse grenadier guards was raised in Scotland in 1702.
These units first saw action during the Third Anglo-Dutch War in 1672 and then at the Battle of Sedgemoor during the Monmouth Rebellion in 1685.
The 3rd and 4th troops were disbanded in 1746. In 1788, the remaining 1st and 2nd troops, along with the two troops of Horse Grenadier Guards, were reorganised into two regiments, the 1st and 2nd Regiments of Life Guards (from 1877, simply 1st Life Guards and 2nd Life Guards). From then on (1788), rank and file were mostly formed of commoners. This was reflected in the nicknames The Cheeses and The Cheesemongers; when it pensioned off its gentlemen soldiers and began to accept members of the merchant classes. Other nicknames include the Piccadilly Butchers (one rioter was killed when the regiment was used to quell the Burdett Riots on Piccadilly in 1810) and my personal favourite; the Donkey Wallopers.
After Napoleon’s defeat at the Battle of Leipzig in October 1813, the European powers exiled him to the island of Elba in the Mediterranean. Most British regiments experienced some scaling back of their operational effectiveness and the Life Guards were no exception with their numbers being greatly reduced. The reappearance of Napoleon changed all that. the Household Cavalry Regiment was quickly reformed and sent over to Belgium at the earliest opportunity.
Lack of time for organisation meant that virtually the entire British cavalry contingent was grouped together under the command of Lord Uxbridge. The force was rushed to the battlefield that Wellington had chosen to meet Napoleon. But, even before the battle begun, the First Life Guards were involved in a serious skirmish with scouting Lancers of the French Guard. These French lancers were already pursuing the 7th Hussars and 23rd Light Dragoons. It was left to the Life Guards to retrieve the situation and to drive the French Lancers back to their own lines, killing a Lancer colonel as they went.
The Brigade Major was Major H.G. Smith of the 25th Foot who was killed and the ADC was Lt H Somerset of the 18 Hussars.
The Heavy Brigade were a guards cavalry brigade with only two squadrons in three of its regiments it was barely 50% of war strength. Like most cavalry squadrons it should have had four squadrons of 150 men each.
The 1st Life Guards had 255 sabres and was commanded by Lt Col Samuel Ferrior who was killed at Waterloo.
Born in Pembrokeshire, he was promoted to Captain in the 1st Life Guards on 1 August 1802. On 30 June 1810 he was promoted from captain to major by purchaseand subsequently to Lieutenant-Colonel.
Records suggest that during the battle, as Major and Lieutenant-Colonel he led his regiment in eleven charges, most of which were not made until after “his head had been laid open by the cut of a sabre and his body was pierced with a lance”.
The 2nd Lifeguards fielded 235 and was commanded by Lt Col E.P. Lygon.
At Waterloo, the Lifeguards were deployed in reserve behind the centre, west of the Brussels road. The battle had raged from 11:30 to 2pm before the Household Brigade were called upon. Lord Uxbridge had been given a free hand with his cavalry. At around 2.20pm he ordered the Union Brigade to charge whilst he took the Household Brigade to relieve the pressure on the beleagured La Haye Sainte.
The Second Life Guards were on the left, near the Genappe Road, the 1st Dragoon Guards in the centre, and the senior Regiment, the 1st Life Guards were on the right with the Royal Horse Guards, the Blues, behind them in reserve.
Uxbridge positioned himself in front of the left hand squadron of the 2nd Lifeguards then gave the order. Somerset’s trumpeter sixteen year old John Edwards sounded the ‘walk march.
The Household Brigade were able to advance up the slope of the ridge, negotiating Allied infantry battalions who were in square. They were unable to charge straight away. For one they couldn’t actually see what they were charging and there was the obstacle of the sunken road that runs along the top of the crest .
The road was too wide to jump and had steep banks either side that needed to be traversed before the squadrons could reform. As they scrambled up the bank they saw their enemy for the first time, less than 100 metres away. By the time they had formed up the distance was short although the British had the impetus of the slope.
Captain Kelly of the 1st Lifeguards described how ‘the Brigade, and the Curaissiers too, came to the shock like two walls…’
This combat was the only one of its type at Waterloo, heavy cavalry charging heavy cavalry. Five squadrons of British cavalry (2nd Lifeguards and Royal Horse Guards weren’t in the initial clash) attacked seven squadrons of Curaissiers.
The short, sharp action lasted briefly but saw some savage fighting. Private Hodgson of the Lifeguards described his first encounter with the enemy who was actually an Irishman in French service. Hodgson was frightened as he had never fought anyone with swords before. The first cut was direct to the cuirass which Hodgson mistook for silver lace, the shock nearly breaking his arm. Hodgson noticed he was more manoeuvrable than his adversary so guiding his horse with his knees he waited till the Irishman thrust at him then turned his horse swinging his sword and neatly chopped off the Irishman’s sword hand. He then thrust the point of his sword into the man’s throat and ‘turned it round and around’.
The Cuirassiers soon had had enough and turned to flee pursued by the excited British cavalry. The two squadrons of the Blues had now joined the fight from their reserve positions. La Haie saint split the Household Brigade, dispersing itself as a coherent force. Uxbridge himself retired in an attempt to round up some fresh reserves but found few cavalrymen uncommitted. Many Lifeguardsmen had advanced so far that they had a difficult time breaking back through the French lines to return to their countrymen. The fighting continued for some time yet, and packets of Household Brigaders rode between the defiant British squares and even helped to rescue the endangered 5th Battalion of the King’s German Legion.
It was not until the arrival of Blucher’s Prussians that the battle was finally deemed an Allied victory. By this time, the Household Brigade had taken heavy losses and were finally disengaging to allow the Prussians the spoils of the pursuit. They were exhausted but more than pleased with their performance in what was one of the defining battles of history.
Ist Lifeguards uniform detail
2nd Lifeguards uniform detail
These are all the old 1/72 Revell miniatures. All of my table miniatures have a unit sticker on the base to aid identification. Afterwards they are all stored in plastic boxes.