Most everyone knows about the chaps with the red tunics and black bearskin hats. They are an icon of Britain to be sure. If you’re a die-hard Anglophile you’ve probably seen these soldiers with shiny plumed helmets marching along or riding on horseback about London. Maybe you’ve seen them in various parades on the telly but didn’t know their proper names or purpose. In light of Her Majesty’s upcoming birthday celebration, these particular guards feature prominently in The Queen’s Birthday Parade. However, these ceremonial roles only scratch the surface of the Household Cavalry.
Seeing the Household Cavalry in Action
The first time I actually saw these soldiers in action was at the Tower of London on Periscope. There was a tall, sturdy Life Guard performing his guard duty who kept utterly still. Many of the tourists pestered him but he did not flinch. I was astonished. As with the Foot Guards, the Life Guards and Blues and Royals are highly trained in their ceremonial duties including annoying tourists. All of the Royal Guards are empowered to yell and use certain force against the public who cross them. See an example of strength used by Horse Guards and Foot Guards in this amateur video:
Fascinating Facts about the Household Cavalry
Below are 14 fascinating facts about the Household Cavalry which are broken into 3 sections: The Household Cavalry, the Life Guards, and the Blues and Royals.
- British Army – the oldest and most senior regiments in the British Army are the Life Guards and Blues and Royals
- Colonel-in-Chief – Her Majesty, The Queen holds this title for both regiments of the Household Cavalry
- Colonel of the Regiment – Anne, Princess Royal holds this title for the Blues and Royals
- Motto – Honi soit qui mal y pense (Evil be to him who evil thinks)
- Type and Regiment – they are both Horse Guards of the British Army; fully trained for combat on horseback and on foot in Windsor, London, and abroad
- Royal Duties – those assigned to the royal detail are known as The Queen’s Guard and The Queen’s Life Guard. Since 1660, their primary responsibilities are guarding royal residences and The Sovereign. They are fully-trained military officers who are armed with live ammunition and ready for any incursion against Her Majesty or any of the royal palaces.
- Ceremonial Roles – both the Life Guards and Blues and Royals are officially the Sovereign’s Escort during Royal Processions, i.e. Trooping the Colour. Two divisions ride ahead of the carriage and two behind it.
Impressive in their bright red tunics, white snug-fitting trousers, and shiny breastplates, The Life Guards execute their ceremonial duties with precision about the royal residences.
- Dress Uniforms – Red tunic, White plume, Black collar, and wear their chin strap below their lower lip
- Roles – Formation Reconnaissance (armored reconnaissance at a higher-level formation) and Ceremonial (public duties of ceremonial or historical significance)
- Formation – originally 5 troops; the first raised in 1658 as His Majesty’s Own Troop of Horse Guards by Charles II.
- Current Regiments – reorganized into 2 regiments in 1788 and from 1877 simply called 1st Life Guards and 2nd Life Guards, and then renamed The Life Guards in 1928.
- Nicknames – Piccadilly Cowboys, Donkey Wallopers, Tins, Tinned Fruit, Piccadilly Butchers
- Distinction – During WWII, they participated in the Normandy landings and the advance through France to liberate Brussels.
Blues and Royals
High upon horseback, in their dark blue coats and red-plumed helmets, the regal Blues and Royals sharply survey all around them, keeping a watchful eye out for anything amiss.
- Dress Uniforms – Blue tunic, Red plume, Red collar, and wear their chin strap under their chin
- Roles – Armored Reconnaissance (operate tanks and other armored vehicles) and Ceremonial (public duties of ceremonial or historical significance)
- Formation – began in 1969, from the merger of the Royal Horse Guards, The Oxford Blues, and The Royal Dragoons
- Current Regiments – formed a union for operational purposes with the Life Guards as the Household Cavalry Regiment in 1991. Instead of using their formal name of Royal Horse Guards and 1st Dragoons, they are officially known by the nickname The Blues and Royals
- Nicknames – The Tin Bellies
- Distinction – They provided the two armored reconnaissance troops during the Falklands War of 1982
In addition to these facts above, there is a royal distinction to this particular regiment. William, Duke of Cambridge, and Harry, Prince of Wales joined the regiment as cornets in 2006.
Another royal tidbit: Prince Harry wore his Blues and Royals uniform to his brother’s wedding to Kate Middleton.
We’d Like to Know
Do you prefer the Life Guards or the Blues and Royals? Have you been to London to see these guards up close and personal? Do you know someone who has served in the British Army in any of these roles? Tell us your experience by logging into our website and posting your comments. Or you can tweet us at @BritWordaDay with your thoughts.