Six volumes to cover two hundred and forty three years is slow going even by the standards of regimental historians. You’d have thought John Davis had spent his entire life in the regiment and lacked any kind of hinterland. Not so. Grace’s Guide to British Industrial History tells us he was “Honorary Colonel of the 3rd (Militia) Battalion of the Queen’s Royal West Surrey Regiment, and an Aide-de-camp to the King, (and) died on the 7th July, 1902, from pneumonia at Till Hill, Tilford, Farnham, the residence of his relative, Mrs. Hawkes, widow of the late General H. P. Hawkes, C.B.” and that he spent his working life as an engineer on the Bombay, Baroda and Central Indian Railway and then as senior partner at Dewrance and Company, manufacturers of engine and boiler accessories. So his regimental history, which has well over two thousand pages, was largely a labour of love. I wish I could say it was a stimulating read. But I can’t. I read with difficulty the whole of his first volume on the English Occupation of Tangiers which was going to be the subject of this blog. Then I changed my mind. Instead I’m going to give you a blog about the origins of the British Army.
After the death of Oliver Cromwell and the abdication of his son Richard, the political order established by The Protectorate began to fall apart. On 1st January 1660 Major General Monck, commanding a regiment of the New Model Army, marched south from Coldstream with the intention of restoring the Long Parliament and negotiating with the exiled King Charles II. He faced opposition along the way from a force led by Major General Lambert but had guessed correctly that the rank and file of the New Model Army wouldn’t face their comrades in battle. When he reached London in February Monck secured the readmission to the Long Parliament of the moderate members expelled on 6th December 1648 in Pride’s Purge. The Long Parliament then voted itself out of office and a new parliament called The Convention Parliament (because it hadn’t been formally summoned by a ruling king) was elected. A great deal of negotiation took place and on 25th May 1660 Charles II landed at Dover.
One of the many under the table agreements between the exiled King and the Convention Parliament was that the New Model Army was to be disbanded. The King inspected the New Model Army at Blackheath on 29th May 1660 and promised them their arrears of pay which were to be met by a poll tax. Something like fifty thousand men were to be disbanded and replaced by about five thousand men loosely styled “the King’s guards and garrisons.” Most of these five thousand men were to be scattered around the country in garrisons. The mounted guards consisted of three troops, originally the bodyguards of the king, his brother James Duke of York, and General Monck. The three troops were later amalgamated to form The Life Guards. The Royal Horse Guards was raised by the Earl of Oxford in 1661 as a regiment of horse sometimes called Oxford’s Blues. It wasn’t a descendant of Sir Arthur Hazelrigg’s Regiment of Cuirassiers, as is sometimes claimed, though no doubt many of Hazelrigg’s men were recruited into the new regiment. Neither was it initially a guards regiment, remaining a regiment of horse until 1820 when it was given household status. The foot guards consisted of two regiments later amalgamated to become The Grenadier Guards – Lord Wentworth’s regiment was raised from royalists in exile in 1656, Russell’s regiment was raised in 1660 from disbanding men of the New Model Army. Predictably enough the two regiments didn’t get on.
Thus towards the end of 1660 the effective defence of the country consisted of rather under two thousand men. Cue Thomas Venner and the Fifth Monarchy Men, a diehard Puritan sect who still believed that the execution of Charles I had cleared the way for the rule of King Jesus as foretold in the Book of Daniel. Venner, at the head of about fifty men, though rumour multiplied their number tenfold, briefly occupied St Pauls Cathedral, saw off the London Trained Bands and on Wednesday 4th January 1661 held a detachment of Russell’s Regiment in check.
This account in Cannon’s Historical Record of the Life Guards is taken from Kingdome’s Intelligencer and describes the action in Wood Street, Cheapside where, by most people’s reckoning, Venner’s men gave as good as they got. Next day the government had to send in the veterans of Monck’s Regiment to finish the rebels off. Venner was captured with nineteen wounds, some of them so serious that the surgeon had his work cut out to keep him alive. Below is a screenshot from http://www.pepysdiary.com describing Venner’s end in Samuel Pepys’ inimitably matter of fact way
Rebellion was in the Venner blood. His son, another Thomas, was one of the Fifth Monarchy men. His grandson Samuel led the Duke of Monmouth’s cavalry. But Samuel’s daughter Elizabeth made good; she married John Potter, later Archbishop of Canterbury.
Both king and parliament were alarmed by Venner’s success in remaining at large for four days in the vicinity of the capital. The disbanding of Monck’s Regiment of the New Model Army was halted so that the government had at least one fully efficient military unit to call upon. On 19th January 1661 the men of the regiment laid down their arms as a token of their disbandment as a unit of the army of the Protectorate, then took them up again as a token of their re-enlistment as the King’s second regiment of foot guards. The title Coldstream Guards was adopted after Monck’s death in 1670. Its motto nulli secundus reflects the unease these veteran soldiers felt at being ranked second in order of precedence to the men of the first regiment of foot guards whose only significant military service had been on the losing side at the Battle of the Dunes in 1658. The regiment was compensated by being allowed always to parade to the left of their fellow foot guards so that they were indeed second to none.
These new arrangements were formalised on 26th January 1661 when the king issued a royal warrant authorising a permanent establishment of four regiments in or near the capital – the king’s regiment of horse guards (later The Life Guards), the king’s regiment of horse (later The Royal Horse Guards), the first regiment of foot guards (later The Grenadier Guards), the second regiment of foot guards (later The Coldstream Guards) – and twenty eight garrisons up and down the country.
In 1661 Charles II married Catherine of Braganza. The ports of Tangier and Bombay were part of her dowry. In return Britain agreed to send two thousand foot and five hundred horse to assist the Portuguese in their war with Spain. This English brigade was formed from men of the New Model Army, and under the command of the German soldier of fortune von Schomberg, was a decisive element in the Portuguese victory. However, after the Treaty of Lisbon in 1668, the English forces in Portugal were disbanded.
Bombay was a rich trading post requiring no more than four hundred men to keep it secure. In 1668 it was transferred to the East India Company for a token rent of £10 a year. Tangier was a different matter. The city needed to be garrisoned against hostile Moorish forces. A local warlord, Khadir Ghailan, called Gayland by the English, had taken control of most of the land around the city, inflicting several defeats on the Portuguese in the process. Fortunately for the English, the Alawids who were steadily unifying the rest of Morocco were opposed to Ghailan. Even so, from the very beginning the defence of the city required a new regiment of infantry. In addition a troop of horse and three regiments were transferred from the disbanding garrison of Dunkirk. As Alawid pressure on Tangier increased, three more troops of horse were added. These four troops were later converted to dragoons and added to new troops raised in 1683 by John Churchill to form the cavalry regiment which later became the 1st (Royal) Dragoons. The new regiment of infantry raised for service in Tangier was called The Earl of Peterborough’s Regiment or The Governor’s Regiment after the name of its colonel. This was the regiment that was later known as The Queen’s Regiment.
The regiment’s badge of the paschal lamb probably has some connection with its service in Tangier. The Roman Catholic church at Tangier was dedicated to St John the Baptist whose sign is the paschal lamb, but it’s unlikely that any English regiment in the reign of Charles II would have adopted such an overtly catholic device. The paschal lamb isn’t part of the heraldry of the house of Braganza. Philip Haythornthwaite In Search of the Lamb http://www.queensroyalsurreys.org.uk/the_lamb/lamb004.shtml suggests that Queen Catherine may have adopted the symbol unofficially since John the Baptist was her father’s patron saint. Davis in his volume 3 goes in the same direction when mentioning that in one of Lely’s portraits of Catherine she is shown with a lamb in the foreground. Whatever the reason, the regiment must have adopted the badge early, since in the 1751 clothing warrant the badge is already described as “ancient.” The regiment was nicknamed Kirke’s Lambs in the time of Percy Kirke, who took command in 1682. Barbarised by their long stay in Tangier, the regiment was far from lamblike when slaughtering Monmouth’s remnants after the Battle of Sedgemoor. The two regimental mottos are also mysterious. Davis in his volume 2 asserts that the regiment was given the right to carry Vel exuviae triumphant (even in defeat triumphant) for its part in the defence of Tongres in 1703 but this is doubtful. Davis doesn’t attempt to explain the origin of Pristinae virtutis memor (mindful of former valour).
Peterborough landed in Tangier at the end of January 1662. On the 30th January he mustered the garrison. For foot he had his own regiment of 1000 men, and from the Dunkirk garrison Sir Robert Harley’s regiment of 947 men, and two smaller regiments commanded by Colonels Fitzgerald with 395 men and Farrell with 381 men. After a disaster suffered by the second Governor, the Earl of Teviot, the men of the three other regiments were incorporated into what was now the Governor’s Regiment. There were also 98 English horse.
Tangier had a fine natural harbour, but it needed to be protected by a mole if it was to be fully effective as a trading centre. During the course of the English occupation fantastic sums of money were expended on the mole. It was planned to cost £340,000 but, in the way of government estimates, almost certainly more than that had been spent before the mole was demolished in 1683. In 1676 the King ordered a survey to be made. It was found that Tangier was costing around £140,000 a year to maintain. The population numbered 2,225 of whom 1,282 were soldiers and a further 302 soldiers’ wives or children.
By 1680 Alawid pressure on Tangier was becoming intense. The garrison controlled no more ground than their artillery could cover. Additional forces were required. The Earl of Dumbarton’s Regiment of Foot (later The Royal Scots – see below) was transferred to Tangier from the army in Scotland. A second Tangier regiment, the Earl of Plymouth’s Regiment of Foot, was raised. Like the first Tangier regiment it proved to be a permanent addition to the English Army. From 1715 it was known as the King’s Regiment. Parliament, which was fearful of the impending succession of the King’s Catholic brother James and of Popery in general, declined to provide sufficient funds for the increasingly costly defence. Evacuation became inevitable.
In 1683 Samuel Pepys was sent out to assist Admiral Lord Dartmouth in the evacuation. His first impressions were, “Kirke, the Governor, saluted us with all the guns of the town, near which we found the Alcade [an envoy of the Sultan] encamped. But, Lord! how could anybody ever think a place fit to be kept at this charge, that, overlooked by so many hills, can never be secured against an enemy.” He was “amazed to think how the King hath lain out all this money upon it.”
When Kirke’s Regiment returned to England it was the senior English infantry regiment. Although usually known by the name of its colonels, it was occasionally called The Queen’s Regiment from 1684 and The Queen Dowager’s Regiment from 1686. After 1704 it was ranked second in order of precedence to The Royal Regiment when that regiment was transferred from the Scottish establishment to the British establishment following the Act of Union that united Scotland and England. Like all regiments, The Royal Regiment was usually known by the name of its colonel at this stage, thus Orkney’s Royals in 1704. It was first called Royal Scots in 1812.
The Royal Scots took precedence because it traced its origins to various regiments of Scottish mercenaries formed to fight in the Thirty Years War. One of its historians, Major Joseph Wetherall cites “the general and received opinion, that this regiment derives its original formation from the body guards of the Scottish kings, and that they formed a part of the 7000 auxiliaries sent to France in 1420.” Less extreme is the claim derived from Sir John Hepburn’s Regiment which was formed in 1633 for service in France where it was known as le Regiment d’Hebron. Hepburn obtained a royal warrant from Charles I and as R H Patterson writes in ‘Pontius Pilate’s Bodyguard’ “while the regiment was paid by the French and formed part of the French army, it was only permitted to do so with the consent of the British sovereign.” Mackay’s Regiment (titlepage above) was raised in 1626 for Gustavus Adolphus’ Green Brigade but had no warrant. The regiment, now the Regiment de Douglas, left French service for the last time in 1678, when it was put on the Scottish establishment. Some of its companies saw service in Tangier. Herbert Maxwell in The Lowland Scots Regiments explains the nickname by saying it was given to Hepburn’s Regiment by officers of the Regiment de Picardie in a quarrel over which regiment was older. “An officer of Hepburn’s made the famous retort that the Picardy regiment must be mistaken, for had the Scots really been Pontius Pilate’s Guard and done duty at the sepulchre, the Holy Body had never left it.”
The Buffs, third in order of precedence on the British establishment, have some claim to be older than both senior regiments. They trace their origins to companies of English mercenaries recruited by the Dutch to fight the Spanish. There were several English regiments in Dutch pay during the Thirty Years War. In 1648 they were amalgamated to form a single Holland Regiment. That regiment returned to England in 1665 on the outbreak of the Anglo-Dutch War. But the royal warrant only dates from 1665.
It wasn’t until 1751 that a royal warrant formally established an order of precedence for the British Army. However that order was already plain in 1685. In order of seniority:
- Household Cavalry – Life Guards & later Royal Horse Guards
- Royal Horse Artillery – first separated from the Royal Artillery in 1793
- Dragoon Guards – Royal Horse Guards; soon to be joined by six other regiments of horse raised at the time of the Monmouth Rebellion, initially numbered 2-7, later renumbered 1-6 when they were downgraded to Dragoon Guards
- Cavalry – 1st Royal Dragoons in England; Dalyell’s Dragoons (later 2nd Dragoons or Royal Scots Greys) in Scotland; soon to be joined by two regiments of Hussars raised at the time of the Monmouth Rebellion and later numbered 3rd and 4th
- Artillery – before 1716 batteries were raised and disbanded as required; from 1716 there were two permanent companies; from 1720 a Regiment of Artillery
- Engineers – The Royal Engineers didn’t yet exist as a separate arm
- Signals – still less did The Royal Signals, split from the Royal Engineers in 1920
- Foot Guards (1st and 2nd Guards in England; Scots Guards in Scotland
- Foot regiments – (1st) Royal Scots in Scotland, (2nd) Queen’s, (3rd) The Buffs or The Holland Regiment, (4th) The Kings (all usually known by their colonels’ names); soon to be joined by others
Apart from the addition of the three corps – Artillery, Engineers and Signals – this order of precedence has remained fundamentally unchanged. New regiments were raised as required and given the first vacant number. Such regiments were frequently disbanded following various treaties of peace. Thius the same higher numbers were often given to several different short lived regiments. Very occasionally numbers were left vacant. The extreme case is the number 5 for cavalry – the 5th (Royal Irish) Dragoons was disbanded in 1798 since the loyalty of its mainly Roman Catholic troopers was suspect; a new 5th (Royal Irish) Lancers “was restored to its place in the line” in 1858. From 1782 non-royal regiments were given county titles in the hope that they would establish local recruiting connections. As a royal regiment The Queen’s Royal Regiment was only associated with West Surrey from 1881.