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The Household Cavalry museum - Origins
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The Household Cavalry museum - Origins
The Household Cavalry are among the world's most famous and instantly recognisable soldiers. Best known for mounted ceremonial on major State occasions, they are first and foremost soldiers, many having served recently on operations overseas as did their forebears over 300 years. Campaign medals worn proudly on parade bear witness to their fighting role at the heart of the British Army. Throughout their careers, all Household Cavalrymen will alternate between serving on armoured vehicles and on ceremonial duties.

From 1660 to 1969

THE Household Cavalry consists of two of the oldest and most famous regiments in the British Army, The Life Guards and The Blues and Royals, and is famed for its close connection to the British monarchy. Instantly recognisable, The Household Cavalry encapsulates the magnificence of ceremonial occasions such as Trooping the Colour. Indeed, no visit to London is complete without seeing the sentries on their splendid black horses in Whitehall - where they have stood guard for 350 years. Less well known is that The Household Cavalry has fought in most of the British Army's major campaigns since 1660, and continues to do so today.

The Household Cavalry museum - Origins

The coronation procession of King Charles II, founder of The Household Cavalry and The Royals.

The years after the English Civil War saw King Charles I executed (1649) and Oliver Cromwell replace him as Lord Protector of a republican 'commonwealth'. This failed and, in 1660, King Charles II returned to England in triumph. Just before his Restoration, the King created a mounted bodyguard in Holland from 80 cavalier gentlemen who had gone into exile with him. Three troops of Horse Guards were formed in May 1660. Together with the bodyguard of his brother, the Duke of York, and some of Cromwell's former bodyguard, they formed the Life Guards, the first regiment in the English, soon to be British, regular army. A fourth Scots troop was raised a year later and a further three troops of Horse Grenadier Guards in 1678.

The Household Cavalry museum - Origins

A late 17th-century sword hilt.

This fledgling army also included the Royal Regiment of Horse Guards, later known as The Royal Horse Guards or 'The Blues'. Raised in 1650 in Cromwell's New Model Army, they had a reputation for extreme puritanism. Not officially part of The Household Cavalry until 1820, they were, however, always very close to the Sovereign. While the Life Guards covered the King's personal security, The Blues' main task was to preserve the peace across the south of England.

The Household Cavalry museum - Origins

A 17th-century helmet, cuirass (breastplate) and gauntlet.

The last of the regiments in this history, The Royal Dragoons, began as a troop of horse raised in 1661 to garrison Tangier in North Africa, part of the dowry from the marriage of Catherine of Braganza to the newly restored king. Known as the 'Tangier Horse' they remained in North Africa until their return to England in 1683, when they became 'dragoons', the established term for highly mobile mounted infantry armed with a musket or 'dragon'. Known as The Royals', in 1969 they amalgamated with The Blues to form The Blues and Royals.

The Household Cavalry museum - Origins

The gold stick

As his reign progressed and potential threats to his life multiplied, King Charles II became more careful of his own security. From 1678, he insisted that the captain of one of the troops of Life Guards should be in "attendance on the King's person, wheresoever he walks, from his rising to his going to bed". He carried as a sign of his office an ebony staff with a gold head, engraved with the King's cipher and crown. The captains, finding the duty exceedingly tedious, delegated it and soon 'near him attends another principal Commissioned Officer, with an ebony staff and silver head'. Today, this officer, referred to as the Silver Stick-in- Waiting, commands The Household Cavalry, while the Colonels of the two regiments are referred to as Gold Sticks and take turns to attend the monarch, though now only on ceremonial occasions.

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