Coldstream Guards 1700-1763

David Morier (1705?-70) Grenadiers, 1st and 3rd Regiments of Foot Guards and Coldstream Guards, 1751 c. 1751-60

Coldstream Guards

“Lieutenant Thomas George Southwell, Coldstream Guards”, Charles Jervas, 1739; National Army Museum NAM. 1964-02-5

The Coldstream Guards on Parade at Horse Guards, by John Chapman, c. 1755.

The War of the Spanish Succession, 1702–13

The War of the Spanish Succession began in 1702 and saw the British Army under John Churchill, the future Duke of Marlborough, win a series of brilliant successes. The Regiment was not involved for the first six years of the main campaign in Europe, but nevertheless won a third Battle Honour – at Gibraltar.

In September 1704 a Composite Battalion, composed of 200 First Guards and 600 Coldstreamers, was sent first to Lisbon and then to Gibraltar. The Rock had been captured from the Spanish in July by a detachment of Marines under Admiral Sir George Rooke, but it was then closely besieged and reinforcements were called for. The Composite Battalion landed on 20 January 1705 and was involved in repelling several attacks; it then remained as part of the garrison until the siege was lifted in April 1705.

Meanwhile, on the mainland Marlborough won his ‘famous victory’ at Blenheim on 13 August 1704; the Regiment did not take part, but was well represented by its Colonel, General ‘Salamander’ Cutts, who led the crucial attack with his usual bravery.

The Regiment only became involved in 1708 when six companies were sent to Flanders as part of a Composite Battalion with the First Guards and took part in the Battle of Oudenarde on 11 July 1708, which became the fourth Battle Honour.

In April 1709 a further Coldstream detachment was sent to join the war, whereupon a Guards Brigade was formed, consisting of a First Guards battalion and a Coldstream battalion. On 11 September 1709 both these battalions took part in the Battle of Malplaquet; it was an exceptionally bloody contest and the Regiment’s losses were among the heaviest of the twenty battalions involved. They undoubtedly distinguished themselves and it became a well-deserved Battle Honour.

Thereafter the war petered out and when the Treaty of Utrecht was signed in 1713 the Regiment returned home in March for a welcome period of twenty-seven years of peace and home service.

The War of the Austrian Succession, 1740–1748

The peace was broken by the outbreak in 1740 of the War of the Austrian Succession. The origins are complex and the campaign only concerns us because the expeditionary force sent to the Continent in 1742 included a Guards Brigade consisting of the 1st Battalions of all three regiments of Foot Guards.

In 1743 King George II not only joined the army in Flanders but also assumed command. On 27 June 1743 he fought the Battle of Dettingen, well known as the last occasion on which a King of England personally led his troops into action. He led them, in fact, into a dangerous trap, carefully prepared by the French, and the situation was only saved by several gallant charges made by the cavalry, including, for the first time, a Household Cavalry Brigade.

The Guards Brigade formed the rearguard and so was not involved in the battle until the later stages. The French finally suffered a severe defeat, losing 5,000 men, and Dettingen became the Regiment’s sixth Battle Honour.

In 1745 the King handed over command to his 25-year-old son, The Duke of Cumberland, whose first action as a commander was the Battle of Fontenoy on 11 May 1745. Things did not go well and the Allied army was forced to make a frontal assault against the enemy centre, which involved an advance of half a mile across flat, open country under intense fire from their front and also from French strongpoints on both flanks.

The Guards Brigade was on the right of the leading line, with the regiments in their customary positions, that is the First Guards on the right, the Coldstream on the left and the Third Guards in the centre. The brigade was commanded by Colonel George Churchill, Coldstream Guards. With shouldered arms the three battalions marched steadily forward, despite the fierce fire from three sides. Finally, as they topped a slight ridge, now seriously reduced in numbers, they found, thirty yards in front of them, four complete battalions of French Guards, as yet unscathed.

It was the first time that the British and French Guards had met in battle and it was a dramatic confrontation. The French fired first, but to little effect. Then the Guards replied and their first volley laid low nineteen French officers and 600 men. Steadily they reloaded, firing in disciplined sequence six platoons at a time, so that the volleys never ceased. Finally the French gave way and the Guards advanced. But they did not receive any support and found themselves isolated; for three hours they had to hold their positions against both infantry and cavalry attacks, but finally were forced to withdraw, having lost around half their strength. It had been a bloody and bitter defeat, and was not allowed to count as a Battle Honour, though it was perhaps deserved.

The ‘Forty-Five’, 1745

July 1745 saw a new threat, this time at home, as the Scots rebelled in support of Charles Stuart, grandson of King James II, who was claiming the English Crown. The Guards Brigade in Flanders was hurriedly recalled, while in London the grenadier companies of the Guards battalions stationed there were formed into a scratch force for the defence of the capital.

The threat faded, however, and The Duke of Cumberland pursued the Jacobite Army back into Scotland, where they were crushed at the Battle Culloden on 16 April 1746. With Scotland subdued, he then returned in 1747 to the campaign in Flanders, taking with him a new Guards Brigade, composed this time of the 2nd Battalions of each Regiment. They did not, however, see any major action and returned home in 1748 when the war was ended by the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle.

The Seven Years War, 1756–1763

The peace that followed lasted only eight years and in 1756 another campaign began, again against the French. The Foot Guards were not involved initially, but in 1758 the 1st Battalions of each Regiment were formed into a Guards Brigade and took part in several rather abortive raids on the French coast.

In 1760 another Guards Brigade, composed of the 2nd Battalion of each Regiment, was sent to Germany under the command of a Coldstreamer with the unusual name of Major General Julius Caesar. A year later the grenadier companies of each Regiment were formed into a composite Grenadier Battalion, which became the fourth battalion of the brigade, a practice that would continue over the next fifty years.

In 1763 the 2nd Battalion returned home, landing at Yarmouth, which meant that the Regiment had spent twenty-four out of the last sixty years fighting somewhere on the Continent. Its next campaign would be on the other side of the Atlantic.


One thought on “Coldstream Guards 1700-1763

  1. Interesting piece. I am trying to work my way backwards as I learn about military history. I know nothing about these kinds of eras. I have just found your site though and have bookmarked it to visit regularly. You’ve got tons of posts. Thanks.


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