The King’s Bodyguard of the Yeomen of the Guard

Active1485-present
CountryEngland
AllegianceEnglish
Royalist
ConflictsBishops’ Wars?
First Civil War
TypeFoot
CaptainsEarl of Morton
Earl of Norwich
Area RaisedLondon
Coat ColourRed
Flag Colourunknown
Flag Designunknown
Field Armiesunknown

The Sovereign’s Bodyguard that was raised by Henry VII in 1485 and still serves as the Bodyguard of Queen Elizabeth II

Service History

1485

  • October: Raised for the coronation of Henry VII

1639

  • March: With King Charles I at York for Maundy

1642

  • January: House of Commons; the attempt to arrest the Five Members
  • January: At Hampton Court
  • March: At York

1643

  • August: At Oxford

1660

  • May: Reformed for King Charles II’s Royal Proceeding through London

Notes

The Sovereign’s Bodyguard of the Yeomen of the Guard was raised by Henry Tudor in time for his coronation as Henry VII in 1485 and still serves as the Bodyguard of Queen Elizabeth II. Its history and principal officers are detailed at yeomenoftheguard and summarised at Wikipedia. Their battle honours include the Field of Stoke, 1487, Boulogne, 1492, Blackheath, 1497, Tournai, 1514, Boulogne, 1544, Boyne, 1690 and Dettingen, 1743. The Yeomen of the Guard should not be confused with the Yeomen Warders of the Tower of London, an entirely different corps of the Sovereign’s Bodyguard, commonly known as the Beefeaters.

Surprisingly few details survive of the Yeomen of the Guard during the Civil Wars. In 1639 they accompanied King Charles to York for the traditional Maundy service, so probably accompanied the King during the Bishops’ Wars. In July 1640 a Yeoman was dismissed for ‘misbehaving’ after a hearing at Whitehall. On the 4th of January 1642 they entered the House of Commons in the King’s attempt to arrest the Five Members, but “the birds had flown”. Subsequently they accompanied King Charles to Hampton Court then to York in March as the Royalists set about raising an army.

What happened next is somewhat mysterious. Most likely they continued as King Charles’ bodyguard, indeed George, Lord Goring (senior) was appointed as their captain in 1643, which implies that they were still in existence. Additionally from August 1643 a record survives of John Atherold, a Yeoman of the Guard, being issued a birding piece from His Majesty's Stores in lieu of a musket formerly brought into said stores (Public Records Office W.O.55 1661). Alternatively they might have joined the The King’s Lifeguard Regiment of Foot or possibly the The King’s Lifeguard Regiment of Horse. After the execution of Charles I a few Yeomen were said to still be in attendance on Charles II in exile. At the Restoration, Lord Goring (now the Earl of Norwich), returned to England to revive the corps, which attended the King on his arrival, and paraded with their halberds as part of His Majesty’s Royal Proceeding through London on 29th of May 1660.

Coats, Flags and Equipment

The Yeomen wore, as they still do, a scarlet uniform of the Tudor style. In 1527 King Henry VIII gave an order for a livery of red; that is, scarlet cloth for his Guard, and the coats were ordered to be embroidered front and back, with the crowned rose for badges. The coats were to be made to reach down to the knees. The caps to be of black velvet, round, and broad crowned, with ribbons of the King’s colours. The breeches were to be scarlet, and to reach to the knee, and to be guarded with velvet. They also wore grey stockings and broad-toed shoes with knee-bows, that is, roses made up of bows of ribbon, and shoe-bows to match. In Charles II’s time they wore a coat or tunic reaching below the knee, with a capacious sleeve descending to the wrist. Buskins or short boots were worn, and afterwards shoes and scarlet stockings. The stockings appear to have varied in colour, being blue, red, grey or white. The hats were made of black fluted velvet, low crowned, flat brim, ornamented with a band of coloured ribbons, red, white, and dark blue, tied up in bows and fastened on a plaited cord.

An ensign was first introduced by Charles II in 1668, so it is unclear whether the Yeomen carried a colour during the Civil War period. In 1672 the colour was noted as “a Cross of St. George and likewise four bends” but no tinctures are noted. In later times the standard was crimson.

The Yeomen are traditionally armed with halberds. However in Henry VIII’s time they carried arquebuses and in 1627 were ordered to be drilled with pikes and muskets and exercised in horsemanship and the use of swords and pistols. In 1643 one Yeoman had a musket at least, though it was swapped for a birding piece.

Notable Officers

William Douglas, 7th or 8th Earl of Morton

The Earl of Morton was 23rd Captain of the King’s Bodyguard, holding this position from 1635 to 1643. William Douglas (1582-1650) succeeded to the Earldom on the death of his grandfather in 1606, as his father died at the same time it was uncertain as to whether he should be accounted 7th or 8th Earl Morton. He commanded the Scots regiment of three thousand men in the Rochelle expedition of the Duke of Buckingham in 1627. In 1635, he was made Captain of the Yeomen of the Guard, invested with the Order of the Garter, and sworn a Privy Councillor in England.

He was one of the commissioners who accompanied the Lyon King-at-Arms to the Scottish camp in 1639, to witness the declaration of the King’s proclamation and was also appointed to assist in arranging the treaty at Ripon in October 1640. On the 18 October, he subscribed to the covenant and took his seat in the Scottish Parliament. On 20 September the King nominated him for the chancellorship but his nomination was vehemently objected to by his son-in-law, the Earl of Argyll, afterwards Marquis, on the grounds that such an office might shelter him from his creditors, that he was a contemptuous rebel and often at the horn (a drinker), that he deserted his country in her greatest need and the he was ‘decrepit and unable’. On the outbreak of the civil war he aided the King by the advance of large sums of money, disposing for this purpose of the castle of Dalkeith to the Buccleuch family. He went to wait on Charles I in 1646 when he took refuge with the Scotch army, and after Charles was given up to parliament he retired to Orkney. He died at the castle of Kirkwall in March 1649-50, his Countess, Agnes Keith dying on the 30 May. Both were buried at Kirkwall ODNB.

George, Lord Goring, 1st Earl of Norwich

Lord Goring (1585-1663) was 24th Captain of the King’s Bodyguard, holding the position from 1643 to 1662, he is not to be confused with his more famous son George, Second Lord Goring, who led the Northern Horse and was Royalist General in the West Country during the First Civil War.

Goring was knighted in 1608 and became a favourite at court, benefitting largely from monopolies granted by King Charles I. He was made Knight Marshal in 1623, Baron Goring in 1628, and a privy councillor in 1639 and was MP for Lewes, but not in the Long Parliament. Goring devoted his fortune freely to the royal cause; and the king in November 1644 renewed for him the title of Earl of Norwich which had become extinct at his uncle's death. He went with Queen Henrietta Maria to the Netherlands in 1642 to raise money for the king, and in the autumn of the next year he was seeking arms and money from Cardinal Mazarin in Paris. His proceedings were revealed to the parliament in January 1644 by an intercepted letter to Henrietta Maria. He was consequently impeached of high treason, and prudently remained abroad until 1647, when he received a pass from the parliament under a pretext of seeking reconciliation.

Thus he was able to take a prominent part in the Second Civil War of 1648. He commanded the Kentish levies, which Fairfax dispersed at Maidstone and elsewhere, and was forced to surrender unconditionally at Colchester. He was condemned to exile in November 1648 by a vote of the House of Commons, but in the next month the vote was annulled. Early in the next year a court formed under John Bradshaw to try Norwich and four others. All five received a death sentence on 6 March 1649, but petitions for mercy were presented to parliament, and Norwich's life was spared by the Speaker's casting vote. Shortly after his liberation from prison in May 1649 he joined the exiled court of Charles II, who employed him in fruitless negotiations with the duke of Lorraine. He became captain of the king's guard at the Restoration, and in consideration of the fortune he had expended in the king's service a pension of 2000 pounds per year was granted him.

Norwich died at Brentford on 6 January 1663. By his wife Mary Nevill (died 1648), daughter of the 8th Baron Abergavenny, he had four daughters and two sons: George, Lord Goring; and Charles, who also fought in the Civil War and succeeded his father in the earldom.

Strength

  • 200 under James I
  • 100 under Charles II

See Also