Coldstream Guards -- Additional Background and History



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Webpage for John Grimshaw, Coldstream Guards Soldier and Lancashire Weaver

This companion webpage to "John Grimshaw, Coldstream Guards Soldier and Lancashire Weaver" provides additional information and background on the Coldstream Guards. 

Webpage Credits


Where is Coldstream Located?

"Second to None"

Colours And Customs


The Coldstream Guards Today


Website Credits

Thanks go to Anne Grimshaw for providing the information on John Grimshaw, most of which is provided on the primary webpage on John the Coldstream Guardsman.


The origins of the Coldstream Guards are described as follows on the British Army websitef:

Oliver Cromwell, after raising the New Model Army in 1645 to fight against the Royalists, finally defeated them in 1649. This paved the way for the execution of Charles I on 30th January 1649. With the Civil War over, Cromwell held unprecedented power in England. Ireland, however, was still in a state of revolt and Cromwell led a force across the Irish Sea to impose his rule on the country. During the campaign, he became impressed by the military qualities of a certain Colonel George Monck and determined to give him command of his own regiment. Cromwell created a completely new body of men, by taking five companies from the Regiment of George Fenwick and five from the Regiment of Sir Arthur Hazelrigg, then Governor of Newcastle. Both these formations had been raised as part of the New Model Army in 1645. Cromwell formed the new Regiment on 13 August 1650 and gave it the name, 'Monck's Regiment of Foot'. The modern-day Coldstream Guards is directly descended from Monck's Regiment of Foot and is therefore the oldest Regiment in continuous service with the British Army.

Scotland at this time still held great sympathy for the Royalist cause. Charles Stuart, on his return from exile, seized the offer of a Scottish army to help reclaim the throne of England. On hearing this news, Oliver Cromwell, now back from Ireland, marched north, and decisively defeated Charles's army at the Battle of Dunbar on 3 September 1650. Monck's Regiment of Foot took part in the battle under Cromwell. Afterwards, Cromwell ordered a special medal to be struck and awarded to the officers and men of the New Model Army. The Coldstream Guards are the only surviving Regiment to have earned this early example of a campaign medal.

After Oliver Cromwell's death in 1658, Charles saw again his opportunity to reclaim the English throne. On 1st January 1660, General Monck assembled a large part of his troops in the little town of Coldstream on the Scottish border and decided to march to London. The march took five weeks and Monck entered the capital on 3rd February for the first time. Despite some opposition to his ideas, Monck managed to break the army's domination of the Government and brought about the election of a freely-chosen parliament, which met on 25th April 1660. One of the first acts of this new Parliament was to vote for the return of the Monarchy.

On 25 May 1660, the King landed at Dover, where General Monck welcomed him. During the journey to London, the King showed his gratitude to General Monck by bestowing on him the Order of the Garter, which is now the basis of the Regimental cap star. On 26 August 1660, Parliament passed an act ordering the disbandment of the entire New Model Army. No exceptions, including General Monck's regiments, were allowed, although one concession was made: they should be the last to disappear.

This concession had far reaching effects. On Sunday, 6 January 1661, two days before Monck's regiments were to be disbanded, an armed revolt occurred against the King, forcing an alarmed Parliament somewhat reluctantly to call on 'Monck's Regiment of Foot' for help. Monck's men, veterans of a decade of hard campaigning, swiftly quelled the rebels and ended the rioting. A grateful Parliament repealed the order for disbandment. On 14 February 1661, Monck's Regiment of Foot paraded at Tower Hill. The men symbolically laid down their arms and with them their association with the New Model Army. They were immediately ordered to take them up again as Royal troops in the New Standing Army.

Where is Coldstream Located?

The town of origin of the Coldstream Guards is on the River Tweed, the border between England and Scotland, at a site used as a ford for many centuries. The following description is from the websiteg of the Gazetteer for Scotland:

Coldstream, Scottish Borders

Located on the River Tweed in the old county of Berwickshire, 14 miles (22 km) south-west of Berwick-upon-Tweed, Coldstream is a small town with a strong military past, particularly through its association with the Coldstream Guards and as a crossing point on the Tweed (see Figure 1, below.) The name Coldstream may come from its Roman connections when it was referred to as Castrum (Latin for 'fort'), and a Roman camp can be found nearby at Belchester near Leitholm.

Both the English and Scots forded here several times during the centuries of conflict between the two nations, led by Edward I (1296), Robert the Bruce, James IV (1513), Montrose (1640), and General Monck (1660). Monck established the headquarters of his regiment here in 1659, though it was raised at Berwick-upon-Tweed. On 1st January 1660, the force set out for London on its famous march, resulting in the restoration of Charles II. Only in 1670, after the death of Monck, was the regiment named after the starting point of the march.

The Coldstream Museum highlights the history of the regiment and is located on the site of the original headquarters

Figure 1. The Scottish Borders Tourist Board websiteh provides the following description and photograph of Coldstream: "The River Tweed at Coldstream provides a natural border between Scotland and England. Situated on the River Tweed Coldstream forms the natural boundary between Scotland and England. Once a rival to Gretna for runaway marriages, the town is best known as the birthplace of the Coldstream Guards. The local history of this famous regiment is depicted in the local museum, which also features the story of Coldstream from 1750." Note the Cap Star emblem on the large stone.

"Second to None"

The story behind the motto of the Coldstream Guards is fascinating, as described on the Berwick Parish Church websitei:

Nulli Secundus? - it means ‘Second to None’ As Monck and his ‘Regiment of Foot’ reached Tower Hill they learnt that they had been ‘pipped at the post’ by another Regiment. The newly restored King Charles named these The Grenadier Guards, the first of his new Foot Guards. Monck’s men, having marched from Coldstream, were named The Coldstream Guards and his ‘Second of Foot’. Time is one thing, Regimental pride another, and so the new Regiment largely comprisied of Geordies declared itself to be ‘Second to None’ - with an eye on the clock ever since and most Coldstreamers try to keep an old Regimental tradition of always being ‘five minutes early for any appointment’ The Coldstream still guard Royal Palaces and much more, they are as much at home in combat kit as red tunics. Members served in The Gulf War and presently operate in Northern Ireland and Germany with men seconded to units serving further afield. Recruiting of new members is strong in Northumberland but a direct line for anyone wishing to apply to join The Coldstream is 0171-414-3247 (or 3243). Strong and active Regimental Association branches meet in Newcastle and Ashington for former members and help give meaning to the truth that ‘once a Coldstreamer, always a Coldstreamer’ - after 38yrs I know what that means.

Colours And Customs Of The Coldstream Guards

The British Army websitej provides a description of the colours and customs of the Coldstream Guards. The following is extracted from that description:

The State Colours

King William IV is thought to have presented the Regiment with The State Colours of the Coldstream Guards. They are carried by Guards of Honour (not formed from the Queen's Guard) mounted on Her Majesty The Queen on State occasions. The State Colours are kept at Regimental Headquarters in London.

The First State Colour, which is crimson, bears the Order of The Garter and has a Sphinx in each corner. In the centre, underneath the Garter Star, on a blue scroll, is the word 'Egypt'. The Battle Honours of Lincelles, Talavera, Barrosa, Peninsula and Waterloo are also shown.

The Second State Colour is similar. However, the word 'Egypt' is not in blue and there are three additional Battle Honours: Alma, Inkerman and Sevastopol.


Over the centuries, a number of Customs, or traditions, have developed within the Regiment. Often mystifying to outsiders (and to young officers!), the origins of many of these Customs can be traced directly to events in the past; the causes of others are obsured by the passage of time. A number of the better-known Customs are shown below.

Members of the Coldstream Guards are known as 'Coldstreamers' and never as 'Coldstream'.

The Regiment should either be called the ' Coldstream Guards' or 'The Coldstream' and never the 'Coldstreams'.

The Regiment's formal title is: Her Majesty's Coldstream Regiment of Foot Guards.

Never say 'leave' when you mean 'permission'.

During a roll call answer 'Here' if the person calling the roll is a Sergeant or below. Answer 'Here, Sir' if he is above that rank.

The Regimental Sergeant Major is always referred to as 'Sergeant Major' and never as 'RSM'.

The nickname of the Coldstream Guards is the 'Lilywhites'.

Officers below the rank of Captain are referred to as 'Mr'; Captains and above are referred to by their rank.

The emblem of the Regiment worn in head-dress is called a 'Cap Star' and never a 'Cap Badge'.

Members of the Corps of Drums are known as 'Drummers'.

Drummers 'sound' bugle calls, they do not 'blow' them.

The Regiment celebrates St George's Day, the 23rd April.

Coldstreamers always parade 5 minutes before the stated start time of any parade.

Coldstreamers stand still on the following occasions:

When the Point of War is sounded.

At Last Post

During the playing of the National Anthem.

Coldstreamers do not recognise 'retreat'.


The Bearskin Cap, which formerly was worn only by the Grenadier Company of each battalion in the army, was made the Full Head-dress of the Regiment in 1831. The red plume (eagle's feathers for Officers, cock' feathers for Warrant Officers and Senior NCOs and horse hair for Other Ranks) is worn on the right side and was instituted at about the same time, but for reasons now obscure.

The Cap Star is an eight-pointed star of the Order of the Garter. In the centre is the cross of St George surrounded by the words 'Honi soit qui mal y pense', which translated means 'Evil be to he who evil thinks'. (Author's note: see Figure 2, above for the Cap Star.)

History of the Coldstream Guards

The history of the Coldstream Guards after its origins is summarized on the British Army websitek. The following picks up from the "Origins" section above (Section A.) The history is summarized through the time of John Grimshaw's career from 1806 to 1818.

"The town of Coldstream, because the General did it the honour to make it the piece of his residence for some time hath given title to a small company of men whom God hath made instruments of Great Things; and though poor, yet honest as ever corrupt Nature produced into the world, by the no dishonourable name of Coldstreamers." Thomas Gumble 1671

The new Regiment received the title of 'The Lord General's Regiment of Foot Guards' and became Household Troops from that moment. A Royal Commission placed them as the second senior Regiment of Household Troops. However, the Regiment, to make its views clear on the injustice of this decision, took as its motto the phrase 'Nulli Secundus', or 'Second to None'. To this day, the Regiment does not accept that it should ever be referred to as 'The Second Guards'. Monck, who had become the Duke of Albemarle, died in April 1670 and the Lord General's Regiment was conferred upon the Earl of Craven. From this time the Regiment became officially known as the 'Coldstream Regiment of Foot Guards'.

The Regiment saw much active service over the next few decades. In 1678, it served in Flanders before taking part in the Battle of Sedgemore in 1687, which ended the Monmouth Rebellion. The Regiment sent a detachment of two officers and 130 other ranks to Tangier in 1680 to form part of the King's Battalion stationed there. The Regiment's first Battle Honour immortalized this campaign. After 1688 and the accession to the Throne of William and Mary, the Regiment embarked for Flanders again and took part in the Battle of Walcourt (1689), the Limden campaign (1693) and the Siege of Namur (1695), the latter forming the second Battle Honour. After several further major engagements, the 1st Battalion came home in November 1697 after the signing of the Peace of Ryswick.

1.    The 18th Century

In July 1702, six companies of the Coldstream joined a composite Battalion of Guards sent to Cadiz and Vigo. In July 1704, 400 men of the Coldstream and 200 men of the 1st Guards formed a composite Guards battalion for service in Portugal, seeing action in Gibraltar and Spain as well.

The renewal of the war in Flanders again saw the Regiment on active service and it took part in the Battles of Oudenarde in 1708 and Malplaquet in 1709. From 1715 to 1742, the Regiment enjoyed its first long spell of peace. This was eventually broken by the dispatch of seven companies to Spain, which culminated in the surrender of Vigo in May 1742. King George II was now on the throne of England and the 1st Battalion, with two other Guards battalions, embarked once more for service in Flanders to support of the cause of Maria Theresa. The Battalion was present at, although not heavily involved in, the Battle of Dettingen, the last in which an English King personally commanded his troops.

The Regiment played a distinguished part in the Battle of Fontenoy in 1745. Although it did not result in a Battle Honour, this was one of the most glorious battles ever fought by the Brigade of Guards. The Brigade marched for half a mile under heavy fire to halt thirty yards from the French Guards. The French fired first, doing little damage; the British then fired with deadly effect and decimated the enemy ranks.

The 2nd Battalion proceeded to Flushing in 1747 and joined the Allied Army until after the Peace of Aix-la-Chapelle in 1749. In July 1760, the 2nd Battalion went to Germany with two other Guards battalions to campaigns under Prince Ferdinand of Brunswick and the Marquis of Granby. It played a distinguished role in the Battle of Wilhelmstal and at the Castle of Arnoneberg. The Battalion returned home in 1763.

In 1776, following the outbreak of the War of lndependence in the American Colonies, the three regiments of Guards under the command of Colonel Mathew of the Coldstream formed a composite force. The Coldstream contingent consisted of 307 men of all ranks. Early in 1777, this force formed two separate battalions with Colonel Mathew elevated to Brigadier. The battalions fought throughout the War and returned home after Lord Cornwallis surrendered at Yorktown to a stronger American force of some 20,000 men, including 7000 French troops.

2. The French Revolution and Napoleonic Wars

As a result of the French Revolution in 1793, Britain joined the confederacy against the Republican Government. Once more the Coldstream 1st Battalion joined the 1st Battalions of the other two Guards Regiments to form a Guards Brigade. The Brigade, consisting of four battalions (the fourth being made up of the Grenadier companies of the three Regiments), embarked for the Continent. The Brigade distinguished itself in subsequent actions, including the sieges of Valenciennes and Lincelles, and in several small engagements and skirmishes of less importance. The Coldstream arrived home in May 1795. In 1799, brigaded with the 1st Battalion 3rd Guards under General Burrard, they embarked again for service in Holland. There they took part in the campaign led by Sir Ralph Abercrombie that ended with the Battle of Egmont-op-Zee.

After taking part in the expedition against Vigo, the 1st Battalion sailed to join the Army in Egypt, once more under the familiar command of Sir Ralph Abercrombie. A series of operations ended with the surrender of the French Army of Occupation in Cairo. The Regiment was awarded the distinctive badge of the Sphinx, superscribed Egypt, for their conspicuous service the campaign that blighted Napoleon's dream of world conquest. The Battalion returned home after a short stay in Malta.

The 1st Battalion was sent with a British Force to Bremen in 1805 but returned home in 1806; in 1807, they landed on the Danish coast and took part in the investment of Copenhagen. The Battalion, still in the same brigade, moved to Portugal in January 1809 to join Sir Arthur Wellesley's Army. The Battalion served at the Passage of Douro, the capture of Oporto and the Battle of Talavera as well as the Sieges of Ciudad Rodrigo Badajos, Burgos and San Sebastian, the Battles of Fuentes d'Onor, Salamanca, Vittoria, Pyrenees, Bidassoa, Nive, Nivelle and the investment of Bayonne.

The 2nd Battalion joined the Walcheren Expedition, where they served as Flank Companies. These companies served under General Graham at Cadiz and fought at the Battle of Barossa. After this, the companies, along with those of the other Regiments of Guards, returned home. In 1813, six companies of the 2nd Battalion proceeded to Holland and took part in the unsuccessful but gallant assault on Bergen-op-Zoom. They stayed garrisoned in Brussels and later at Ath.

When Napoleon escaped to France from Elba, the companies at Ath were reinforced from home by four companies and the Headquarters of the 2nd Battalion, which now made the 2nd Battalion complete. The 2nd Battalion joined the 2nd Guards Brigade and moved with it towards Waterloo. Wellington identified the Chateau, or farm complex, of Hougoumont, in the right centre of his defensive line, as one of three key points for breaking up French attacks. He ordered a force consisting of the four light companies from the 1st and 2nd Guards Brigades to occupy and defend Hougoumont, under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Lord Saltoun, 1st Guards and Lieutenant Colonel James Macdonnell, 2nd Guards.

The French first attacked Hougoumont at 11.00 o'clock on 18th June and continued to do so for the next eight hours, creating a 'battle within a battle'. At one desperate moment, a small French detachment succeeding in entering the courtyard but were repulsed by a party of 2nd and 3rd Guardsmen, led by Lieutenant Colonel Macdonnell and including Sergeant Graham, who succeeded in closing and holding the courtyard gates shut against further assaults.

The troops in Hougoumont acted as a thorn in the side of Napolean's left flank throughout the day by causing delay and diversion of forces. It is estimated that the 3,500 British and German soldiers, either in or around Hougoumont, kept over 14,500 French troops at bay. 8,000 French soldiers lost their lives trying to capture the Chateau.

Sergeant Graham, Coldstream Guards and Sergeant Fraser, 3rd Guards each received a special medal for their brave conduct. When a patriotic rector left £500 in his will for 'the bravest man in England', Wellington, asked adjuticate in this sensitive issue, nominated Lieutenant Colonel Macdonnell for his role in closing the gates at Hougoumont. Lieutenant Colonel Macdonnell promptly shared the prize with Sergeant Graham. Today, the Sergeants' Mess of the 1st Battalion remembers Sergeant Graham's gallantry every year during the tradition of 'Hanging the Brick'.

The 2nd Battalion took part in the subsequent occupation of Paris, remaining in France until the summer of 1816. The 1st Battalion went to Portugal in 1827-28 and the 2nd Battalion to Canada during the troubles of 1838-42. The latter campaign, the details of which are now long-forgotten, is well remembered by the Regiment because of the tale of 'Jacob', a white goose whose head and neck is preserved in Regimental Headquarters, complete with a brass officer's gorget bearing the inscription, 'Jacob, 2nd Coldstream Guards, Died on Duty'. Jacob saved the lives of many Coldstreamers by giving the alarm one night as a band of rebels, intent on a surprise attack, approached the encampment. Jacob returned to London with the 2nd Battalion as a treasured pet and stayed in the Regiment for many years before being run down by a hansom cab outside the Portman Street Barracks. His loyalty is not forgotten and he remains, in the annals of the Regiment, the only example of any animal approaching the status of official mascot.

In 1831, by the sanction of King William IV, the Coldstream adopted the bearskin cap that had previously been worn by the Grenadier companies of the Regiment. A red plume worn on the right side distinguished the Coldstream from other regiments.

The Coldstream Guards Today

The Coldstream Guards Today has been summarized on the British Army websitel. The following has been abstracted from the website:

Both the 1st Battalion and Number 7 Company are now in the Public Duties role. The 1st Battalion is based in Victoria Barracks, Windsor, and Number 7 Company is based in Chelsea Barracks, London. Soon the Battalion will start its build up training for another tour to Northern Ireland.

This next article is extracted from the latest Regimental History of the Coldstream Guards, to be published in 2000, the year of the Regiment's 350th Anniversary. It provides a concise summary of what the Regiment consists of today and how it continues to evolve to meet future demands and commitments.

The Regiment - Today And Tomorrow

Continuity and change are the themes which sum up the Coldstream Guards in the year 2000 and as the Regiment approaches its 350th anniversary (author's note: see Figure 2 below). The Regiment in recent years has proved itself to be equally adept in "green" and "red" soldiering, illustrating the versatility and professionalism of the soldiers of whom we are so proud.

(continued below Figure 2)

Figure 2. "The Queen Mother plants an oak tree in Sandringham Park for the King's Lynn branch of the Coldstream Guards Association, to mark the 350th Anniversary of the Coldstream Guards." Note the Cap Star emblem on the marker and the carpet. The event took place on January 9, 2000. From the Royal Insight ("A monthly guide to the life and work of Britain's Royal Family") webpagem.

Before we look to what the future holds for our Regiment, we must examine first the state of play at the end of the 1990s. The current structure was shaped by the 1991 Options for Change Government White Paper. Most notably for our Regiment this Defence Review placed the 2nd Battalion into suspended animation in 1993. However Number 7 Company was created at this time as an incremental company, and maintains the Colours and Customs of the 2nd Battalion, so that when the time comes the 2nd Battalion can be re-established with ease! The Regimental Band survived Options for Change, albeit at a reduced size. Within the 1st Battalion are reflected changes which occurred Army-wide: for example, the disappearance of Coldstream cooks and clerks after the formation of the Royal Logistic Corps and the Adjutant General's Corps respectively. All in all, the Coldstream Guards have been lucky enough to preserve their identity through what has been a period of amalgamation and disbandment for many others, and to remain the oldest British Regiment in continuous existence.

An examination of the recent commitments of the Regiment reveals the diverse and complicated demands facing the Coldstreamer of today. Following the end of the Cold War the world has not proved itself to be a safer place. Indeed, in 1991 the 1st Battalion was deployed to the Gulf to take part in a conventional warfare operation. The Regiment has completed five emergency tours to Northern Ireland in the 1990s alone (the 1st Battalion to East Tyrone in 1992 and South Armagh in 1996 and 1999-2000, the 2nd Battalion to South Armagh in 1991 and Number 7 Company to Belfast in 1996) and has reinforced at least seven other battalions on recent tours. In the Balkans, the 1st Battalion deployed to Bosnia in 1993-4 and more recently the best part of a company deployed to Kosovo with 1st Battalion Irish Guards, and 17 men have reinforced the Household Cavalry Regiment in Bosnia. In 1995 the 1st Battalion provided the Queen's Royal Lancers with a platoon for service with the United Nations contingent in Cyprus. So, in terms of active service the Regiment continues to be very busy. The nature of United Nations, NATO, and other peacekeeping commitments require Coldstreamers to operate in unfamiliar environments, within and alongside varied multinational organisations, and with complex rules of engagement. Add to these the intellectual challenges posed by technological advances, and it becomes clear that the nature of a Coldstreamer's operational duty is vastly different from what has been seen in the past. One has only to look at the number of medals worn by many individuals to see how much has been asked of the Regiment in recent times: without exception, the Regiment has risen to the challenge and acquitted itself with distinction.

Throughout this period, on the other hand, the obligations of ceremonial duties in London and Windsor have remained largely unchanged. London Ceremonial continues to foster the traditional qualities of military bearing and precision for which the Foot Guards enjoy worldwide renown. 1999 saw the 1st Battalion Trooping their Colour and 2000 will be Number 7 Company's turn in the Household Division's traditional tribute to their Colonel-in-Chief (The Queen) on her Official Birthday. Guards of Honour are still provided for State Visits and for other state occasions such as the State Opening of Parliament.






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