When war broke out in 1642, both King and Parliament were without any standing army. For the Royalists this was a pressing problem, as it was obvious that Parliament could effectively end the war at a stroke if they were able to capture the King. In reality, this was one of the objectives given to Parliament’s Captain-General, the Earl of Essex, when he took the field in August 1642, being instructed that by:
“Battle or otherwise, to rescue his Majesty’s person, and the Persons of the Prince and the Duke of York, out of those desperate persons who are now about them.” 1
The Lifeguard was among the first regiments raised for the Royal Cause, with recruiting begun in June 1642, while the King was at York. By June 27 there were reported to be 1,000 foot, probably including some of the Yeoman of the Guard amongst the regiment, being intended as a “guard for his Majesty’s person.” 2 It should be noted, however, that the role of the Lifeguard of Foot was seen differently from that of the Lifeguard of Horse. Whereas the primary duty of the latter was the protection of the King’s person, the foot regiment was employed as a normal field unit.
The regiment’s officers’ commissions were probably commissioned and signed while the King was still in Yorkshire in July 1642, and recruited in the weeks leading up to the Edgehill campaign. The commander of the regiment throughout the war was Montague Bertie, Lord Willoughby d’Eresby (1608?-1666), who became Earl of Lindsey in 1642, as well as Lord Chamberlain of England. The senior officers were all men of at least some experience (even Lord Willoughby had been a captain in Dutch service). The lieutenant colonel, Sir William Vavasour (killed 1659), had been a colonel of a foot regiment in the Scots War (Second Bishop’s War) of 1640, while Major William Leighton had served as a lieutenant in Foreign Service before 1639.
Some of the junior officers (such as Captains Thomas Leigh and Thomas Mynne) had seen service on the Continent or in the Scots Wars, while others had fought in Ireland, with having acquired Irish wives. Of course, as was natural for regiments raised during the Civil Wars (on both sides), many officers were simply country gentlemen having no previous military experience. Even some of the rank and file had prior experience, having also served in either Europe or Ireland, and no doubt some having Irish wives as well. While the Lifeguard seems to have had the most experienced cadre of officers of any regiment in the King’s Army (not to mention Parliament’s), veterans of any rank were hard to come by for either cause in the England of 1642.
While initially the first soldiers were drawn from Lord Willoughby’s estates and those of his friends in Lincolnshire, they were supplemented by a contingent of Derbyshire lead miners provided by the great Royalist financier, Thomas Bushall. In August, when the King shifted his headquarters to Shrewsbury, more recruits were provided, including a number of Cheshire men (no doubt mainly in the company of Captain Thomas Cholmondeley of Vale Royal), and it seems that those which saw previous experience in Ireland were enlisted at Cheshire as well. When the Royal Standard was raised in Nottingham (22 August, 1642), Lord Willoughby “brought up likewise from Lincolnshire another excellent regiment, near the same number (1000) under officers of good experience.” 3
There is some reference to the Lifeguard already being in a red uniform at the battle of Edgehill (23 October, 1642), where the regiment would have presented a fairly uniform appearance. The great Royalist financier, Thomas Bushall, made a major financial contribution towards equipping the Lifeguard and three other regiments, and was later thanked by the King for “cloathing our liefe Guard and three regiments more, with suites, stockings, shoes, and mounteers when wee were readie to march in the ffield.” 4
The regiment certainly distinguished itself at this first major battle of the Civil War, where it fought in Sir Nicholas Byron’s tertio (the other regiment of the tertio was the Lord General’s Regiment of Foot). After being involved in a firefight and push of pike with the Parliament regiments that opposed them, they were eventually charged by Sir Phillip Stapleton’s horse, as well as other horse units. Edmund Ludlow, who belonged to the Earl of Essex’s Lifeguard of Horse (a strong troop of cuirassiers), describes an encounter with the King’s Lifeguard of Foot:
“The enemy’s body of foot, wherein the King’s standard was, came on within musket shot of us; upon which we observing no horse to encounter withal, charged them with some loss from their pikes, though very little from their shot; but not being able to break them we retreated to our former station…” 5
The next onslaught was better coordinated, where the Earl of Essex ordered both Lord Robartes and Sir William Constable’s regiments of foot, supported by Sir Phillip Stapleton’s and Sir William Balfour’s cavalry, to renew the attack on Sir Nicholas Byron’s tertia. Edmund Ludlow continues his account of the encounter:
“The Earl of Essex ordered two regiments of foot to attack that body, which we had charged before where the King’s standard was, which they did, but could not break them…” 6
It seems that the attack was pressed forward three times, finally forcing the musketeers of Byron’s tertia to take shelter amongst their pikes, which were presumed in a formation to receive horse from their front, as Ludlow reports:
“…who did it so home, thrice together, that they forced all the Musketeers, of two of their left Regiments, to run and shroud themselves within their Pikes, not daring to shoot a shot…” 7
Even though the musketeers were forced back onto the pikes for protection, and being vigorously attacked by two regiments of foot and cavalry, the Life Guard and Lord General’s regiments of foot would not break, until, as Ludlow relates:
“…until Sir William Balfour at the head of a party of horse charging them in the rear, and we marching down to take them in the flank, they broke and ran away towards the hill…” 8
Byron’s tertia was hotly engaged at this time. Fighting in their midst was Sir Edmund Verney, Knight Marshal and the King’s Standard Bearer, who carried the Banner Royal. According to Sir Edward Sydenham, he “…killed two with his own hands; whereof one of them had killed poor Jason [his servant] and broke the point of his standard at push of pike before he fell…” 9 His hand that held the Banner Royal was cut off, which being found after the battle, was only identified by his signet ring.
It was also during this phase of the action that the Earl of Lindsey, who had been fighting on foot at the head of his own regiment with a pike, fell mortally wounded, and his son went to his assistance. As reported from the notes of Sir William Dugdale, Lord Willoughby:
“…hastened from the head of the Guards to his assistance and found him lying in the front of his own regiment with one leg broken by a musket shot. Now this happening at the point of time when they received the charge of the enemy’s horse, so that it was impossible to carry him off, he stood undauntedly with his half pike in his hand bestriding his father, and in that posture wounded one of their Captains in the face, and almost pushed him off his horse, but his own men at the same time giving back, he was left engaged in the midst of the Enemies, choosing rather to be taken with his father, that so he might be in a condition of rendering him what service was in his power, than to save himself by leaving him in that distress.” 10
It is unclear whether the Lifeguard was actually routed, but they were certainly sufficiently disordered to be unfit for further action that day. Ludlow reported that he saw “about threescore lie within the compass of threescore yards upon the ground whereon that brigade fought in which the King’s standard was…” 11 However, these casualties were probably equally divided between the Lifeguard and the Lord General’s Regiment.
However, among the casualties, as well as Lord Willoughby who was taken prisoner while “piously endeavouring the rescue of his father,” 12 the Earl of Lindsey, who had been shot in the thigh and “encompassed with the enemy,” 13 were a number of other officers. Lieutenant-Colonel Sir William Vavasour and Captain Sir Henry were also captured, while Major Leighton was wounded. Soon after the battle the Earl of Lindsey died , and his son and Colonel of the Life Guard, was then made the next Earl of Lindsey. This was detailed in a tract printed in London shortly after, together with an alternative view of the battle through parliament eyes:
“Whatsoever was in Dr. Coxe his Letter to your son, I likewise affirme, and thereunto make some addition. The Earle of Lindsey I saw brought dead under his wounds, into Warwicke Castle upon Tuesday night, the Lord John, brother to the Duke of Lenox, was slain in the fight. The Kings red Regiment of 12 hundred men, most of them Gentlemen, were first routed by my Lord Generals Lifeguard of Gentlemen, and then abundantly smitten downe by the Orange Coats, and Sir William Constable his blew Coats, one of whose Ensignes, Mr. Young by name, had the first honour of taking the Kings Standard, which afterwards an horseman got into his hands, and rid away with it to the Lord Generall, who bravely flourished it in the field, and then gave it his Secretary, Master Chambers to keep, and how he lost it I know not. There are slaine on the Kings side at least ten for one, though well nigh three parts of those who are slaine on our side were Waggoners, Carters, and poore unarmed people that stood in the Reere to see the fight, some of them old men, women and Children, a poore piece of valour for such a boasting” 14
The Royal Banner was gallantly rescued by Captain John Smith, of Lord Grandison’s Horse. The Life Guard also lost its colours for a brief moment during the final engagement, but these were recovered by Sir Robert Walsh. Though broken for the day, the Lifeguard was not destroyed. In managing to recover its colours, and more importantly the Banner Royal, the regiment regained its high morale it became noted for, and being so highly regarded that it was one of the main regiments held in reserve, which was a testament of its reliability.
The new Earl of Lindsay meanwhile was still in captivity in Warwick Castle and published a letter while he was there:
“My Lords, IN the distresse wherein I doe remaine, it doth bring great comfort unto me to heare of the continuance of your health, and of the good successe of His Majesties Armes, there is no happier newes that can arrive to turne my fetters into freedome, or my sorrowes into hopes, or which can prefer them sooner into the absolute possession of joy.” 15
And he goes on to talk about Edgehill,
“At the battel of Keinton where my Father lost his life, and my selfe my liberty, (although in my owne particulars, I have small reason to speake of the successe of that day) yet I believe in that field was tried to the uttermost what the courage or the numbers of our Adversaries could performe. We observe that His Majesty with His Armie still kept the field, and I would it had beene my happinesse to have kept it with Him, or to have sealed there the obligation of my Loyalty with the dearest bloud I have.” 16
Regardless of casualties, the Lifeguard of Foot was still one of the strongest in the King’s Army, with only six of the nineteen other Royalist regiments at slightly higher strength. This is based on the pay warrants of November 16th, 1642, which show that the Lifeguard was to receive £238 16s for a week’s pay, having about 670 men at that time.
The regiment then took part in the advance on London, in mid November 1642, but was not heavily engaged at either the storming of Brentford or at the engagement at Turnham Green.
On 28th November the captured colonel petitioned the House of Lords:
“The Earl of Bedford signified to this House, “That the Earl of Lyndsey, being a Prisoner at Warwicke, sent to the Lord General, to desire that he might be brought to London, and remain a Prisoner there, in regard it will be more convenient for him to look to divers Occasions that concern his Estate. The Lord General thinks (his Lordship being a Person of Honour) that, if he does give his Word to render himself a Prisoner at London here, he is confident he may be trusted.
Ordered, That the Manner and the Thing itself is referred to the Lord General, to do therein as he shall think fit.” 17
On 9th December, the regiment went into winter quarters, being one of the four regiments chosen by the Royalist Council of War to garrison the Royalist capital, Oxford.
1 From The Parliamentary History of England by William Cobbett 1806
3 The History of the Rebellion by Edward Hyde, 1st Earl of Clarendon
4 Charles I, letter to Thomas Bushell June 1643
5 Memoirs of Edmund Ludlow esq 1751
9 Letter to Ralph Verney from Sir Edward Sydenham
10 Sir William Dugdale, notes. Account also in Life and Times of James II by The Reverend JS Clarke
11 Memoirs of Edmund Ludlow esq 1751
12 An Impartial History of the Rebellion, by Jacob Hooper 1788
14 SPECIALL NEWES FROM THE ARMY AT Warwicke since the Fight: Sent From A Minister of good note, to an Alderman here in London October 29th 1642:
15 The Earle of Lindsey his declaration and iustification who is now prisoner in Warwicke Castle Oxford January 1642/3
17 House of Lords Journal Vol 5 28th November 1642