367: 4th Irish Dragoon Guards, 7th Dragoon Guards to 4th/7th Dragoon Guards

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4th Royal Irish Dragoon Guards


Like many other cavalry regiments formed in 1685, this unit was created by merging several existing troops of cavalry. It was established to shore up King James II’s powerbase in London less than a month after the defeat of the Monmouth Rebellion, but three years later it went over from James to King William III.

It fought for William at the Boyne and in the Low Countries and rose from the 6th to the 5th Regiment of Horse in 1691. The regiment was placed on the Irish Establishment in 1699 and remained there for over a hundred years, other than a brief period spent raiding the French coast in 1795. In 1798 the regiment faced the Irish Rebellion, fighting at Naas, Arklow and Vinegar Hill. The following year they came off the Irish establishment and moved to England, where they spent all but one of the next 12 years.

In 1811 the unit was posted to the Peninsula as one of the three regiments in the brigade commanded by John Le Marchant, but disease meant that it was soon short of both men and horses, whilst poor decisions by Le Marchant’s successor, John Slade, meant that the brigade rarely saw action. Finally the 4th Dragoon Guards had to leave its few remaining horses behind and take ship for home in 1813. From then until 1894 the unit alternated between English and Irish garrison duties.

Two rare instances of action during this period were the unit’s participation in the charge of the Heavy Brigade at Balaklava in 1854 and in the battle of Tel-el-Kebir in Egypt in 1882. At the latter action, it did not suffer a single casualty.

The unit’s first experience of India only came in a fourteen-year posting in 1894. It deployed from England to France with the British Expeditionary Force’s 1st Cavalry Division in 1914. Indeed, on 22 August 1914 the regiment’s ‘C’ Squadron charged a German cavalry column just east of Mons, in what was the British Army’s first action of the First World War. It briefly deployed to Ireland in 1919 as it slipped towards civil war, then to England later that year and finally to Secunderabad in India, where in 1922 it amalgamated with the 7th (The Princess Royal’s) Dragoon Guards to form the 4th/7th Dragoon Guards.

Key facts


  • ‘Quis Separabit?’ (meaning ‘Who Shall Separate Us?’)


  • The Blue Horse (after the colour of its uniform facings)
  • The Mounted Micks
  • The Buttermilks (the regiment stayed in Ireland so long that many of its men bought land and became dairy farmers)

Titles to date:

  • Earl of Arran’s Regiment of Cuirassiers
  • Arran’s Cuirassiers
  • Duke of Hamilton’s Regiment of Cuirassiers
  • 5th Horse
  • 6th Horse
  • 1st Horse, Irish Establishment
  • 1st Regiment of Horse, Irish Establishment
  • 4th (Royal Irish) Dragoon Guards
  • 4th Royal Irish Dragoon Guards
  • 4th/7th Dragoon Guards
  • 4th/7th Royal Dragoon Guards
  • A Squadron, The Royal Dragoon Guards


7th (The Princess Royal’s) Dragoon Guards


In November 1688 William of Orange landed in Devon to oust his father-in-law, King James II, from the British throne, later succeeding as King William III. When news of this reached London, James’s daughter Anne fled to Nottingham escorted by horsemen under William Cavendish, later 1st Duke of Devonshire. The following month William III merged this and a number of other troops of cavalry to form a single regiment, again commanded by Cavendish.

This was given the ranking of 9th Horse in 1690 and 8th Horse four years later. By then it had already served against James and his French allies in Ireland and the Low Countries, two areas to which it would repeatedly return during the next two centuries.

Sir John Ligonier was an experienced army commander whose French Protestant family had moved to England when he was a teenager. In 1720 he became the 8th Horse’s fifth colonel, retaining the role for 29 years and giving it his crest of a lion and crown. The unit spent most of his colonelcy in Ireland and even joined the Irish establishment as the 4th Horse in 1746. This followed the unit’s return to Ireland after taking part in the German campaign of 1742 to 1745, which included the battle of Dettingen. Now in the regimental museum, a standard carried by the regiment at that battle is now the oldest surviving British cavalry standard in the world.

Another three years in Germany followed in 1760 during the Seven Years War, but it then remained in Great Britain for 80 years, with no overseas service throughout the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars. This period did, however, see it converted into a dragoon guard regiment in 1788, when it was also named in honour of George III’s eldest daughter, the Princess Royal.

The regiment’s first deployment beyond Europe came in 1843 to South Africa, where it stayed for five years and fought in the Kaffir War. It fought in Bengal during the Indian Mutiny in 1857, remaining there for ten years on garrison. This was followed by 16 years on home service, only interrupted by participation in the 1882 Egyptian campaign. This culminated in the battle of Tel El Kebir, where the regiment did not suffer a single casualty. The unit also fought in the Boer War and spent a total of 14 more years in India between 1883 and 1914.

The unit spent the whole First World War on the Western Front, hardly ever fighting as cavalry. One exception occurred ten minutes before the Armistice came into force in 1918, when a squadron from the unit galloped ten miles to capture the town of Lessines, in what was the final cavalry action of the conflict. The regiment’s only post-war deployment was to Iraq before, in 1922, it was amalgamated with the 4th Royal Irish Dragoon Guards to form the 4th/7th Dragoon Guards.

Key facts


  • ‘Quo Fata Vocant’ (meaning ‘Wherever Fate Calls’)


  • The Black Horse (after their uniform facings)
  • The Blacks
  • The Virgin Mary’s Bodyguard (after being sent to assist the army of Maria Theresa, Archduchess of Austria – it is partly ironical, since she had 16 children!)
  • Strawboots (after its men wrapped their legs in straw during a wet campaign)

Titles to date:

  • Lord Cavendish’s Regiment of Horse
  • Duke of Leinster’s Regiment of Horse
  • 9th Horse
  • 8th Horse
  • 4th Horse, Irish Establishment
  • 4th Regiment of Horse, Irish Establishment
  • 7th (The Princess Royal’s) Dragoon Guards
  • 7th Dragoon Guards (Princess Royal’s)
  • 4th/7th Dragoon Guards
  • 4th/7th Royal Dragoon Guards
  • B Squadron, The Royal Dragoon Guards



4th/7th Royal Dragoon Guards


This regiment was formed in 1922 by merging the 4th Royal Irish Dragoon Guards and the 7th (The Princess Royal’s) Dragoon Guards. The new unit returned from India to Britain in 1929 and gained the ‘Royal’ prefix in 1936.

The unit mechanised in 1938 as a light tank reconnaissance unit and the following year it became the first British armoured unit to arrive in France. It covered the British Expeditionary Force’s retreat to Dunkirk in May and June 1940 before being evacuated itself. It had been forced to leave its vehicles behind and was re-equipped with armoured cars as a reconnaissance unit. A small section of the regiment also split off at the end of 1940 to form the 22nd Dragoons, which

In 1943 the regiment began training with heavier amphibious tanks ready for D-Day, becoming the first tanks to land at Gold Beach on 6 June 1944. It then took part in the Normandy breakout, becoming the first armoured unit to cross the Seine and taking a major part in the liberation of Lille. It then went on to lead the armoured column in Operation Market Garden and to fight in the north German campaign.

It spent 1946 to 1948 in Palestine, moving on to Libya before redeploying to Germany in 1954, the first of six postings there. Individual squadrons were sent to Aden and Cyprus in the mid-1960s and the regiment as a whole also served in Northern Ireland in 1966 and 1978. In 1992, 70 years after its formation, the regiment was merged with the 5th Royal Inniskilling Dragoon Guards to form The Royal Dragoon Guards.

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