Hessian Garde du Corps
Origin and History
After the Thirty Years War, a mounted unit was raised in Kassel as the Prince’s own bodyguards. In 1648, this unit of 102 horsemen, was designated Leibgarde zu Pferd (Horse Lifeguards).
Between 1716 and 1730, the title of the unit was changed in Garde du Corps. It consisted of two companies.
In 1730, the unit was suppressed and the personnel distributed in the other mounted units.
In 1760, Frederick II succeeded his father Wilhelm VIII, a new unit, the squadron of the Garde du Corps, of two companies was raised with picked horsemen chosen among the mounted regiments.
The officers of the unit had a rank higher than in the army so the Lieutenant-Colonel von Schlieffen was ranked a full colonel in the order of battle of the Allied army.
During the Seven Years' War, the regimental chef was, from its creation in 1760, the reigning Landgrave Frederick II.
Effective commanders of the unit were:
- from 1760: Lieutenant-Colonel C.F. Count von Gortz
- from 1762: Lieutenant-Colonel M.E. von Schlieffen, then colonel in the army, adjutant-general and later lieutenant-general, 1789 in Prussian service.
- from 1790: Lieutenant-Colonel R.J. von Staal
In 1787, the unit was increased in strength and assumed the dignity and the name of Regiment Garde du Corps. The regiment had three squadrons in six companies.
In 1866, the regiment, still counting six companies, was disbanded.
Service during the War
As a Household troop the unit initially garrisoned Kassel and did not take the field during the war. In August 1760, it was relocated to Lüneburg for its safety and remained there in 1761.
The appearance of the Hessian Garde du Corps was modelled on the uniform of the Prussian equivalent squadrons raised twenty years before. The origins are peculiar. In 1728 the King of Saxony, August the Strong, possessed a numerous, elegant and expensive Guard. In 1730 Frederick, still hereditary Prince of Prussia, reviewed with his father the Saxon Army during an official visit.
Even if all but passionate of uniforms he was stoke by the glittering, elegant high dress of the mounted squadrons of the Saxon Grand Mosquetiers.
When Frederick II succeeded his father a new body of troops of two squadrons was raised as a personal bodyguard. The horsemen were equipped much like the older Saxon unit.
The trooper wore the protective coat of all the Prussian heavy cavalry regiments. The field was in a light straw creamy shade and the facing colour, red.
The straw coat was edged in red lace on the front and the turnbacks. Cuffs were red.
The waistcoat was in red tissue. It was edged in silver for NCO and Officers.
The leather breeches were left in natural colour.
The headdress consisted of a black felt cocked hat with a silver clasp and edged in silver. The hat was surmounted by a white feathered plummet with red base. The plummet had red base and top for NCO and was red with white top for officers.
When on duty the unit wore cuirasses of polished white iron edged red. A red fielded silver ornamented sabretache was suspended to the belt hanging on the left side of the body. The bandoliers of the musket and of the cartridge pouch hanging respectively from the right and the left shoulders were in red Morocco leather, edges and seams laced in silver.
A blue sash wrapped around the waist completed the uniform. Black leather heavy cavalry knee length boots were in use for mounted service.
The horse equipment consisted of red field pistol holster covers edged in silver and a superposed star showing the rampaging Hessian lion. The demi-shabraque or saddlecloth/caparison was red fielded and edged in silver with a silver star in the back corner.
Officer wore the same uniform as troopers but the coat was edged with silver lace instead of red on the front, the turnbacks and around the outer edge of cuffs. The red waistcoat was edged in silver.
The sash around the waist was in silver and crimson.
When off duty, officers only wore a red coat with unfastened corners with blue cuffs. The front of the coat, the pocket flaps and the cuffs were ornamented with silver embroideries around the silver buttons. From the left shoulder, silver cords (in French: “aiguillette”) was hanging.
Officer had a red saddlecloth edged with two silver braids. Heavy cavalry officer, wearing a cuirass, had no gorget.
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The unit had two standards:
- Colonel standard (shaped as a neo-classical roman “vexillum”): white field; centre device consisting of an alternatively silver/gold crowned rampaging lion, facing left, and surrounded by a green laurel wreath; corner monograms consisting of the FL (in Latin Federicus Landgravius) ciphers of Frederick II von Hessen-Cassel.
- Squadron standard: royal blue field; same heraldic as the colonel standard but no laurel.
Grosser Generalstab Kriegsgeschichtliche Abteilung II: Die Kriege Friedrichs des Grossen, Part 3 Der siebenjährige Krieg 1756-1763, Vol. 12 Landeshut und Liegnitz, Berlin, 1913, p. 23
Witzel, Rudolf: Hessen Kassels Regimenter in der Allierten Armee 1762, bearb. u. hrsg. von Ingo Kroll, Norderstedt 2007, pp. 185-186
Dr Marco Pagan for the initial version of this article.
Franco Saudelli and Dr Marco Pagan for the plate representing the standard-bearer of the unit.