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The Grenadiers 1690 - 1715

"...I don't beat up for common soldiers. No, I list only grenadiers, grenadiers, gentlemen. Pray gentlemen, observe this cap. This is the cap of honour; it dubs a man a gentleman in the pulling of a tricker; and he that has the good fortune to be born six foot high was born to be a great man." Sergeant Kite (from The Recruiting Sergeant) 

The origins of the Grenadiers marked the end of the pikeman, an arm of service that has been in use since before medieval times as an effective unit against enemy horse charges. Originally protecting the longbow men, they were restructured to protect the newly invented musketeers by the 1500's. They were last used in great effect during the European 30 Years War and the English Civil Wars in the mid 17th century, but even then the soldiers were beginning to discard some of the more cumbersome equipment associated with the Pikemen, such as the tassets attached to the back and breast plate, the medieval Gorget (which began to be worn by officers on its own) and even cutting down the pike itself to make it less cumbersome for long marches.

Forming the first Grenadiers

As technology advanced and the theory of battlefield warfare changed, new thoughts were being directed to the musketeers, and how they could be made to be more effective towards the enemy. Perhaps the thought on how to save money by abolishing the pikeman and his associated equipment also entered their minds? In May 1677 an order was issued that two soldiers from each company of the Guard regiments, preferably the tallest, were to be trained as grenadiers. Accordingly the ten companies of the Coldstream Regiment (originally Monck's Regiment)  each received 20 grenadier pouches, 20 hatchets and girdles and 20 flintlock muskets. By 1678 a royal order was made that a company of grenadiers consisted of 1 Captain, 2 Lieutenants, 3 Sergeants, 3 Corporals and 100 privates to be added to each of the eight senior foot regiments in the army. Amongst the main items issued the musket was specified as 'long carbines strapped; the barrels whereof to be 3 foot and 2 inches long'. The straps allowed the musket to be slung over the grenadier's back while he was using his hatchet or throwing a grenade. This basic issue and guide had hardly changed by 1715.

Uniform and Dress

Although the regimental uniform that a grenadier soldier wore was the same as his musketeer counterpart, he was easily distinguished by both his height, and his hat. In early grenadier trials and training it became quickly clear the the traditional felt hat got in the 1690_mitre_hat.jpg (136745 bytes)way and would need replacing, so the new style grenadier hat was born. The early examples took on many shapes, with the diarist Evelyn describing various styles that resembled the French hats of the same period. Eventually a tall flat front became established, with the back-part made out of regimental colours which either hung down like 'a jester's hat' or stiffened. These of course varied from regiment to regiment. The hat on the left is an early officers grenadiers hat from the reign of William and Mary dated 1690 (grenadier officers wore exactly the same hat as their men, with obvious differences). Note the velvet material, the spangles and quality of embroidery. The two thistles denote a Scottish origin, but this is purely speculation as its origin has been lost. Early pre-Orkneys regimental hats were recorded in 1689 as having a 'Lion with a crown over' embroidered on the front, perhaps denoting the 'Lion of Holland' for King William. Current thinking places the Orkney's post 1702 version as the same shape as the grenadier illustrated in the photo above, with white worsted background, one central thistle with a crown over. The front fold-over part would be white worsted with perhaps either 'Semper Eadem' embroidered over a stylised RAR, reflecting Queen Anne's personal motto, or even the word 'ROYAL' as embroidered on the Royal Irish hats. It is felt that the hat grew in height during Queen Anne's reign as it was discovered that the tall men created an atmosphere of fear when witnessed by the enemy. The benefits of psychological warfare was seen even then.

gren_drill.JPG (56135 bytes)Part of the grenadier drill, showing how to sling the musket and throw the grenade. 

Grenadier companies, attached to a unit of ordinary musketeers, were issued with the bayonet as a form of protection against the cavalry, now the pikemen were no more. Grenadiers were often stationed in advance or on the wings of the regiment, almost having skirmishing capabilities. When a square was formed in battle they formed on the corners, adding strength. Companies soon assumed the role of shock troops used for storming parties or being formed up at the point of greatest danger on the battlefield. At times the separate grenadier companies were brought together to form a larger, composite unit, which Marlborough used to great effect at the Battle of Blenheim. Early grenadiers were not issued with swords, although a brief experiment trying out elongated plug bayonets found that the bayonets made the musket top-heavy and useless for accurate firing. By William and Mary swords became part of the issued equipment. Amongst his musket issue a grenadier also carried four grenade 'bombes' in a pouch slung over his left shoulder, with his cartridges being kept in a leather pouch on his waist belt.

Sadly, grenadiers were mainly a feature of the late 17th to the mid 18th century. By the time of the Napoleonic wars grenadiers had been reformed into new units as new warfare techniques simply outdated them. However, we remember them with songs such as 'The British Grenadiers'. Even a English drumbeat of the Marlburian era was based on the song.


2002 - 2007 Lord Orkney's Regiment and M. Cotton

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