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The Guard - part 1
The Guard - part 2
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Örjan Martinsson

Kunglig Majestäts livgarde till fot
(The Royal Majesty's Life Guard on Foot)

Part 1: organisation and recruitment

The Swedish infantry was a formidable force during the Great Northern War and its most distinguished regiment was Charles XIIs own guard regiment, the Livgarde. This unit's elite status was acknowledged by their higher wages and hats laced with gold, silver and silk. It was also, with first 1 800 men and later 2 600 men, the by far largest regiment in the Swedish army. In each battle the Livgarde took the lead and in the battle line they held the place of honour furthest to the right.

The Livgarde has won numerous victories in most of Sweden's war but there is no doubt that its heydays were during the Great Northern War. Because in this war they took part in the landing at Humlebæk 1700, the battle of Narva 1700, the crossing of Düna 1701, the battle of Kliszow 1702, the siege of Thorn 1703 and the battle of Holowczyn 1708. However, after all these successes they suffered a crushing defeat at Poltava 1709 and only half of the Livgarde remained when the Swedish army surrendered at Perevolochna three days later. The Livgarde was restored after the disaster but the new guard would not experience any triumphs as the old one had done. Recruitment problems kept it as a garrison regiment in Stockholm until 1718 when it with almost full strength participated in Charles XII's last campaign in Norway.

Organisational history of the Livgarde 1618-1772

The original role of the Livgarde was to be the king's bodyguard and since kings in all ages have had bodyguards it is possible to trace the lineage of the Livgarde all the way to Gustav Vasa's rebellion in 1521. However, in practise there were several different guard regiments during Sweden's age of greatness (1611-1718), which for various reasons disappeared and were replaced by new regiments. To be exact there were four incarnations of the Livgarde during this period, created in turn by Gustav II Adolf, Kristina, Charles XI and Charles XII. The continuity that existed between these regiments was the small force that was always left in Stockholm to guard the palace while the rest of the regiment went on campaign.

The Drabant Corps that had protected the kings of the Vasa dynasty was in 1618 transformed into a company in a five year old mercenary regiment which Gustav II Adolf elevated to be "Konungens livregemente" (the King's Life Regiment). It would also be called Hovregementet (= the Court Regiment) or Gula regementet (the Yellow Regiment, after the colour of their uniforms). The original drabants retained however a special status by consisting of Swedes and being called the king's Livgarde (Life Guard). The rest of the regiment consisted of Germans. After participating in Gustav II Adolf's campaigns in Livonia, Prussia and Germany the regiment was split up after the battle of Lützen 1632. The Livgarde escorted the king's dead body to Stockholm and stayed there as a palace guard. The remaining part, which was now only called the Yellow Regiment, continued to fight in Germany and went 1635 into French service when its commander Bernhard of Weimar defected from the Swedish army.

The Livgarde Company in Stockholm, which 1638-44 had the colonel of Södermanland Regiment as its captain, was expanded during the war against Denmark 1643-45 to become an independent regiment of 20 companies. This incarnation of the Livgarde was however almost never together but usually distributed on different garrisons and theatres of war. This state of affairs did not change after the Peace of Westphalia 1648 when the Livgarde was reduced to 12 companies. After the death of Charles X Gustav in 1660 the Livgarde was split in a way that was similar to what happened in 1632. It was reduced to one company which served as a palace guard in Stockholm and eight companies which garrisoned Riga until 1672 and then Pomerania. The latter part came to be known as the German Guard and lived a life of its own. Finally in 1680 it formally ceased to be a part of the Livgarde when it was transferred to garrison Scania and Halland with the name Tyska livregementet till fot (German Life Regiment on Foot). It was transferred to the German provinces in 1709 and was lost 1715 when these fell to the enemy.

The king's bodyguard or Livgarde always included a number of mounted soldiers until september 1700 when Charles XII detached them to create the independent Drabant Corps. With this Livgardet till häst och fot (Life Guard on horse and foot) changes its name to Livgardet till fot. The mounted part of the history of the Livgarde is intended to be covered in a future page about Charles XII's Drabant Corps while this page is only focused on the much larger infantry part of the Livgarde.

The company which guarded the Royal Palace in Stockholm after 1660 (consisting both of foot soldiers and mounted drabants) represented the nucleus of the third incarnation of the Livgarde. When Charles XI came of age in 1672 he expanded the Livgarde to four companies and as a result of the Scanian War it was further expanded to twelve companies in 1676. This organisation (ten companies of 150 men and two companies of 200 men, a total of 1 900 men) would remain in place until the outbreak of the Great Northern War. All companies then became 150 men strong because 100 men were left in Stockholm as a palace guard when the Livgarde marched to war in April 1700. However, already in September the same year the Livgarde was yet again reorganised. Charles XII wanted to increase officer density by redistributing the privates on 18 companies, each with a strength  of 100 men. This organisation also included for the first time seperate grenadier companies, There were three of these and under the command of a grenadier major they formed a grenadier battalion. Ever since 1684 the Livgarde had had an increasing number of grenadiers and in 1703 this establishment was doubled to six companies. In 1702 the Livgarde had also been strengthened with three regular companies and since 1701 every company was 108 men strong. All this meant that from August 1703 the Livgarde had an establishement of 24 companies with 108 men each which formed four battalions (one of them a grenadier battalion). At full strength the Livgarde counted 2 592 men (not including the palace guard in Stockholm).

After the Livgarde had been annihilated in Ukraine 1709 Charles XII ordered it to be restored to its full strength. But for various reasons the recruitment to this fourth incarnation of the Livgarde went very slowly (read more about this below) and it was not until Charles XII's return to Sweden 1715 when it gained more momentum. It was a nearly complete Livgarde which participated in the Norwegian campaign 1718 but the king's death led to an unplanned retreat back to Sweden in the middle of the winter. The Livgarde was also unfortunate to be the last regiment marching home so all the food supplies that did exist along the route were empty when the Guardsmen arrived to them. The result was a disaster and one half of the small force of 795 men that managed to march back to Stockholm had to be discharged as unfit for military service. The Livgarde had to be reconstructed but its establishment was now reduced 18 companier (three of them grenadier companies) with a total strength of 1 800 men. This was an organisation which was to last throughout the Liberty Age (1719-1772). However, it was not until 1728 when it actually reached its official strength. The larger part of the Livgarde participated in both the war against Russia 1741-43 and Prussia 1757-62 but it did not see any major action. A more important event was instead the Livgarde's involvement in a planned coup in 1756 which was foiled when a drunken soldier revealed the plan and resulted in the forced retirement of its colonel.

The organisational changes were greater during the Gustavian Age (1772-1818) but these and the later periods are not covered here. Worth mentioning though is that the regiment was renamed to Svea Livgarde in 1792 and that the older shorter name was not reclaimed until a regimental merger occurred in the year 2000.

Recruitment of the Livgarde during the Reign of Charles XII

Together with the Artillery Regiment and the Adelsfana, the Livgarde was one of the few truely national regiments which collected its recruits from all over Sweden. However, the Livgarde consisted almost exclusively of ethnic Swedes. The guardsmen who came from Finland were for example concentrated to its Swedish speaking regions. And despite of the strong national character the main recruitment area can be localised to the central portions of Sweden (Svealand and Östergötland) from where about 75 % of the recruits came. The number of Stockholmers in the ranks was high but since most Swedes at this time lived on the country side their share was not higher than 9 %.

A guardsman had a wage of 36 daler in silver the year 1696 (to be compared with the 33 daler which soldiers received in other enlisted infantry regiments in proper Sweden). If he was promoted to underrotmästare (= vice filemaster) he would get 41 daler. A rotmästare (filemaster) received 50 and corporals got 63-66 daler. The lower NCO ranks (förare, furir & rustmästare) received 90 daler in silver as their yearly wage while the higher NCO ranks (fältväbel & sergeant) got 108. Lieutenants & ensigns earned 378 daler, captains 556, the major 1 242, the lieutenant colonel 1 306 and the colonel 2 056 daler. The income differences were enormous and even though the private guardsmen earned more than their colleagues they could not support a family on that wage. It was almost required that the soldier had a second job and/or a wife who also worked. Because the burdens of military service were light during peace time these second jobs could very well be the soldiers' primary occupation.

When the Guard was overseas during the Great Northern War it was intended that the recruitment was to be managed in such a way that each provincial governor had a quota which they should recruit and send to the Livgarde. But the first contingent of the governors recruits was far from the desired size and not all of them met the requirement for service in the Livgarde. Of the 510 men which the governors were to recruit only 250 of them were actually added to the ranks in 1701 and not rejected at arrival. The recruitment was thereafter centralised and this task was given to lieutenant colonel Åke Rålamb. But the numbers did not increase and in 1702 only 285 recruits arrived, followed by 190 men in 1703, 118 men in 1704 and 156 men in 1705. The 1706 contingent (which arrived in 1707) consisted of 117 men and the 1707 contingent was 203 men strong. The 1708 contingent which arrived too late to Riga to join the main army consisted of 332 men which were called back to Sweden in 1709. Rålamb managed to recruit 79 men to the 1709 contingent before he lost this assignment to the interim commander of the restored Livgarde.

Since the recruits were not sufficient to fill the ranks of the growing Livgarde, the King arranged for soldiers to be transferred from other regiments. One company each from Tyska, Svenska and Drottningens livregemente were ordered by the King in October 1701 to be transferred to the Livgarde (these regiments garrisoned fortresses in Scania and the Swedish west coast). In 1703 one battalion each from Uppland and Östgöta-Södermanland 3-männing regiments were merged with the Livgarde (the former also included soldiers from the provinces of Dalarna and Västmanland. Finally during the Russian campaign in 1708 the rest of these 3-männing regiments together with Småland and Närke-Värmlands 3-männing regiments were merged with the Livgarde.

Strength of the Livgarde during the Great Northern War. Nominal strength in blue and effective strength in red.
The period 1707-09 is missing because the source material was lost in the capitulation at Perevolochna. The lines are
broken for the year 1718 because the company that was left in Stockholm is not included in the second half of that year.

When the remnants of the Livgarde field regiment capitulated in at Perevolochna 1709 there were, counting the palace guard (120 men strong since 1702) and the existing recruits, a force of about 600 guardsmen in Stockholm. These were organised into new companies and the work to restore the Livgarde began. However, the recruitment progressed at a slow pace and the organsiation consisted of just twelve companies for a long time. It certainly did not help that the plague in 1710 killed 60 % of the then 1 000 men strong Guard. Only 419 men remained at the muster in June 1711  and among them there were several palace guards who had been to old for field service already in 1700 (these men included a 90-year old man who was discharged the following year). Some of the difficulties with the recruitment can be explained by the fact the lega (the amount of money the recruit was given directly when he signed the contract) was only 20 daler of silver, which made the Livgarde less attractive compared to other regiments. The men who recruited for the Livgarde had to compete with all the rotebönder (farmers tasked with recruiting one infantry soldier) and rusthållare (men tasked with recruiting one cavalryman and horse) who at the same time were searching for recruits to restore the provincial regiments. The conditions in the soldiers market thus required (according the regimental commander Ribbing) a lega of at least 33.33 daler in silver. This request of raising the lega was however rejected by the royal council on the ground of the poor financial state of the Crown.

But even though the low lega was a significant factor, an important reason to why progress was so slow was also a lack of initiative in the aging governor of Stockholm City, Knut Posse, who was in charge of the recruitment for the Livgarde. All this changed when Charles XII returned to Sweden and it did not take long time until the Livgarde was nearly complete. But this work too was to be destroyed because of circomstances beyond the Livgarde's control. This time an ill prepared retreat during the winter of 1718-19 that marked the definitive end to Sweden's Age of Greatness

Regimental Commanders and Battles

Below is a list of the Livgarde's regimental commanders during Sweden's Age of Greatness and the Liberty Age. It also includes all the battle which the regiment participated in during this period. Green colour represents victories, red colour defeats and black colour indecisive battles.


Philip Johan von Mansfeld
Count Thurn the younger
Maximilian von Teufel
Nils Brahe
Lars Kagg
Thure Liljesparre
Didrik Yxkull
Caspar Otto Sperling
Magnus Gabriel De la Gardie
Jakob Casimir De la Gardie
Christoffer Delphicus Dohna
Carl Christoffer Schlippenbach
Nils Brahe
Gustaf Adam Banér
Carl Larsson Sparre
Axel Julius De la Gardie
Gustaf Lillie
Christoffer Gyllenstierna
Jakob Johan Hastfer
Bernhard von Liewen
Knut Posse
Carl Posse (in Russian captivity from 1709)
Gabriel Ribbing (in Danish captivity 1711-1713)
Michael Törnflycht
Arvid Posse
Otto Reinhold Wrangel af Sauss
Adolf Fredrik of Holstein-Gottorp
Per Gustaf Pfeiff
Fredrik Axel von Fersen
Riga 1621
Wallhof 1626

Dirschau 1627
Gurzno 1629

Frankfurt an der Oder 1631
Breitenfeld 1631
Lech (Rain) 1632

Alte Veste 1632
Lützen 1632
Oldendorf 1633

Nördlingen 1634
Warszaw 1656
March across the Belts 1658

Copenhagen 1659
Halmstad 1676
Lund 1676
Landskrona 1677

Humlebæk 1700
Narva 1700
Düna 1701
Kliszow 1702
Holowczyn 1708

Poltava 1709

The earlier regimental commander Knut Posse was as governor of Stockholm city responsible for the restoration of the Livgarde 1709-1714.

The official victory names that are missing from the list above are "The Liberation War 1521" and "Svensksund 1790". Also note that of the battles fought during the period of 1618-1635 only Lech and Lützen are officially recognised as victory names for the Livgarde. The probable reason for this is that the Yellow Regiment fought these battles without participation from the part of the regiment which in 1632 was sent back to Stockholm and from which the present Livgarde descends from. The landing at Humlebæk is also not included among the official victory names.

The Livgarde - part 2: colours and uniforms