Kunglig Majestäts livgarde till
(The Royal Majesty's Life Guard on Foot)
Part 1: organisation and
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.
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
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
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.
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
and was lost 1715 when these fell to the enemy.
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
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.
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.