The Royal Scots Greys

A History of the Royal Scots Greys – Richard Hill

In 1678 three independent troops of dragoons were raised in Scotland to quell the Covenanters – a militant body opposed to the enforcement of episcopacy. Dragoons of that time were mounted infantrymen armed with sword and short musket, the word itself being derived from ‘dragon’, an old name for this particular weapon. Three years later, in 1681, King Charles II ordered General Thomas Dalyell of the Binns to raise further troops and form them into a regiment to be known as the “Royal Regiment of Scots Dragoons”, a unit which later was to win universal fame as the Royal Scots Greys.

The First Grey Horses

Before the Royal Scots Dragoons embarked for Flanders in 1694, they were reviewed by William III in Hyde Park and it is recorded that they made a fine sight, for the entire regiment rode grey horses. This is the earliest known instance of them being mounted on the horses from which their name, the ‘Scots Greys’, was derived. Though this did not become the official title for many years it was in general use from the very early 1700s and will be used henceforth in this account. Some authorities have suggested that the name came originally from the grey coats worn during the first few years of the regiment’s existence, but this is not the case since their grey coats were not unique and there is no instance of the name being used until after the known introduction of the grey horses. For almost 300 years the regiment remained mounted exclusively on greys and it is fitting that this tradition is still continued in the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards

Campaigns

The Greys served in most campaigns the British Army was involved in, the most famous being the Battle of Waterloo in 1815 where Sergeant Charles Ewart captured the Imperial Eagle standard of the French 45th Regiment after a desperate fight and well deserved the commission which he was later given by the Prince Regent. In commemoration the Eagle forms part of the cap badge worn by the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards to this day. Ewart lies buried on the Esplanade of Edinburgh Castle, while the Eagle and Standards are displayed in the Castle itself.

Later in 1854 during the Crimean War, the Russian Army advanced against Balaklava. The Heavy Cavalry Brigade, consisting of the Scots Greys, the Royals, the Inniskilling Dragoons and the 4th and 5th Dragoon Guards were moving to their support when a dense mass of Russian cavalry, over 3,000 strong, suddenly appeared on the ridge to their left. The leading squadrons of the Heavy Brigade, two of Greys and one of Inniskillings, a mere 300 men in all, wheeled and charged up hills. The conflict which ensued has been described as one of the most desperate but successful cavalry versus cavalry charges in history. Later that day the Scots Greys were ordered to support the tragic charge of the Light Brigade. Two of the first Victoria Crosses to be awarded were won by Sergeant Major Grieve and Private Ramage of the Scots Greys for bravery during the charge of the Heavy Brigade.

The Greys also took part in the Boer War, the First World War and were part of the Eight Army during World War 2.

In the years after the war ended, the Greys served in various locations and, in 1971, were amalgamated with the 3rd Carabiniers (Prince of Wales’s Dragoon Guards) to form the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards (Carabiniers & Greys). Since amalgamation they have had a Number 1 record with Amazing Grace and have seen action in both Gulf Wars. They are currently based in Germany and are equipped with Challenger tanks.

The Regimental base is in Edinburgh Castle along with the Museum and Shop. The Association for retired members has branches in Edinburgh, Glasgow and Aberdeen in Scotland. England and Wales are covered by four Regional Branches – London and Southern, South West, North West and Wales and North East.

Thanks go to Richard Hill for this insightful commentary.

Click here to see an illustration of the timeline.

For further reading about the history of the ‘Royal Scots Greys’ a booklet is available through the regimental association shop in Edinburgh Castle, please see here

Thanks go again to Richard Hill and to John Scrivener of the 3rd Carabiniers and Royals Scots Greys regimental association for providing these documents and links. We are very honoured to be associated with one of Scotland’s oldest and most honoured regiments.