Military Wiki

The mounted guard found by the Household Cavalry is called the Queen's Life Guard

The dismounted guard found by the infantry is called the Queen's Guard

The Queen's Guard and Queen's Life Guard (called King's Guard and King's Life Guard when the reigning monarch is male) are the names given to contingents of infantry and cavalry soldiers charged with guarding the official royal residences in London. The British Army has regiments of both Horse Guards and Foot Guards predating the English Restoration (1660), and since the reign of King Charles II these have been responsible for guarding the Sovereign's palaces. Contrary to popular belief, they are not purely ceremonial and are fully operational soldiers.

Operating area

The Queen's Guard and Queen's Life Guard is mounted at the royal residences that come under the operating area of the British Army's London District, which is responsible for the administration of the Household Division. This covers Buckingham Palace, St James' Palace and the Tower of London, as well as Windsor Castle. The Queen's Guard is also mounted at the sovereign's other official residence, the Palace of Holyroodhouse, but not as often as in London. In Edinburgh, the guard is the responsibility of the resident infantry battalion at Redford Barracks. It is not mounted at the Queen's private residences at Sandringham or Balmoral.

The Queen's Guard is the name given to the contingent of infantry responsible for guarding Buckingham Palace and St James' Palace (including Clarence House) in London. The guard is made up of a company of soldiers from a single regiment, which is split in two, providing a detachment for Buckingham Palace and a detachment for St James' Palace. Because the Sovereign's official residence is still St James', the guard commander (called the 'Captain of the Guard') is based there, as are the regiment's colours. When the Sovereign is in residence, the Queen's Guard numbers three officers and 40 other ranks, with four sentries each posted at Buckingham Palace (on the forecourt) and St James' Palace (two at the main entrance in Pall Mall, two in Friary Court). This reduces to three officers and 31 ORs, with two sentries each when the Sovereign is not in residence.[1] The Queen's Guard is not purely ceremonial in nature. They provide sentries during the day and night, and during the latter hours they patrol the grounds of the Palace. Until 1959, the sentries at Buckingham Palace were stationed outside the fence. This stopped following an incident involving a female tourist and a Coldstream Guardsman – due to the continued pestering of tourists and sightseers, the guardsman kicked the tourist on the ankle as he marched. The tourist made a complaint to the police and, despite sympathy, the sentry was confined to barracks for ten days. Not long after, the sentries were moved inside the fence.[2]


Sentry of the Grenadier Guards posted outside St James' Palace

At any one time, three infantry battalions are posted for public duties; two of these are Guards battalions (one based at Wellington Barracks next to Buckingham Palace and one at Victoria Barracks in Windsor), while the third is a line infantry unit (based at Royal Artillery Barracks, Woolwich). In addition, there are three incremental companies based at Royal Artillery Barracks, Woolwich and Wellington Barracks. All of these units come under the administrative authority of London District—as public duties units, they not only take part in ceremonial, but are also committed to providing military aid to the civilian authorities.

Foot Guards

The guard is usually found from one of the five regiments of foot guards:

However, in theory any Commonwealth unit can provide the guard. On many occasions, the Gurkhas, RAF Regiment and Royal Marines have provided the guard, while a handful of units from other Commonwealth countries have also done so (see below). Only one unit has come from a Commonwealth country of which the Queen is not head of state, namely the 1st Battalion Royal Malay Regiment in 2008.

Gurkhas, Royal Marines and RAF Regiment

The RAF Regiment Ensign parades with the Queen's Colour

The following is a list of units of the Gurkhas and Royal Marines to have mounted the Queen's Guard since the Second World War[3]

Unlike the Gurkhas and the Royal Marines, the RAF Regiment has a dedicated ceremonial unit, the Queen's Colour Squadron. It is this that represents the RAF whenever it provides the Queen's Guard.

Line infantry

Sentries of the Worcestershire and Sherwood Foresters Regiment being posted at Windsor

Prior to Options for Change, because there were a total of eight guards battalions, it was rare for battalions of line infantry to mount the Queen's Guard and, as such, was a significant honour. Before 1996, only two battalions had served on public duties as part of an operational tour in London District.[4] However, when the 2nd Battalions of the Grenadier Guards, Coldstream Guards and Scots Guards were put in suspended animation, a decision to replace one of the three Foot Guard battalions then engaged on public duties by a line infantry battalion was taken, so as to enable the Foot Guards battalion to increase the proportion of its effort employed on training for operational roles. Since 1996, a line infantry battalion has been stationed in London (first at Hounslow, then Woolwich) under the command of London District:[5]

During series 4 of the ITV television series Soldier Soldier, the fictional regiment portrayed in the series, the King's Own Fusiliers, was posted to London District to perform public duties.

Territorial Army

In 1938 the Honourable Artillery Company, a Territorial Army unit, provided the King's Guard. The same Regiment subsequently provided the Queen's Guard in 1958. During the 1990s the Band of the Honourable Artillery Company provided musical support for the St.James's Palace Detachment of the Queen's Guard.[citation needed]

Home Guard

On 14 May 1941, the Home Guard provided the King's Guard, in recognition of the first anniversary of its foundation.[7] This was repeated in May 1943.[8]

Windsor Castle and The Tower of London

Old and new sentries (Coldstream Guards and Queen's Colour Squadron) posted at the Tower of London

One of the public duties battalions or incremental companies is responsible for providing the guard at Windsor Castle. The location of the ceremony at Windsor varies; in the summer, when the Queen is in residence it usually takes place on the lawn in the Castle's quadrangle. In wet weather or winter to protect the lawn, or when the Queen is not in residence, the ceremony occurs outside the Guardroom by Henry VIII's Gateway at the foot of Castle Hill.

A detachment of the regiment on guard at Buckingham Palace and St James' Palace is also responsible for providing the guard at the Tower of London. As the Tower is still officially a royal residence, and is also the location of the crown jewels, it remains the army's obligation to guard it. The Tower guard numbers one officer, 3 NCOs and 10 soldiers, and usually posts a sentry outside the Jewel House and one outside the Queen's House. As the protection of the Tower is their responsibility (in conjunction with the Yeoman Warders), the guard must also see it is secure at night (see Ceremony of the Keys).


A sentry of the Royal Regiment of Scotland posted on the Esplanade outside Edinburgh Castle

The Guard is also mounted in Edinburgh at the Palace of Holyroodhouse, the Queen's official residence in Scotland, and at Edinburgh Castle. Unlike in London, there is no Guards battalion permanently based in the city, so the guard is provided by whichever the resident infantry battalion is at Redford Barracks in the city. The guard is not mounted throughout the year – it is usually mounted daily during the week that the Queen spends at the palace (prior to her summer break at Balmoral), and during the Lord Commissioner's Week. Until 2002, sentries were permanently posted on the Esplanade at the entrance of the castle, ostensibly as the guards to the Honours of Scotland housed inside. The sentries were changed every hour. However, cutbacks in the size of the army led to the permanent castle guard being abolished – now, the guard is mounted at the same time as the guard at the Palace, or when there is a royal visitor to Edinburgh. Sentries are also posted during the month of the Edinburgh Military Tattoo, usually from a unit that has an anniversary from the year.

As part of the reorganisation of the infantry following the 2003 defence review, the 1st and 2nd Battalions, Royal Regiment of Scotland (the Royal Scots Borderers and Royal Highland Fusiliers) will be permanently based in Edinburgh, rotating between 19 Light Brigade or 52 Infantry Brigade. Whichever battalion is assigned to 52 Brigade would then be responsible for performing public duties in Edinburgh.

As part of the 2010 defence review, announcements of further reforms to the infantry led to the reduction of the 5th Battalion, Royal Regiment of Scotland to an incremental company, similar to the three companies of foot guards stationed in London, which will be a public duties unit permanently based in Scotland.

Edinburgh Military Tattoo sentries/guard of honour


The Queen's Guard is an operational posting, with the primary purpose of protecting the Sovereign. However, there have been a handful of incidents over the years when this protection has been tested; in 1982, a man named Michael Fagan was able to evade the sentries stationed in the grounds of Buckingham Palace and make his way to the Queen's bedroom, before he was captured by police. In this instance, security of the Queen's room was the task of the Metropolitan Police. In 2004, a member of the pressure group Fathers4Justice spent five and a half hours standing on the parapet by the balcony at the front of Buckingham Palace (See Fathers 4 Justice Buckingham Palace protest). Again, the security was the primary responsibility of the Metropolitan Police; although the Queen was not present at the time, it raised fears of the possibility of a terrorist attack on the palace, and gave rise to calls for the British Army to be given a greater hand in the overall security of the Royal Family.

Procedure Whilst at Post

A sentry of the Scots Guards at Buckingham Palace

A sentry will be on duty "at their post" for a two-hour period. Every 10 minutes, he comes to attention, slopes arms and does a march of 15 paces across the area of the post. Each sentry will do this four to five times before halting. He will then shoulder arms and stand at ease. Standing "easy" is not permitted whilst a sentry is at post. Orders for sentry duty read out before each 2 hour 'tour of duty', make it clear to each individual that: "you may not eat, sleep, smoke, stand easy, sit or lie down during your tour of duty".[10]

Sentries receive instruction on how to eliminate nuisance or any suggestion of threat from members of the public. There is a protocol they follow which begins with "stamping" (coming to attention sharply). He will also shout: "Stand back from the guard" or words to that effect. If this does not eliminate the nuisance or threat he will repeat the stamp and shout again. If the nuisance or threat still doesn't cease the sentry will assume the position of "port arms" whereby he points his rifle at the source of the interference with his duties. If these warnings are not heeded the sentry then has the choice of detaining the person(s) himself or pressing the button in his sentry box to summon assistance.[11]

If a person or persons step in front of a sentry while he is marching he will shout: "Make way for the Queen's guard". (Or Castle guard/Tower of London guard etc.)[12]


Whilst The Foot Guards are also fully operational soldiers, part of their duties is of course guarding The Queen and her residences. The duty of mounting 'Queen's Guard' as it's known within the Army is one which many also take on with great pride. The guards remain a fully functional part of royal defences though through the years they have become a tourist attraction.

Although formerly the guards were able to be positioned among the public, in recent times, more and more of the sentry posts have been moved away from the public because of incidents involving tourists interfering with the guards' job. Most recently, the sentry posts at Clarence House were moved behind a chain linked fence when a guardsman in the Coldstream Guards assaulted a tourist who was mocking him, pretending to march alongside him. In London, the only open sentry posts remaining not usually behind any sort fence are those under the clock at St James's Palace.

Arms plot

Battalions on public duties were part of the regular arms plot, a system where infantry battalions were periodically rotated to various locations and different roles. Following the restructuring of the army announced in 2006, the arms plot system ceased – infantry battalions have now been given fixed roles and locations. In theory, this includes public duties in London, which will retain its two guards and one line infantry battalion. However, for some postings, including public duties, light role infantry battalions will continue to rotate. In the case of public duties in London, the four Guards battalions will rotate every two years, while the line infantry battalion will rotate with battalions assigned to 52 Infantry Brigade and British Forces Cyprus.

Women and the Guard

In the British Armed Forces, women are not permitted to serve in combat units (that is cavalry and infantry). They are however permitted to serve in combat support units, which are units that provide second and third line support to front line combat units. Combat support includes artillery, engineers, air support, logistic support and other services. In April 2007, the first serving women in the British Army served on detachments of the Queen's Guard when the King's Troop, Royal Horse Artillery took over the guard at Windsor Castle, while the Army Air Corps took on public duties in London.[13]

This was not the first occasion that women have provided the Queen's Guard. In 2000, the Australian Federation Guard performed public duties in London for a month, and included several women amongst its number.[14] Female officers were also among the contingent of Royal Canadian Mounted Police members who formed the guard in May 2012.[15]

Other Commonwealth units to have mounted the King's/Queen's Guard

The Toronto Scottish Regiment mounting the King's Guard

The following is a list of units from the British Empire and Commonwealth to have mounted the King's Guard/Queen's Guard.[16]

Unit Country Flag Date
117th (Eastern Townships) Battalion, CEF Canada Canadian Red Ensign 1868-1921.svg September 1916
Canadian Coronation Contingent Canada Canadian Red Ensign 1921-1957.svg May 1937
Australian Coronation Contingent Australia Flag of Australia.svg May 1937
Royal 22e Régiment Canada Canadian Red Ensign 1921-1957.svg April 1940
Toronto Scottish Regiment Canada Canadian Red Ensign 1921-1957.svg April 1940
The Royal Canadian Regiment Canada Canadian Red Ensign 1921-1957.svg April 1940
Canadian Coronation Contingent Canada Canadian Red Ensign 1921-1957.svg May 1953
Australian Coronation Contingent[17] Australia Flag of Australia.svg May 1953
South African Coronation Contingent South Africa Flag of South Africa 1928-1994.svg June 1953
New Zealand Coronation Contingent New Zealand Flag of New Zealand.svg June 1953
Ceylon Coronation Contingent Ceylon Flag of Ceylon 1951-1972.svg June 1953
Pakistan Coronation Contingent Pakistan Flag of Pakistan.svg June 1953
Royal New Zealand Artillery[18]
Detachment Commander, Maj S. Cocks
New Zealand Flag of New Zealand.svg November 1964
1st Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment
Detachment Commander, LtCol J.P. Salter MC
Australia Flag of Australia.svg April 1988
3rd Battalion, Princess Patricia's Canadian
Light Infantry

Detachment Commander, Maj I. Hunt
Canada Flag of Canada.svg April–May 1998
2nd Battalion, Jamaica Regiment Jamaica Flag of Jamaica.svg April 1999
Australian Federation Guard[19]
plus the Band of the Royal Military College, Duntroon
Detachment Commander, Captain C. Anderson
Australia Flag of Australia.svg July 2000
2nd Battalion, The Royal Canadian Regiment[20]
Detachment Commander, Maj J. Fife
Canada Flag of Canada.svg September 2000
Royal Gibraltar Regiment[21] Gibraltar Flag of Gibraltar.svg March 2001
1st Battalion, Jamaica Regiment[22]
plus the Combined Band of the JDF
Detachment Commander, Lt Col D. Robinson
Jamaica Flag of Jamaica.svg July 2007
1st Battalion, Royal Malay Regiment[23]
plus the Band of the Royal Malay Regiment
Detachment Commander, Maj Norhisham bin Kamar
Malaysia Flag of Malaysia.svg April 2008
Royal Gibraltar Regiment[24]
Detachment Commander, Lt Col C. Risso MC
Gibraltar Flag of Gibraltar.svg April 2012

Sentries of the Jamaica Regiment are posted outside St James' Palace

The Changing of the Guard takes place in the forecourt of Buckingham Palace at around 11am. The St James' Palace detachment of the Queen's Guard, led usually by the Corps of Drums, and bearing the Colour (if the Queen is in residence, then this will be the Queen's Colour; if she is not, then it is the Regimental Colour), marches along the Mall to Buckingham Palace, where the Buckingham Palace detachment has formed up to await their arrival. These two detachments are the Old Guard. Meanwhile, the New Guard is forming up and are awaiting inspection by the Adjutant on the parade square at Wellington Barracks. The Band, having been inspected by the Adjutant, forms a circle to play music whilst the New Guard is inspected. The Guard provides a full Military Band consisting of no fewer than 35 musicians (usually, though not always, from one of the Guards regiments) accompanied by their Director of Music. When the New Guard is formed up, led by the Band, it marches across into the forecourt of Buckingham Palace. Once there, the New Guard advances towards the Old Guard in slow time and halts. The Old Guard presents arms, followed by the New Guard presenting arms. The Captains of the Guards march towards each other for the handing over of the Palace keys. The new reliefs are marched to the guardrooms of Buckingham Palace and St James' Palace where new sentries are posted.

During this time the Band has taken its place by the centre gate, formed up in a half-circle, where it plays music to entertain the New and Old Guard as well as the watching crowds. During this period, the two regimental colours are paraded up and down by the Ensigns (usually junior officers of 2nd Lieutenant rank or equivalent). With the Old and New Guards formed up once again, the Old Guard and the Band marches out through the centre gates in slow time to their Regimental Slow march played by the Band. At the end of the slow march the Captain of the Old Guard gives the word of command to 'Break into Quick Time' and with a brisk five pace roll from the drums, the Band leads the way back to Wellington Barracks.

Queen's Guard monthly schedule

During any given month, as many as five different units can be assigned to the Queen's Guard. The guard is changed daily at both Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle from April to July. From August to March, the guard is changed at both sites on alternate days. For further information including up to date schedule see The confirmed schedule for the Queen's Guard is available on

Changing of the Windsor Castle Guard

The ceremony for changing the Windsor Guard is broadly the same as that which takes place at Buckingham Palace. At 10.40am, the New Guard marches from Victoria Barracks, through Windsor and turn left going up Castle Hill to be in the Lower Ward. During the summer months, and when Her Majesty is in residence at the Castle, the guards occasionally change in the Upper Ward on the grass.

When changing guard in the normal way, the new guard arrive at roughly 11am when the old guard have formed up outside the guardroom. Once both guards and the duty band (there is no duty band on Sundays) are present, the old guard and new guard will present arms to each other, interspersed by bugle calls - the officers will then go towards each other and symbolically touch left hands to 'hand over the keys to the castle' (though no actual keys are handed over any more). The guards will then slope arms and the reliefs will be formed up to go round the castle and change the sentries - during this process, the band typically plays a selection of music. Once the relief returns, the old guard forms back up ready to march back to Victoria Barracks. The band leads them out whilst the new guard presents arms. Once the old guard have left, the new guard are dismissed to the guardroom where they will be based for the next 24/48 hours - every two hours, the guard relief will march out and change the sentries.

The Queen's Life Guard

A sentry of the King's Troop, Royal Horse Artillery outside Horse Guards

The New Guard, formed from the Life Guards, on Horse Guards Parade

The Queen's Life Guard is the mounted guard at the entrance to Horse Guards. Horse Guards is the official main entrance to both St James' Palace and Buckingham Palace (a tradition that stems from the time when The Mall was closed at both ends); however, sentries have been posted there since the Restoration, when the Palace of Whitehall was the main royal residence. The guard is on horseback from 10am until 4pm, with the two sentries changing every hour. From 4pm until 8pm a pair of dismounted sentries remain. At 8pm, the gates of Horse Guards are locked, and a single sentry remains until 7am.

When The Queen is in London, the Guard consists of 1 officer, 1 corporal major (who carries the standard), 2 non-commissioned officers, 1 trumpeter and 11 troopers. This is known as a Long Guard. When Her Majesty is not resident in London, the Guard is reduced to 2 non-commissioned officers and 10 troopers. This is known as a Short Guard.

The guard is usually provided by the Household Cavalry Mounted Regiment, with the Life Guards and the Blues and Royals alternating. When the HCMR leaves London for a month of summer training (and vacation for the horses), the guard is provided by the King's Troop, Royal Horse Artillery. Only two other regiments have had the honour of mounting the Queen's Life Guard; in 2000, the Mounted Troop of Lord Strathcona's Horse (Royal Canadians), a regiment of the Royal Canadian Armoured Corps, mounted the Queen's Life Guard during the same deployment as The Royal Canadian Regiment provided the Queen's Guard. In 2012, as part of the Queen's Diamond Jubilee celebrations, the Musical Ride of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police mounted the Queen's Life Guard for a day in May 2012, becoming the first non-military unit to do so.[25][26]

Other Commonwealth units to have mounted the Queen's Life Guard

Unit Country Flag Date
Lord Strathcona's Horse (Royal Canadians) Canada Flag of Canada.svg 2000
Royal Canadian Mounted Police Canada Flag of Canada.svg 2012[27]

Changing the Queen's Life Guard

The Old Guard, formed from the Blues and Royals passing Buckingham Palace on the way back to barracks

At the time of Guard Changing, the Old Guard forms up on the north side of the enclosure on Horse Guards Parade and the New Guard on the south side. As the New Guard arrives, each Guard carries the Standard and the Trumpeters of both Old and New Guards sound the Royal Salute on the arrival of the New Guard and on the departure of the Old Guard. When both Guards have formed up in the enclosure, the Corporal Major, Senior NCO and the sentries of the first relief of the New Guard leave for the Guard Room which is then handed over. The sentries of the Old Guard, after being relieved, rejoin the remainder of the Old Guard on the north side of the enclosure. The Standard and Trumpeters are only on parade with a Long Guard.

See also


  1. Paget, J; 'The Story of the Guards' p275
  2. Paget, J; Ibid p275
  3. Information obtained from London District under Freedom of Information Act
  4. Regiments.Org
  5. In addition, the battalions of Gurkhas based at Church Crookham, ostensibly under the command of 5 Brigade, were also at the disposal of London District from 1977 until 1999
  6. In August 2007, the Worcestershire and Sherwood Foresters Regiment will be amalgamated with the 22nd (Cheshire) Regiment and the Staffordshire Regiment to form the new Mercian Regiment. While it is stationed in London, 1WFR will be renamed as 2MERCIAN.
  7. The Argus (Melbourne, Victoria) – Thursday 15 May 1941 – HOME GUARD ON DUTY AT PALACE
  9. At the last performance of the 2011 Tattoo, the Guard of Honour was formed by the High Constables of Edinburgh, who celebrated their 400th anniversary in 2011.
  13. They're Changing Sex at Buckingham Palace Daily Mail, 8 April 2007
  14. Women and Skippy guard Buckingham Palace BBC News, 1 July 2000
  15. "Mounties guard the Queen in London for a day". CTV. 23 May 2012. Retrieved 25 May 2012. 
  16. Regiments.Org — Commonwealth Units to have mounted the Queen's Guard[dead link]
  17. Aussies take over Guard – British Pathé, 28 May 1953
  18. "Royal News" – British Pathė, 16 November 1964
  19. In 2001, the Australian Federation Guard detachment included the first women ever to mount the guard, including the first ever female guard commander
  20. 2RCR at Buckingham Palace[dead link] The Royal Canadian Regiment website
  21. Although the Royal Gibraltar Regiment is the home defence unit of Gibraltar, it is also part of the British Army
  22. Trooping the colour — like father, like son[dead link] Jamaica Observer
  23. First Muslim Battalion Guards the Queen[dead link] MOD Website, 2 May 2008
  24. First unit to provide both the Queen's Guard and the Royal Saluting Battery simultaneously
  26. "Canadian Mounties take over Royal duties at Horse Guards". Ministry of Defence. Retrieved 1 June 2012. 
  27. "Canada's Mounties guard Buckingham Palace". AFP. 24 May 2012. Archived from the original on 31 Jul 2012. Retrieved 25 May 2012. 
  • Paget, J; 'The Story of the Guards'; London; Osprey Publishing; 1976
  • Sullivan-Tailyour, J. R.; 'Changing the guard at Buckingham Palace'; London; International Partnership in Marketing Services; 1999
  • Tibballs, G; 'Soldier Soldier: The Regiment Files'; London; BCA; 1995

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