Scottish History

The History of The Royal Scots

The Regimental Museum in Edinburgh Castle



The Royal Scots, the oldest Infantry Regiment of the Line in the British Army, was formed in 1633 when Sir John Hepburn under a Royal Warrant granted by King Charles I, raised a body of men in Scotland for service in France. By 1635 he commanded a force of over 8,000, including many who had fought as mercenaries in the "Green Brigade" for King Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden. It was by virtue of the Royal Warrant that the entire Regiment was considered as British; a regular force in a standing Army which could be recalled to Britain at will. And in 1661, the Regiment was summoned to Britain to bridge the gap between the disbandment of the New Model Army and the creation of a Regular Army, organised along the same lines as the British units in foreign service. The Regiment was thus the original model for all others.

In 1680 the Regiment was sent to Tangier and won its first battle honour, On its return to England in 1684 the title "The Royal Regiment of Foot" was conferred by Charles II. During Monmouth's rebellion in 1685, five companies formed part of the force concentrated against the rebels who they met at Sedgemoor. The following year, the Regiment was divided into two battalions and was not to have less until 1949.

The Royal Scots saw service under Malborough during the war of the Spanish Succession and followed this with garrison duty in Ireland where they it remained until 1742. From this date the two battalions were usually to be separated and posted far apart. The 1st Battalion moved in 1743 to Germany to take part in the Austrian War of Succession, and was involved in the Battle of Fontenoy. In the following year, the 2nd Battalion became involved in the fight against the Young Pretender which culminated in the Battle of Culloden. In 1751 the army was numbered and thereafter the Regiment was officially designated the First or Royal Regiment of Foot.


The war of Austrian Succession had not settled the chief issue between Britain and France - colonial supremacy. Both in India and America the fighting continued and most of the Regiment's active service in the 35 years which followed was to be in the New World. From Canada to the West Indies, during the Seven Years War the 2nd Battalion found itself involved in many actions including the capture of Montreal in 1760 and Havana in 1762. Then, after a period of home service and in the Mediterranean, it was the turn of the 1st Battalion for service in the West Indies. Disease rather than the enemy accounted for most deaths; between 1793 and 1796 the British lost 40,000 men in the West Indies of which The Royals lost 5 officers and 400 men, well over half the battalion strength.

During the Napoleonic Wars the Regiment was increased to a strength of four battalions. The 1st Battalion spent the entire period of the war in the Americas and the 2nd Battalion took part in the capture of Egypt (1801), then moved to the West Indies (1803-05), before travelling to India, the first time that any part of the Regiment had been there. They were to stay until 1831. In contrast the 3rd and 4th Battalions, remained in Europe with the 4th Battalion on home service until 1812 supplying drafts for the other three battalions. The 3rd Battalion first saw action at Corunna in 1808 and then took part in the Peninsular War, There followed the battles of Quatre Bras and Waterloo which cost the battalion 363 casualties out of a strength of 624. Two years later it was disbanded; the 4th Battalion having suffered a similar fate the previous year.

The next ninety years produced a considerable number of moves for both battalions with action in India in 1817-31 where the 2nd Battalion was stationed. The Crimean War was the next major campaign for the Regiment; the 1st Battalion arriving in time for the Battle of Alma. The Regiment's first VC was won by Private Prosser during the Siege of Sevastopol for two acts of heroism. In 1900 the 1st Battalion joined British forces in South Africa for service in the Boer War. Most of the time was spent on mobile column work, patrolling and raiding expeditions.


World War I saw the number of battalions increased to 35 of which 15 served as active front line units. More than 100,000 men passed through these battalions, of whom 11,000 were killed and over 40,000 wounded. Seventy-one battle honours and 6 VC's were awarded to the Regiment as well as innumerable individual medals. The active service battalions were involved in all areas from the Western Front to the Dardanelles, Macedonia, Egypt and North Russia.

In 1918 HRH Princess Mary became Colonel in Chief, a position she was to hold until her death in March 1965. Demobilisation soon reduced the Regiment's strength to peacetime numbers but in the years that followed there was little rest from active service as the two battalions moved between Ireland, Egypt, Burma, China and the North West Frontier with short periods in home service.

At the start of World War II, the 1st Battalion embarked for France as part of the BEF. Forced into the retreat which was to end at Dunkirk, they never made the road to freedom. After a desperate defence across the Bethune-Merville road and after suffering appalling losses, many were taken prisoner and few escaped home. The 2nd Battalion, based in Hong Kong, saw action when the Japanese attacked in December 1941. Here too, The Royal Scots fought like tigers but the result was inevitable. At the end they had just 4 officers and 98 other ranks left and taken prisoner. The 1st Battalion was reconstituted after Dunkirk and took part in the Arakan campaign in Burma in 1943 and the Battle of Kohima in 1944. A new 2nd Battalion (originally the 12th) was formed in May 1942 and served in Italy and Palestine whilst the 7th/9th and 8th fought in Europe after D-Day. During WorId War II, the posthumous award of the George Cross to Capt Douglas Ford was a unique distinction within the Regiment


Since 1945 the Regiment has continued to serve in many parts of the world, including Germany, Korea. Cyprus, Suez, Aden and Ireland. In 1949 the two regular battalions amalgamated, the first time since 1686 that the Regiment had been without a second battalion, In 1983 the Regiment celebrated its 350th Anniversary and Her Majesty announced the appointment of her daughter, HRH The Princess Royal to be Colonel in Chief. In December 1990 the battalion deployed to Saudi Arabia as an Armoured Infantry battalion to take part in the Gulf War and it is now part of 16 Air Assault Brigade.

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