"For the Faith and Loyalty"
Three Hundred Years of the Russian Imperial Guards
13 December 2000 - 1 April 2001
Russian Guards from Peter the Great to Catherine II
Since the date of its foundation in 1700 and till the end of Peter
the Great's reign the Imperial Guards consisted of two regiments. Preobrazhensky
and Semionovsky, that won fame in the hearth of the Northern war. The
epoch when the guards became famous as an elite of the Russian army came
to an end with Peter's death. When as a result of the coup d'etat Catherine
I ascended the throne the French ambassador Campredon stated: "The choice
of the Guards here is a law". More than once in the 18th century the Guards
reminded the society that this is true - on 25 February, 1730 the Guards
supported Anna Ioannovna in the opposition to the major statesmen who
limited her autocracy; on 9 November, 1740 they arrested Duke Ernst Biron
and proclaimed the regency of Anna Leopoldovna; on 25 November, 1741 the
Guards raise a mutiny that brought to power Yelisaveta Petrovna; on 28
June, 1762 the "revolution", initiated by the Guards, enthroned Catherine
II; and finally on 11 March, 1801 the assasination of Emperor Paul I put
an end to the "Guards autocracy".
Russian Guards and Paul I
The heir on the Russian throne Pavel Petrovich expressed hostile feelings
towards his mother Catherine II and hated Catherine's Guards. Having ascended
the throne he energetically neutralized the militant aristocratic opposition.
The Household Cavalry Corps established by Paul I became the personal
life-guards of the Grand Master of the Maltese Order, the title taken
by the Emperor. The first Household Cavalry Corps was formed by Peter
the Great for the Coronation Day of Catherine I in 1724. The guard of
honour consisting of 60 selected guard officers was disbanded immediately
after the celebration ended. This example was followed by all the other
Peter's successors except for Peter III.
Apart from the Household Cavalry Corps taking the lead in the Russian
Cavalry Guards Paul I also established the life-guard Hussar and life-guard
Cossack corps, the life-guard regiment of Chasseurs and the life-guard
Russian Guards in the reign of Alexander I
During the stormy years of Napoleonic wars the Russian Guards restored
its bygone glory of the Russian army's elite. The Guards acquired immortal
fame on the battle fields of the Patriotic war of 1812 and foreign campaigns
of 1813 and 1814. By the end of Alexander's reign it constituted the corps
of infantry, cavalry, artillery, engineering troops and the Naval guard.
The climax of the Russian Imperial Guards victories became its triumphant
return from Paris on 30 July 1814. The household troops, led by Alexander
I, marched into the capital through the Narva Triumphal Gate. The heroic
enthusiasm and romantic state of mind that governed the Guards after the
battles and campaigns were replaced with the routine procedures at the
barracks and on the parade-grounds. The well-known "Semionovsky affair"
(16 to 18 October, 1820) became the prologue to the dramatic events of
December 1825 and January 1826.
The Guards during the Nicholas I age
The age of Nicholas I began from 14 December, 1825 - the day, that
marked the tragic events in the history of the Russian Guards - when the
life-guard Moskovsky, the life-guard Grenadiers troops and the Naval guard
took the path of an armed conflict with their companions-in-arms and fellows
from the Guards corps.
This was the decisive moment in Nicholas's attitude to the Guards for
the future 30 years. The Emperor took care of the Life-guard troops whose
loyalty helped him to enthrone, but at the same time he strived to exterminate
freedom, that was characteristic of the Guards, and introduced severe
discipline and petty regulations there. He also established some new troops
within the Guards Corps (including the famous Palace Grenadiers Company
from 2 October, 1827). During the reign of Nicholas I the Guards participated
in the Russo-Turkish war and in the war with Poland.
The Guards during the reign of Alexander II and Alexander III
These Emperors looked at the Guards as at the adherents of the Russian
military and historical traditions. They preserved the cuirassiers, hussars
and uhlans in the guards complement though in the other regiments the
dragoon troops replaced all the cuirassiers (in 1860) and all the hussars
and uhlans (in 1882) troops.
The last quarter of the 19th century saw aggravating of rank distinctions
between the army and the Guards. After the abolishment of serfdom in Russia
the wealth of the Russian nobility was badly hit and for the most part
of the officers their salary became the only way to earn the living. This
restricted greatly the access to the Guards as joining its corps was always
connected with large expences.
The Infantry Guards Corps distinguished itself during the bloody battles
of the Russo-Turkish war of 1877-78 in the reign of Alexander II. For
Russia this was the last war in the 19th century and Alexander III is
known in the official Russian history as the Emperor-peacemaker. The reform
of uniforms, conducted in 1881-82, was aimed at bringing them closer to
national traditions, however it raised grumbles in the Life-guard troops.
Many of the guardsmen retired on the grounds that they did not want to
wear the uniform of the "peasants" style. Alexander III and the Russian
Guards were not in the close alliance like the fromer emperors.
Russian Guards during the reign of the last Emperor
While Alexander I was the chief of only four Guard units Nicholas
II became the chief of more than twenty. During the seditious years of
the later part of his reign Nicholas II restored the original function
of the life-guard troops - guarding of the sovereign. The unrest in a
state and the insulting defeat in the Russo-Japanese war brought about
a number of changes. These included the reform of the guard uniform: the
guardsman in the full dress looked like the hero of the Patriotic war
of 1812. New golden and silver lace were conferred on the eleven guard
units. But the new uniform was fated to live for only a short period of
time: in 1914 the Guards took it off forever.
Being thrown in the crucible of the World War I the Russian Imperial Guards
was ruined even before the fall of the Russian Empire.
On 2 December, 1917 the last senior officer of the Life-guard Preobrazhensky
regiment Alexander Kutepov gave an order to disband the first regiment
of the Russian Imperial Guards. To follow this all the other regiments
were also disbanded. Most of the officers moved to the Don River where
the Voluntary Army was being formed. The Civil war was waiting for those
who survived the World War I. After this severe war followed an unhuman
peace where there was no place for these people.
Battle at Poltava
The officer's uniform of the Cavalry Guard regiment
of Her Majesty Empress Maria Fiodorovna, from personal belongings of Nicholas
The St George jubilee standard of the Life-guard Simeonovsky
Portrait of Paul I
General's uniform of the Life-guard Hussars regiment
Portrait of P. S. Masiukov
Large goblet in the shape of the Cavalry Guard helmet
Battle at Borodino
Peter von Hess