Field Marshal Earl Ligonier - RDG Museum

RDG Museum

Field Marshal Earl Ligonier - RDG Museum


Colonel of the Regiment for twenty-nine years

A great historian said of Field Marshal Earl Ligonier that "by universal consent he was regarded, whether in the field or in Council, as one of the most brilliant and accomplished soldiers that ever served the British Crown". His biographer put it more simply. Ligonier was Britain's "greatest general between Marlborough and Wellington". Both were writing of his service to King and country in the Seven Years War (1756-63) when as commander-in-chief of the British Army he was to the Elder Pitt, who brought victory and an Empire to Britain, as Alanbrooke was to Churchill in our own day.

That great service was "in Council". In the field, as his monument in Westminster Abbey records, he took part in nineteen sieges, twenty-three general actions, ten of them celebrated battles, from Blenheim in 1704 to Laffeldt in 1747. In his greatest days he commanded, from 1720 to 1749, the 8th Regiment of Horse, known as the Black Horse from the facings on its uniforms. They were the forerunners of the 7th Dragoon Guards and hence of today's Royal Dragoon Guards.

So revered was he by officers and men that they called themselves "Ligoniers" (pronounced like Grenadiers, or Fusiliers) until well into the twentieth century. In 1962 the commanding officer unveiled a bust to Ligonier in his birthplace of Castres in the Languedoc.

For Ligonier was a Frenchman, a Huguenot refugee who escaped to England in 1697 and obtained a commission in the army of William III after distinguishing himself in Flanders. In 1720 he took command of the 8th Regiment of Horse, known, by the facings on its uniforms, as the Black Horse. He had already won battle honours in Marlborough's great battles of Ouendarde, Malplaquet and Blenheim and was to do so again, under George II's favourite son the Duke of Cumberland (whose military tutor Ligonier had been), at Dettingen and Fontenoy, when commanding the Black Horse.

The regiment had been stationed in Ireland in the preceding years of peace, when it was recognized as an example to all other units for its training, equipment, professionalism and high morale. Of particular merit was the care Colonel Sir John Ligonier, as he then was, took of the men's health, diet and general well-being.

He was translated to the 2nd Dragoon Guards when nearly seventy, later to the 1st Guards and, in succession to Cumberland, he became Master-General of the Ordnance and Commander-in-Chief, in 1757. Then came the Seven Years War in which he, under the Elder Pitt, was the organiser of victory. He was still a serving officer when he died in his ninetieth year, in 1770. An obituarist wrote that "in him the soldier has lost a real friend: one who in public and private life did honour to humanity". That was certainly how the soldiers of the Black Horse and its successors remembered him, and he should not be forgotten today.

Randolph Vigne

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