ORDERS OF PRECEDENCE
- The Permanent or Standing Army
- The Establishments
- Orders of Precedence
- Regimental Numbers
- The Reforms of 1881
- The Effects of the Order of Precedence
To help understand a little more about the background it might be useful to take a look at the order of precedence of Regiments of the British Army; who is more senior to who, why, and what this means in practice.
The Permanent or Standing Army
Historically there was considerable argument in Britain about whether the country should have a permanent or “standing” army, or whether the army should be raised and disbanded only when required. Raising and disbanding regiments was, of course, the cheaper option.
By the 1660s the standing army was sufficiently large for disputes to break out between the Colonels of regiments as to which regiments were more “senior” than the others and therefore entitled to stand in a particular order in the line of battle, march ahead of others in the line of march and be listed by order of seniority.
The word “Establishment” needs a little explanation as establishments are relevant to the question of precedence. In the military context establishment means organisation and an organised body of troops maintained at the expense of any sovereign or state for a military purpose. Establishment can also mean the quota of officers and men that make up a ship, a regiment or a squadron.
In Great Britain and Ireland there were historically three establishments or military organisations, the English, the Scotch (Scots or Scottish) and the Irish. These separate establishments were a reflection of the history of the three separate Kingdoms with their once independent government, defence and tax raising status.
The separate standing armies of Scotland and Ireland ceased to exist in 1689 as purely Scottish and Irish Defence Forces and became one British Army. This British Army had three establishments, the English, the Scottish and the Irish and the regiments and men which made up those establishments were stationed indiscriminately in each of the three Kingdoms, regardless of nationality.
The Scottish Establishment ceased to exist after the Act of Union of 1707 and the Irish Establishment after the Act of Union of 1800. The establishment is thereafter referred to as the British Establishment.
The Orders of Precedence
Orders of Precedence were first set down for the Army in the Royal Warrant of 12th September 1666.
For the preventing of all Questions and Disputes that might arise for and concerning the Ranks of several Regiments, Troops and Companies which now are or at any time hereafter shall be employed in our Service. We have thought good to issue out these following Rules and Directions.
First as to the Foot, that the Regiment of the Guards (Grenadier) take place of all other Regiments….the General’s regiment (Coldstream) to take place next, the Admiral’s immediately after, and all other Regiments and Colonels to take place according to the date of their Commissions.
2nd. As to the Horse, that the three Troops of Guards (Life Guards) take place before all others…That the King’s Regiment of Horse (Royal Horse Guards) take place immediately after the Guards….
A further Warrant was issued on 6th February 1684 and this included those regiments that had been in the Garrison at Tangier, including the Royal Scots, who were placed, by virtue of the date that they were raised, at the head of the list of Regiments of Foot and immediately behind the Guards.
This order of seniority was changed by King William’s Royal Warrant of 10th June 1694 which ordered that a regiment’s seniority dated not from the date of its raising but from the date that it entered the English Establishment. There was considerable confusion and dissatisfaction and eventually in 1718 a Board convened to examine competing claims and lay down a new order of precedence of the regiments. The resulting list owed more to the power and influence of individual Colonels than it did to either logic or historical accuracy.
The formal numbering of regiments to indicate their place in the Order of Precedence dates from a Clothing Warrant of 1747 dealing with Regimental Colours.
In the center of each colour is to be painted or embroidered in Gold Roman characters the number of the rank of the regiment within a wreath of roses and thistles.
As regiments on the list were disbanded the identifying numbers of regiments were changed and thus the system was by no means static. For example the Black Watch originally numbered 43rd in 1739 were renumbered 42nd in 1758 and the Gordon Highlanders raised as the 100th in 1794 were renumbered 92nd in 1798.
By 1861 the order of precedence was firmly laid down and it included those regiments transferred from the East India Company after the Mutiny. The list was headed by the Royal Horse Artillery followed by the Life Guards (numbered 1st and 2nd), Royal Horse Guards, Dragoon Guards (numbered 1st to 7th), Dragoons, Hussars and Lancers (numbered 1st to 21st), Royal Regiment of Artillery, Corps of Royal Engineers, Foot Guards, Infantry of the Line (numbered 1st to 109th) and the Rifle Brigade.
It was at this period that the numbers became treasured identifying marks of each regiment as well as a simple statement of their position in the Order of Precedence. The key numbers to remember in respect of the Scottish Regiments are:
- 2nd Royal North British Dragoons (Scots Greys)
- Scots Fusilier Guards (Scots Guards) no number
- 1st or Royal Regiment, Royal Scots)
- 21st (Royal North British) Fusiliers
- 26th Cameronian Regiment
- 42nd (The Royal Highland) Regiment (The Black Watch)
- 71st (Highland) Light Infantry
- 72nd (Duke of Albany’s Own Highlanders) Regiment
- 73rd (Perthshire) Regiment
- 74th (Highland) Regiment
- 75th (Stirlingshire) Regiment
- 78th (Highland) Regiment or The Ross-shire Buffs
- 79th Regiment or Cameron Highlanders
- 90th Perthshire Light Infantry
- 91st (Argyllshire) Regiment
- 93rd (Sutherland Highlanders) Regiment
- 94th (The Scots Brigade) (disbanded 1818)
- 99th (Lanarkshire) Regiment (formerly 99th (Jamaica) Foot. 1824 99th (Lanarkshire) Foot. 1874 99th (The Duke of Edinburgh’s) Foot.
The Reforms of 1881
The reform of Army organisation in 1881 swept away the numbering system but retained the existing order of precedence. With the exception of the Cameron Highlanders, which remained the only single battalion in the British Army, each of the old numbered regiments was linked with another regiment by a common name and called the 1st and 2nd Battalions. The order of precedence of the new regiment was taken from the lowest number of the forming parts. For example the 71st and 74th joined to form The Highland Light Infantry and the order of precedence was taken from the number 71.
The Effects of the Order of Precedence
The Order of Precedence has long ceased to have any importance in respect of the position of a regiment in the actual line of battle. It still however determines their place on parade, in listings such as the Army List and in minor details such as the order in which Regimental Marches are played on Dinner Nights.
While the numbers served to reinforce the regimental system and are still quoted with pride, it is doubtful if they now have any primary relevance or function. It had always for example been assumed that further amalgamations or disbandments would reflect the Order of Precedence, the highest numbers being the first to be disbanded. With the amalgamation of the Royal Scots (1st) and the King’s Own Scottish Borderers (25th) and the reversal of the order of the 51st and 52nd Volunteers to the 7th and 6th Battalions of the Royal Regiment of Scotland respectively this is clearly not the case and although the numbers have officially been out of use for over one hundred years they are still referred to and now survive as a confusing anomaly.