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vrijdag 2 mei 2014

The first military unit in Bruges

I was reading on the military history of Bruges and found out which was the very first military unit ever founded and based in Bruges. And it was kind of a surprise! This is a story the British are going to love, and maybe some of you will say “no, really?”
The year is 1651 and King Charles the first is kindly requested to step down. Well, kindly… He’s executed! Funny little detail: for his execution he asked to have two shirts to wear. That way he wouldn’t shiver too much and give the impression he was afraid of the executioner.
Now England was a republic, with Protector Oliver Cromwell leading the country. The son of Charles the first, Charles the second (real easy sometimes) could get away from the executioners by escaping on time to the mainland. He stayed a while in Paris, spend some time in Cologne and finally chose the quiet (but still prestigious) Bruges. He arrived here on April 23rd 1656. With his brothers, Henry Duke of Gloucester and James Duke of York he moved in a house complex in the Hoogstraat (High street).
Charles’ stay was noticed, not difficult with 175 people personnel. And he had the nickname of “the Merry Monarch”, living up to it. He was an active member of the Bruges archers’ societies of St. Sebastian (longbow), St George (crossbow) and St Barbara (arquebusses).
He was member of the Longbow society of St. Sebastian, but did you know the British Queen, Her Royal Highness Elizabeth II is a member of this society today? Prince Charles became member in 1974. So Bruges has really close connections with the British Islands!
But, it was in Bruges Charles took the first steps in preparation on returning to England to claim his throne. Already a few weeks after arriving in Bruges the recruitment of a new army started. He found volunteers among the English refugees, but also with the people of the city.
It is those Flemish soldiers who went with Charles, stayed in England and had influence on the language. A “tattoo”, not the painting of skin, but the military evening parade is an example. I think almost everyone knows the famous ‘Tattoo of Edinburgh’. The word “tattoo” comes from the Flemish “Tap toe”, of “closing the barrel”, maybe you know it as “Last Call”? Not a popular signal when in celebration with you friends in arms. Because it wasn’t so popular, they gave the signal in the form of a musical event with a band or a parade.
But the unit, I promised you that!

Charles II created the unit “The Royal Regiment of Guards”. When you see the first uniforms, you won’t know what I’m talking about here. The name changed somewhere in time to “The First Regiment of Foot Guards”. But, much later, after the battle at Waterloo, when the unit was victorious over the French Grenadiers of Napoleon (Garde ImpĂ©riale) there was one last change in name to “The First or Grenadier Regiment of Foot Guards”. Still doesn’t ring a bell? 
It’s at that moment the uniform changes to what we know today: the bearskins are the most known item on their uniform, the scarlet vest is also pretty known.
It’s this unit that marches into Brussels in 1944 after liberating it from the German troops.
So that is the most famous unit of Great Brittan, founded right here in Bruges. When you’re visiting London and you’re taking a picture next to one of those men, think about it.