Wednesday, 22 September 2010

The Queen's Body Guard for Scotland - The Royal Company of Archers

One of the notable points of Pope Benedict XVI's recent state visit to the United Kingdom was His Holiness's reception by HM The Queen at the Palace of Holyroodhouse. The Holy Father is only the second head of state to have commenced a UK state visit in Scotland (the first was HM The King of Norway). A meeting between the Pontifex Maximus and Vicar of Christ and the Defender of the Faith and Supreme Governor of the Church of England should always be accorded the greatest honour and dignity. Upon his arrival at the Palace the Supreme Pontiff was greeted by a smart row of elderly gentlemen, dandily attired in green tunics, wearing eagle-feathered bonnets and clutching longbows. Many observers, expecting the traditional red-tunic-and-bear-skinned guardsmen of London postcard fame, will have no doubt been perplexed by this sight. This elite band of merry men are part of one of Scotland's most exclusive bodies: The Queen's Body Guard for Scotland - The Royal Company of Archers.

The Sovereign’s “Body Guard for Scotland” came into existence in 1676 as a private archery club – a function it maintains to this day. Accorded the title of “The King’s Company of Archers” by the Scottish Privy Council, the Company received its Royal Charter from the last Stuart Sovereign (Queen Anne) in 1704. According to tradition, in exchange for “perpetual access to all public butts, plains and pasturages legally allotted for shootings arrows”, the Royal Company of Archers must, upon request, provide the Sovereign with three arrows.

There being no extant “King’s Body Guard for Scotland” in the early nineteenth century, the Royal Company seized the opportunity to provide this service during King George IV’s famous visit to Edinburgh in 1822. In preparation for the visit the Royal Company donned uniforms designed by Walter Scott and swore an oath in the presence of the Duke of Montrose. George IV’s successful visit marked the Royal Company’s debut as escort and bodyguard to the Sovereign.

Today the Royal Company’s membership numbers approximately five hundred and thirty. The Officers of the Order include the Captain General (who serves as Gold Stick for Scotland), four Captains, four Lieutenants, four Ensigns and twelve Brigadiers. Members must be Scottish or, in exceptional cases, have a demonstrated connection with Scotland. Knowledge of archery is also an asset. The Royal Company meets and practices archery in Archer’s Hall. The Royal Company’s ceremonial function includes attendance at St. Gile’s Cathedral in Edinburgh for the installation of new Knights of the Thistle, attendance at garden parties at the Palace of Holyroodhouse and attendance at the presentation of Colours for Scottish regiments.

The Royal Company’s field uniform consists of a dark green tunic with black facings, dark green trousers and a Balmoral bonnet with the Royal Company’s badge and an eagle feather. As with Clan Chiefs, the Captain General (who carries a stick with a gold top) wears three feathers in his cap.

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