In Collaboration With Charles Griffin

Raising of the Light Dragoons 1759
The first light cavalry units were Troops added to existing Dragoon and Dragoon Guard regiments in 1756. They proved their worth and in 1759 it was decided to raise a regiment of Light Dragoons which became the 15th. Four other Light Dragoon regiments were raised soon afterwards which became the 16th, 17th, 18th and 21st Light Dragoons.

The 15th was raised by George Augustus Eliott, Lieut-Colonel of the 2nd Troop of Horse Grenadier Guards, under a warrant dated 17th March 1759. The regiment was to have six Troops, each consisting of 3 sergeants, 3 corporals, 2 drummers, 1 hautboy, and 60 privates. Many of the recruits were tailors who happened to be on strike at the time.

Another warrant dated 15th May 1759 for making assignments of the officer reckonings is headed 'the 15th (or LIGHT) REGT. of DRAGOONS'.

Battle of Emsdorf 1760
Battle of Emsdorf
The 15th embarked for Germany in June 1760. The overall command of the allied army was given to the Erbprinz of Hesse-Kassel and the army was made up of Hanoverians, Hessians and others. The only British regiment was the 15th Light Dragoons, who had not previously seen any action. The French forces under Marshal Glaubitz were camped at Emsdorf in Hesse. On 16th July the Allies attempted a surprise attack. The 15th were required to charge the enemy on three separate occasions as Glaubitz tried to out-manoeuvre them. The second charge caused the regiment great loss of life. But over all they captured large numbers of Frenchmen and also their Colours and cannons.

The Allies had suffered 186 casualties compared with 1,000 of the French. The 15th were the worst hit, with 125 casualties and 168 horses killed and wounded. The weather had been very hot, causing the death by heatstroke, of six men of the regiment. The actions of the 15th were a sensation which brought great credit to the British. The regiment became a 'Royal' regiment as a result, and were the first British regiment to be granted a battle honour: EMSDORF. The officers helmets were adorned with the new badge on a trophy of arms and enemy flags, and wording around the edge of the upturned peak: FIVE BATTALIONS OF FRENCH DEFEATED AND TAKEN BY THIS REGIMENT WITH THEIR COLOURS AND NINE PIECES OF CANNON, ON THE PLAINS OF EMSDORF, JULY THE SIXTEENTH 1760

French Revolutionary War

Villiers-en-Couche 1794

Gold Medal
A British force was sent to the Low Countries to defend Holland against the French Revolutionary army. It was commanded by the Duke of York and included 14 cavalry regiments of which the 15th was one. On 24th April 1794, they, with a regiment of Austrian hussars charged a large body of French Cavalry. It turned out to be a trick and when the cavalry moved to one side a battery of artillery was revealed. But the French guns misfired and there were few casualties - at first. They charged into French Infantry who were dispersed. However, it was a hard fight and the regiment suffered many wounded but surprisingly few killed. The French had the most casualties; one farrier of the 15th was said to have killed 21 of the enemy that day.

The spelling of the name of this battle has changed over the years. The battle honour was granted in 1818 as VILLIERS-EN-COUCHE. Officers sabretaches from 1830-1902 have the honour embroidered as VILLIERS EN COUCHIE. In 1911 the spelling changed to VILLERS-EN-CAUCHIE (note, Villers with only one i). One outcome of the battle was a lasting connection with Austria. The Emperor Francis II gave a gold medal to each of the officers of the regiment and later presented them with the Order of Maria Theresa. The officers were:
Major William Aylett
Captain Pocklington
Captain Ryan
Lieutenant Calcraft
Lieutenant Keir
Cornet Blunt
Cornet Butler
Cornet Wilson

Also the gold lace worn on officer's uniforms and horse furniture was, in future, woven in the Austrian Wave pattern.

Willems 1794

Two weeks later, on 10th May 1794, at Willems, the regiment broke several French infantry squares. It was the first time the French had used that formation. For some reason the battle honour WILLEMS was only granted to the regiment in 1909. They also fought very bravely at the battle of Tourcoing, saving the army from a complete disaster. It was a defeat, however, so no battle honour was granted.

Battle of Egmont
Over all the campaign was a failure and the Duke of York was censured for it. Most of the army embarked for England in April 1795 but the 15th remained for another 7 months. There were 400 all ranks when they sailed, in early December, to arrive at North Shields.

Egmont-op-Zee 1799

The Dutch were divided between Royalists and Republicans during this war. The British sent a large force, to support the Royalists, which landed at the Helder peninsula. The 15th took part in an attack on Bergen-op-Zoom. Two weeks later the attack on Bergen was renewed and the 15th skirmished along the sandy coastline with French Hussars for six miles. They were involved in the repulse of a counter-attack by the French in front of the town of Egmont-op-Zee. This was a victory for the British so the 15th were granted a battle honour nearly 30 years later on 8th April 1828.

Conversion to Hussars 1807
There was a short lull in the war between Britain and France after the Treaty of Amiens in March 1802. The French, under Napoleon, renewed hostilities in 1803. The army was put on the alert again and regimental strengths increased. The 15th Light Dragoons numbered around 900 and were stationed in Britain. During this time, in 1807, they were converted to hussars. The Prince of Wales was very keen on this change, and enthusiastically supported by his brother, the Duke of Cumberland, who happened to be Colonel of the 15th at the time. The change required little change in the uniform, already hussar in style, except for the introduction of the fur cap which offered scant protection for the head.
Peninsula War 1808 - 1814
In 1808 they sailed for the Iberian Peninsula to help the Portuguese and Spanish fight Napoleon. They landed at Corunna between the 12th and 15th November 1808. The regiment was part of an expeditionary force of 17,000 men under Sir David Baird, who were to link up with Sir John Moore's army. The commander of the cavalry was Lord Paget, later Lord Uxbridge. The regiment was under the command of Lt-Col Colquhoun Grant, and had 8 Troops of 85 men each.

Sahagun 1808

The 15th led Baird's force to the rendezvous with Moore, at Mayorga on the 19th December 1808. On the 21st December, the regiment's most famous battle took place at Sahagun, 18 miles north-east of Mayorga. In this action, the 10th Hussars moved to confront the French cavalry on the north side of the town while the 15th approached from the south to cut them off if they retreated. The 10th were under the command of the unpopular Brigadier Slade who hesitated as the French dragoons started to withdraw, so Lord Paget ordered the 15th to charge. They were glad to have some action, as they were frozen.

They had to charge uphill, over a ditch and across broken, snow-covered ground. The French Chasseurs a Cheval and Dragoons remained stationary for some reason, and only fired a few shots at the 15th. The impact of the charge was terrifying. Men and horses were bowled over and slashed with sabres, shrieks and swearing clearly heard above the din. After ten minutes, the French broke and fled, leaving many dead or dying. Out of 420 Frenchmen only 200 escaped death or capture. The 15th Hussars casualties amounted to only two killed and 23 wounded. The head wounds received by the hussars were much worse than those of the French Dragoons who wore brass helmets, and the Chasseurs whose fur caps were reinforced with iron hoops instead of the pasteboard used in British hussar fur caps.

SAHAGUN became the principle battle honour of the 15th after it was granted in 1832. It was celebrated every 21st December with a ritual that required the officers to take rum and coffee to the men at dawn. The band played The Sahagun Song which was composed by a private of the regiment and sung at the first anniversary of the battle in the presence of the Colonel, the Duke of Cumberland. The song is ten verses long, some of the lines are as follows:

With our glittering broadswords right at them we sped,
They turned threes about and away they all fled.

We soon overtook them as frightened they fled Cut through the brass helmets they wore on their head.

The final verse:

The Spaniards turned out of the town of Sahagun
To welcome the Fifteenth, the King's Light Dragoons,
With jugs full of wine, our thirst for to quench,
Crying, "Long live the English and down with the French"

The pronunciation of Sahagun would appear to be Sahagoon.

We shall be worthy
Quick: The Bold King's Hussars
Slow: Elliot's Light Horse
1759 - 1881
Lieutenant Colonels
1759 - 1881
1759 - 1881
1759 - 1881
1759 - 1881
1759 - 1881
1759 - 1881
1759 - 1881
Battle Honours
Seven Years War (1756-63)

French Revolutionary Wars 1793-1802

Peninsular War 1808-14

Hundred Days 1815

Second Afghan War 1878-80

1759 15th Light Dragoons or Elliott's Light Horse
1766 1st Regiment of King's Light Dragoons
1769 15th (or the King's) Regiment of (Light) Dragoons
1806 15th the King's Light Dragoons (Hussars)
1861 15th (The King's) Hussars
Further Reading
XVth (The King's) Hussars 1759-1913
by H C Wylly
(Caxton 1914)

Light Dragoons - The Origins of a New Regiment
by Allan Mallinson
(Leo Cooper 1993)

The Prince's Dolls - Scandals, Skirmishes and Splendours of the first British Hussars 1793 - 1815
by John Mollo
(Leo Cooper 1997)

15th The King's Hussars - Dress and Appointments 1759 - 1914
by Alan Kemp
(Almark 1972)

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by Stephen Luscombe