Thursday, May 21, 2009

Royal Guardians Profile: The Walloon Guards

Back when the modern Low Countries were known as the Spanish Netherlands the King of Spain recruited an elite body of troops from the area that is now Belgium known as the Walloon Guards. Despite the modern conotations of the time the force originally consisted of soldiers from Flanders, Brabant and Wallonia . The Walloon Guards later joined the ranks of the Spanish Royal Guard entrusted with protecting the King but the first were 4,000 men organized into elite regiments. Recruits were chosen on the basis of their size, strength, speed and courage and the troops were used to lead the way in assaults (what today might be called shock troops) and to cover the rest of the army in the event of a retreat. When the Netherlands became independent and Belgium became the Austrian Netherlands Belgian troops continued to serve as elite forces in the Spanish army.

King Philip V of Spain increased them and raised them to the status of royal guards, charging them with his own protection, guarding palaces and such duties as well as their previous task of maintaining law and order and protecting the peace in Spain itself. New recruits were organized from an office in Liege and 4 to 500 men per year were enlisted and sent to Spain to serve in the Walloon Guards in the Flanders, Brabant and Brussells regiments. Their proud tradition of service lasted until 1794 when Belgium was conquered by the armies of the French Revolution, however, although the line infantry and cavalry regiments were dispersed the Walloons serving as royal guards lasted until 1820 when the final Royal Walloon Guard regiment was dissolved. Throughout their history the Walloon Guards fought in the Wars of the Polish and Austrian Successions as well as the Peninsular War. One of their last and more famous commanders was the first Duke of Valencia who later went on to great fame fighting for Isabella II in the Carlist Wars. Their honorable service and their reputation for being the bravest and toughest reminds one of the words of the great Julius Caesar who said of his wars in Gaul, "Of all these, the Belgians are the strongest".

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