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The History of the Colours
A moth-eaten rag
on a worm-eaten pole,
Colours are the symbol of the spirit of the regiment - for on them are borne the Battle Honours and badges granted to the regiment in commemoration of some of the gallant deeds performed by members of the regiment from the time that it was raised.
The origins of Colours go back to the time when a man would fix his family badge to a pole and hold it aloft in battle for the dual purpose of indicating his position and acting as a rallying point should the occasion arise. When, in the 17th Century, armies began to adopt a system of regimentation each company was allotted a Colour - a custom which persisted for about one hundred years.
In 1680, when the King’s Own was raised - as the 2nd Tangier Regiment - each Company was allotted a Colour. During the reign of William III (1689-1702) the number of Colours in a Battalion was reduced to three and by the end of the reign of Queen Anne (1702-1714) only two remained.
In 1751 instructions which were issued regulating the Colours of the infantry stated that the dimensions were to be 6’ 2” deep on the pole and 6’ 6” flying. The Royal Warrant of 1st July 1751, describes how the Colours should be: “The King’s or 1st Colour of every Regiment is to be the great Union throughout. The 2nd Colour to be the Colour of the facing of the Regiment with the Union in the upper canton; except those Regiments which are faced with red or white whose second Colour is to be the red cross of St. George, in a white field and the Union in the upper Canton. In the centre 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 on the same stalk except those Regiments which are allowed to wear any Royal device or ancient badge on whose Colours the rank of the Regiment is to be painted towards the upper corner."
In 1751 the Regiment was styled the Fourth or the King’s Own Royal Regiment and it was directed that the facing be blue. The King’s Own was also authorised to bear: “in the centre of their Colours the King’s Cypher on a red ground within the Garter and Crown over it, in the three corners of their 2nd Colour the Lion of England being their ancient badge.
The regulation dimensions of Infantry Colours were slightly reduced in 1855, still further in 1858, and again in 1868 when they became 3’ 9” and 3’ on the pole.
Also in 1888 the Crest of England took the place of the old spearhead on the staff and the Colour itself received a border of mixed gold and silk fringe.
Before Regimental Colours are taken into use they are consecrated at a special religious ceremony, a standard form for which was introduced in 1867. Prior to 1898 the old Colours were disposed of by the Colonel of the Regiment in a variety of ways, but the ‘Clothing Regulations’ of that year stated that they must be laid up in churches or public buildings, and that regulation stands today.
Colours have not been carried in battle since 26th January 1881, when the 58th Foot (later 2nd Battalion The Northamptonshire Regiment) carried them at Laing’s Nek during the Boer War in South Africa. On the grounds of the altered form of attack and of the increased range of musketry an order was published in January 1882 to the effect that Colours should no longer be carried on the battlefield.
The origin of the ceremony of ‘Trooping the Colour’ is attributed to guard mounting. At the conclusion of a day’s parade or, when on active service, after a day’s fighting, the Colours were placed in safe keeping. They were ‘lodged’ in quarters in the same way that the members of the company were lodged - this gave the ceremony the name of ‘Lodging the Colour’. It was a simple ceremony - but gradually grew in complexity and dignity until in 1753 it was incorporated into the regular Guard Mounting Parade.
The music played during the ‘Lodging’ was called a ‘Troop’ and gradually the word ‘Trooping’ ousted ‘Lodging’ as descriptive of the ceremony - hence ‘Trooping the Colour’.
© 20012Trustees of the King's Own Royal Regiment Museum