Livgardet at 500
Before the Swedes discovered heavily-armed neutrality in 1814, they had perhaps the fiercest military in Northern Europe, frequently engaged under the command of fighting king Gustavus Adolphus and the subsequent trio of Carolean ruler/warlords – Charles X, Charles XI, and Charles XII– everywhere the waters of the Baltic touched and beyond. With that in mind, it should be no surprise that the oldest and most renowned unit in the Swedish military, whose ensign carries a score of hard-earned battle honors, is the modern Livgardet, or Life Guards.
Today’s unit was formed from an amalgamation of the Svea Livgardet (who had previously absorbed the I 13/Fo 53 Dalarna and I 14/Fo 21 Hälsinge Regiments, which dated to 1625 and 1630 respectively) and the Life Guard Dragoons, with the senior infantry regiment dating to a group of 16 volunteers from the Central Swedish town Dalarna, selected in 1521 to serve as bodyguards for Gustav I.
Some 2,600-strong today, besides its ceremonial duties as the royal family’s household troops and public taskings (performed by the 10. Livbataljonen, the King’s Guards Battalion, which includes a horse guard element), the Livgardet also includes the only active-duty MP battalion in the Swedish Army (11. Militärpolisbataljonen), a mechanized battalion equipped with Patria AMV 8x8s (12. Lätta mekaniserade bataljonen), a constabulary/counterintelligence battalion for securing the capital (13. Säkerhetsbataljonen), runs Sweden’s military working dog school, maintains the country’s primary martial bands (three of them!), and provides training and organization to six battalions of the home guard stationed around Stockholm.
Make no mistake, they are no chocolate soldiers. Much like the guards units of other European armies, they train for a real-world wartime mission. The Livgardet specialize in urban warfare and combat in the country’s heavily forested areas, training regularly for wartime missions.
In honor of the 500th anniversary of the Livgardet this year, one of the most metal bands in the world, Sweden’s own Sabaton– who hail from Dalarna where the unit was born no less– this week released an English dub of The Royal Guard. The Swedish version, which released last month, already has over 2 million views on YT.
The video, in true Sabaton fashion, is a bit bloody and over the top, showing the band as 18th Century royal guards fighting off a swarm of Turkic Janissaries in the throne room, but it does have some basis in reality. In 1713, Charles XII, Tsar Peter the Great’s regular nemesis, was hiding out in Ottoman-controlled Moldova with a small band of his royal guard when he outstayed his welcome and scrapped with the locals at Bender in what was widely regarded as a swirling and confused action, with the Swedish king at times even sniping at the Ottomans with a carbine from cover until his forces were captured.
Nonetheless, the motto of the Livgardet is Possunt nec posse videntur (roughly, “They do what appears to be impossible”)