In Redcoat: The British Soldier in the Age of Horse and Musket the historian Richard Holmes writes on p. 103:

Most European armies maintained bodies of Household troops - Austria was a notable exception - in which birth and breeding were prized.

So why not Austria? They certainly set as much store by birth and breeding as anyone else in that era so it cannot have been on any democratic principle. I suspect some crazy quirk due to the Habsburg monarchy being even more patchwork than common but cannot even begin to form a specific guess.


1 Answer 1


There were five guard units formed by Maria Theresia in 1763, which were considered household troops in Austria-Hungary. These are the:

  • Arcièren-Leibgarde
  • königlich-ungarische Leibgarde
  • k.u.k. Trabantenleibgarde
  • k.u.k. Leibgardereitereskadron
  • K.u.k. Leibgardeinfanteriekompanie

The first two followed the Emperor around and were in place for representative purposes. For the Arcièren-Leibgarde, especially decorated, tall enough, good-looking enough, until 1780 Catholic and until 1807 only royal older Officers were chosen. However, the first two guard regiments were not big enough to perform any significant military operations.

The latter three regiments were likewise smaller groups (a maximum of a few hundred), but also consisted of lower-ranking military mebers. The Trabantenleibgarde performed guard-service at and around the imperial residence in Vienna (Hofburg). The Leibgardereitereskadron performed ordonnance-services, mostly as couriers. The Leibgardeinfanteriekompanie was tasked to keep order around the imperial residences and gardens and the castles Schönbrunn and Laxenburg.

At least regarding the first two guard regiments, optics were everything, which would have included "birth and breeding", although their size might have been smaller than for equivalent other powers, which may be what Richard Holmes is alluding to.

A background to its comparably small size and late adoption is likely (aside from Austria-Hungarys multinational character) because Maria Theresias military reforms attempted to modernize the mainly imperial (i.e. Holy Roman Empire) army into a more Austrian army and reduce inefficiencies, among them over-reliance on the feudal nobility. Wilhelm von Haugwitz tasked with this change tried to change the army away from a feudal aristocractic instutition to a more modern army, which would influence the size of the created guard units.

Sources on German Wikipedia: https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arci%C3%A8ren-Leibgarde

Sources on Maria Theresia's reforms: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maria_Theresa#Reforms

Sources on Haugwitz: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Friedrich_Wilhelm_von_Haugwitz

  • Presumably "k.u.k." was not part of their names in 1763!
    – C Monsour
    Commented Apr 27, 2021 at 13:41
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    @CMonsour: Why? The Habsburgs were kings of Hungary from 1526–1780 independent from their ability to get elected as Emperor. Note that "k.u.k" appears to be a German abbreviation for "kaiserlich und koniglich", meaning "imperial and royal" and referring to the Habsburgs in their.roles as both Holy Roman (later Austrian) Emperor and King of Hungary. Commented Apr 27, 2021 at 14:26
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    @PieterGeerkens It is my understanding that the use of that phrase was imposed upon the creation of the dual monarchy in 1867. FWIW Wikipedia appears to agree.
    – C Monsour
    Commented Apr 27, 2021 at 14:46
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    Also, the HRE institutions had a long tradition not owned by the emperor (e.g., the Kreise) and would not readily have been combined with kingdom of Hungary institutions.
    – C Monsour
    Commented Apr 27, 2021 at 14:50
  • Also HRE was not Habsburg property, as Karl VII can attest, so that combining institutions would have made little sense.
    – C Monsour
    Commented Apr 27, 2021 at 14:54

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