The Gentlemen at Arms Uniform
As part of London Craft Week, military tailor Jules Walker gave a captivating talk explaining the intricacies of her work. Jules brought along to the National Army Museum, two Gentlemen at Arms uniforms.
Both of the uniforms shown had been in use at King Charles III’s Coronation just days previously.
The Gentlemen at Arms are more properly known as His Majesty’s Body Guard of the Honourable Corps of Gentlemen at Arms. Their history goes back 500 years to their foundation by King Henry VIII in 1509 as the Sovereign’s close bodyguard. To join the Corps, retired Army officers have to of reached the rank of Major or above.
Several Corps members have served in the Royal Air Force and Royal Marines, although none are from the Royal Navy. This anomaly is due to one of those quaint British ceremonial twists and turns. Royal Navy officers are assumed to be loyal so are not requited to swear the Oath of Allegiance, but this is not considered good enough for the Corps.
In 2022, the House of Lords Chief Whip Baroness Williams became the fourth female Captain of the Corps and the first to wear a uniform were previous female Captains had worn a broach. So, amongst all the Coronation work, a new uniform was needed.
Gieves and Hawkes
Jules is a tailor in the military department at Gieves and Hawkes tailors located in 1 Saville Row, the West London street traditionally associated with tailoring in London. Gieves (founded 1785) bought Hawkes (founded 1771) in 1974 to form Gieves and Hawkes.
At ceremonial events, Jules is to be found in close proximity with her needlework box to cover emergency repairs. The box also includes some more unusual not normally used by tailors. Spanners and screwdrivers are there to carry out running repairs to the helmets.
The uniform’s intricate, hand made, embroidery is by Hand and Lock, a company with a history stretching back to 1767.
The Officer’s Uniform
The uniform is that of a British Army Heavy Dragoons Officer which dates back to the 1840s. The tassels on the epaulettes are rigid, on other ceremonial uniforms they are free flowing.
The Captain’s Uniform
The run up to the coronation meant long hours for the military tailors to get uniforms ready for the big day. In amongst all the expected work there was also the need to create a female uniform for Baroness Williams in her newly appointed role as Captain.
King Charles approved design options, the most obvious difference of the finished uniform is a skirt. There are other detail changes. The aiguillettes (decorative ropework) and rank markings on the epaulettes are smaller to keep in proportion with the uniform’s size.
Another small change that created a lot of work was the collar change from closed to slightly open V. This required alteration to the standard collar embroidery by Hand and Lock.
The white plumage is goose and swan feathers carefully stitched together. The plumage attaches to the helmet on a spike held in place by a screw inside the helmet.
From furthest to closest the medals mounted are:
- Distinguished Service Order
- Order of the British Empire
- General Service Medal with Northern Ireland Clasp
- Iraq Campaign Medal with Oak Leaf denoting a Mention in Dispatches
- Queen Elizabeth II Golden Jubilee Medal
- Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal
- Queen Elizabeth II Platinum Jubilee Medal
- King Charles III Coronation Medal
- Accumulated Campaign Service Medal
The King Charles III Coronation Medal, second from the right, was one of the first to be seen mounted. The medal will eventually be presented to 400,000 people.
The King Charles III’s (with Queen Camilla behind him) portrait faces to the left, the opposite direction to Queen Elizabeth II. Medals portray monarchs facing the alternate direction to their predecessor.