Originally, a 17th century dragoon was a mounted infantryman, who would ride his horse to battle, dismount and fight using his sword or firearms. Should dragoons be victorious, they could re-mount and pursue their retreating foe. Should they be defeated, the dragoons could mount and retreat.
Dragoons originated in 17th century France where the shortened musket known as a ‘dragon’ was their principal firearm.
Dragoons were cheaper for the British government to raise, feed and maintain since their horses were smaller and of inferior quality to those of true cavalry and the soldiers were paid less than other cavalry soldiers. Dragoons were particularly suited to operations over rough terrain and against irregular or guerrilla forces. Companies of dragoons were first raised by King Louis XIV of France for deployment against French Protestants known as Huguenots. King Charles II of Great Britain raised and deployed Scots dragoons against the Covenanters, Protestants who threatened the stability of the king’s government in south-western Scotland.
The last time that The Royal North British Dragoons fought in the role of mounted infantry was at Glenshiel in 1719. As the 18th century progressed, the role of dragoons changed to one of cavalry, operating solely on horseback. Today’s Regiment, after more than three centuries as cavalry – despite dismounted duties in the trenches of the Western Front during the First World War, has now reverted to service as dragoons.