Her Majesty's Body Guard of the Honourable Corps of Gentlemen-at-Arms, the Sovereign's 'Nearest Guard', was instituted by King Henry VIII in 1509. The band's original role was to provide a mounted escort, armed with spear and lance, to protect the Sovereign in battle or on progress around the country.
After 1526 the Corps began to do duty at court on foot, carrying a battle-axe, as they still do today. They last acted as a royal bodyguard in battle in the Civil War of 1642-9.
Today, the duties of the Honourable Corps are ceremonial only. They involve attendance on the Sovereign at State Arrivals of foreign Heads of State, the Garter service at Windsor, the State Opening of Parliament, and the evening reception held by the Sovereign for the Diplomatic Corps. In addition, the Corps is on duty when the Sovereign attends services of the Orders of Chivalry. The Gentlemen-at-Arms also attend The Queen's garden parties, where their task is to form the lanes through which the members of the Royal Family walk.
Since 1856, when the award was instituted, twelve Gentlemen-at-Arms have been holders of the Victoria Cross, the highest award for gallantry and conspicuous bravery in the field.