The origination of the Czechoslovak Republic on October 28th, 1918, first spawned the need for a unit tasked with guarding and defending the seat of the President at the Prague Castle.
On November 14, 1918, the Constitutional congress elected Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk the first President of Czechoslovakia. His name is associated with developing security of the Prague Castle and facilities in Lány and Topoľčianky used by the Czechoslovak President for temporary residence.
On December 7, 1918, theMilitary High Command of the Czechoslovak Republic established an infantry century (company equivalent) to provide military security to the Prague Castle compound as a component of the 28th Infantry Regiment in Prague. It was collocated with the 28th Infantry Regiment in the Smíchov barracks. That was the first organic unit ever with primary mission to guard the Prague Castle.
In 1919, the Office of the President was established, including a military section to provide liaison between the President and the Czechoslovak Armed Forces of which he was the Commander-in-Chief. The Military Section included the Castle Commander, whose responsibilities included exercising command and control over the Castle Guard.
The Castle Guard’s composition in 1918-1920 may not be exactly established, but it is certain that initially, following the origination of the Czechoslovak Republic, the Sokol Community of Hradčany guarded the Prague Castle. Later on, they were replaced by the legionnaires who fought in the ranks of Entente Powers in Russia, Italy and France.
In 1920, the Military Act No. 193/20 Coll. was promulgated, which contained the legal definition of national security.
The Lány chateau became the seat of the President in 1921 to be used chiefly by T. G. Masaryk. The facility in Topoľčianky, Slovakia, was used for relaxation and working visits in Slovakia.
In 1922, a policy document was developed with the title "Organisation and Function of the Castle Guard" and signed by the President. The policy document completed the build-up of the Castle Guard, which initially comprised the total of 195 commissioned officers and limited contract NCOs. Also, new ceremonies were designed by Dr. J. Guth-Jarkovský, whose principal outlines are still followed today. The third major document issued in 1922 summarised the principles for manning the Castle Guard with members of the Czechoslovak Armed Forces.
Throughout the first the decade of the Castle Guard’s existence, discussions took place between the Military Section of the Office of the President and the Ministry of National Defence concerning uniforms and individual equipment. Only in 1929 then Minister of National Defence approved for the Castle Guard to wear historical uniforms of Czechoslovak Legionnaires from the French, Italian and Russian front. They were worn for the first time on October 28, 1929, on the occasion of festivities honouring the anniversary of the Czechoslovak Republic, which remained the case continuously until the May 1938 mobilisation.
International situation further escalated in 1936-1938 and the pressure Nazi Germany applied to Czechoslovakia grew ever stronger. The Castle Guard continued to perform its assignments nevertheless and was ready following the September 1938 mobilisation to defend the Prague Castle as the seat of the President of the Czechoslovak Republic.
Following the occupation of Czechoslovakia by German forces on March 15, 1939, the Castle Guard served at the Prague Castle until its abolishment on June 29. From July 1939 on, its responsibilities were taken over by the 1st Battalion of the newly established Protectorate Army, which started guarding the President’s seat in Lány and then also the Prague Castle in November 1939. As the only one of the Protectorate Army’s twelve battalions, the 1st battalion was never used for any purpose other than guarding the seat of the Protectorate President and was also never deployed outside the territory of the Protectorate. That nevertheless did not involve securing the whole Prague Castle, but a very small part of it, as majority of the premises were guarded by German troops. This further intensified as the diseased "State President" Emil Hácha stayed at Lány. The state of subordination and obedience lasted until the uprising of the Czech peoples in May 1945. German forces cut the Prague Castle off and some Czech patriots were executed down in the Deer Moat in the Castle area.
On May 12, 1945, the Protectorate Army was abolished upon the order by the Minister of National Defence and members of security of the President of the Czechoslovak Republic Edvard Beneš whilst in London took over the Prague Castle’s security for a limited period of time.
In 1945-1948, the Castle Guard was again built along the model that had been in place during the existence of pre-war Czechoslovakia. The Castle Guard’s manning was diverse, ranging from members of foreign resistance to members of the former 1st Battalion the Protectorate Army. The commander of security unit protecting President Edvard Beneš whilst exiled in London, LTC Novák, became the Commander of the Castle Guard, and LTC Chrastina became his deputy. The division of some competences between the Castle Guard and the members of the newly formed National Security Corps (SNB) was still unclear in those years. Until the abdication of President Edvard Beneš in June 1948, the Castle Guard enjoyed the same position as prior to World War II. Symbolically, it was attested by returning the original Castle Guard flag in a ceremony in July 1945, after being hidden throughout the occupation.
After Klement Gottwald was elected the President in June 1948, the Castle Guard progressively lost its exclusive position in guarding the President and became more or less just a symbolic unit assigned to perform public parade show tasks. The Castle Guard was transferred into subordination to the Special unit ”HRAD” of the National Security Corps with mission to provide security to the President, which progressively took over all the Prague Castle’s internal security duties and the Castle Guard is limited to perform external security only. The Castle Guard’s service personnel were replaced and renewed in steps. Given the lack of new limited-contract NCOs, conscripts were drafted to serve with the Castle Guard for the first time.
A turnover came on December 15, 1952, when the Castle Guard ceased to be a part of the Armed Forces and became a component of the Ministry of the Interior – the Internal Guard as the 14th Special Battalion with mission to guard the Prague Castle compound. The unit underwent frequent reorganisations in 1950s and 1960s. The quantity of facilities to be guarded grew, including the Ministry of National Security, the Office of the Government, State Planning Committee and others. The battalion was a component of the 1st Moto-mechanised brigade of the Internal Guard, but the brigade was also subject to various reorganisations that mark that period in general.
In 1960, the whole battalion moved from the original Castle Guard barracks in Jiřské náměstí square into barracks in Loretánská street (former Martinic Palace), which the Castle Guard has used to date.
The battalion was extracted from the structure of the 1st Moto-Mechanised Brigade the Internal Guard in 1962 and transferred under the Internal Guard Command as the 7th Special Battalion the Internal Guard, Ministry of the Interior.
On January 1, 1963, MAJ Karel Svoboda was appointed the commander of the Castle Guard to remain in that capacity until April 30, 1987.
The year 1964 saw the Border Guard and the Internal Guard merged and the 7th Special Battalion was transferred into the Command of the 2nd Regiment the Internal Guard based in Prague - Vršovice. The Castle Guard was involved in many security operations, ceremonies at the Prague Castle, Letná, during May 1st festivities, the Spartakiads and many other events as tasked by the 8th Directorate of the National Security Corps.
In 1966, another major reorganisation took place to transfer the 7th Special Battalion under command of the Staff of the MoI Civil Defence.
No substantial changes occurred in performance of duties in 1967-1968. Following the Prague Spring during August 1968 events, guard service duties were partially paralysed at some facilities, but security was restored in a matter of days.
After extensive discussions an order was issued by the Minister of the Interior as at March 1, 1970, establishing the Castle Guard of the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic (CSSR). The order included the "CONSTITUTION OF THE CSSR CASTLE GUARD" as an annex, which laid down specific definitions of missions and workings of the CSSR Castle Guard, including its subordination to the 5th Directorate of the National Security Corps and other specialist components of the Federal Ministry of the Interior. At the same time, a facility was acquired at Dobrá Voda u Březnice in that year, where basic training was performed of conscripts drafted for service with the Castle Guard. The Castle Guard also handed over buildings and compounds to be newly taken care of by the 5th Directorate of the National Security Corps (SNB) or the Support Regiment of the Ministry of the Interior.
In 1973-75, the Castle Guard only protected one critical facility: the Castle. In cooperation with the 5th Directorate of the National Security Corps and the Office of the President, the Czech crown jewels were open to the public in 1968 and 1975.
In 1976, Forces of the Ministry of the Interior were established pursuant to Order of the Minister of the Interior No.019/76, and the Castle Guard became its component. From 1978, the Castle Guard was a part of the command chain of the Directorate of Forces of the Ministry of Interior and continued to report to the 5th Directorate of the National Security Corps for performance of security missions, which lasted till January 31, 1990. The Castle Guard provided security to the Lány Chateau premises and the Prague Castle compound. In terms of guard duties and protection of the President, the Prague Castle was divided into two security zones: "HRAD" for parade style guarding, and BELVEDER to provide security to the President’s residence in cooperation with the 5th Directorate of the National Security Corps.
Guard Battalion Dříň in Kladno was incorporated into the CSSR Castle Guard in 1981.
In 1985-1989, the CSSR Castle Guard was involved in many parade shows and security operations, but never intervened against demonstrators.
Intervention against students on 17 November 1989 spurred a nationwide movement that brought about fundamental changes in the life of our nations. The intervention naturally solicited a reaction with the Castle Guard members as well. In December 1989, the CSSR Federal Assembly elected Václav Havel as the President of the then Czechoslovak Federal Republic. President Havel visited the Castle Guard barracks in Loretánská street on January 8, 1990.
On January 31, 1990, the Federal Assembly adopted the Act No. 20/1990 on the Directorate of Security of the CSSR President and on the CSSR Castle Guard that became effective on February 1, 1990. The most important change was that the Castle Guard was transferred from the structure of the Ministry of the Interior again into the Ministry of National Defence and reported directly to the Chief of the Military Office of the President and that it had its mission defined in the law for the first time. Upon enactment, the new organisation of the Castle Guard began to be built, comprising the staff, physical and academic training group, technical group, rear support group, financial service, medical service and six guard and support units located in Prague, Dobrá Voda and Lány. A fanfare orchestra and also a motorcycle unit were formed for the first time ever in the history of the Castle Guard. Major changes occurred in the security of the Prague Castle compound. At the beginning, the Castle Guard security was performed by a single guard located at the "HRAD" (castle) guardhouse in the 4th courtyard and the "ZAHRADY" (gardens) guard post was built in the Stables Yard to provide security to the President’s garden residence in the Royal Garden. Security duties were extended to cover the Prague Castle’s southern gardens and the Royal Garden after they had been made accessible to the public. Guard duty as such was demanding, especially for psychological resilience, because it had to be performed in two-shift system as a result of progressive drop in the number of conscripts due to shortening of their compulsory service period.
New uniforms were introduced to use on March 15, 1990. Movie and costume designer Theodor Pištěk prepared the design of new service and parade uniforms that were shown to the public for the first time at noon during a newly composed guard changing ceremony with musical accompaniment in the Prague Castle’s 1st courtyard.
In 1992, the Castle Guard renewed the tradition of lighting Christmas Tree in the Jiřské square and the following matinee for children. The Christmas tree event was held by the Castle Guard to aid children in SOS Children Villages association. This tradition follows on Christmas tree lighting as organised during the interwar period. Over the first three years, CZK 1,252,000 was gathered to the benefit of SOS Children Villages association. The biggest amount was donated in 2002 despite disastrous flooding that took place in the Czech Republic in 2002: the amount was CZK 807,912.
Another significant humanitarian act was that several dozen Castle Guard conscripts as well as military professionals donated blood throughout that year.
Based on effective law, all Castle Guard members of Slovak nationality moved to Bratislava already on November 16, 1992, where they formed the core of the newly established Honour Guard of the President of the Slovak Republic. The Czech Republic came into being as an independent state on January 1, 1993. The Act No. 114/93 Coll., on the Office of the President, effective at March 24, 1993, finalised some legal issues associated with the relation of the Military Office of the President and the Castle Guard. On February 20, 1993, the President of the Czech Republic bestowed the battle flag on the Castle Guard unit.
The Castle Guard initiated cooperation with similar units throughout Europe (the French Republican Guard, Spanish and British Royal Guard) to the effect of sharing experience with delivering security to facilities and performance of parades and ceremonies. A major reorganisation took place in 1997. Two battalion staffs were established at the Castle Guard, which incorporated the existing units. A growing attention was paid to the selection and preparation of new recruits enlisting with the Castle Guard. Special emphasis was placed on mandatory height and medical status, but chiefly on psychological tests establishing mental preparedness and resilience of service personnel for performance of guard duties. The requirement to improve the quality of training led the Castle Guard command to develop new Training programs that provided an in-depth coverage specialist training of the Castle Guard service personnel.
In 1997-1998, the Castle Guard barracks in Prague underwent extensive refurbishment to improve conditions for conscripts. Efforts were also made to enhance physical fitness of all Castle Guard members. New fitness rooms built in barracks in Prague and Lány and sport facilities in Ruzyně and at Juliska are used for physical training. Basic training for new recruits continued to be performed at the Castle Guard training centre in Dobrá Voda. Conscripts performed military oath during their basic training. Military oath ceremonies for conscripts drafted in January and July term were conducted at Březnice u Příbrami, while those drafted in April traditionally had their oath in the 3rd courtyard of the Prague Castle and October draftees had a joint military oath ceremony with conscripts serving in the Prague garrison in the Hradčanské square. May and October oath ceremonies matched national holidays and were held in presence of the President and the Minister of Defence.
In 1999, the Act No. 219/1999 Coll., on the Armed Forces of the Czech Republic, was passed to provide definition for the Castle Guard status in the structure of the Czech Republic’s military. The Act stipulates that the military of the Czech Republic comprises the Armed Forces, Military Office of the President and the Castle Guard. Thus, the Castle Guard became an autonomous component that, although financially and logistically supported by the Armed Forces of the Czech Republic, is fully under command of the Military Office of the President, where the Chief of Military Office of the President has authorisation in relation to the Castle Guard service personnel as the Minister of Defence as provided for by dedicated laws (Act No. 220/1999 Coll., Act No. 221/1999 Coll.).
A disastrous flood struck a major part of the Czech Republic in August 2002. The Castle Guard service personnel were involved in managing the consequence. Ordered directly by the President, the Castle Guard assigned detachments from August 19th till September 15th, 2002, to maintain order in Strahov student dorms where evacuees were temporarily accommodated and to remove the aftermath at Prague Lysolaje and in the Central Military Archives. Despite longterm absence of those deployed forces in barracks the Castle Guard carried on fulfilling all service duties to high standards.
The Castle Guard also provided support to the 2002 NATO Summit in Prague, which included parade duties and security tasks in cooperation with the Presidential Security Unit of the Police of the Czech Republic, security tasks during the stay of senior NATO leaders and other guests on the premises of the Prague Castle and at the Lány Chateau.
On February 2, 2003, the Castle Guard organised a parade show in collaboration with the Armed Forces of the Czech Republic to mark the end of President Havel’s electoral term, the Castle Guard organised in cooperation with the Armed Forces of the Czech a military parade in honour President Havel’s departure.
Inauguration ceremony of newly elected President of the Czech Republic, Václav Klaus, took place on March 7, 2003. On that occasion, President Klaus reviewed military parade of the Castle Guard units in Prague Castle’s 3rd courtyard.
The Czech Republic’s accession to the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation in March 1999 and joining the European Union in 2004 is a guarantee of democratic development in our society. The Castle Guard follows on democratic traditions of the first Castle Guard personnel, former members of Czech legions.
At December 22, 2003, the last conscripts left service and the Castle Guard became an all-volunteer unit again after more than 50 years. At the same time, the unit in Lány and Dobrá voda training centre were inactivated. Soldiers of those two components formed the core of the Castle Guard’s 2nd Guard Battalion. The Castle Guard continued the Prague Castle and Lány compound and also supports all protocol and parade events. There is a 14-day cycle for both guard battalions to take shifts in fulfilling guarding duties.
In May 2006, the 1st Guard Battalion CG underwent their first concentrated field training exercise and the 2nd Guard Battalion passed it in June. The Castle Guard again became not only a parade unit, but also prepares for emergency management operations.
Activities by the Castle Guard
Every year in May and June, the Castle Guard is involved in organising Open Days at the Prague Castle, providing an opportunity for thousands of Czech and international visitors to see historical halls that are normally closed for the public. The Castle Guard members also provide assistance on making those premises accessible for handicapped citizens on that occasion. In close collaboration with the Armed Forces of the Czech Republic, the Castle Guard is involved on annual basis in holding displays of the Castle Guard’s hardware and parade shows in a military training area - "Bahna". The Castle Guard is also extensively involved in exhibitions of Czech crown jewels at the Prague Castle, which take place periodically to mark anniversaries or various important occasions (in 1993, 1998, 2003, 2008, 2013 and 2016). Since 2007, it has also become a tradition to hold regular parade shows in the Prague Castle’s 3rd courtyard and concerts by the Castle Guard Band at the Mihulka Powder Tower that has housed a permanent display covering the past and the present developments of the Castle Guard since 2008.