Not to be confused with Commander in Chief or Colonel of the Regiment.

Colonel-in-Chief is a ceremonial position in a military regiment. It is in common use in several Commonwealth armies, where it is held by the regiment's patron, usually a member of the royal family. The position was formerly used in the armies of several European monarchies. A Colonel-in-Chief has a purely ceremonial role in their regiment.

The Norwegian Army has taken a more whimsical approach to the position, appointing the penguin Sir Nils Olav as a Colonel-in-Chief.[1][2]


Historically a Colonel-in-Chief was the ceremonial head of a regiment, usually a member of a European country's royal family. The practice extends at least back to 1740 in Prussia when Frederick II held that position in the newly created Garde du Corps, an elite heavy cavalry regiment.[3]

By the late 19th Century the designation could be given to the children of royalty; pictures exist of the daughters of Russian Czar Nicholas II in the uniforms of their regiments.[4] The German Kaiser Wilhelm II carried the title to an extreme, holding it in literally dozens of German and (by diplomatic courtesy) Austro-Hungarian, British, Russian, and Portuguese regiments. In addition, his mother, wife, son, and daughters were also full or deputy Colonels-in-Chief of various units.[5]


In modern usage, the Colonel-in-Chief of a regiment is its (usually royal) patron, who has a ceremonial role in the life of the regiment. They do not have an operational role, or the right to issue orders, but are kept informed of all important activities of the regiment and pay occasional visits to its units. The chief purpose of the Colonel-in-Chief is to maintain a direct link between the regiment and the royal family. Some artillery regiments have a Captain-General instead of a Colonel-in-Chief, but the posts are essentially the same.

The position of Colonel-in-Chief is distinct from the other ceremonial regimental posts of Colonel of the Regiment and Honorary Colonel, which are usually retired military officers or public figures with ties to the regiment.

Colonels-in-Chief are appointed at the invitation of the regiment. While it is traditional for a royal personage to hold the position,[6] it is at the discretion of the regiment or corps whom they invite.

As of 2015, most Colonels-in-Chief in the British Army are members of the British royal family. However, two foreign monarchs hold the position:

Winston Churchill inspecting the Queen's Own Hussars, of which he was Colonel-in-Chief, in Italy during 1944

In the past non-royal persons have held, or been invited to hold, the post of Colonel-in-Chief. The Duke of Wellington was Colonel-in-Chief of the regiment that bore his name, whilst Winston Churchill was Colonel-in-Chief of the Queen's Own Hussars, the regiment he served in before entering politics. The Governor General of Canada Adrienne Clarkson was invited to be Colonel-in-Chief of Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry,[7] while the Royal Australian Army Medical Corps decided to ask the Governor-General of Australia to serve as its Colonel-in-Chief.[8] These exceptions, however, do not change the raison d'être of the post, which is to serve as a personal link between regiment and Monarch.

The role has spread to other armies in the Commonwealth of Nations, at least in countries which have royal families.

List of Colonels-in-Chief






The Duke of Edinburgh with troops of The Royal Canadian Regiment, of which he is Colonel-in-Chief, in 2013

Personnel branches

Further information: List of Canadian organizations with Royal Patronage: Military


Malaysian Army

Combat Support
Service Support

Royal Malaysian Air Force

Royal Malaysian Navy

New Zealand


Sir Nils Olav (a penguin) inspects troops of the Norwegian Royal Guard, of which he is Colonel-in-Chief

Papua New Guinea

United Kingdom


Elizabeth II inspecting troops of the Royal Lancers, of which she is Colonel-in-Chief, in 2015


Combat Support

Combat Service Support


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