Christian “Kit” Cavanagh

The 'Pretty Dragoon'

Christian Cavanagh led a remarkable life as a female soldier and became known by many names.

Christian “Kit” Cavanagh was born in Dublin, Ireland, in 1667, the daughter of a local brewer and maltster. Her father served in the Irish Jacobite Army and was killed at the Battle of Aughrim in 1691.

She met and married Richard Welsh and they had three children together. One day Richard went out to conduct some business and never returned. Unwilling to lose her husband Christian gave her children to her mother, cut her hair, disguised herself as a man and joined the British Army to find him.

As ‘Christopher Welsh’, Christian fought at the Battle of Landen in 1693 where she was wounded and captured by the French. She was later exchanged and returned to the British Army, where she continued to look for her husband.

After being discharged from the Army, Christian enlisted in the Scots Greys  in 1697 and again in 1701 to fight in the War of the Spanish Succession. She was wounded at the Battle of Schellenberg and was with the Regiment at the Battle of Blenheim. After the battle, while guarding some French prisoners, Christian finally found her husband. After 13 years of searching, she discovered that her husband was with another woman so she refused to go back to him and remained a dragoon in the Scots Greys. Despite her hurt and anger, Christian and Richard remained close and he agreed not to reveal her true identity and instead they pretended to be brothers. No-one suspected her true identity, despite her being known as the ‘Pretty Dragoon’.

At the Battle of Ramillies in 1706, Christian fractured her skull and required treatment from the Regimental surgeon who discovered her secret. Lord Hay, Brigade Commander of the Scots Greys, ordered that she should continue to receive her pay while under the care of the Army. She was permitted to stay, though she was no longer allowed to dress and fight as a man and instead became a sutler.

Richard Welsh died at the Battle of Malplaquet in 1709. The day after the battle Christian searched the battlefield for her husband’s body, turning over as many as 200 bodies before finding him so that she could bury him. After her husband’s death, she became involved with Captain Ross of the Scots Greys and earned the moniker “Mother Ross”.

Three months after the Battle of Malplaquet Christian married another dragoon, Hugh Jones. This marriage was unfortunately cut short in 1710, when Hugh was killed at the Siege of Saint-Venant. Christian left the Army and returned to Dublin in 1713, where she met and married her third and final husband, a soldier named Davies. She was granted a pension of £50 and a shilling a day for the rest of her life by Queen Anne.

After an extraordinary life, Christian was admitted to the Royal Hospital Chelsea as one of its pensioners. She died there in 1739 and, at her request, was buried with full military honours alongside other military pensioners at the Royal Hospital Chelsea.

Did you know?

A sutler was a civilian who followed the Army and sold provisions to the soldiers.