The regiment was raised in 1685 by Henry, Duke of Norfolk and was known in its early years by the name of its current Colonel. In 1751, when regiments were given numbers to mark their seniority, it was designated the 12th Regiment of Foot. It became the 12th, or East Suffolk Regiment in 1781 and the Suffolk Regiment in 1881. Except for two brief periods the regiment had one battalion until 1842, when a Reserve Battalion was created, which became the 2nd Battalion in 1858. There were two Territorial battalions – the 4th (1908-1961) and 5th (1908-1921, 1939-1945) – and during the two World Wars further ‘Service’ battalions were created.
In 1947 the 2nd Battalion was disbanded and in 1959 the remaining Regular battalion, the 1st, was amalgamated with the Royal Norfolk Regiment to form the 1st East Anglian Regiment; this in turn merged in 1964 with other regiments in the East of England to form the Royal Anglian Regiment.