'Nemo me impune lacessit'
(None shall provoke me with impunity)

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The Officers 1690 - 1715

Gentlemen Soldiers

The officers of the Marlburian army were traditionally recruited from the ranks of the gentry, although the English Civil War of fifty years earlier helped introduce the well-off non-titled gentleman to the life of an English army officer (money permitting, of course).

Clearly rank also brought with it certain privileges. Unlike the rest of the English soldiery, the officer was entitled to a tent of his own, the size of it denoting rank. Some regiments and armies even had markers on the tent for an at-a-glance guide to its occupant. Naturally, the downside to this arrangement would be that any enemy soldiers overrunning the camp would have a very clearly marked target for looting. Many officers would also have either a manservant he may have brought with him from home, or an assigned soldier for basic duties. In both cases it would have been necessary for the servant to be able to read and write so that the officer could entrust him to carry out other tasks such as tavern bill payments. Many servants wrote home to their families, and some even kept diaries, as in the case of Donald McBane who served in Lord Orkney's Regiment during the Wars and published a book about his experiences in 1727.

Because he had his own tent, the officer would send his servant out to fetch and prepare food from the Sutlery or send for it from a nearby tavern (Marlborough wrote to his wife on the back of a tavern bill telling her he had won the Battle of Blenheim). He usually had his own collection of possessions that needed extra space in the baggage train including spare clothing (to show off his status and perhaps impress any high ranking person), with recorded instances of silverware and even glassware being carried everywhere for entertaining guests (fellow officers). The concept of an officer's mess was not to be till George III time. Officers therefore were usually better fed and rarely starving compared to the men under their command. 

Clothing and Uniform

All the countries involved in the Wars of the Spanish Succession had their own uniforms, with the English being dressed differently to officers of other countries. For instance, French officers wore gold instead of silver trimmings and ribbon bunches on their sleeves. This is therefore a guide to the English uniform. 

Red woollen suit of a youth, c.1700. Silver embroidery instead of lacings.redsuit2.jpg (15150 bytes)

His uniform was the responsibility of himself, both in war time and in peace, with some staff officers and generals wearing clothing often resembling the fashionable court attire back home. Large, full bottomed wigs were the height of fashion, but generals such as Marlborough introduced the 'campaign wig', a shorter, more practical option in the heat of battle. The wig would be topped off with a cocked beaver felt tricorn, embellished with gold or silver braid and feathers, with Grenadier officers wearing a grenadiers hat like their foot soldiers but with extra spangles and embroidered with gold and silver. Officers of all ranks wore a white linen cravat tipped with needlepoint lace such as Point de Venice or Gros point, which would either sit on top or cover the gorget, their symbol of rank, beneath. All English officers were required to wear red, which even Marlborough did, but naturally their wool was dyed with the more expensive but permanent dye newly imported from the New World (South America). In this period the coat colour was an instant guide to the country of origin. Breeches colours varied from regiment to regiment, as did the vest/waistcoat colour. All officers wore a sash at waist level with a knotted and tasseled end, with some adopting the older style over-the-shoulder sash, a throwback of the 1630's. Some sashes are recorded as having re-enforced holes in the end so that they could be used as an impromptu stretchers to carry its bearer off the field. Officers on horseback wore both boots as well as Spatterdashes, with Marlborough often preferring the latter. 

Gorget.jpg (56583 bytes)
English officer's Gorget during the reign of Queen Anne.

Ever worried about the costs incurred dressing the army of Queen Anne, Marlborough often issued decrees about dress standard. In 1702 he introduced a rule that 1st year coats were to be made into 2nd year vests. New recruits had to make do with a coat recycled from a dead/deserted comrade. No strict uniform guide was introduced till after the 1740's. The following is an account of the dress of a junior officer in the English army:

 

  • Hat: Black felt with brim turned up on all three sides. Brim bound with silver lace and the left side fastened to the crown with a silver wire loop and button.

  • Neckcloth: Plain white with ends looped over in a simple knot, worn over a white collarless shirt.

  • Gorget: Silver, polished.

  • Coat: Red, lined with regimental colour and with the sleeves turned back to show the lining (facing). Front buttoned with silver buttons and the holes edged with silver lacing. All seams lined with strips of silver lacing as well as the pocket flaps and cuffs. Silver buttons on cuffs and pockets with silver lace loops. No collar to the coat.

  • Gloves: Buff leather gauntlet type

  • Sash: Crimson, knotted over the left hip with fringed ends.

  • Waistcoat/vest: Same colour as the coat, edged with silver lace and with silver buttons.

  • Breeches: Red.

  • Stockings: Grey woollen fastened below the knee with a black garter (Apparently many regiments wore white pipe-clayed gaiters).

  • Shoes: Black leather with long protruding tongue. Silver Buckles.

 

Life in the Army

Unlike the soldiers, the Officers very rarely had ladies or their wives accompanying them on campaign. The ladies would usually appear during winter quartering instead, when the officers would either sequester or rent higher status houses to pass the winter in comfort. They would then live their lives as if they were back at home till spring time and renewed campaigning drove the army back on the road. Traditionally, the ordinary unmarried foot soldiers at this time routinely deserted as they lacked the basic comforts to get them through the winter. Even members of the cavalry were better off, with basic accommodation and stabling provided for.

While on campaign the officers would jostle for rank and position like anyone back home at court, and would also enjoy the same basic comforts that the gentleman living in basic accommodation in London would expect. Prostitutes were an endemic by-product of the marching army of all nations, and there are many accounts of officers of all ranks indulging in the pleasures of the flesh, with some writing home to their brothers describing the local women and their ability in bed! It goes without saying that venereal disease was not just the preserve of the poor. Between battles local ale houses would be frequented, wine drunk and women whored. 

The old adage of raping, looting and pillaging was more the activity of the foot soldiers. Officers were supposedly above this sort of terrible rampage, but with the odd letter and account hinting at officers buying looted lace and finery off their men to send home, as well as the sudden independent increase in personal wealth as the officer's career progressed it is possible that even officers  may have indulged from time to time too, possibly buying looted items at cost price off the soldiers to sell on for inflated prices.



2002 - 2007 Lord Orkney's Regiment and M. Cotton

 No part may be reproduced without prior written permission of either the siteowner or Orkney's Regt or other copyright holders whose materials appear on these pages. The opinions contained herein are not necessarily those of the members of Orkneys Regt.

 
 
 

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