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

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Recruiting for Marlborough's Army

By Ralph Mitchard

I thought it might be interesting to look at life in the army of the time to arrive at a better understanding.

The initial form of recruitment was voluntary enlistment, but the unpopular image of military life ensured that the flow of able-bodied men was never enough for a major war. Another category of recruit was the contents of the gaols; thieves and debtors - male and female - who were impressed as soldiers or camp followers. 

Below in the picture you may find the words to the popular tune, 'Over the Hills and Far Away'. This song is well known to historians and re-enactors, but if you don't know the tune the theme music to the 'Sharpe' series is based on it.

overthehills.jpg (145915 bytes)The main presence of the military in England during the War of Spanish Succession was the recruiting party who usually were a group of trusted NCOs sent back during the winter months to replace those lost during the previous summer's campaigning. True volunteers were hard to find and those that were motivated by higher ideals were usually found in the cavalry. The military commitment meant that the army rose from 18,000 in 1702 to 70,000 in 1708-09.
Regiments were in competition for recruits so rival recruiting parties roamed the countryside looking to lure men into the ranks. A bounty of 40 shillings (two pounds) was paid to recruits, which encouraged the activities of bounty jumpers who would receive the bounty from one regiment before escaping sometimes from the continent in order to reenlist with another regiment. As the need for recruits rose then more desperate measures were followed including the abuse of the naval press for land service. Finally a series of Recruiting or Impressment acts were passed (1703-4) (called 'Pressing Acts') which allowed justices of the peace to 'raise and levy such Able-bodied Man as have not any lawful calling or employment or visible means for their maintenance livelihood to serve as soldiers'. The abuse of this system meant that many people were impressed because of political disputes with the judicial powers and subsequently there were riots when locals banded together to rescue people who had been impressed wrongfully. The following verses tell us a lot about the hard-sell that was performed on the rural population, combined with the sumptuous clothes and free drink that were on offer it would have been hard to turn down.

The Recruiting Officer - a comedy

by George Farquhar

Act 1 Scene 1

The Market-Place

Drummer beats the 'Grenadier March'

Enter SERGEANT KITE followed by the MOB

KITE (Making a speech)

If any gentlemen, soldiers or others, have a mind to serve Her Majesty, and pull down the French king; if any prentices have severe masters, any children have undutiful parents; if any servants have too little wages, or any husband too much wife; let them repair to the noble Sergeant Kite, at the Sign of the Raven, in this good town of Shrewsbury, and they shall receive present relief and entertainment. - Gentlemen, I don't beat my drums here to ensnare and inveigle any man; for you must know, gentlemen, that I am a man of honour. . .

from the New Mermaids edition 1977


Alternatively, visit the 'Join the British Army!' web page for a humorous but well researched and interesting view of the Eighteenth Century soldier.


2002 - 2004 Lord Orkney's Regiment and Marika Cotton

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