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