As a Brit the recent Memorial Day weekend here in America brought it home to me just how patriotic Americans are. They are proud of their armed forces and grateful to their servicemen and women for serving their country.
In England, up until 1871, officers had to pay for the privilege of dying for their country. It seems unreal, doesn’t it, but there you have it. A supply and demand situation, I guess. Second and third sons had to do something. The church, politics and the military were the most popular choices. I guess you needed a certain calling for the first two. Besides, strutting about in a red coat, earning admiring glances from young ladies and the approval of his peers, would have been difficult for our brave young bucks to resist. The inconvenience of dodging bayonets and bullets was an inconvenient occupational hazzard.
Social exclusiveness was preserved not only through money but because regimental colonels were permitted to refuse the purchase of a commission in their regiment by anyone who wasn’t from the right social background. This applied specifically to the prestigious Household and Guards regiments which were dominated by aristocrats.
In 1837 the going rate for a Captaincy in the Infantry was £1,800. The same rank in the elite Life Guards would set him back a whopping £3,500. Bear in mind that at those times one pound was the equivalent of $290 today and perhaps it becomes clearer why leadership was often incompetent.
Not all first commissions or promotions were paid for. If an officer was killed in action this created a ‘non-purchase vacancy’. The Napoleonic Wars saw heavy casualties amongst senior ranks, resulting in a glut of non-purchase vacancies. Wealthy dilettantes were no longer quite so keen on active service, thus promoting the exchange of many commissions at face value only.
There was also the possibility of promotion to brevet army ranks for deserving non-commissioned soldiers. Take a bow, Richard Sharpe of the 95th Rifles.
Right, that’s quite enough ogling. Spare a thought for poor Richard. He was a natural leader of men but wasn't an aristocrat so was constantly having to prove himself. His men no longer looked upon him as one of them and his fellow officers shunned his company. Never mind, at least the women seemed to appreciate his worth!
My next Regency adventure, A Scandalous Proposition, due to be released by Carina Press in September, features as its hero, Major Lord Adam Fitzroy of…yep, you’ve guessed it, the 95th Rifles. Can’t wait to see the cover art with him looking all dishevelled and moody in his uniform. Don’t worry, as soon as I do, you will too!