The British Armed Nation, 1793-1815

By J. E. Cookson | Go to book overview

1 The Addition of Mass

THE armed nation entered history in France in the great crisis of patrie and revolution of 1793-4. Earlier in the revolution the citizenship of the soldier had been declared, incorporating him into the revolutionary society in contrast to the marginality that had been his lot under the ancien régime. Then, with France stricken with internal rebellions and under attack from the powers of Europe on several frontiers, it was the turn of civilian citizens to be incorporated into war. The conscriptions of 1793, particularly the famous levée en masse of August, not only signified the 'addition of mass' to war but made the nation the moral entity that required such service and sacrifice. Military service thus shifted from being a career to being a public duty informed and inspired, in the case of France, by a quite sophisticated national ideology. So the 'cabinet wars' of the eighteenth century passed away, to be succeeded by the 'wars of the nations'; for Britain and other states followed suit as they themselves came under unprecedented military threat from the very monster they had helped to create. Military nationalism in Britain was epitomized by the volunteers, in Spain by the guerrilleros, in Prussia (and Austria) by the Landwehr. New possibilities in the scale and intensity of war were revealed in the revolutionary and Napoleonic era, with each state characteristically making its own response to the changes, both during the war and subsequently.1

The sheer magnitude of these changes has tended to dissuade historians from paying attention to possible eighteenth-century antecedents of the armed nation. André Corvisier, for example, who ended his survey of European armies and their societies at the French revolution, held that France and Great Britain were among the least militarized societies in the eighteenth century, but he failed to connect this idea with the fact that they also happened to be states which organized the largest and longest sustained military mobilizations after 1789.2 One response has been to claim that a 'growth of militarism' was occurring in the later eighteenth century, embracing increasing respect for the professionalism, progressiveness, and achievements of armies and the idea of raising a truly national force from a

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1
Three useful surveys are J. Gooch, Armies in Europe ( London, 1980); G. Best, War and Society in Revolutionary Europe 1770-1870 ( London, 1982); J. Black, European Warfare 1660-1815 ( London, 1994).
2
A. Corvisier, Armies and Societies in Europe 1494-1789 ( Bloomington, Ind., 1979), ch.6.

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The British Armed Nation, 1793-1815
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Preface v
  • Contents vii
  • List of Maps ix
  • Abbreviations x
  • Introduction 1
  • 1 - The Addition of Mass 16
  • 2 - The French Encirclement 38
  • 3 - The Rise and Fall of the Volunteers 66
  • 4 - The Manpower Ceiling 95
  • 5 - Scotland's Fame 126
  • 6 - Ireland's Fate 153
  • 7 - The Problem of Order 182
  • 8 - Armed Nationalism 209
  • 9 - The Legacy of the Armed Nation 246
  • Bibliography 264
  • Index 281
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