The British Armed Nation, 1793-1815

By J. E. Cookson | Go to book overview

4 The Manpower Ceiling

"IT is a curious fact which deserves to be made known, that we have at this moment in arms in this country a military force greater than ever France had during any time of the Revolution." So the newspapers said in 1803, as the volunteer mass swelled way beyond the proportions of the previous war. There were predictions at this time of over two million men marching against the invader-- a figure perhaps conjured up from the 'military census' of able-bodied men the lieutenancies were undertaking.1 Once the age of mass warfare had been ushered in, the amount of military manpower a society possessed or could tap became of increasing interest to governments and publics. In Britain especially, where nothing like it had occurred before, the sheer scale of armed preparation was taken as the most visible evidence of the country's commitment to the war and its patriotic spirit. Already, in 1801, the public had been invited to marvel at the 469, 188 men the country had mobilized.2

National comparisons were an even better index of Britain's military expansion. Lord Liverpool's papers during the Napoleonic War include an 'account' of the great powers which was obviously compiled as a sort of league table of their military strength, national efficiency, and 'national spirit'. In it the number of the armed forces is ratioed to the 'male active population'. France, Russia, and Austria are ranked as having almost one in fourteen under arms, Prussia almost one in ten (with the observation that the Prussian army 'is in great part composed of foreigners and cannot therefore be considered merely as a national army'), while Britain:

Population Proportion capable of bearing arms Army Navy
15,000,000 3,750,000 266,621 120,000
386,621

more than 1 in 10 of the male active population

add volunteers 385,151
sea fencibles 30,000
above i in 5 803,772.3
____________________
1
Cambridge Chronicle, 13 Aug., 3 Sept. 1803.
2
The Times, 14 July 1801.
3
"Account of the military and naval force of the following countries in the proportion they bear to their respective populations", Liverpool MSS, BL Add. MS 38358, fo. 230. I date this paper to 1805 because on 8 Mar. Hawkesbury made much of the fact that Britain had 810,000 men under arms. PD 1st set. iii. 808-9. See him again for the 'extent of the armed force', 25 May 1809, where a mobilization of 786,521 men is set against a British Isles population of 14,942,646. Fortescue, County Lieutenancies, 306.

-95-

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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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