The British Armed Nation, 1793-1815

By J. E. Cookson | Go to book overview

5 Scotland's Fame

A LEADING feature of the Victorian army was the size of the Celtic component; the proportion of Scots among the rank and file exceeded Scotland's proportion of the United Kingdom population until about 1870; the proportion of Irish remained greater almost to the end of the century. In 1830 55 per cent of the NCOs and men were either Scottish or Irish-born.1 Such an army virtually sprang into existence after 1793. The British army since the 1760s had been predominantly Anglo-Scottish (where it had not been German);2 but on the outbreak of hostilities with Revolutionary France, while it was true Scots were immediately recruited in large numbers, the government also began drawing heavily and continuously on Ireland's much greater manpower reserves. Of fifty-six regiments added to the line in 1794, for example, twenty-two were Irish.

The national composition of the army during the wars of 1793-1815 is difficult to state precisely because the historian is dependent on the regimental returns which are often incomplete, particularly for the army overseas. However, one can present some tentative findings using the inspection returns for 1806, 1811, and 1813. The 1813 returns are easily the most useful, surveying about 40 per cent of the army, excluding foreign and colonial corps, and more fairly distributed than the other returns are between the garrison force in Britain (which exaggerates the English proportion of the army) and the regiments abroad. These returns reveal that the army was about one-half English, one-sixth Scottish, and one-third Irish. The 1806 and 1811 figures yield similar results for the line infantry, which provides the most reliable sample.3 In view of the deficiencies of the data, it seems reasonable

____________________
1
Spiers, The Army and Society, 50.
2
L. M. Cullen, ' Scotland and Ireland, 1600-1800: Their Role in the Evolution of British Society', in R. A. Houston and I. D. Whyte (eds.), Scottish Society 1500-1800 ( Cambridge, 1989), 240. Dislike and suspicion of Catholic soldiers, especially among Ireland's rulers, continued to prejudice the recruitment of Irish. See F. G. James, Ireland in the Empire 1688-1770 ( Cambridge, Mass., 1973), 179, 264- 5; R. E. Burns, 'Ireland and British Military Preparations for War in America in 1775', Cithara, 2 ( 1963), 47-9.
3
The precise results over 77,185 privates in 1813 are: English 51.5 per cent, Scottish 15.3 per cent, Irish 32.0 per cent, 'foreigners' 1.1 per cent. I exclude the 60th regiment from the calculations as effectively a foreign corps. A sample based excessively on British-stationed battalions distorts the result because it gives undue weighting to the Guards, the cavalry, and the units recruiting from the English population, all English-dominated. The 1806 and 1811 returns survey 14 per cent and 22 per cent of the line infantry. In 1806 47.0 per cent are found to be English, 18.5 per cent Scottish, 33.1 per cent

-126-

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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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