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Raising a Regiment

When Charles II first decided to raise a standing army he was easily able to raise the necessary troops by re-enlisting soldiers who had served during the Civil War and in the Commonwealth's New Model Army. However, as his reign continued, as well as during the reigns of his successors, the size of the Army increased and more soldiers were needed to fill out the regiments. During the relatively peaceful reign of Charles there was usually little problem in raising recruits for home service, and the King's Army offered good career prospects for officers and men alike. During the national emergencies of 1673 and 1678 press-gangs had to be used to fill the mass levies, but the real problem was in raising troops for overseas service in Tangier, Portugal and Bombay. 

"Overseas service was loathed, however, and whenever possible expendable Irish and Scots were used in preference to native-born Englishmen."1 
For example, to reinforce Tangier in 1672, 200 men were pressed into service in the west country, but they were of very poor quality:
"whereof there were two women that had entered themselves for soldiers in men's apparel ... some of them were old men and most very poor creatures."2
To obtain volunteers for the growing army from around 1670's recruiting was by 'beat of drum'. Regiments would send a recruiting party into the countryside, usually consisting of a captain, a sergeant and a corporal, accompanied by a drummer and two private soldiers. The captain's flag would be planted and the locals would be summoned by the drummer beating his drum. When a crowd had assembled the captain or sergeant would mount an improvised rostrum such as a cart in a marketplace or a bench at a tavern and address the crowd. In suitably rosy terms he would encourage them to enlist for a bounty of five shillings and promises of future booty. George Farquhar, a recruiting officer who became an actor and playwright described such a speech in his play 'The Recruiting Officer' (published 1706) when a recruiting officer named Captain Plume asked:
"What think you now, gentlemen, of a purse full of gold out of a Frenchman's pocket, after you have dashed out his brains with the butt of your firelock, eh?" In another part of the play a recruiting sergeant named Kite addresses the crowd in Shrewsbury market place: "If any gentlemen, soldiers or others, have a mind to serve Her Majesty [Queen Anne], and pull down the French King: if any 'prentices have severe masters, any children have undutiful parents: if any servants have little wages, or any husband too much wife, let them repair to the noble Sergeant Kite, at the sign of the Raven in the good town of Shrewsbury, and they shall receive present relief and entertainment."
Once at the local hostelry, the potential recruits were encouraged to have a drink and accept the "King's (or Queen's) Shilling", often slipped surreptitiously into the bottom of the tankard of ale!3 Further encouragement may have been offered in visions of a brighter future:
And we shall live more happy lives Free of squalling brats and wives Who nag and vex us every day So it's over the hills and far away 4 Or perhaps by appealing to their sense of honour: Come gentlemen that have a mind To serve a queen that's good and kind Come list and enter in to pay And go over the hills and far away
The foot soldier was almost always recruited from the lowest social orders, most often from rural areas, with a large number from Scotland and Ireland. Many were volunteers seeking adventure and excitement, or booty and rape, others were disenchanted farm workers, unemployed apprentices, paupers or vagrants for whom the army offered a home free from crime and debt.

Only single men were allowed to enlist as is clearly demonstrated by an order of Charles II in 1663:

"No muster shall knowingly muster a private soldier in any troop or company that is married. Nevertheless, if any soldier desires leave to marry, it shall not be denied to him but at the same time [he is] to be discharged and another unmarried [man is] to be entertained in his place."
Despite this order, many men took the opportunity to escape the responsibility of a wife and family by false attestation. As the army was always on the move, the soldiers would pick up women wherever they were stationed, whether at home or abroad. Although a few men were allowed to marry (probably because of the problems of recruiting sufficient troops otherwise), most just cohabited or formed temporary liaisons, and of course some women would be the usual camp followers of all armies throughout history.
However, some women were required to perform domestic chores, especially washing the men's clothes (in particular their underwear!), so the army allowed six men per 100 soldiers to marry. Their wives (specified as 'women' in the regulations) received six pence per day for washing for the men of their company. These 'recognised' women were on the strength of the company, and were given privileges denied the other women, such as half a man's rations, plus a quarter for each child born in wedlock.

Once a soldier enlisted it was generally for life, and the soldier was provided with his clothes, lodgings (usually in an inn or ale-house as there were no barracks and billeting in private houses was illegal. This kept the men together and allowed them to be assembled quickly in an emergency. The captain gave four pence of the soldier's subsistence money to the innkeeper for accommodation (usually in the attic or outhouses), food, small beer5 and candles. This frequently left the landlord out of pocket, unpaid and resentful of having soldiers quartered upon him. This was made worse by the fact that many soldiers bullied their hosts, treating them like menial servants, threatening them with violence, and making free with their property, and frequently their wives and daughters too.

By the time of the War of the Spanish Succession the need for men to fill the ranks of the vastly increased army meant the old methods of the recruiting party was insufficient to raise the necessary number of troops. To find the large numbers of men required, other methods were resorted to: capital offenders were offered enlistment as an alternative to the gallows, vagrants and unemployed persons were impressed and debtors could obtain release from prison if they enlisted or found a substitute. Many men were reluctant to enlist for life, so a short-term enlistment of only three years was introduced, and this helped ease the problem somewhat. Such unwilling and criminal material seems unpromising material for an army, many of them only kept to their duty by fear of the lash and gallows. But it was with men such as these that the Duke of Marlborough won his many victories against the French, and brought Louis XIV's vaunted legions to their knees.

Hark now the drums beat up again 
For all true soldier gentlemen 

So let us list and march I say 

And go over the hills and far away 

Chorus: Over the hills, and o'er the main 
To Flanders, Portugal and Spain 

Queen Anne commands and we'll obey 

And go over the hills and far away 

Come gentlemen that have a mind 
To serve a queen that's good and kind 

Come list and enter in to pay 

And go over the hills and far away 

Here's forty shillings on the drum 
For those that volunteer to come 

With shirts and clothes and present pay 

When over the hills and far away 

Hear that brave boys, and let us go 
Or else we shall be prest you know 

Then list and enter in to pay 

And go over the hills and far away 

The constables they search about 
To find such brisk young fellows out 

Then let's be volunteers I say 

Over the hills and far away 

Since now the French so low are brought 
And wealth and honour's to be got 

Who then behind would sneaking stay? 

When over the hills and far away 

No more from sound of drum retreat 
When Marlborough and Galway beat 

The French and Spaniards every day 

Over the hills and far away 

He that is forced to go and fight 
Will never get true honour by't 

Whilst volunteers shall win the day 

When over the hills and far away 

What tho' our friends our absence mourn 
We all with honours shall return 

And then we'll sing both night and day 

Over the hills and far away 

Prentice Tom may well refuse 
To wipe his angry master's shoes 

For now he's free to sing and play 

Over the hills and far away 

Over rivers, bogs and springs 
We all shall live as great as kings 

And plunder get both night and day 

Over the hills and far away 

And we shall live more happy lives 
Free of squalling brats and wives 

Who nag and vex us every day 

So it's over the hills and far away 

Come on then Boys and you shall see 
We every one shall Captains be 

To Whore and rant as well as they 

When o'er the Hills and far away 

For if we go 'tis one to Ten 
But we return all Gentlemen 

All Gentlemen as well as they 

When o'er the Hills and far away

Annotations:
1 Noel St John Williams 'Redcoats & Courtesans' 

2 John Childs 'Army of Charles II' 
3 It is said that this is the reason that glass bottoms became popular in tankards was to overcome this practice
4 From a popular soldier's song of the War of the Spanish Succession
5 Beer mixed with water.

Justice & Discipline | Tangier Social Life | Raising a Regiment | Soldiers Drill 1660-1715
Battle of Blenheim 1704 | Storming of Schellenberg 1704 | War of the Spanish Succession 1701-14
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Gallery 1660s | Gallery 1670s | Gallery 1680s | Gallery 1690s | Gallery 1700s


Graphics Copyright © N. Kipar 2003.
Contents Copyright © Ben Levick 1998. With permission by the author.