The British Army ever since its conception has always been under funded and under equipped. The navy would always take the forefront of any of Britain’s wars. The army had to be drastically expanded to cope with the needs of the conflict. Most of Wellington’s army would predominantly be troops from the Home Islands in some cases in one unit of the 1st Battalion, 57th Regiment of Foot on the 9th May 1809 showed that Thirty Four percent of the unit were Irish, Four percent Scottish and the rest were Foreigners.[1] The foreigners in this instance would be the Portuguese core who would be restructured under British protocols, and would become a very effective force. The size of this contingent would eventually increase over the years and by 1813 over twenty percent of the army would contain ether Hanoverian troops and a Portuguese core. Edward Uffindell worked out that “At least a fifth of the soldiers in the vast majority of English Regiments were Irishmen.”[2]. Richard Holmes would provide a much more accurate figure “42 per cent in 1795-1810.”[3] This is because Ireland itself, during the period, was suffering hard economic difficulty, which was mainly due to a bad harvest, and a lack of economic investment by the British State.  This would lead to the permanent British Army presence in Ireland due to a fear it could be used as a French staging point for an invasion.

 The 1807 Militia Act would provide up to forty percent of the Militia for active service within the army. A few solders would fall into this bracket. Most notable was Riflemen Harris: “I grew a hardly little chap, and was one fine day in the year 1802 drawn as a solider for the Army of Reserve. Thus, without troubling myself much about the change which was to take place in the hitherto quiet routine of my days’ I was drafted into the 66th Regiment of Foot.”[4] The 66th was a Militia Raised regiment. Some would be folded into other Regiments, and Harris would eventually volunteer under the Militia Act into the 95th Rifles. There were a lot of cases like Riflemen Harris but what would cause others to volunteer?

The use of Recruitment Parties in certain areas of the British Isles would be used to try to bring up the numbers. The country was split into three different zones, South, North and Ireland. Each area would only recruit from their designated mustering area; however this would change with the Militia Act where people would be posted where needed the most. The point of a recruitment party is very much a simple affair, it would be a Sergeant or Sergeant Major who was dethatched to a local regiment who would provide tails of heroism and how your life would be much better. For example, the image below shows a typical recruitment party, where the Sergeant would take a potential recruit to the local Public House and promise said recruit a bounty if he signed on. This was usually five times what a regular Farm or Factory worker would earn on average in the period.


To many the bounty seemed very attractive and was potentially the main reason why most joined. The problem with this would be that the pay would be deducted for essential commodities; for example boot polish, haversack and washing equipment would have to come out of the recruits pay. Weekly pay can roughly calculated through accounts from two sources Riflemen Harris and Ensign George bell. The standard pay of a Private solider fluctuated.  At the start of 1797 it was seven shillings a week for a private solider[6]. For Officers it was roughly for low ranking five shillings and three pence a day.[7] This worked out less than what an average  recruit would have earned in a week in a civilian job; and sometimes, in worse conditions, and much worse punishment. For example a dock worker in 1805 would earn twenty eight shillings a week and with this in mind we need to think of what else could have caused people to volunteer. If we take into account the sense of adventure, and also the idea of self achievement and status, you begin to get this feeling of mystery and romanticism. This can be mainly attributed to tales told in the local tavern, as shown by the painting by A Eglington (Fig16).


This idea of story and adventure are coupled within a poster from the Seventh Hussars: “Young Fellows whose hearts beast high to tread the paths of Glory, could not have a better opportunity than now offers. Come forward then, and Enrol yourselves in a Regiment that stands unrivalled, and where the kind treatment, the Men ever experienced is well known throughout the whole Kingdom.”[9] The poster would try to couple to a man’s natural sense of curiosity and adventure, the idea of a smart uniform and a better life. Captain John Kincaid would state that he was “Attracted by the Glamorous green uniform and by the nature of its service and achievements. ‘Hurrah for the first in the field and the last out of it, the fighting Ninety fifth’.”[10] Most people are attracted by this idea of heroism and a chance to make a name for themselves. However you would find Officers like Lieutenant-General Robert Ballard Long, who in a letter to his Brother on the 14th March would say that: “I make a distinction between the duty that summons every man to the field to defend his own country & rights – but Armies which are formed for other purposes,(& all of them are) shd be made up of Volunteers; those who adopt the profession from preference & and predilection-who love War as a trade in all its form & features, & what they like- I say honestly that I have no business among this class of men, for I dislike the thing & always have.”[11] This brings to mind the idea that some may have objected to the war but feel a sense of duty to the country to fight even though considering their point of view.

A Sense of duty could be attributed to the higher classes amongst British society, due to the fear of a French invasion. British propaganda mainly used cartoons to play on the upper classes fear of losing their status in British society. We must remember that the French Revolution and what the Napoleonic period stood for put a fear into the upper regions of the British society.  This would provide a massive recruitment drive, even from people from working class backgrounds. Ian Fletcher would state that: “In 1805 the threat of invasion was a very real one indeed and although Nelson had long since dealt Napoleon’s plans a severe blow as Trafalgar the threat of invasion by Bonaparte’s battalions, portrayed as demonic, devilish hordes by the likes of Crikshank and Gilray, still lingered in the British people’s minds right up till his last gamble at Waterloo.”[12]  An example of this fear can be seen in a cartoon by John Dalrymple and James Gilray, showing the beheading of the upper classes in the House of Lords and the changing of the British Establishment. In a sense it is possible to see why many of the Officers in the higher reaches of the British army were from positions of wealth and landed gentry. Promotion in this part was mainly secured by a system of buying your way into promotion (perches). To modern day standards it seems completely devoid of any clear military thinking. On the other hand to the rank and file it can be seen that this was the mark of a proper officer due to the rigid class system at home. On odd occasion you would get filed promotions for acts of bravery or gallantry, and in these instances there would only roughly be around five percent of promotions achieved in this way.


Not all who enlisted joined for the reasons stated previously; they were the underbelly of the British state.  The Duke of Wellingtons term of calling the army ‘the scum of the earth’ would mainly apply to these individuals, who would make up in some instances the hardcore of most British Regiments and would be to blame for the darkest moments of the conflict. Ian Fletcher would call these men “the men of the underworld, the criminals, pickpockets, poachers, smugglers, bully-boys and thugs, who, if not on the run from the law, had been caught, convicted and offered the choice between jail and the army.”[14] These ‘scum of the earth’ would provide many problems for Wellington during the war, and can be attributed to the events at the siege Badajoz.  These men would easily raise the armies’ recruitment numbers as many would choose military service rather than prison. Ian Fletcher and Richard Holmes would calculate on average at least fifty in each regiment would fall into this category, and in most instances would not come to trial or used the army as an escape route. For those that were convicted, the option to join the Army or Navy would be more attractive as it would provide them a chance to make a name for themselves or a chance to become deserters, and disappear into a foreign landscape.  If you look at a selective period of time in London from the start of the French Wars and till its end, criminal convictions in the Old Bailey prove extremely insightful to these ideas. At the start of the war it seems that the number of convictions to the Army or Navy was high, however they would eventually tail off. Different regions and courts around the country would differ, but if we take London as an example in respect of the crime committed a pattern can be seen showing how important this area of British society was for filling the recruitment quota.


This would prove an intersting insight as most convictions would fall into two catagories: Grand Larceny, which is the stealing of property over a certian amount; or Rape would be the main convictions. This may be the case in London but it provides small insight into the people who would go into these battles and could shed some light into the actions that occured. Convicts would help bring the army up to strength, although from what can be seen they would account for most of the dissertions. This would create a lack in manpower resulting in a higher death toll. These statistics were calculated by Kevin Lynch in the most up to date record of manpower and recuritment lists in the British army during the period. Lynch recongnised it became hard for the dead to be replaced and that this would in turn lead to some of Welligtions cautious actions during the early period of the war.


Table of Deaths and Recruitment levels from 1808 till 1812

Year Deaths Discharges Desertions Total Causalities Recruits
1808 9,285 4,990 6,611 20,886 12,963
1809 16,343 3,323 4,901 24,567 11,780
1810 13,597 4,627 4,729 22,953 9,095
1811 13,448 3,986 5,026 22,460 11,772
1812 15,842 3,733 5,918 25,493 14,756

Taken From: Linch Kevin. Britain and Wellington’s Army: Recruitment, Society and Tradition, 1807-15 (War,Culture and Society, 1750-1850) (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan 2011).,pg34

The table represents the sheer scale of the bloodshed during the war, especially during the period of 1812 when the sieges took place. It also shows that with all the ways which recruitment was undertaken in the British Isles it was very hard to find replacements when death, desertions or discharges took place. Army commanders had to become very careful utilising the manpower that they had.

This differing mix of society would create quite a unique army in some respects compared to the other forces involved in the conflict. Peter Snow has summarized what these men, young and old, would face: “Very few would survive the coming battles unscathed; Most would die or suffer wounds that would leave them limbless or scarred for life. And disease, heat cold and thirst would take on even a grater toll than Battle”[16]  At Ciudad Rodrigo and Badajoz the casualty list would mount into one of the biggest in the war with nearly half of the Army lost at the Siege of Badajoz in 1812.

[1]Uffindell Andrew. The National Army Museum Book of Wellingtons Armies: British Campaigns in the Peninsular and at Waterloo 1808-1815 (London: Pal Macmillan 2003).,pg157

[2] ^IBID.,pg156

[3]Holmes Richard. Redcoat (London: Harper Collins 2002) .,pg55

[4] Curling H. Captain. The complete Riflemen Harris (Great Britain: Leonaur 2006 ) .,pg19

[5] A Recruitment party of the 33rd Regiment of Foot c.1814 (1961-10-67/3412

[6] Mcnab Chris. Armies of the Napoleonic Wars An Illustrated History ( Great Britain: Osprey Publishing 2009).,pg108

[7] Bell George. Ensign Bell in the Peninsular War The Experiences of a Young British Solider of the 34th Regiment ‘the Cumberland Gentlemen’  in the Napoleonic Wars (Great Britain: Leonaur 2006 ) .,pg7

[8]A Eglington, A recruiting party, including infantry and light dragoons, drinking and smoking in a tavern, 1805.

[9] 7th Hussars Recruiting poster, 1809

[10] Captain Kincaid John, Adventures in the Rifle Brigade In the Peninsular France and the Netherlands from 1809-1815.,pg v

[11] The correspondence of Lieutenant-General Robert Ballard Long 14th March 1812  (1968-07-04-431)

[12] Fletcher Ian. Wellington’s Regiments: The Men and their Battles from Rolica to Waterloo 1808-1815  ( Staplehurst: Spellmount Military 1994).,pg14

[13] Dalrymple, John.  Consequences of a successful French Invasion. No.1. Plate 2d – We explain de Rights of Man… Scene. The House of Lords

[14]Fletcher Ian. Wellington’s Regiments: The Men and their Battles from Rolica to Waterloo 1808-1815.,pg15

[15] Old Bailey Proceedings Online (, version 6.0, 12th December 2011) Tabulating year where punishment category is military naval duty, between 1793 and 1815. Counting by verdict.

[16] Snow Peter. To War with Wellington: From the Peninsular to Waterloo (Great Britain: John Murry Publications 2011).,pg8