This impressive number of troops in the service of the States-General contrasted sharply with the smaller numbers that Queen Anne could put into the field, although her Treasury had the ability to pay for considerable drafts of troops hired into Allied service from across north-western Europe. There had been for many years an aversion in England to the maintenance of a large standing army, as the bleak experience of the English Civil War and Cromwell’s protectorate cast a long shadow. William III found that, with the peace achieved at the Treaty of Ryswick in 1697, Parliament in London insisted that the army be all but disbanded to save money, but also to remove this perceived potential threat to the wider civic liberty by a monarch having too large an armed force at ready disposal. The army was reduced that year from 87,000 troops to a mere 18,000, although some regiments were quietly transferred to the Irish army establishment, where the rates of pay were lower and therefore they cost less and were, presumably, out of sight of Parliament and therefore out of mind. A number of Dutch units which had been on the English establishment were transferred to the service of the States-General for the same reasons; William III lost the service of his cherished Blue Guards in the process. The departure of these lusty soldiers from London was apparently regretted by many fashionable ladies, although the men’s habit of heavy pipe smoking had, it seems, caused some discomfort to feminine nostrils. A witty doggerel rhyme was abroad in London at the time:
Must we, the battalion of bold Dutch skaters, be drove by law from your wives and your daughters, and kicked from the Crown like a band of traitors? Oh England, Oh England, ’tis very hard measure, and things done in haste are often repented at leisure.
Other regiments had been reduced to cadres, with the officers retained in service on half-pay and therefore able to be remustered fairly quickly when war came again in 1702. Those soldiers who were discharged had, in many cases, been reduced to idleness or begging on the streets as a reward for their past services, but were also eager and willing for re-enlistment when the army was increased once more. When Marlborough took the field as Captain-General in 1702 of the ‘British’ regiments (drawn as they were from the English, Scots and Irish army establishments), he had under command five regiments of Horse (Lumley’s, Wood’s, Cadogan’s, Wyndham’s and Schomberg’s), two regiments of dragoons (Hay’s and Ross’s), and twelve regiments of Foot (the 1st Foot Guards, Orkney’s, [Charles] Churchill’s, Webb’s, North and Grey’s, Howe’s, Derby’s, Blood’s, Hamilton’s, Rowe’s, Ingoldsby’s and [John] Churchill’s) (see Appendix B). This tally does not include, of course, those other units on home duties or the large contingent sent to fight in Spain and Portugal, and eventually across the Atlantic in North America. Such was the demand of the war, and the gradual and repeated augmentation in bayonet strength that, by 1709, the long red wall that was Queen Anne’s army would include no fewer than seventy-five infantry battalions, some 58,000 foot soldiers in total, in addition to the foreign troops in the service of the Grand Alliance who were paid with British gold.
The ability of England to raise and finance large numbers of troops for the Allied cause was a significant asset, but persuasion and reassurance were needed at times, as the stress and strains of war took their toll. Queen Anne wrote to her brother-in-law the King of Denmark in April 1706, as Marlborough’s army gathered ready for the campaign that would lead within a few weeks to the triumph at Ramillies, an action in which Danish troops would have a key role:
My Captain-General, the Duke of Marlborough, is projecting an important undertaking against the enemy, and the friendship which I have for you making me rely on your own, I hope that you will allow Your Majesty’s troops now under the said General’s command, to march wherever he thinks best for the good of the Service … I have only to assure you that I will look on your consent in this matter as a particular mark of your friendship.
There had been difficulties over arrears of the soldier’s pay and the precise terms of their service. When Marlborough took the field against Marshal Villeroi on 19 May the Danish troops had yet to join him, but in response to his urgent summons they came up faithfully (and yet without proper authority), in time to fight to very good effect on the day of battle.
Strictly speaking, an officer’s commission was granted by the sovereign, or in the case of the Dutch Republic, by the States-General. In practice, most commissions in the army were obtained by ‘purchase’, a system that was, in essence, the same in both the British and Dutch establishments, although there were some differences in detail and application. The remainder of commissions, where not had by purchase, were obtained by patronage and the favour of influential men, and by virtue of seniority and meritorious service in action. Appointment as an officer, and promotion, had yet to depend upon ability, experience and worthy performance – although good service did have its rewards. Although seeming to be complex, the purchase system was quite straight-forward. An aspiring young man with a taste for the military life, or one whose family was keen to get him out of the house and making his own way in the world, would buy (usually with parental funds) a post as cornet (in the Horse) or ensign (in the Foot, the alternative title of second lieutenant being introduced in 1702). Successive steps upwards could then be obtained when vacancies occurred – leap-frogging in rank would later be forbidden – and payment for the advancement at the approved rate was made to the government. These funds were then devoted to obtaining fresh recruits for the army – at least that was the theory. In addition to the approved rate, there was a premium to be paid to the officer selling the commission, although this was unofficial and not formally approved. Officers selling out in a ‘good’ regiment could expect to get a better price than those from a unit whose reputation, for some reason, was not so admirable. The value and vested interest amongst officers to maintain the reputation of the regiment in which they served was obvious and had a distinct and directly connected military value. Regimental pride was a matter not simply of personal satisfaction and sense of duty performed, but of proven financial advantage when it came to selling a commission. The sum received on selling out would, again in theory, enable the retired officer to purchase a pension for himself – an important consideration because pensions from government were hard to obtain and even when granted subject to curtailment if the government changed.
At first glance, the system seems corrupt and open to abuse, but it was one which had vocal advocates as it was believed that to require an officer to buy his way upwards (at least in regimental circles, and only up to lieutenant colonel – ranks above that could not be purchased) ensured that the army was officered by ‘Men of fortune and character, men who have some connection with the interests and fortunes of the country … three quarters receive but little for their services beside the honour of serving.’ Whether that was the case or not, the system had developed and become part of the way the army was to a large degree manned. However, ‘Constrained, as it was, by “a range of laws, warrants, orders, rules, customs and connived at abuses,” the sale and concommitant purchase of commissions was, in fact, contrary to the law at the time.’ The Mutiny Act of 1695 required an oath to be sworn that no payment had been made to obtain a commission, but despite this inconvenience, the practice was widespread and officially winked at, if not openly approved. Still, in 1702, just as Marlborough set out on the campaign trail as Captain-General for the first time, a subaltern attempted to avoid an agreed payment for a commission on the grounds that such a payment would be unlawful. The Court of Chancery directed that he should make the payment all the same. In effect, as they were granted under the hand of the sovereign to an individual, commissions were acknowledged to be personal property, held only as a consequence of continued good conduct and faithful service, and capable, as a result, of being sold to another suitably qualified individual. This is evidenced by the fact that the commissions of officers who died in action could not be sold; the investment died with them.
Eventually, bowing to the powerful vested interests in the army over the ownership and value of commissions, a scale of prices to be paid was regulated by royal warrant in 1720. Amongst other things, this stipulated that an officer could only sell his commission to another immediately junior in rank to himself, thereby preventing any egregious leap-frogging. Richard Pope of Schomberg’s Horse frequently comments in his letters on the few chances for promotion and advancement, as he saw things, noting with a certain grim relish officers who fell on the field of battle and thus opened up fresh vacancies that had to be filled: ‘Major Creed being killed in the action (at Blenheim), Mr Cardonnel and Colonel Sibourg tell me I may depend upon having a Troop; but they have not yet settled the majority being unwilling to give it to [Captain] Prime for some good reasons.’
That there had been oddities and abuses in the purchase of commissions was undeniable, and the god-daughter of William III was granted a commission as captain in Hamilton’s Regiment and drew the pay that went with it for over twenty years. A rather more worthy appointment was perhaps that of the infant son of Brigadier General Archibald Rowe, who was killed at Blindheim village. The lad was granted a commission a few weeks after his father’s death, apparently as a kind of act of charity for the orphaned boy, but the Duke of Marlborough had to intervene in 1714, having been reappointed as Captain-General by King George I, to prevent the further granting of juvenile commissions. This was none too soon, for as late as 1713 Stair’s Dragoons (Royal Scots Greys) had a 3-year-old cornet on its muster rolls: ‘A child who could scarcely manage a rocking horse.’ Not until the time of the much (unfairly) maligned Duke of York, was a minimum age of 16 years put on the first step of purchasing or being granted a commission. For all its ills and oddities, the system for the purchase and sale of commissions – something with a tangible cash value – helped to ensure good behaviour. A commission could also be forfeited for personal misbehaviour: Lieutenant Colonel George MacArtney, ‘a brave experienced officer’, was cashiered for ‘dishonourable conduct’ towards an old woman, the precise details of which are not clear but may be imagined. He was refused the opportunity to sell his commission on account of his actions, and had to serve on as an unpaid volunteer hoping to regain his reputation, rank and fortune by his gallantry in the field. This he eventually achieved in marked fashion by his bravery under fire, in the teeming woods at Malplaquet in the autumn of 1709.
The granting of brevet rank was at first widespread; it was a process that was in the gift of an army commander, not requiring the specific sanction of the sovereign. It allowed an officer to hold a temporary uplift in unpaid rank when called on to undertake a task or series of tasks requiring the necessary authority to command others and accomplish what was necessary. A major might therefore find himself appointed to take forward an attack with two battalions of Foot, with the brevet rank of colonel enabling him to give orders to the unit commanders. Marlborough granted dozens of brevets between 1702 and 1707 but they did cause some difficulty and occasional friction with those not holding a brevet, especially when the particular operation was over and the officer concerned had returned to regimental duty, perhaps having acquired certain airs and graces in the meantime. An indication of the difficulties that might occur was an order requiring officers to do duty in their regiments in the rank for which they were paid, once the active role requiring the brevet had expired, and Marlborough had to write to Robert Walpole in June 1708 that ‘Colonel Hollins having a commission of Brigadier, does no wise exempt him from his duty as major.’18 Given the problems that arose, the granting of brevet rank was no longer formally sanctioned, and although occasionally used (by Marlborough and others), the practice died away for the time being.
It is worth pausing for a moment to consider how the various officers from many different nationalities and states, both large and small, conversed. The common soldiers had less of a problem as the opportunities or necessity to converse outside their own unit were relatively limited, and if in doubt they could, in the time-honoured fashion, always resort to raising their voices and gesticulating. For commanders, things were more tricky and a Danish officer might well ride side by side in an advance with a Hessian or a Brunswicker and have to give a shouted warning in passing to the commander of a Dutch battery. The difficulty was no less for the men who served Louis XIV, as a French commander might have a Bavarian, Irishman or a Walloon (not a particular problem there, of course) at his side. So, when having to converse with someone who was not that familiar with one’s own language, the answer was that the lingua franca (no pun intended) of both the rival armies was French, and this seemed to work remarkably well. Marlborough spoke and read French, just about, although his accent was apparently not that impressive, but he could not write in French, so all his many letters and dispatches were usually drafted in English and then translated as required. Quartermaster-General William Cadogan had an advantage when dealing with Dutch officers as he spoke their language, having married a girl from Holland, and presumably had learned to do so in agreeable circumstances.
Considerable numbers of new recruits were required with the renewed onset of war; that was inevitable, but calls to patriotic duty in an age without means of ready mass communication had little effect outside the hearing of a beating drum and the encouraging words of a recruiting officer and his roving party. As always, some likely lads, yearning for adventure, excitement and fortune, perhaps as a way to escape the plough, the apprentice’s bench or a prospective father-in-law, would be inclined to step up to the officer at the table and accept the proffered shilling, pistole or guilder to enlist. However, the new demand for manpower was such that no fewer than nine recruiting acts were passed by the English Parliament between 1702 and 1711, which allowed, amongst other things, the impressment of men with ‘No lawful calling or visible means of support’. Vagrants, the unemployed, debtors (who would be released from their obligations by accepting enlistment) and prisoners who in many cases might otherwise have swung on the gallows were in consequence recruited into the ranks of the army. A distinguished Huguenot officer once wrote, rather over-dismissively perhaps given their subsequent performance on blood-strewn battlefields, that Marlborough’s men comprised ‘Sore-footed troops … a motley crowd of rough labourers and artisans, old soldiers, and the riff-raff of the English towns’. Conscription by destitution was in force, in effect, but what were sometimes regarded as the sweepings of society could by this means be induced, with varying degrees of reluctance, to don a red coat and shoulder a musket for the queen. Despite such unpromising starts, on the whole these men did very well in their new calling.
The effectiveness of the recruiting methods varied widely from parish to parish, and there was certainly a measure of reluctance amongst English magistrates to enforce the measures fully; the rate-payers of the district would be obliged to maintain the otherwise destitute families of absent soldiers who would very possibly never return. In addition, some groups of workers whose services were deemed essential, such as farm labourers at harvest time, were kept exempt from impressments into either military or naval service. The varying fortunes of war, at least where the success or failure of campaigns was reported at home, had their inevitable effect on recruiting. As the war went on and casualty lists lengthened, whatever enthusiasm had met triumphs such as Blenheim and Ramillies, the remorseless task to fill and refill the ranks became ever more challenging. Recruiting parties were regularly sent out to try and find young men to enlist, perhaps by plying them with drink in an effort to induce them to ‘list for a soldier’ while inebriated. These things were not simple, and the recruit, once sober again, was quite likely to slip away if he was not carefully watched and guarded, and might even make off to muster into another regiment for yet another bounty. For all the talk of taking the shilling on enlistment, the actual bounty for an English recruit in Marlborough’s day was no less than £2 – a huge sum to a labourer or apprentice, and a powerful if transitory inducement to enlist.
The trickery by which recruits were sometimes persuaded to come forward was varied, but not everyone was inclined towards or adept at these underhand practices. John Blackader, a rather severe and straight-laced officer serving in the Cameronians, wrote that ‘This vexing trade of recruiting depresses my mind … I see the greatest rakes are the best recruiters. I cannot ramble, and rove, and drink, and tell stories, and wheedle and insinuate, if my life were lying at stake.’ Nor was it at all useful or effective for a recruiting party to get a lad of good family drunk and then try to insist that he had enlisted voluntarily, as was seen when the Middlesex justices of the peace determined that the only son of a gentleman of property, Mr William Hall, should be set at liberty by recruiters from Ingoldsby’s Regiment. The often-told, but highly unlikely, tale of a shilling being quietly placed in the bottom of a glass of beer so that the imbiber could unwittingly have been said to enlist is well known, but it is just a tale. ‘Bringers’ (later notorious as ‘crimps’) were also active – they would try and persuade prospective and possibly gullible recruits of the attractions of the military life and then be rewarded for finding such promising material for the recruiting party.
Money was voted by Parliament to raise troops for specific campaigns, most notably those in Flanders and Spain in Marlborough’s day, but it was not uncommon for a regiment on the ‘Spain Establishment’ to be found serving in Flanders, and in 1703 Raby’s (the Royal) Dragoons were sent from the Low Countries to campaign in the Iberian Peninsula. On the other hand, Hill’s Regiment (later the Devons), although intended for Spain, fought with some distinction at the siege of Mons in 1709. The demands of the service plainly came first, and if troops were needed in one theatre of war, that was where they were sent, at least for a limited period while Marlborough’s influence on such matters lasted. As the duke’s fortunes and influence waned, others would make demands which he could not resist, as with the futile expedition to North America that drew troops away from Flanders in 1710, despite his protests. Unsurprisingly, this posting of regiments between various establishments caused some bureaucratic upset, with scope for double counting and over-payments, and Paymaster-General James Brydges gave evidence to a Parliamentary inquiry in 1713 that:
Some regiments have been placed on several establishments at the same time, Farrington’s, for instance, on three, viz, Flanders, Spain and Portugal; Mordaunt’s and Macartney’s, in the same manner; Hill’s and Hotham’s were put in both estimates [for Spain and Portugal], and twice provided for by parliament … Other regiments have been paid different from their respective establishments.
Pay was drawn for at least one regiment that did not even exist, other than on paper, so bureaucratic mismanagement and uncertainty on the one hand, and corruption on the other, were jogging each other’s elbows. Such irregularities seem to have been more prevalent in the Iberian Peninsula than in Flanders, where Marlborough was able to keep a keen eye on things, but, as Brydges points out, there were some exceptions and highly suspect-looking anomalies that struggled to find an explanation.
Regiments of Horse or the Foot in the duke’s army were rarely all of the same size at any given time – the varying fortunes of recruiters, the incidence of casualties, malingerers and the sick, and drafts and cross-posting having to be made to bring other units up to strength did not make for such uniform neatness. The Horse had six Troops in each regiment in 1702 (although the Queen’s Regiment of Horse had nine Troops), which gave a muster roll of some 400 officers and men. Dragoon regiments also had six Troops each, which was increased for Stair’s Dragoons and Ross’s Dragoons to nine Troops in 1708–9. Thirteen companies was the war establishment for regiments of Foot serving in Flanders from 1703 onwards, and this gave a theoretical bayonet strength of 876 officers and men, with each company finding three sergeants, three corporals, two drummers and fifty-six men in addition to the officers. Units raised for service elsewhere – Spain or the West Indies, for example – had a different established strength. The Foot Guards were also different, not being on any specific establishment, with the 1st Foot Guards having twenty-eight companies each of sixty men (seventy from 1705 onwards), and the Coldstream Guards having fourteen companies. On the Act of Union in 1707 the Scots Guards were augmented to seventeen companies, each of seventy men, but this distinguished regiment did not serve with Marlborough.
Once properly enlisted and mustered into the ranks, the recruit could expect to be issued, at his colonel’s expense (a cost sometimes applied so sparingly that he turned a nice profit on the transaction), with uniform, weapon and accoutrements, and to be instructed and drilled in their use. Queen Anne’s soldiers commonly wore collarless single-breasted red coats reaching well down towards the knee and were instantly recognizable. Waistcoats were made up from the previous year’s worn-out coat with the sleeves cut off. The gunners and engineers wore red coats with blue cuffs, and only be dressed in blue coats from the end of the war onwards. Legs were clad in close-fitting kersey or shag breeches, and great-coats were issued in foul weather while on campaign. A deserter from Cadogan’s Horse was described in the London Gazette in 1711 as wearing a ‘Red coat with green [facings] broad silver lace on the sleeves and pockets bound with narrow silver lace, green waistcoat, shag breeches, silver laced hat, brown wig/hair with black bag’. Charles Colville, joining up in 1710 as a gentleman volunteer in hopes of gaining a commission, recalled that he was issued with a soldier’s coat of scarlet cloth, waistcoat, linen shirt and neckcloth, and a laced hat adorned with (as a nice touch) a blue feather. He was pleased also to receive as his personal weapon a fusee (a light form of musket often carried by officers) rather than the standard musket, which was a weighty 12lb 42-inch-barrelled flintlock musket tipped with a sharp 18-inch steel socket bayonet for good measure. This concession for Colville was in itself unusual, and may have reflected the young man’s position as an aspirant officer with well-placed friends. He would also have been provided with a buff leather cross-belt and cartridge pouch, and a short sword of doubtful usefulness known as a hanger. It is worth remembering that a foot soldier in Marlborough’s army usually carried about 50lb of equipment when on the march – knapsack, tent portion, cooking pot and so on – in addition to his arms, ammunition and accoutrements. Louis XIV’s soldiers were probably encumbered in the same way.