Newly commissioned colonels

For general discussions on the British Army of the Victorian era or specific regiments.

Newly commissioned colonels

Postby HerbertKitch12 » 11 Nov 2016 15:51

If an officer was made colonel could he be given the rank even if there may was not a regiment or post officially for him to take or command?
Could he take his pick of available posts?
Would a colonel be allowed to take command of a regiment local to his hometown? Would it give him an advantage if he wanted such a position?

Sorry as ever for the barrage of questions, there maybe more but I seem to have forgotten them.
HerbertKitch12
New Member
 
Posts: 94
Joined: 28 Oct 2013 13:49

Re: Newly commissioned colonels

Postby Frogsmile » 11 Nov 2016 17:30

There are several things to bear in mind when considering the rank of full Colonel. First and foremost it is the step upwards which takes an officer, for the first time, beyond his regiment so that he no longer appears in that regiment's list of officers. In effect he becomes an officer of the army as a whole, rather than an officer of his erstwhile regiment, although he would probably retain great affection and loyalty for the regiment from whence he came. That said, the tie was perhaps less strong when officers purchased their commissions and promotion and frequently moved between various units and arms, sometimes on paper only, but also physically.

Another consideration is whether his promotion is 'brevet' (i.e. in the army seniority roll as a whole, but not within his regiment), or is it a substantive promotion that takes him away from his regiment, as explained above.

An officer promoted to Colonel then could be either of the above, but generally his new position would be either, on the staff of a general officer commanding a formation, or district command at home (i.e. regional), or taking command himself as a Brigadier General (not a substantive rank in the Victorian era, but a full Colonel with temporary command of a brigade). In either case, it was often (but not always), a temporary rank and precursor to greater things, especially if command of a brigade went well and led to substantial results, in which case the officer concerned would often find himself quickly promoted to the first substantive general rank of major general.

One other type of Colonel was that of an honorary rank, as in Honorary Colonel, which was in effect a sinecure. Traditionally a retired general officer would invariably be appointed as Honorary Colonel (meaning paternal 'head') of each regiment and as such he would be the proprietary, father figure for that regiment, watching out for its interests and taking a key (influential) part in selecting and / or agreeing the appointment of its officers.

There is more to say on this but hopefully the outline above gives some pointers. A lot depended on the period concerned.
Last edited by Frogsmile on 04 Mar 2017 22:48, edited 5 times in total.
User avatar
Frogsmile
Forum Fellow
 
Posts: 4685
Joined: 25 Jan 2011 20:17
Location: Wiltshire, England

Re: Newly commissioned colonels

Postby HerbertKitch12 » 11 Nov 2016 19:30

Sorry I meant to say Lieutenant Colonel rather than Colonel which is obviously the next step up. Would the same apply or was it a tad different in a Lieutenant Colonel's case?
HerbertKitch12
New Member
 
Posts: 94
Joined: 28 Oct 2013 13:49

Re: Newly commissioned colonels

Postby Frogsmile » 12 Nov 2016 12:08

HerbertKitch12 wrote:Sorry I meant to say Lieutenant Colonel rather than Colonel which is obviously the next step up. Would the same apply or was it a tad different in a Lieutenant Colonel's case?


The situation for lieutenant colonels was entirely different. Such a promotion took him to the pinnacle of his regimental roll of officers, although the precise status depended upon whether his regiment had a single battalion or multiple battalions and whether it was during the period when each battalion had a '2nd Lieutenant Colonel' on its roll (see separate thread on this). If there were more than one lieutenant colonel on a regimental roll (and there usually was, as some would be employed on the staff) then his seniority would be in accordance with the date of his promotion in the London Gazette (referred to colloquially as 'date gazetted')

In general, the promotion to lieutenant colonel was to command the battalion of a particular regiment. This would usually be for one of four scenarios concerning his predecessor, who would either have died (disease was common)/been killed (in action), sold out (meaning selling his commission to retire), gone on half pay (a temporary retirement), or exchanged to another regiment (including sometimes into the cavalry from the infantry, although this was usually only done when either still in a more junior rank, or having had earlier, meaningful cavalry experience).

There were also the same 'brevet' promotion opportunities where an officer might be a captain, or major within his regiment, but a lieutenant colonel on the army roll who could thus be plucked out of his unit to take up a superior position at formation (e.g. brigade, or division) level. This could be common in circumstances where casualties required vital positions to be filled quickly and ensured that the more experienced and worthy men filled them. It was also possible for a deserving major, who was already on a general officer's staff in a formation headquarters, to be elevated on an acting, temporary basis to a superior position, as lieutenant colonel, again usually to replace a casualty. If he did well, then with the influence of his patron (the senior officer for whom he worked), this elevation could be made permanent. Patrons were vitally important within a system where one's promotion was in normal circumstances purchased (although it could also occur without purchase in set circumstances). Whether an officer had an assiduous and influential patron could often mean the difference between his success and his failure to advance, in reasonable time, up the slippery pole of promotion.

As regards home towns, regiments did not start to adopt geographical association until 1782, and as there was no concomitant arrangement to form a permanent depot in that same area (from whence recruits could be obtained) then it was really quite a meaningless tie other than as a secondary title to appear on insignia (e.g. 49th (Hertfordshire) Regt). In reality regimental depots (containing usually one company, but occasionally two) moved every two to three years and tended to be focussed upon cities and urban areas that proved the most fertile ground for finding men in numbers and quickly. There were one or two regimental colonels who took the new geographic associations seriously and personally and I seem to recall that the Colonel's of the 14th and 15th regiments swopped counties, but I will need to double check to confirm that. Finally, with all of the above in mind, it was possible in theory for a major in a particular regiment to purchase a lieutenant colonelcy in another regiment, 'stationed' (meaning temporarily) close to his family seat, providing that there was a vacancy, in that rank, within the regimental roll concerned. It was only after the Cardwell/Childers Reforms, that were finalised in 1881, when regimental geographical associations were allocated anew and made permanent, that regiments truly adopted a 'home', via a permanent depot. Even then, it took many decades for the old system to phase out and for regiments to take on the flavour and culture of those areas. The purchase of commissions (and purchased promotion) was abolished as part of the same reforms. I hope that helps.
Last edited by Frogsmile on 04 Mar 2017 22:49, edited 3 times in total.
User avatar
Frogsmile
Forum Fellow
 
Posts: 4685
Joined: 25 Jan 2011 20:17
Location: Wiltshire, England

Re: Newly commissioned colonels

Postby jf42 » 14 Nov 2016 10:11

Frogsmile, the 14th (Bedfordshire) and 16th (Buckinghamshire) Regiments swopped counties much earlier in the century, in 1809. Might that be what you were thinking of?

There was also the contemporary case of the 25th (Edinburgh) Regiment becoming the 25th (Sussex) Regiment for 20 odd years (1782-1805), because the Colonel of the time, the Duke of Richmond, had his country seat in Sussex.
User avatar
jf42
Senior Veteran member
 
Posts: 2211
Joined: 10 Mar 2011 15:12

Re: Newly commissioned colonels

Postby Frogsmile » 14 Nov 2016 11:33

jf42 wrote:Frogsmile, the 14th (Bedfordshire) and 16th (Buckinghamshire) Regiments swopped counties much earlier in the century, in 1809. Might that be what you were thinking of?

There was also the contemporary case of the 25th (Edinburgh) Regiment becoming the 25th (Sussex) Regiment for 20 odd years (1782-1805), because the Colonel of the time, the Duke of Richmond, had his country seat in Sussex.


Thank you JF, yes you are bang on correct about the 14th and 16th, I forgot to check as intended.

The 25th was a particular example in case, as you say, especially with the Duke of Richmond's seat being the root cause. It makes me wonder if he did not realise that it was largely meaningless in practical terms given the then practice of moving depot locations regularly.

Another connection with Edinburgh was the old 99th, which was associated with the Duke of Edinburgh in 1782, only to be switched to Wiltshire (as the 2nd Battalion) in 1881, something that caused confusion in the MoD as late as the 1970s.
User avatar
Frogsmile
Forum Fellow
 
Posts: 4685
Joined: 25 Jan 2011 20:17
Location: Wiltshire, England

Re: Newly commissioned colonels

Postby BingandNelsonFan » 14 Nov 2016 17:26

Frogsmile and JF:
Thanks so much for posting all this info! Fascinating and answers several questions that I didn't really know I had! :)

One more quick question on the ranks, which I have tried to find in another post but cannot. What does it mean in the Gazette listings when it says (hypothetical example): "Major John Doe, vice Harry Smith"?
I know that's a pretty basic question. :?

There were also the same 'brevet' promotion opportunities where an officer might be a captain, or major within his regiment, but a lieutenant colonel on the army roll who could thus be plucked out of his unit to take up a superior position at formation (e.g. brigade, or division) level. This could be common in circumstances where casualties required vital positions to be filled quickly and ensured that the more experienced and worthy men filled them. It was also possible for a deserving major, who was already on a general officer's staff in a formation headquarters, to be elevated on an acting, temporary basis to a superior position, as lieutenant colonel, again usually to replace a casualty. If he did well, then with the influence of his patron (the senior officer for whom he worked), this elevation could be made permanent. Patrons were vitally important within a system where one's promotion was in normal circumstances purchased (although it could also occur without purchase in set circumstances). Whether an officer had an assiduous and influential patron could often mean the difference between his success and his failure to advance, in reasonable time, up the slippery pole of promotion.

How long would these "brevet" promotions have lasted? Were there safeguards in place to help the well-suited and worthy officers into command positions, instead of a group ending up with a "rich boy" officer who was not suited to command but had the money to pay for a rank? Also, did you have to purchase each rank as you progressed in your career?

Thanks!
Sarah
User avatar
BingandNelsonFan
Senior Member
 
Posts: 354
Joined: 08 Nov 2013 13:59
Location: Ohio, United States

Re: Newly commissioned colonels

Postby HerbertKitch12 » 15 Nov 2016 09:16

Frogsmile wrote:
HerbertKitch12 wrote:Sorry I meant to say Lieutenant Colonel rather than Colonel which is obviously the next step up. Would the same apply or was it a tad different in a Lieutenant Colonel's case?


The situation for lieutenants colonels was entirely different. Such a promotion took him to the pinnacle of his regimental roll of officers, although the precise status depended upon whether his regiment had a single battalion or multiple battalions and whether it was during the period when each battalion had a '2nd Lieutenant Colonel' on its roll (see separate thread on this). If there were more than one lieutenant colonel on a regimental roll (and there usually was, as some would be employed on the staff) then his seniority would be in accordance with the date of his promotion in the London Gazette (referred to colloquially as ' date gazetted')

In general, the promotion to lieutenant colonel was to command the battalion of a particular regiment. This would usually be for one of four scenarios concerning his predecessor, who would either have died (disease was common)/been killed (in action), sold out (meaning selling his commission to retire), gone on half pay (a temporary retirement), or exchanged to another regiment (including sometimes into the cavalry from the infantry, although this was usually only done when either still in a more junior rank, or having had earlier, meaningful cavalry experience).

There were also the same 'brevet' promotion opportunities where an officer might be a captain, or major within his regiment, but a lieutenant colonel on the army roll who could thus be plucked out of his unit to take up a superior position at formation (e.g. brigade, or division) level. This could be common in circumstances where casualties required vital positions to be filled quickly and ensured that the more experienced and worthy men filled them. It was also possible for a deserving major, who was already on a general officer's staff in a formation headquarters, to be elevated on an acting, temporary basis to a superior position, as lieutenant colonel, again usually to replace a casualty. If he did well, then with the influence of his patron (the senior officer for whom he worked), this elevation could be made permanent. Patrons were vitally important within a system where one's promotion was in normal circumstances purchased (although it could also occur without purchase in set circumstances). Whether an officer had an assiduous and influential patron could often mean the difference between his success and his failure to advance, in reasonable time, up the slippery pole of promotion.

As regards home towns, regiments did not start to adopt geographical association until 1782, and as there was no concomitant arrangement to form a permanent depot in that same area (from whence recruits could be obtained) then it was really quite a meaningless tie other than as a secondary title to appear on insignia (e.g. 49th (Hertfordshire) Regt). In reality regimental depots (containing usually one company, but occasionally two) moved every two to three years and tended to be focussed upon cities and urban areas that proved the most fertile ground for finding men in numbers and quickly. There were one or two regimental colonels who took the new geographic associations seriously and personally and I seem to recall that the Colonel's of the 14th and 15th regiments swopped counties, but I will need to double check to confirm that. Finally, with all of the above in mind, it was possible in theory for a major in a particular regiment to purchase a lieutenant colonelcy in another regiment, 'stationed' (meaning temporarily) close to his family seat, providing that there was a vacancy, in that rank, within the regimental roll concerned. It was only after the Cardwell/Childers Reforms, that were finalised in 1881, when regimental geographical associations were allocated anew and made permanent, that regiments truly adopted a 'home', via a permanent depot. Even then, it took many decades for the old system to phase out and for regiments to take on the flavour and culture of those areas. The purchase of commissions (and purchased promotion) was abolished as part of the same reforms. I hope that helps.


What a fantastic post Frogsmile, thanks for taking so much time to answer my question. I may have to reply back with more questions but that was all very interesting and informative.
HerbertKitch12
New Member
 
Posts: 94
Joined: 28 Oct 2013 13:49

Re: Newly commissioned colonels

Postby Frogsmile » 15 Nov 2016 13:07

HerbertKitch12 wrote:
Frogsmile wrote:
HerbertKitch12 wrote:Sorry I meant to say Lieutenant Colonel rather than Colonel which is obviously the next step up. Would the same apply or was it a tad different in a Lieutenant Colonel's case?


The situation for lieutenants colonels was entirely different. Such a promotion took him to the pinnacle of his regimental roll of officers, although the precise status depended upon whether his regiment had a single battalion or multiple battalions and whether it was during the period when each battalion had a '2nd Lieutenant Colonel' on its roll (see separate thread on this). If there were more than one lieutenant colonel on a regimental roll (and there usually was, as some would be employed on the staff) then his seniority would be in accordance with the date of his promotion in the London Gazette (referred to colloquially as ' date gazetted')

In general, the promotion to lieutenant colonel was to command the battalion of a particular regiment. This would usually be for one of four scenarios concerning his predecessor, who would either have died (disease was common)/been killed (in action), sold out (meaning selling his commission to retire), gone on half pay (a temporary retirement), or exchanged to another regiment (including sometimes into the cavalry from the infantry, although this was usually only done when either still in a more junior rank, or having had earlier, meaningful cavalry experience).

There were also the same 'brevet' promotion opportunities where an officer might be a captain, or major within his regiment, but a lieutenant colonel on the army roll who could thus be plucked out of his unit to take up a superior position at formation (e.g. brigade, or division) level. This could be common in circumstances where casualties required vital positions to be filled quickly and ensured that the more experienced and worthy men filled them. It was also possible for a deserving major, who was already on a general officer's staff in a formation headquarters, to be elevated on an acting, temporary basis to a superior position, as lieutenant colonel, again usually to replace a casualty. If he did well, then with the influence of his patron (the senior officer for whom he worked), this elevation could be made permanent. Patrons were vitally important within a system where one's promotion was in normal circumstances purchased (although it could also occur without purchase in set circumstances). Whether an officer had an assiduous and influential patron could often mean the difference between his success and his failure to advance, in reasonable time, up the slippery pole of promotion.

As regards home towns, regiments did not start to adopt geographical association until 1782, and as there was no concomitant arrangement to form a permanent depot in that same area (from whence recruits could be obtained) then it was really quite a meaningless tie other than as a secondary title to appear on insignia (e.g. 49th (Hertfordshire) Regt). In reality regimental depots (containing usually one company, but occasionally two) moved every two to three years and tended to be focussed upon cities and urban areas that proved the most fertile ground for finding men in numbers and quickly. There were one or two regimental colonels who took the new geographic associations seriously and personally and I seem to recall that the Colonel's of the 14th and 15th regiments swopped counties, but I will need to double check to confirm that. Finally, with all of the above in mind, it was possible in theory for a major in a particular regiment to purchase a lieutenant colonelcy in another regiment, 'stationed' (meaning temporarily) close to his family seat, providing that there was a vacancy, in that rank, within the regimental roll concerned. It was only after the Cardwell/Childers Reforms, that were finalised in 1881, when regimental geographical associations were allocated anew and made permanent, that regiments truly adopted a 'home', via a permanent depot. Even then, it took many decades for the old system to phase out and for regiments to take on the flavour and culture of those areas. The purchase of commissions (and purchased promotion) was abolished as part of the same reforms. I hope that helps.


What a fantastic post Frogsmile, thanks for taking so much time to answer my question. I may have to reply back with more questions but that was all very interesting and informative.


Glad to help and pleased that you find the forum useful.
User avatar
Frogsmile
Forum Fellow
 
Posts: 4685
Joined: 25 Jan 2011 20:17
Location: Wiltshire, England

Re: Newly commissioned colonels

Postby Frogsmile » 15 Nov 2016 13:10

BingandNelsonFan wrote:Frogsmile and JF:
Thanks so much for posting all this info! Fascinating and answers several questions that I didn't really know I had! :)

One more quick question on the ranks, which I have tried to find in another post but cannot. What does it mean in the Gazette listings when it says (hypothetical example): "Major John Doe, vice Harry Smith"?
I know that's a pretty basic question. :?

There were also the same 'brevet' promotion opportunities where an officer might be a captain, or major within his regiment, but a lieutenant colonel on the army roll who could thus be plucked out of his unit to take up a superior position at formation (e.g. brigade, or division) level. This could be common in circumstances where casualties required vital positions to be filled quickly and ensured that the more experienced and worthy men filled them. It was also possible for a deserving major, who was already on a general officer's staff in a formation headquarters, to be elevated on an acting, temporary basis to a superior position, as lieutenant colonel, again usually to replace a casualty. If he did well, then with the influence of his patron (the senior officer for whom he worked), this elevation could be made permanent. Patrons were vitally important within a system where one's promotion was in normal circumstances purchased (although it could also occur without purchase in set circumstances). Whether an officer had an assiduous and influential patron could often mean the difference between his success and his failure to advance, in reasonable time, up the slippery pole of promotion.

How long would these "brevet" promotions have lasted? Were there safeguards in place to help the well-suited and worthy officers into command positions, instead of a group ending up with a "rich boy" officer who was not suited to command but had the money to pay for a rank? Also, did you have to purchase each rank as you progressed in your career?

Thanks!
Sarah


Hello Sarah,

The term 'vice' means in place of and was commonly used in British officialdom when an individual took over the post (and status) of another. It showed, in terms of a 'nominal roll' (list of names), the name of one man who took over the post of another named man. That way an audit trail could be maintained. It can also mean second to, as in the US 'Vice' President.

Brevet rank stayed in place until the individual concerned was promoted into the same rank substantively, or until the individual retired (sold out), or died.

Regrettably there were no formal checks and balances to prevent an idiot purchasing his commission, or his rank for promotion, but many such men got their comeuppance by being killed through their incompetence, unfortunately they frequently took a lot of good subordinates with them. This was the chief criticism of the 'system'. However, it also produced enough good men, such as the Duke of Wellington, Lord Gough, Lord Wolseley and Lord Roberts, for the system to be maintained until irresistible criticism ended it in 1874 (phased out by 1881).

Not all promotions were purchased at the 'full price' (which was laid down by regulation) because each step only paid the 'difference' in cash value between his own rank (which was in turn sold on) and his new rank, usually one step ahead (although in certain circumstances two steps could be achieved simultaneously. In addition, if your promotion was vice (to replace) another who was killed in action, then no payment was made and the step was 'free'. This is where the regimental colonel (mentioned in my first reply above) came in, as he could influence who filled the vacancy and would naturally try and do so with someone that he considered worthy (although corruption was not entirely unheard of).

The latter scenario could sometimes lead to hardship though, as ordinarily a man who sold out would receive a cash sum for his rank that would be a de facto pension to support him and his family in their dotage (although most had private incomes/land), but when a man was killed his widow received nothing. The cash aspect for all this was brokered by regimental 'agents', of which there were many throughout the 17th and 18th Centuries until their lucrative practice was ended by the abolition of purchase referred to above.
Last edited by Frogsmile on 02 Dec 2016 11:38, edited 3 times in total.
User avatar
Frogsmile
Forum Fellow
 
Posts: 4685
Joined: 25 Jan 2011 20:17
Location: Wiltshire, England

Re: Newly commissioned colonels

Postby mike snook » 15 Nov 2016 18:55

Purchase was not as rotten as is often suggested methinks. One notable check/balance was that vacancies had to be offered in strict order of seniority. A captain's vacancy, for example, had to be offered as of right to the senior lieutenant in the first instance. Only if he could not afford to pay for the 'step' (as promotions were often colloquially referred to) could the vacancy be offered to the next senior lieutenant...and so on down the line. Also a decade or more might typically pass by the time one had worked one's way up the regimental gazette from being the junior ensign to the senior lieutenant - so there is a 'time served' factor,(or 'experience', to put it another way), in play too. Of course this period might on occasion be cut short by a particularly bloody general action. It is worth bearing in mind that in the artillery and engineers, where they did not practice purchase, promotion was by strict seniority across the corps and hence much slower than in the infantry and cavalry: this was not a particuarly admirable system either, as subalterns were not uncommonly quite venerable silver-haired men in their late thirties.

So in fact the system at regimental level was rather less open to nepotism than is the modern-day system, which purports to be fully meritocratic - which means, ultimately, that promotions depend on the opinion of superiors - and opinions are of course subjective and open to misrepresentation/damnation/nepotism/favouritism/'family' ties/old school ties etc. Additionally there was an examinations for promotion system then much as there is now. I have made no great study of the officers' examinations system so don't want to hold forth on it - but I think I'm right in saying there is a date before which there were no examinations - but I would not like to suggest here and now what that date actually was. But assuming we are referring to the post Crimean and pre-abolition period I'm pretty sure there were exams for promotion then. The inference to the uninitiated - and I am certain that you do not mean to imply this Frogsmile - is that anybody who purchased his commission must perforce have been an champagne swilling idiot. On the contrary, Wellesley became Wellington by making full use of the purchase system and would likely not have become a giant of the world stage without doing so. The great majority of officers purchased their steps - and there was of course a good proportion of heroes and worthy military commanders amongst them. It was not that commonplace to be unable to afford the next step, in large part because one pitched at a type of regiment according to one's expectations and family means. If would be a bad idea, for example, for a second son of the minor gentry (who made up the bulk of the officer corps) to join the Household Cavalry or indeed any of the cavalry or Guards regiments, where vacancies were much more expensive than in less 'fashionable' regiments. Officers saved against the contingency of buying their next step, (remember they only had to find the difference between their current rank and the next, as they would sell on their existing vacancy in the lower rank for financial return), and there were few who could not muster the (typically) several hundred pounds required - sometimes by borrowing from their families. Much more problematic and corrosive of military efficiency, in my view, was promotion by strict seniority amongst colonels and above. If you got to colonel and stayed alive you would as a matter of course end up a general officer..and an incompetent general officer is a far more dangerous beast than an incompetent regimental officer. To an extent being a regimental officer in the days of the close-order drill did not require a great intellect. Lord Cardigan, for example, was an ogre in many ways (man management etc) but he could handle his regiment perfectly well in any meaningful tactical sense.

So those are just a few notes by way of amplification. It is easy to think Purchase was barking mad - but in practice it was much less so than would appear to be the case at first glance. Of course it did mean that the ordinary man in the street could not hold a commission...but in less enlightened times than our own that was the whole idea...a constitutional safeguard against the rabble that the Army (temporarily) became in the immediate aftermath of the English Civil War. To put the case for the counter-argument, Henry Havelock (whose promotion was slow for the want of family loot) famously remarked that he was, 'purchased over by two fools and one sot'. It might just as well have been a sot and two fools. Then again we might have to own the possibility of a bit of sour grapes on Sir Henry's part!

On the subject of brevet rank - I like the tale from McCalmont's memoirs (I might have rendered the name slightly wrongly). He was a member of the Wolseley Ring (post-purchase), just to place him in time and space, and was serving as the second-in-command of his regiment (of hussars) in his regimental rank of Major. In this capacity he was obviously subordinate to his commanding officer who held the lieutenant-colonelcy. However McCalmont's 'Army rank' by brevet was Colonel. One time the brigade to which the regiment belonged was ordered to participate in 'manoeuvres' on Salisbury Plain or the Curragh or somewhere - but the brigade commander could not be present. So command of the brigade passed to McCalmont in his Army rank - which led to his commanding officer (and regiment) being ordered about on manoeuvres by his own regimental second in command! Now that's pretty quaint (or daft according to one's perspective!)

As ever

M
Last edited by mike snook on 16 Nov 2016 12:14, edited 3 times in total.
Dr Mike Snook MBE psc
User avatar
mike snook
Honorary Academic Advisor
 
Posts: 1302
Joined: 19 Jun 2008 09:35

Re: Newly commissioned colonels

Postby Frogsmile » 16 Nov 2016 11:57

As always I enjoyed reading your more detailed explanation of the pluses and minuses of the purchase system and recollect your mention of the senior subaltern having first bags in another thread. Do you think that was always rigorously enforced? I have read from time-to-time that there were cases of corruption, not least that period when one of the sovereign's (George IV?) mistresses, was infamously discovered acting in collusion with an agent to sell commissions (and perhaps promotions, I am unsure) in an illegal manner.

You suggest that I meant to imply incompetence being a given by this system and I am not sure if you intended to say that. It has made me look at my words again to see if I was not as balanced as I had wished to be in a relatively brief explanation, but I see that I did mention that the shortcomings of the purchase system, such as they were (and I accept fully that there were benefits too), did not hinder the advancement of superlative officers such as the Duke of Wellington, et al. My main intent was to make it clear to Sarah that the system was much criticised.

The mention you make of the full colonels' advancing steadily by seniority once safely in that rank is something that has always interested me and, I recall that there are many examples of disaster that it can be argued were a direct result, including the command at and subsequent retreat from, Kabul during the First Afghan War.

For Sarah: I have tried to keep my replies fairly uncomplicated and in doing so missed out some of the important nuances that arose from the purchase system, which as Mike has pointed out, had benefits as well as limitations. If you are interested in following a British officer's career in an entertaining way, then I recommend the series of novels by Allan Mallinson (Brigadier retired), whose fictional character, Cornet Matthew Hervey, proceeds through a full career, starting in the Napoleonic era, that goes on well into Victoria's reign and covers conflicts in Europe, India, the Americas, Far East and Africa. The purchase system and the importance of a patron is well covered throughout and the books are available in the US, including in libraries. They are well written with a bit of romance too and so not at all dry, especially for someone with your interests. It's important that you start with the first book: "A Close Run Thing": https://www.penguin.co.uk/books/1011582 ... run-thing/
Last edited by Frogsmile on 17 Nov 2016 14:39, edited 3 times in total.
User avatar
Frogsmile
Forum Fellow
 
Posts: 4685
Joined: 25 Jan 2011 20:17
Location: Wiltshire, England

Re: Newly commissioned colonels

Postby mike snook » 16 Nov 2016 12:08

Frogsmile,

I am so sorry that I failed to type in the word 'not' in the sub-clause '...you do [not] mean to imply this...'. And I thought I had proof-read it! I have corrected the post above. Apologies - rather changes my meaning!

As ever

M
Dr Mike Snook MBE psc
User avatar
mike snook
Honorary Academic Advisor
 
Posts: 1302
Joined: 19 Jun 2008 09:35

Re: Newly commissioned colonels

Postby Frogsmile » 16 Nov 2016 12:10

mike snook wrote:Frogsmile,

I am so sorry that I failed to type in the word 'not' in the sub-clause '...you do [not] mean to imply this...'. And I thought I had proof-read it! I have corrected the post above. Apologies - rather changes my meaning!

As ever

M


No problem at all, I had rather suspected that to be the case, but was not 100% sure. Thank you for clarifying.

Regards as always,

FS
User avatar
Frogsmile
Forum Fellow
 
Posts: 4685
Joined: 25 Jan 2011 20:17
Location: Wiltshire, England

Re: Newly commissioned colonels

Postby mike snook » 16 Nov 2016 12:41

Frogsmile,

You make mention of an interesting figure...the 'regimental agent', who as I understand it acted on behalf of the Colonel of the Regiment (which did not necessarily mean that they were always in the same place - even the same continent). Abolition of purchase was of course part of a continuum of modernization. I have had it in mind for some time to look into regimental agents, but am deterred by the potential dryness of the subject and the apparent absence of an easy accessible and authoritative reference, when there are so many other more interesting and exciting subjects to devote time to. My impression is that this was a role that declined in importance/influence over the course of the 19th Century. At the same time the size and role of the civil service was expanding, while the deeds and doings of the Army were ever more 'in the public eye'. In other words Army administration became more and more formalized and open to scrutiny as the century wore on. I agree that it is likely that the system was more open to abuse earlier in the century, in Georgian England, than in the period, say 1840-70, immediately preceding abolition. Here I think there is a connection with the ease or otherwise with which officers transferred between regiments. Earlier in Victoria's reign (and certainly in the Georgian period before it), officers hopped about between regiments, if not quite at whim, then certainly much more frequently than was later the case. The ability to hop about would tend to favour the wealthy, as the internal regimental checks and balances I have described would be negated. Wellington for example briefly held a vacancy in the 41st Welsh (possibly captain or major - it doesn't really matter), though he never actually served with it. But hopping became decidedly less common later - I have yet to put my finger on the reason for this - but I wonder whether this was something to do with the declining role and influence of regimental agents - who as civilians administering military business transactions would doubtless, as a breed, have had an eye on the main chance (and the clandestine brown envelope)? I don't know though. Mental research note to self.

As ever

M
Dr Mike Snook MBE psc
User avatar
mike snook
Honorary Academic Advisor
 
Posts: 1302
Joined: 19 Jun 2008 09:35

Next

Return to The Army

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 1 guest