Victorian Military: Rising Through the Ranks

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Victorian Military: Rising Through the Ranks The British military was involved in some form of combat consecutively from 1837 to 1901. Consequently, military was a vital part of the life of a soldier or a young man looking to join the military profession. In order to join as an officer, a man had to purchase his position. However, those who entered as common soldiers could join for free. These men, however, were seen as the “lowest of the low.” If a man hoped to maintain his status in the military as well as society, he must first purchase his commission. Usually positions like colonel or captain were the first to be purchased. There were two forms of colonels, each carrying their own status. The first, known today as colonel proper was a “substantive rank from which seniority would eventually, provided they lived long enough, elevate them to join the generals” (Holves xix). The second form were colonels of regiments. They were field officers, known for advising their younger officers and having an interest in making profits from their position. This type of colonel usually made about six hundred to nine hundred pounds a year but made about four hundred more from government granted money for their regiments. Money given to regiment colonels was often used to buy cheap uniforms; the rest was pocketed by the leading officer. The colonel’s regiment bore his name and often carried a badge from his armorial bearings. Colonels could be promoted to lieutenant colonels, who were also field officers. In war-time, promotions based on merit were far more common that purchase appointments, which surprises many (Holves 108). After purchasing a commission as lieutenant-colonel, an officer must be promoted and could not purchase any higher positions. Generals were appointed by the monarch. They were chosen according to seniority, so rarely did generals receive their position based on talent. Most generals did not receive any more pay that a colonel and may have even been on half-pay as a retired officer. A general kept his position until death. He had a strong voice in appointments for positions in his regiments, especially his secretary and aides de camp. Dragoons were soldiers with much less respect. They maintained the name “dragoon,” which had belonged to members of the cavalry, was given to dragoons so that they may maintain some form of respect. William Makepeace Thackeray’s novel Vanity Fair involves the Battle of Waterloo.

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