Friday, January 27, 2012

The Regency Army Officer
by Guest Blogger Diane Gaston

Thank you for having me as a guest, Lesley-Anne!

Part of what I love about the Regency period is the drama of the Napoleonic War and its culmination, the Battle of Waterloo. I'm the daughter of a U.S. Army colonel, so it seems logical to me that my favorite kind of hero in a Regency romance is a military one, especially a hero who has been “wounded” by the war in some kind of way.

My last three books indulged this military passion of mine. My Three Soldiers series (Gallant Officer, Forbidden Lady; Chivalrous Captain, Rebel Mistress; Valiant Soldier, Beautiful Enemy) tells the stories of three British officers who all share a horrific event after the siege of Badajoz, when the British army ran amok plundering and pillaging for three days. The experience the men share affects their whole lives.

During the Regency, a career in the military was a sought after life course for younger sons of the aristocracy, sons of the gentry and the upwardly mobile middle class. It was not a way to make one’s fortune, but was considered a respectable occupation.

The attraction of the military for young men probably had more to do with a desire for adventure and glory. The pay officers received, especially at the lower ranks, often did not cover their expenses, which included paying for his horse, uniforms, and other supplies. Some officers even brought their own servants with them, and most depended upon allowances from their families to fund their needs.

Not only did the officer have to subsidize his army career with his own funds, he had to pay to become an officer in the first place. Officers purchased their commissions and paid for their promotions. Typically the family purchased for their 16 to 19 year old son the rank of ensign or lieutenant for the infantry (coronet for the cavalry). No military training was expected, nor was it provided. The ensign learned on the job, often taught what to do by his sergeant whose path in the army was an entirely different one.

Advancement to the higher ranks – Lieutenant, Captain, etc. – required more money. In order to advance, a commission had to become available, usually because a higher ranked officer had an opportunity to purchase his own promotion. An one time a young man could advance as high as his parents could afford to pay, but in 1795 the Duke of York instituted some reforms so that a specified period of time in rank was required before a man could purchase a promotion.

There were other ways for officers to advance, especially in wartime. An officer could earn a field promotion if the higher ranked officer was killed and a replacement was immediately needed. He might also be promoted because of an act of extraordinary valor. Called a “Forlorn Hope,” those men who volunteered to be the first to storm the walls of a fortress, were promised promotions. It was called a “Forlorn Hope” because their chances of survival were minimal.

Other valorous acts could earn a man a promotion. If you have ever read the Sharpe books or watched the old TV series, Sharpe earned his promotions by valorous acts. In fact, Sharpe was promoted from the enlisted ranks because he saved Wellington’s life.

Officers, even in wartime, could virtually come and go as they pleased. They could request leaves of absence whenever they liked and they could leave the army whenever they chose by selling their commissions and returning to civilian life.

If an officer was not needed for active service they could be placed on half pay, which sounds just like what it was. The officer could be called back into service at any time and his commission was not open for purchase.

After Waterloo, when peace returned to Europe, the army needed to downsize and entire regiments were disbanded, their officers put on half pay. Available slots in active regiments became few and far between, so the men who wanted to be officers had dramatically fewer opportunities. This is the situation my hero finds himself in the third of the books, Valiant Soldier, Beautiful Enemy.

I’m not an expert about the British Army in the Napoleonic Wars but if you have any questions, I’d be glad to try to answer them.

I’ll give away one signed copy of the first in my series, Gallant Officer, Forbidden Lady, to one lucky commenter chosen at random.

Diane Gaston is the award-winning author of Regency Historical Romance whose latest books feature soldier heroes. Diane’s awards include a RITA for Best Regency Romance, a National Readers Choice Award, the Golden Quill, the Orange Rose (now called Booksellers Best), and most recently, a Holt Medallion Award of Merit. Diane’s books are released by Mills & Boon Historical, Harlequin Historical, and other Harlequin branches world-wide. The last book in Diane’s Three Soldiers series, Valiant Soldier, Beautiful Enemy, was released in September, 2011, in North America, and December, 2011, in the UK. You can visit Diane at her website, and at her blog.


Judy said...

Learned several new things, today, more particularly the Forlorn Hope. How sad. Loved the books! Great interview.

Diane Gaston said...

Thanks so much for stopping by, Judy!

Helena said...

I hadn't realised how much freedom of movement the officers had, or that ability played so little part in promotion. I knew that they bought their commissions originally, and could sell out, but I hadn't appreciated that they could buy higher ranks. It's surprising that the English army did as well as it did against Napoleon!

Anne Gallagher said...

Thanks so much for this information, Diane. I'm working on a book right now, and had no clue about officers ranks and commissions. You explained it all beautifully. Just what I needed.

Diane Gaston said...

Anne, there are some wonderful books out there that tell all about what it was like in the Regency British Army
Redcoat by Richard Holmes
Marching with Sharpe by BJ Bluth

I have tons of Napoleonic War books!

Helena, I think honor had a lot to do with the British officer's success. He was supposed to be brave and he was!

Anne Gallagher said...

Thanks for the book recommendations, Diane. Really appreciate it.

Connie said...

I so love your books, Diane. From what I just read here at your comments, you obviously do a lot of research before writing a novel which is great. I don't think enough readers appreciate the research put in by a good author before even beginning to write. I know that it has to be a lot of work and this reader really appreciates it. In addition, thanks for your recommendations, Diane!

Lesley-Anne McLeod said...

Anne is the winner of Diane's book: Gallant Officer, Forbidden Lady!
Congratulations, Anne and thank you Diane for your giveaway, and your super blog post.

Unknown said...

Excellent and informative post. I do have a question, though... have you ever come across specific information regarding the the cost of commission, annual honorarium, and half-pay at the end of the Napoleonic wars, circa 1815? I need to know what my character's income will be after the war and I have been unable to locate that information.