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The Militia - 1757-1808 - Pitt to Peace

The immediate cause of the organic reform carried out in 1757 was the disclosure of the inefficiency of the militia during the rebellion of 1745. Since the accession of the House of Brunswick [later Hannover] in 1714, the defense of the kingdom, in time of peace, had been intrusted to the standing army; and in cases of emergency, when the regular force was insufficient, dutch troops had been introduced: all attempts to re-establish a national militia, on the same tenure as it existed during the reign of Charles the Second, had been frustrated by the repugnance of the courtA militia bill had been occasionally brought into parliament, and though usually suffered to pass, secretly defeated, under various pretences, and never carried into execution.

The Jacobite uprising of 1745, led by James's dashing son, Charles Edward Stewart (known as 'Bonnie Prince Charlie'), had little chance of success. France tried to disturb the Hanoverian government by helping the Jacobites. The Old Pretender was so intemperate that he was unfit for an active campaign, but his son Charles James Edward Stuart (known as "the Young Pretender") landed in Scotland in July 1745, with seven followers, while a French force of 15,000 men stood ready to cross to England at the first favorable moment. As so often before in English history, the winds fought for England, driving the French transports on shore, and compelling delay until fresh ones could be provided. "Evidently," said the French commander, "the winds are not Jacobites." Charles made a spectacular advance into England, getting as far as Derby.

Throughout the population of England there was through the whole campaign, a strange carelessness as to which side should prove victorious. The Revolution had been, comparatively speaking, an aristocratic movement. It had moved the power from the Crown only to put it in the hands of the nobles. Parliament was so far from being an adequate representative body, that the disputes carried on in it excited no very warm interest in the nation at large. At times indeed it was necessary for the Opposition to excite the people by some national cry; but that Opposition had uniformly employed the most violent language against the Hanoverian influence and the minister of the Hanoverian King. Such partial views therefore the people had been allowed of what was going on among their governors had all tended rather to direct the loyalty, which was then so inherent a characteristic of the English, towards the exiled house. Except in the matter of religion, the people at large were able to discover but little difference whether their king was a Stuart or a Guelph.

The class who had gained by the Revolution was that class which Walpole and Walpole's policy had chiefly favored the middle class; but as usual the middle class was apathetic and slow to risk anything unless for some personal object. At first therefore it was the Government, unaided by the people, which had to check the insurrection. Afterwards the aristocracy offered, though in a very selfish manner, to come forward, and some towns, especially in Scotland, awoke to their responsibilities, but on the whole it was the Government alone which had to act by means of its soldiers, and England had been stripped of soldiers for its foreign wars.

During the Jacobite Rebellion of 1745, the militia showed themselves quite ineffective. On 13 September 1745 letters were sent by Government, directing the lord lieutenants of counties in England and Wales to call out the militia, but no such orders were issued to Scotland, which was apparently distrusted by his Majesty. During the rebellion of 1745, a partial muster took place in the maritime counties, and was found so serviceable, that a general muster was proposed, as a measure calculated to obviate the necessity of calling in the assistance of the Hanoverian and Hessian troops, in consequence of the refusal of the Dutch to supply their stipulated contingent.

London was in a state of panic: its shops were closed. But Derby was as far south as Charles got. At Culloden Moor, near Inverness, on 16 April 1746, the outnumbered and outgunned Jacobites were swept from the field. Thus terminated a most romantic piece of military history, astonishing both in the success which the small body of Highlanders were able to gain and the rapidity with which their successes were brought to an end. Nothing but the fears of the country, occasioned by the issue of former engagements, could have magnified the defeat of 5000 Highlanders, worn out by fatigue and hunger, by nearly double the number of fresh and wellappointed troops, into a glorious victory. But, indeed, these fears were excessive.

By 1757 there was a dread of an immediate French invasion; and the Government so thoroughly lost heart as to request the King to garrison England with Hanoverian troops. William Pitt was made Prime Minister, and the measures of the new Government were in strict accordance with the principles of the Whig party which Pitt represented. The Hessians were dismissed, a Bill was passed for increasing the militia, by which 32,000 men were to be called out; reinforcements were sent to America.

The Act of 1662 had followed the old law by requiring owners of property to furnish men, horses, and arms in proportion to the value of their property, and the liability of persons of small property was to bo discharged out of a rate levied in tho parish. This was entirely altered in 1757, a liability on the part of the county or parish being substituted for a liability on the part of individuals. Each county was required to furnish a quota apportioned among the various parishes; men were to be chosen by lot to serve for three years (this being the first provision of a fixed term of service) or to provide a substitute, and vacancies were to be filled from time to time by a like process of ballot. The system thus legalized is practically the later ballot system. The force was to be annually trained and exercised for a limited period, and in case of invasion or danger thereof, or in case of rebellion, the Crown could order it or any portion of it to be embodied ; and during embodiment it was subject to the Mutiny Act. Under this Act 30,000 militiamen were raised by ballot and embodied from 1759 to 1763.

This force was exclusively "Protestant," and remained so until 1802. Pitt's 1757 Militia Act granted England and Wales the right to raise militias, but pointedly excluded Scotland. The enterprising and warlike character of the Highlanders was enlisted on the side of order by the formation of Highland regiments, a step which did more towards the pacification of the country than any measures of coercion.

In 1806 the Training Act was enacted, to raise by ballot 200,000 men to be trained for one whole year, and then to discharge them from training for two years. Difficulties having arisen under this Act, in 1808 local militia (which was in effect the old general levy) were established in addition to general militia then embodied. some 27,000 militiamen volunteered to regular army during preceding twelve months. In 1811 the English militia, hitherto not liable to serve out of the kingdom, were made liable to serve in any part of the United Kingdom under certain restrictions, which were subsequently (in 1859) removed. The service of the militia as thus arranged remained nearly in the same state until 1870.

In the early years of the 19th century, in relation to the whole army, the tendency of the Government was to use the general militia rather as an offensive force and the local militia as tho real defensive force. During the height of the war (in 1812) the relative position of the various branches of the army was as follows : First line, the standing army; second line, the general or regular militia, which as the war went on were more and more used abroad; third line, the local militia, with the survivors of the volunteers, who at that time numbered about 68,000 men.

After the peace of 1815 the militia was allowed practically to fall into abeyance, although the permanent staff was maintained.

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Page last modified: 03-08-2012 18:34:07 ZULU