Category Archives: grenadiers

“Soldiers of the People”: the liberty caps of the Nottinghamshire Marksmen

The tightening of nationalist, loyalist and unionist opinion in response to the loss of the American colonies was, as they say, a seismic shift in the zeitgeist of Albion between the close of the American Revolution and the height of the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars with France. Linda Colley, in her celebrated study Britons, has documented this convincingly, if a bit wordily. We now so much take for granted the royalist hegemony of the later years of George III that it’s easy to overlook just how progressive and egalitarian Enlightenment culture had been. In the 1790’s, waving a liberty cap in public could have got you into a spot of treasonable bother. So it’s surprising to find an English militia regiment, only ten years before, proudly flaunting this emblem as a sign of patriotic and constitutional loyalty.

In 1759, perhaps swayed by popular discontent, Nottinghamshire had declined to respond to the militia ballot by raising its regiment, preferring to pay heavy fines in lieu. In 1775, the county at last resolved to raise and embody its regiment, comprising six battalion companies and two flank under Colonel Lord George Sutton. At the time it was styled as the “Nottingham Marksmen” – a possible nod to Robin Hood, and, if so, a hint at the dissenting radicalism that marked its early years. The unusual character of the regiment was set by its first Major, John Cartwright, who designed its regimental button: a cap of liberty resting on a book, with an arm holding a drawn sword, and the motto “Pro legibus et libertate”. [Click all images to enlarge.]

Cartwright in 1789, after a painting by John Hoppner

Cartwright’s family were prominent landowners in Nottinghamshire, and had been ardent royalists during the Civil War. After retirement from a creditable naval career through ill health in 1770, he was appointed Major of the Militia in 1775, and in the general absence of the Colonel and Lieutenant Colonel, had effective charge of the regiment for some years. His progressive approach to command combined rigour with the careful avoidance of unnecessary severity; he was, for instance, one of the first officers to procure a general issue of greatcoats, for the comfort of his men.

Despite Cartwright’s military enthusiasms, he was an advanced Whig in politics, authoring many political tracts and pamphlets, including The Commonwealth in Danger of 1794, which achieved a passing notoriety. In 1791, two years after he had openly celebrated the fall of the Bastille at a London hotel, his commission was withdrawn and he was dismissed. In the post-Cartwright period, the regiment’s new buttons bore prominently the monarch’s crown, and in 1813 the “Marksmen” were re-branded as the “Royal Sherwood Foresters”.

The regiment’s Standing Orders and Instructions of 1778, though credited to Sutton on the title page, have the distinctive stamp of Cartwright’s authorship:

The great end of arming a Militia, is to defend the Nation against foreign attacks, without exposing it at the same Time to that danger to Liberty, which is justly to be apprehended from all other Military Establishments. A Militia Man is therefore, the most honourable of all Soldiers …

… What a difference! To misbehave and to be treated like a base Slave, tormented by the stings of remorse, shame, and fear: Or, to act as becomes the Defender of his country’s Liberty, and to enjoy the grand privilege of Freedom, that of living without fear of any Man.

It was with a Design to impress continually these ideas upon our Minds, that the Device and Motto, which are worn upon the Button, and borne in the Colours of the Regiment, were chosen. – The Book is an emblem of Law; and the Cap, of Liberty: so that the Device represents Liberty supported by Law, and defended by the Arms of the Militia. – The Motto in English would run thus; – “For our Laws and Liberties.” – Such a Standard no Englishman can quit but with his Life. Of a similar nature is the design which adorns the Clasps of the Officers Sword belts.

In a letter of 1775 Cartwright had written:

The militia by its institution is not intended to spread the dominion or to vindicate in war the honour of the crown, but it is to preserve our laws and liberties, and therein to secure the existence of the state. It is in allusion to this specific duty that I thought the sword held up in a posture of defence over the book, and the cap, the proper emblems of law and liberty, a suitable device.

Captain George Nevile of the grenadier company, c 1775

A sermon on The Duty and Character of a National Soldier, preached to the regiment in January 1779 on the delivery of its new colours, and published the same year, elaborates these radical Whig principles of a free militia as opposed to a standing army. The author and preacher is not credited in the published pamphlet, but the sentiments, which approach republicanism, sound very much like Cartwright:

From you is expected all the discipline, all the courage of a British Soldier, without the jealousy that awaits a standing army. You are the Soldiers of the People, more than of the Crown …

… I confess that Obedience is the sovereign duty of a soldier; but obedience to whom – first, to his God, then to his Country; next to the Laws, and last of all to his King.

In 1820 Cartwright went on trial in Warwick for his part the previous year in the “seditious” election by a large pro-reform rally in Birmingham of Sir Charles Wolseley as the city’s “legislatorial representative” or alternative MP, and was fined £100. He died in 1824, and in 1826 his Life and Correspondence was published in two volumes by his niece, Frances Dorothy Cartwright.

Lawson’s 1872 Historical Record of the Royal Sherwood Foresters states that the first colours of the regiment carried the arms of the Lord Lieutenant and those of the county; this may well have been so, but in January 1779, as already noted, the regiment was certainly presented with a pair of colours that bore Cartwright’s regimental “device”, featuring the cap of liberty.

Cartwright’s button design also included the legend “Mil. Com. Nott.”, a Latinisation of “Militia of the County of Nottingham”. The same title appears on the cap plate worn by Captain George Nevile of the Grenadier company in a fine portrait circa 1775, and also, with “Militia” in full, on the gorget of the same period. The rectangular belt plate shown in the Nevile portrait appears to show a standing figure, perhaps allegorical of Liberty. (I’m unaware of the current whereabouts of this portrait, but it’s reproduced in an article on “The 45th: 1st Nottinghamshire Regiment. The ‘Sherwood Foresters.’ Their Honours and Medals” in the British Numismatic Journal for 1913. The author is one Frank Burton, who owned both portrait and gorget.)

Inevitably, Cartwright was sympathetic to the cause of American independence. It’s hardly surprising that radical Whig notions of a free militia as the guarantee of a nation’s liberty should have fed through to those who framed that nation’s constitution. It’s only a pity that their ideals should have been subjected to such distortion in our own times.

(For a slightly later reincarnation of Robin Hood in  Nottinghamshire military circles, see this post.)

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The Grand Review on Heath Common

Since prestige confers publicity, the iconography of the great volunteer movement of 1794-1808 is very London-centric. This is true not only of the uniform prints and portraits of obscure colonels, but also of commemorative prints of reviews, among which Hyde Park predominates.

thoresby-smaller
An exception is this coloured print of a painting by a Mr Hopkins (possibly William Hopkins, miniature painter) of the Grand Review of volunteers of West Yorkshire, held on Heath Common, Wakefield, in August 1796. In November 1798, almost two years after the event, an advert in the Leeds Intelligencer announced:

“GRAND REVIEW Of the GENTLEMEN VOLUNTEERS of Leeds, Wakefield, Halifax, Bradford, and Huddersfield, as commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel Lloyd, and reviewed by Lieutenant-General Scott. MR. HOPKINS, Miniature-Painter, No. 27, King-street, Bloomsbury-square, London, begs to acquaint the Ladies and Gentlemen of the above-mentioned Places, and their Environs, that the PRINT of the GRAND REVIEW, from his PICTURE taken on the Spot, is now finished, and to be seen at Mr. Wright’s, Printer, and at Mr. Greenwood’s, Bookseller, Leeds; Mr. Meggitt’s and Mr. John Hurst’s, Booksellers, Wakefield; Mr. Brook’s. Huddersfield; and at Mr. Edward’s, Halifax; where Subscriptions are received.

The above Print contains several Hundred Figures, so richly coloured as to represent a Painting and the respective Corps in their full Uniforms; the Whole forming a grand and interesting Spectacle.”

The enterprising Mr Hopkins’ original painting may be lost, but a few prints survive. In 1976 I looked at the copy held by the Thoresby Society in Leeds, thickly varnished and a bit the worse for wear. Forty years on, this has been donated to Leeds Museum; despite conservation efforts, it has suffered further in the interval, but at least a nice big image is available online here.

Hopkins’ detached perspective means that the assembled ranks appear far smaller than the less interesting foreground figures, but there’s still plenty here to round out our otherwise patchy view of this 1794 generation of volunteers. From the left of the picture stand the Leeds, Bradford, Huddersfield, Royal Wakefield and Halifax Volunteers in that order, all in scarlet faced respectively with blue, buff, blue, blue and black. The Bradford and Halifax “battalion guns” (two brass six pounders in each case) hold the ends of the line, while the West Riding Yeomanry keep the field and chase away stray dogs and naughty boys.

thoresby-halifax-1

The front ranks of the Halifax Volunteers – grenadiers at left, battalion company, band and regimental colour at right

The artillery detachments are in blue with round hats, while all the drummers except the Wakefield are in white. All in are short gaiters. The grenadier company of the Halifax are in fur caps, while all the light companies (at the viewer’s right of the rear echelons), and all ranks of the Huddersfield Fusiliers wear Tarleton helmets.

Not at the event (at too much of a distance, presumably) are the Loyal Independent Sheffield Volunteers, the Doncaster Volunteers, York Volunteers and Royal Knaresborough Foresters, all likewise raised in 1794.

Mr Hopkins’ advertisement doesn’t give a price for a copy of this grand and interesting Spectacle. These can’t have been cheap, though; the hand colouring must have been one heck of a chore.

The Yeomanry scares off two boys and a dog, while the Halifax gunners look on


Hard orders and ill cutting

During the period of the Great War with France, spanning the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, styles of military clothing changed at a highly accelerated pace, rapidly following equivalent transitions in civilian styles, the profile moving from hats, open lapelled coats and breeches to caps, closed jackets and trousers. This instability could produce real problems for officers responsible at the sharp end, in militia regiments as much as the regulars. Alterations introduced merely at the personal whim of the colonel were not always welcomed.

Here, in a letter preserved at Stafford Record Office, Lieutenant Colonel Sneyd of the Staffordshire Militia writes in some exasperation to his absentee Colonel, Lord Uxbridge:

Febry 9th 1794

So you are going, I understand, to make a total alteration in the Officers Uniform. I only wish that you may shew as good a taste in your second trial, as you did in the first. For certainly no uniform ever met with more general approbation than our present one has done. Had I been with you before you had come to the resolution of altering it I should most certainly have been Council for the Uniform of the Old Stafford. As it is, I shall say nothing to you upon the subject. Only that when it is done, it should be done in such a manner as to prevent Officers ever wearing the Old Regt in any case (otherwise we shall never get uniform) and I am afraid such an order may come a little hard upon some of our Officers, who cannot afford extraordinary expense.

Uxbridge may have decided to change the lace from silver to gold, which would also have necessitated new buttons, epaulettes, gorgets and sword belt plates. In the event these were not altered until 1802, so Sneyd seems to have won the argument for the time being, despite his promise to “say nothing … upon the subject.”  I’m not sure what Uxbridge’s first “trial” may have been.

Militia officers, who did not necessarily enjoy the private incomes of some of their regular counterparts, could indeed be hit hard by this sort of thing. In 1809 the Lieutenant Colonel of the Shropshire Militia estimated the cost of a militia officer’s outfit – just clothing, sword and belt, exclusive of camp equipment etc – at 57 pounds 7 shillings, equivalent to over £3000 in today’s money.

The “Uniform of the Old Stafford” is illustrated admirably in this fine miniature by John Downman, which came up for sale a while ago on the Claudia Hill site. Identified as a Lieutenant Hall, my guess is Lieutenant R G Hand, whose black hat feathers and belt plate suggest the grenadier company. It may have been painted at Warley Camp in 1782. Downman’s later, more sugary, work usually flatters the sitter, but his portraits of this period are frank and telling; he captures perfectly here a blend of vanity and vulnerability.

Hand portrait

Alterations in the men’s clothing could also create headaches, the clothiers’ cutters not always at their best with a new and unfamiliar pattern. A few years later, in an letter undated but apparently written a little before 1800, Sneyd was obliged to complain to Uxbridge about the transition from coats to the new style jackets, or perhaps from an earlier pattern of jacket to a later, the regiment’s new clothing being “ill cut” and sent late or not at all.

Miller seems to have given you an Idea, that we did not understand that the present jackets were made upon a different plan from our former cloathing. That is by no means the case. When I said they were ill cut, I did not mean to object to the plan, which I took for granted was your orders, but that they were ill cut according to that plan. Prater however has now acknowledged that they were not executed according to his wish – which is all he can do. We will therefore make as good a job as we can with them. But I am sorry to say that I have been at last obliged to give way in regard to the old cloaths – and have consented that this Day shall be the last of their wearing them – on condition they are still kept to sleep in on Guard … We still have not recd any more of the Jackets excepting what came by [?]. It is the not receiving them in time that has so totally defeated all our plans. All the fine things for the Blacks & boys of the Band are arrived, but our Taylors are so constantly employ’d & have so much work now before them, that I cannot do any thing about the Bands Cloaths.

The guilty party here was “Prater” – William Prater of Prater & Sons, operating out of his “Military Warehouse” at Charing Cross. Prater’s may have had a quality control problem, for in 1803 the Colonel of the Shropshire Volunteers complained that “Messrs Prater have not executed my Pantaloons according to pattern,” and when his regiment was reclothed in 1806 a good proportion of Prater’s breeches were found to be too small, and many items missing from the consignment.

In the case of the Staffordshire Militia, the regimental tailors were obliged not only, as usual, to fit the new clothing to the men, but also to try to make good the poor cutting, the extra work setting back the whole schedule for re-clothing, and postponing the in-house tailoring of fancy oriental suits for the black bandsmen. (See also this post.) The reference to the old clothing being retained for use on guard duty is interesting.

It was not unusual for army clothiers to cut corners, sacrificing quality to enhance their own profit margins and those of the colonels of regular or militia regiments, who claimed the full allowance from government and pocketed the difference, a regiment still being essentially, as Fortescue pointed out, a private company in the financial sense.


The Birmingham volunteer prints of Edward Rudge

“The exultation of the Volunteers in their plumes and trappings is, after a century’s interval, positively humiliating to contemplate,” snorted John William Fortescue, historian of the British Army in 1909, in his The County Lieutenancies and the Army, 1803-1814. “Every one of the London corps, whether by its own act or by the enterprise of some print-seller, obtained commemoration at the hands of some limner of fashion-plates, and has been visible in the windows of print-shops ever since.” (Extending his denunciation to the innumerable flattering portrayals of volunteer and yeomanry officers, he excused himself by adding: “I speak as a collector … of engraved portraits of distinguished officers of the Army. To such a collector the portraits of the illustrious obscure … are little short of a curse.”)

London limners may have led the pack, but the great provincial cities were not far behind. To make the point, here are three fine Birmingham prints, all drawn and published by Edward Rudge of that city. (Click to enlarge .) Two show the battalion and flank companies of the Birmingham Loyal Association of 1797, and both were engraved by Samuel William Fores, better known as a publisher of Gillray and others. In April 1799 the Association appeared for the first time “completely regimented” with a grenadier and a light company; “… handsome and military … much admired …,” said the local papers. In September Rudge’s print appeared to memorialise the whole handsome effect. The difference in height between the men of the companies is emphasised in his visualisation. Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery has a copy of this print, and reproductions were published for the Matthew Boulton exhibition of 2009.

Rudge print BLA
A more animated and fluent version, again by Rudge and Fores, appeared in March of the following year, no doubt to satisfy continuing popular clamour. A rather noble house and a small lake appear in the immediate background, with a windmill in the distance on the extreme right, but I can’t say that I’m able to identify the location. This second print is reproduced in Hart’s 1906 history of the 1st Volunteer Battalion of the Royal Warwickshire Regiment. Space precludes any analysis of the uniforms here, but it may be worth mentioning that a fine grenadier private’s coat, with waistcoat, breeches and accoutrements, and a light infantry Tarleton are on display at the Royal Warwickshire (Royal Regiment of Fusiliers) Regimental Museum in Warwick.

Hart BLA plate
The third Rudge print dates from April 1801 and was engraved by a C Williams rather than by Fores. This fine piece of aquatinting is dedicated to the Warwickshire Yeomanry Cavalry, raised in 1794, and shows what seems to be the second uniform of the regiment, with a skirted “Austrian” jacket. The print is reproduced in Adderley’s very scarce regimental history, but a good high res version is available at the Anne S K Brown Collection. In his Ogilby Trust pamphlet on the regiment, the late R J Smith lamented that variant colourings of this print obscure the history of the uniform, but it seems clear to me that a French grey jacket with green facings and yellow braid is shown. On the Anne S K Brown copy (alone?) a white over red feather has been added to the helmet.

rudge print in brown colln
It’s not easy to get a handle on Edward Rudge, and to date I’ve not come across any other prints, military or otherwise, published by him. He was clearly not the Warwickshire landscape painter of the same name born in 1790 – was that his son? Our Rudge is described as a “stationer and painter” in bankruptcy announcements of the late 1790’s; it seems that there was less profit in limning the illustrious obscure than Fortescue imagined …