As a gesture towards completism, I’ve added a page to this site covering the Derbyshire Militia from their faltering beginnings in the 1760’s to the close of the Napoleonic period. For anyone interested, the page is here. There is no regimental archival material to hand, and no unit history seems ever to have been attempted, so there are blank areas aplenty. But – if only as padding – my discussion takes a brief excursion to consider the military costume of the Colonel’s wife, celebrity bad girl Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, portrayed a little creatively by Keira Knightley in the 2008 film, The Duchess, and still a bit of a favourite in the history blogs.
I suppose that the actual notion of ‘fashion’ in dress, in the modern sense, can barely have existed before the mid-eighteenth century. It’s curious that in such an early phase it should have found a brief focus in women in uniform at a militia training camp. But then, the whole ephemeral newsworthiness of the Coxheath and Warley Camps of 1778-79, with all the attendant gossip, scandal, satire and raciness, seems one of those monstrous irrationalities that characterise the Age of Reason.
There’s a feast for the academic to chew on here. A noblewoman in a feminised form of male uniform, in the same environment as similarly dressed courtesans: issues of gender, sexuality and class, virtue and vice, and the citizen soldiery set against professionalism. (We read that the Duchess and her followers requested that the regimental bands should play while they dined, but that General Keppler, camp commander and a protege of Cumberland, intervened on the ground that no appearance of comparative luxury should make the private soldier resentful in his hardship.) I expect much of this has been looked at, especially the gender stuff, though I wouldn’t really claim to know.
With the waning of the initial novelty, the Duchess of Devonshire found other projects to occupy her, not least political and personal. But the ‘daughter of the regiment’ look, created in a militia context, became a strangely persistent form of costume.