All for the King's Shilling
The British Soldier under Wellington, 1808–1814
Published by: University of Oklahoma Press
Imprint: University of Oklahoma Press
The British troops who fought so successfully under the Duke of Wellington during his Peninsular Campaign against Napoleon have long been branded by the duke’s own words—“scum of the earth”—and assumed to have been society’s ne’er-do-wells or criminals who enlisted to escape justice. Now Edward J. Coss shows to the contrary that most of these redcoats were respectable laborers and tradesmen and that it was mainly their working-class status that prompted the duke’s derision. Driven into the army by unemployment in the wake of Britain’s industrial revolution, they confronted wartime hardship with ethical values and became formidable soldiers in the bargain
These men depended on the king’s shilling for survival, yet pay was erratic and provisions were scant. Fed worse even than sixteenth-century Spanish galley slaves, they often marched for days without adequate food; and if during the campaign they did steal from Portuguese and Spanish civilians, the theft was attributable not to any criminal leanings but to hunger and the paltry rations provided by the army.
Coss draws on a comprehensive database on British soldiers as well as first-person accounts of Peninsular War participants to offer a better understanding of their backgrounds and daily lives. He describes how these neglected and abused soldiers came to rely increasingly on the emotional and physical support of comrades and developed their own moral and behavioral code. Their cohesiveness, Coss argues, was a major factor in their legendary triumphs over Napoleon’s battle-hardened troops.
The first work to closely examine the social composition of Wellington’s rank and file through the lens of military psychology, All for the King’s Shilling transcends the Napoleonic battlefield to help explain the motivation and behavior of all soldiers under the stress of combat.