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Q: The British Army: Purchasing a Commission ( Answered 5 out of 5 stars,   2 Comments )
Subject: The British Army: Purchasing a Commission
Category: Relationships and Society > Government
Asked by: probonopublico-ga
List Price: $10.00
Posted: 07 Feb 2004 14:15 PST
Expires: 08 Mar 2004 14:15 PST
Question ID: 304539
In the 19th Century (at least) it was required that would be Officers
should purchase a Commission.

A short history of this practice (British spelling) ... PLEASE.

Subject: Re: The British Army: Purchasing a Commission
Answered By: aht-ga on 07 Feb 2004 14:32 PST
Rated:5 out of 5 stars

Thank you for your question regarding the practice of purchasing
officers' commissions.

You asked for a short history, so here are two links that will provide
you, in under 23 pages (one webpage and 22 pages of a paper), a
complete overview and history of this practice!


Royal Military Academy Sandhurst

"Until 1870, the usual way for an officer of the cavalry or infantry
to obtain his commission was by purchase. A new candidate had to
produce evidence of having had "the education of a gentleman", to
obtain the approval of his regimental colonel, and to produce a
substantial sum which was both proof of his standing in society and a
bond for good behaviour."


excerpt, page 6:

"II. Overview of the Purchase System
The practice of purchasing a position in an army dates back to the thirteenth
century, peaks in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and dies
out in the nineteenth century.10 Throughout this time the purchase system
evolved, and thus the purchase of command in 1200 was considerably different
from purchase in 1870. Although the purchase system was used by
all European powers, the focus here is on the British army.
The purchase system has its beginnings when Henry II (1133?89) relieved
the landed class of a medieval tradition introduced by William the
Conqueror which required landowners to supply the king with knights for
40 days of the year. Instead, Henry II began a form of taxation with which
he hired mercenary companies. The modern commercial connotation of
the word ??company,?? in part, reflects the commercial nature of these armies.
In addition to pay, the companies received a fraction of the plunder
of war, including any ransom from captured prisoners and contributions
protected property.12 Shares in these companies were determined by the
capital investment of its members and were tradable.13 The purchase of
shares by active soldiers was the institutional forerunner of the
formal purchase of commissions, which fully developed in the
seventeenth century."


I hope that this Answer is sufficient for your needs!


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Clarification of Answer by aht-ga on 07 Feb 2004 14:36 PST
My apologies, I need to clarify the above Answer.

The excerpt is from pages 4-5 of the PDF file, not page 6. As well,
the numbers scattered throughout the cited text are footnote
references, which I should have removed prior to posting the Answer.

Google Answers Researcher
probonopublico-ga rated this answer:5 out of 5 stars and gave an additional tip of: $5.00
Hi, Aht

NOBODY does this sort of thing better than you.

Many thanks!


Subject: Re: The British Army: Purchasing a Commission
From: aht-ga on 08 Feb 2004 00:35 PST
Thank you for the tip!

I tried to get the Answer back to you in a (self-imposed) target of 15
minutes from when you posted the Question, but unfortunately I missed
it by two minutes. I'll blame it on my Adobe Reader 6.01, which hung
while loading the PDF file the first time.

Incidentally, that paper makes for an interesting history lesson in
itself, worth holding onto, I think.

Subject: Re: The Royal Marines: Purchasing a Commission
From: kemlo-ga on 08 Feb 2004 13:33 PST
While not a part of the British Army, the Marines served with the Army
as infantrymen in North America. The regular compliment consisted of
50 companies with 100 men each, who were assigned duties around the
fleet. On shore, Marines were usually maintained at battalion strength
with the grenadier and light infantry companies. Marines wore red
regimental coats with white facings. The Admiralty forbade the
standard army practice of purchasing commissions within Marine units.
Instead, the merit promotion system was used to promote deserving
officers. Four hundred Marines landed in Boston during December 1774,
and another 600 in May 1775. The expedition to Lexington and Concord
in April 1775 was led by a Marine, Major Pitcairn, who was killed
during the charge up Bunker (more properly, Breed's) Hill later that
same year.

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