Much has been written about the British army’s campaigns during the many wars it fought in the eighteenth century, but for over 150 years no one has attempted to produce a history of the army as an institution during this period. That is why Stephen Conway’s perceptive and detailed study is so timely and important. Taking into account the latest scholarship, he considers the army’s legal status, political control and administration, its system of recruitment, the relationships between officers and men, and the social and economic as well as constitutional interactions of the army with British and other societies.
Throughout the book a key theme is order and control. How did a small number of officers exercise authority over large numbers of common soldiers? Traditionally the answer has focused on the role of a draconian system of corporal and capital punishment – by extensive use of the lash and the rope. Yet no institution can function through fear alone and he shows that the obedience of its common soldiers had to be negotiated by their officers who were very aware of their men’s sense of their entitlements, and their conception of military service as contractual.
By uncovering the mental world of both officers and common soldiers, Stephen Conway offers a very different view of how the British army operated between the Hanoverian succession and the end of the War of American Independence. His work will be fascinating reading for all students of British military history.