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									EH590 Thesis Workshop, London School of Economics, 19 January 2011

A losing concern?: the short-term rewards and costs of British
generals, 1761-1797

Andrew B. Wood
London School of Economics
Draft paper: please do not cite without permission


The eighteenth century saw the rapid expansion and diversification of the professions. The

number of officers serving in the British Army, for example, expanded from 1,950 before the

Austrian War of Succession (1739-1748) to 10,590 by 1814 (Glover 1977, p. 36; Houlding

1981, p. 99). The expansion in numbers of those working in professional occupations could

not have occurred unless there was a sufficient supply of human capital to meet this increase

demand. For this supply to be forthcoming the possible rewards to be gained from service

must have made these worthwhile careers to enter. However, the current literature on the

army contends this profession was a losing concern for officers as rewards were exceeded by

greater expenses even after gaining promotion (Guy 1981, p. 36; Glover 1977, pp. 149-151).

Consequently, officers needed a private income to support themselves as they could not

survive off military pay (Guy 1985, pp. 154-161; Clayton 2007, p. 84; Odintz 1988, pp. 261-

262). This seemingly poor cost reward profile had important implications for social mobility

and military efficiency. Otley claimed levels of social mobility were restrained as only the

wealthy could afford a career in the army (Otley 1965, pp. 213-215). According to Gates, the

inherent bias to the wealthy meant ‘unsuitable and less gifted’ men became senior officers

(Gates 1994, p. 142). This paper addresses the important question of whether officers without

external income were able to support themselves off their military pay alone by examining the

short term rewards and costs of British generals. I define short term rewards and costs as

those generated for the ranks of ensign to lieutenant-colonel. It is argued for most an army

career generated short-term monetary losses, but profit or losses from officership did depend

very much on rank.

EH590 Thesis Workshop, London School of Economics, 19 January 2011

Methodology and data

Analysing the costs and rewards of 18th century officership presents historians with profound

problems. In the days before civil registration it is not possible to use probate inventories to

analyse the outcomes of careers as these excluded real estate resulting in dramatic under

valuations of wealth and in any case only provide the most general figures. There are also

few surviving personal accounts. Accordingly, previous historians have mainly relied on a

combination of personal correspondence, official papers on pay rates and contemporary

publications to analyse officers’ rewards and costs (Guy 1985, Odintz 1988, Glover 1977). In

fact, only one personal account has ever been used as evidence in analysis of rewards and

costs (Guy 1985). This work is a major departure from previous contributions on the costs

and rewards of British officers by utilising previously unused personal account records of

officers held at the leading regimental agent, Cox and Co. Regimental agents were

responsible for managing the financial administration of their regiment. The primary

responsibility of a regimental agent was to receive pay from the Pay Office and distribute it to

the regiment, although they also acted as private bankers to officers. Virtually every officer

with the regiment had an account with their agent. This can be shown by comparing the

quantity of officers accounts contained in particular ledgers with corresponding army lists for

the same year. There were 83 officers listed in the 1772 army list for the 1st foot guards, all of

which had personal accounts in the corresponding Cox ledger. In a similar fashion, 28 out of

29 officers for the 10th foot in 1793 had accounts with Cox. The surviving regimental agent

ledgers of Cox and Co. allows analysis of 68 generals personal accounts drawn from 13

different officers.

The rewards and costs of officers

Officers were compensated for their labour in a number of different ways. All officers were

paid a salary set by the government consisting of two different payments, subsistence and

arrears. Some officers could also earn additional salaries through gaining appointments to

military jobs within their regiment and in the wider army. These appointments ranged from

regimental jobs such as quartermaster or paymaster to general commands for general officers.

EH590 Thesis Workshop, London School of Economics, 19 January 2011

Officers were also paid allowances to compensate for extra expenses incurred as a

consequence of military service.    The two most common allowances officers received were

for baggage and forage. Baggage money was used to finance the purchase of horses needed

to carry officers’ equipment on active service, while forage provided money to feed these

horses. A final income stream available to officers was profits derived from their command

positions. Field officers as company commanders were responsible for managing their

company’s "stock purse" or "non-effective" fund. The "stock purse" or "non-effective" fund

was meant to provide a means to finance each company's regular and irregular expenses of

military service. If "stock purse" or "non-effective" funds generated a surplus captains often

gained a dividend based on the fund’s profits.   The rewards officers gained from their

service through salary, allowances and profits were used to meet several expenses. The most

immediate costs for officers were daily living expenses which included breakfast and dinner,

wine and beer, new clothing such as shirts and stockings, basic stationery and other

miscellaneous items like hair powder and a soldier who dressed and shaved you. The

problem for officers, however, was not so much in meeting their daily living expenses, but

rather in paying for what officers termed ‘extraordinary expenses’. The largest extraordinary

expense was in purchasing commissions. Another major extraordinary expense arose from

the fact officers were expected to supply their own regimentals, that is to say, military dress

and equipment. Apart from purchasing commissions and equipment, officers were faced with

many other extraordinary expenses including financing shortfalls in allowances and expenses

from participating in the army's drinking and gambling culture. In addition, levels of

extraordinary expense typically increased with promotion. Field officers had higher

extraordinary expenses caused by increasing command, social, regimental and paternal


The short-term rewards and costs of the future generals, 1761-1797

A good first measure of whether officership was a losing concern is simply to examine the

account balances for individual officers. The results for this measure are rather mixed for the

future generals. It seems three ranks - ensigns, captains and majors - were able to run

EH590 Thesis Workshop, London School of Economics, 19 January 2011

surpluses in their accounts, while lieutenants and lt colonels registered deficits. However, net

balances may not be the best measure of judging the profit and loss of accounts as they might

have included inputs of private capital as well. After all, it was private capital so the

argument goes that allowed army officers to live off their pay when their military incomings

were exceeded by their outgoings. So, a better measure of profitability of these accounts

might be one that takes into account private income. If you exclude private income from the

net balances it merely reduces the extent of most debit or credit balances. The basic findings

essentially remain the same. Lieutenants and lt colonels still had losses, while captains and

majors still had profits. The flows of private income, however, do illustrate there were some

significant variations depending on rank. The challenges of being a junior officer were

illustrated by lieutenants depositing on average £36 per year of private income. Then

promotion to captain brought a reduction in private income in line with the finding that

officers balances generally improved. The private capital required of senior officers in the

regiment, majors and lieutenant colonels, then doubled compared to the captains.

        Thus, it seems the greatest financial challenges were either for junior or senior

officers. Further analysis of the rewards and costs that made up the balances supports this

view even if the reasons for these challenges were rather different. Junior officers were

mainly faced with income related issues. A problem for officers in balancing their accounts,

and one that was particularly acute for ensigns and lieutenants, were the delays in receiving

their income. Apart from subsistence, no other payments seemed to be received on a timely

basis. For example, the balance of salary, arrears, was only received with substantial delays.

70% of arrears payments to ensigns were received two years after they were due. This was

particularly problematic for ensigns and lieutenants as these officers were typically only in

receipt of subsistence on a regular basis. On the other hand, the problem for senior officers

was that promotion brought increased expense that far outpaced income growth. The average

annual income of a captain was £325 which increased to £438 for lieutenant colonels, a rise of

37%. However, expenditure more than doubled creating a funding problem for most

EH590 Thesis Workshop, London School of Economics, 19 January 2011

lieutenant colonels. These increased expenses of majors or lt colonels were the result of

different paternal, social and entertainment obligations compared to other officers. Many of

the expenses in their accounts we do not see in the accounts of middle ranking officers like

captains. For instance, two lieutenant colonels contributed annually sums ranging from £3 to

£21 that helped to finance the regimental band. Another common expense for these high-

ranking officers was to help junior and middle ranking officers finance the purchase of

promotions. Lieutenant-colonel Picton, to cite one example, loaned captain lt Kay £100 for

the purchase of a captaincy in 1770, £69 of which was repaid by 1773.


In the short term, a career in the army did seem a losing concern for many officers. This was

shown by several ranks running average annual net deficits and every rank apart from ensigns

contributing private capital to help balance their accounts. However, the extent of these

financial challenges did vary greatly depending on rank. The worst off were either very

junior or senior officers, but for different reasons. Junior officers suffered most through

receiving delayed pay and lack of income diversification meaning most of the time they only

received subsistence to live off. In contrast, senior officers struggled with the greater

expenses of their command positions, which overshadowed any income growth. Of course, it

should be borne in mind that officers did not generally enter the army for short-term

pecuniary rewards. A recent study of infantry officers showed that only 14% of officers

served less than six years (Odintz 1988, pp. 330-331). So perhaps officers entered the army

with a long-term investment strategy in mind, anticipating delayed rewards at the end of their

career. It also seems likely that other factors motivated officers to a greater degree than any

money income gain from army service. An army career provided an outlet for those seeking

status and honour and the social utility derived from such a career may have in its own right

being a significant payoff for entering the army.

EH590 Thesis Workshop, London School of Economics, 19 January 2011

Figures and tables

                         FIGURE 1




        50                                                                 Foot Guards
                                                                           Foot Guards ex PI
   £     0
              Ensign    Lieutenant   Captain      Major    Lt. Colonel
        -50                                                                Foot ex PI


N=68, Officers=13, ex PI= balance excluding private income

                         TABLE 1


                  Ensign Lt           Captain             Major   Lt-Colonel
Regiment          Guards Guards Guards Foot Foot                  Foot
Salary            £93       £130      £274         £173 £204      £281
Allowances                  £1        £51          £8             £5
Profits                               £166         £6             £8
Appointments                £26       £32                         £68
Extraordinary               £4        £60          £105 £448      £26
Private income              £36       £23          £28    £74     £50
Himself           £2        £55       £308         £25    £150    £177
Salary            £61       £68                    £36            £93
Private bills     £26       £49       £179         £118 £407      £119
Extraordinary     £1        £32       £108         £27    £43     £93
Other                       £4                     £14            £41
N                 12        25        5            10     2       14
Officers          3         5         2            3      1       5
Private bills= payments to unidentified civilian individuals

EH590 Thesis Workshop, London School of Economics, 19 January 2011

Data Sources

Army lists. (1747, 1772, 1793, 1800). London.

Lloyds TSB Group Archives, Suffolk Lane, London (Cox). A/56/e/1.0-172.0. Cox and Co.

Agent’s Ledgers, 1758-1819.


Clayton, A. (2007). The British Officer: leading the army from 1660 to the present. London.

Gates, D. (1994). The Transformation of the Army, 1783-1815. in Chandler, D. (ed.). The
Oxford Illustrated History of the British Army. Oxford. 133-159.

Glover, M. (1977). Wellington’s army: in the peninsular 1808-1814. London.

Guy, A.J. (1981). The Colonel’s Advantage: regimental proprietors and the perquisites of

command, 1714-1763. National Army Museum Annual Report, 29-37.

Guy, A.J. (1985). Oeconomy and Discipline: officership and administration in the British

Army, 1714-1763. Manchester.

J.A Houlding. (1981). Fit for Service: the training of the British Army, 1715-1795.


Odintz, M.F. (1988). The British Officer Corps, 1754-1783 (unpublished PhD dissertation).

The University of Michigan.

Otley, C.B. (1965). The Origins and Recruitment of the British Army Elite, 1870-

1959 (unpublished PhD dissertation). University of Hull.


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