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  • 10.00am - 5.30pm
  • FREE
  • Chelsea, London

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The King’s Shilling, c1770

2 min read

The bigger picture

Army recruiting parties were a common sight in the 18th century. It was their job to persuade men to leave behind their civilian lives and join the local regiment. They employed various tactics to help seal the deal, including exaggerated tales of the glamour of army life and the promise of money. Sometimes, they even resorted to plying men with drink.

The original daily pay rate for a private soldier was a shilling. So, when a man agreed to enlist in the Army, he was said to have ‘taken the King’s shilling’.

New recruits

During the late 18th and early 19th centuries, the regular army largely relied on voluntary recruitment. People enlisted for all manner of reasons: patriotism, family tradition, the desire to quit a boring job for a new career or an exciting adventure, or for the chance to see another country. For many, economic hardship was also a motivating factor.

Although volunteers were the norm, at times of severe manpower shortage the Army had to make do with whomever it could get, sometimes conscripting the down-and-out. Convicted criminals were frequently offered the choice between army service, prison, or penal transportation to the colonies.

See it on display

Come and enjoy this light-hearted village scene in our Soldier gallery, displayed alongside other items that demonstrate the various motivations and methods behind Army recruitment.

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