The Uniform Of The British Army

dates from the commencement of the eighteenth century. Scarlet and blue had long been the two principal colours of the cloth ordered for the array of the king's troops, in accordance with the blazon of the royal standard; the guide from the commencement of heraldry for the liveries of retainers and domestics having been the armorial bearings of their lord or leader. But the men-at-arms were, during the early periods of our history, covered with mail or plate, and of the lighter armed troops the smallest number perchance was brought into the field by the sovereign himself, the host comprising the contingents of the barons, and the followers of every knight in it wearing the colours of the particular banners they served and fought under.

11 Many of the numbers of the Parisian work on fashions, from whence Mrs. Bell's were taken, bear the initials of the admirable Horace Vernet, now president of the French Royal Academy of Painting.

A white cross was the general badge of the English troops in the time of the crusades, and was worn as late as the reign of Edward IV. In Henry VIII.'s time we find soldiers in white coats with a red cross, but these were most probably furnished by the city of London. And Stow speaks of the marching watch wherein the archers wore coats of white fustian, signed on the breast and back with the arms of the city (the red cross aforesaid). In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries scarfs of the royal colours, or family colours, were worn by officers either over the shoulderor round the waist, and sometimes round the arm. As armour became abandoned, the necessity for uniform became more apparent, and scarlet with blue facings was definitively established as that of the British army during the reign of Queen Anne, at which time also the pike ceased to be carried, and the musket and socket bayonet became the general weapons of the infantry. The cartouch-box supplied the place of the bandelier; every species of body armour was discarded, the gorget dwindling into the ornamental trifle now known by that name. The red and white feather was worn in the reign of Queen Anne; the black cockade appeared about the time of George II.; but we have not been able to trace its origin, or fix the exact period of its introduction: it was perhaps assumed in opposition to the white cockade, the well-known badge of the Jacobite party. Italy furnished Europe with its harness of plate, and

Germany seems to have contracted for the supply of its uniform. The Prussian sugar-loaf cap was adopted with the Prussian tactics; and the uniform of the grenadiers of 1745 has been handed down to posterity by Hogarth, in his * March to Finchley/ At that time the officer's sash, which had succeeded to the scarf, was still worn like its prototype over the shoulder, and as in the Dutch army to this day.

In the London Chronicle for 1762, vol. xi., a writer says, " I hope no person will think us disaffected, but when we meet any of the new-raised infantry wearing the buttons of their hats bluff before, and the trefoil white worsted shaking as they step, we cannot help thinking of French figure dancers."

In the reign of George III. the sugar-loaf cap of the grenadiers was exchanged for the present mountain or muff of bear-skin, and the abolition of floured and pomatumed heads, three-cornered cocked hats and pigtails, took place during the last war; the hat being first superseded by a cap with a shade and high brass plate in front (1800), and finally by the shako (1816).

The coat and waistcoat followed the fashion of the time. The large skirts of the former were first doubled back to a button in the centre, a fashion preserved in the jacket that succeeded it (1813) and the coatee (1820) of the present day, when the necessity no longer exists. The white breeches and black gaiters were, during the last reign (1823), exchanged for trousers, and the long white gaiters with black buttons and garters, worn as state dress by the foot guards, were at the same time exchanged for white trousers and gaiters.

The three-cornered gold-lace cocked hat was retained by the life-guards as late as their first campaign in the Peninsula, and their cropping and docking have been commemorated by the waggish authors of the Rejected Addresses in their imitation of the ultra-loyal Fitzgerald :—

" Though humbled Gallia scoff,

God bless their pigtails, though they 're now cut off."

The said pigtails having been shortened to seven inches in 1804, and taken off entirely in 1808. The cocked hat was succeeded by a helmet with a horse-tail flowing down the back (1812), after the fashion of the French dragoons and cuirassiers, and as if to make " assurance double sure," our gallant fellows were armed with the breast-plate immediately after the battle of Waterloo, in which they had proved themselves more than a match for cavalry so defended. The bear-skin crest was substituted for the horse-tail (1817), and the grenadier fur cap was tried upon the heads of the lifeguards during the reign of George IV., but speedily abandoned, being found too cumbrous and oppressive, and the helmet with its bear-skin crest returned to.1* The Blues exchanged their buff belts

12 The grenadier fur caps were again ordered for the life-

for their present white appointments in 1821. The principal change in the light cavalry was the revival of the lance and the equipment of the regiments so armed in the Polish uniform; and his late Majesty William IY. was pleased to command that scarlet should be the uniform of every regiment in the service, with the exceptions of the rifle brigade and the life-guards blue.

Was this article helpful?

0 0

Post a comment