Military Subjects: Organization, Strategy & Tactics


History Paper Award




"Injurious to the Service at large."

The Regimental School System and Education in the British Army in the Napoleonic Era

Part II: Regimental Schools

By Stuart Hadaway

After the developments of 1800-1801, the question of official Regimental Schools again rose to the surface. Many regiments now had institutes, with more opening their own over the decade. The 25th Foot opened theirs in 1804, declaring that:

"The non-commissioned officers that may not be perfectly proficient in their writing, keeping accounts, spelling, etc., are expected to attend. Boys are ordered to go to school until they are dismissed by the adjutant; and it is strongly recommended to the Private Soldiers to take the earliest opportunity of going to school, as those who make the greatest proficiency there will be the first for promotion."[55]

The influence of Manningham's rules here are self-evident; boys must attend, Non-commissioned officers are expected also, to improve their proficiency in their duties, while men are encouraged to if they hope for promotion. Like the Rifles, it is very much based upon improving a soldier's ability in his work, and by educating only the boys it is probable that the Regiment had an eye to training a new generation of non-commissioned officers

Not all were pleased with the new developments, though. As Captain Plume pointed out, 'a fellow that can write, can draw petitions.'[56] It is possible that some politicians and officers in the Army, witnessing developments in France and the spread of education in their own ranks, were fearing a return to the days of Cromwell and the Soldier's Councils that made a mockery of discipline and were a danger to parliament and law and order. Problems over discipline and schools had arisen in 1809 in the Bedford Militia, and this may have been the final prompt for parliament to issue proper regulations and controls over this dangerous practice.

In 1808, presumably on the back of the Royal Military Asylum and the success of the 95th's school, the Duke of York recommended that all regiments start their own schools, although it was not in his power to order them to do so.[57] This seems to have sparked a new wave of schools, including one in the Bedford Militia, for which attendance was compulsory for all non-commissioned officers. When a company commander ordered one of his sergeants to attend, though, he refused, declaring 'I will soldier with anybody, but I won't be made a boy of.'[58] The sergeant was arrested for disobeying a direct order, and a lengthy process of lawsuits followed as what became the case of Warden v. Bailey went to appeal after appeal. Finally settled in 1811, the case had two particularly important incidents. The first is the ruling given in the final appeal declaring that:

"it is no part of the military duty to attend a school, and to read and write. If writing is necessary to corporals and sergeants, the superior officers must select men who can read and write."[59]

An obvious blow to the cause of Army education, the ruling seems to have been largely ignored on the grounds of practicality and growing professionalism within the Army.

The second interesting point was a part of the original ruling of the court, and is perhaps a direct cause of the establishment of an official system in 1811. The court had ruled that no soldier had the right to disobey an order, even if he doubts its legality. No matter how illegal the order, it must be obeyed and protests lodged afterwards. The threat to law and order, and even to the King and parliament, are obvious. Those who had not seen the ghost of Cromwell before must have seen him rising again now.

But how to contain this threat? The obvious way was the ploy used by all politicians when facing a new threat. Adopt the policy themselves; take it, control it and smother it until the radical threat becomes a harmless policy. However, they had to navigate around the ruling over the legality of compulsory education. One way was to establish schools for the children of soldiers, to educate the next generation of men as better soldiers with a controlled intellect. To this end, through the winter of 1811-12, a series of General Orders ordered the establishment in every regiment of a school for the 'Care and Instruction of the Children of Non-commissioned officers and Soldiers.'[60] These schools were to 'implant in the Children's minds early Habits of Morality, Obedience, and Industry' necessary to 'qualify them for non-commissioned officers.'[61] Whether soldiers themselves would be welcome at these schools is not stated in the orders, but it seems likely that any existing schools would be merged with the new one and soldiers welcomed with their children. Once inside an officially established school, the pupils and what they were taught could be watched more carefully.

The next General Order, of the 1st January 1812, gives further instructions. 'General Officers, Colonels of Regiments, and Commanding Officers of Corps' were to 'take under their special Superintendence the Regimental Schools belonging to their respective Commands.'[62] Very close attention was to made to the schools, which were to base their curriculum mainly upon military principles. Although boys were under no obligation to enlist, the schools were to impress upon them the 'early Habits of Order, Regularity and Discipline'[63] any good soldier should have. Girls were also to be taught where space and resources allowed, but the unstated emphasis was to be on producing new soldiers. Chaplains were also to monitor the schools, presumably to ensure the moral guidelines were being followed, and in an Order on the 18th January 1812, were required to report to the Commander-in-Chief on the schools, their teachers and their pupils.[64] Commanding Officers were also obliged to send reports of numbers, conduct of teachers and progress of the pupils.

As with the Rifles, teachers were meant to be selected from the available sergeants, and Bell's system used in teaching. In the North York Militia the man selected was Sergeant William Hutchinson, who was sent to Chelsea for a month-long course on Bell's methods. Hutchinson had been the schoolmaster for the unofficial regimental school for many years, but was now allowed proper accommodation for the school and 10 per annum for stationary and expenses, with extra for fuel in winter.[65] This conversion of the existing school into the new system would seem to support the assumption that soldiers would still be welcome at the school. It is unlikely that Hutchinson, or any schoolmaster, would turn away his erstwhile pupils completely, but rather they would carry on teaching all that wished to learn. Thus the Army could control all education in their ranks. By implementing their new system, Horse Guards could be almost certain of dictating what was taught to all, and the curriculum could support this. The heavy emphasis on morality and obedience could be aimed at the existing rank and file. Such a syllabus would hopefully squash any radical or dangerous thoughts amongst the ranks, and bring security to the system. The added advantages of the system in producing well-trained men at the time of a manpower shortage in the British Army were probably just that, an extra bonus to the scheme.

The system seems to have been implemented most efficiently. Hutchinson, and doubtless many others, returned to their regiments in early February to establish the new schools, while even those elements of the Army on campaign were swift to respond.[66] In a General Order of 25th February 1812, the Duke of Wellington reminded his commanders of the Commander-in-Chief's instructions, and recommends two courses of action. He advises that either 'Commanding officers of regiments should take measures to establish the schools in the regiments'[67] or that they send their children to the existing garrison school at Belem, near Lisbon, where base details and the Commissariat were then stationed.

However, apart from the curriculum restrictions stated in the original orders, other limits were also in place to prevent the learning from getting out of hand. The syllabus was founded upon military and religious subjects to keep free thinking or political understanding to a minimum, and, again like the Rifles, library services were minimal. The Duke of York wanted to educate men to make them better soldiers, and so although he was in favour of schools he was against libraries, believing them to be unnecessary and a possible forum for the circulation of radical literature,[68] again as had happened after the English Civil War. Although libraries were established, titles were only to be those from an approved list of a mere twenty-eight volumes, mainly religious and moral texts, and would remain so for the next thirty years. Even the system itself can be seen as an inhibition on learning. Bell's system was hardly ideal and some even thought it counter-productive. The Rev. G.R. Gleig, Chaplain-General and the first Inspector-General of Army Schools,[69] reckoned Bell's system to be 'a solemn bore' and stated that he had found nowhere 'a master so trained as to be capable of communicating useful information to others.'[70] However, something was being seen to be done, and enough information communicated to improve a soldier's skills and keep critics at bay, and that was enough for the soldier-politicians at Horse Guards.

The systems use in delivering up trained soldiers soon expired though. In 1814 the war with France ended, and by early 1815, the government wanted rid of its large and expensive Army. Part of this would include reform of the school system. A General Order of 16th January 1815 announced a change of policy over regimental schools. The Order congratulates regiments on their schools, saying how pleased the Duke of York was with their progress, but then goes on to discuss the importance of making sure that 'Children are, as early as possible, instructed in the means of making themselves useful and gaining their Livelihood'.[71] In other words, instead of teaching boys to be soldiers with a pretence of having free choice of career, boys are now to be taught to have a free choice of career with a pretence of joining the Army.

The schools were to be expanded in scope, and more instructors brought in 'at a very cheap rate'[72]by enlisting the help of women and tradesmen from within the regiment. Now that manpower was not such an urgent consideration, 'Tailors and Boot and Shoe-makers of each Regiment' were to be employed to instruct 'the Boys in their respective Trades.'[73] As tradesmen, they were to be both 'useful to the Regiment, and be enabled to gain their own subsistence.'[74] Meanwhile 'the best qualified and best behaved Woman of each Regiment' was to be employed in 'instructing the Girls in Plain Work and Knitting'[75] for the same purposes, and the goods produced by the pupils were to be sold to raise funds for their continued training. The running themes of reducing both the numbers in and the cost of the Army is self evident here, though it is unclear what would happen to soldier-pupils under this new, trade-based curriculum.

The Hundred Days Campaign was too short to reverse these policies, and the system would run along these lines for another thirty years until the appointment of and reforms by Gleig. A steady progression of reforms over the 1840's and 1850's would make the system into a far more useful tool, and one with proper provision for soldiers, although worries and debates over the wisdom of educating soldiers would continue. The arguments and piece-meal reforms carried on until the end of the century and beyond, although the 1833 Education Act would begin to have increasing effect upon the situation. The Act was insignificant in itself, only allowing 20,000 per annum for schools, less than for the Royal Military Asylum alone in 1813, and was passed in a near-empty House of Commons.[76] But it did mark the beginning, however small, of a state education system, although it would be many years before it affected as many people as the Duke of York's reforms. However, with gradually rising education and literacy rates among recruits through the middle of the century, and Gleig's reforms, the Army was increasingly forced to cater for educational needs in its ranks. All of the later developments, though, were founded upon the events of the Napoleonic era, and the reforms of the Duke of York and Le Marchant. This is where Army education really began, and here starts an unbroken lineage of reform and education right up to the present day both inside the forces and in society as a whole. One only has to read the regulations on class sizes and money-saving measures to appreciate that.





55. White,V.C. A.C.T, The Story of Army Education 1643-1963 London, 1963. P. 19
56. Ibid; P.19
57. Ibid; P. 22
58. Ibid; P. 21
59. Ibid; P. 21
60. General Order 14th Nov 1811. King's Regulations P. 331
61. Ibid; P. 331
62. General Order 1st Jan 1812. King's Regulations Pp. 332-3
63. Ibid; P. 332-3
64. General Order 18th Jan 1812. King's Regulations P. 338
65. Turton, R.B. History of the North York Militia Stockton-on-Tees, 1963. Pp. 102-3
66. Ibid; P.103
67. Wellington. 2nd Duke of. Supplementary Despatches, Correspondence, and Memoranda of Field Marshal Arthur Duke of Wellington K.G. Volume the Seventh: Peninsula [December, 1810 to June, 1813] London, 1860. P.298
68. Smith; Vol. LXV. No. 264.
69. Inspector-General of Army Schools 1846-1857.
70. Strachan, H. Wellington's Legacy: The Reform of the British Army 1830-54 Manchester; 1984. P. 90
71. General Order 16th Jan 1815. King's Regulations P. 409
72. Ibid; P. 409
73. Ibid; P. 409
74. Ibid; P. 409.
75. Ibid; P. 409
76. Simon; P. 165


Placed on the Napoleon Series: June 2001


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