Military Subjects: Organization, Strategy & Tactics

 

The Honourable Militia of Corunna in 1808: Antecedents and Uniform

By José Redondo Santos

Translated by Caroline Miley for the Napoleon Series

Editor's Note: This paper first appeared in the Spanish language website The Royal Green Jackets. The editors have kindly given the Napoleon Series to publish it in English. For those who can read Spanish, the original version of the article can be seen at: LA MILICIA HONRADA DE LA CORUÑA DE 1808

It is not true that Felipe V was the creator of the State and conciliar Provincial Militias in Spain, because examples of Royal Militias already existed. Those of the Catholic Kings were proper active forces. However, their composition deteriorated with the introduction of a draft that affected the poorest strata of the population (the commoners).  It was the first Bourbon who gave them an effective organization, which they did to avoid creating an establishment which would burden the Royal Estate, at the beginning of the XVIII century, when it was hardly possible to recruit a large army in Spain. Its organisation continued as anauxiliary or reserve corps until the new Regulation of 19-6-1802 for a new constitution for the Militia, which was revoked on 27-10-1806.

When the War of Independence began in 1808, there were 43 Regiments of Provincial Militia in Spain and 114 of Urban Militia, the latter not serving as reserves or garrisons in these difficult times.

In the case of Galicia, and specifically La Coruña, the regiments that garrisoned the city were: the Regiment of Navarre, the Provincial Regiment of Compostela, the Prince’s Regiment (3rd battalion), Provincial Regiment of Segovia, Provincial Regiment of Betanzos, 2nd Catalonian Regiment and a detachment of the 4th  Artillery Regiment, with 6 cannon, which would have to join with the garrison of Ferrol towards Puebla de Sanabria and incorporate the Army of the Asturias (of 15,000 men), who with the 25,000 Gallegos added a considerable corps, although without cavalry. All were commanded by General D. Joaquin Blake y Joyes, named Generalissimo of the Galician armies by the Junta of Galicia with its headquarters in La Coruña. On the 30th May the Junta had dismissed the weak Commander in Chief, Don Antonio Filangieri, putting Field Marshal Don Antonio Alcedo in his place as an interim measure. This force made up our Army of the Left, to face the French invasion. It awaited the inclusion of the Marqués de la Romana’s forces, which had escaped the vigilance of the French in Denmark and had arrived in Spain in English ships. Before the delay, the Junta of Galicia had urged Blake to unite with the armies of Castile, commanded by Don Gregorio Cuesta, in Villalpando on the 10th July 1808. Our armies had bad luck in the battle of Medina de Rioseco, where the Galician troops were amazingly brave in the rough country of Valdecuevas, Teso de Monclín, before Bessières’ forces, which cleverly manoeuvred with Lasalle’s cavalry and Merle’s infantry (14-7-1808). Blake retired to Manzanal and Foncebadón to reorganize his army.

As a result the Supreme Junta of the Kingdom, with its headquarters at Aranjuez, published a Regulation of 22nd Nov 1808 for the creation of an Honourable Militia. Its object was to create loyal corps in places which because of the war remained without a garrison or armed force, to prevent disorder, preserve public peace, repress criminals, bandits and deserters who caused damage through greed and cupidity. There would then be forces of public order which would carry out the tasks previously undertaken by the Provincial and Urban Militias, which circumstances had turned into combatants.

The number of individuals composing the Corps would be in proportion to the number and status of the population; these bodies would be in principle infantry, without excluding the participation of some cavalry, which persons could belong to who in the course of their work or trade had a horse or mare. The members of the Honourable Militias had to be people who enjoyed fixed rents, pay and wages, that is to say, "what was necessary for the maintenance and decency of their class". Day labourers and those who depended exclusively on their personal daily work would be excluded. The criteria for entrance would be men aged from fifteen to sixty who for some reason could not enter the army; the positions of officers, sergeants and corporals would be awarded to those who by aptitude or leisure were better able to fulfil them, without considerations of rank, profession or wealth.

The commanders would be the military governors of places that were military headquarters, being retired officers, named by the Commander in Chief; he would ascertain that the captains and aides were retired officers, with the object of properly looking after the volunteers under their instruction in drill and arms training. These volunteers would not be paid and would pay for their clothes and arms. Battalions of 500 men, companies of 60 to 80 and squadrons of from 12 to 20 would be formed.

Before the French forces drew so close, this time commanded by Napoleon, the Supreme Junta was transferred to Seville and from there circulated instructions for standardising the various offices and their signs of rank: Lieutenant Colonels would wear their insignia on the coat sleeves and not on the cuffs; senior mayors and magistrates who were battalion commanders; captains or subalterns and Sergeant Majors, would also wear their insignia (devices) on the coat sleeves.

"To avoid extravagance, with its detrimental effects, uniforms will be a brown jacket and trousers with a badge and button indicating each town, and a country-style hat with a cockade".

On the 24th November 1808 the City Council of La Coruña approved the creation of this Militia, making a list of horsemen, employees of the Royal Audience and of business, to send to Field Marshal Don Antonio Alcedo for him to use to assist in his organization.

The City Council sent the Junta a despatch asking for the Urban Militia to be terminated for the benefit of the Honourable one. The Junta rejected the request, citing the continued similarity of roles, which is why the Urban Militia continued in its usual service.

Tardiness in enlistment for the Honourable Militia evoked pressure from the military administration, which threatened the City Council with menaces, particularly applying to public employees, and was insistent, by way of pressure, with decrees and fines against defaulters.

After 1809, once Galicia was freed of the invading French troops which evacuated the region in June, effective enlistment for service began: guarding gateways and public buildings, powder magazines, and assisting official judges and authorities, making rounds, pursuing traitors and spies, escorting vehicles and convoys and escorting sealed letters of the Royal Service, assisting at the signing of solemn treaties such as those of the 23rd and 24th June 1812, and official celebrations for the publication and swearing in of the Constitution the same year (*).

(*) Uniform:

brown coat and trousers
green collar, bib, cuffs, and turn backs with white edges
white waistcoat
black gaiters  
strap and cartridge pouch (ventral) black (like the Light Infantry)
short black gaiters  
black hat with white ribbon around the base, gold button with red insignia, initials M.H. [‘Milicia Honrada’ = Honourable Militia]
on the collar, a gold Tower of Hercules

The officers wore a red sash and gold epaulettes without fringes according to the decree of the Junta of the Kingdom.

Plan:

1 Captain 1st 
1 Captain 2nd 
2 Lieutenants.
2 Sub-lieutenants.
1 sergeant 1st 
6 companies of 80 units
1 sergeant 2nd
10 corporals 1st 
10 corporals 2nd
2 drummers
2 fifers
500 volunteers

(1) The Bourbon Army Vol. V - M. Gomez Ruiz and V. Alonso Juanola. Apdce. I. Ministry of Defence.

The Uniform

The 30th November 1808, the City Council of La Coruña received the Circular Order of the General Junta of the Kingdom which provided for

"Corps of Honourable Militia of Infantry and Cavalry (...) in all the towns of the Kingdom that are outside the theatre of war, with the object of preserving the peace and inner tranquillity of the Kingdom". It accompanied this order with "Regulations for the formation of an Honourable Militia”.

Article 10 of this Regulation described the standard uniform for these armed units. In the session of the 6th December of that year, the City Council of La Coruña prepared to implement the terms of the aforementioned Article 10, deciding on a uniform for the Honourable Militia of La Coruña as follows:

"designating for this uniform an English jacket and brown trousers; cuffs, collars and lapels green with white edges, white vest edged with green, medium boots or black gaiters, black cartridge belt with pouch and sabre and round hat and gold button with the motto Mª Hª de La Coruña  (...) the same for the ends of collar, with a gold embroidered Tower of Hercules". (Book of Decisions of the City Council of La Coruña, 1808, p.130).

On the following day the Council reported this decision to the Commander-in-Chief of the Army and Kingdom of Galicia, with the specific detail of "a jacket with skirts and trousers of brown cloth".

Round Hat

The hat was of civilian origin. The crown and the short brim were made of cardboard covered with black felt. On the left side of the crown was the cockade or insignia in red, the distinctive colour of Spain. The cockade was attached by a gold thread, whose lower end was secured by a flat button with the inscription "Mª Hª de La Coruña".

Coat 

Throughout the War of Independence, one of the most abundant and cheap fabrics was the brown cloth. This was probably the reason the Regulation for the Formation of the Honourable Militia standardized this cloth for making the uniforms of these local forces, a criterion that seems confirmed by article 9, where it established that members would “… provide their own uniforms and arms at their own expense ".

The English jacket, that is to say, made following the cut of the coats of the British infantry of the time, had a green collar, lapels, bib and cuffs. The ends of the collar were finished with individual Towers of Hercules embroidered in gold thread. As with the collar, the lapels and cuffs were edged with white.

The bib and cuffs were fastened by rows of flat gold buttons with the legend already described.

The turn backs of the skirts were also green, similarly adorned with white edges. On each of the two skirts was a horizontal flap with white edges, fastened by three buttons of the workmanship and form already described.

Waistcoat

Under the coat and over the linen shirt was worn a sleeveless waistcoat, made of white cloth and adorned with a green edge. The officers, like the troops, wore a black neck-cloth over which the points of the shirt collar were visible.

Trousers

The pantaloons, that reached the ankles, unlike breeches, were of brown cloth like the coat. At the front there was a panel or fly that closed with two buttons.

Gaiters  

The troops wore gaiters of cloth or black linen cloth, buttoned along the outer length. A designated linen tape garter helped fasten it onto the leg.

Footwear

The officers wore a medium boot in black, and the troops wore a black shoe.

Cartridge Belt

Typical of light infantry units, the troops carried a ventral black leather cartridge pouch on the belt, in which they kept the cylindrical paper cartridges incorporating a round lead ball.

Arms

There is no certainty as to the model of gun used by the Honourable Militia of La Coruña, and given the historical moment we are in, we must be aware that Spanish small arms were in a period of change. The most current gun was the model of 1789 in its three versions, although to a lesser extent the 1807 model was also in use, although this was of more complex manufacture and therefore more expensive. Another possibility was the use of the "Brown Bess" gun, coming from the deliveries of arms that our allies the British had recently begun to make. On the other hand, the Honourable Militia of La Coruña was equipped with a short curved sabre, with gold grip and black leather cover with gold tip, in addition to a bayonet with a black leather scabbard. These two defensive weapons were hung from the belt on the left side.

The Flag Of The Honourable Militia Of La Coruña 

The original flag is presently preserved in the Regional Military Museum of La Coruña . The shield, with the reduced royal arms in the centre, is garnished with flags and trophies and has the Tower of Hercules in each corner. The standard is on a wooden staff and cased in a worked velvet cover, trimmed with bullion braid.

Technical Information

Reconstruction made by the Most Excellent City Council of La Coruña, under the direction of Colonel D. Leoncio Verdera Franco and the technical advice of Commander D. Antonio Manzano Lahoz and with the collaboration of the Cultural Historical Association "The Royal Green Jackets".

Full dress uniforms of Volunteers of the Guard are from the Local Police Force of La Coruña .

Further Information

Gomez Ruiz, M. and Alonso Juanola, V: The Bourbon Army. Volume V. Reinado de Fernando VII (1808-1833). Ministry of Defence 1999.

Frank Verdera, Leoncio: The Militia. A citizen force in the service of La Coruña  (1762-1814). City Council of La Coruña . 1998.

Buenos Carrera, Jose Maria: Spanish Uniforms of the War of Independence. Aldaba Ediciones, S.A.. 1989.

 

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