A dominant theme in recent scholarship on gender and war has been the tendency of societies to value military masculinity and its associated attributes more highly than the forms of masculinity associated with civic virtue.2 In this narrative the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars are accorded a pivotal role, the mass mobilization required by the war effort contributing, it is argued, to the production of a newly virilized and martial model of gendered national identity.3 In France, the conflation of citizen and soldier following the revolution led to an identification of military service with political rights and an emphasis on the horizontal and fraternal bonds that united men as ‘brothers-in-arms’ within the republican army.4 Similarly, the reform of the Prussian army that followed its catastrophic defeat at the hands of Napoleon in 1806 constructed Prussia as a ‘manly’ nation and introduced a new cult of valorous and sacrificial heroism.5 Unlike France and Prussia, Britain during this period saw neither the introduction of mass conscription nor the expansion of political rights, but the size of the armed forces did increase massively through voluntary enlistment into the regular army and the proliferation of national defence units. This militarization of British national life, Linda Colley argues, encouraged an ethos of ‘heroic endeavour and aggressive maleness’ and fed into a conception of Britain as an ‘essentially “masculine” culture … caught up in an eternal rivalry with an essentially “effeminate” France’.6
- Officer Corps
- Personal Reputation
- British Army
- British Officer
- British Soldier
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… Oh plenteous England, comfort’s dwelling place
Blest be thy well-fed, glossy John Bull face!…
Inoculated by wild Martial ardour
Why did I ever leave thy well-stored larder?
Why fired with scarlet-fever in ill time
Come here to fight & starve in this cursed clime!…
Turn here your eyes & give a pitying stare
Behold how Britain’s gallant warriors fare
Think not of ballroom strut or lounging gait
In public walks our military [b]ait
To catch your daughters, of [t] ten thousand prize,
Our gold and scarlet sparkling like their eyes;
But see the crimson coat seamed o’er with stitches
The torn, degenerate regimental breeches….1
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National Army Museum, London (hereafter NAM), 7101–20, excerpts from a poem found among the personal papers of Lieutenant James Penman Gairdner, who served in Portugal during the Peninsular War. The verses were apparently transcribed by his grandson and labelled ‘Parody on Pope’s “Eloisa” by a Subaltern Officer in Cantonment in Portugal, March 1813.’ Another version of this poem, entitled An Elegy, By a Subaltern Officer in Cantonments on the Banks of the Coa in 1811’, was published in 1854 in an anonymous collection that has since been attributed to John Stepney Cowell. According to Cowell, copies of the poem were printed on a ‘perambulating press’ based at the cantonments of the Light Division in Gallegos and circulated among the author’s friends and fellow officers, with whom it achieved a degree of popularity. See [John Stepney Cowell], Leaves from the Diary of an Officer of the Guards (London, 1854), 191–195. For a modern text of Alexander Pope’s heroic epistle ‘Eloisa to Abelard’ (1717), see Alexander Pope: A Critical Edition of the Major Works, ed. Pat Rogers (Oxford, 1993), 137–146.
Robert A. Nye, ‘Western Masculinities in War and Peace’, American Historical Review 112 (2007): 417–438, 417.
Stefan Dudink and Karen Hagemann, ‘Masculinity in Politics and War in the Age of Democratic Revolutions, 1750–1850’, in Masculinities in Politics and War: Gendering Modern History, ed. Stefan Dudink et al. (Manchester, 2004), 3–21. For a comparative perspective,
see also Stefan Dudink et al. (eds), Representing Masculinity: Male Citizenship in Modern Western Culture (Basingstoke, 2007).
Lynn Hunt, The Family Romance of the French Revolution (Berkeley, 1992); Joan B. Landes, ‘Republican Citizenship and Heterosocial Desire: Concepts of Masculinity in Revolutionary France’, in Dudink, Masculinities, 96–115.
Linda Colley, Britons: Forging the Nation, 1707–1837 (London, 1996), 265, 303.
Colley, Britons, 265. Though often identified as the personification of Englishness, the figure of John Bull was also sometimes invoked to represent a broader British national character. See Tamara L. Hunt, Defining John Bull: Political Caricature and National Identity in Late Georgian England (Aldershot, 2003), 121–169.
Scott Hughes Myerly, British Military Spectacle from the Napoleonic Wars through the Crimea (Cambridge, MA, 1996), 10.
Karen Harvey, ‘The History of Masculinity, circa 1650–1800’, Journal of British Studies 44 (2005): 296–311, 308.
Geoffrey Best, War and Society in Revolutionary Europe, 1770–1870 (London, 1982).
G. A. Steppler, ‘The British Army on the Eve of War’, in The Road to Waterloo: The British Army and the Struggle against Revolutionary and Napoleonic France, 1793–1815, ed. Alan J. Guy (London, 1990), 4–15, 4.
Clive Emsley, The Longman Companion to Napoleonic Europe (London, 1993), 138.
John E. Cookson, The British Armed Nation, 1793–1815 (Oxford, 1997), 126–127.
On the navy in British culture and society during this period, see Margarette Lincoln, Representing the Royal Navy: British Sea Power, 1750–1815 (Aldershot, 2002);
Kathleen Wilson, ‘Nelson and the People: Manliness, Patriotism and Body Politics’, in Admiral Lord Nelson: Context and Legacy, ed. David Cannadine (Basingstoke, 2005), 49–66.
J. A. Houlding, Fit for Service: The Training of the British Army 1715–1795 (1981; repr. Oxford, 2000), 100, 104.
Charles M. Clode, The Military Forces of the Crown, 2 vols (London, 1869), vol. 2, 608, quoted in
Richard Holmes, Redcoat: The British Soldier in the Age of Horse and Musket (London, 2002), 159.
Penelope Corfield, Power and the Professions in Britain, 1700–1850 (London, 1995), 192;
John E. Cookson, ‘Regimental Worlds: Interpreting the Experience of British Soldiers during the Napoleonic Wars’, in Soldiers, Citizens and Civilians: Experiences and Perceptions of the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, 1790–1820, ed. Alan Forrest et al. (Basingstoke, 2008), 23–42, 28.
Here, the British army stands in contrast to the French, which, as David Bell argues, became increasingly professionalized during this period; see David A. Bell, The First Total War: Napoleon’s Europe and the Birth of Warfare as We Know It (Boston, 2007).
N. A. M. Rodger, ‘Honour and Duty at Sea, 1660–1815’, Historical Research 75/190 (2002): 425–447, 427.
Leonore Davidoff and Catherine Hall, Family Fortunes: Men and Women of the English Middle Class, 1780–1850 (London, 1987), 110.
See Stana Nenadic, ‘The Impact of the Military Profession on Highland Gentry Families, c. 1730–1830’, Scottish Historical Review 85/1 (2006): 75–99, 93.
Matthew McCormack, The Independent Man: Citizenship and Gender Politics in Georgian England (Manchester, 2005), 1, 151.
Mary Wollstonecraft, A Vindication of the Rights of Men and A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, ed. Sylvana Tomaselli (Cambridge, UK, 1995), 84, 92.
J. G. A. Pocock, Virtue, Commerce, and History: Essays on Political Thought and History, Chiefly in the Eighteenth Century (Cambridge, UK, 1985).
NAM, 6807/419, letter from W. C. Coles to Charles Coles, 21 November 1808. On the equation of female influence with sexual and political corruption in French republican discourse, see Joan B. Landes, Women and the Public Sphere in the Age of the French Revolution (Ithaca, NY, 1988), 39–65.
Quoted in Robert Harveya, The War of Wars: The Epic Struggle between Britain and France, 1793–1815 (London, 2006), 529.
Rodger, ‘Honour and Duty’, 436–437; Arthur N. Gilbert, ‘Law and Honour among Eighteenth-Century British Army Officers’, Historical Journal 19 (1976): 75–87.
Donna T. Andrew, ‘The Code of Honour and its Critics: The Opposition to Duelling in England, 1700–1850’, Social History 5/3 (1980): 409–434.
Joanna Bourke, Dismembering the Male: Men’s Bodies, Britain, and the Great War (London, 1996), 133;
Marcia Kovitz, ‘The Roots of Military Masculinity’, in Military Masculinities: Identity and the State, ed. Paul R. Higate (Westport, CT, 2003), 9.
William Grattan, Adventures with the Connaught Rangers, 1809–1814, ed. Charles Oman (London, 2003), 317.
Michèle Cohen, ‘“Manners” Make the Man: Politeness, Chivalry, and the Construction of Masculinity, 1750–1830’, Journal of British Studies 44/2 (2005): 312–329, 312.
Lawrence Klein, ‘Politeness and the Interpretation of the British Eighteenth Century’, Historical Journal 45 (2002): 869–898.
Louise Carter, ‘British Women during the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars: Responses, Roles, and Representations’, Ph.D. thesis (University of Cambridge, 2005), 175.
Captain Thomas Henry Browne, ‘Journal of the Expedition to Copenhagen, 1807’, in The Napoleonic War Journal of Captain Thomas Henry Browne, 1807–1816, ed. Roger N. Buckley (London, 1987), 61.
Kathleen Wilson, The Island Race: Englishness, Empire and Gender in the Eighteenth Century (London, 2003), 24–25.
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© 2010 Catriona Kennedy
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Kennedy, C. (2010). John Bull into Battle: Military Masculinity and the British Army Officer during the Napoleonic Wars. In: Hagemann, K., Mettele, G., Rendall, J. (eds) Gender, War and Politics. War, Culture and Society, 1750–1850. Palgrave Macmillan, London. https://doi.org/10.1057/9780230283046_7
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