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John Bull into Battle: Military Masculinity and the British Army Officer during the Napoleonic Wars

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Gender, War and Politics

Part of the book series: War, Culture and Society, 1750–1850 ((WCS))

Abstract

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

… 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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Notes

  1. 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.

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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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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1057/9780230283046_7

  • Publisher Name: Palgrave Macmillan, London

  • Print ISBN: 978-1-349-30409-7

  • Online ISBN: 978-0-230-28304-6

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