View previous topic | View next topic

Taking the King's Shilling

Page 1 of 4
Goto page 1, 2, 3, 4  Next

Flash
160713.  Wed Mar 28, 2007 8:46 am Reply with quote

A challenge for you: there's a well-known story that explains the glass bottoms found in pewter tankards by reference to the assertion that recruiting sergeants and/or pressgangs used to trick potential recruits into "taking the King's shilling" by slipping a coin into their beer - the glass bottoms were supposedly so that people could check that this hadn't happened.

The research team for the QI TV show are stuck on this one: we can't find conclusive evidence either that it's true or that it's a myth, but we feel that either outcome might make an interesting question. So: whichever of you can find clear contemporary evidence one way or the other wins themselves a pair of tickets to one of the recordings of the next series, as a guest of the producers.

I stress, we need a contemporary source for the story, not an assertion made by some later writer.

Fly, my beauties, fly!

 
96aelw
160740.  Wed Mar 28, 2007 9:43 am Reply with quote

Nothing contemporary yet (I'm still looking), but initial researches tend to suggest that it's unlikely to be true. The form seems to have been that the shilling was given to the recruit after he'd been sworn in, as it were. If this is correct, it would be a valid tactic for recruiting sergeants to get someone drunk and slip a shilling into their pocket, so that when they awoke murmuring "What did I do last night?" you could reply "You joined the army, mate; look, you've got the shilling in your pocket". However, slipping a coin into their pint would achieve nothing. If the handing over of the cash occurred after all the relevant oaths had been sworn, simply taking accepting a shilling from the bloke in charge of the press gang would have put you under no obligations to him. Other than perhaps buying the next round.

Right, now where's that stack of conveniently placed, easy to find contemporary evidence?

 
Flash
160748.  Wed Mar 28, 2007 9:56 am Reply with quote

That's rather what we think - that if the law was fussy enough to say that you had to take the shilling to be recruited, it would also be fussy enough to say that you couldn't be tricked into it. However, that's just our feeling, which ain't worth a hill of beans, frankly, my dears. Tomorrow is, however, another day.

 
96aelw
160760.  Wed Mar 28, 2007 10:18 am Reply with quote

Well, quite. The crucial point for me, though, seems to be that the shilling was handed over after recrutiment had occurred, not as part of the process of being recruited itself, which would mean that even if one could be tricked into it, one couldn't be tricked into it in this particular way. But without decent evidence to show that the shilling did come afterwards, which I so far lack, hill of beans, as you say. Bugger.

 
mckeonj
160886.  Wed Mar 28, 2007 3:32 pm Reply with quote

In my early drinking years I worked my way across from the Isis to the Severn, mostly on foot, and downed many a pint of Forest Brown and Orchard Delight. This was back in the 'fifties, and many country pubs still had the pewter tankards, some with glass bottoms. The practical reason for this was so that one could check the clarity of the draught. The crack was mighty, and many tall tales were told; codding the stranger was a form of entertainment.
Some yarns were told me, such as the yarn about the black dog of Avebury, and the famous 'moonraker' fable. I also heard another traveller being told the yarn about the shilling in the tankard. These two fables have a certain similarity, the coin in the water, and may be of ancient origin.
One yarn I heard is rather good, and I pass it on hereunder.
---
Old Jarge be a bit simple, like, and night after night he'd sit in the cornerm suppin his ale. If a stranger come in, they'd point out Old Jarge as being simple, and the stranger should offer him the choice of two coins to get hisself a drink; a sixpence or a penny. So Jarge'd look at em and say, "well, the littlun do be pretty, but the bigun must be worth more, so I'll have him."
So one night I says to him, "Jarge, you aint as daft as you look, so why do ee allways take the bigun?" and he says to me, "Well, if I did that they'd stop doing it, see."

 
djgordy
160937.  Wed Mar 28, 2007 6:24 pm Reply with quote

Here is a contemporary account of a press gang although it doesn't mention anything about the glass bottomed tankard or the shilling. I had always believed that story to be something that people believed but there was no actual evidence for as I did have a couple of volumes of contemporary tales about pirates some time ago. Regretfully I no longer have them. Anyway:

Quote:
28-30 April 1701 More Seamen have been Prest than there is occasion for, so that the Fleet being now fully mann’d, a great many have been Discharged and sent home again. [The English Post]

11-13 February 1702 A great many Press-Gangs are now daily abroad, and pick up every Day abundance of able Men, for the use of the Fleet, which obliges others to flock on board, that they may be Intituled to His Majesty’s Bounty Money. [The London Post]

27 February-1 March 1707 They write from Oxford, that the close of the last Week, an old, and two new-rais’d Soldiers, being got Drunk, and going from that City to Woodstock, made a Resolution to Kill the first Man they met, but he proving to be a Gentleman on Horse-back, who had a Case of Pistols, they durst not attack him. The next Man they met was a Scotch Pedlar, whom they set upon, and most Barbarously murder’d, cutting his Throat from Ear to Ear. Notice being taken of the Dead Corps, the Murderers were pursued, overtaken, and, according to ancient Custom, challenged to touch the Dead Body, which the old Soldier readily did; but one of the others was taken with a Trembling, and struck with such Terror, that he presently confess’d the horrid Fact, whereupon they were all three committed to Oxford Gaol. [The Post Boy]

26 March 1726 Last week as a labourer was going over Black-Heath to work, he met 4 fellows who press’d the poor man, but he begging heartily, and telling them his family must starve, &c. they yielded to his intreaties, provided he would give them some money, which he complying, they marched off. In a quarter of an hour he falls into another gang, with a Lieutenant, who likewise stopp’d him, upon which he bemoans his condition, saying, it was very ill fortune to be press’d twice in a day, that he had not one farthing left, having given half a guinea and three shillings to the other press gang. The Lieutenant hearing the story, went in quest of those who had extorted the money from him, and found them carrousing at an ale-house, and that they were sham press-masters; upon which he order’d the labourer his money, set him at liberty, and carried off the other chaps. [Mist's Weekly Journal]
Saturday, 22 September 1739 They press for seamen so smartly below Bridge, that no boat is suffered to pass unexamined; and yesterday, in the height of their change, some press-gangs scower’d Rag-Fair, and swept off a great number of idle fellows, very fit for the Service.
On Tuesday night one Matthew Stubbs, a Custom-House Waterman, was press’d in St. Katherine’s to serve the King, by a Man of War’s gang; but he being already in the Government Service refused to go along with them, whereupon a quarrel ensued, and he in the fray was several times knock’d down and most terribly wounded: But a posse of people gathering about them, the Press-Masters were forced to retire, and leave their Midshipman, that was their leader, prisoner; who being carried before Justice Dennet was by him bound over to answer for his misbehaviour at Sessions. (Read’s Weekly Journal, or, British-Gazetteer)

1 July 1732 On Monday night last, about nine o’clock, Lieutenant Smith, with his press-gang, belonging to the Edinburgh Man of War, went on board some Norway ships lying in Hanover-Hole, being Danes, Swedes, &c. in order to press some of the men, several of whom were English; but they no sooner gon on board, but all the ships crews in the Teer gathered together in a body, and got their handspikes, iron crows, hatchets (with which they cut the wood in the country) and other weapons, and as fast as the press gang got up the sides of the ship they knock’d them into the Thames; but notwithstanding this resistance, the press gang still persisted, and got again into the ship, but being overpowered, the adversaries got the Lieutenant, and was going to cut his head off with one of the hatchets, and would certainly have done it, had not a stout fellow knock’d the person down as he was going to strike the blow, and at the same tiime took the Lieutenant in his arms and flung him over-board, by which means he saved his life. After the press-gang was got into their boat, some with broken arms, others with their ribs broke (who were afterwards carried to Deptford Yard to the Surgeon to be cured) the ships crews flung into the boat at them several handspikes, hatchets, and other desperate weapons, all which were brought into the publick Hall of the Admiralty, and a complaint was likewise made to their Lordships on Tuesday, but what the consequence will be must be referred to another opportunity. (The Country Journal: or, The Craftsman)


These stories are from Rictor Norton's source book of early 18th century newspaper reports.

With regard to the pirate stories (which I wish I still had), the best book was "A General History of the Robberies and Murders of the Most Notorious Pyrates" (1724) by Captain Charles Johnson (sometimes assumed to be the pseudonym of Daniel Defoe, though there seems to be no real evidence of this).

 
barbados
160961.  Thu Mar 29, 2007 2:31 am Reply with quote

Flash, you might want to speak to the Redoubt museum in Eastbourne, The curator (used to be Richard Callaghan) had this to offer to the Napoleon website
Quote:
The expression 'to take the king's shilling, meant to sign up to join the army. Rather like with the 'prest' money for the 'impressed' man, a bonus payment of a shilling was offered to tempt lowly paid workers to leave their trade (an average daily wage during the Napoleonic period was 2p (at 12p to a shilling, this represented six days wages in one go). Once the shilling had been accepted, it was almost impossible to leave the army.
Since the army was not seen as an attractive career, recruiting sergeants often had to use less than honest methods to secure their 'prey', such as getting the recruitee drunk, slipping the shilling into his pocket and then hauling him before the magistrate the following morning (still hungover) to get him to accept the fact that he was now in the army. Sometimes the 'King's shilling' was hidden in the bottom of a pewter tankard (having drunk his pint, the unfortunate drinker found that he had unwittingly accepted the King's offer). As a result, some tankards were made with glass bottoms. Other recruits came from the courts, where a criminal's sentence could be commuted to service in the army - still the case (apparently) with the Blackwatch Regiment.
In fact the bounty for joining the army was much larger than a shilling. New recruits received £23.17s.6d, but out of this they were obliged to buy their uniform - a not inconsiderable expence.


They might be of some asistance

 
Flash
161116.  Thu Mar 29, 2007 7:54 am Reply with quote

Thanks to you both - great anecdotes, dj. And I'll follow up that lead, Andy.

 
djgordy
161130.  Thu Mar 29, 2007 8:26 am Reply with quote

This person suggests what I always believed to be the correct origin of glass bottomed tankards but she gives no citation:

Quote:
the purpose of having a glass bottom to your tankard is solely so that you can check the clarity of your beer. (Pewter tankards with glass bottoms were more durable than glasses, and therefore more practical in rough pubs.) The glass bottom has nothing whatever to do with press gangs or King's shillings, however many people tell you it has!



http://www.phrases.org.uk/bulletin_board/43/messages/340.html

 
Mulvil
161139.  Thu Mar 29, 2007 8:41 am Reply with quote

I suppose if you could track down where the first one was made, or by who then maybe the motifs behind it might become clear. I've tried and failed to this end however

 
Tas
161179.  Thu Mar 29, 2007 10:21 am Reply with quote

I always thought the bounty for joining the King's Army (or the Queen's Army, as the lyrics below suggest) was forty shillings (as per the theme from Sharpe, sung by John Tams 'Rifleman Daniel Hagman' in said series)...

OVER THE HILLS AND FAR AWAY
Hark! now the Drums beat up again
For all true Soldiers Gentlemen
Then let us list, and march I say
Over the Hills and far away

Chorus:
Over the Hills and o'er the Main
To Flanders, Portugal and Spain
Queen Anne commands, and we'll obey
Over the Hills and far away

All Gentlemen that have a Mind
To serve the Queen that's good and kind
Come list and enter into Pay
Then o'er the Hills and far away

Here's Forty Shillings on the Drum
For those that Volunteers to come

With Shirts, and Cloaths, and present Pay
When o'er the Hills and far away

Hear that brave Boys, and let us go
Or else we shall be prest you know
Then list and enter into Pay
And o'er the Hills and far away

The Constables they search about
To find such brisk young Fellows out
Then let's be Volunteers I say
Over the Hills and far away

Since now the French so low are brought
And Wealth and Honour's to be got
Who then behind wou'd sneaking stay
When o'er the Hills and far away

No more from sound of Drum retreat
While Marlborough, and Gallaway beat
The French and Spaniards every Day
When o'er the Hills and far away

He that is forc'd to go and fight
Will never get true Honour by't
While Volunteers shall win the Day
When o'er the Hills and far away

What tho' our Friends our Absense mourn
We all with Honour shall return
And then we'll sing both Night and Day
Over the Hills and far away

The[n] Prentice Tom he may refuse
To wipe his angry Master's Shoes
For then he's free to sing and play
Over the Hills and far away

Over Rivers, Bogs, and Springs
We all shall live as great as Kings
And Plunder get both Night and Day
When o'er the Hills and far away

We then shall lead more happy Lives
By getting rid of Brats and Wives
That Scold on both Night and Day
When o'er the Hills and far away

Come on then Boys and you shall see
We every one shall Captains be
To Whore and rant as well as they
When o'er the Hills and far away

For if we go 'tis one to Ten
But we return all Gentlemen
All Gentlemen as well as they
When o'er the Hills and far away

:-)

Tas

 
Jenny
161222.  Thu Mar 29, 2007 11:04 am Reply with quote

Except it was King George at the time the Sharpe series is set, and John Tams sings 'King George' in the song on the soundtrack, not Queen Anne. It may well be an older song that was revived though.

 
96aelw
161490.  Fri Mar 30, 2007 5:59 am Reply with quote

While trying to get somewhere with this yesterday (and largely failing), I came acroos a book called The British Seaman (1200-1860), by Christopher Lloyd. Therein it claims that a General Robert Long described in his reminiscences his experiences as a recruiting subaltern for the 1st Dragoon Guards in 1793 (needless to say, I have been unable to track down these reminiscences, or the book which Lloyd references in his footnotes as the source in which he found them quoted, namely The British Soldier, by A. Wattevile).

Anyway, Long seems to have been given orders to recruit no one under 5'7", no seamen, no one who was disabled, and, significantly, to pay each recruit a bounty of 14 guineas ("a high fee, of which the man was speedily robbed by his fellows", says Lloyd). I suppose this doesn't rule out the possibility of a purely ceremonial shilling still being employed as well, but if it wasn't, 14 guineas seems an awful lot of cash to slip into somebody's pint without their noticing.

 
eggshaped
161498.  Fri Mar 30, 2007 6:11 am Reply with quote

Here's your book 96.

 
soup
161538.  Fri Mar 30, 2007 8:07 am Reply with quote

Tas wrote:
I always thought the bounty for joining the King's Army (or the Queen's Army, as the lyrics below suggest) was forty shillings (as per the theme from Sharpe, sung by John Tams 'Rifleman Daniel Hagman' in said series)...



Chorus:
Over the Hills and o'er the Main
To Flanders, Portugal and Spain
Queen Anne commands, and we'll obey
Over the Hills and far away



Here's Forty Shillings on the Drum
For those that Volunteers to come

With Shirts, and Cloaths, and present Pay
When o'er the Hills and far away



A song that is very similar, same tune, same sort of era, was "twa recruiting sergeants"
http://www.makem.com/discography/recordings/lyricpage/twarecruiting.html
In this it states that forty two were recruited so perhaps thats were the forty shillings came from .
I.E. it was for all recruited not just each recruit after all forty shillings then would have been a lot

 

Page 1 of 4
Goto page 1, 2, 3, 4  Next

All times are GMT - 5 Hours


Display posts from previous:   

Search Search Forums

Powered by phpBB © 2001, 2002 phpBB Group