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Taking the King's Shilling

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161547.  Fri Mar 30, 2007 8:44 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.

Indeed it was King George, Jenny. The original song was about joining Queen Anne's Army. The Theme for Sharpe (and the various Sharpe's ...........) had additional verses added to match the particular episode, I believe.



161570.  Fri Mar 30, 2007 9:45 am Reply with quote

soup wrote:
I.E. it was for all recruited not just each recruit after all forty shillings then would have been a lot

Indeed it would, but as noted above, in at least one instance (the Dragoons in 1793) the signing on bonus was as much as 294 shillings for each man, so forty doesn't seem implausible.

161617.  Fri Mar 30, 2007 12:33 pm Reply with quote

The bounty paid to men who joined the Royal Navy would have varied, depending upon demand. At the time of The Napoleonic Wars there was an urgent requirement for skilled seamen. To turn a 'landsman' into a sailor took an estimated two years. These men were not valued very highly at all.

The following is a copy of a recruiting poster for the Royal Navy from around this time. It is in the name of George III.

The bounties were:

In addition to two months advance
Able Seamen - Five pounds
Ordinary Seamen - Two pounds 10 shillings
Landsman - (Twenty/thirty???) shillings (bit difficult to read)

Royal Navy During the Napoleonic Era

161622.  Fri Mar 30, 2007 12:54 pm Reply with quote

There is also the confusion which has long existed over the words ‘prest/pressed’ and ‘in prest/imprest/impressed’.

Imprest is from Latin and Old French and is described by the OED as meaning:
adj. Of money: Lent, or paid in advance, advanced, esp. to soldiers, sailors, and public officials. Obs.

Prest is from Anglo-Norman and Middle-French
n. A sum of money paid to a sailor or soldier on enlistment.

In 1910 Admiral Sir Cyprian Bridge published a collection of essays entitled Sea-Power and other studies. Two of these essays are relevant here:
IV - The Historical Relations Between The Navy and The Merchant Service
V - Facts And Fancies About The Press-Gang

A fruitful source of the widespread belief that our navy in the old days was chiefly manned by recourse to compulsion, is a confusion between two words of independent origin and different meaning, which, in ages when exact spelling was not thought indispensable, came to be written and pronounced alike. During our later great maritime wars, the official term applied to anyone recruited by impressment was 'prest-man.' In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and part of the eighteenth century, this term meant the exact opposite. It meant a man who had voluntarily engaged to serve, and who had received a sum in advance called 'prest-money.' 'A prest-man,' we are told by that high authority, Professor Sir J. K. Laughton, 'was really a man who received the prest of 12d., as a soldier when enlisted.' In the 'Encyclopædia Metropolitana' (1845), we find:-- 'Impressing, or, more correctly, impresting, i.e. paying earnest-money to seamen by the King's Commission to the Admiralty, is a right of very ancient date, and established by prescription, though not by statute. Many statutes, however, imply its existence--one as far back as 2 Richard II, cap. 4.' An old dictionary of James I's time (1617), called 'The Guide into the Tongues, by the Industrie, Studie, Labour, and at the Charges of John Minshew,' gives the following definition:--'Imprest-money. G. [Gallic or French], Imprest-ànce; _Imprestanza_, from _in_ and _prestare_, to lend or give beforehand.... Presse-money. T. [Teutonic or German], Soldt, from salz, _salt_. For anciently agreement or compact between the General and the soldier was signified by salt.' Minshew also defines the expression 'to presse souldiers' by the German _soldatenwerben_, and explains that here the word _werben_ means prepare (_parare_). 'Prest-money,' he says, 'is so-called of the French word _prest_, i.e. readie, for that it bindeth those that have received it to be ready at all times appointed.' In the posthumous work of Stephen Skinner, 'Etymologia Linguæ Anglicanæ' (1671), the author joins together 'press or imprest' as though they were the same, and gives two definitions, viz.: (1) recruiting by force (_milites_cogere_); (2) paying soldiers a sum of money and keeping them ready to serve. Dr. Murray's 'New English Dictionary,' now in course of publication, gives instances of the confusion between imprest and impress. A consequence of this confusion has been that many thousands of seamen who had received an advance of money have been regarded as carried off to the navy by force. If to this misunderstanding we add the effect on the popular mind of cleverly written stories in which the press-gang figured prominently, we can easily see how the belief in an almost universal adoption of compulsory recruiting for the navy became general. It should, therefore, be no matter of surprise when we find that the sensational reports published in the English newspapers in 1803 were accepted without question.

Source - Sea-Power and other studies

Edit - Spelling

Last edited by costean on Fri Mar 30, 2007 1:15 pm; edited 2 times in total

161627.  Fri Mar 30, 2007 1:09 pm Reply with quote

It would seem that the activities of a press-gang if carried out under the terms of the law were expensive. And if they were to just grab anyone by any means then it was both expensive and self-defeating. Captains wanted experienced motivated men and were prepared to pay for them. Inexperienced men 'pressed' against their will were of no use to them - such measures were counter-productive.

Three more quotes from Admiral Sir Cyprian Bridge's collection of essays entitled Sea-Power and other studies.

The two essays mentioned above are well worth reading in their entirety; they give far more information than I have been able to supply here.

It has been accepted generally that the principal method of manning our fleet in the past--especially when war threatened to arise--was to seize and put men on board the ships by force. This has been taken for granted by many, and it seems to have been assumed that, in any case, there is no way of either proving it or disproving it. The truth, however, is that it is possible and--at least as regards the period of our last great naval war--not difficult to make sure if it is true or not. Records covering a long succession of years still exist, and in these can be found the name of nearly every seaman in the navy and a statement of the conditions on which he joined it. The exceptions would not amount to more than a few hundreds out of many tens of thousands of names, and would be due to the disappearance--in itself very infrequent--of some of the documents and to occasional, but also very rare, inaccuracies in the entries.

The Plymouth reporter of _The_Naval_Chronicle_ does not give many details of the volunteering for the navy in 1803, though he alludes to it in fluent terms more than once. On the 11th October, however, he reports that, 'So many volunteer seamen have arrived here this last week that upwards of £4000 bounty is to be paid them afloat by the Paying Commissioner, Rear-Admiral Dacres.' At the time the bounty was £2 10s. for an A.B., £1 10s. for an ordinary seaman, and £1 for a landsman.

On the 6th December 1803, just a month after it had been tried, the Admiralty formulated the following conclusion: 'On a consideration of the expense attending the service of raising men on shore for His Majesty's Fleet comparatively with the number procured, as well as from other circumstances, there is reason to believe that either proper exertions have not been made by some of the officers employed on that service, or that there have been great abuses and mismanagement in the expenditure of the public money.' This means that it was now seen that impressment, though of little use in obtaining men for the navy, was a very costly arrangement. ...

It is not surprising that after this the proceedings of the press-gang occupy scarcely any space in our naval history. Such references to them as there are will be found in the writings of the novelist and the dramatist. Probably individual cases of impressment occurred till nearly the end of the Great War; but they could not have been many. Compulsory service most unnecessarily caused--not much, but still some--unjustifiable personal hardship. It tended to stir up a feeling hostile to the navy. It required to work it machinery costly out of all proportion to the results obtained. Indeed, it failed completely to effect what had been expected of it. In the great days of old our fleet, after all, was manned, not by impressed men, but by volunteers. It was largely due to that that we became masters of the sea.

Source - Sea-Power And Other Studies - Admiral Sir Cyprian Bridge

And finally, a quote from RH Dana Two Years before Mast (1840)

The mere sight of a ship...which has done more to man navies, and fill merchantmen, than all the press-gangs of Europe.

161697.  Fri Mar 30, 2007 5:23 pm Reply with quote

One of the reasons landsmen weren't valued highly, apart from the length of time it took to train them, was that there was such a high rate of death from scurvy in the 18th century navy, because nobody was quite sure what the cause of scurvy was or exactly how to cure it, even though Dr James Lind had pointed to the efficacy of lemons as a curative by the middle of the century.

In sea voyages that took people away from the shore for more than about six weeks, depending on the time of year they set sail (a shorter time was needed at sea in winter/spring than in summer/autumn) scurvy would set in, and if they were unlucky at least half the ship's company would be unfit for duty because of scurvy.

I've just been reading a book about this, and about the work of James Lind, called Limeys. I hadn't appreciated until then what a serious illness it was.

161738.  Fri Mar 30, 2007 6:21 pm Reply with quote

So maybe we won't be able to track down the glass-bottomed tankard story (though I think it looks as though we doubt it) but maybe we will be able to ask how sailors were recruited, with a forfeit of "by force", "by press gangs" etc? - because the correct answer is 'they volunteered'.

If so, that might work, and we could then give Stephen a note to say that we acknowledge the tankard story but can't verify it and think it's unlikely.

It's less strong though, for sure.

162051.  Sun Apr 01, 2007 7:17 am Reply with quote

I remember vaguely reading that the press-gangs were mainly employed to grab off-duty sailors anyway, in times of need, rather than grabbing any chap.

162069.  Sun Apr 01, 2007 9:01 am Reply with quote

There's rather a nice story involving a press gang that I encountered in The British Seaman (as cited earlier). An apprentice, it tells me, had arrived at Deal, and was staying there for the night before going on to Sandwich. Being an apprentice, he had been keen to find cheap lodgings for the night, and ended up sharing a bed with a boatswain from an East Indiaman that was anchored nearby. Early in the morning he got up and went for a walk, borrowing the boatswain's knife to open the rather stiff door. When he got back, his companion had gone, so he kept the knife and went on his way. But the maid, on entering the room later, saw that the sheets were bloodstained, and that bloody footprints led out of the room. The apprentice was found, and still being in possession of the knife, arrested, tried and hanged for murder. But the hangman botched the job, and he survived. He then enlisted on a ship bound for the West Indies, where he transferred to another ship. On this ship, he saw the man for whose murder he had been hanged.

Turned out that the supposedly dead man had been to the barber the afternoon before the shenanigans erupted, and had some blood let. While the apprentice was out walking, the boatswain's bandage had slipped, and he had started bleeding everywhere. He then went out to find the barber again, to get the bandage sorted out and the bloodflow staunched, but had been picked up by a press gang before he got there, and immediately stuck on a ship for the West Indies.

162086.  Sun Apr 01, 2007 11:07 am Reply with quote

Another explanation is that they were an imaginative response by pewter manufacturers when faced by competition from glassmakers. Glass tankards enabled a customer to assess the clarity of his beer. A glass bottom to a pewter vessel served the same purpose. This is more evidence of the ability of the local industry to adapt to market forces.
gleaned from the Bewdley museum website, This one seems to debunk the Kings shilling story with a viable reason.

It would make sense for the producers to answer the call from market forces rather than to prevent people being press ganged into the services.

163036.  Wed Apr 04, 2007 3:40 pm Reply with quote

That is a very good point Barbados, and it seems logical. If we could establish when glass-bottomed tankards were introduced then we could draw some conclusions as to the likelihood of the ‘King’s shilling story’.

There are in the region of twenty different types of mug dating from 1700 to 1900 but it would take experience to pick out some with lesser differences so we will stick to the main groups. … glass bottom appeared about 1790 but was not in general use until 1850 to 1880. All dates very approximate.

From an article entitled Tavern Mugs by David Langridge

Again quoting Admiral Sir Cyprian Bridge [from posts above]:

It is not surprising that after this the proceedings of the press-gang occupy scarcely any space in our naval history. Such references to them as there are will be found in the writings of the novelist and the dramatist. Probably individual cases of impressment occurred till nearly the end of the Great War; but they could not have been many.

An interesting use of the phrase ‘The Great War’, referring to the Napoleonic War – the article was written in 1900.

In 1815 the Royal Navy was at its height as regards manpower; about 150,000 men as opposed to the post-war manning levels of less than 20,000 men. It is not surprising that the press-gangs were no longer needed after 1815.

According to David Langridge glass-bottomed tankards were first introduced in about 1790, but did not come into general use until 1850-1880 – some 40-60 years after the press-gang had last been used to recruit sailors.

There is also the point that at this time glass was very expensive (certainly in comparison to pewter or leather) and the last thing an innkeeper would want is for his drinking vessels to be broken.

There is a museum of British Pewter in Stratford-upon-Avon (and in Bewdley). If anyone happens to visit either of these perhaps they could ask for confirmation of when glass-bottomed tankards were introduced.

This is not conclusive and is far from satisfactory but it does add further weight to the conjecture that the ‘King’s Shilling’ story is a myth.

In addition the story just does not make sense. If a shilling were to have been slipped into the drink of an unsuspecting sailor and the press-gang were then to hove into view and say “Sorry old son, you’ve just signed up”, then one of two things would have happened. The hapless sailor would have said “Cor blimey, you’ve got me bang to rights guv”, or whatever version of this stereotypical yokel rubbish was in vogue at the time. Or, he would have said “Sorry old boy, that is a trick and it doesn’t count”, or words to that effect, and a bit of a row would have been likely to kick off.

My feeling is that it would have been most likely the latter and if the press-gang were going to take him in they would have had to have done so by force. In which case why not use force to start with instead of tipping him off with shillings in drinks?

163042.  Wed Apr 04, 2007 3:51 pm Reply with quote

of course if nobody is going to either of these places there was a wonderful invention a few years back. Alexander Bell claims the credit for it (although we all know it wasn't him). It's called a telephone and I'm sure the curator would be happy to speak to a researcher from such an esteemed programme in return for a mention and a credit.

165680.  Fri Apr 13, 2007 8:14 am Reply with quote

Hi all. I passed along my thoughts on the tankard issue as a military museum person, to the show, and thought you might find use for them on the forum also. Bear mind in I was coming at this mainly from a British Army angle. It makes even less sense from the Royal Navy side as you've already covered; the press gangs had legal authority to impress seamen, so would have no need of the tankard trick. And if they were in dire recruitment straits, they could simply risk breaking the law and take just anyone. Anyway, this is what I sent in;

My main sources for the below are journal articles held at the museum, as well as a copy of the 1799 recruitment regulations. First, what is not in doubt:

* Most law-abiding people were reluctant to join up due to social stigma, loss of personal freedom, fear of harm, being away from home etc.
* Inns and taverns were used as recruitment venues in the C18th and C19th.
* Potential recruits were given lots of alcohol! That probably did the trick for many...
* The amount of money available was attractive (10 pounds 10 shillings) although recruits would see little of this.
* The general lifestyle and opportunities available were misrepresented/romanticised.
* Smartest uniforms and best war stories were the order of the day. Sometimes even special parades.
* Tacit agreement and a signature or mark on a certificate was required, not just the touch of the shilling itself.
* Every recruit had a four day (c 1800) window of opportunity to go before a magistrate and to get together a payment (from family, friends or wherever) or "smart money" (around 20 shillings) to let them off the hook. Recruiters stood to receive a cut of this money, which constitutes motivation for the outright conning of unwilling recruits. This could not be a wide-scale practice, because those recruited by fraudulent methods were more likely to either desert, or foment mutiny, as shown by an incident in Malta in the 1770s where non-native English speakers were grievously misled and mutinied.

In these cases and no doubt others, outright fraud was committed. It's perfectly feasible that unscrupulous recruiters would in limited cases entrap unwary men just to earn extra money from their get-out payment or to make up flagging numbers in the short-term.The regulations (1799) and advice given to recruiting officers shows that such practices were a concern and to be avoided. They specify "not to suffer your party to use any villanies or low practices to trapan recruits, but…punish such are guilty of". Smart money in particular is regulated, and there is a separate letter specifically advising an officer not to allow his men to receive any cut of this, to reduce the temptation to entrap. The punishment laid down in the regulations for sergeants or privates caught using underhand tactics was court martial, and it is made clear that the recruitment officer would be responsible for his men's methods and for the quality of resulting recruits. If too many were buying their way out, were deserting, or were deemed unsuitable, questions would be asked.

What is very much in doubt is that they would have used the "ha, gotcha!" shilling-in-the-tankard "ploy" to do this. There is no evidence at all for this. Ale, cajolement, grand promises and a lack of alternative prospects would have been enough for most, and if a target were to be duped outright, there would be more effective ways (slipping the coin into a drunken target's pocket for example). More importantly, if the reluctant party could afford an expensive glass-bottomed tankard, simply on the off-chance of being targeted, he could surely afford the 20 shilling "smart money" payment. After all, how many times in ones life could one expect to fall victim to this?!

The whole thing is just amazingly unlikely, and amounts to nothing more than forced impressment (something the army stopped doing in 1779). How many men of the target demographic would go to the trouble and expense of having an expensive tankard like that made just on the off-chance? It would be rather easier to just avoid being bought drinks by anyone in a bright red uniform! It is also hard to see the how drinking all your ale and revealing the coin could somehow make you beholden to the recruiter, yet spotting the coin through a glass bottom would make all well! Why would the recruiters not insist upon providing a normal ale with the coin in it, they would spot the glass bottom and substitute another tankard, surely? What we'll never know is whether this myth originated after the fact (most likely), or was a sort of contemporary "urban myth". In either case this myth reflects a long-standing civilian distrust of the armed forces; from which we also inherit misconceptions about the Royal Navy press gangs. You might like to get in touch with the well-known historian Richard Holmes on this subject if possible. He has a brief article here - on the subject of recruitment, as well as a recent book "Redcoat", that may be of use.

165756.  Fri Apr 13, 2007 10:10 am Reply with quote

Now this is an interesting thread. My dad has a glass bottomed pewter tankard and when as a young lad I asked about this he told me the old king's shilling story. I must say that as I have grown older I have doubted its authenticity but as a piece of quaint custom it has its merits. As an inquisitve lad I did actually once drop a shilling or old style 5p in my dad's pewter tankard. I seem to recall that you could hear/feel the coin as it slid across the bottom and into the sides thus negating to some extent the need for a glass bottom. Maybe this was only possible to young and sensitive fingers and ears in a very quiet room well away from my dad in case he found out what I was doing.

Equally I'm not sure the old clarity alternative makes much sense. Beer often has a head on it, and this prevents one really seeing down through it. Accepting old beers would probably have had much weaker or shorter lasting heads the chances are the establishment would be busy and not exactly abundantly lit and so the opportunity to gaze up through your glass or down through your glass to check the contents are clear is, I would think, limited.

Some one did tell me once (in a pub full of locals so be warned) it was actually a means of spying on people without looking too suspicious. This too seems highly unlikely, but I can vaguely see the point. Sat in a quite corner supping on your ale, you can while appearing to take a long quaff gaze quite intently through your tankard at someone without them necessarily realising what you are doing. If this is the case then the kings shilling myth has some use, because obviously the suspicious aspect of the proceedure is a glass bottomed tankard, but if the myth is you have one to stop being press ganged you are less likely to be seen as an authority figure or a threat. I'm not though convinced by any means.

165826.  Fri Apr 13, 2007 1:30 pm Reply with quote

Another possibility along those lines might be defensive as opposed to offensive (eg spying). If you're playing dice or cards or something, you can at least give the impression that you can still see what your fellow players are up to whilst you quaff. Practically it might not be much help, but as sales gimmicks these kinds of explanations are more plausible in my opinion than the recruitment one.


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