The Abolition of Purchase in the British Army

The purchase system, writes Robert Woodall, was regarded by its opponents as the main obstacle to the creation of professional officer corps.

In 1793, Major-General Sir James Craig, Adjutant-General of the British expeditionary force which, under the command of the Duke of York, was despatched to the continent to aid the Dutch against the revolutionary armies of France, complained about the low professional quality of its regimental officers.

‘There is’, he wrote to a colleague in London, ‘not a young man in the army who cares a farthing whether his commanding officer, his brigadier or the commander-in-chief himself approves his conduct or not. His promotion depends not on their smiles or frowns - his friends give him a thousand pounds with which he goes to the auction room in Charles Street and in a fortnight becomes a captain.

Out of the fifteen regiments of cavalry and twenty-six of infantry which we have here, twenty-one are literally commanded by boys or idiots... . We do not know how to post a picquet or instruct a sentinel in his duty, and as to moving, God forbid that we should attempt it within three miles of an enemy.’

To continue reading this article you will need to purchase access to the online archive.

Buy Online Access  Buy Print & Archive Subscription

If you have already purchased access, or are a print & archive subscriber, please ensure you are logged in.

Please email if you have any problems.