King's shilling

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For many years a soldier's daily pay, before stoppages, was the shilling given as an earnest payment to recruits of the British Army and the Royal Navy of the 18th and 19th centuries. The expression "to take the King's shilling" (or the Queen's shilling as the case may be) meant that a man agreed to serve as a soldier or sailor.[1]

Recruiters of the time used all sorts of tricks, most involving strong drink, to press the shilling on unsuspecting victims. The man did not formally become a soldier until attested before a Justice of the Peace, and could still escape his fate by paying his recruiter "smart money" before attestation.


  1. ^ "The King's shilling". BBC History - Fact files. BBC. 2005-01-28. 

For an in-depth look at recruiting, see Coss, Edward. All for the King's Shilling: The British Soldier under Wellington, 1808-1814 (Oklahoma University Press, 2010).