Militia (Great Britain)

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The Militia of Great Britain were the principal military reserve forces of the Kingdom of Great Britain during the 18th century.

For the period following the creation of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland in 1801, see Militia (United Kingdom).

Great Britain[edit]

In 1707, the Acts of Union united the Kingdom of England and the Kingdom of Scotland into the Kingdom of Great Britain. The English and Welsh Militia and the Scottish Militia became part of the framework of the new British armed services. The Royal Scots Navy was incorporated into the Royal Navy, and the Scottish military (as opposed to naval) forces merged with the English, with the regular Scottish regiments maintaining their identities, although the command of the new British Army was from England.

The Militia Act 1757 had effect only in England and Wales and aimed to create a professional national military reserve. Records were kept, and the men were selected by ballot to serve for longer periods. Uniforms and weapons were provided, and the force was 'embodied' from time to time for training.

The threat of Ireland's belligerent all-Protestant militia to copy the American colonists and seek to free their country from British control if Ireland's demands for free trade were not met, and the inability of the British, after years of war overseas, to police Ireland easily, would later lead to the Union of Great Britain and the Kingdom of Ireland into the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland in 1801.

The militia was embodied at various times during the French and Napoleonic Wars. It served at several strategic locations and was particularly stationed on the South Coast and in Ireland. A number of camps were held at Brighton, where the militia regiments were reviewed by the Prince Regent, the origin of the song "Brighton Camp". The militia could not be compelled to serve overseas, but it was seen as a training reserve for the army, as bounties were offered to men who opted to 'exchange' from the militia to the regular army.

Unlike many British Volunteer Corps formations, the uniforms of the militia resembled standing army uniforms trimmed with silver lace instead of gold.

Militia regiments were infantry regiments; there were no militia artillery units until 1854.

Scottish militia[edit]

In the late 17th century, while the Kingdom of Scotland was still an independent country sharing a monarch with England, there were calls for the resurrection of the country's militia, with the understated aim of protecting the rights of Scots from English oppression.[1]

Following the merger of Scotland into the new Kingdom of Great Britain, the British Militia Act of 1757 did not apply in Scotland. There, the old traditional system continued, so that militia regiments existed in some places and not in others. This was resented by some, and the Militia Club, soon to become the Poker Club, was formed in Edinburgh to promote the raising of a Scottish militia. This and several other Edinburgh clubs became the crucible of the Scottish Enlightenment.

The Militia Act of 1797 empowered the Lord Lieutenants of Scotland to raise and command militia regiments in each of the "Counties, Stewartries, Cities, and Places" under their jurisdiction. At first the Act was opposed due to some believing the militia ballot would be used to enable the Crown to remove men from Scotland.[2]

Irish militia[edit]

The Parliament of Ireland passed an act in 1715 raising regiments of militia in each county and county corporate. Membership was restricted to Protestants between the ages of sixteen and sixty. In 1793, during the Napoleonic Wars, the Irish militia were reorganized to form thirty-seven county and city regiments. While officers of the reorganized force were all Protestants, membership of the other ranks was now opened up to members of all denominations, including Roman Catholics.

Channel Islands[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ A Discourse of Government with Relation to Militias, Andrew Fletcher (1698) ISBN 0-521-43994-9
  2. ^ p.3 Scobie, Ian Hamilton Mackay An Old Highland Fencible Corps The History of the Reay Fencible Highland Regiment of Foot, or Mackay's Highlanders, 1794-1802, With an Account of Its Services in Ireland During the Rebellion of 1798 1914

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