The King’s Shilling

Before I head off into a look at the military as a means for Regency gentlemen to earn their livings, I want to mention a recent book nominated for a RITA award. Some people are just calling it “The Nazi Book.” I have not read the book, I do not intend to read it. It is not aimed at me, I am not the target audience. I have lots of friends of many faiths, and I am solid in defending their rights to believe as they do. However, putting that aside, the book has been rated as well written and a stirring romance. If you are Christian and like inspirational stories with little or no basis in reality, you might really like this book. It’s written just for you.

Just remember, Romance Writers of America, the sponsors of the RITA awards, are not in the business of suppressing or judging content. That would be censorship. They also use a 5 judge peer review process for the submitted nominations. That won’t change any time soon. If you disagree with the winners of the awards, don’t buy the book. That’s the best thing you can do. There was another book submitted and processed similarly, getting high marks from the judges. It dealt with sexual abuse. Again, not a book I would buy or read. But the author still had the right to produce the book and get it published and submit it for an award.

On to a look at the army and navy in Regency times. Rather than give you a general overview, I thought I would focus on one person in each service, and the most well known. For Army, The Duke of Wellington, and for Navy, Admiral Lord Nelson.

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My title, The King’s Shilling, is actually a reference to the regular enlisted, fighting man’s expectations. In many a romance, if the hero is mad to gain glory through martial exploits, he often threatens to take the king’s shilling rather than seek permission or raise the funds to buy a commission. Wellington started life as the Hon. Arthur Wellesley, son of a wealthy Anglo-Irish family. Upon his father’s death in 1781, the family fortunes declined somewhat. His brother Richard, now the head of the family, followed his mother’s advice and sought out a peer to grant a commission for Arthur.

Wellesley’s first encounter with military life was the 1794 Flanders campaign during the French Revolution. The startegy of those in charge appalled him. He decided to study warfare and strategy, even though he hated bloodshed and carnage. He adopted some strange ways for the time, such as keeping his hair short so that less time needed to be used in grooming, and wearing dark colors so he didn’t stand out from his other officers.

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In spite of his lack of bonding with the Prince Regent, The Battle of Waterloo cemented Wellesley’s standing as a great military leader. He won promotions throughout his career, and ended up as The Duke of Wellington. And at the age of 46, he retired from the army.

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As Wellington had his Waterloo, Nelson had his Trafalgar. The biggest difference is that Wellington survived the battle.

For Horatio Nelson, life started in a decently well-off Norfolk family. His uncle got him on a ship with him at the age of 13. His years of service included a voyage to find the fabled Northwest Passage, and chasing of a polar bear, as well as a bout of malaria, and a good deal of prize money. His Uncle Suckling rose in naval rank, and helped Nelson do likewise.

Nelson proved victorious in many battles, and had many close calls. He lost sight in one eye, and then had to have his right arm amputated. But he gained the love and devotion of a very special woman, Lady Hamilton. Oh, what a romance that was! Sadly, their happily ever after didn’t happen in this life.

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As I said, Nelson was killed at Trafalgar, after sending the famous line by signal flags to his fleet: England expects that every man will do his duty. He had been granted a baroncy, which in some ways served as an insult, but eventually he did receive his viscountcy. The navy delivered to him both horrendous wounds and wonderful rewards.

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On September 12, 1803, Wellesley and Nelson met briefly in a waiting room. According to Arthur’s recollection, Nelson was vain, silly, and pompous. However, once the Admiral learned who the young soldier in the waiting room actually was, he returned and they had a more amiable and professional conversation.

Thanks for reading, I will be back on Thursday.


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