British Army General Officers
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Origin and History
On the eve of the Seven Years' War, in 1755, the British Army General Officers were organised as follows:
- Captain-General: [[Prince William Augustus, Duke of Cumberland (also colonel of the 1st Regiment of Foot Guards)
- Generals (Full)
- Sir Robert Rich (also colonel of the 4th Regiment of Dragoons)
- Richard Molesworth, 3rd Viscount Molesworth (also colonel of the 5th Regiment of Dragoons in the Irish Establishment)
- William Stanhope, 1st Earl of Harrington and Viscount Petersham (also colonel of the2nd Troop of Horse Grenadier Guards)
- Sir John Ligonier (also colonel of the Royal Regiment of Horse Guards and colonel-en-second of the Royal Regiment of Artillery)
- Lieutenant Generals: about 31 individuals
- Major Generals: about 35 individuals
- Brigadier Generals: not a permanent rank; temporary rank only used in wartime; typically a colonel appointed to lead a corps of several regiments.
Note: General Officers would not include standard colonels and below. For these ranks, please refer to our article British Line Infantry Organisation.
By the time of the Seven Years' War, no general order had yet been issued to standardize the general officers' dress. However, the Royal Clothing Warrant of 1751 specified the uniform of officers belonging to a regiment, so general officers who were also owners of a regiment may have followed the instructions of that warrant. Nevertheless, we know from contemporary portraits that this was not always the case. For instance, the portrait of Wolfe at Québec, painted by J.S.C Schaak, was based on a sketch made one of Wolfe's ADC during that campaign, Captain Harvey Smythe. It shows Wolfe, then major-general, in a very plain red coat with red cuffs, red waistcoat and breeches (blue breeches in the original sketch); with black boots with brown turn-overs; an unlaced tricorne with a black cockade. Most general officers involved in the forest camapigns in North America probably wore similar uniforms.
Furthermore, Cecil C.P. Lawson's book (see references below) mentions that in 1750, officers had to have a gold band at their tricorne; in 1753, they had to have narrow gold binding to their regimental frocks, the lapels to be cut square and the waistcoat to be laced agreeable to the coat, without any lace under the pocket. It is far from certain that these instructions have been dutifully observed.
Lawson also mentions that, when lapels became the fashion, generals often wore a scarlet coat with blue lapels and blue round cuffs without a slash. The buttonholes on the lapels were ornamented with large gold lace loops. The cuffs were edged with one or more rings or edgings of gold lace. The waistcoat and breeches were buff and the sash was worn around the waist. The whole closely resembled the Full Dress of the Foot Guards. Blakeney, who commanded at Minorca in 1755 and 1756, wore this uniform.
Cumberland has also been described as being in the same scarlet uniform (frock or undress uniform) with blue lapels edged in gold (but without the wide lace buttonholes), gold edged buff waistcoat and buff breeches. Gold and crimson sword knot and plain crimson sash. The housing (horse furniture) were blue velvet embroidered in silver, with the pistol covers heavily fringed. In another portrait depicting Cumberland, the housing (horse furniture) were scarlet with wide gold lace edging.
Looking at the contemporary portraits of British general officers included in our articles on Personalities, we can see that the uniforms of general officers varied widely and did not necessarily followed the specifications of the regiment which these officers owned.
Some other contemporary portraits show the laced button holes arranged in groups of twos, threes or fours instead of being uniformly distributed on the coat. This might be one of the first indications of a way to distinguish among ranks, a practice adopted later.
The Royal Clothing Warrant of 1751
For officers belonging to a regiment, the Royal Clothing Warrant of 1751 specified:
- The clothing or Uniform of the Officers, to be made up in the same manner as those of the Men, laced lapelled and turned up with the colour of the facing, and a narrow gold, or silver lace, or embroidery, to the binding and buttonholes, the buttons being set in the same manner as on the Men's Coats; The Waistcoats and Breeches being likewise of the same colour as those of the Men.
- The Housings and Holster Caps of the Officers to be of the colour of the facings of the Regiment, laced with one gold or silver lace, and a Stripe of velvet in the middle of the colour of that on the Men's.
- The Standard belts to be the colour of the facing of the Regiment and laced as the housings.
- Their Sashes to be of crimson silk, and worn over the left Shoulder.
- Their Sword Knots to be crimson and gold in stripes, as those of the Infantry.
- The Quarter Masters to wear crimson sashes round their waists.
Lawson, Cecil Cp P.: A History of the Uniforms of the British Army, Vol II, pp. 198-206
Steward, Nicholas: A List of the Officers of the British Army to August 1755, Steward Archives, Salem, Massachusetts, 2015
Kenneth P. Dunne for the initial version of this article.
Frédéric Aubert for the section on uniforms.