British Line Infantry Uniform

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Hierarchical Path: Seven Years' War (Main Page) >> Armies >> British Army >> British Line Infantry Uniform

Introduction

There are very few contemporary pictorial evidence for the uniforms of the British infantry of this period. Furthermore terminology was still vague and the term surtout could be used to describe the coat or overcoat, sometimes leading to conflicting descriptions of uniforms.

There were still no regulation concerning uniforms and colonels were responsible for the clothing of their soldiers. Therefore, there were some variations from one regiment to another.

Uniforms closely reflected contemporary civilian styles.

Men as well as officers were clean-shaven. Officers sometimes wore small moustaches.

Orders of the Duke of Marlborough for the Clothing of the Foot

The following orders are contained among the Cumberland Papers in the Round Tower, Windsor Castle (Box 67). Since Joseph Sabine was appointed Major-General on 1 January 1710, the orders must therefore be not earlier than this date.

"For the better regulating Her Majesty's Foot, His Grace the Duke of Marlborough has thought fit I should give out the following orders, viz.: –

" 'Tis ordered that all the clothing for the Foot be in readiness to embark the 1st day of March next, and that the whole be perfectly uniform in the make and looping, the colour of their lining, facing and looping expected, according to the pattern approved of by me.

"That the officers be all clothed in red, plain and uniform, which is expected they shall wear on all marches and other duties as well as days of Review, that no officer be on duty without his regimental scarf and spontoon, and whereas the officers of some regiments have pikes and others spontoons, 'tis ordered that all provide spontoons according to the pattern which I have given to Major-General Sabine.

" 'Tis ordered that the Foot be provided with white gaiters, both officers and soldiers, whereas several regiments have no swords, 'tis expressly ordered that the soldiers be provided with them against taking the field.

"And whereas a complaint has been made about the expense in turning the soldier's coats into waistcoats, 'tis ordered that all Colonels do the same out of the clothing money."

Hat and Fatigue Cap

Between 1698 and 1700, the tricorne became widely used. It was a black felt hat with a low crown with a knotted band of ribbon of the facing colour at the base of the crown. The point was sometimes worn at the back. The tricorne was usually edged with a white lace but could also be unlaced.

Hairs were worn long in a “long bob”. They were sometimes tied at the back of the neck. The hair bag was also already in use.

Grenadier cap

Grenadiers wore a grenadier cap similar to a fisherman's or brewer's cap with a hanging bag. It was initially edged with a fur band. This cap was soon replaced by a cloth cap with a raised and stiffened front decorated with the embroidered crowned Royal cypher or the colonel's crest; and with an embroidered grenade at the back of the cap.

Before this period, grenadiers wore fur caps with a hanging bag. This design seems to have persisted in some regiments.

Neck-cloth

Knotted white linen neck-cloth with ends hanging or tucked into the top of the coat.

Coat, Waistcoat, Breeches

The red collarless coat had full skirts with pleats at the sides. It was usually single-breasted with buttons along the full length of the coat but no laced buttonholes (to the exception of grenadiers as described below). Pockets were placed very low. The coat had no shoulder straps. It was sometimes worn with the top unbuttoned and turned back, giving the impression of small lapels.

The grenadiers had tufted laced loops on their coat down the breast and on their pocket flaps. Some illustrations also depict grenadier uniforms with collars.

The cuffs were usually of the distinctive colour of the regiment. They were somewhat smaller than in continental armies.

The long waistcoat was cut in the coat of the previous year.

The wool breeches were tied with ribbons below the knee.

Stockings and Shoes

During campaigns, a first pair of finer stockings was pulled up under the breeches at the knees while a coarser pair of stockings was worn over them, pulled over the knees and fastened with a leather strap and buckle.

Gaiters were gradually adopted during the campaigns in the Low Countries.

Shoes were fastened with a strap and buckle.

Armament

Musketeers were armed with a musket without sling, a bayonet and a sword. In 1702, the Brown Bess flintlock musket with a ring bayonet was issued to the troops of the Earl of Marlborough. This new weapon allowed him to disband his pikemen companies and gave him fire superiority over the French regiments, most of which were still armed with matchlock muskets. Nevertheless, some matchlock muskets remained in use during the reign of Queen Anne (1702-14).

In 1703 and 1704, British soldiers being sent to Portugal had to hand in their pikes, which were transferred to the British contingent in Flanders. In 1704, there seems to have been a lack of muskets, so the Duke of Portmore told the Duke of Somerset: “I have the honour of receiving an order from your Grace directing the storekeeper of this place to deliver 450 firelock in lieu of the like number of pikes which some of the regiments that come from Holland [on their way to Portugal] have, as they say, left behind by his Grace the Duke of Marlborough’s allowance.”. The article says : “The storekeeper would not comply unless given a direct order from the ordnance board, because some troops would sail unarmed if he did so.”. That would seem to indicate there weren’t enough muskets to replace the pikes mentioned. In 1705, Marlborough reputedly complained that the British infantry was unsuited for siege work because of the number of pikemen they contained. On 16 March 1707, an order (which specifically did not apply to troops in Spain) specified that two pikes be exchanged for muskets per company. In May 1707, a new order issued by St. John (probably Henry St. John, Viscount Bolingbroke, a senior minister under Queen Anne) mentioned there were then 12 pikes per infantry company, which would suggest there were 14 before the earlier order of 16 March. The same year, the Guards complained about a shortage of gunpowder, and handed in their pikes (reported at 12 per company). So ti seems that Marlborough's Army retained some pikes until 1707, but the extent to which they were actually used on the battlefield is open to debate.

Pikes then remained in use for ceremonial events.

Grenadiers were armed with a firelock with a sling, a hatchet, a bayonet and grenades.

Plug bayonet remained in use even after the appearance of the socket-bayonet.

Leather Equipment

The natural leather waistbelt with a brass buckle had been introduced around 1680.

Grenadiers carried a match box and a pouch to carry grenades on a shoulder belt.

Since 1693, infantry was equipped with natural leather cartouche boxes who gradually replaced the bandolier of cartridges. The cartridge box was carried on a natural leather strap with a brass buckle.

Peculiarities of Drummers and Hautboys

Drummers and hautboys usually wore coat of the facing colour of the regiment, decorated with lace on the seams of sleeves and back and on the buttonholes. Their coat was decorated with the crowned King's cypher or the Colonel's crest embroidered on the breast and back. Sometimes their coat had hanging sleeves.

Peculiarities of Non Commissioned Officers

NCOs wore uniforms almost identical to those of privates with the following differences:

  • tricone laced silver
  • silver braids on the seams of the coat

Sergeants initially carried a halberd and corporals a musket (a notable exception are the corporals of the Foot Guards who carried a pole-axe). Gradually, all NCOs were equipped with musket.

Peculiarities of Officers

Officers wore beaver tricornes laced gold (probably reserved to superior officers) or silver (probably reserved to subaltern officers).

Officers wore the fashionable full flowing curled wigs. On service they usually plaited their wig.

A large gorget was worn around the neck tied with ribbons. The gorget was gilt for captains, black studded with gold for lieutenants and silver for ensigns.

Officers usually wore uniforms somewhat similar to those of privates (even though there were not yet any regulation compelling them to do so), made of finer material. Their coats were decorated with gold or silver braids down the seams and on the sleeves; and with gold or silver embroidered buttonholes. Cuffs were usually of the same colour as the coat instead of the distinctive colour of the regiment.

The waistcoats of officers were often decorated with gold or silver fringes.

A crimson sash (often interwoven with gold or silver and fringed similarly) was worn around the waist.

Breeches were tied with rosettes below the knee.

Officers wore gloves, often decorated with gold or silver fringes.

Officers carried a sword and a half pike or a spontoon.

The cartouche box of officers were often covered in velvet and decorated with gold or silver embroideries.

In 1708, the Duke of Marlborough ordered all officers serving in Flanders to have, in sign of mourning, red coats with black buttons and black buttonholes for that year.

References

Clodfelter, Micheal: Warfare and Armed Conflicts

Lawson, Cecil C. P.: A History of the Uniforms of the British Army, Vol. 1 From the beginning to 1760, London: Kaye & Ward, pp. 12-54

Moller, George D.: American Military Shoulder Arms, Vol. I: Colonial and Revolutionary War Arms

The Royal Sussex Regimental Society

Sumner, Percy: Orders of the Duke of Marlborough for the Clothing of the Foot in Journal of the Society for Army Historical Research, Vol. 25, No. 101 (Spring, 1947), p. 37

Acknowledgement

Joseph O’Neill for the info on the adoption of the Brown Bess musket and on the role of pikes in the British Army during the war.

Jörg Meier for tracing the article of Percy Sumner presenting Marlborough's orders.