Prize money and the Army
By Jayne Davis
In Regency times, prize money was paid to both army and navy personnel. The money came from goods captured in action, and was shared out between the men (it was only men!) according to their rank. My article in August 2019 (you can read it HERE) explained how prize money was calculated and allocated in the Royal Navy. This article looks at the Army in the Peninsular War.
Siege of San Sebastian, Spain, 1813
What was prize money given for?
Royal Navy prize money had a more obvious source than that in the army – captured ships and their cargoes. Army prize money was based on the capture of enemy stores, guns, fortresses, etc. Army money was paid to all soldiers who had taken part in a particular campaign, or their families if they were killed.
Prize money appears to have been paid in 1816 for actions or campaigns between 1809 and 1815. The following 6 payments were announced in the London Gazette:
1 – Ciombria and the Douro
2 – The French retreat from Portugal, Fuentes d’Oñoro & Albuera
3 – Cuidad Rodrigo and Badajoz
4 – The 1812 campaign (Spain)
5 – The 1813 campaign (Spain)
6 – The 1814 campaign (Southern France).
Prize money was also paid after Waterloo.
Battle of Vitoria, 1813 – after this battle some British Light Dragoons captured the French Royal Baggage Train belonging to Napoleon’s brother, King Joseph of Spain. Some of the money from this would have gone into the prize ‘pot’, but a great deal was kept by the soldiers, illicitly—including a silver chamber pot which to this day is used for toasts by the King’s Royal Hussars.
Sharing the money
As in the Royal Navy, prize money was handed out by sharing the amount available between the qualifying men, according to rank. The proportions ranged from 2000 shares for a Field Marshal, 1200 for a General, down to 100 for a Lieutenant Colonel, 80 for a Major, 50 for a Captain and 16 for Ensigns and Cornets (the lowest commissioned ranks). Sergeants got 3 shares, Corporals 1.5 and everyone else just 1.
The amounts actually paid per man not only depended on rank, but on how much money was available and the total number of shares into which it had to be divided. This could vary widely. For example, for the Ciombria and Douro payment, Generals received £106, Captains £11 and Subalterns nearly £5. For the Southern France campaign in 1814, these amounts were £682, £50 and £20, and after the Waterloo campaign (the battle and the subsequent occupation of France) they were £1274, £90 and £34. My source also gives the amount the Commander-in-chief was paid after Waterloo - £61,000!
The average amount received in each campaign by a Colonel and Major was £100 (around three months’ pay for the Colonel, four months’ for the Major), £17 for a Captain, and £7 for a Lieutenant or Ensign. In the last three cases, this was equivalent to one month’s pay. A Private’s share was 1/16 of an Ensign’s share, so they would have received around 8 shillings and 9 pence – equivalent to 8 or 9 days’ pay.
The best way to get rich?
Obviously, the higher your rank the better, but unless you were Wellington with his huge payout after Waterloo, it seems to me that the best way to get rich from prize money was to be the captain of something like a frigate, with an aggressive attitude to the capture of enemy shipping.
The equivalent army rank to a naval Captain is Colonel, and as can be seen above, the average prize money per campaign (and so, roughly, per year) for a Colonel was the equivalent to three months’ pay. A campaign could include several battles or sieges, and a number of skirmishes.
The prize money for a naval Captain could vary much more widely. If his ship took part in many single-ship or small engagements, although the total money to be paid out would be smaller than in a large engagement, the number of people who were entitled to a share of the money was also much lower. A ship could take part in many actions per year, with the potential for prize money for each one, and its captain and crew might get lucky and capture a merchant ship with a valuable cargo.
So, if you wanted to get rich quickly, it would have been the navy for you!
While consulting the treasure trove of facts and figures that I got most of this information from (see reference below), I also came across tables that gave the most common names of officers. Over a quarter of all officers were called either John or William, and other common names were James, Thomas, George and Charles. The Regency was a relatively unimaginative period for given names, but the book also has a small table with some unusual names, including the splendidly named Christmas Knight of the 61st Foot, and Sempronius Stretton of the 40th Foot. I couldn’t resist putting that in!
References: The British Army against Napoleon – Facts, Lists and Trivia, 1805-1815, by Robert Burnham & Ron McGuigan
An Embroidered Spoon
by Jayne Davis
The tenuous link between the above article and this book is the hero, who is an ex-soldier, although prize money is not mentioned in the story!
After refusing every offer of marriage that comes her way, Isolde Farrington is packed off to a spinster aunt in Wales until she comes to her senses.
Rhys Williams, there on business, is turning over his uncle’s choice of bride for him, and the last thing he needs is to fall for an impertinent miss like Izzy – who takes Rhys for a yokel.
Izzy’s new surroundings make her look at life, and Rhys, afresh. But when her father, Lord Bedley, discovers that the situation in Wales is not what he thought, and that Rhys is in trade, a gulf opens for a pair who’ve come to love each other.
Will a difference in class keep them apart?
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An Embroidered Spoon
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Jayne Davis writes historical romances set in the late Georgian/Regency era, published as both ebooks and paperbacks.
She was hooked on Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer as a teenager, and longed to write similar novels herself. Real life intervened, and she had several careers, including as a non-fiction author under another name. That wasn't quite the writing career she had in mind...
Finally, she got around to polishing up stories written for her own amusement in long winter evenings, and became the kind of author she’d dreamed of in her teens. She is now working on the first few books in the Marstone Series, set in the late Georgian/early Regency period.
San Sebastian – Denis Dighton (via Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain)
Coins – Deposit Photos
Vitoria – James Princep Beadle (via Wikimedia Commons – Public Domain)
Cavalry – Richard Knötel (Milgesch) (via Wikimedia Commons – Public Domain)
Post Captain – Atkinson, John Augustus (via Wikimedia Commons – Public Domain)