As this erudite but lively survey attests, there was appreciably more than red coats to the British army's splendid uniforms...


BRITISH MILITARY SPECTACLE: From the Napoleonic Wars through the Crimea

As this erudite but lively survey attests, there was appreciably more than red coats to the British army's splendid uniforms during the Georgian and early Victorian eras. Drawing on a potpourri of contemporary sources and a bit of modern psychology, historian Myerly offers a wide-ranging, interpretive audit of what soldiers of the king (and, later, queen) were wearing (and why) during the first half of the 19th century. While it was the sovereign's prerogative to establish dress codes for the military (which manifested the crown's power), he notes that regimental commanders frequently took liberties with the monarch's designs, at no small cost to the troops. In many instances, the author points out, the demands of appearance over practicality reached ludicrous extremes. Cases in point range from stylish jackets so tight, cavalrymen could not wield their sabers in battle, through cumbersome headgear of the sort that once unhorsed the otherwise dashing duke of Wellington on a windy parade ground. As Myerly makes clear, however, there was considerable method to the costly madness of making fashion plates of prospective combatants. By way of example, he documents how sartorial splendor proved an inducement for recruiters, fostered esprit de corps in times of peace and war, and helped intimidate rebellious mobs when army units were called upon to restore order on the home front. The author goes on to argue that the English public's fondness for pomp, circumstance, and pageantry helped mitigate its instinctive hostility toward the nation's armed forces. Indeed, he observes, civilian apparel borrowed freely from martial livery, while industry, divers elites, and such institutions as the Salvation Army adapted military discipline and its fancy dress to their own ends. A splendid, if special, study that sheds considerable light on the sociopolitical status of the United Kingdom at a time when the island nation was governing a world-class empire.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 1996


Page Count: 336

Publisher: Harvard Univ.

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 1996