'Turning out for twenty-days amusement': the Militia in Georgian satirical prints

    Research output: Contribution to Book/ReportChapterpeer-review


    James Gillray's ‘Supplementary Militia, turning out for Twenty-Days Amusement’ of 1796 (fig. 1) is the quintessential image of part-time soldiering. On the face of it, Gillray pokes fun in predictable ways, using several visual techniques to suggest that the militiamen are hapless amateurs rather than professionals. First, each man bears the tools of his civilian trade: from left to right we have a cobbler, a plasterer, a painter, a tailor, a hairdresser and a suitably rotund butcher. Secondly, the print underlines their lack of uniformity and discipline by sharply characterising them as individuals: the men are of various heights and builds, with ill-matching and dilapidated uniforms. Their bodies are either extremely thin or fat, with short legs and narrow shoulders – in pointed contrast to the ideal military body of the age. With such a rag-tag assortment, their effort to march in step is in vain. Gillray literally has a field day with the comic possibilities of the civilian soldier, a liminal figure whose uncertain position between the military and civilian worlds is ripe for visual mockery. This was as true of the militia in the eighteenth century as it was to be of the Yeomanry in the nineteenth and the Home Guard in the twentieth: Gillray's print has pride of place in a long tradition within British graphic satire.

    This chapter, however, will argue that there is a lot more going on in the print than cheap jokes about the militia's ineptitude or failure to be true soldiers. Historians recognise that the militia was a key political issue in eighteenth-century Britain, since it went to the heart of constitutional debates about executive power, national strength and the rights and responsibilities of the ordinary citizen. In contrast with continental Europe, in the Anglo-American tradition the ‘citizen soldier’ was a citizen first and a soldier second: its ‘amateur military tradition’ celebrated the power of the individual rather than that of the state.
    Original languageEnglish
    Title of host publicationCivilians and War in Europe, 1618-1815
    EditorsErica Charters, Eve Rosenhaft, Hannah Smith
    Place of PublicationLiverpool
    PublisherLiverpool University Press
    Number of pages25
    ISBN (Electronic)9781846317699
    ISBN (Print)9781846317118
    Publication statusPublished - 12 Mar 2012

    Publication series

    NameEighteenth-Century Worlds


    • Civilians
    • War
    • Europe


    Dive into the research topics of ''Turning out for twenty-days amusement': the Militia in Georgian satirical prints'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

    Cite this