I am an AHRC-funded doctoral candidate researching the British armed forces during the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, with a particular focus on military musicians. Before beginning my DPhil, I completed an MPhil at the University of Cambridge with a dissertation on honour, duelling and courts-martial in the early nineteenth-century British army, some involving accusations of sexual offences including homosexuality.
I am a Council Member of the Society for Army Historical Research, one of the world's oldest military history societies, and edited the memoir of a Napoleonic-era Coldstream Guards sergeant, Narrative of the Eventful Life of Thomas Jackson, in 2018.
Military music was ubiquitous in Britain and Ireland during the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars. Regimental bands enlivened martial reviews and public spectacles while drummers and fifers led recruiting parties through teeming towns and remote villages, enthralling the imaginations of would-be warriors. As the writings of soldiers and civilians attest, the British nation-in-arms was experienced by the ears as much as the eyes.
Within the army, sound was critical to inculcating military discipline: an immutable musical schedule structured soldiers' work patterns and perceptions of time, moulding raw recruits into obedient veterans. Moreover, regimental bands and drum corps enhanced morale, lifting spirits on campaign and in garrison while enriching the army's unique regimental cultures.
Bandsmen provided sought-after professional musical entertainment across Britain, Ireland and the empire, enlivening dinner parties, church services, electoral hustings and victory celebrations. Through pervasive performances in the civilian sphere, military musicians encouraged and amplified expressions of wartime patriotism, contributing to the process of forging the British nation articulated by Linda Colley. By incessantly broadcasting sonic shibboleths of loyalism, regimental bands reinforced state authority while helping domestic and colonial populations envision their place within a wider imperial community.
The wars of 1793 to 1815 marked a significant moment in British musical history, as the growth of the regular army and proliferation of auxiliary units resulted in unprecedented investment in martial ensembles. The blossoming of the military musical project as a corollary of mass mobilisation stimulated and democratised the music industry, popularising instrumental entertainment through regular public performances and training a new generation of professional musicians from plebeian backgrounds. Many military bandsmen pursued musical careers after discharge, passing on their skills to civilians, instructing working-class wind ensembles and further accelerating the development of provincial and colonial music industries. Martial music and drill, embedded in popular culture after a quarter-century of near-continuous war, were also widely adopted by post-war political demonstrators campaigning for parliamentary reform and Catholic emancipation.
Ultimately, military music must be viewed as a vehicle of both indoctrination and empowerment. Martial ensembles not only fomented wartime patriotism, buttressing the British state during a revolutionary age, but also played a role (to borrow a paradigm) in the making of the English working class both as a political force and a cultural community.