1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Militia

MILITIA (Fr. milice, Ger. Miliz, from Lat. miles, soldier, militia, military service), a term used generally for organized military forces which are not professional in character and not permanently embodied. All ancient armies, with the exception of the personal guards of their leaders, were militias or national levies, remaining under arms for the war or the campaign and returning to their ordinary occupations at the close of each military episode. Militias such as those of the Greek city-states and that of Rome were of course highly trained to the use of arms; so were the barbarian “nations in arms ”; which overcame the professionalized Roman armies of the Empire; and although in the Eastern Empire these new fighting elements were absorbed into a fully organized regular arm, in the West the tribal militia system gradually developed into feudalism. The noble and the knight indeed spent the greater part of their lives in the field and devoted themselves from their youth to the cult of arms, but the feudal tenantry, who were bound to give forty days war service and no more, and the burghers who, somewhat later in the history of civilization, formed the efficient garrisons of the walled towns were true militias. The English Yeomanry indeed almost ruled the battlefield.

In the 15th century the introduction of firearms began to weigh down the balance in favour of the professional soldier. Artillery was always the arm of the specialist. The development of infantry, “ fire-power, ” with the early arquebus and musket, called for the highest skill and steadiness in the individual soldier, and cavalry too adopted the new weapon in the form of long and expensive wheel-lock pistols. In the new military organization there was no place for the unprofessional soldier. The r6le of the unprofessional combatant, generally speaking, was that of an insurgent-harassing small detachments of the enemy, cutting off stragglers, and plundering convoys. Towards the end of the first civil war in England (1645) the country-folk banded themselves together to impose a peace on the two warring armies, but their menace was without effect, and they were easily disarmed by Fairfax and Cromwell, who did not even trouble to hold them as prisoners. The calling out of the arriére ban of Franche-Comté in 1675 displayed its ludicrous inefficiency, and thereafter in France, which set the fashion to Europe in all military matters, the “ provincial militia, ” which Louvois and Barbezieux raised in place of the discredited arriére ban, was employed partly to find drafts for and partly to augment the regular army.

When a first line army was large enough to absorb the fighting strength of the country there was neither room nor need for a true militia force. This was the case with France under Napoleon's régime, but things were different elsewhere. In Great Britain the county militia (whose special history is briefly sketched below) was permanently embodied during the greater part of the Napoleonic Wars. Destitute as it was of technical and administrative services, of higher staffs and organization, and even of cavalry, this militia was a regular army in all but name. Combining continuous service with territorial recruiting as it did, it consisted of men of a better stamp than the casually recruited regular forces. In those days, the militia was a county force commanded by the lords lieutenant and office red by men of influence; it was not administered by the War Office.

In other countries, Napoleon’s invading armies had only to deal with regular or professional troops. Once these were crushed, nothing remained for the beaten side but to, make peace with the conqueror on such terms as could be obtained. Militias existed in name as organizations, for the production of more or less unwilling drafts for the line, but the fundamental militia obligation of defending the fatherland as distinct from defending the state, produced only local and occasional outbursts of guerrilla warfare. In the Crimean War, the 1859 war in Italy, the 1866 war in Germany, and other wars (the Hungarian War of 1848–49 excepted) the forces, other than the regular troops, engaged in first line were guerrilleros, insurgents, Garibaldians, &c., and behind the forces in first line there were draft-supplying agencies, but no true militia. Only the British militia and the Prussian landwehr represented the self-contained army of second line, and of these the former was never put to the test, while the latter, responding feebly to a political call to arms in 18 5o, was in consequence so entirely reorganized that it formed a mere rear rank to the line troops. This latter system, consecrated by the German successes of 1870, became the universal model for the Continent of Europe, and organized and self-contained militias to-day are only to be found in states maintaining first line armies of “general service” professionals, or in states which maintain no first line troops whatever. In the first class are the auxiliary forces of the British Empire and the United States, in the second the Swiss, Norwegian, Dutch and Swedish forces.

Militia of the United Kingdom

The title of “militia” disappeared from the list of the British forces in 1908, on the conversion of the existing self-contained militia into an army “ special reserve ” which is restricted to the role of providing drafts for the first line.[1] The “ self-contained” second line army of the present day is the Territorial Force (see United Kingdom: Army).

The county organization of England, with which throughout the militia was closely associated, began with the advent of the Saxons. The prototype of the militia was the Fyrd. In this force as reorganized by Alfred liability of service was general on the part of every able-bodied male between the ages of 16 and 60. Although the title of “ The Fyrd ” survived until long after the Norman Conquest, the force established by King Alfred was known as the general levy, which was bound to appear armed when ordered to aid in suppressing domestic riots as well as in defending the realm against invasion by foreign foes. Service was restricted to the counties, except in case of invasion, when it was extended to the whole kingdom. For centuries these remained with little alteration as the principles governing the national forces of the kingdom, and form in effect with certain developments the basis of the modern militia system. The Norman Conquest was immediately followed by the introduction of the feudal levy in addition to the general levy, the distinction between these forces being that while obligation to serve in the latter rested upon every male within certain limits of age, service in the feudal levy depended upon tenure of land under the king as feudal lord. The general levy was not in any case liable for service overseas, but the king for a long time employed his feudal tenants in continental wars until they too, successfully resisted the demand. Personal service formed the basis of both levies, but service by deputy, or payment in lieu ot personal service, and the calling out of a quota only, were allowed rom very early times. The feudal levy was discontinued during the Commonwealth and abolished at the Restoration; but liability to serve in the general levy has never been extinguished, but remains in the statutory and practical form of liability to serve both in the general and local militia. Even at the abolition of these forces the statutory liability to service in them was not done away with. Inspections of arms and the assembly and training of the men raised under this national system were secured from time to time by means of “assizes of arms,” “views of armour,” “commissions of array,” and “commissions of musters,” dating from early in the 12th century down to the 16th century. The machinery employed to carry out the law formed the basis of the existing procedure for the enforcement of the ballot for the militia, which thus bears a strong resemblance to the means adopted from ancient times. These constitutional powers were frequently abused by “electing” or impressing men to serve out of the kingdom, but this was checked in the year 1327 by an Act of Parliament, which strictly regulated the scope and limits of military service within the kingdom at the charge of the parishes or counties, but provided for service abroad at the charge of the Crown. “Commissions of musters” were a development of preceding measures for raising men and material for military service, under which the commissioners registered and mustered persons liable to serve, sorted them into bands and trained and exercised them at the charge of the county. These bands became known as train or trained bands, and were mustered annually. With them were associated lieutenants of counties, first appointed in 1549 by Edward VI., subsequently in Queen Mary's reign called lords lieutenant, and after the Restoration appointed as statutory officers for the militia, their commissions at the present day being issued under the Militia Act. There does not appear to have been any clearly defined regimental organization in existence until these bands or companies were called into active service, but the Acts of the Commonwealth supplied this defect, and initiated a permanent regimental system. One of the earliest attempts to reform the force since the time of King Alfred was made by Charles-I. in 1629, when Orders in Council were issued instructing lords lieutenant to put the militia on a better footing and to fill up vacancies among the officers. Cromwell subsequently issued similar orders couched in strong terms, though under the Commonwealth the duties of lords lieutenant were not recognized, the militia being raised by commissioners. The great services rendered by the militia in the “crowning mercy” of Worcester are a historic exception to the general decadence of second line troops in the 17th and 18th centuries (see Great Rebellion). At the Restoration an act was passed declaring that the control of the militia was the prerogative of the king. By the same statute the militia of each county was placed under the lieutenant, who was vested with the appointment of officers, but with a reservation to the Crown in the way of commissioning and dismissal. The cost of the annual training-for fourteen days-fell upon the local authority. Offences against discipline were dealt with by the civil magistrates, but with a power to the officers of fining and of imprisoning in default. Upon this footing the militia of England remained for nearly a century with the general approval of the community. It was recognized as an instrument for defence and for the preservation of internal order, while it was especially popular from the circumstance that from its constitution and organization the Crown could not use it as a means of violating the constitution or abridging the liberty of the subject. It was controlled and regulated in the county; it was office red by the landowners and their relatives, its ranks were filled by men not depending for their subsistence or advancement upon the favour of the Crown; its numbers and maintenance were beyond the royal control; its government was by statute. While the supreme command was distinctly vested in the Crown, every practical security was thus taken against its use by the Crown for any object not constitutional or legitimate. It was regarded as, and was, in fact, the army of the state as distinguished from the standing army, which was very much the army of the king personally. The latter consisted of hired soldiers, and was more than once recruited by a conscription, confined, however, to persons of the vagrant class not having a lawful employment, while the former was mainly composed of those having a fixed abode and status. The militia thus enjoyed for many years as compared with the regular forces a social as well as a constitutional superiority. To this, however, along with the general breakdown of militia systems under the new “professional” conditions of warfare, explained above, and perhaps the practice of trying military offences by civil courts, may be attributed the disrepute into which the militia fell and the inefficiency it displayed, with the exception of the trained bands of London, until it was reorganized in 1757. Under the act of 1662 all train bands were discontinued in the counties, but those of London, with their auxiliaries, remained until 1794, when they were reorganized as the City of London Militia. In 1688 an act was passed raising the militia for one year, and for some time it was an annually sanctioned force as the regular army is to-day. In 1690, on the occasion of the threatened French invasion, the militia was embodied; and again in 1715 and 1745 during the troubles caused by the Old and Young Pretenders. In a pamphlet of 1712 the English militia was estimated at 7450 horse and 84,391 foot soldiers. From 1715 until 1734, and again from that year until 1757, with this exception of 1745, no votes were taken in parliament for the militia.

The foregoing remarks apply only to the English militia and its predecessors. Ireland and Scotland did not furnish any regular militia until 1715 and 1797. respectively, although in Scotland militia existed long before 1797, e.g. in Perthshire in 1684; and in addition corps of fencibles were raised and embodied. The Irish militia when first raised in 1715 was restricted to Protestants between the ages of 16 and 60, who were bound to appear or provide substitutes. The force was not made subject to military law, but various military offences were punishable by fine or imprisonment. Several amendments and other acts followed until 1793, when a new act was passed providing for raising a force of militia by ballot among men between the ages of 18 and 45, to serve for four years. Each county was liable to a fine of £5 for each man deficient, and enlistment in the army was prohibited. Other amendments followed from time to time, and notably one in 1797 abolishing religious restrictions for the supplementary militia, and another in 1802 removing the same restrictions in the case of the general militia. Finally, all the acts were consolidated in 1809 by an act which fixed establishments, provided for raising the men by ballot, but gave power to the lord-lieutenant to authorize voluntary enlistment by means of bounties, and also to suspend the raising of any regiment. The Scottish militia was at first raised by ballot among men between the ages of 19 and 30. In 1802 former acts were replaced by an Act providing for the organization of the militia on a basis similar to that on which the militia of England was organized by the Consolidation Act passed in that year.

To return to England, the immediate cause of the organic reform carried out in 1757 was the disclosure of the inefficiency of the militia during the Rebellion of 1745. The act of 1662 followed the old law by requiring owners of property to furnish men, horses and arms in proportion to the value of their property, and the liability of persons of small property was to be discharged out of a rate levied in the parish. This was entirely altered in 1757, a liability on the part of the county or parish being substituted for a liability on the part of individuals. Each county was required to furnish a quota apportioned among the various parishes; men were to be chosen by lot to serve for three years (this being the first provision of a fixed term of service) or to provide, or pay £10 for the provision of, a substitute, and vacancies were to be filled from time to time by a like process of ballot. The ages of liability were from 18 to 45. The system thus legalized is practically the existing though suspended ballot system. The force was to be annually trained and exercised for a limited period, and in case of invasion or danger thereof, or in case of rebellion, the Crown could order it or any portion of it to be embodied; but only on condition of informing parliament (which was if not sitting to be summoned for the purpose). During the embodiment or annual training it was subject to the Mutiny Act, except that no punishment during training was to extend to “ life or limb ”; to prevent an unconstitutional use of the militia by the Crown, the estimate for its training was framed each year, not by an executive minister of the sovereign, but by the House of Commons itself. Upon the initiative of a committee of the house, an act was passed providing for the pay and clothing of the militia for the year. The king directly appointed the permanent staff and was given a veto on the appointment and promotion of the officers, who were to have a property qualification.

Under this act 30,000 militiamen were raised by ballot and embodied from 1759 to 1763. This force was exclusively “Protestant,” and remained so until 1802. The service of the militia as thus arranged remained nearly in the same state until 1870. Pitt's reform, however, was followed by numerous amendments, new enactments, and other changes, of which the following is a summary in chronological order:—

1758. Men volunteering to serve recognized as counting towards the quota.

1761. Raising of quota made compulsory on counties under penalty of fines.
Mutiny Act applied to militia when out for training as well as when embodied.

1775. (American War.) Act passed empowering embodiment of militia in case of colonial as well as domestic rebellion.

1786. Charge on parishes for storage of arms, &c., transferred to counties.

1795. Enlistment into regulars encouraged.

1796. Supplementary militia formed, consisting of 63,878 men.

1798. (Irish Rebellion.) English militia volunteered for service in Ireland.

1799. Irish militia volunteered to serve in Great Britain. 15,000 militiamen volunteered to regular army.

1803. 45,492 men raised for militia by ballot, but of these 40,998 were substitutes.

1805. Militia affiliated to line for purposes of recruiting for regulars.

1806. Training Act to raise by ballot 200,000 men to be trained for one whole year, and then to discharge them from training for two years.

1808. Difficulties having arisen under above Act, local militia (which is in effect the old general levy) established in addition to general militia then embodied.
27,000 militiamen volunteered to regular army during preceding twelve months.
1811. English militia, hitherto not liable to serve out of the kingdom, now made liable to serve in any part of the United Kingdom under certain restrictions, which were subsequently (in 1859) removed.
Method of obtaining men from militia for regulars further systematized.
1812. In this year there were 250 regiments of local militia, with an establishment of 240,388 men and 214,418 actually enrolled.
1813. During ten years, from 1803 to 1813, nearly 100,000 militiamen joined the regular army.
Act passed to enable militia to serve abroad as militia with their own officers. Three strong battalions joined the British army in France.

1815. Militiamen recruited in great numbers the army which fought at Waterloo. Local militia ceased to be raised.

1816. Local militia and Ballot Act suspended. General militia disembodied.

1820–21–25. Militia called out for training.

1829. Act passed suspending ballot for the general militia.

1831. Militiamen raised by ballot in accordance with Order in Council, 27th of December 1830. This was the last occasion on which the ballot was put in force.

In the latter stages of the great French war the tendency of the government was to use the general militia rather as a reservoir producing drafts (in the end whole units) for service abroad, and the local militia as the real defensive force. During the height of the war (in 1812) the relative position of the various branches of the army was as follows: First line, the standing army; second line, the general or regular militia, which as the war went on were more and more used abroad; third line, the local militia, with the survivors of the volunteers, who at that time numbered about 68,000 men. After the peace of 1815 the militia was allowed practically to fall into abeyance, and although the permanent staff was maintained, it had no duties to perform. In 1848 the Prime Minister intimated in parliament his intention to re-establish the militia, but it was not until 1852, after an unsuccessful attempt to resuscitate the local militia, that the general militia of England was reorganized under a system of voluntary enlistment with the ballot in reserve, Scotland and Ireland being included in 1854. The property qualification of officers which had hitherto existed (with exception in favour of ex-officers of the army and navy) was reduced, and after a further reduction in 1854, abolished in 1869. Larger powers respecting the militia were conferred upon the Crown, and during the Crimean War the queen was authorized to embody the militia whenever a state of war existed with any foreign power. In that war the militia was embodied and did garrison duty not only in the United Kingdom but in the Mediterranean garrisons, thus enabling the authorities to send most of the available regular troops to the scene of hostilities. It further contributed many officers and some 30,000 men to the line. During the Indian Mutiny it filled scarcely less useful functions when again called out. The acceptance of voluntary offers of service in the Channel Islands and Isle of Man was de nitely authorized in 1859, and extended to service in Malta and Gibraltar in 1875. In 1871 an important constitutional change was made. It was part of the new army system inaugurated in that year that the control of the militia should be removed from the lord-lieutenant of the county and vested wholly in the Crown. It now virtually ceased to exist as a distinct body, and in 1881 it became a part of the regular forces with a limitation as to the time and area and other conditions of service. Militia battalions were united with the line battalions to form territorial regiments, the artillery and engineers being also closely associated with the regular services. Various amendments and new enactments followed, all in the direction of increasing the usefulness of the militia, rendering it more efficient and readier for service, though at the same time making it more and more a means for supplying recruits, both officers and men, to the regular army. The officers, who were commissioned by the Crown, were in 1877 made subject at all times to military law. Non-commissioned officers and men were only so subject when embodied or out for training, with extension in the case of men convicted of offences committed during training until the expiration of the punishment.[2] Enlistment was voluntary, compulsory service by ballot remained legal, but suspended. The period of engagement was for six years, re-engagements for periods of four years up to the age of 45 being permitted. Bounties were paid to militiamen at various rates upon enlistment, conclusion of training, re-engagement, enlistment into reserve or special service section, and other special circumstances. Recruit training, maximum six months, as a rule did not exceed three months. Recruits were either drilled immediately upon enlistment at any time of the year, which is now the most usual system, or else at preliminary drills (first instituted in 1860), immediately preceding the annual training of the corps. The annual training varied with the different branches of the service. The usual term for infantry was 27 days, but when on manoeuvres this was generally extended to 34 days, 56 days being the legal maximum. Artillery and fortress engineers trained for 41 days and submarine mining engineers for 55 days.- Trainings took place for the most part in camp or barracks, and large numbers of militia battalions were latterly called on to take part in field manoeuvres. The militia dépots occupied as a rule the same barracks, and officers and men wore (with slight distinctions) the same uniform as the regulars. The militia occupied an' important position in the mobilization scheme for national defence. The permanent staff (adjutant, quartermaster, and an establishment of non-commissioned officers and buglers or drummers, all regulars) was engaged during the non-training period of the year in recruiting, care of arms, clothing &c., and in drilling recruits. The general lines of the system, as regards training are still followed with the Special Reserve, though the constitution of the new force is very different. The militia ordinarily was liable only for service in the United Kingdom, but by legislation in 1899 may voluntarily serve in any part of the world, including India. During 1899~1900, 22,000 militiamen were thus accepted for service abroad, the bulk of them proceeding to the seat of war in South Africa. The militia reserve consisted of men selected from the ranks of the militia for special enlistment for service in the regular army when called upon in emergencies, in the following proportions to the establishments of the various corps: Artillery, one-third; engineers and infantry, one-fourth; medical staff corps, one-half. The militia reserve was first formed in 1867, and in 1900 numbered 30,000 men. During an emergency in 1878, 20,000 militia reservists joined the regular army. The term “militia” reserve was therefore a complete misnomer, and the force so called was purely an army reserve. The special service section of the militia was formed by royal warrant in 1898, and consisted of (I) militia units and (2) individual militiamen. A militia unit was considered as available for special service if not less than 75 % of the officers and men present at training made a voluntary offer to engage for special service in any part of the world, and if in the infantry at least 500 and in the artillery at least 250 men were accepted as qualified. Individual militiamen engage to serve either with their militia unit if it were registered for service, or else for special service with the regular forces. Liability for service was limited to twelve months. Men of the special service section could also belong to the militia reserve, and receive a bounty in addition to that given for the reserve. The result of this special section was not up to 1900 satisfactory. Very few units could qualify for registration, and the response of individual men was comparatively insignificant.

During and after the South African War, while militia recruiting for the regulars showed a constant increase compared with preceding years, the strength of the militia itself decreased year after year. Its militia character had been diminishing ever since the creation of the “militia reserve” and the close affiliation of the force to the regular army. For good or evil, then, it had become in the first place a draft-producing agency, and on the reorganization of the forces of the Crown into two lines by Mr Haldane the old “constitutional force” was frankly reorganized as a reserve for the line, enlistment and training conditions remaining somewhat similar to those in vogue in the militia, but the liability for service abroad becoming the first and most important condition in the “special reservist’s” enlistment.

  1. Various dominions and colonies of the British Empire have militias, for which see United Kingdom: Army. For the Swiss Militia System, which is in many respects the archetype of modern militias, see Switzerland; and for the organized militia of the United States see United States.
  2. This, though here mentioned as part of a process of “regularizing” the militia, was in fact a reform that was advisable under any conditions. The new Territorial Force when created out of the Volunteer Force (which had no such liabilities except when training or serving with regulars) was made subject to military law, officers at all times, men whenever under instruction.