All Officers in the British Army began their careers by obtaining their first “Subaltern” commission. Depending upon the regiment, that would be as an Ensign, Second Lieutenant, or Coronet. This article will examine how officers made that first step; promotion to higher ranks will be covered in a separate installment. Men could become officers in the Army in a number of ways. Those in the Ordnance Corps, such as Artillery and Engineers, were trained at Woolwich Academy, but were not considered to be truly “gentlemen”‘ despite being an Officer (and will not be dealt with in this article). Entry into the Cavalry or Infantry was either by “purchasing” his Commission, or by a number of “non-purchase” options. In examining this subject, it is necessary to divide the era into two parts, those before and after the Duke of York’s reforms of 1796. Before the reforms, there were fewer regulations to determine how young a prospective officer should be, or how they obtained their rank. The Duke’s reforms created the provision that candidates needed to be at least 16 years of age (although a few younger did slip through, and there was also an upper limit of 21). They were also to be “gentlemen,” able to read and write, be of good character, and vouched for by a superior officer. All applications were to be transmitted through the Colonel (or Officer Commanding the Regiment) to the Commander-in-Chief’s Military Secretary (if at Home) or the General Officer Commanding at the station (if
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