Buying a “pair of colours.”

Blue2Hi, Jo here. I'm in the middle of edits for my next book, and short of time, but I remembered that back a while someone had asked about how men bought ranks in the army in the Georgian and Regency period. That's an easy topic because I researched it once at the Canadian War Museum library. I checked who'd asked, and it was Elaine Ransil. Elaine, you win a book for having a topic used.

 

Let's start out simply.

Men paid to attain officer ranks in the British army. They started at the bottom, generally as youths, when someone purchased a slot at the lowest rank, which was cornet in the cavalry and ensign in the infantry. This was popularly called "buying a set of colours." Thereafter, they purchased the next highest rank from someone who held it when that man was either retiring — "selling out" — or moving up the ranks by buying the next highest.

Hence, the Purchase System. Uniform

They money paid in over the years can be seen as an investment, or even a pension plan, because when a man sold out he kept what he was paid for his rank at the time.

It's easy to see it as a corrupt system, but in many ways it worked and of course there were all kinds of variations and nuances. For a start, the Royal Artillery and the Royal Engineers never had the tradition of purchase. Nor did the navy.

So let's get to the details.

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