Becoming an Officer in the 18-19th Century: The Purchase System in the British Army

Paid Commission System

We’ve all seen some iteration or other of the same old scene. Some bumbling aristocratic twit makes a terrible decision that ends in disaster, getting hundreds of his own men killed, before fleeing from well behind the front line while barely even understanding that he ever did anything wrong at all. And as he retreats, it’s up to the NCOs and enlisted men to fix the mess that he created, muttering under their breath, “He paid for his commission!” the entire time. It’s a terribly common scene in so many films, games, and books, and yet it is so completely untrue.

The Purchase System, by which men would pay to become officers in the British army until it was abolished in the late Victorian era, is a subject often referenced, and yet so little discussed! How exactly did it work? Why was it in place? And could men, really, just pay for their positions without any heed to experience, training, or skill? Given the great successes of the British army, surely the classic tale of the bumbling general can’t be all true… In this video, I go over precisely how the Paid Commission system worked in the British army, and what you- as an eager young Gentleman soldier- must do to become an officer in the historic British army!

Credit: Brandon F.

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