Regular Establishment

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Regular Establishment

REGULAR ESTABLISHMENT. The term "establishment" refers to several aspects of the organizational structure of the British army. At the highest level, the "regular establishment" was the entire standing British army, divided between the handful of household regiments of the king and the much larger number of regiments of the line. Together, they formed a permanent force that was administered by the king and the Parliament in accordance with laws and regulations that governed the pay, conditions of service, promotion, and retirement of its personnel; it was the equivalent of the modern U.S. regular army. The regular army was divided between two establishments, the British and the Irish, that varied in size and composition over time according to different combinations of need, cost, and tradition.

Strategic and operational requirements dictated which regiments served in different theaters, not which establishment they happened to be on. After the Peace of Paris in 1763, 17,500 men were stationed in Britain, 12,000 in Ireland, 10,000 in America, and over 4,000 at Minorca and Gibraltar. These allocations, plus 1,800 artillerymen, made a total of roughly 45,000 men to garrison an unprecedented worldwide empire. A dozen years later, on the verge of a war to suppress the rebellion in the American colonies, the number and distribution of troops were roughly the same. By the end of 1781, when large-scale active operations ceased, the British army numbered some 110,000 men, 57,000 of whom were serving in North America.

The expansion of the army in wartime was a common feature of the way Britain made war, as was the corresponding reduction in size and number of regiments when the war was over. In this way, the army can be said to have had both a wartime and a peacetime establishment.

During the War of American Independence, the British government created a hybrid form of establishment that reflected the wartime expansion of the number of men under British arms and in British pay. Effective 2 May 1779, the five most proficient and hardest fighting of the units raised among American Loyalists were placed on a new Provincial (or American) Establishment. The boost to the morale of Loyalist soldiers far outweighed the military value of this designation, although being placed on an establishment did mean that the officers were legally entitled to half pay for life when their regiment was disbanded. Four of the five were placed on the British Establishment on Christmas Day 1782; all were disbanded by the end of 1783.

Finally, "establishment" also refers to the authorized size of the army's constituent regiments. After the middle of the eighteenth century, a regiment was commonly composed of ten companies, eight of which were called, variously, battalion, line, or hat companies. The remaining two companies were elite formations, called flank companies from their standard position on the flanks of the regiment when it was drawn up in linear formation. Each wore specialized headgear, the grenadiers wearing tall, cone-shaped caps that did not interfere with the arm motion involved in throwing a grenade, the light infantry a cut-down version of the standard line company tricorne hat, as befitted a company intended to skirmish ahead of the battalion line. The numerical size of the regiment varied with the authorized size of its companies, which varied in this period from thirty-eight to fifty-six men per company.

SEE ALSO Flank Companies; Provincial Military Organizations; Regiment.


Curtis, Edward E. The British Army in the American Revolution. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1926.

Fortescue, John. A History of the British Army. Vol. 3. 2nd ed. London: Macmillan, 1911.

Houlding, J. A. Fit for Service: The Training of the British Army, 1715–1795. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1981.

Mills, T. F. "Land Forces of Britain, the Empire, and Commonwealth: 'Regiments and Corps of the British Army, 1761 and 1781 Supplement.'" Available online at

Reid, Stuart. King George's Army, 1740–1793. Vol. 1. London: Reed International Books, 1995.

                               revised by Harold E. Selesky