Faced with the existential threat of Revolutionary and Napoleonic France, Britons bore arms on an impressive scale between 1793 and 1815, with more than one in five able-bodied men in full- or part-time service by 1805. The expansion of the regular army and proliferation of auxiliary corps generated unparalleled demand for military musicians, providing boys and young men from humble backgrounds with new opportunities to develop musical skills. Many veterans of this wartime ‘musical armed nation’ became professional performers, composers and music instructors after discharge, enriching cultural life in the United Kingdom and the wider British empire.
Examples of civilian musicians who began their careers in the armed forces are legion (and the topic of much of my PhD research). This article opens by examining the life of one such martial minstrel, John Sinclair, to illustrate the legacies of Napoleonic-era mass mobilization for British musical culture before exploring the military connections of other nineteenth-century musical celebrities.
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