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All for the King's Shilling: The British Soldier under Wellington, 1808-1814 (Campaigns and Commanders Series) Hardcover – April 22, 2010

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Product Details

  • Series: Campaigns and Commanders Series (Book 24)
  • Hardcover: 392 pages
  • Publisher: University of Oklahoma Press; First Edition edition (April 22, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0806141050
  • ISBN-13: 978-0806141053
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.4 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.7 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,312,085 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


Coss writes this history to correct the long standing assumption that Wellington's redcoats were drawn from society's dregs. Using his database and many first-person accounts, he proves they were otherwise. Backgrounds and daily lives of the soldiers are illuminated by every aspect of this study. Annotation ©2010 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR

"All for the King's Shilling is a revelation, a keystone reinterpretation of the British soldier of the Napoleonic Wars. The great value of this work lies not simply in the centrality of its topic or in the impressive mining of archival and memoire evidence by Edward Coss, but also in his originality and courage as he challenges stereotypes that have endured for two hundred years in the scholarly and military literature. ~John Lynn, author of The Bayonets of the Republic and Giant of the Grand Siecle

"Edward J. Coss's thoroughly researched and extremely interesting analysis will appeal not only to scholars and, indeed, to modern officers with a professional interest in the motivation and discipline of soldiers, but also to the legions of enthusiasts who continue to follow the Napoleonic redcoats tramping across the Peninsula and to Waterloo." ~J. A. Houlding author of Fit for Service: The Training of the British Army, 1715-1795

"With an impressive grasp of military psychology, Coss demonstrates beyond doubt that the redcoats were predominantly young men from 'respectable' elements of the laboring classes, and he reveals the source of the British infantry's well-known 'cohesion.'" ~Matthew Spring, author of With Zeal and with Bayonets Only: The British Army on Campaign in North America, 1775-1783

From the Author

All for the King's Shilling was awarded the International Napoleonic Society Literary Award (1st place) for 2010. The book was also runner-up for 2010 Templer Medal from the Society for Army Historical Research.

More About the Author

Dr. Ed Coss is an associate professor of military history at the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College and a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society. He was the Army's Civilian Educator of the Year in 2010.

Customer Reviews

4.9 out of 5 stars
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See all 10 customer reviews
This is a top-notch work.
C. S. Carnes
It talks a great deal about the motivation, tactics, and unit cohesion that made the British soldier so successful.
John M. Danielski
A definitely fine read and important addition to any history collection.
David Lane

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Hal D on May 10, 2010
Format: Hardcover
Edward Coss's All For the King's Shilling is an incredible assessment of the British soldier in the Peninsular Campaign and a spectacular example of the ability to blend military and social history. Coss's examination, utilizing both quantitative measures as well as indepth analyses of memoirs and contemporary accounts, beautifully illustrates the life of the common British redcoat on campaign. Particularly striking is his data on their lives before enlistment, showing quite dramatically that they were not the "scum of the earth," as has so often been taught and told. Instead, Coss paints a picture of men, who for reasons attributable to the Industrial Revolution, were put out of work and who most often joined the army out of economic necessity. The book also challenges traditional assumptions, and shows that they are indeed assumptions not based in fact. Coss also shows that the plundering done by the average redcoat, for example, was out of necessity due to a failed logistical system and not simply the acts of brazen criminals and brutes that happened to be in the ranks. Aside from their social composition, Coss's work also effectively highlights the psychological stress of combat, demonstrating that combat cohesiveness was directly related to the physical and emotional support of long-service comrades and the moral codes and obligations they established with one another. This work is the best to-date available concerning the British soldier in the Peninsular War, and perhaps the best published on the redcoat of the Napoleonic Period. I rank it up there with Matthew Spring 's excellent study of the redcoat of the Revolution, and those that have Spring's book will find an excellent companion in Coss's work. For those who study eighteenth-and nineteenth-century British military history, this is simply a must-have work.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Robert L. Goldich on June 18, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Edward J. Coss's book meticulously demolishes the stereotypical notion that the British soldier in the Napoleonic Wars was "the scum of the earth" drawn from the dissolute ande criminal British underclass. He shows that almost all British soldiers that served under Wellington in the Peninsula were urban and rural working men who chose military service due to straitened economic circumstances, a desire for adventure, or a fascination with the supposed attraction's of a soldier's life. He describes how the high degree of cohesion they developed with their fellow soldiers enabled them to endure and prevail in combat and on campaign amidst material privation and high levels of stress. In doing all this, Coss closes with and destroys a central myth of all too much scholarship about the background and motivation of combat soldiers in general: that they are antisocial, inherently violent, and uncaring men. He shows that "scum of the earth" would not have lasted long in battle; they would have been unable to earn the trust, respect, and mutual support from their fellow soldiers that were, and are, essential to staying alive in combat. "Scum of the earth" did not last long in combat between 1808 and 1814 in Spain, and they do not now.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Steven Hood on July 13, 2010
Format: Hardcover
All for the King's Schilling aims to correct the centuries-old misconception of the British redcoat as a criminal, ready to rape, murder, and pillage at a moment's notice. Contrary to this misrepresentation, Dr. Coss portrays the British soldier as a common man, joining the British forces out of economic necessity during the height of the Industrialization in England. Extreme caloric deficiencies arising from the British army failing to provide the soldiers' daily rations served as the motivational force for plundering additional supplies. Through the extreme hardships the rank and file faced daily, the men formed an unwavering group allegiance, relying on one another for survival both on the battlefield and on the campaign trail. The redcoats' discipline on the battlefield exemplifies this social cohesion, enabling Wellington to employ close-range fire-and-charge techniques or plan siege assaults on bastions that no other army could imitate, and a battle record the French would soon detest.

Dr. Coss offers a measured approach in disassembling the villainous reputation of the redcoat through hundreds of archival collections, journals, memoirs, books, and articles. Although one might expect the amount of painstaking research to impede the pace of the book, the first-hand accounts written by the soldiers and their commanding officers supply the adrenaline, allowing the reader to temporarily share in the shocking experiences of the British infantry.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By C. S. Carnes on June 21, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Dr. Edward J. Coss' All for the King's Shilling is a superb book that finally lays to rest the long perpetuated myth that the common British soldiers (rankers) were comprised of the worst elements from British society; the so-called "Scum of the Earth". Through pain-staking and diligent research Coss is able to present the facts that clearly disprove this myth. Moreover, Ed Coss presents the reader with the information and facts that demonstrate what actually makes a great soldier - discipline, small-unit cohesion, and leadership; the very same things that make great soldiers today. Coss also provides the clearest and most gripping examples of Napoleonic combat (from both the British AND French perspectives) that I have ever read. It as if we, the readers, are there in formation with the belligerents as they close with and engage on another. This is truly fascinating reading.

I'll also add that the tables and factual data provided in the appendices are fascinating and will be extremely useful to anyone doing research.

All For the King's Shilling has relevance not only to those even remotely interested in warfare during the Napoleonic era, but also to today's military professional. This is a top-notch work.
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