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‘Turning out for twenty-days amusement’: The militia in georgian satirical prints

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Abstract

James Gillray's ‘Supplementary Militia, turning out for Twenty-Days Amusement’ of 1796 (fig. 1) is the quintessential image of part-time soldiering. On the face of it, Gillray pokes fun in predictable ways, using several visual techniques to suggest that the militiamen are hapless amateurs rather than professionals. First, each man bears the tools of his civilian trade: from left to right we have a cobbler, a plasterer, a painter, a tailor, a hairdresser and a suitably rotund butcher. Secondly, the print underlines their lack of uniformity and discipline by sharply characterising them as individuals: the men are of various heights and builds, with ill-matching and dilapidated uniforms. Their bodies are either extremely thin or fat, with short legs and narrow shoulders – in pointed contrast to the ideal military body of the age. With such a rag-tag assortment, their effort to march in step is in vain. Gillray literally has a field day with the comic possibilities of the civilian soldier, a liminal figure whose uncertain position between the military and civilian worlds is ripe for visual mockery. This was as true of the militia in the eighteenth century as it was to be of the Yeomanry in the nineteenth and the Home Guard in the twentieth: Gillray's print has pride of place in a long tradition within British graphic satire.

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McCormack, M. (2012). ‘Turning out for twenty-days amusement’: The militia in georgian satirical prints. In Civilians and War in Europe, 1618-1815 (pp. 157–181). Liverpool University Press. https://doi.org/10.5949/UPO9781846317699.011

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