King's shilling

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For many years a soldier's daily pay, before stoppages, was the shilling given as an earnest payment to recruits of the British Army and the Royal Navy of the 18th and 19th centuries. The expression "to take the King's shilling" (or the Queen's shilling as the case may be) meant that a man agreed to serve as a soldier or sailor.

Recruiters of the time used all sorts of tricks, most involving strong drink, to press the shilling on unsuspecting victims. The man did not formally become a soldier until attested before a Justice of the Peace, and could still escape his fate by paying his recruiter "smart money" before attestation. In the 1840s this amounted to £1 (twenty shillings), a sum most recruits were unlikely to have at hand.

Press gangs were used by the Royal Navy as a crude and violent method of recruiting seamen into naval service, often against their will. Recruiting sailors voluntarily was difficult as the conditions on board ship were poor and serving in the navy, especially at time of war, was dangerous. The word press gangs derives from the term impressment, which can be defined as the act of coercing someone into government service. Impressment was used from as early as Elizabethan times and was last used during the Napoleonic wars (1803-1815).

The press gang, a group of 10 - 12 men, led by an officer, would roam the streets looking for likely "volunteers." ...
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