How strong was the military during the Victorian Era?

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larrygates eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The Royal Army was steeped in tradition at the beginning of the reign of Queen Victoria. The Duke of Wellington, who had defeated Napoleon at Waterloo, was still a commissioned officer and wished to maintain the same structure which had previously existed. However, problems with this structure became apparent due to massive losses in the Crimean War and the Indian War of 1857.

Changes came about partly as a result of improved weaponry introduced during the Industrial Revolution. Major changes, however, were the result of action taken by the Secretary of State for War, Edward Cardwell. These "Cardwell reforms" included:

  • Reduction in the years of service required from 21 years to 12.
  • The sale of military commissions was outlawed; henceforth officers were promoted solely on the basis of merit.
  • Battalions serving abroad had a sister battalion at home. The two switched places every two years.
  • Harsh punishments such as branding and flogging (except in overseas assignments) was abolished.
  • Pay and food allowances were increased.

There were still weaknesses. individual marksmanship for foot soldiers was de-emphasized in favor of firing in volleys. This proved so ineffective during the Second Boer War that new training in marksmanship was instituted. The new British Army by the end of the reign of Queen Victoria was the army which fought in World War One.