Did Soldiers Really Enlist to Desert Their Wives? Revisiting the Martial Character of Marital Desertion in Eighteenth-Century London Jennine Hurl-Eamon
Journal of British Studies Vol. 53, No. 2 (APRIL 2014), pp. 356-377 (22 pages)
Many historians of plebeian marriage have accepted David Kent's findings that married men in eighteenth-century London enlisted to desert their wives. This article argues that this was far from always the case. Enlistment could serve as a family survival strategy for pauper husbands, particularly during mobilization periods. Bounties, shorter terms of service, and pensions could entice responsible providers. The militia or guards regiments appealed to family men because of their stable income and low risk of foreign deployment. Accounts of agonized quayside partings indicate that some married recruits who left British soil had expected the army to allow their wives to accompany them. Kent considered every army wife who sought parish relief as abandoned, yet resort to the parish might form part of a complex family survival strategy that included wives' begging and soldiers' taking on extra work and sending home their pay. Some men used military service as a way to fulfill husbandly duties, not to avoid them.