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"redcoats" Topic

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42flanker Supporting Member of TMP In the TMP Dawghouse07 Nov 2020 3:11 a.m. PST

Greetings, all. I apologise if this has been thrashed out before, but I should be grateful to learn when the earliest contemporary use of the term 'redcoat' can be found in reference to British soldiery.

With thanks

Personal logo 4th Cuirassier Supporting Member of TMP07 Nov 2020 4:25 a.m. PST

What a great question. I'd have hazarded the ECW when the red coat was invented, or if not, then the AWI as a way of dehumanising the enemy. No idea though, so I'll await the informed responses.

79thPA Supporting Member of TMP07 Nov 2020 6:22 a.m. PST

About all I know is that the term was used in the 1600s.

Personal logo 4th Cuirassier Supporting Member of TMP07 Nov 2020 6:29 a.m. PST

@ 79thPA

Was that 1600s usage generic to refer to any English soldiers, or to refer to a specific regiment – Cromwell's Redcoats, or whoever?

Does widespread use of the red coat precede the ECW?

Personal logo John the OFM Supporting Member of TMP07 Nov 2020 6:36 a.m. PST

"Redcoats" was probably just a description in the FIW, if not also praise.
It became pejorative in the AWI.

Maybe. grin

RogerC07 Nov 2020 6:41 a.m. PST

I am imagining general usage certainly during the early 1700's describing the Governemnt troops in the various Jacobite uprisings, perhaps not the first oen though. Earlier than ECW unlikely I would suggest, even after the ECW it wasnt a generic colour for regiments just one aspired to, certainly during the first Jacobite rising troops on both sides had redcoats and on both sides used other colours. If you are desribing na individual unit then early 1600's seems likely, describign the Englis/British army as a whole then probably not until much later, say early 1700's.

Personal logo Artilleryman Supporting Member of TMP07 Nov 2020 6:58 a.m. PST

Until the early 19th Century the most common term for the British infantryman in the English speaking world was 'lobster' or even 'bloody back'. Both referenced the colour of the uniform though the latter may also be a reference to bad behaviour and the subsequent flogging. A lot of armies in Europe had red-coated troops and did not receive the epithet so memorably. Indeed, the term was rarely used on the continent to refer to the British. (The French preferred 'Rosbifs' or Goddamns'.)

Regarding the use in English, there is a useful theory that the use of 'redcoat' did arise in America in the FIW to, initially, differentiate the British regulars from the various local militias and volunteers. By the time of the fight for independence, it would have been a common term. Subsequently, given the strength of the promulgation of the history of the fighting by the victors it is unsurprising that it should be so widely used.

As a personal note, if I hear the term 'redcoat' without a historical context, I do tend immediately to think of a British soldier of the 18th Century.

MajorB07 Nov 2020 7:29 a.m. PST

Was that 1600s usage generic to refer to any English soldiers, or to refer to a specific regiment Cromwell's Redcoats, or whoever?

The New Model Army was founded in 1644. All the regiments of foot had red coats.

Does widespread use of the red coat precede the ECW?


Brechtel198 Supporting Member of TMP07 Nov 2020 10:01 a.m. PST

Washington in a 4 January letter to Joseph Reed makes reference to red Coats.

See George Washington: Writings, edited by John Rhodehamel, published by The Library of America, page 198.

The British soldiers were also referred to as 'bloody backs' and 'lobster backs.'

robert piepenbrink Supporting Member of TMP07 Nov 2020 11:35 a.m. PST

I would disagree with MajorB on this one--or perhaps we just disagree somewhat on "widespread." Henry VIII is invading France with a largely red-coated army in the early 16th Century and etymonline dates the word to 1510.

It isn't a standard national coat color until the New Model, but it was reasonably common. I understand the materials for a dull red dye were readily available and it would fit with the arms of a king of England. It never pays to completely ignore arms and livery colors when looking at early modern uniforms and gun colors.

Does anyone subscribe to the OED?

MajorB07 Nov 2020 12:57 p.m. PST

It isn't a standard national coat color until the New Model,


but it was reasonably common

Common, yes. Widespread, no.

Personal logo SHaT1984 Supporting Member of TMP07 Nov 2020 2:22 p.m. PST


KeepYourPowderDry08 Nov 2020 5:16 a.m. PST

Background on coats for none C16/C17 gamers/modellers.

During the British Civil Wars of the seventeenth century regiments were primarily described by their flag colour, so there are plenty of references to the red regiment, white regiment and so on (some have incorrectly taken these colours to be coat colours too).

When commentators/spies/chroniclers describe coat colours it was usually because of something special or out of the ordinary taking place.

Clothing issues did take place on a wider scale (for example the Oxford clothing issue of suits of all red or all blue) and certain colours of coats were associated with particular armies – Newcastle's northern army appears to have been a preponderance of white coats for example.

But there was no real standardisation until the advent of the NMA's formation when we know that all regiments were eventually issued venetian red coats (except artillery train guard who had tawny orange). Individual regiments being distinguishable from one another by the different coat linings (we only know about one coat lining, the Lord General's Regiment (Sir Thomas Fairfax) had blue linings).

As for the Tudor period: 'largely red coated army' I'd like to see the reference for this assertion. Do you know what it is Robert?

Henry's army was based around what would later become the Trained Bands: we have good records of clothing issues for the Trained Bands during the Tudor period and know the colours of coats issued (red wasn't too common). Whilst red became more fashionable towards the end of Henry's reign (he famously changed the Yeoman of the Guard from green and white to red and black) civilian clothing would still most likely be dominant with noble's forces.

dibble08 Nov 2020 7:09 a.m. PST

'lobster' Was a term coined by Royal Navy sailors towards their Red-coated marine arm.

Handlebarbleep08 Nov 2020 7:14 a.m. PST

The Tudor livery colours were green and white (as seen on the Welsh flag today.) Whilst red may have been associated with the arms of Normandy, most medieval soldiers, if they were liveried at all, they in the colour scheme of their master not nationally, although specific circumstances (being on crusade for example) could override this.

Posters are correct in assigning the widespread use of red to the 'New Noddle" although it's use had already crept in to Lifeguard and other household units.

For me, the more interesting would be to find out when it stopped referring to the garment and started to mean the man.

42flanker Supporting Member of TMP In the TMP Dawghouse08 Nov 2020 10:13 a.m. PST

For me, the more interesting would be to find out when it stopped referring to the garment and started to mean the man.

Funny you should say that, Hbbp. That was the burden of my original question, as in: "when the earliest contemporary use of the term 'redcoat' can be found in reference to British soldiery."

I probably didn't express myself clearly enough.

My question was not directed at when, or whether, English soldiery might have assumed doublets, cassocks or coats of russet or venetian red, (or madder, or brick); nor indeed what reference was made to the wearing of said coats. These, I think, we can take as given in the categories with which we are all familiar; certainly by the early C18th.

What I was wondering was when we might find the earliest contemporary reference to British soldiery as 'redcoats', 'the redcoats' etc, etc. I was expecting it to be later than we might think but perhaps I am mistaken.

Something in quotation marks, perhaps with a reference, would be useful.

dibble08 Nov 2020 11:31 a.m. PST

A related thread.

TMP link

WillBGoode Supporting Member of TMP08 Nov 2020 4:40 p.m. PST

Years ago, in my early days with the park service I did a lot of costumed interpretation. Which meant I was dressed as a British soldier for my talk. Once, at the end of a day a car load of young tourists just had to yell at me "The British Are Coming!".

I called back to the car, " Sorry I am not yet breathing hard!".

Surprised I lasted 30 years…..😇

Corporal Trim28 Dec 2020 4:08 a.m. PST

Although it doesn't refer to British, or English in this case, troops in general, the earliest usage of the term to refer to the soldiers wearing it rather than the coat itself is in the poem 'The Most Pleasant Song of Lady Bessy'. Lady Bessy is Elizabeth of York, the daughter of Edward IV who married Henry VII. It was published in 1829 by Thomas Heywood from a manuscript written during the late 17th century but is thought to have been originally written during Henry VII's reign by a retainer of the Stanley family, possibly Humphrey Brereton. When describing the contingents mustering on Henry's side for the battle, written as Bolesworth in the copy, the term is used of Stanley's troops:

The Prince he took him by the hand,
And said, Farewell, Sir William, fair and free.
Now is word come to Sir William Stanley there,
Earley in the Monday in the morning,
That the Earle of Darby, his brother dear,
Had given battle to Richard the King.
That wou'd I not, said Sir William anone,
For all the gold in Christantye,
That the battle shou'd be done,
Unless that he at the battle shou'd be done ;
Straight to Lichfield cou'd he ride,
In all the hast that might bee ;
And when he came to Lichfield that tyde,
All they, cryed King Henry,
Straight to Bolesworth can they go
In all the hast that might be.
But when he came Bolesworth field unto,
There met a royall company ;
The Earle of Darby thither was come,

And twenty thousand stood him by;
Sir John Savage, his sisters son,
He was his nephew of his blood so nigh,
He had fifteen hundred fighting men,
That wou'd fight and never flye ;
Sir William Stanley, that royall knight, then
Ten thousand red-coats had he,
They wou'd bicker with their bows there,
They wou'd fight and never flye ;
The Red Ross, and the Blew Boar,
They were both a solemn company.

42flanker Supporting Member of TMP In the TMP Dawghouse28 Dec 2020 6:37 a.m. PST

Thank you. An interesting historiographical niche but, as you say, not reference to the soldiery of Britain in the service of the House of Stuart or of Hanover.

Corporal Trim28 Dec 2020 2:14 p.m. PST

To answer robert piepenbrink's question, the earliest cite in the OED is for the song of Lady Bessy as given above although it dates it to 1605.

The next is from 1644 and is a reference to one particular regiment with "Colonell Hollis his Regiment of Red-coats..did most gallant service".

There were a couple of Colonels named Hollis, or Holles in Parliamentary service before the formation of the New Model Army in 1645 but I think this refers to Colonel Denzil Holles' Regiment who were known to have red coats although it was disbanded in 1642.

The third reference is to the soldiers of the New Model Army and is from 'An exact..accompt of the indictment..of nine and twenty regicides' in 1660: "I do not charge you that you commanded those Halbertiers, but those Red-coats; you were all in Red."

The cite doesn't state which of the defendants was being accused but it was Daniel Axtell, who was the captain of the Parliamentary Guard at the trial of Charles I and was subsequently found guilty and executed.

It's not in the OED but John Dryden also used the term in his rather loose translation of Juvenal's Satire X when updating it as a satire of his own time. It was published in 1693 and the relevant passage reads:

"For this, in Nero's Arbitrary Time,
When Virtue was a Guilt, and Wealth a Crime,
A Troop of Cut-throut Guards were sent, to seize
The rich Mens Goods, and gut their Palaces
The Mob, Commission'd by the Government,
Are seldom to an Empty Gerreyt sent.
The fearful Passenger, who travels late,
Charg'd with the Carriage of a Paltry Plate,
Shakes at the Moonshine Shadow of a Rush :
And sees a Red-Coat rise from ev'ry Bush."

I assume, and so did Samuel Johnson, that this refers to soldiers in general, or at least British or English ones.

Johnson partially quoted the passage in his 1755 dictionary entry for:
RE′DCOAT. n.s. A name of contempt for a soldier.
The fearful passenger, who travels late, Shakes at the moon-shine shadow of a rush, And sees a redcoat rise from ev'ry bush. DRYDEN.

Whether it was already in general use when Dryden wrote it is another matter but it seems to have become so by the mid eighteenth century at the latest.

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