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"What do our British friends think of Benedict Arnold?" Topic

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Korvessa03 Jul 2021 4:59 p.m. PST

I have read previous threads, and it seems like he wasn't trusted and died far from wealthy.
But what got me wondering was several of his sons became British officers, one of them even becoming a general.
Given the British purchase system and his supposed unpopularity, I find that somewhat surprising.

According to ever-reliable Wikipedia:
Edward Shippen Arnold (1780–1813) (Lieutenant, British Army in India; see Bengal Army)
James Robertson Arnold (1781–1854) (Lieutenant General, Royal Engineers)
George Arnold (1787–1828) (Lieutenant Colonel, 2nd (or 7th) Bengal Cavalry)
William Fitch Arnold (1794–1846) (Captain, 9th Queen's Royal Lancers)

Personal logo John the OFM Supporting Member of TMP03 Jul 2021 5:19 p.m. PST

I like the story about the Earl of Balcarres, a prominent British general at Saratoga. (Hint: Balcarres Redoubt.)
He was introduced to Arnold after the war. (The more elaborate versions of the story has the introduction in front of the King.)
According to the story, Arnold held out his hand. Balcarres put his hand behind his back and exclaimed, "What, the traitor?"
The story has been debunked, but I would like to think that it's true.

Even Tarleton didn't like him.

Musketballs Supporting Member of TMP03 Jul 2021 5:35 p.m. PST

No purchase in the Bengal Army or Royal Engineers, as far as I know.

William Arnold was serving as a Gentleman-Volunteer with the 24th LD in India in 1810, and received his commission without purchase.

79thPA Supporting Member of TMP03 Jul 2021 6:40 p.m. PST

The average British citizen probably doesn't have any idea who he is.

USAFpilot Supporting Member of TMP03 Jul 2021 7:05 p.m. PST

Arnold is a sad story. A traitor? Yes. Before that a highly competent and courageous leader who was snubbed by jealous political generals.

Brechtel198 Supporting Member of TMP03 Jul 2021 7:18 p.m. PST

Arnold was also court-martialed for graft and had married a Tory.

Other competent senior officers were 'snubbed' and yet they remained loyal.

Personal logo John the OFM Supporting Member of TMP03 Jul 2021 9:22 p.m. PST

I've said it before, but this bit about being a "highly competent and courageous officer" is primarily anti-Arnold propaganda designed to make him seem like a Fallen Angel, akin to Satan in Paradise Lost. His fall from Grace is so much worse, the higher in esteem he was held before he sinned.
It's the same school of historiography that has George Washington unable to tell a lie.

martin goddard Sponsoring Member of TMP04 Jul 2021 1:04 a.m. PST

My personal opinion is that he was a pretty able general.
I don't think he betrayed his country in any way as the idea of country is very confused at that time. He betrayed his army.
On the wargames table I would class him as above average for that war.

Some generals caused huge losses due to their lack of ability/incompetence. That might be seen as taking on a role that could be filled by a more able man knowing that you were going to get men killed. Ego?

I agree that he is less well known than Britney Spears. But then only wargamers know everything.


42flanker04 Jul 2021 1:34 a.m. PST

The 'Hector Heathcoat' show.
Big chin.

A key element of the purchase system was that anyone with the available funds could buy their way up the ladder. A pretension to gentility helped but does not seem to have been obligatory. "Grocers' sons" etc etc.

No such thing as a 'gentleman volunteer'. 'Gentleman' was assumed, whether rightly or wrongly (See above).

arthur181504 Jul 2021 2:56 a.m. PST

Arnold was a traitor because he took up arms against his king. By later betraying the rebel army he had chosen to join he also showed himself to be a completely dishonourable person and not worthy of anyone's regard.

Personal logo Herkybird Supporting Member of TMP04 Jul 2021 3:17 a.m. PST

I feel Benedict Arnold was a competent general too, but he was not an English Gentleman, so would not really have 'fitted in' with the establishment.
I suspect he was considered a repentant Rebel, and was accepted as such.

robert piepenbrink Supporting Member of TMP04 Jul 2021 3:40 a.m. PST

There is a contemporary British comment that Peggy Shippen would have been welcome in London society--if it weren't for her husband.

Cerdic04 Jul 2021 5:36 a.m. PST

The answer to the title question is: they don't.

Wargamers aside, I doubt the vast majority of Brits have ever heard of him.

With regard to the system of purchase of commissions, as musketballs says, it didn't apply to the Bengal Army or the Royal Engineers.

It actually wasn't as common as supposed. I can't remember the figures off the top of my head, but, except for the 'glamour' regiments like the Guards and Hussars etc, only something like 20 per cent of officers had gained their commission through purchase! It seems to have been most often used as a way of leapfrogging your way up the ranks more rapidly.

The term 'gentleman volunteer' may not have been official, but was certainly used. In his letters home from the Peninsula, George Hennell describes himself as such. He had no official position in the army but was hoping to gain a commission. He messed and socialised with the officers, but in action was expected to use a musket with the rank and file!

Royal Air Force04 Jul 2021 7:21 a.m. PST

A few years ago I had a great conversation with a Royal Navy officer and his family at a 4th of July party about history. I asked the same question, the response was 'we mostly don't think about him at all'

Prince Rupert of the Rhine04 Jul 2021 7:24 a.m. PST

Your average Brit probably doesn't know who he is. Only history buffs in the UK probably have more than a cursory idea about the American Revolution. While it's clearly a big deal for our American cousins it hardly registers in the UK for most people. It certainly wasn't taught in my school history lessons.

I'll admit it's not a period of military history that inspires me so my knowledge is pretty limited, probably more than your average bloke on the street, but certainly not on par with some of the posters here.

So a a Brit my take is he was some dude who swapped sides a bit. I know the name, I know he was a general other than that I don't know much about him.

Personal logo John the OFM Supporting Member of TMP04 Jul 2021 9:29 a.m. PST

I wonder how the "average Brit" would take it if you called him a Benedict Arnold.
With the state of education in THIS country, I also wonder how the "average American" would take it.

Personal logo Yellow Admiral Supporting Member of TMP04 Jul 2021 10:34 a.m. PST

I'm sure Arnold is just as famous in the UK as Alcibiades or Quisling.

USAFpilot Supporting Member of TMP04 Jul 2021 1:17 p.m. PST

With the state of education in THIS country,

The state of education in our country now teaches that our forefathers were all racists and evil men.

Personal logo Grelber Supporting Member of TMP04 Jul 2021 2:13 p.m. PST

Well, the British liked him well enough to let him be buried at St. Mary's Church in Battersea, London link I suppose this compares well enough to the deal King Harold offered Harald Hardrade in 1066: "We will give him seven feet of English ground or as much more, as he is taller than most men."


Personal logo Old Contemptible Supporting Member of TMP04 Jul 2021 2:54 p.m. PST

How differently we would speak of Arnold had he been killed at Saratoga. Cities, schools and highways named after him? Among the pantheon of American Revolutionary figures.

Personal logo John the OFM Supporting Member of TMP04 Jul 2021 3:05 p.m. PST

At the very least, a sewage treatment plant.

robert piepenbrink Supporting Member of TMP04 Jul 2021 4:10 p.m. PST

Purchase. You have to be careful about the time frame. I think, Cerdic, that you'll find that number dates from the peak of the Napoleonic Wars when they were handing out commissions to anyone literate with a pulse. In peacetime with far fewer commissions and the same number of younger sons to provide for you might see very different numbers. But as noted, it never applied to artillery and engineers or the HEIC.

conflans04 Jul 2021 4:16 p.m. PST

I've heard it said that if Arnold had been shot in the head instead of the knee at Saratoga he'd be one of our greatest heroes now.

Personal logo John the OFM Supporting Member of TMP04 Jul 2021 6:20 p.m. PST

I don't think so. He would have been forgotten, like Montgomerie.
His so called "heroics" did not affect the campaign in any material way.
His reputation was deliberately enhanced to show him as a Fallen Angel, and not coincidentally to degrade Gates.
And they say that Washington wasn't good at politics.

BobGrognard04 Jul 2021 8:57 p.m. PST

The average Brit has never heard of him and most wouldn't be aware of the revolutionary war. Those who do know him will be history buffs. Mostly we think it's rather funny that he is damned as a traitor when all of those who are doing so also rebelled against their monarch and were just as big traitors. He did at least see the light and realise that Britain was a particularly liberal empire which attempted to keep the peace with her neighbours in the indigenous population and make valid treaties that they attempted to maintain, despite the settlers desire to push boundaries.

I think the view is that we can't really understand why you'd want to rebel and take up arms rather than negotiate a resolution. Taxation and representation was undoubtedly an issue, but not one that was beyond negotiation in the long run and Arnold seems to have seen that. What seems to be more at the heart of the matter is a settler community that disliked the limitations that the British government treaty obligations placed on them and was keen to break those treaties and acquire more land. It looks from here as though the colonial elite, such as Washington, were looking to benefit from expansion and they whipped up the mob to gain their ends. As a result the men at the top of colonial society were able to benefit from a "get rich quick" land grab, whereas those below them saw no real benefit from changing from subject of a monarch to citizen of a republic. It's a peculiar "revolution" where the winners were already those who were at the top of the tree. Those at the bottom, particularly the Afro-American slaves and the native Indians enjoyed none of the benefits which their equivalents in the British Empire subsequently benefitted from.

Cerdic04 Jul 2021 10:30 p.m. PST

Robert – good point, well made.

However, looking at the dates-of-birth of his sons they would appear to have been serving at the time of the Napoleonic Wars. I would imagine that service with the East India Company offered more opportunity to make a few quid…

Korvessa04 Jul 2021 11:37 p.m. PST


(I don't know hw to do quotes)

Living in America's left coast, I can tell you that taxation WITH representation ain't so hot either.

Martin Rapier05 Jul 2021 12:02 a.m. PST

Who? I have vaguely heard of him, but no idea who he was or what he did without googling, and that would cheating.

Back in 1976 we did do a special load of of lessons and events on the AWI to mark the bicentennial when I was at school but I don't recall him coming up.

Personal logo Herkybird Supporting Member of TMP05 Jul 2021 10:43 a.m. PST

I agree with bobGrognard 100%!

PS: To put something in quotes, just go to the bottom of the page at this TMP link

Brechtel198 Supporting Member of TMP05 Jul 2021 11:51 a.m. PST

'Granny' Gates brought about his own 'degradation' by his actions. He sat on his hands during the battles of Saratoga and when commanding the Southern Army, led it to disaster at Camden in 1780.

The troops referred to his as 'Granny.' Never underestimate the wisdom and judgment of the 'lower deck.'

Personal logo John the OFM Supporting Member of TMP05 Jul 2021 12:24 p.m. PST

Kevin, when it came to the political "degradation" of Gates, every little bit helped. Unfortunately, he had friends in Congress, but it wasn't enough. It took Camden to make that clear, unfortunately.
Washington wanted Greene, that much is clear. A good "what if" would be if Greene got first shot at it, rather than Gates.

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