Purchased Commissions

The origins of buying a commission can be traced back to medieval times, and the system was only stopped in 1871. At one time, any person or group could raise a body of fighting men if they had sufficient capital, and then offer their services to fight in a campaign. The men who put up the money to raise the body were offered commissions in exchange, and it was this tradition of giving commissions in exchange for money that became known as the Purchase System. Higher ranks naturally cost more than junior ones.

An officer could therefore purchase his first commission, say as an Ensign in a line infantry regiment, for £450. Once he was an Ensign, he then could purchase a Lieutenant's Commission for £700, however, he could then sell his Ensign's commission to a newcomer for £450, and therefore he only paid out an extra £250 for his promotion to Lieutenant. By trading his commissions like this, an officer could rise up to Lieutenant Colonel.

By the 1820s, an officer did not really need to purchase a commission any more, but many did to ensure that they got into the regiment they wanted, and it was still a common method of entry into the Cavalry and Guards Regiments.

In 1821 an examination was introduced, both for initial commissions and to get promotion. The rates were also increased. In 1871, after much discussion, the purchase system was abolished

The price of a commission depended upon the rank that was required, and the regiment. The following is taken from "The Edinburgh Almanack or Universal Scots and Imperial Register for 1829":

Full Price of Commission

Difference in Price to be paid on Promotion
Life Guards    
Lieutenant Colonel 7250 1900
Major 5350 1850
Captain 3500 1715
Lieutenant 1785 525
Cornet 1260  
Royal Regiment of Horse Guards    
Lieutenant Colonel 7250 1900
Major 5350 1850
Captain 3500 1900
Lieutenant 1600 400
Cornet 1200  
Dragoon Guards and Dragoons    
Lieutenant Colonel 6175 1600
Major 4575 1350
Captain 3225 2035
Lieutenant 1190 350
Cornet 840  
Foot Guards    
Lieutenant Colonel 9000 700
Major, with Rank of Colonel 8300 3500
Captain, with Rank of Lieutenant Colonel 4800 2750
Lieutenant, with Rank of Captain 2050 850
Ensign, with Rank of Lieutenant 1200  
Regiments of the Line    
Lieutenant Colonel 4500 1300
Major 3200 1400
Captain 1800 1100
Lieutenant 700 250
Ensign 450  
Fusiliers and Rifle Corps, having 1st and 2d Lieutenants    
1st Lieutenant 700 200
2d Lieutenant 500  

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