Horrible History: Taking The King's Shilling

Taking the King's shilling was like the handshake before an official contract.
Many ruses were used to entice men into the regular Army, which was a non-conscripted force (although there was a county quota system for the militia). Publicans, tricksters and recruiting parties would scour the country to lure men into regiments, often slipping a shilling into the drink of an unsuspecting patron at the local pub.
The notorious ‘King’s Shilling’ (or ‘Queen’s Shilling’, depending on the monarch). This one is dated 1787.
The expression 'to take the King's shilling', meant to sign up to join the Army. Rather like with the 'prest' money for the 'impressed' man, a bonus payment of a shilling was offered to tempt lowly-paid workers to leave their trade. An average daily wage during the Napoleonic period was 2p, so at 12p to a shilling, this represented six days wages in one go. And once the shilling had been accepted, it was almost impossible to leave the Army.
'Taking The King's Shilling' by Henry Liverseege
Since the Army was not seen as an attractive career, recruiting sergeants often had to use less than honest methods to secure their 'prey', such as getting the prospective recruit drunk, placing the shilling into his pocket and then hauling him before the magistrate the following morning (still hungover) to get him to accept the fact that he was now in the Army. 
Sometimes the 'King's shilling' was hidden in the bottom of a pewter tankard (having drunk his pint, the unfortunate drinker found that he had unwittingly accepted the King's offer). As a result, some tankards were made with glass bottoms. 
A Glass-bottomed Tankard
The bounty for joining the Army for life was £23.17s.6d (about £2,900 in today’s money!), and it turned into quite a lucrative business for recruits. One man was hanged in 1787 for enlisting, taking the bounty, escaping and re-enlisting no less than 47 times.

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