The Militia Ballot List Index

Historical & Legislative Background

In Hertfordshire we are lucky, unlike some other counties, to still have surviving in the Hertfordshire Archives an extensive, although not complete, series of the lists of men of the various parishes and towns drawn up in respect of liability for militia service from 1757 to 1786 and beyond. Generally speaking, these lists also give indications of occupations, infirmities and other miscellaneous information

The Duty of Defence

The duty of defence of the country goes back at least to the Anglo-Saxon fyrd, if not before, and the various shires were responsible for the provision of men and arms. Until 1757, militia forces were raised as and when thought necessary in response to internal and external threats.

In 1757

In 1757, however, with increasing overseas commitments and following the outbreak of the Seven Years War, an Act (30 Geo2 c.25) was passed “for the better ordering of the Militia Forces... in England”. The strengths of the various county militia regiments were regulated: 560 men was the strength for Hertfordshire. For many years the militia regiment was called the Hartfordshire Militia but this was never given official sanction.

The Ballot & Exemptions

Men were chosen by ballot to serve for three years but those drawn could either provide a substitute or pay ten pounds towards the provision of one. After three years, both the drawn man and any substitute would again be liable for service by way of the ballot. The cost of getting a volunteer substitute later increased considerably. In 1803, John Carrington, the diarist of Bramfield, had to pay twenty pounds for a substitute when his son was drawn.

The Act provided for regular training locally, with an annual camp, and, in the event of actual or threatened invasion or rebellion, for their embodiment on a full-time basis for service in England. The number each parish had to provide was determined by the number of taxable houses in it. Each parish Constable drew up for his parish a list of all able-bodied men and of those with infirmities between the ages of 18 and 50 who were “ liable to serve”. Exemptions from this liability were granted to apprentices and articled clerks, members of the Regular Forces, militia officers, seamen, member of Universities, clergymen and ministers of religion, and parish officers. The lists were posted in each parish and anyone aggrieved could appeal at a meeting of the justices at which the ballot was drawn and after review of the lists by the justices.

It is the justices’ copies that are held in the Hertfordshire archives and from which the Society’s Militia Ballot List index is derived. No returns were made for 1766-67, 1770-71, 1774, 1776-77, 1788-91, 1795, 1799 and 1800; not all parishes have a complete set of lists and, in Hertfordshire, few of the later returns after 1786 survive. For 1762, 1778, and 1786 the lists were prepared twice during the year.]

Changes to Eligibility for Service

In subsequent years after 1757, various changes were made. In 1758 (31 Geo2 c.26) parish officers, other than Constables and other peace officers, were no longer exempt; parishes could “offer” volunteers, not necessarily local men, towards their quotas, and the Privy Council was empowered to fix actual future quotas per county. Militia men did have some advantages. They were exempt from statute work, from serving any parish office and from being pressed into the King’s service. On being called into actual service they received one guinea; and, where their families were not able to support themselves, the parish was required to provide for them. Married men who had served for three years were given rights to set up in trades. In 1762 (2 Geo3 c.20), the maximum age was reduced to 45, and poor men with 3 legitimate children were exempted. Parish help for poor militiamen’s families was more precisely laid down and restrictions were imposed on the enlistment of militiamen in the Regular Forces. With the increasing burden of poor rates, a further Act in 1786 (26 Geo3 c.107) exempted men with more than one child born in lawful wedlock, but the period of service was increased to five years.

In 1798, following the outbreak of war with France in 1793, Volunteer Infantry and Yeomanry units were formed and their members were given exemption from the Militia ballot (38 Geo3 c.27). The noting of these exemptions on the lists often gives a clue to other possible sources of information on particular people.

In and after 1801

In 1801, following the Peace of Amiens, Hertfordshire’s quota was reduced to 360 (42 Geo3 c.12) but, in the following year, it was increased again, to 480 (42 Geo3 c.90). By 1805, the Militia had come to be regarded as a reservoir of trained men, and militia “private men” were encouraged to enlist in the Regular Forces (45 Geo3 c.31). Volunteers - up to 25% of the strength was permitted - were entitled to a bounty of ten guineas but full replacement of the militia ranks through the ballot was no longer automatic and militia strengths were progressively reduced so that by a further Act (47 Geo3 Sess.2 c.57) the proportion was increased to 40%. In 1809, militia corporals and sergeants were allowed to volunteer (49 Geo3 c.4). So run down did the militia become that, later in the same year, worried by Napoleon’s continued continental successes and the abortive British Walcheren adventure, which drained the country of trained troops, a further Act (49 Geo3 c.53) was hastily passed by which militiamen equal to half the usual quotas could be raised by “beat of drum”. Volunteers receiving a bounty of twelve guineas. The ballot system was considered to be too slow and unwieldy for the emergency and such were the strains on it that after June 1810, although further militia recruits were to continue to be raised through the ballot, churchwardens and overseers of the poor could raise volunteers instead, who would be entitled to a ten guinea bounty. The next year, the bounty was increased to twelve guineas and the numbers could include up to a quarter of boys over 14 (51 Geo3 c.20). [A guinea was worth at this time 21 shillings or £1.05]

So far the militia regiments were obliged only to serve in their own country; from 1811, they could serve in any part of the United Kingdom but for no longer than two years outside their own country, but only if they agreed. A two guinea bounty was paid for such service. [The United Kingdom consisted of England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales.]

Service record

The Hertfordshire militia were embodied for full time service from October 1759 to January 1763, from May 1778 to March 1783, from February 1793 to April 1802 and from May 1803 to July 1814.


Herts. C.C. “Guide to the Hertfordshire Record Office Part I”, (1961), esp. pp. 213-4

Sainsbury J.D. “Hertfordshire Soldiers from 1757”, Hertfordshire Publications (1969)

Bruce Fellows Col. R. “Historical Records of the Hertfordshire Militia to 1892”, Gibbs & Bamforth (1893), Herts CRO 10804A)

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