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First Foot Guards

Charles Hotham 1729-1794

Adapted from the Paragon Review

An eighteenth century military man and his letters
Ensign in the First Foot Guards
Aide-de-camp to Lord Albemarle
Aide-de-camp to Sir John Ligonier
Retired as Major General in 1775


Charles Hotham's papers are a fascinating resource for researchers of eighteenth-century British history. Hotham's correspondence tells us much about the Georgian court and central politics as well as the Seven Years War and the military.

Today Charles Hotham's papers form a large collection in the Brynmor Jones Library of Hull University. He was diligent and talented at mathematics and was a fastidious account keeper from an early age: the collection contains his carefully managed pocket money account books as a teenager at school. This penchant for tidy book-keeping turned him later in life into a careful administrator of army affairs who kept all his correspondence, diaries and official paperwork.

The collection also includes around 3000 letters sent to him and affords a penetrating insight into the formal and informal relationships and politics of the eighteenth-century ruling classes. His successful and lengthy military career make it a rich source of material on military and diplomatic matters.

Charles Hotham was born in 1729. At the time his uncle Charles was fifth baronet Hotham of South Dalton in the East Riding*** of Yorkshire, and the baronetcy eventually succeeded to Charles Hotham (as eighth baronet), the subject of this monograph.

The early letters in the collection are largely from his parents and school friends, and make a fascinating study of aristocratic children in the early 1700s.

On 20 August 1743 his father reminded him not to be troublesome while staying with Lady Albemarle. It was good advice, for in September 1746 he got his first commission as ensign in the First Regiment of Foot Guards and in January 1747 he was ordered abroad as aide de camp of Lord Albemarle during the wars of Austrian succession. The army was a means of advancement: 'If the war holds only the few years you mention, I am persuaded you will have more than a lieutenancy - a colonel's commission!', wrote William Wood, a family friend on 3 March 1747.

After gaining his commission his relationships with his younger brothers began to flourish, with John (later bishop of Clogher and 9th Baronet), William (later an admiral of the blue and 11th Baronet and 1st Baron) and Beaumont (later 12th Baronet and 2nd Baron) writing admiringly after his first battle. John wrote on 2 July 1747:

I hear you behaved very bravely and that we took seven hundred prisoners and killed eight thousand men; but we did not lose half so many.

In 1748 Charles Hotham returned to England and was promoted to the rank of captain. Later in the year he went to Paris with Lord Albermarle, who had been appointed commander in chief of the English forces in Flanders. The Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle was signed in October and during the years of peace he commuted between London and Paris.


In 1752 he married Dorothy, daughter of John Hobart, the first Earl of Buckinghamshire, and the following year their only child, Henrietta, was born.

Charles Hotham began active service again in 1755, this time as aide-de-camp of Sir John Ligonier. He was quickly promoted to adjutant general with the rank of lieutenant colonel and he went with the expedition to St Malo to join Prince Ferdinand of Brunswick. The First Foot Guards were involved in the St Malo campaign. (scroll down or use the link).

In November his father wrote congratulating him on "a very desirable station under so true a friend, so great an officer, and so agreeable a man, which I trust in God will turn out to your honour, satisfaction and advantage."

Charles Hotham remained in Germany until the signing of the Peace of Paris. The collection contains extensive correspondence for the period, especially official correspondence. Charles Hotham also kept a war diary and this is complemented by very full army returns listing recruits, drafts, discharges, numbers of the dead and invalided, details of supplies, hay and horses. There are also details of route marches, standing signals, details of field days, instructions for muster rolls, prisoner returns, forage arrangements, details of parades, maneuvers, embarkations, troop movements and quartering and so on. In addition, there are documents relating to matters of discipline including courts martial and murder enquiries.

The letters indicate that while eighteenth-century warfare was a matter of "honour' and advancement", it was also an exercise in logistics; a network of people reported to him so that he could complete returns. A frequent correspondent was Colonel Parker, stationed at the coastal town of Emden where men, horses and supplies from England were disembarked. When the magistrates of the town refused to help in 1759, Colonel Parker reassured him that operations were going ahead regardless. Colonel Wintringham wrote despairingly of hospital board matters. Effective care of the wounded was difficult to achieve and he remarked in a letter dated 7 January 1759:

"that the death of each individual hurts me greatly, as it comes attended with a reflection that the best means which might have been used, and to which the suffering patient had a right, have been disregarded and rejected."

While the movement of men, whether healthy, sick or dead, was a challenge, the movement of horses was even more difficult. Robert Bissett had trouble disembarking horses because of the tides, and in June 1758 Major General Boscawen informed Charles Hotham that he would have to deploy a detachment of strong horses in a town just to get the dead ones out of the way.

A balance in supplies was as crucial to successful warfare as keeping the supplies coming. If wagons were too heavily loaded with food they sank into the ground and if the wagons did not arrive, the men had to be sent on forages which often left them eating green corn. If the ratio of men to horses was out of kilter it was a catastrophe. On 22 April 1759 Major Stubbs mentioned the difficulties he was having managing with so few horses, yet only a month later he was quipping that if any more men fell sick, the horses would soon exceed them in number.

Amongst Charles Hotham's military papers are orders which include the order of the day for the Battle of Minden on 1 August 1759. Letters in the collection are enlightening about the scandal which subsequently surrounded this Prussian and English victory. The commander-in-chief, Lord George Sackville, did not advance quickly enough on the orders of Prince Ferdinand and even halted the advance of his second-in-command, Lord Granby. The already tense relationship between Sackville and Prince Ferdinand was exacerbated by this episode and his report only commended the actions of Granby.

What followed was a smear campaign. Robert Napier wrote to Charles Hotham of the propagation of rumors that "damped the joy I felt at your victory" and his father said "ballads and abuse of all kinds abound". Such a situation could not only make or break the reputation of the people concerned, but could also affect the careers of their immediate subordinates. Colonel Parker was quick to inform George Sackville of his own loyalty, but this letter clearly shows that by 10 August Sackville's authority was dead because Parker was obliged to tell him that another officer was refusing to disembark on his orders and was waiting to hear from the Admiralty. Four days later Sackville resigned and was replaced by Granby. A court martial followed. Charles Hotham kept his head down during this scandal. His father wrote on 17 August:

"this affair may for a little while disconcert you, yet in the main your prudence will I hope prevent you losing ground."

Once again, his father's paternal concern was expressed in terms of maintaining honor; the scandal had 
"converted the noblest opportunity for glory into a share for disgrace."

Charles Hotham spent the rest of the Seven Years War free from the danger created by political scandal and was promoted from lieutenant colonel (since 1758) to full colonel in 1762. After the signing of the Peace of Paris in 1763 he was able to return home. He was rewarded for his service by being made Groom of the Bedchamber of George III and when at home, he paid court to George III while continuing to be involved in military affairs. He had been elected to parliament in his absence and represented St Ives from 1761 to 1768. He began writing his autobiography in 1765, not finishing it until 1788, and this survives amongst the papers in the Brynmor Jones Library.

In 1767 his elderly father succeeded to the Hotham title and in 1771 both his parents died. Charles Hotham's life was filled with good fortune: he received the Order of the Bath and inherited his maternal uncle's Humbleton estate. He began rebuilding the house at South Dalton and in 1775 he retired, having reached the rank of major general.

Charles Hotham did not simply retire to the country; instead he used his spare time to extend his social life to include theatre personalities. He socialized and corresponded with Sarah and William Siddons and the actor/manager John Kemble.

Charles Hotham spent much of his time from 1775 enjoying his well earned retirement and his letters reflect this. However, he continued to receive letters from old friends and military contacts with the result that there is much research material for any study of the American War of Independence, affairs in Ireland, national politics and the French Revolution. His brother-in-law, the Earl of Buckinghamshire became Lord Lieutenant of Ireland in 1776 and his letters are crucial to any study of the management of Ireland. His friends, Robert Roberts and Robert Knox were on active service in Canada and America. In June 1775 the former told him that at Boston the remaining inhabitants during the blockade "are under necessity of submitting to live upon the salt provisions of the King's stores and the small supply of fresh fish caught in the harbour"; an unwelcome reminder of the shortages of war.

If what was happening in Ireland and the American colonies was an extension of events earlier in the century the outbreak of the French Revolution was not, and it clearly came as a shock. On the 23 October 1789 the Duke of Dorset wrote "London swarms with French" in response to the arrival on English soil of the French emigres; "you have by this time I suppose recovered [from] your surprise at the arrival of the Duc d'Orleans in the country!" Charles Hotham did not die until 1794 so he lived just long enough to witness the total breakdown of the French ancien regime.

Ironically, by the end of his life much of what Hotham had cherished and fought for was disappearing. In 1778 he had sadly noted in a letter "we are probably to lose the empire of America" and in 1783 colonies gained at the Peace of Paris were lost again at the end of the American War of Independence. In 1788 his beloved king only just survived another Regency crisis and it was clear that George III's health was very precarious. And parliamentary politics was changing beyond his comprehension. In his autobiographical notes he recorded: "When I first knew the House of Commons, it was a noble school for young men. I wish it were still, and that it may become so again." Charles Hotham spent his life doing his duty to king and country and fighting battles for British honor .


***Yorkshire was the largest county of England and was divided into three administrative regions or 'Ridings'. The word is simply a word that means 'third part' or "three-ing" with the 'd' added for euphony. Over the years the 'th' at the beginning of the word seems to have dropped. Similarly 'farthing' the old English coin of which there are four to a penny, is simply 'fourth part' or 'fourth-ing". 'Tithe' is 'a tenth'.

St. Malo 1758

Ironically, the Duke of Marlboro was not chosen for the command, which was given to Sackville. as a result of this campaign, Sackville fell from power.

The following is an exerpt from "A History of the British Army" Vol 2 by Sir John Fortescue.


It is said that even before Ferdinand had achieved this success Pitt had resolved to reinforce him with British troops, but for the present the minister reverted to his old plan of a descent on the French coast, which might serve the purpose of diverting French troops alike from America and from Germany.

The first sign of his intention was seen in April, when the officers of sixteen battalions received orders to repair to the Isle of Wight by the middle of May. Such long notice was a strange preliminary for a secret expedition, for the troops themselves did not receive their orders until the 20th of May ; and it was the end of the month before the whole of them, some thirteen thousand men were encamped on the island. (The troops were, one battalion from each regiment of Guards, the 5th, 8th, 20th, 23rd, 24th, 25th, 30th, 33rd, 34th, and 36th Foot ; the light troops of nine dragoon regiments, three companies of artillery and a large siege-train. The Duke of Marlborough was selected for the command, and, since his military talent was doubtful, Lord George Sackville whose ability was unquestioned, was appointed as his second, with the duty of organising the whole of the operations. Two squadrons, comprising twenty-four ships of the line under Lord Anson, Sir Edward Hawke and Commodore Howe, were detailed to escort the transports, and on the 1st of June the armament set sail, arriving on the 5th at Cancalle Bay, about eight miles from St. Malo. A French battery, erected for the defence of the bay, was quickly silenced by the ships and on the following day the entire army was landed.

One brigade was left to guard the landing-place, and the remainder of the force marched to St. Malo, where the light dragoons under cover of night slipped down to the harbour and burned over a hundred privateer, and merchant-vessels. The Duke of Marlborough then made dispositions as if for the siege of St. Malo, but hearing that a superior force was on the march to cut off his retreat, retired to Cancalle Bay, re-embarked the troops, and sailed against Granville, a petty town some twenty miles to north-east of St. Malo. Foul weather frustrated the intended operations ; and on the 27th the expedition arrived off Havre de Grace. Preparations were made for landing, but after two days of inactivity Marlborough decided against an attack, and the fleet bore up for Cherbourg. There once more all was made ready for disembarkation, but the weather was adverse, forage and provisions began to fail, and the entire enterprise against the coast was abandoned. So the costly armament returned to Portsmouth, having effected absolutely nothing. 

It is, however, doubtful whether blame can be attached to the officers, either naval or military, for the failure. Pitt had procured no intelligence as to the dispositions of the French for defence of the threatened ports ; so that a General might well hesitate to run the risk of landing, when he could not tell how soon he might find himself cut off by a superior force from the sea.


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