Daily Life of Soldiers and Officers


The Military Wedding

When a relationship became serious enough, a form of wedding called "leaping over the sword" took place. In this ancient custom, the company would gather around a sword on the floor, in front of which stood the couple, hand-in-hand. A corporal or sergeant acting as the clergyman would order, "Leap, rogue, and jump, whore, and then you are married for evermore." 75 The happy couple would jump over the sword hand-in-hand as the drum beat. From this moment, they were considered man and wife. The event was sometimes followed by a "hoisting," a ceremonial burial of bachelorhood ending in a small parade during which the groom was carried by two of his mates, preceded by a fife and drum playing "The Cuckold's March." 76

In principle, every soldier had to request official permission to marry. Very few did so, however, because the authorities did not look favourably upon their soldiers marrying. Not until the 1830s did they find a connection between the low desertion rate among married soldiers and the stabilizing influence of their wives. But even in 1863, after the social reforms had been introduced in the mid-nineteenth century, only eight percent of soldiers sent overseas were formally married. Given the many problems involved, it would appear that the vast majority preferred to remain single.