The Cardwell Reforms 1868-1874

It is our intention to occasionally refer the player to key information regarding the Victorian era that we looked at as part of our research. This shall mostly be information that is not covered by most school/college syllabi, but nevertheless are pertinent to our period.

It will cover historical incidents, technology, politics and the like. Our first is a little remembered set of reforms that completely changed the nature of the British Army from the Wellingtonian model to wards becoming a modern army.

The Cardwell Reforms refer to a series of reforms of the British Army undertaken by Secretary of State for War (and former soldier) Edward Cardwell between 1868 and 1874 with the support of Liberal Prime Minister William E. Gladstone. Gladstone paid little attention to military affairs but he was keen on efficiency. In 1870 he pushed through Parliament major changes in Army organization.

Germany’s stunning triumph over France in the Franco-Prussian war of 1870-1871 proved that the Prussian system of professional soldiers with up-to-date weapons was far superior to the traditional system of gentlemen-soldiers that Britain used.


The reforms were not radical–they had been brewing for years and Gladstone seized the moment to enact them. The goal was to centralize the power of the War Office, abolish purchase of officers’ commissions, and to create reserve forces stationed in Britain by establishing short terms of service for enlisted men.

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2 thoughts on “The Cardwell Reforms 1868-1874

  1. Little remembered? Good Lord, sir! You can still hear the old fellows gnashing their teeth over Cardwell’s dashed reforms, and the damage done to the regiments! This was a HUGE change in British military policies, and though, as you pointed out, they had been held off for years by more conservative elements of the Army, they were still considered quite radical to most officers of the day.

  2. Pingback: Producing military officers – Ted Campbell's Point of View

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