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Ref NoL/P/15-16
TitleReturns of the Posse Comitatus
DescriptionIn 1798, the Lord Lieutenant of Buckinghamshire ordered that the strength of the county be ascertained to enable him to respond effectively to 'Riot, Insurrection or Invasion'. The resulting records (the Posse Comitatus or 'Power of the County') aimed to list every man in the county aged 15 to 60 not already serving in arms. Their importance comes not just from their inherent usefulness as a source, but also from their unique character. Buckinghamshire is the only county for whom these returns have survived in their entirety.

The compilation of the Posse came at a perilous time for the country. The Revolutionary Wars were five years old and Britain's position was increasingly tenuous. The First Coalition, drawn up to oppose France, was in pieces as allies including Holland, Piedmont, Prussia, Spain and Austria had all either made peace with France or been over-run. Attempting landings in 1796 at Bantry Bay, Bristol and Newcastle were followed by a landing at Fishguard in 1797. The force soon surrendered, but not before the spread of panic could be prevented. With the threat of invasion appearing ever more likely to be fulfilled, the High Sheriff of Dorset ordered lists prepared of the able bodied men of his county. The Marquess of Buckingham, Lord Lieutenant of Buckinghamshire, followed Dorset's example and ordered the compilation of similar lists here. The resulting document is the Posse Comitatus and has survived where the Dorset list has not.

The Posse contains more than just a simple list of names. It is divided into parish and then again by profession. Annotations have been made to show where people are unfit to fight because of infirmity or disability. Other information of potential military importance has also been recorded like the number and capacity of mills in the county, and the number of wagons, carts and horses owned by the population. For historical purposes, the omission of women from the main list is extremely unfortunate (although women owning horses and carts do appear). Nonetheless, it still gives us an impression of the social make-up of the county and of its people that was not to be bettered until the censuses of the mid 19th Century.
Access_StatusOpen
Date1798
Related MaterialSee M/24 for microfilm copy and Bucks Record Society Volume 22 for published version
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