Under the Act of Succession (1701) on the death of Queen Anne in 1714, the throne of England devolved upon her second cousin, George, Elector of Hanover and Duke of Brunswick-Luneborg who rather reluctantly added King of England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales to his titles. The two states retained their separate governments, but shared a common head of state. George's heirs retained this dual sovereignty, so at the time of the Napoleonic Wars, George III was Elector of Hanover as well as King of England.
In June 1803 Napoleon's troops overran Hanover, and the outnumbered Hanoverian Army surrendered at Artlenburg. By the Treaty of Lauenburg, the army was regarded as prisoners of War who were not to fight until exchanged for French prisoners, but the army did not recognise this treaty, and the bulk of it slipped away to England to reaffirm their allegiance to their Elector. There they were re-formed (together with a small number of other German speaking exiles) as the "King's German Legion" in December 1804 and based on the Isle of Wight (since by a long standing statute, foreign troops could not be based on the English mainland. I can think of a lot worse places to be based.) The name change was probably to give them some protection from the French under the Rules of War should they be taken prisoner.
In 1805, during the War of the Third Coalition, the whole of the Legion naturally went with Cathcart's expedition to Hanover. Large numbers of Hanoverians flocked to join the Legion during this campaign and returned to England with them when Cathcart withdrew following the armistice which was signed after Austerlitz. This intake of genuinely Hanoverian volunteers doubled the size of the Legion.
The Legion rapidly became some of the best troops in the British Army. In battle they were as steady as the British line, and when let off the leash they were more reliable and much better behaved. Their officers were steady and professional, though none could be called brilliant. The best of them was Karl Alten, who by the end of the Peninsular war was the only KGL officer to command a British division. Not just any division but THE Division, the crack Light Division, in fact. He was also given command of the Allied centre at Waterloo.
The main problem the KGL faced was recruitment. After Cathcart's withdrawal from Hanover it was almost impossible to replace casualties. Some attempt was made to recruit from POWs of supposedly Hanoverian origin, but it was not a success; the POWs were Francophiles and tended to desert. Unlike the 5/60 (which was originally predominantly German) British recruits were rarely drafted into KGL Battalions. The Legion therefore got smaller and smaller as the war dragged on.
After the war, they returned to Hanover to form the nucleus of the new Hanoverian Army. Karl Alten was raised to a Count, and spent time in government. George IV and William IV of England both inherited Hanover (now a Kingdom) in turn. But when Victoria ascended the throne of England, the Salic Law in Hanover prevented her from becoming ruler, and her uncle Ernest inherited. Thus after a hundred years, the sister states went their own ways.
For more information on the King's German Legion, visit the bi-lingual KGL homepage.
Sharpe's friend, Captain Lossow, was a KGL Hussar. The KGL Hussars and the Light Brigade/Division often did outpost duty together, and the units got on very well.
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Last update 13/2/03