The Fife Yeomanry
Sir William Erskine of Torrie, 2nd Bart is infamous in British Military history, for his later career as "Wellington's Mad General" in command of the light division in the penninsular war. However we have something to thank him for, as in 1797 it was he along with Mr William Wemyss of Cuttlehill who formed the first troop of Yeomanry in Fife.
The twenty seven year old Lt. Colonel and M.P. for Fifeshire was very vocal in support of a Fife Yeomanry as after the Western District troop of Yeomanry Cavalry was formed in the summer of 1797 he encouraged other gentlemen to form troops. By the time George, Earl of Crawford was appointed Colonel Commandent in 1798 seven troops were in the saddle. The Army List of 1800 shows the following entries:-
Fifeshire (Royal Northern) Yeomanry Cavalry (5 Troops)
- Lt.Col. Earl of Crawford
- Major James Morrison
- Captain Sir William Erskine, Bart
- Captain David Gillespie
- Captain William Dalgleish
- Captain John Thomson
- Lt. William Wemyss
- Lt. James Anderson
- Lt. John Mathew
- Cornet Peter Lumsdaine
- Cornet Alexander Christie
- Cornet William Hunt
- Cornet David Meldrum
Fife Yeomanry (East District) Troop
- Captain John Lumsdaine
- Lt. Hon. Robert Lindsay
- Cornet James Stark
- Captain James T. Oswald
- Lt. James Oswald
- Cornet Robert Spears
In 1803 the different troops amalgamated to form the Royal Fifeshire Regiment of Yeomanry Cavalry (or sometimes of Gentlemen & Yeomanry) with seven troops
- Western District
- Eastern District
- St. Andrews
Unlike the other Volunteers of the period the Yeomanry were maintained in a policing role and in 1815 they were tested in that capacity when riots broke out in Dunfermline. They patrolled the streets and were pelted with stones by the mob. Again in 1817 the Yeomanry were called to be prepared to assist the civil powers.
Whether because of uneasiness with their new role or some other reason, trooper numbers were low during the next couple of years.
The Radical Uprisings
In late 1819 the distress of the working classes, which had been growing since the end of the war, now began to break out into open rebellion. With troops marched west to deal with the radical riots and uprisings in Stirling, Falkirk and Glasgow, the Yeomanry were on alert for trouble in Perth and Dundee and their numbers were increased. In the end Fife remained peaceful whilst in Glasgow and the west the Radical uprising was severely quashed by the troops and several ringleaders executed.
In 1822 King George IV made a Royal visit to Scotland and the Fife Yeomanry were among the many regiments reviewed on Portabello Sands near Edinburgh
In 1827 the Government decided to do away with the expense of many of the Yeomanry Cavalry and the Fife regiment was disbanded in 1828.
In 1830 civil unrest was brewing again and the Yeomanry's supporters in the government managed to get many reinstated, including the Fife Yeomanry.
By 1838 the opposition to the Yeomanry was very vocal, with open attacks in the press. The Yeomanry was seen as a gentrified riding club at the expense of the people. If disturbances in the industrial towns did occur, a cavalry composed of country Lairds and farmers would be the worst people to oppose it. Under a barrage of press and political criticism the Fife Yeomanry was finally disbanded in 1838.