Define: Yeomanry

Quick Summary of Yeomanry

Yeomanry is the term used to describe the collective group of yeomen or volunteer cavalry units in Great Britain that were later incorporated into the Territorial Army. The yeomanry had the responsibility of upholding law and order in rural areas. During the Napoleonic Wars, they played a vital role in protecting Britain from invasion. Following the establishment of the Territorial Army in 1908, numerous yeomanry units were transformed into cavalry regiments. These examples demonstrate that yeomanry can refer to both a group of yeomen and a specific type of volunteer cavalry unit in Great Britain. The yeomanry were frequently called upon to serve during times of war or unrest, and their duties included maintaining order, defending the country, and supporting the regular army. With the creation of the Territorial Army, many yeomanry units were restructured and became an integral part of Britain’s military defence.

What is the dictionary definition of Yeomanry?
Dictionary Definition of Yeomanry

Yeomanry refers to a collective of individuals known as yeomen. In Great Britain, certain yeomen willingly joined a distinct unit of soldiers known as the yeomanry, which specialised in horseback riding. Eventually, this unit merged with the Territorial Army.

Full Definition Of Yeomanry

Yeomanry refers to a historical class of landowners who were freeholders and occupied an intermediate position in the social hierarchy between the gentry and the peasantry. In the context of the United Kingdom, the term also specifically denotes a regiment of volunteer cavalry originally raised in the 18th century. This synopsis will provide a sweeping examination of Yeomanry, focusing on its historical roots, legal significance, and evolution into modern times, including its role in the British Army Reserve.

Historical Background

The Yeomanry as a class emerged in medieval England. Yeomen were primarily small-scale landowners who cultivated their land and enjoyed a degree of economic independence. They held a distinct status, separate from both the peasantry, who were often landless or held land under feudal obligations and the gentry, who were larger landowners with significant social and political influence.

Legal Status and Rights

In the medieval and early modern periods, yeomen enjoyed specific legal rights and obligations. As freeholders, they possessed the right to hold land without feudal dues, unlike villeins or serfs. This status was codified in various legal documents and statutes, which outlined their rights to property and inheritance. Key legal documents such as the Magna Carta (1215) and the Statute of Merton (1236) indirectly supported the rights of freeholders by affirming property rights and legal protections against arbitrary dispossession.

Yeomen were also subject to certain obligations. They were often called upon for military service, especially during times of war. This military obligation evolved, leading to the formation of the Yeomanry regiments.

Formation of Yeomanry Regiments

The formal establishment of Yeomanry regiments began in the late 18th century. The French Revolutionary Wars and the subsequent Napoleonic Wars heightened the need for a robust and rapid-response military force. The government encouraged the formation of volunteer cavalry units, and in 1794, the first Yeomanry regiments were officially recognized. These regiments were composed of local yeomen, farmers, and other landowners who provided their horses and equipment.

The legal framework for these regiments was established through various statutes and government orders. The Yeomanry Act of 1794 formalized their creation and provided for their regulation. This Act outlined the roles, responsibilities, and organisational structure of the Yeomanry, setting the foundation for their integration into the national defence strategy.

Role and Function

Initially, the Yeomanry’s primary function was to act as a domestic peacekeeping force, dealing with civil disturbances and supporting local law enforcement. Their role expanded during times of national crisis, such as the Napoleonic Wars, where they served as auxiliary forces to the regular army.

The legal obligations of Yeomanry members were detailed in the regimental regulations, which were periodically updated. These regulations covered aspects such as training, discipline, and deployment. Members were required to attend regular drills and were subject to military law while in service.

Evolution and Modernization

The 19th century saw significant changes in the structure and role of the Yeomanry. The decline of traditional cavalry and the rise of mechanized warfare necessitated a reevaluation of their function. The Childers Reforms of 1881 and the subsequent Haldane Reforms of 1907 played a crucial role in modernizing the British Army, including the Yeomanry.

The Territorial and Reserve Forces Act 1907, introduced by Secretary of State for War Richard Haldane, integrated the Yeomanry into the newly formed Territorial Force (later the Territorial Army). This Act redefined their role, placing greater emphasis on home defence and aligning their training and organization with that of the regular army.

Legal and Organisational Framework

The integration into the Territorial Force brought the Yeomanry under a more structured legal and organizational framework. They were subject to the same military regulations as regular army units, including the Army Act of 1881 and subsequent military legislation.

The legal status of Yeomanry members as part-time soldiers was clarified, detailing their rights and obligations. They were entitled to certain benefits, such as pay during training and deployment, and were protected under military law. The Defence Act of 1842 and subsequent amendments provided the legal basis for their mobilisation during times of national emergency.

The First and Second World Wars

During the First World War, the Yeomanry played a crucial role, with many regiments being deployed to various theatres of war. The legal framework for their deployment was provided by the Defence of the Realm Act 1914 and subsequent war legislation. These laws granted the government extensive powers to mobilize and deploy the Yeomanry as needed.

The interwar period saw further changes, with many Yeomanry regiments being converted to other roles, such as artillery or armoured units. The Second World War further emphasized the need for adaptability, and the Yeomanry once again played a significant role in various capacities.

Post-War Period and Modern Yeomanry

After the Second World War, the role of the Yeomanry continued to evolve. The formation of the Army Reserve in 1967 integrated many Yeomanry regiments into this new structure. The Reserve Forces Act 1996 provided the modern legal framework for the Army Reserve, including the Yeomanry.

Today, the Yeomanry consists of several regiments within the Army Reserve, performing a variety of roles from armoured reconnaissance to logistical support. They continue to be governed by military law and are subject to the same regulations as regular army units. The Armed Forces Act 2006 and subsequent amendments provide the legal basis for their service and deployment.

Legal Protections and Rights

Members of the modern Yeomanry enjoy various legal protections and rights. These include employment protections under the Reserve Forces (Safeguard of Employment) Act 1985, which ensures that reservists cannot be unfairly dismissed due to their military commitments. Additionally, the Employment Rights Act 1996 provides further protections, ensuring that reservists can return to their civilian employment after periods of military service.


The Yeomanry has a rich and complex legal history, evolving from a class of freeholding landowners with specific legal rights and obligations to a modern component of the British Army Reserve. Over the centuries, various legal statutes and reforms have shaped their role, ensuring their continued relevance and integration into the national defence strategy. Today, the Yeomanry remains an integral part of the British Army, reflecting a unique blend of historical tradition and modern military capability.

Yeomanry FAQ'S

The Yeomanry refers to a historical term used to describe a volunteer cavalry force in the British Army. It was initially formed in the late 18th century and played a significant role in various conflicts.

Yes, the Yeomanry still exists today as part of the British Army Reserve. It continues to provide support and reinforcement to regular army units when required.

To join the Yeomanry, individuals must meet certain criteria, including being a British citizen or a Commonwealth citizen with indefinite leave to remain in the UK, being at least 18 years old, and meeting the required physical and medical standards.

Yes, Yeomanry members receive payment for their service. The amount varies depending on factors such as rank, length of service, and the number of training days attended.

Yes, Yeomanry members can be deployed overseas if the need arises. They may be called upon to support military operations or peacekeeping missions in various parts of the world.

Yes, joining the Yeomanry entails certain legal obligations. Members are required to adhere to military laws and regulations, maintain discipline, and follow orders issued by their superiors.

Yes, Yeomanry members can be called up for active duty during peacetime if the situation demands it. They may be required to assist in domestic emergencies or provide support in other non-combat roles.

Yes, Yeomanry members are entitled to various benefits, including pension schemes, healthcare, and access to training and educational opportunities. These benefits are similar to those provided to regular Army personnel.

Yes, Yeomanry members can be held liable for their actions during their service. They are subject to military law and can face disciplinary action or legal consequences if they violate regulations or commit offences.

Yes, Yeomanry service can count towards a military career. Many individuals use their experience in the Yeomanry as a stepping stone to join the regular army or pursue a long-term military career.

Related Phrases
YeomanYeoman Of The Guard

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This glossary post was last updated: 9th June 2024.

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