An Apprenticeship in Arms: The Origins of the British Army 1585-1702

By Roger B. Manning | Go to book overview

Preface

The seventeenth-century origins of the British army as a standing military force are complex and varied, and draw upon the military experiences of numerous officers and enlisted men from the British Isles who served in the armies of the Three Kingdoms as well as in the armies of mainland Europe. The officers usually began their careers in the French, Dutch or various Scandinavian armies as gentlemen volunteers, while those who served in the ranks were frequently impressed and sent into exile by their governments and military enterprisers who filled the manpower needs of continental armies. English and Scots soldiers comprised nearly half of the field armies of the Dutch Republic in the age of Maurice of Nassau, contributed significantly to the successful Dutch struggle for independence from Spain and continued to serve in the Dutch army until the beginning of the Age of Revolution. Scots soldiers, who were seemingly ubiquitous, made their way into the armies of the Scandinavian kingdoms, Russia, Poland and France, constituted one-sixth of the fighting forces of Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden and campaigned extensively in Germany during the Thirty Years War. The Irish were particularly drawn to the Spanish Army of Flanders following the end of the Irish wars of the late sixteenth century when the earls of Tyrone and Tyrconnell fled with many of their followers. By the middle of the seventeenth century these ‘wild geese’ were also to be found in the French army; following the Williamite conquest of Ireland, when almost the entire Irish army of James II passed into the service of Louis XIV, Irish soldiers were becoming as numerous in the French royal army as the Swiss.

The inability or unwillingness of the early Stuart monarchs to maintain permanent military forces in the Three Kingdoms drove swordsmen to seek employment abroad in the European religious and dynastic wars. Clearly, religious fervour explains the motivation for many of these men seeking military service abroad, but others sought economic opportunity, adventure or the chance to validate their honour on the field of battle. Others—especially in Ireland and Scotland—followed leaders to whom they owed fealty or loyalty. The aristocratic society and culture of England had been remilitarized to a significant degree by 1640, while those of Scotland and Ireland had never been demilitarized in the first place. The continuing vitality of a martial culture and contact with the European military world introduced the cult of duelling into England and the Lowlands of Scotland, while cattle-raiding, poaching forays and other forms of feuding and symbolic warfare continued in the borderlands and Celtic areas of the British Isles. As government attempts to curb such violence intensified, those who had committed notorious acts of revenge and violence often found it

-vii-

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