Recruiting in the British Isles for
mainland European armies
A young cavalier, desirous of honour and greedy of good instruction, could
have learned from this king [Gustavus Adolphus]…. Such a general would
I gladly serve, but such a general I shall hardly see, whose custom was to be
first and last in danger himself….
Monro, Expedition, ii. 16.
Oh, woe unto these cruel wars / That ever they began!
For they have reft1 my native isle / Of many a pretty2 man.
First they took my brethren twain3 / Then they wiled4 my love frae me,
Oh, woe unto the cruel wars / In Low Germany.5
Fragment of an old Scots ballad printed in B. Hoenig, ‘Memoiren englischer
Officere im Heere Gustav Adolf’s und ihr Fortleben in der Literatur’,
Beitrage zur neuerer Philologie Jakob Schipper dargebracht (1902), 326.6
The peoples of the British Isles served in most of the armies of continental Europe besides that of the Dutch Republic during the seventeenth century. The need for military manpower increased when the Thirty Years War began in 1618 and the Eighty Years War resumed in 1621. Gentlemen volunteered for reasons of religious fervour, honour, glory, military adventure and experience, while humble folk were more often recruited under compulsion. Young men of military age from Scotland and Ireland were also susceptible to the inducements of lairds and clan chieftains, and some Irish and Scottish regiments contained sizeable kinship and clan groups. The governments of the Three Kingdoms assisted this compulsory recruitment because they wished to rid their realms of idle swordsmen and vagrants and send them into what often amounted to perpetual exile. However,
3 Took my brothers away.
5 Another version reads ‘High Germany’.
6 This fragment appears to have been worked into an early 19th -century ballad by the Scottish poet Allan Cunningham in The Songs of Scotland, Ancient and Modern, 4 vols. (1825; repr. 1975), iv. 213–15. It was a common practice for Romantic lyric poets such as Cunningham and Robert Burns, to rework old ballads.