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

By Roger B. Manning | Go to book overview

7
Mercenaries and gentlemen

It seems strange to me that men should conspire to believe all things more
perplexed and difficult than indeed they are…. This mistake may well be
compared to the conceit we had of soldiers in the beginning of the civil wars.
None was thought worthy of that name, but he could show his wounds and
allowed of his exploits in the Low Countries; whereas the whole business
of fighting was afterwards chiefly performed by untravelled gentlemen, raw
citizens and generals that had scarcely ever before seen a battle.

Thomas Sprat, The History of the Royal Society of London for the Improving of
Natural Knowledge
(1667), 73.

A complete cavalier is a child of honour, a gentleman well born and bred, that
loves his king for conscience’ sake…. He is the only reserve of English gentil-
ity and ancient valour, and hath rather chose to bury himself in the tomb of
honour than to see the nobility of this nation vassalaged.

Edward Symmons, A Military Sermon (1644), 22–3.

The English and Scottish aristocracies had acquired a deep distrust of mercenary soldiers from reading Tacitus and Machiavelli and writers who followed in the classical humanist and republican tradition. Although those who fought in the States’ Army were not considered in England to be mercenaries because, presumably, they had fought for the sake of conscience in a Protestant crusade, both Scottish and English aristocrats still believed that regardless of evidence of the experience and competence of others they still had the best claim to high command because of their superior social rank and the military exploits of their ancestors. The concept that military hierarchies were necessary for order and discipline still had not etched itself upon the English military mentality at home. It was thought that the king’s honour required that his armies be commanded by men of high noble birth, and this emphasis upon social hierarchy made some sense as long as noblemen could recruit their tenants or kin to fill their regiments. The actual command of such units in the field could be entrusted to experienced professionals. This arrangement worked well enough in Scotland, parts of Ireland and in Wales and the north of England, but was a notable failure throughout most of England where rents rather than loyalty had become the nexus between lord

-159-

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