Atrocity, plunder and discipline
There are two things that cause men to be desirous of this profession; the first is
emulation of honour; the next is the hopes they have by licence to do evil. As
the aims of the first are virtuous, so will they do good service. The other by strict
discipline may be brought to do good service and to be obedient soldiers; but if
that discipline be neglected, then they [will] prove the ruin of the army.
George Monck, duke of Albemarle, Observations upon Military
and Political Affairs (1671), 2.
Soldiers … ought to stand more in awe of their generals than fear of their
Thomas Venn, Military and Maritime Discipline (1672), 3.
Professional soldiers and others who kept abreast of military innovations in mainland Europe understood the need to discipline their men and keep them focused on achieving military goals. Armies which foraged and plundered often became involved in secondary wars with local peasants, and forfeited the goodwill of those who might offer intelligence and assistance. Regular payment of troops and developed systems of supply obviated the need for plunder, improved discipline and reduced the incidence of mutiny. These goals, of course, first required a revolution in the way by which the state financed war. Those who were familiar with the Low-Countries wars were also aware of the important strides in reducing atrocities and promoting the more humane treatment of prisoners of war and noncombatants, as well as a more sensitive attitude towards churches and other sacred places and civilian property.
The articles of war in English and Scottish armies in the British Isles which attempted to regulate crimes and depredations by soldiers were derived from Dutch and Swedish military codes. Many officers attempted to prevent the plundering and massacre of enemy soldiers after their surrender and of noncombatants as well. It very much depended upon whether soldiers regarded the enemy as worthy opponents or as an evil menace, and armies sometimes became captives of their own propaganda. Efforts to restrain the destructiveness of war were distinctly less successful in Ireland, where Parliamentary forces gave vent to religious and ethnic hatreds, and pursued a policy of ‘fire and sword’. Cromwell’s