English, Irish and Scots in
mainland European armies
I intend to continue in Russia somewhat longer albeit God knoweth the pay
there yields us but a bare existence as things go now. Even in Scotland soldiers
of fortune can attain no honourable employment for nobles and persons of
great quality; in England aliens are seldom employed, so that necessity
(who was never yet a good pilot) constrained us to serve foreign princes when
notwithstanding, if with honour we be any ways steadable1 to our native
country, it would be some comfort.
Patrick Gordon of Auchleuchries, ‘Sixteen Further Letters of General Patrick
Gordon’, ed. S. Konovalov, Oxford Slavonic Papers, 13 (1967), 81–2.
Many swordsmen from the British Isles serving in the mainland European wars had returned home to participate in the Wars of the Three Kingdoms. As the Cromwellian regime conquered Ireland and Scotland and concluded the Third English Civil War, it pursued a policy of banishing captured swordsmen and, sometimes, their dependants and followers to the West Indies and Virginia or encouraging friendly or allied powers to raise military manpower in those conquered countries. At the Restoration there were limited places for the Cromwellian soldiers and returning Cavaliers in the standing armies of the Three Kingdoms. Consequently, there was a considerable exodus of professional soldiers or men who had grown up knowing none other than the military life. Once again, they served in the same armies they had before the civil wars, including those of Sweden, Denmark-Norway, Poland, Imperial Austria, France, Spain, Venice and, especially, the Dutch Republic. They also served in the armies of the newly independent kingdom of Portugal and Muscovite Russia. Those who wished to pursue careers as officers continued to serve a military apprenticeship in the ranks as gentlemen volunteers, and volunteers who desired adventure were especially attracted to the campaigns and sieges of the Imperialist and Venetian forces in their struggle to drive the Ottoman Turks from Europe and the Mediterranean islands.2
1 Useful in a military capacity.
2 Manning, Swordsmen, ch. 4; J. W. Stoye, English Travellers Abroad, 1604–1667: Their Influence in English Society and Politics (1952; repr. 1968), 239–76.