English Army

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English Army
Country England
AllegianceMonarchy of England
Part ofEnglish Armed Forces
EngagementsSecond Anglo-Dutch War
Third Anglo-Dutch War
Franco-Dutch War
Monmouth Rebellion
Williamite War in Ireland
Nine Years' War
King William's War
Queen Anne's War
War of the Spanish Succession
Captain‑GeneralGeorge Monck, John Churchill
Prince Rupert, James Scott, James Butler, Henri de Massue, James Stanhope

The English Army existed as a part of the English Armed Forces while the Kingdom of England was an independent state and was at war with other states, but it was not until the Interregnum and the New Model Army (raised by Parliament to defeat the Royalists in the English Civil War) that England acquired a peacetime professional standing army. At the restoration of the monarchy, Charles II kept a small standing army, formed from elements of the Royalist army in exile and elements of the New Model Army, from which the most senior regular regiments of today's British Army can trace their antecedence. Likewise, Royal Marines can trace their origins back to the formation of the English Army's "Duke of York and Albany's maritime regiment of Foot" at the grounds of the Honourable Artillery Company on 28 October 1664.[1]


In England, as in the majority of all the European states of the Middle Ages, all men were at first soldiers, all were bound to join the standards at a given moment to repel an attack or make an invasion. This state of things became modified with the progress of time, and with the growth of society. The principle of the division of labour having taken root in the Anglo-Saxon character, the military power separated from the civil element. It was then that troops more or less regular were formed; the first paid bands had at first only a provisional existence limited by circumstances. Raised in time of war for a special object, they were always disbanded as soon as hostilities were over. The system of a permanent army does not date, in England, further back than the Interregnum and the reign of Charles II.[2] However the primitive steps towards standing armed forces began in the Middle Ages. The Assize of Arms of 1252 issued by King Henry III provided that small landholders should be armed and trained with a bow, and those of more wealth would be required to possess and be trained with sword, dagger and longbow. That Assize referred to a class of Forty shilling freeholders, who became identified with 'yeomanry', and states "Those with land worth annual 40s-100s will be armed/trained with bow and arrow, sword, buckler and dagger".[3]

Early and Middle Medieval Period

Between 1250 and 1500, England was almost constantly at war. Throughout this time, English kings fought for control of Wales and Scotland. From 1337–1453, England fought for land in France in the Hundred Years War and from 1455–85, rival families fought for the throne in the Wars of the Roses. During this time, many aspects of warfare remained much the same. Many of the same weapons, for example, were used in 1500 as much as they had been in 1250. Ultimately, battles continued to be won by hand-to-hand fighting amongst footsoldiers. However, some aspects of warfare changed. The rise of new weapons, like the longbow and cannon, changed the character of fighting on the battlefield, whilst the need for troops to serve in France brought an urgent need to change recruitment methods. Sometimes change was gradual; sometimes it was sudden. There were several factors causing these changes. For example: Improvements in science and technology enabled the introduction of cannon and changes in society, like the decline of feudalism, changed recruitment methods. Key events of the English army during this time, were Battles of Falkirk (1298) and Agincourt (1415).

The composition and size of armies

Armies at this time usually had two parts, infantry and cavalry. The ratio varied, but the most common was 2:1, i.e. twice as many infantry as cavalry. The cavalry were mounted soldiers. They were the elite of the army. Some cavalry were men from the upper nobility, like earls and dukes. The upper nobility formed about 30% of the cavalry at this time. Other cavalry were from the lesser nobility, like knights such as Sir Roger Bassett, who fought at the Battle of Falkirk in 1298.The rest of the cavalry were men-at-arms, heavily armed mounted troops brought to battle by the nobles. A nobleman’s group – or retinue – of menat-arms might vary from five to 25 men. They were usually men from the gentry – wealthy families who held land, but did not have titles. The infantry were common men who fought as footsoldiers. They were the bottom rung of the social ladder and were treated like second-rate troops in comparison with the mounted cavalry. In about 1250 in England, armies normally ranged from 5,000 to 10,000 men. • When the barons rebelled against Henry III in 1264, their army contained 5,000 men. Henry’s royal army totalled 8,000; his son, Edward, supported him with 2,000 more troops.

The Assize of Arms

The Assize of Arms provided the beginnings of a reliable source of infantry. As well as demanding that wealthy men should serve the king as knights, it began to demand that all men of England should be ready to serve the king for 40 days, equipped with weapons, as troops in the infantry. For example, Henry III used the Assize of Arms to recruit infantry during the Barons’ War of 1264–67. Commissioners of Array* visited selected parts of the country to assess people and to inspect their weapons. Often, local people shared the cost of equipping a few local volunteers, providing them with arms and enough supplies for 40 days’ service.

Tudor and Stuart organisation

Prior to the English Civil War in 1642 the English Tudor and Stuart monarchs maintained a personal bodyguard of Yeomen of the Guard (created by Henry VII) and the Honourable Corps of Gentlemen at Arms or "gentlemen pensioners" (created by Henry VIII), and a few locally raised companies to garrison important places such as Berwick on Tweed, Portsmouth and Calais (before it was recaptured by France in 1558). Troops for foreign expeditions were raised on an ad-hoc basis in either country by its King, when required.[4]

This was a development of the feudal concept of fief (in which a lord was obliged to raise a certain quota of knights, men-at-arms and yeomanry, in return for his right to occupy land).

In practice, noblemen and professional regular soldiers were commissioned by the monarch to supply troops, raising their quotas by indenture from a variety of sources.[5] A Commission of Array would be used to raise troops for a foreign expedition, while various Militia Acts directed that (in theory) the entire male population who owned property over a certain amount in value, was required to keep arms at home and periodically train or report to musters. The musters were usually chaotic affairs, used mainly by the Lord Lieutenants and other officers to draw their pay and allowances, and by the troops as an excuse for a drink after perfunctory drill.[6]

English Civil War

In 1642, at the start of the English Civil War both the Royalists (Cavaliers) and Parliament (Roundheads) raised men when and where they could, and both claimed legal justification. Parliament claimed to be justified by its own recent "Militia Ordinance", while the king claimed the old-fashioned "Commissions of Array".Template:Sfn For example, in Cornwall the Royalist leader Sir Ralph Hopton indicted the enemy before the grand jury of the county for disturbing the peace, and expelled them by using the posse comitatus. In effect, both sides assembled local forces wherever they could do so by valid written authority.Template:Sfn

After two years of ruinous but indecisive military campaigning, Parliament passed the Self-denying Ordinance, (by which members of both Houses of Parliament were deprived of military office, a measure originally introduced to replace some high-ranking officers who were suspected of disloyalty or defeatism), Template:Sfn and created the New Model Army, the first professional standing army in Modern English history.Template:Sfn An experienced soldier, Sir Thomas Fairfax, was appointed its Lord General.

The New Model Army proved supreme in field, no more so than in the Second English Civil War which was succinctly described by Sir Winston Churchill:

The Story of the Second English Civil War is short and simple. King, Lords and Commons, landlords, merchants, the City and the countryside, bishops and presbyters, the Scottish army, the Welsh people, and the English Fleet, all now turned against the New Model Army. The Army beat the lot!Template:Sfn

From its foundation, the New Model Army adopted social and religious policies which were increasingly at odds with those of Parliament. The Army's senior officers (the "Grandees") formed another faction, opposed both to Parliament and to the more extreme radicals (Levellers and dissenting Nonconformist sects) within the lower ranks.Template:Sfn

In the aftermath of the Second English Civil War, Parliament was made subservient to the wishes of the Army Council whose leading political figure was Oliver Cromwell. In an episode known as Pride's Purge, troops used force to prevent members of the House of Commons opposed to the Army Council from attending Parliament.Template:Sfn The resulting Rump Parliament passed the necessary legislation to have King Charles I tried and executed by beheading, and to declare England a Commonwealth.Template:Sfn

The next two years saw the New Model Army invade first Ireland and then Scotland defeating their armies and occupying their territory. The New Model Army with the aid of English militias easily defeated a predominantly Scottish Royalist army under the command of Charles II at the Battle of Worcester on 3 September 1651 bringing the Civil War to an end.Template:Sfn


During the Interregnum (1649–1660) the power of all the republican experiments in governance relied on the military might of the New Model Army, which, whenever it was called upon, was easily able to meet the challenges of its enemies, both foreign and domestic.

Two particularly notable events of the interregnum were to have long-lasting effects. The first was political; the army's complete seizure of power when Cromwell dissolved the Rump Parliament in 1653 is the closest to a coup d'état that England has had,Template:Sfn and the subsequent Rule of the Major-Generals. The other was the Battle of the Dunes (1658), where soldiers of the New Model Army fighting in their red-coats astonished both their French allies and Spanish enemies by the stubborn fierceness of their assault up a sand-hill 150 feet (46 m) high and strongly defended by Spanish veterans who were forced to retreat.

It was only after the death of Oliver Cromwell and the loss of his influence that the other members of the army could not agree on an alternative to the restoration of Charles II. Even so it was under the firm guidance and with the agreement of General George Monck of the New Model Army that the restoration of the monarchy took place in 1660.

Stuart Asquith argues: {{quote|Many authorities quote the Restoration of 1660 as the birth date of our modern British Army. While this may be true as far as continuity of unit identity is concerned, it is untrue in a far more fundamental sense. The evidence of history shows that the creation of an efficient military machine and its proving on the battlefield, predates the Restoration by 15 years. It was on the fields of Nasby, Dunbar and Dunes that the foundations of the British professional army were laid.


On 26 January 1661, Charles II issued the Royal Warrant that created the first regiments of what would become the British Army, although Scotland and England maintained separate military establishments until the Acts of Union 1707. A third military establishment, the Irish Army also existed in the Kingdom of Ireland.

For some of his enforced exile King Charles II had lived at the court of Louis XIV; he had witnessed the changes introduced in France into the organisation of the troops maintained in time of peace as well as of war. On his return to England in 1660, Charles took measures to support his recently restored throne on the fidelity of his soldiers; he moreover endeavoured to fix the hitherto unstable basis of a military government. As no system is improvised, a precedent for the innovation was to be found in the history of England. Two regiments created in the reign of Henry VIII, still subsist, the Gentlemen Pensioners and the Yeomen of the Guard formed in those days a sort of transition between the system of accidental armies and permanent armies.

This latter state of things was however so contrary to the constitutional customs of England that Charles II introduced it by degrees, gradually filling up the cadres of his battalions and, although contemporary writers considered it a formidable army, it did not exceed 5,000 men.

King Charles put into these regiments those Cavaliers who had attached themselves to him during his exile on the European continent and had fought for him at the Battle of the Dunes against the Roundheads of the Protectorate and their French allies. For political expediency he also included some of the elements of the New Model Army. The whole force consisted of two corps of horse and five or six of infantry. It is, however, on this narrow and solid basis that the structure of the English army was gradually erected. The horse consisted of two regiments the Life Guards (formed from exiled Cavaliers); and The Blues (or The Oxford Blues), formed by Lord Oxford, out of some of the best New Model Army horse regiments. The foot regiments were Grenadier Guards (initially two regiments Lord Wentworth's Regiment and John Russell's Regiment of Guards which amalgamated in 1665), the Coldstream Guards (the New Model Army regiment of General Monck), the Royal Scots (formed from the Scotch guard in France), and the Second Queen's Royals.

It will thus be seen that the military system prevailed in England almost at the same time as in France; the two people, however, hailed in a very different manner an innovation, which changed, especially in time of peace, the character of the armed force. In France, under the absolute rule of Louis XIV, it does not appear that the establishment of standing armies met with the shadow of opposition. This was not the case in free England. Pamphleteers wrote tracts voicing the fear of a people who within living memory had experienced the Rule of the Major-Generals and had liked neither the imposition of military rule, nor the costs of keeping the New Model Army in being when the country was not at war with itself or others. People also remembered the "Eleven Years' Tyranny" of Charles I and feared that a standing army under royal command would allow monarchs in the future to ignore the wishes of Parliament.

Army of the King or Parliament

Many of the English were not fully reconciled to the need for a standing army until the reign of William III when the near perpetual wars with other European states made a modest standing army a necessity to defend England and to maintain its prestige in the world. But public opinion, always anxious of the bad old days, was resolved to allow itself no rest until it had defined the prerogatives of the Crown on this delicate point. Parliament finally succeeded in acquiring a control over the army, and under a general bill, commonly called the Mutiny Act, laid down the restrictions which, whilst respecting the rights of the sovereign, were likewise to shield the liberty of the people. It did this by making the standing army conditional on an annually renewed act of parliament.

Command and Control

Supreme Commander

Supreme command of the English Army was vested in the Monarch of England as Commander-in-Chief of the English Armed Forces, though monarchs (with the notable exception of King William III) seldom led their forces in battle after 1660. Instead, executive command was generally delegated, in time of war, to a soldier.[7] In 1660, erstwhile parliamentarian commander General Monck was appointed captain general by King Charles II on his restoration and was given wide-ranging powers. Following his death in 1670 command was vested in a committee of colonels for a time; subsequently, individuals were from time to time appointed commander-in-chief with regard to particular actions or particular geographical areas, and the Duke of Monmouth served briefly as captain general from 1678 to 1679. A captain general was not appointed either by James II or William III; but in 1702 Queen Anne appointed her husband generalissimo and the Duke of Marlborough captain general.

Strategic Control

Strategic control of the army was in the hands of the Privy Council of England.[7] By the early the eighteenth century, the power to raise an army, to issue marching orders and to administer army pay and finances lay with the Secretary at War, a member of the Government. (In origin the Secretary at War had been secretary to the captain general; but at times when no captain general or Commander-in-Chief was appointed the Secretary took on greater importance, gaining access to the sovereign and counter-signing orders; until, even when a new captain general was appointed, the Secretary at War retained distinct responsibilities and functioned independently.) An earlier official, the Treasurer at War, did not outlast the Interregnum.[7]

The captain general was assisted by a number of 'general officers' in the wake of the Restoration (called 'general' officers to distinguish them from those with 'particular' responsibility, eg to a regiment, rather than to the army as a whole):[8] the Commissary General of the Musters (1660), the pay master general (from 1661), the chirurgeon general (1664), scoutmaster general (1664-1689) and the judge advocate general (1666); these were later joined by the adjutant-general (from 1680), the quartermaster-general (1686), the provost marshal general and others.[7]

In 1679, the captain general being absent, a lieutenant-general was appointed to act in his stead (Lord Gerard of Brandon). Later, in 1685, King James II created three lieutenants-general 'over all our Forces, as well Horse as Foot';[8] three majors-general were also appointed at the same time along with several 'brigadeers' (also referred to as colonels of brigade and brigadeers-general). The first appointment of a full general (apart from the captain general) was in 1689.[8]


The Second Anglo-Dutch War was predominately a maritime war but English army soldiers were involved in Holmes's Bonfire (19–20 August 1666), the Raid on the Medway (June 1667), the Battle of Landguard Fort (2 July 1667), the Capture of Cayenne (1667), and Recapture of Fort Zeelandia (1667).

The Third Anglo-Dutch War (1672–1674) was a maritime war, but English soldiers and officers (including John Churchill (the future Duke of Marlborough) saw service under French command (for example at the Siege of Maastricht (1673)).Template:Sfn The Blackheath Army of freshly-raised regiments was intended to take part an expedition to Zeeland in 1673, but this had to be abandoned following the naval defeat at the Battle of Texel (August 1673).Template:Sfn

After the marriage of Mary, the daughter of the James, Duke of York, to William of Orange, the English sent an expeditionary force (with its own services and supply chain) to Flanders in 1678 to join the Dutch against the French in the Franco-Dutch War. The expeditionary force was commanded by the Duke of Monmouth. The English force saw little action but some British units saw action at the Battle of Saint-Denis (the last battle of the war). During the battle, a Scottish regiment under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel Dougles attacked the French camp and the Anglo-Dutch Brigade fought in the vanguard of the Dutch Spanish army suffering many casualties.Template:Sfn

The Monmouth Rebellion and the Battle of Sedgemoor (6 July 1685).

Nine Years War (1688–1697): Glorious Revolution (1689), Williamite War in Ireland (1688–1691), King William's War (1688–1697).

War of the Spanish Succession (1701–1714)

Amalgamation into the British Army

Shortly after the Act of Union in 1707 the English and Scottish Armies amalgamated to form the British Army.[9]

The order of seniority for the most senior line regiments in the British Army is based on the order of seniority in the English army. Scottish and Irish regiments were only allowed to take a rank in the English army from the date of their arrival in England or the date when they were first placed on the English establishment. For example, in 1694 a board of general officers was convened to decide upon the rank of English, Irish, and Scots regiments serving in the Netherlands, when the regiment that became known as the Scots Greys was designated as the 4th Dragoons because there were three English regiments raised prior to 1688, when the Scot Greys were first placed on the English establishment. In 1713, when a new board of general officers was convened to decide upon the rank of several regiments, the seniority of the Scots Greys was reassessed and was based on their entry into England in June 1685. At that time, there was only one English regiment of dragoons, so after some delay the Scots Greys obtained the rank of 2nd Dragoons in the British Army.Template:Sfn

See also


  1. "Origins of Royal Marines". Archived from the original on 2016-10-22. Retrieved 2015-10-02.
  2. Colburn. 1860. p.566.
  3. Delbrück. 1990. p.177.
  4. Mallinson. 2009. p.8.
  5. Barker. 2005. p.8.
  6. Young. Holmes. 2000. p.30.
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 Roper, Michael (1998). The Records of the War Office and Related Departments, 1660-1964. Kew, Surrey: Public Record Office.
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 Walton, Colonel Clifford (1894). History of the British Standing Army AD 1660-1700. London: Harrison & Sons.
  9. On the experience of the Scottish soldiers see Victoria Henshaw, Scotland and the British Army, 1700-1750: Defending the Union (Bloomsbury Publishing, 2014), ch 3


Further reading