Discipline in Tangier
and throughout the British Army
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Garrison's court martial book for the period 1663-1669 has survived,
showing the military crimes and punishments prevalent before the
Mutiny Act of 1689 gave the army a legal code of practice. It
had long been recognised that if obedience and discipline were
to be maintained in troops exposed to the hardships, dangers,
temptations and licence of active warfare, the ordinary laws and
punishments which served to regulate civil life were inappropriate.
Civil procedures were also too lengthy to be effective in the
seventeenth century several Acts set forth penalties for the special
military crimes of mutiny, desertion and stealing arms, with death
by hanging awarded by the civil courts and magistrates. In July
1678, for example, a soldier of the Coldstream Guards was tried
at the civil sessions at the Old Baily for the felony of desertion,
convicted, and sentenced to be hanged at the head of his regiment.
In September 1687 a soldier of the Thirteenth Foot and another
of the Grenadier Guards were hanged for desertion at Tyburn and
Tower Hill respectively. But for an army on active service, outside
the jurisdiction of the civil authorities, martial laws and military
courts were established under royal prerogative to provide prompt
and deterrent sentences. Corporal punishment was preferable
to lengthy imprisonment; insubordination, which could lead to
the more serious crime of mutiny, was treated with great severity.
the courts martial from 1663-1669 awarded six sentences of death
for acts of neglect on sentry duty, insubordination and violence
to superiors. In five cases execution was by shooting, and in
one by hanging. There were seven sentences of death for desertion
and theft from comrades, all carried out by the less honourable
method of hanging, which was also awarded for rape, acting as
a spy, and unauthorised plunder.
For a military
execution by shooting, the troops of the regiment or garrison
were drawn up in a semicircle. The prisoner, with his arms pinioned
and attended by a guard and chaplain, was paraded along the whole
line of troops to the blank side of the circle, where a grave
had often already been dug. The prisoner then stood or knelt against
a stake, to which he was bound, his eyes blindfolded and either
he or the provost marshal gave the signal to fire. The troops
filed past the body before returning to their quarters, or sometimes
the corpse was carried three times around the parade.
number of offenders was inconveniently large an example was sometimes
made by selecting every tenth man by lot to suffer; or, as in
Tangier on 8th September 1663, "Two privates to throw dice on
a drum-head, to be shot: he who throws the least to suffer."
On 12th October
1663 Thomas Finlay, of Lieutenant Colonel Churchill's company,
was sentenced "to be whipt by the Executioner forward and backward
through the Parade drawne in two ranks, his lashes soundly laid
on, for being asleep upon the centinels post" (the same punishment
was awarded for the same crime in the Roman Legions). The punishment
of whipping or scourging by the provost was performed by tying
the culprit, naked to the waist, to a post and thrashing him with
stout switches or birch rods. Sometimes, more seriously, he was
flogged standing under the gallows with a rope about his neck,
or tied upon his tiptoes by the neck to the gallows. A variation
was awarded in Tangier on 17th May 1665:
the time of the parade to have his back stripped and to run the
gauntlet of his regiment paraded with open ranks, each man furnished
with a stout switch to strike the prisoner's naked back, breast,
arms or where his cudgel should light as he marched down the lanes.
Running the Gauntlet, 1695. French
This was the usual punishment for stealing from fellow-soldiers.
While exemplary punishment could be extremely severe, harsh
practices such as floggings were considered 'inhumane' as
normal punishment. Engraving after Guérard.
drown the prisoner's cries, drums were beaten during the punishment.
Other punishments awarded were branding for murder, boring the tongue
with a red-hot iron for blasphemy, and imprisonment on bread and water.
William Merriday was condemned in Tangier to ride the wooden horse
with four muskets tied to his heels and a pair of shoes about his
neck, for the crime of selling his shoes. Another soldier, found drunk
at his post, was sentenced "to be tied necke and heels, with his head
forced between his knees by two muskets, and kept there for an hour,
till the blood gushed out of his nose, mouth and ears".
women, too, came under strict military discipline. On 25th
June 1664, for example, a woman was convicted at Tangier for inciting
to mutiny. She was sentenced to be gagged and receive 50 lashes
on her bare back, 10 each at five different locations, and to be
expelled from the garrison by the first available ship, also being
whipped from the prison to the water-side. A court tried Elizabeth
Harrold, accused of "threatening her husband to be his death and
beating him by breaking his head and other harms". Her sentence
was "to be stripped at the Cross and to receive 24 stripes on her
naked back by the Executioner". There was a house of correction,
a pillory, stocks and a ducking stool "for scolds and evil tongued
women". Most fearsome of all was the whirligig, "a wooden cage on
a pivot, whose amazing velocity made brawling and loose women very
sick and emptied their bodies through every apeture". Such a bawd
was awarded this punishment "for the too frequent bestowal of her
favours"; the punishment performed "to the delight of the jaded
Discipline | Tangier
Social Life | Raising
a Regiment |
of Blenheim 1704 | Storming
of Schellenberg 1704 | War
of the Spanish Succession 1701-14
1670s | Gallery 1680s
1690s | Gallery
© N. Kipar 2003.
Contents Copyright © Ben Levick 1998. With permission by the