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Britains SoldiersRethinking War and Society, 1715-1815$
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Kevin Linch and Matthew McCormack

Print publication date: 2014

Print ISBN-13: 9781846319556

Published to Liverpool Scholarship Online: September 2014

DOI: 10.5949/liverpool/9781846319556.001.0001

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‘The Soldiers Murmured Much on Account of this Usage’

‘The Soldiers Murmured Much on Account of this Usage’

Military Justice and Negotiated Authority in the Eighteenth-Century British Army

(p.95) 5 ‘The Soldiers Murmured Much on Account of this Usage’
Britains Soldiers

William P. Tatum III

Liverpool University Press

Historians have long portrayed enlisted men as the hapless victims of ‘a cruel and capricious court system that could hand out sentences of appalling magnitude’ (Arthur Gilbert). While such images fit well with the popular stereotypes of military justice, the reality of common soldiers’ participation in the system was far more complicated and nuanced. This chapter reveals the variety of roles played by enlisted men in the military justice system, as well as the ways in which they manipulated the justice process for their own ends. Soldiers served as military police, witnesses, informants and executioners. Without their cooperation, the system could not have functioned effectively, as officers were too few in number to carry out the mandates of the Mutiny Act and the Articles of War alone. This dependence on ‘good soldiers’ left enlisted men in a position to apply pressure on their officers. As a result, military justice, while occasionally arbitrary and extreme, was more often the scene of negotiation and manipulation of social dynamics.

Keywords:   British army, soldiers, military justice, courts martial, negotiation, collaboration, desertion, mutiny, military social relations

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