Marlborough’s Hero’s part 4: Discipline.


Time to continue with Marlborough’s Hero’s…

It’s and average morning for the men of Lord —-more’s regiment encamped and quartered on the town of —–bridge. At parade however the adjutant reads out an order at the head of the battalion. “It is so ordered that one Lucy Hamilton, a necessary woman from the town, who was found being smuggled into camp in the company of private sentinel Jones, will this morning be escorted out of the camp, as per standing orders, sentinel Jones is hereby awarded 12 lashes for flagrant disregard of said orders blasphemous language and insubordination, punishment to be administered after the Sabbath”

The adjutant’s clear voice having faded from the parade ground before the camp, the officers told off their men, who then gathered at the end of the battalion street. The horse cart carrying Lucy Hamilton with her legs dangling off the back, led by a local farmer, whose field half the battalion was sleeping on, trundled past the soldiers, some of whom fell in behind the company drummers, beating out a sharp quick march in her wake.

Discipline in early 18th century armies was harsh and demanding, and the British service was no different, the offences could vary.

Swearing could very easily get you the wooden horse or flogged, the former was a bench, the seat of which was made up of two pieces of wood nailed together to form an apex on which the offender sat for an uncomfortable period of time, weighed down with two weights tied to his ankles and causing acute, numbness and discomfort.

Wooden Horse punishment C1700. In Tangier were Marlborough served, the punishment was used on women who feared it more than pillory and flogging.
Wooden Horse punishment C1700. A solder and a woman he probably smuggled in, get what’s coming to them. Note the woman has no leg weights.

Flogging was the general punishment for soldiers who misbehaved, three halberds, or pikes were tied together and the man was tied to them, then the company drummers would take turns to inflict the amount of lashes required, which could be anything from 12 strokes to extremes of 100, despite the reputation these high numbers were rarely resorted to.

Another form of punishment is the bemusing whirligig. Which is basically a giant birdcage into which was put the unfortunate man, then the contraption was spun and spun and spun until apoplectic so his bowel control failed. Hardly as physical as the lash but effectively humiliating none the less. In the British garrison of Tangier women feared the Whirligig more than any other corporal punishment.

Another was running the gauntlet, though it was more favored with Continental armies than British at the time, it did happen, the accused was stripped to the waist and had to advance through a causeway of their comrades whose duty it was to strike his back with sticks, sometimes he would have to walk through them, being led with a man with a reversed musket, bayonet fixed, this punishment would likely be employed for crimes against messmates.

Any of the above could be awarded for anything from drunkenness (an all too common problem) theft, dereliction of duty, swearing, blasphemy, failure to keep a smart appearance or having dirty kit, desertion, to allowing an unauthorized woman into the camp and a host more variations on the theme.

Grievous crimes would be brought before a regimental court martial but minor offences were simply given the sentence on the informally without benefit of doubt.

Most instances of corporal punishment were dolled out by a court though, and indeed it was the favored way to go since regimental trials could not give a death sentence no matter what the crime, and some regiments did not like to air the dirty laundry.

French Soldiers dolling out a gauntlet punishment on a comrade. Punishments were harsher in Protestant Armies like the British.
French Soldiers dolling out a gauntlet punishment on a comrade. Punishments were harsher in Protestant Armies like the British.

General Courts Martial could award death by shooting or hanging and did. It was presided over by the Judge Advocate General, which was a legal appointment made by the Provost Marshal General. These staff appointments were both on army and headquarters level and capitol sentences were given for desertion, cowardice in the face of the enemy, looting, striking an officer, insubordination and murder.

However they were enlisted, be they volunteer, or convict, these men soon fell into the rhythm of army life and if not grudgingly at first realized that the endless drills were indeed to keep them alive, what was bred out of this is the enigma known as the British soldier, despite all adversity, they became proud of the coat they wore and the colours that led them, they were instilled with an awe for the officers that marched before them, and showed them by example, how to be cool under fire, and a respect for the General that took care of them, and lead them to victory.

Despite whatever is said about the officer class, once the smoke of battle cleared the cowards and shirkers were either dead or no longer there, and the ones that were left were those who were prepared to fulfill their duty and thus the respect of the rank and file was earned.

An Ancient writer once wrote that soldiers do not like to be led by men not of noble birth, when I read that I was skeptical, thinking that it would be the opposite way around, but no, I was wrong, in fact by the very reason that the officers were from the aristocracy meant they knew how to lead and give orders (even if they were whispered first by a sergeant) they were gentlemen and the common man at this time enjoyed being led by a good gentleman and could boast that my captain is a lord, with pride.

And if the officer was a true blue blood, courage and honor came before anything else, hence the almost suicidal bravery of the British commissioned class, they really did owe allot to the monarch and had a stake in the country which gave many their motivation to serve. Soldiers of line companies were loyal to their Queen and their homes, the government was something to be cursed and ridiculed, these men held no loyalty to parliament or in some cases England itself, since as usual most of the rank and file were Scots or Irish and fought for a mixture of their Monarch, for their pay, for their regiment and in the case of Marlborough for their General, Corporal John.

See you again for another Adventure in Historyland.



Blenheim Preparation, David Chandler.
Blenheim Battle for Europe, Charles Spencer.
Blenheim the Duke of Marlborough’s masterpiece, John Tincey.
Weapons & equipment of the Marlborough wars, Anthony Kempt
Marlborough England’s fragile genius, Richard Holmes.
Marlborough’s army 1702-1711, Michael Barthorp.
Marlborough’s Sieges, James Falkner.
Marlborough, Corelli Barnett.
Diary of Colonel John Blackadder.
The complete art of self defence by McBane via Highland swordsmanship, Mark Rector.
English army lists & commission registers, 1661 – 1714, Charles Dalton.
The life and adventures of Matthew Bishop of Deddington in Oxfordshire.
Marlborough, Angus Konstam.
Marlborough his life & times vol 2, Sir Winston Churchill.

One Reply to “Marlborough’s Hero’s part 4: Discipline.”

  1. as always – insightful and inspiring. Insight into what disciplined, drove, inspired and motivated the rank and file.

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