October 11, 2009

Articles of Ransom

Barbara Donagan's book (cited below) is a treasure house of interesting history about the customs of war. One of the more interesting evolutions that she briefly discusses is the evolution in the articles of war issued by English commanders. Roughly speaking articles of war were issued every time an army went on campaign and governed the behaviour of troops in the field. Articles in the Civil War for instance forbad stealing from civilians, laid out punishments for insubordination, mandated officers to escort their men to prayer and sermons and described penalties for moral crimes (fornication, drunkenness, rape). Looking at the articles of war we can see changes across the centuries- from Richard I's articles in 1189 to Henry V's in 1422 and finally in the civil war period itself. Amongst the most notable of those changes is the position of ransom.

Until Henry VIII's articles, the articles include complicated equations for how to ransom a prisoner. These calculations range from how much to ransom a prisoner for to how much of such a ransom was due to the soldier who took the prisoner, his officers and the King. They also allowed an exception to the prohibition on taking children prisoner- children of high value nobility or of the rich might be taken for the purposes of ransom- an exemption which vanishes later. By the time of the Earl of Northumberland's articles in 1640 and the Earl of Essex's in 1643, such ransom discussions have vanished. Ransom is no longer the main reward for soldiers in the field- rather it is pay. The English Civil War saw frequent disputes about pay amongst the soldiery- particularly famously in 1647 but there are rumblings of discontent in the New Model Army throughout the later forties and early fifties. Moving from ransom to pay though changes the relationship between the soldier and the state fundementally.

The change produced is that the soldier is no longer involved in war in order to capture prisoners- but involved in order to receive pay. War is organised by a bureacratic state rather than by privates enterprising to catch the nobility and hold them for ransom. In a sense part of medieval warfare was kidnap for a ransom: in early modern warfare that changes. What therefore changes is that the soldier is much more dependent upon the state for his sustenance and his future after the war: he is also bound to his fellows more, instead of competing to get the best target for ransom, they are all attempting to get the best salary. The other truth emerging from this is how far this reflects the ability of the state to raise finance to pay its armies: the seventeenth century was a time of fiscal experiment. James, Charles, Cromwell and William III all in different ways tried various experiments to raise more money- the pressure upon them was the growing cost of war, what that produced was eventually the National Debt and the Bank of England.

The story of soldier's salaries therefore forms part of the story of the evolution of the modern fiscally powerful state.


James Higham said...

The change produced is that the soldier is no longer involved in war in order to capture prisoners- but involved in order to receive pay. War is organised by a bureacratic state rather than by privates enterprising to catch the nobility and hold them for ransom.

That's an excellent observation. The whole politics of war is other than as presented by the State.

Rumbold said...

What's interesting is how the European model developed differently from the Mughal model. Under the Mughal system, military commanders were given a numerical rank, which denoted the number of cavalry they commanded. These men had to be raised by the commander themselves, by a system of jagirs. A jagir was a temporary grant of land which gave the commander the revenue from that land (usually a handful of villages).

Gracchi said...

James unsure what you mean but I agree few at the time noticed the movement in the power of the state that the change in warfare implied.

Rumbold- that is fascinating. There are tons of questions that I have about that military system- did it incline the empire towards breaking apart because local forces were raised by local commanders, how far did the central administration of the army work? I wonder if anyone has compared articles of war and laws of war and whether there are observable differences based on the different schemes of recruitment. How long were the grants of land and how did they effect stability of tenure?

Really interesting comment which is inspiring me to do some research of my own.

Rumbold said...


The best overview of the Mughal Empire is J. F. Richard's the Mughal Empire, part of the Cambridge series. You can borrow it if you want.

The jagir system eventually broke down, as rank inflation took hold. The Mughal Empire had been able to sustain a system during its period of expansion, but once Mughal conquests slowed, there was an increasing gap between a commander's rank and the jagirs needed to fund it. After that you see a system where Mughal commanders, both civilian and military, begin to establish their own fiefdoms (most notably in Bengal). The system never worked to capacity anyway, and the army was almost certain never more than half its paper strength, particularly after Akbar (who introduced it) died.

There was a minister for war and all armoured troopers had to meet certain imperial standards. Religion/tribe was irrelevant though. The imperial officials determined how much an individual soldier could be paid, but all the money went through commanders, who presumably skimmed some off the top.

Akbar especially had a policy of rotating armies throughout India, so that armies were not allowed to take root in a particular place. This didn’t matter so much for a lot of the great nobles, who were from outside India (Persia, the Turkic tribes, etc.), but officers like the Rajputs had strong roots in India.

Jagirs weren't granted for life (some were though- probably), so, and I might be wrong here, few became hereditary. However, some jagirs were really lands that had been occupied by the Mughals and then reassigned to defeated nobles who swore fealty to the emperor. Thus they were hereditary to start with.