Major Papers


Military Justice, Seven Years' War, Desertion, Discipline, British Soldiers


The academic examination of military justice is relatively new. Military history has focused on such topics as commanding officers, tactics, logistics, combat, and outcomes. However, exploring the theme of military discipline, by concentrating on relations between commissioned and enlisted ranks, engages the army as a social institution with its own internal power dynamic. Two historiographical interpretations on the subject have developed over the last few decades. One builds upon the orthodox view of discipline in the Early Modern Era as severe and punitive, portraying militaries as whipping men to war. Recently, revisionist historians have argued that over the 18th-century, military justice became more benign, in part as a result of the army taking greater care in its treatment of the men informed by Enlightenment thinking and partly forced by the actions of soldiers themselves, who by no means constituted unthinking cattle. This approach conceives discipline as negotiated by the two parties. The purpose of this paper is to demonstrate how the disciplinary relationship between the British military and its soldiery was based on conflict over the conditions of their service and resolution of that conflict by one form or another. The British soldiers consistently clashed with their superiors over their treatment and what they believed were their contractual rights. When the British leadership did not address their concerns, a considerable group of soldiers engaged in the extreme act of desertion, thus renouncing their commitment to the military and the Monarch. The British military leadership responded to this by continuing to exert their absolute control and dominance through the affliction of harsh punishment, and through the occasional display of mercy with reduced sentences and pardons, thus remaining steadfast on balancing the life and death of their men. During the Seven Years’ War, military punishment was neither entirely brutal nor wholly merciful; instead, it balanced the two, which contributed to the complex relationship between British soldiers and their leadership.

Primary Advisor

Dr. Peter Way

Program Reader

Dr. Robert Nelson

Degree Name

Master of Arts



Document Type

Major Research Paper

Convocation Year