16th Century Army Recruitment

Jan 2020
3
United States
Hello, I'm currently working on a story which involves English soldiers participating in a war during the 16th century. I was hoping to gain some insight, however, into the reasons why various people might join the military during this period of time. I tried Googling it but couldn't find information specific to the 16th century and mostly found information from the early and high middle ages.

If possible, I would like it if you could break it down by socio-economic level. Different reasons for why the poor, middle class, or wealthy might join the rank and file troops.
 
May 2019
357
Earth
I'd be surprised if any wealthy folks were going into the army as rank-and-file troops, unless they were trying to run away from something or assume a new identity. This was an era when officers still mostly came from the mid to upper classes; for one thing, they were usually the only guys who could read.

One reason in this period could be religion: the 16th century was full of bloodshed between Protestant and Catholic armies. Maybe one of your English characters could be a die-hard Protestant who wants the chance to go fight papists? Or vice versa, maybe he's a Catholic who flees England to avoid religious persecution and joins a Catholic army like the French or Spanish. Both things happened during this period.
 
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Jan 2020
3
United States
I'd be surprised if any wealthy folks were going into the army as rank-and-file troops, unless they were trying to run away from something or assume a new identity. This was an era when officers still mostly came from the mid to upper classes; for one thing, they were usually the only guys who could read.

One reason in this period could be religion: the 16th century was full of bloodshed between Protestant and Catholic armies. Maybe one of your English characters could be a die-hard Protestant who wants the chance to go fight papists? Or vice versa, maybe he's a Catholic who flees England to avoid religious persecution and joins a Catholic army like the French or Spanish. Both things happened during this period.
The religion angle works very well since one character is particularly religious. The wealthy character is considered a failure and embarrassment by his family so running away from something works pretty well. If there's anymore reasons I'd be glad to hear them even if they are simple.
 
May 2019
357
Earth
The religion angle works very well since one character is particularly religious. The wealthy character is considered a failure and embarrassment by his family so running away from something works pretty well. If there's anymore reasons I'd be glad to hear them even if they are simple.
Out of curiosity, what war are they fighting in? Here's one example of a religious conflict that took part right on English soil during the period, so you could have both Catholic and Protestant characters motivated to fight in it: Prayer Book Rebellion - Wikipedia
 

pikeshot1600

Ad Honoris
Jul 2009
10,084
If you can find it in a library, try this book:

-- C.G. Cruikshank, Elizabeth's Army (Oxford, 1946/1966).

I assume it is long out of print, but the book does a very good job of explaining what you are looking for.

If your time frame precedes Elizabeth, try:

-- Mark Charles Fissel, English Warfare, 1511-1642 (London, 2001).
 

Chlodio

Forum Staff
Aug 2016
4,978
Dispargum
Among the upper classes, younger sons often went into the military because there were few other options. The oldest son inherited everything. The younger sons had to work for a living, but had been raised as gentlemen and to some extent believed that work was beneath them. Careers in the army and navy were exceptions. As officers they could still pass their days telling other people what to do (the true mark of a gentleman, some would say).

Among the rank and file, a desire for adventure was always a reason for a young man to enlist. Also a desire to prove one's manhood. Sometimes army service was an opportunity to impress a girl. Also the chance to flee an unpleasant situation at home.
 
Jan 2020
3
United States
Out of curiosity, what war are they fighting in? Here's one example of a religious conflict that took part right on English soil during the period, so you could have both Catholic and Protestant characters motivated to fight in it: Prayer Book Rebellion - Wikipedia
I chose to keep it ambiguous. I wanted it to be very ground level and not give much focus to the royal family, generals, strategy or generally big picture events and rather focus on individual soldiers.

If you can find it in a library, try this book:

-- C.G. Cruikshank, Elizabeth's Army (Oxford, 1946/1966).

I assume it is long out of print, but the book does a very good job of explaining what you are looking for.

If your time frame precedes Elizabeth, try:

-- Mark Charles Fissel, English Warfare, 1511-1642 (London, 2001).
Elizabeth's Army works perfectly, thanks for the recommendation.

Among the upper classes, younger sons often went into the military because there were few other options. The oldest son inherited everything. The younger sons had to work for a living, but had been raised as gentlemen and to some extent believed that work was beneath them. Careers in the army and navy were exceptions. As officers they could still pass their days telling other people what to do (the true mark of a gentleman, some would say).

Among the rank and file, a desire for adventure was always a reason for a young man to enlist. Also a desire to prove one's manhood. Sometimes army service was an opportunity to impress a girl. Also the chance to flee an unpleasant situation at home.
Was there any instances of something resembling a draft during the 16th century or was service generally voluntary?
 

Chlodio

Forum Staff
Aug 2016
4,978
Dispargum
"Impressment was first made lawful during Elizabethan times, though it had been a common practice of drafting soldiers dating back to the 13th century. In 1563 Queen Elizabeth passed "an Act touching politick considerations for the maintenance of the Navy" which defined more clearly the liability of sailors who may be forced to serve as mariners.
The legalization was taken further in 1597 when the Vagrancy Act was passed, which now allowed for men of disrepute to be impressed for service in the fleet."


I keep finding references to Medieval impressment, but all of the narrative sources only want to talk about the 18th century and the War of 1812. During the Hundred Years War the English emptied out their prisons by offering pardons to any convict who would serve in the army. I doubt that was the last time they did that. There's ample evidence that even in the 18th century the press gangs regularly ignored the law and drafted men who were legally exempt from impressment. I wouldn't assume from the 1563 and 1597 laws that impressment was new then. Those laws only formalized what was already happening.
 

pikeshot1600

Ad Honoris
Jul 2009
10,084
Was there any instances of something resembling a draft during the 16th century or was service generally voluntary?
According to C.G. Cruikshank's book, levies of soldiers were made as needed. This grew in the period after England's reluctant 1585 embrace of the Dutch Revolt. Levying (in effect impressment) of soldiers was continual at least until after the resolution of England's war in Ireland in 1602/03. As Ireland needed to be garrisoned, it may have lasted longer. Not sure on that.

The Shires (Counties) were responsible for raising a required number of troops, and also for clothing and arming them. This was due to the financial limitations of the English Crown at that time. The officials of the county usually made certain that those levied were the most disposable persons in the various communities. A land owner did not want his best tenants and servants going to war. Very many of those levied never came back alive.

Troops were also raised by individual captains, perhaps recruiting on their estates or through other influence. Troops were - in general - grouped into companies of about 150 and these were temporarily forrned into regiments of from 4 to 7 companies. These could be combinations of levies and of recruited soldiers from a captain's estates.

These captains frequently took on the financial responsibility up front with the possibility of recompense at a later date. This sort of activity gained the captain a reputation and often a place at court. That was something he could turn into material gain through influence or Royal favor. The captains also made money by cheating on the soldiers' pay and victuals, and by pocketing the pay of soldiers killed or absent. Musters that determined pay were usually only held once annually.

Service in the Elizabethan or Stuart eras was very frequently involuntary.
 
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