Sixpence a Day and No Foreign Service!

A New Model Army officer not extolling foreign service
An officer of the new model army (Charles Singleton of Devereux’s Regt) (Photo: James Kemp)

Those of us that have attended English Civil War events may well have come across New Model Army soldiers shouting their demand for “Sixpence a day, and no foreign service!”

Until recently I had always seen it as a request for a pay rise and also a guarantee of service only in Britain, perhaps even only in England. However I’ve been reading John Childs’ The Army of Charles II and there’s a chapter on Foreign Service. It’s particularly interesting because it explains the history of Foreign Service back to the days of Queen Elizabeth I.

Foreign Service

The British Army, and it’s predecessors in the Scots, Irish and English establishments and the New Model, differentiates three types of service.

  1. Home service where troops are based in garrisons in Britain or Ireland.
  2. Regular service which is the norm, and troops are used where and how the Crown requires. This includes overseas and in the colonies. Often this sort of service doesn’t near a descriptor.
  3. Foreign service which was common from the time of Elizabeth I until at least the time of Marlborough. British units were sent to serve a foreign power, and paid for by them.

No Foreign Service

Why are the troops refusing foreign service? Well there are several plausible reasons. Firstly troops were usually engaged for the duration that they were needed. Before the New Model there were no standing armies, sovereigns raised troops to fight a campaign and sent them home at the end. All the engagement terms reflected that model.

So being sent into foreign service was seen as a much longer term commitment, even if you were disbanded for the winter it would be much harder to get back home.

Also disease was a major killer of troops, and the attrition rates of British soldiers in foreign service was way higher than for those in Britain. Perhaps half of all soldiers sent into foreign service didn’t return.

Lastly there are political and religious differences. While Kings might be allied, the people of the countries might not see things the same way. For example, Charles II sent a brigade to Portugal in 1662 to help them fight the Spanish. The troops were mostly Cromwell’s men, and independent protestants. The people of Portugal were mostly Catholics. Although the governments were allied, the British Brigade lost several men murdered by the locals because they were seen as heretics. The picture only changed when the Portuguese saw how effective the British infantry was in battle.

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