McShane, Angela. “Recruiting Citizens for Soldiers in Seventeenth-Century English Ballads.” Journal of Early Modern History 15 no. 1-2, (2011): 105-137.
This article revisits the heroic and glamorous language of recruitment and retention in seventeenth century England through an exploration of the market, medium and message of many hundreds of “military” ballads that were disseminated from London across the country, especially in times of war. These show that military volunteerism among the lower sorts was less surprising and more sophisticated than historians have previously imagined, which suggests the need to reconsider the question of military professionalism among ordinary rank and file soldiers. Furthermore, the common use of the love song as a vehicle for military messages, reveals how regular soldiering became a new vocation for the “lower sorts” in this transitional period for army development. This new “profession” not only marked a direct break from the older system of “estates” which put fighters at the top and workers at the bottom of society, it was negotiating its place within the social structures of household formation in early modern England.
Other good sources for English ballads:
- Bagford, John, ed. The Bagford ballads: illustrating the last years of the Stuarts. London: Printed for the Ballad Society, 1876.
- UCSB English Broadside Ballad Archive: excellent source of 17C English ballads, including hundreds on “military” topics – do an EEBA Keyword search in Advanced Search. Site includes full facsimiles, transcriptions and, for many, mp3s of people singing them!
And let’s not forget The Recruiting Officer.
One more point about army sizes: we usually convert army sizes into an absolute number of men, even though numbers of units (regiment or battalion or company) are the most frequently occurring measure in the sources, and sometimes the only size information available. Whenever we are forced to rely on unit totals, we need to constantly remind ourselves of the weaknesses in measuring size this way.