Preamble to the Articles of War

Chrono date: 
1653 Jan 01

'"ON the British Navy, under the good providence of God, the wealth, safety, and strength of the kingdom chiefly depend." So runs the preamble to the Articles of War, and few Englishmen would wish to dispute the fact. But while we glory in the tale of the Armada and of a long line of brilliant victories, culminating in the supreme day of Trafalgar, we are apt to forget the means whereby these victories were assured to us. It is well that our people should study not only the triumphs of our Fleet, but its reverses also; that they should make themselves acquainted with every step in that long and often bitter struggle through which the British Navy won its way from insignificance to the mastery of the seas.' - Short History of the Royal Navy.

The UK's first Articles of War were written for the Royal Navy. They formed the statutory provisions regulating and governing the behaviour of members of the Royal Navy. They were prominently displayed in all naval ships, and set out a list of criminal provisions which applied to members of the Royal Navy and others to whom the Act applied, in addition to the criminal law of England and Wales and any local criminal law.

The naval Articles of War were originally issued by the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty in 1653 as fighting instructions after defeat at the Battle of Dungeness. Soon after the Restoration, they were converted into an Act of Parliament.[3][4] After another defeat at the Battle of Toulon, Parliament amended the Articles in 1749, further tightening discipline. These Articles resulted in the execution of Admiral John Byng, despite a clear sentiment in the navy and in Parliament that he should be given some lesser punishment. In response, the 1779 amendment was the start of a gradual process of easing the more draconian punishments.[5] The naval Articles were retained in the 1957 Naval Discipline Act but then replaced by the provisions of the tri-service Armed Forces Act 2006.


  1. Oxford English Dictionary
  2. William Winthrop, Military Law and Precedents, 19 (2d ed., Government Printing Office 1920), page 18
  4. Articles of War, 1661, 1749 and 1866 / (1982) ISBN 0859372758
  5. Herman, Arthur (2004). To Rule the Waves: How the British Navy Shaped the Modern World. New York: Harper. ISBN 0060534249.

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