The English Army existed while England was an independent state and was at war with other states, but it was not until the Interregnum and the New Model Army (raised by Parliament to defeat the Royalists in the English Civil War) that England acquired a peace time professional standing army. At the restoration of the monarchy Charles II kept a small standing army, formed from elements of the Royalist army in exile and elements of the New Model Army, from which the most senior regiments of the today's British Army can trace their antecedence.
In England, as in the majority of all the European states of the Middle Ages, all men were at first soldiers, all were bound to join the standards at a given moment to repel an attack or make an invasion. This primitive state of things became modified with the progress of civilization, and with the natural growth of society. The principle of the division of labour having taken root in the Anglo-Saxon character, the military power separated from the civil element. It was then that troops more or less regular were formed; the first paid bands had at first only a provisional existence limited by circumstances. Raised in time of war for a special object, they were always disbanded as soon as hostilities were over. The system of a permanent army does not date, in England, further back than the Interregnum and the reign of Charles II.
During the Interregnum (1649–1660) the power of all the republican experiments in governance relied on the military might of the New Model Army, which whenever it was called upon was easily able to meet the challenges of its enemies both foreign and domestic. It was only after the death of Oliver Cromwell and the loss of his influence that the other members of the army could not agree on an alternative to the restoration of Charles II. Even so it was under the firm guidance and with the agreement of General George Monck of the New Model Army that the restoration of the monarchy took place in 1660.
Stuart Asquith argues:
Many authorities quote the Restoration of 1660 as the birth date of our modern British Army. While this may be true as far as continuity of unit identity is concerned, it is untrue in a far more fundemental sense. The evidence of history shows that the creation of an efficient military machine and its proving on the battlefield, predates the Restoration by 15 years. It was on the fields of Nasby, Dunbar and Dunes that the foundations of the British professional army were laid.
For some of his enforced exile King Charles II had lived at the court of Louis XIV; he had witnessed the changes introduced in France into the organisation of the troops maintained in time of peace as well as of war. On his return to England in 1660, Charles took measures to support his recently restored throne on the fidelity of his soldiers; he moreover endeavoured to fix the hitherto unstable basis of a military government. As no system is improvised, a precedent for the innovation was to be found in the history of England. Two regiments created in the reign of Henry VIII, still subsist, the Gentlemen Pensioners and the Yeomen of the Guard formed in those days a sort of transition between the system of accidental armies and permanent armies.
This latter state of things was however so contrary to the constitutional customs of England that Charles II introduced it by degrees, gradually filling up the cadres of his battalions and, although contemporary writers considered it a formidable army, it did not exceed 5,000 men.
King Charles put into these regiments those cavaliers who had attached themselves to him during his exile on the European continent and had fought for him at the Battle of the Dunes against the Roundheads of the Protectorate and their French allies. For political expediency he also included some of the elements of the New Model Army. The whole force consisted of two corps of horse and five or six of infantry. It is, however, on this narrow and solid basis that the structure of the English army was gradually erected. The horse consisted of two regiments the Life Guards (formed from exiled cavaliers) ; and The Blues (or The Oxford Blues), formed by Lord Oxford, out of some of the best New Model Army horse regiments. The foot regiments were Grenadier Guards (initially two regiments Lord Wentworth's Regiment and John Russell's Regiment of Guards which amalgamated in 1665), the Coldstream Guards (the New Model Army regiment of General Monck), the Royal Scots (formed from the Scotch guard in France), and the Second Queen's Royals.
It will thus be seen that the military system prevailed in England almost at the same time as in France; the two people, however, hailed in a very different manner an innovation, which changed, especially in time of peace, the character of the armed force. In France, under the absolute rule of Louis XIV., it does not appear that the establishment of standing armies met with the shadow of opposition. This was not the case in free England. Pamphleteers wrote tracts voicing the fear of a people who within living memory had experienced the Rule of the Major-Generals and had like neither the imposition of military rule, or the costs of keeping the New Model Army in being when the country was not at war with itself or others. People also remembered the "Eleven Years' Tyranny" of Charles I and feared that a standing army under royal command would allow monarchs in the future to ignore the wishes of Parliament.
Many of the English were not fully reconciled to the need for a standing army until the reign of William III when the near perpetual wars with other European states made a modest standing army a necessity to defend England and to maintain her prestige in the world. But public opinion, always anxious of the bad old days, was resolved to allow itself no rest until it had defined the prerogatives of the crown on this delicate point. Parliament finally succeeded in acquiring a control over the army, and under a general bill, commonly called the Mutiny Act, laid down the restrictions which, whilst respecting the rights of the sovereign, were likewise to shield the liberty of the people. It did this by making the standing army conditional on an annually renewed act of parliament.
The order of seniority for the most senior line regiments in the British Army is based on the order of seniority in the English army. Scottish and Irish regiments were only allowed to take a rank in the English army from the date of their arrival in England or the date when they were first placed on the English establishment. For example in 1694 a board of general officers was convened to decide upon rank of English Irish and Scots regiments serving in the Netherlands, the regiment that became known as the Scots Greys were designated as the 4th dragoons because there were three English regiments raised prior to 1688 when the Scot Greys were first place on the English establishment. In 1713 when a new board of general officers was convened to decide upon rank of several regiments, the seniority of the Scots Greys was reassessed and based on their entry into England in June 1685. At that time there was only one English regiment of dragoons and so after some delay the Scots Greys obtained the rank of 2nd dragoons in the British Army.
See also 
- Battle of Ethandun
- Wars of Scottish Independence
- Hundred Years' War
- Anglo-Scottish Wars
- Military of England
- Colburn 1860, p. 566.
- Asquith 1981, p. 3.
- The core of Gentlemen Pensioners consisted exclusively of noblemen. In the reign of William IV (17 March 1834) they took the name of Gentlemen at Arms; they are now a ceremonial of body guard who attend at great public ceremonies. The "Yeomen of the Guard" (officers of the King's household) do duty at the Palaces in a uniform of the time of Henry VIII (Colburn 1860, p. 566).
- Colburn 1860, pp. 566–567.
- Colburn 1860, p. 567.
- Royal Scots Greys 1840, pp. 56-57.
- Asquith, Stuart (1981), New Model Army 1645-60 (illustrated ed.), Osprey, p. 3, ISBN 0-85045-385-2
- Royal Scots Greys (1840), Historical record of the Royal regiment of Scots dragoons: now the Second, or Royal North British dragoons, commonly called the Scots greys, to 1839, p. 56-57
- This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Colburn, H. (December 1860), "French view of our military institutions: The English Army", The United Service Magazine, Part 3 (385): 566–567
Further reading 
- C. H. Firth, Royalist and Cromwellian Armies in Flanders, 1657-1662, Transactions of the Royal Historical Society, Read November 20, 1902, journals.cambridge.org.