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For military law and justice in general, see military justice. For the Articles of War of the Salvation Army, see Articles of War of The Salvation Army.

The Articles of War are a set of regulations drawn up to govern the conduct of a country's military and naval forces.[1] The phrase was first used in 1637 in Robert Monro's His expedition with the worthy Scots regiment called Mac-keyes regiment etc. (in the form "Articles of warres") and can be used to refer to military law in general. However, the term is usually used more specifically and with the modern spelling and capitalisation to refer to the British regulations drawn up in the wake of the Glorious Revolution[2] and the U.S. regulations later based on them.

United Kingdom

Throughout the Articles' existence, there were separate sets for the navy and army.

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.

British Army

The first set of Articles of War for the British Army were written under William III, taking the place of the medieval Rules and Ordinances of War, a list of regulations issued by the king at the beginning of every expedition or campaign.[6] The Mutiny Acts empowered the king de lege and his government de facto to govern their army by creating a set of Articles of War for each conflict.[7] To a large degree, they were superseded by King's Regulations in force at all times. The Articles of War fell out of use by the Army when they were omitted from the 1955 Army Act.

United States of America

On 30 June 1775, the Second Continental Congress established 69 Articles of War to govern the conduct of the Continental Army.

Effective upon its ratification in 1789, Article I, Section 8 of the United States Constitution provided that Congress has the power to regulate the land and naval forces.[8] On 10 April 1806, the United States Congress enacted 101 Articles of War (which applied to both the Army and the Navy), which were not significantly revised until over a century later. Another code of conduct, the 1863 Lieber Code, operated during the American Civil War. On 4 June 1920, Congress enacted 121 Articles of War that went into effect on 4 February 1921 with the exception of Articles 2, 23, and 45, which became effective immediately.[9] The military justice system then continued to operate under the Articles of War until 31 May 1951, when the Uniform Code of Military Justice came into effect.

See also


  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 0-85937-275-8
  5. Herman, Arthur (2004). To Rule the Waves: How the British Navy Shaped the Modern World. New York: Harper. ISBN 0-06-053424-9. 
  7. E Samuel, An historical account of the British army: and of the law military, 1812, page 224
  8. U.S. Const., Art. I, Sec. 8
  9. The Articles of War: Approved June 4, 1920: September 1920

External links

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