British Soldiers at Home: The Civilian Experience in Wartime, 1740–1783

TitleBritish Soldiers at Home: The Civilian Experience in Wartime, 1740–1783
Publication TypeBook Chapter
Year of Publication2012
AuthorsConway, Stephen
EditorCharters, Erica, Eve Rosenhaft, and Hannah Smith
Book TitleCivilians and War in Europe 1618-1815
Pagination129 - 144
PublisherLiverpool University Press

Historians of previous generations tended to see eighteenth-century European wars before the French Revolution as tame or ‘limited’ affairs, their self-control a conscious reaction to the widespread destruction and brutality of the Thirty Years' War (1618–48), which had left much of Germany depopulated and in ruins. To these historians, a key ingredient of the limited nature of eighteenth-century warfare was its minimal impact on civilians in the theatres of operation. Contemporary works on the law of nations, such as the influential Le droit des gens (1758) of the Swiss jurist Emmerich de Vattel, certainly urged the military to show restraint in their dealings with those not in arms against them; a new spirit of proportionality and moderation, so characteristic of the Enlightenment, pervaded his and other writings on the laws of war. Army commanders, older accounts imply, followed the lead of the jurists, and civilians, in return for their not becoming involved in the fighting, were spared the horrors of war. The French Revolution, the same accounts tell us, ended the era of limited war, sweeping away the restraint and decorousness associated with aristocratic control, and restored to armed conflict all its elemental fury. 

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