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Foreign Military Law and Mercenary Contract in Seventeenth-Century Russia: The Сase of the Smolensk War, 1632–1634

In: Russian History
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  • 1 Senior Research Fellow, Centre for Modern Russian History, Faculty of Humanities, HSE University, Moscow, Russia
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Abstract

The article aims to discuss how the Russian government dealt with foreign military law based on mercenary contracts while recruiting troops in Germany and Britain for the Smolensk campaign of 1632 to 1634. In the agreements made with foreign colonels that survive in contemporary Russian translations, the Tsar’s officials granted an almost unlimited legal and administrative autonomy to foreign military commanders in order to make service in Russia more attractive for Western mercenaries. While doing so, the Russian government believed that a unified military law and an effective court and administration system existed among the European military communities. However, some essential terms of military service remained unspecified in the documentation, depriving the Russian army commanders of any legal recourse to prevent conflicts within foreign regiments, which ultimately contributed to an administrative disaster at the end of the Smolensk campaign. The article analyzes both the Russian attitudes towards foreign military law and mercenary contracts and how this might have affected European mercenary units in Russian service.

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