Prior to the civil war of the mid seventeenth century the organisation of the army in Britain was essentially of a feudal nature. Which is to say that the army consisted of independent units raised as needed by the kings's vassals as part of their feudal land tenure obligation, and put at his disposal on a temporary basis, together with various mercenary troops hired as and when required. Other than a few troops employed to guard the royal household and to garrison a few key royal strongholds there was no permanent standing army, and as there was no permanent army there was no requirement for a permanent commander of the army.

This changed during the English Civil War when both sides found it necessary to engage troops on a more or less permanent basis, which gave rise to the first standing armed forces on British soil since the departure of the Romans; a development that found its most successful expression in the New Model Army established by Oliver Cromwell. After the death of Cromwell and the Restoration of the Monarchy in 1660 most of these permanent forces were disbanded, there being a profound distrust of armies as such at the time.

The birth of the modern British Army can be dated either to;

  • the 26th January 1661 when Charles II issued a royal decree by which means Charles II became the first English monarch to maintain a standing army in peacetime,;
  • or to the year 1689 when the army was brought under parliamentary control;

although technically speaking there was no British army as such until the Act of Union 1707 created the state of Great Britain, as prior to that date there were strictly speaking not one but three entirely separate English, Scottish and Irish armies all loyal to the same monarch.

For these purposes we shall assume the validity of the earlier date and note that, now that the king had a permanent army he required a commander-in-chief to head the new creation and the obvious choice was George Monck, 1st Duke of Albemarle who had already been formally appointed the king's Captain-General on the 3rd August 1660. Since the time of George Monck various individuals have over the centuries been placed in overall command of the British land forces and are therefore accorded the status of 'Commander in Chief' of the army, although the exact title accorded varied from time to time and currently stands as the Chief of the General Staff


Date of
Appointment        Rank                   Name 

As General in Chief Command

3rd Aug 1660 	Captain-General   	George Monck, 1st Duke of Albemarle
1670         	 Vacant            	
30th Mar 1674	Captain-General   	James Scott, 1st Duke of Monmouth
1686         	 Vacant            	
1689         	Lieutenant-General	Louis de Duras, 2nd Earl of Feversham
3rd Jun 1690 	General           	John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough
30th Apr 1691	General           	Meinhardt Schomberg, 3rd Duke of Schomberg
1691         	 Vacant            	
24th Apr 1702	General           	John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough
1708         	 Vacant            	
1st Jan 1711 	Captain-General   	James Butler, 2nd Duke of Ormonde
23rd Sep 1714	 Vacant            	
1st Jan 1744 	Field Marshal     	John Dalrymple, 2nd Earl of Stair
1745         	Field Marshal     	George Wade
1745         	 Vacant            	
1745         	Captain-General   	William Augustus Hanover, Duke of Cumberland
24th Oct 1757	Field Marshal     	John Louis Ligonier, 1st Earl Ligonier
1759         	 Vacant            	
13th Aug 1766	General           	John Manners, Marquess of Granby
1769         	 Vacant            	
19th Mar 1778	Field Marshal     	Jeffrey Amherst, 1st Baron Amherst 
29th Mar 1782	Field Marshal     	Henry Seymour Conway
As General on the Staff	                    	
21st Jan 1793	Field Marshal     	Jeffrey Amherst, 1st Baron Amherst  
11th Feb 1795	Field Marshal     	Frederick Augustus Hanover, Duke of York
As Commander in Chief	                    	
3rd Apr 1798 	Field Marshal     	Frederick Augustus Hanover, Duke of York
25th Mar 1809	General           	David Dundas 
29th May 1811	Field Marshal     	Frederick Augustus Hanover, Duke of York
6th Jan 1827 	 Vacant            	
27th Aug 1827	Field Marshal     	Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington
14th Feb 1828	 Vacant            	
25th Feb 1828	General           	Rowland Hill, 1st Viscount Hill 
15th Aug 1842	Field Marshal     	Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington
As Commanding in Chief	                    	
28th Dec 1852	Field Marshal     	Henry Hardinge, 1st Viscount Hardinge 
15th Jul 1856	Field Marshal     	George William Hanover, Duke of Cambridge
As Commander in Chief	                    	
26th Nov 1887	Field Marshal     	George William Hanover, Duke of Cambridge
1st Nov 1895 	Field Marshal     	Garnet Joseph Wolseley, 1st Viscount Wolseley
3rd Jan 1901 	Field Marshal     	Frederick Sleigh Roberts, 1st Earl Roberts 
As Chief of the General Staff	                    	
1904         	General           	Neville Gerald Lyttleton
2nd Apr 1908 	Field Marshal     	William Gustavus Nicholson, 1st Baron Nicholson
As Chief of the Imperial General Staff	                    	
1909         	Field Marshal     	William Gustavus Nicholson, 1st Baron Nicholson
1912         	Field Marshal     	John Denton Pinkstone French, 1st Earl of Ypres
6th Apr 1914 	General           	Charles Whittingham Horsley Douglas
30th Oct 1914	Lieutenant-General	James Wolfe Murray
26th Sep 1915	General           	Archibald James Murray
23rd Dec 1915	Field Marshal     	William Robert Robertson, 1st Baronet
19th Feb 1918	Field Marshal     	Henry Hughes Wilson, 1st Baronet
19th Feb 1922	Field Marshal     	Frederick Rudolph Lambart, 10th Earl of Cavan
19th Feb 1926	Field Marshal     	George Francis Milne, 1st Baron Milne 
19th Feb 1933	Field Marshal     	Archibald Armar Montgomery-Massingberd
7th Apr 1936 	Field Marshal     	Cyril John Deverell
6th Dec 1937 	Field Marshal     	John Standish Vereker, 6th Viscount Gort
4th Sep 1939 	Field Marshal     	William Edmund Ironside, 1st Baron Ironside
27th May 1940	Field Marshal     	John Greer Dill
25th Dec 1941	Field Marshal     	Alan Francis Brooke, 1st Viscount Alanbrooke
26th Jun 1946	Field Marshal     	Bernard Law Montgomery, 1st Viscount Montgomery 
1st Nov 1948 	Field Marshal     	William Joseph Slim, 1st Viscount Slim 
1st Nov 1952 	Field Marshal     	Allan Francis John Harding, 1st Baron Harding 
29th Sep 1955	Field Marshal     	Gerald Francis Templer
29th Sep 1958	Field Marshal     	Francis Wogan Festing
1st Nov 1961 	Field Marshal     	Richard Amyatt Hull
As Chief of the General Staff	                    	
Apr 1964     	General           	Richard Amyatt Hull
8th Feb 1965 	Field Marshal     	Charles Archibald James Halkett 
1st Mar 1968 	Field Marshal     	Geoffrey Harding Baker
1971         	Field Marshal     	Richard Michael Power Carver, Baron Carver
22nd Oct 1973	General           	Peter Mervyn Hunt
1976         	Field Marshal     	Roland Christopher Gibbs
14th Jul 1979	Field Marshal     	Edwin Noel Westby Bramall, Baron Bramall
1st Oct 1982 	Field Marshal     	John Wilfrid Stanier
28th Jul 1985	Field Marshal     	Nigel Thomas Bagnall
1989         	Field Marshal     	John Lyon Chapple
14th Feb 1992	Field Marshal     	Peter Anthony Inge, Baron Inge
14th Mar 1994	General           	Charles Ronald Llewellyn Guthrie, Baron Guthrie 
2nd Apr 1997 	General           	Roger Neil Wheeler
17th Apr 2000	General           	Michael John Dawson Walker
1st Feb 2003 	General           	Michael David Jackson


  • The Oxford History of the British Army (OUP, 1996)
  • Chronological List of British Army Chiefs
  • The History of the British Army

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