Army personnel are ranked according to level, from the lowest (privates) to the highest (generals). Above private soldiers
there are three types of officer: non-commissioned officers,
warrant officers, and commissioned officers.
Officers are graduates of military academies or of officer
training schools. They hold Her Majesty The Queen's Commission. Warrant
Officers rank between Commissioned and Non-Commissioned
officers. They hold a Royal Warrant from Her Majesty The
Officers include corporals and sergeants and staff sergeants.
and Non-Commissioned Officers often hold appointments. Numerous
Regiments and Corps have traditional and unique naming
have also collected some information on the RAF
separate page cross-refers
between the ranks of the Army, Navy and Royal Air Force.
The rank evolved from the title of marescalci
(masters of the horse) of the early Frankish kings. The importance
of cavalry in medieval warfare led to the marshalship being
associated with a command position.
The modern military title of field marshal was introduced into
the British army in 1736 by King George II, who imported it
from Germany. In Britain the rank came to be bestowed only upon
a few senior army officers, notably the chief of Britain's Imperial
The King would be the commander but he might appoint a Captain
General to command in his name - the first being George
Monck appointed by Charles II in 1660. Later, when the title
of Colonel became popular some Kings called their commanders
Colonel General. The British Army stopped using the Captain
part of the title by the Eighteenth Century leaving just General
as the top commander. Lat. generalis
"something pertaining to a whole unit of anything rather
than just to a part". Before the Sixteenth Century armies
were usually formed only when needed for a war or campaign.
The king or his Captain General would often be away from the
army since they had interests elsewhere so the job of actually
running the army fell to the Captain General's assistant - his
lieutenant - the Lieutenant General. This was not a permanent
rank until the Seventeenth Century, before which one of the
Colonels might be appointed Lieutenant General for a particular
campaign or war but he would still command his own regiment.
The army's chief administrative officer was the Sergeant
Major General. He would be an experienced soldier, possibly
a commoner, who served as chief of staff. For much of his administrative
work he dealt with the regimental Sergeant Majors, thus his
title meant "overall" or "chief" Sergeant
Major. His duties included such things as supply, organization,
and forming the army for battle or march.
As the General ranks became fixed during the Seventeenth Century
the Sergeant portion fell away leaving the title as Major
General. This happened in England in 1655 when its Lord
Protector Oliver Cromwell organized the country into eleven
military districts each commanded by a Major General.
Commander of a Brigade,
in some armies later known as a Brigadier General. The Lieutenant
General and Sergeant Major General dealt directly with the Colonels
who lead the regiments making up the army. When there got to
be too many regiments for the two generals to handle effectively
they organized Brigades, usually composed of three or more Regiments.
During the nineteenth century and before the "rank"
of Brigadier was actually established, a local or temporary
appointment granted (typically) to a full Colonel when commanding
The Brigadier General was the lowest-ranking general officer
but was abolished when the Brigade was abolished after World
War I, being replaced by Colonels Commandant.. The rank
of Brigadier appeared in 1928
The Spanish Army was organised into twenty units called colunelas
or columns. These comprised1000 to 1250 men further organized
into companies. The commander was the cabo de colunela,
head of the column, or Colonel. Since the colunelas
were royal or "crown" units they were also called
coronelias and their commanders coronels.
The French developed Regiments from the colunela, keeping
the title of Colonel and pronounced it the way it looks. The
British copied the French. They also borrowed the Colonel from
the French but adopted the Spanish pronunciation of coronel.
The Colonel's assistants - their Lieutenants - took over at
such times and any other times the Colonels were gone. The Colonel's
lieutenants, of course, soon became the Lieutenant Colonels.
A Major was originally the Sergeant Major third in command
to a Colonel in a traditional Regiment. Later, like a Lieutenant
Colonel, a Major might command his own Battalion. Lat. maior
is simply Latin for "greater".
Originally Captain-Lieutenant, becoming Captain in 1772. Lat.
from Lat. caput "head".
Chieftain or head of a unit. As armies evolved his post came
to be at the head of a company, which by the Sixteenth Century
was usually 100 to 200 men. That seemed to be the number one
man could manage in battle.
French lieu (place) tenant
(holder). The Lieutenant normally commands a small tactical
unit such as a platoon. A Lieutenant often takes the place of
a superior officer when that officer is absent.
The lowest rank of commissioned officer. Note that a Subaltern
is a term applied to any officer below the rank of captain,
especially a second lieutenant. Derivation from Latin related
to the word for alternate.
Until 1871 the lowest commissioned rank was the Ensign
in the Infantry and Cornet in the Cavalry - both names
derived from French words signifying standard bearers. The Fusilier
regiments, having no company colours, had First and Second Lieutenants
anyway. The Fusiliers abolished the rank of Second Lieutenant
in 1834. Between 1871-1877 the lowest was the Sub Lieutenant,
after which today's Second Lieutenant rank was established.
Introduced into the British Army in 1879, the military grade
of Warrant Officer dates back to the early years of the Royal
Navy. These experienced soldiers, often have specialist appointments.
They hold a Royal Warrant from Her Majesty The Queen. There
are currently two classes of Warrant Officer, First Class and
|A rank senior
Lat. serviens servant to a knight in
medieval times. The English borrowed the word sergeant
from the French in about the Thirteenth Century. Meaning "non-commissioned
military officer" first recorded 1548. Originally a much
more important rank than presently.
Originally referred to a reliable veteran called the capo
de'squadra or head of the square.
The title changed to caporale by
the Sixteenth Century and meant the leader of a small body of
soldiers. The French picked up the term in about the Sixteenth
Century and pronounced it in various ways, one of them being
corporal, which indicates a mixing with the Latin word corpus
or French corps (body).
The British adopted corporal in the Seventeenth or Eighteenth
Century and it has been a part of the army ever since. The British
gave the Corporal his two stripes when they started using chevrons
Appointment and not a rank. Junior to a Corporal. From lancepesade
"officer of lowest rank, from obsolete French
lancepessade, from Old Italian lancia
spezzata, superior soldier, literally "broken
lance". Originally referred to as a "chosen man"
who would take control of the section if the Corporal was to
be killed or wounded
Lat. privus or privo
"an individual person and later an individual without (deprived
of) an office" i.e. a private gentleman. The term as a
military rank seems to come from the Sixteenth Century when
individuals had the privilege of enlisting or making private
contracts to serve as private soldiers in military units.