Mutiny is a revolt among a group of people (typically of a military, of a crew or of a crew of pirates) to oppose, change, or overthrow an organization to which they were previously loyal. The term is commonly used for a rebellion among members of the military against an internal force, but it can also sometimes mean any type of rebellion against any force. Mutiny does not necessarily need to refer to a military force and can describe a political, economic, or power structure in which there is a change of power.

The mutiny on the Bounty was one of the most famous instances of mutiny which took place at sea.

During the Age of Discovery, mutiny particularly meant open rebellion against a ship's captain. This occurred, for example, during Ferdinand Magellan's journeys around the world, resulting in the killing of one mutineer, the execution of another, and the marooning of others; on Henry Hudson's Discovery, resulting in Hudson and others being set adrift in a boat; and the notorious mutiny on the Bounty.


Those convicted of mutiny often faced capital punishment.

United Kingdom

Until 1689, mutiny was regulated in England by Articles of War instituted by the monarch and effective only in a period of war. In 1689, the first Mutiny Act was approved, which passed the responsibility to enforce discipline within the military to Parliament. The Mutiny Act, altered in 1803, and the Articles of War defined the nature and punishment of mutiny until the latter were replaced by the Army Discipline and Regulation Act in 1879. This, in turn, was replaced by the Army Act in 1881.

Today the Army Act 1955 defines mutiny as follows:[1]

Mutiny means a combination between two or more persons subject to service law, or between persons two at least of whom are subject to service law—

(a) to overthrow or resist lawful authority in Her Majesty's forces or any forces co-operating therewith or in any part of any of the said forces,
(b) to disobey such authority in such circumstances as to make the disobedience subversive of discipline, or with the object of avoiding any duty or service against, or in connection with operations against, the enemy, or
(c) to impede the performance of any duty or service in Her Majesty's forces or in any forces co-operating therewith or in any part of any of the said forces.

The same definition applies in the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force.

The military law of England in early times existed, like the forces to which it applied, in a period of war only. Troops were raised for a particular service and were disbanded upon the cessation of hostilities. The crown, by prerogative, made laws known as Articles of War for the government and discipline of the troops while thus embodied and serving. Except for the punishment of desertion, which was made a felony by statute in the reign of Henry VI, these ordinances or Articles of War remained almost the sole authority for enforcing discipline until 1689. That year, the first Mutiny Act was passed and the military forces of the crown were brought under the direct control of Parliament. Even the Parliamentary forces in the time of Charles I and Oliver Cromwell were governed not by an act of the legislature, but by articles of war similar to those issued by the king and authorized by an ordinance of the Lords and Commons exercising in that respect the sovereign prerogative. This power of law-making by prerogative was however held to be applicable during a state of actual war only, and attempts to exercise it in times of peace were ineffectual. Subject to this limitation, it existed for considerably more than a century after the passing of the first Mutiny Act.

From 1689 to 1803, the Mutiny Act occasionally expired during times of peace. Yet statutory power was given to the crown to make Articles of War that operated in the colonies and elsewhere beyond the seas in the same manner as those made by prerogative in times of war.

In 1715, in consequence of the rebellion, this power was created in respect of the forces in the kingdom, but apart from and in no respect affected the principle acknowledged all this time that the crown of its mere prerogative could make laws for the government of the army in foreign countries in time of war.

The Mutiny Act of 1803 effected a great constitutional change in this respect: the power of the crown to make any Articles of War became altogether statutory, and the prerogative merged in the act of Parliament. The Mutiny Act 1873 was passed in this manner.

Such matters remained until 1879 when the last Mutiny Act was passed and the last Articles of War were promulgated. The Mutiny Act legislated for offences in respect of which death or penal servitude could be awarded. Meanwhile, the Articles of War, while repeating those provisions of the act, constituted the direct authority for dealing with offences for which imprisonment was the maximum punishment, as well as with many matters relating to trial and procedure.

The act and the articles were found not to harmonize in all respects. Their general arrangement was faulty, and their language sometimes obscure. In 1869, a royal commission recommended that both should be recast in a simple and intelligible shape. In 1878, a committee of the House of Commons endorsed this view and made recommendations for performing the task. In 1879, a measure was passed into law consolidating in one act both the Mutiny Act and the Articles of War, and amending their provisions in certain important respects. This measure was called the Army Discipline and Regulation Act 1879.

After one or two years of experience highlighted the need for improvement, it was superseded by the Army Act 1881, which formed the foundation and main portion of the military law of England. The act contained a proviso saving the right of the crown to make Articles of War, but in such a manner as to render the power in effect a nullity by enacting that no crime made punishable by the act shall be otherwise punishable by such articles. As the punishment of every conceivable offence was provided, any articles made under the act could be no more than an empty formality having no practical effect.

Thus the history of English military law up to 1879 may be divided into three periods, each having a distinct constitutional aspect: (I) prior to 1689, the army, being regarded as so many personal retainers of the sovereign rather than servants of the state, was mainly governed by the will of the sovereign; (2) between 1689 and 1803, the army, being recognised as a permanent force, was governed within the realm by statute and without it by the prerogative of the crown; and (3) from 1803 to 1879, it was governed either directly by statute or by the sovereign under an authority derived from and defined and limited by statute. Although in 1879 the power of making Articles of War became in effect inoperative, the sovereign was empowered to make rules of procedure, having the force of law, to regulate the administration of the act in many matters formerly dealt with by the Articles of War. These rules, however, must not be inconsistent with the provisions of the Army Act itself, and must be laid before parliament immediately after they are made. Thus in 1879, the government and discipline of the army became for the first time completely subject either to the direct action or the close supervision of Parliament.

A further notable change took place at the same time. The Mutiny Act had been brought into force on each occasion for one year only, in compliance with the constitutional theory:

that the maintenance of a standing army in time of peace, unless with the consent of parliament, is against law. Each session therefore the text of the act had to be passed through both Houses clause by clause and line by line. The Army Act, on the other hand, is a fixed permanent code. But constitutional traditions are fully respected by the insertion in it of a section providing that it shall come into force only by virtue of an annual act of parliament. This annual act recites the illegality of a standing army in time of peace unless with the consent of parliament, and the necessity nevertheless of maintaining a certain number of land forces (exclusive of those serving in India) and a body of royal marine forces on shore, and of keeping them in exact discipline, and it brings into force the Army Act for one year.


Until 1998 mutiny and another offence of failing to suppress or report a mutiny were each punishable with death.[2] Section 21(5) of the Human Rights Act 1998 completely abolished the death penalty in the United Kingdom. (Prior to this, the death penalty had already been abolished for murder, but it had remained in force for certain military offences and treason, although no executions had been carried out for several decades.) This provision was not required by the European Convention on Human Rights, since Protocol 6 of the Convention permitted the death penalty in time of war, and Protocol 13, which prohibits the death penalty for all circumstances, did not then exist. The UK government introduced section 21(5) as a late amendment in response to parliamentary pressure.

United States

The United States' Uniform Code of Military Justice defines mutiny thus:

Art. 94. (§ 894.) 2004 Mutiny or Sedition.
(a) Any person subject to this code (chapter) who—
(1) with intent to usurp or override lawful military authority, refuses, in concert with any other person, to obey orders or otherwise do his duty or creates any violence or disturbance is guilty of mutiny;
(2) with intent to cause the overthrow or destruction of lawful civil authority, creates, in concert with any other person, revolt, violence, or other disturbance against that authority is guilty of sedition;
(3) fails to do his utmost to prevent and suppress a mutiny or sedition being committed in his presence, or fails to take all reasonable means to inform his superior commissioned officer or commanding officer of a mutiny or sedition which he knows or has reason to believe is taking place, is guilty of a failure to suppress or report a mutiny or sedition.
(b) A person who is found guilty of attempted mutiny, mutiny, sedition, or failure to suppress or report a mutiny or sedition shall be punished by death or such other punishment as a court-martial may direct.

U.S. military law requires obedience only to lawful orders. Disobedience to unlawful orders (see Superior orders) is the obligation of every member of the U.S. military, a principle established by the Nuremberg and Tokyo Trials following World War II and reaffirmed in the aftermath of the My Lai Massacre during the Vietnam War. However, a U.S. soldier who disobeys an order after deeming it unlawful will almost certainly be court-martialed to determine whether the disobedience was proper. In addition, simple refusal to obey is not mutiny, which requires collaboration or conspiracy to disobedience.

Famous mutinies in history

16th century

17th century

18th century

The mutineers turning Lt Bligh and part of the officers and crew adrift from HMAV Bounty, 29 April 1789, published by B. B. Evans
  • The Wager Mutiny – the main body of the crew of the British war ship HMS Wager mutinied against their Captain after she was wrecked on a desolate island off the south coast of Chile in 1741. The ship was part of a squadron bound to attack Spanish interests in the Pacific.
  • A failed 1787 mutiny aboard the Middlesex occurred two weeks before HMS Bounty's final England departure, which included the lead mutineer of HMS Bounty Fletcher Christian's older brother Charles.
  • Mutiny aboard HMS Bounty, a mutiny aboard a British Royal Navy ship in 1789 that has been made famous by several books and films.
  • Quibéron mutinies were major mutinies in the French fleet in 1793.
  • HMS Hermione was a 32-gun fifth-rate frigate of the British Royal Navy. While operating in the Caribbean in 1797 a portion of the crew mutinied, killing the captain, eight other officers, two midshipmen and a clerk before surrendering the ship to the Spanish authorities. The mutiny was the bloodiest recorded in the history of the Royal Navy.
  • Spithead and Nore mutinies were two major mutinies by sailors of the British Royal Navy in 1797.
  • schemes for mutiny onboard nine British warships between June and mid-August 1798, resulting in court-martials for crew from HMS Adamant (1780), HMS Atlas (1782), HMS Caesar (1793), HMS Defiance (1783), HMS Glory (1788), HMS Haughty (1797), HMS Neptune (1797), HMS Queen Charlotte (1790) and HMS St George (1785)[4]
  • Vlieter Incident was a mutiny of a squadron of the fleet of the Batavian Republic which caused it to be surrendered to the British without a fight in 1799 at the start of the Anglo-Russian invasion of Holland.

19th century

  • HMS Dominica - in May 1806, crew members mutinied, took over the ship and turned her over to the French. She was later recaptured by the British and the mutiny's ringleader hanged.
  • Vellore Mutiny, outbreak against the British East India Company on 10 July 1806, by sepoys forming part of the garrison of a fortress and palace complex at Vellore (now in Tamil Nadu state, southern India).
  • The Froberg mutiny by the Froberg Regiment in Fort Ricasoli, Malta in 1807. The mutiny was suppressed and 30 men were executed.
  • The US whaler Globe mutiny of 1824.
  • Barrackpore Mutiny, (2 November 1824), incident during the First Anglo-Burmese War (1824–26), generally regarded as a dress rehearsal for the Indian Mutiny of 1857 because of its similar combination of Indian grievances against the British.
  • La Amistad, in 1839. A group of captured African slaves being transported in Cuba mutinied against the crew, killing the captain.[5]
  • The brig USS Somers had a mutiny plotted onboard on her first voyage in 1842. Three men were accused of conspiring to commit mutiny, and were hanged.[6]
  • The Indian rebellion of 1857 was a period of armed uprising in India against British colonial power, and was popularly remembered in Britain as the Indian Mutiny or Sepoy Mutiny. It is remembered in India as the First War of Independence.
  • The Sharon, a Fairhaven whaleship, was subject to multiple mass desertions, mutinies and the murder and dismemberment of a cruel (and from the record, sociopathic) captain by four Polynesians who had been pressed into service on the Sharon.[7]
  • In 1857 on the whaleship Junior, Cyrus Plummer and several accomplices engineered a mutiny that resulted in the murder of Captain Archibald Mellen and Third Mate John Smith. The mutineers were captured and found guilty in the fall of 1858. Plummer was sentenced to be hanged and his accomplices received life sentences. The story made national and international news and Plummer was able to garner a stay of execution from President James Buchanan and was ultimately pardoned by Ulysses S. Grant.
  • The Cavite Mutiny of 1872 in the Philippines.
  • The Brazilian Naval Revolt was the occasion of two mutinies in 1893 and 1894.

20th century

After World War II

21st century

  • 2003 Oakwood mutiny – A group of 321 officers and personnel of the Philippines Armed Forces took over the Oakwood Premier Ayala Center serviced apartment tower in Makati to show the Filipino people the alleged corruption of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.
  • 2003 Fort Bonifacio Crisis – Members of the Philippine Marines staged a protest over the removal of their Commandant Maj. Gen. Renato Miranda.
  • 2009 Bangladesh Rifles revolt – A group of Bangladesh border guards revolted, demanding equal rights to the regular army and killed several of their officers.
  • 2011 Mutiny on Lurongyu 2682, a Chinese fishing trawler in the South Pacific. After a month of killings, 11 of the 33 crew returned to China.
  • 2013 1st Battalion Yorkshire Regiment, British Army Sixteen soldiers were jailed after a court martial for staging a 'sit-in' protest against their Captain and Colour Sergeant[13]
  • 2014 Nigerian Army: A total of 54 soldiers were sentenced to death by firing squad by a court martial in two separate trials, after they had refused to fight to recapture a town that had been captured by Boko Haram insurgents. The sentences are subject to the approval of senior officers.[14][15]
  • 2020 Malian mutiny
  • 2022 Russian Ground Forces: Obozrevatel reported that around 5,000 contract soldiers in the city of Belgorod rioted after being told that they would be sent to fight in Ukraine.[16] Russian soldiers have also been surrendering en masse, and many have reportedly sabotaged their own vehicles, with a prime example instances of gas tank sabotage among soldiers in the Russian Kyiv convoy.[17][18]
  • 2022 Russian Naval Infantry: Russian conscripts rioted aboard Russian naval ships which were going to land in Odessa as part of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. As a result of the riot, the landing was called off.[19][20]
  • 2022 Russian Ground Forces: Russian soldiers of the 37th Motor Rifle Brigade purposefully ran over their commanding officer, Colonel Yuri Medvedev, killing or severely injuring him. This was reportedly because the 37th Brigade had lost close to 50% of their men during the Battle of Makariv under the leadership of Medvedev.[21][22]

See also


  1. Army Act (1955) c.18 - Part II Discipline and Trial and Punishment of Military Offences: Mutiny and insubordination, The UK Statute Law Database.
  2. Army Act (1955) c.18 Part II Discipline and Trial and Punishment of Military Offences, UK Statute Law Database.
  3. Parker, G. (2004) The Army of Flanders and the Spanish Road 1567–1659. Second edition. Cambridge U.P., ISBN 978-0-521-54392-7, ch.8
  4. MacDougall, Phillip (2022). "The Naval Mutinies of 1798". The Mariner's Mirror. Society for Nautical Research. 108 (4): 423–438.
  5. "Unidentified Young Man". World Digital Library. 1839–1840. Retrieved 2013-07-28.
  6. Memmott, Jim (November 20, 2017), "Jim Memmott: A high-seas mutiny with a Canandaigua connection", Democrat & Chronicle (USA Today), Rochester, retrieved May 30, 2019
  7. Druett, Joan (2003). In the Wake of Madness. Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill.
  8. Garret FitzGerald Reflections On The Foundation of the Irish State Archived 2011-03-19 at the Wayback Machine, University College Cork, April 2003
  9. Irish Times March 10th, 1924 10 Mar 2012
  10. Though 50 sailors were convicted of mutiny after the Port Chicago disaster, there is some question as to whether there was a conspiracy, a prerequisite of mutiny, rather than simple refusal to obey a lawful order. All of the sailors were willing to do any other task except load ammunition under unsafe conditions.
  11. AP (1984-07-02). "General Promises To Punish Sikh Mutineers". The New York Times. India; Amritsar (India); Punjab State (India). Retrieved 2012-06-10.
  12. "Operation Blue Star 1984 Golden Temple Attack Sikhs". 1984-06-11. Retrieved 2012-06-10.
  13. "Yorkshire Regiment soldiers jailed for sit-in protest". BBC News. 2013-12-10. Retrieved 2014-04-07.
  14. "BREAKING: Nigerian Military Sentences 54 Soldiers To Death For Mutiny". Sahara Reporters. 17 December 2014. Retrieved 12 March 2017.
  15. "Nigerian soldiers given death penalty for mutiny". BBC News. 17 December 2014. Retrieved 12 March 2017.
  16. Рагуцька, Лілія (2022-02-26). "У Білгороді 5 тис. контрактників влаштували бунт та відмовилися їхати воювати з Україною. Ексклюзив". OBOZREVATEL NEWS (in Ukrainian). Retrieved 2022-03-28.
  17. Balevic, Katie. "Pentagon official says Russian troops have 'deliberately punched holes' in their own gas tanks in apparent attempts to avoid combat as morale declines: report". Business Insider. Retrieved 2022-03-28.
  18. "Mass surrender, sabotage of own equipment – Pentagon on Russian military units". Interfax-Ukraine. Retrieved 2022-03-28.
  19. "Russian young marine conscripts staged a riot against landing in Odessa". 2022-03-01. Retrieved 2022-03-28.
  20. Дібров, Сергій (February 28, 2022). "Russian Marine conscripts riot when ordered to land 'straight to Odessa'". Dumskaya. Retrieved February 28, 2022.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  21. Российский военный переехал на танке своего командира в отместку за гибель товарищей в боях под Киевом
  22. Russian troops attack own commanding officer after suffering heavy losses

Further reading

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