The folk song "The Deserter", possibly best known in Fairport Convention's version, contains a verse that doesn't make much sense to me.

Court martial, court martial, they held upon me,
And the sentence passed upon me, three hundred and three.

What is the meaning of the expression "three hundred and three" in this context?

1 Answer 1


It almost certainly means 303 lashes, a severe flogging. Sentencing to varying numbers of lashes was a common punishment in the military until the 19th century.

  • 1
    It's referred to here as "the mystical three hundred and three (lashes ?)". So maybe that writer's not certain, but I think you're right. Not that 303 lashes was ever likely to have been a particularly common number, I'm sure. Just "add a few extra for the sake of it". Oct 26, 2023 at 17:51
  • Also it rhymes when that three is added.
    – Rakib
    Oct 26, 2023 at 19:34
  • Thank you. Useful answer, voted. If I'll have nothing more definitive in a short time, certainly I will accept your answer.
    – gboffi
    Oct 26, 2023 at 21:21

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