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  • Title: The Sixteenth Century on War
  • Editor: James D. Mardock

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    Authors: Balthazar Ayala, Robert Barret, Richard Crompton, Stephen Gosson, Barnabe Rich
    Editor: James D. Mardock
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    The Sixteenth Century on War


    Henry V enters into many aspects of contemporary European debates on the legality, morality, and practice of warfare. As Paola Pugliatti points out, the last two decades of the sixteenth century saw "war manuals, either original or in translation, invad[ing] the printing market" -- in England alone forty titles of books about war were published between 1578 and 1600 (Pugliatti 91-92). During this period Europe was embroiled in nearly constant warfare, in which Englishmen were frequently involved, raising the question of what constituted a just war, especially between Christian nations, precisely the question that Henry debates with his soldiers, without resolution, on the eve of Agincourt. Additionally, as the technology of warfare continued to change, readerly demand grew for technical manuals and comparisons of modern warfare with what Fluellen calls "the pristine wars of the Romans" (TLN 1200). The selections below give a sense of the contemporary discourse about war's morality and justice, the legal issues surrounding Henry's siege of Harfleur and killing of prisoners, and the debates about the disciplines of war that so exercise Shakespeare's Welsh captain.

    The selection from Balthazar Ayala is taken from John Pawley Bate's 1912 translation of the Latin text (Baltimore: Lord Baltimore Press, 1912, vol. 2, 236). All other texts are transcribed from originals accessed through Early English Books Online.

    1Stephen Gosson, The Trumpet of War: a sermon preached at Paul's Cross the seventh of May 1598 (selections)

    The cause of war [B4-B7]

    War is of the nature of just judgment, and the calamities that wait upon war be very great. Therefore, as a judge doth not punish every light offence, but such as are against the good of the commonweal, so war is not to be undertaken upon every light occasion, but upon such as shall be proportionable to the damage and distress of war. Because there are many false claims and titles laid upon the action of war to justify the same, it shall not be amiss to shut out the false titles as I pass along, and let in the true. The first of them

    False titles of war.

    is infidelity. The second is the revenge of the injuries done unto God by the sin of idolatry: because (Deuteronomy 2:34) the children of Israel war upon Sihon king of Heshbon, an idolater, they destroy his people, and take his cities. And (Deuteronomy 13:13) this title seems to be expressed: God chargeth his people that when they shall hear any hath gone out from among them and drawn other to the worship of strange gods, they shall destroy the inhabitants of that city and raze the city. The third is supreme authority in things temporal; they that hold this opinion imagine the heathen not to be lords of their own lands, but either the emperor or the pope. The fourth is unaptness to govern, because the heathen are barbarous and unfit to govern, and the law of nature wills that such should be ruled by wiser than themselves. Aristotle sayeth that war undertaken

    4. Polit. cap. 5.

    against such is just and lawful, because it is attempted against those that are born to obey and will not. . . .

    They are all four false and erroneous: the two first because God hath not given every man authority to revenge the injury done to him, but sayeth, Mihi vindicta, and ego rependam. Neither is it expedient for the race of man that it should be so, for, by this means the garboils and troubles of the earth would be so great, that God's injuries would rather be multiplied than avoided. And seeing this cannot be demonstrated, idolaters might lawfully betake themselves to arms in their own defense, whereby war should be just on both sides, which is unpossible. . . . The innocent strives not with the innocent, but the innocent with the offender, and the offender with the innocent; the war can be just but of one side. . . .

    The third title is as false as the former, in that all the kings of the earth do hold their crowns of God, that sayeth Per me reges regnant: by me kings rule and princes decree justice. In their lands and dominions temporal, neither pope nor emperor have anything to do. . . . Last of all, how untrue and erroneous the fourth title is may easily appear, in that many pagans and infidels are more ingenious, politic, and apt to govern than many Christians. Neither is it enough to justify the war that the people upon whom the war is made are inferior in wit unto the warrior -- except they be so poor that they live like brute beasts or feed upon human flesh, in which case peradventure it may be lawful to invade them, not to kill them, as the Spaniards did the naked Indians, but to bring them in order to live

    1. Polit. cap. 5.

    like men. Aristotle holds this to be lawful when such people differ as far from men as the body differs from the soul. Yet is this either seldom or never to be admitted, except upon some occasion of innocence or wrong, and the war rather revoked to a defensive than an offensive war.

    The false titles excluded, there remains but one just in general: that is, necessity. Nullum bellum iustum nisi necessarium. It may be just and necessary two ways: the one is in defense of the innocent; the other is in revenge of injuries. In defense of the innocent, because God hath given all the kingdoms of the earth to his son Christ Jesus (Psalm 2), princes are exhorted to kiss the son of God lest he be angry and they perish. In another place of the Psalms, princes are commanded to set open their gates that the king of glory may come in. Therefore if either Turk, or pope, or idolatrous princes force the law of Mohammed or idolatry upon their people when they are desirous to embrace the gospel, the gospel may then be brought in by arms. But if the Turk, or pope, or idolatrous princes beguile their people, and their people willingly entertain a false religion, there is no violence offered, and Ubi non est vis non habet locum defensio: where no violence is offered, defense can take no place. On the contrary, if the Turk, pope, or idolatrous princes conspire to drive out the gospel from those Christian kingdoms where it is preached, Non est simile ius: the case is not alike. To banish the gospel is to do an injury.

    5The injuries that may make war to be just and lawful are of divers sorts.


    Either when one prince withholds that which is another's, or when iura gentium,


    the laws of nations or passages are denied


    Moreover, if the fame and honor of a prince be hurt, or disgrace and indignity offered to his ambassadors, war may lawfully be waged to revenge it (2 Samuel 10). Upon the like wrong done to David's messengers sent to the King of Ammon, when their clothes were cut and their beards shaved, David revenged it by arms. Yea, it is sufficient if injury be done to a prince's friend (Genesis 14): injury was done to Lot in surprising him, and Abraham rescued him by sword. . . .

    The execution of the action of war [C2-C8]

    The last point to be discoursed in the action of war, is the manner how it must be executed, which in divers places of the scripture is very different. . . in the execution of wars there be three differences of times to be considered: the beginning, the progress, and the end of it. In the beginning, because reason requireth in the ordinary affairs of this life, advice and diligence should be used answerable to the quality of the business in hand; war being the most weighty of all human affairs, there must be counsel and deliberation~ to begin it. Proverbs 24:6: Thou shalt enterprise thy war with counsel. . . .

    Five things to be considered in the beginning of wars.

    There be five things in the beginning of war to be thought upon: the loss of the country against which we fight; the loss of the country that goes to fight; the loss of the church; the probability of the victory; and the intention of the warrior. If the loss of the enemy be likely to fall out to be greater than the hurt he hath done, I find no great reckoning made of it, because the willfulness of the enemy is the cause of it, which may have peace and will not. If the loss be of the second or third sort, that is, the loss of the warrior or the loss of the church be likely to be greater than the hurt already received, there is some care to be had of it. For war hath the property of physic: if the physician by healing the present infirmity bring the body into worse case then it was before, his physic is very dangerous. Concerning the probability of the victory, which is the fourth point: Cajetan holds that in the enterprise of war, the preparation must be so great, that the warrior may be Moraliter certus de victoria: sure of the victory. . . . But this is not absolutely necessary, because it is impossible (Psalm 33): "The king is not saved by the multitude of an host nor the mighty man delivered by his great strength." How puissant soever the preparation of princes be, if God be not with them it is nothing worth. . . . Remember the great armada in the year 1588. The preparation was such, that the invader assured himself of victory and termed it invincible, yet was it in so short time with so few strokes and skirmishes, and with so small ships scattered and defeated. . . . If it should never be lawful to war but upon assurance of the victory drawn from the preparation, it should never be lawful for the smaller number to fight with the greater, or the weaker with the stronger. . . . Therefore when this certainty cannot be attained, princes are bound to attain to the greatest probability they can, and comparing the hope of their victory with the danger of their loss, adventure as far as shall be good for the commonweal. If the probability be slender and the war offensive, they ought to give it over, because the war is voluntary: if the probability be slender, and the war defensive, it may not be given over, because the war is necessary. . . .

    The fifth and last point concerning the beginning of this action is the intention of the warrior. . . . War may be undertaken upon good cause and law full authority, yet the intention of the warrior may be evil. Hereupon

    Cont. Faustum.

    Saint Augustine condemns in a warrior Nocendi cupiditatem, vlciscendi crude litatem, animum implacabilem, feritatem, dominandi libidinem: a desire to do mischief, cruelty in revenge, an implacable mind, a fell spirit, and an ambitious humor seeking after rule and domination.

    10The second difference of time is the progress of war before the victory, during which time, all the means are lawful that are requisite to the attaining of the victory: sleights, shifts, stratagems, burning, wasting, spoiling, undermining, battery, blows, and blood. . . .

    The third and last difference is the time


    after victory. Victory achieved, and the enemy

    The time after victory.

    subdued, because the blood of the conqueror begins to cool, and it is against humanity to kill more than needs, the slaughter ceaseth. There be many things in cold blood to be required: first, to spare the innocents: Thou shalt not slay the innocent.

    Exod. 23. 7

    The innocents are reputed to be young and old, women and children, which are by reason of sex or years or infirmity unable to carry arms; strangers and merchants, which are no parts nor members of the commonweal that hath offended -- if it may be found they have stirred no coals in setting princes together by the ears, nor carried arms in the resistance made during the time of the fight. The next thing is satisfaction for the wrongs done, wherein the spoil and waste of the country is to be reckoned for a part, because it is a part of the punishment. Last of all, hostage[s] may be taken for security of peace, and the spoil may be divided among the soldiers, who deserve as well to be partakers of the sweet as of the sour and bitter brunts of war. . .

    Barnabe Rich, Alarm to England, foreshowing what perils are procured where the people live without regard of martial law, 1578 (selection)

    The first part, entreating of war [A1v-A4]

    Of war.

    Then first to speak of war, because I know there be many whose consciences be so scrupulous that they think no wars may be lawfully attempted, allowed of by God's word, or agreeing with true Christianity, for the number of outrages which by it are committed.

    I think it therefore convenient to see what proofs may be alleged in the defense of war, although not in general, yet in the holy scriptures, where they have been allowed of and many times commanded by the almighty God himself.

    Genesis 14.

    In the fourteenth chapter of Genesis it is written: When Abram heard his brother was taken, he harnessed his fresh young men, born in his own house, three hundred and eighteen, and followed on them until Dan: and he was set in array upon them by night, he and his servants: and he smote them, and pursued them unto Hoba, which lieth on the left hand of Damascus, and recovered all the goods, and brought again his brother Lot, and his goods, etc.

    15By this it seemeth that Abram executed as well the part of a king

    Abram executed the part of a king.

    as the duty of a captain, in that he took upon him to levy a band and to enter into battle with these that before had oppressed his friends, which he did of his own head; and yet this part did nothing offend God,

    Wars nothing offended God.

    as the sequel doth evidently prove. . . .

    [Rich further cites and discusses the cases of Moses (in Numbers 31), Saul (1 Kings 15), and Jehosephat (2 Chronicles 20).]

    I could here cite a number of like places, but these may seem sufficient,

    Wars sometime pleasing God better than peace.

    to prove that wars have been acceptable before the majesty of God, and sometimes more available then peace, as in the second chapter of the book of Judges it appeareth, where the children of Israel were blamed for making of peace with the Canaanites.

    And like as out of the scriptures, many other probable reasons might be gathered, so there be divers excellent authors and sundry learned writers which seem not only to allow of wars, but think them to be many times very meet and convenient to be attempted and to be taken in hand, and that it is many times necessary for princes to become enemies to the end they may be perfect friends.

    A happy war which bringeth assured peace.

    And a most happy begun war may that be called, whereby is wrought the safety of the state; so, contrary, most miserable is the peace

    A miserable peace.

    which bringeth with it the hazard of a country.

    Cicero sayeth in his book of Offices,

    Tull. officiis lib. 3.

    "To this end and purpose we must enter into war, that without injury we may live in peace." And in another place of the same book he sayeth, "We must beware that we take not up the matter by advice, more to avoid war, then for cause of profit,

    Wars must be taken in hand to the end to have peace.

    for we must never by seeking to escape peril deserve to seem cowards and dastards, but so let wars be taken in hand as no other thing but peace may seem to have been sought." . . . Thus we may see, although that peace be chiefly to be desired, yet many times by entering into wars it is the more safely and quietly maintained, like to a ship which many times by some extraordinary wind forsaketh the quiet harbor and seeketh her safety in the wild and raging seas.


    Time best taken when it serveth.

    So as Solomon sayeth, "There is a time of peace, a time of war, a time of mirth, a time of mourning"; and therefore to use time in time, as occasion doth serve, is a point of the greatest wisdom.

    Tull. de officiis lib. 1.

    And Cicero to the same effect useth these words: "To run to the field rashly all upon the head, and to enter conflict and skirmish with the enemy, is no point of humanity, but the property of a savage beast: but when time and necessity requireth, then on with armor, and fight for life, preferring death before servitude and misery."

    As great injustice not to defend an injury as to offer an injury.

    And in another place of the same book, he speaketh of two kinds of injustice: the first in him that will offer it; the second in him that will take it and, being able, will not defend it. But here peradventure some will allege against me the saying of Christ, where he willeth that he who had received a blow on the one ear should likewise turn the other, and he that would take thy cloak, thou must likewise give him thy coat. But I trust they will not maintain by this that a prince, when he is oppressed by any tyrant, should surrender up his crown and seigneury, for that he should be counted a quiet man and the child of God; or that God's word doth anywhere forbid a prince to maintain his right, or that it should not be lawful for him to enter into wars either for the maintenance of Gods true religion,

    For how many causes a prince may enter into arms.

    either for his own security, as did the Athenians against King Philip, either for the subversion of any tyrant or oppressor, or such as shall wrongfully usurp upon any other that are not able to defend their own cause. And in the ancient time it hath been thought very convenient that where a tyrant doth reign over his own people with cruelty, ravin, rape, murder, or other like oppressions wherein a prince may do his subjects manifest wrong, and is not by them to be redressed, for that it is not lawful for the subject to stand in arms against his prince, it hath been always therefore thought requisite that such princes as have been borderers next upon him should chastise and correct so great enormities, to the end that the name of a king might not seem odious and hateful to the common sort of people. . . .

    Balthazar Ayala, Three Books on the Law of War, 1582 (selection)

    Of him who loses, or surrenders to the enemy, a fortress or town which he has been appointed to defend[Vol. 2, 236]

    [I]f a man under compulsion of necessity (which, as Livy somewhere says, not even the gods can overcome) and in the utter absence of human aid, surrenders a fortress to the enemy, I hold that he does not deserve punishment; for to do one's best is to do all the law requires, and a vassal only owes fealty to his suzerain within the limits of what is possible, there being no legal obligation to perform the impossible. . . . Hence it is a common doctrine that an ungarrisoned city is quit of the charge of treason should it be surrendered to the enemy, especially if no relief is sent, and that a commander of a fortress is not bound to defend it if the King fails to supply the things that are necessary for its defense. It is on this ground that a vassal is not bound to do his services to his lord, or to recognize him, if he abandons the vassal in time of need. . . .

    Richard Crompton, The Mansion of Magnanimity: wherein is showed the most high and honorable acts of sundry English kings, 1599 (selection)

    Chapter 6 [G2v-G3]

    King Henry the fifth.

    When King Henry the Fifth, not having above fifteen thousand men, gave a great overthrow to the French king at Agincourt in France, where he had assembled to the

    Hol. 1181.

    number of forty thousand of the flower of all his country, and had taken many prisoners of the French, both nobles and others, the French, as they are men of great courage and valor, so they assembled themselves again in battle array, meaning to have given a new battle to King Henry, which King Henry perceiving, gave special commandment by proclamation that every man should kill his prisoners, whereupon many were presently slain, whereof the French king having intelligence dispersed his army and so departed. Whereby you may see the miseries of war: that though they had yielded and thought themselves sure of their lives, paying their ransom according to the laws of arms, yet upon such necessary occasion to kill them was a thing by all reason allowed, for otherwise the king, having lost divers valiant captains and soldiers in this battle, and being also but a small number in comparison of the French king's army, and in a strong country where he could not supply his needs upon the sudden, it might have been much dangerous to have again joined with the enemy, and kept his prisoners alive, as in our chronicles largely appeareth.

    Robert Barret, The Theoric and Practic of Modern Wars, Discoursed in Dialogue Wise, 1598 (selections)

    [Archery (2-3)]

    Gentleman: . . . I hear many say, "What need so much ado and great charge in caliver, musket, pike and corselet? Our ancestors won many battles with bows, black bills, and jacks." But what think you of that?


    Time altereth the order of war, with new inventions daily.

    Captain: Sir, then was then and now is now; the wars are much altered since the fiery weapons first came up: the cannon, the musket, the caliver and pistol. Although some have attempted stiffly to maintain the sufficiency of bows, yet

    The fiery weapons cannon and musket.

    daily experience doth and will show us the contrary. And for that their reasons have been answered by others, I leave at this instant to speak thereof.

    Gentleman: Why, do you not like of our old archery of England?

    Captain: I do not altogether disallow them;

    The reputation of archery much blemished since the invention of fiery weapons.

    true it is, they may serve to some sorts of service, but to no such effect as any of the fiery weapons.

    Gentleman: Will not a thousand bows, handled by good bowmen, do as good service, as a thousand harquebus or muskets, especially amongst horsemen?

    Captain: No, were there such bowmen as were in the old time, yet could there be no comparison.

    30Gentleman: Your reasons.

    Captain: First, you must confess that one of your best archers can hardly shoot any good sheaf arrow above twelve score off, to perform any great execution, except upon a naked man or horse. A good caliver charged with good powder and

    Bows far inferior unto caliver or musket.

    bullet, and discharged at point blank by any reasonable shot, will at that distance perform a far better execution, yea, to pass any armor, except it be of proof, and much more near the mark than your archer shall. And the said caliver at random will reach and perform twenty, or four-and-twenty score off, whereunto you have few archers will come near. And if you reply that a good archer will shoot many shots to one, truly no: your archer shall hardly get one in five of a ready

    The readiness of the one and the other: with their different executions.

    shot, nay haply scarce one; besides, considering the execution of the one and the other, there is great odds, and no comparison at all. . . . and thus you hear mine opinion of your bows, desiring you (gentlemen and others) not to conceive sinisterly of me for this mine opinion, as not held of me for any dislike I have of our old archery of England, but that common experience hath made it most manifest in these our later wars; well wishing in my heart (had it been God's good will) that this infernal fiery engine had never been found out. Then might we boldly have compared, as our ancestors did, with the proudest archers in the world. . . .

    [Books of war (5-6)]

    Gentleman: Our captains have books of war,

    Books of war.

    whereby they may learn more in one day's reading than you have in a whole year's service. . .

    Captain. Well, now to your reading captains

    Reading captains three sorts.

    : many of them that read


    do neither understand the method nor meaning of the writer;


    many do understand the method, and not the meaning; and some again (as men of quicker conceit,


    most fit for wars) do understand both method and meaning:

    The best wanting experience, far from a worthy captain's.

    yet by want of experience and practice, they are far from a perfect soldier, and more from a worthy captain. The proof of this is soon seen: for of six your first sort,

    Example of the first sort.

    bring one of them into the field with a hundred men, he will never rank them aright without help, and God knoweth with what puzzling and toil; there is the end of his service, yea and thinks he hath done well too. Now let one of your second sort come into the field with the like number,

    Example of the second sort.

    he will rank them three and three, but at every third rank he must call to his boy, "Holla, sirrah, where is my book?" And having all ranked them, then marcheth he on fair, and far wide from a soldier's march: then cometh he to cast them into a ring, about, about, about, till he hath enclosed himself in the center. Now there is he puzzled: "Holla, master, stand still until I have looked in my book!" By this time there is a fair ring broken. . . . For there be many points in a soldier, and more in a captain, which can not be attained by reading. . .

    [The wearing of finery, 10]

    Decent in apparel. Over-curious in attire is sign of a carpet knight, a humor unfit for war.

    Captain: [A soldier] ought to be very moderate, and not over garish in his apparel and garments, for it is a principle found true by experience that he that is curious in his gait and attire is never like to prove a perfect soldier; for they require different humors -- to the deep skill in war and the dainty curiosity of carpet knights. Examples of garish camps, easily defeated, many might be produced, but time permitteth me not; but the beauty and bravery of a soldier is his bright and glittering armor, not gaudy attire, and peacocks' plumes. . .

    35[The question of justice (11)]

    Gentleman: But if his prince maketh wars against other Christians, as commonly it falleth out, is it no grudge to the soldier's conscience to fight against them?

    Captain: I suppose none,

    The soldier is bound to obey his prince, without examining the cause of the war.

    for the soldier is bound to serve his prince and to defend his desseignes; and it toucheth him not much to examine whether the war be just or injust, not being against God's true religion. But in such a case, I would wish men to be well advised.

    [Plundering a fallen town (11-12)]

    Captain: . . . If in encounters and battles where he shall happen to be,

    Careful execution ere he fall to the spoil.

    the enemies hap to be overcome, let him set all his care and diligence in execution of the victory with his weapon, and not in the spoil of apparel, robes, and trash, lest he be accounted

    An unsoldierly part to be scraping and spoiling.

    an unruly scraper, as too many nowadays be. For many disorders do happen by the disorder of covetous spoilers, many times to the dishonor of the action and loss of their lives.

    The like consideration he ought to have in the expugnation of any fort,

    To pursue the victory thoroughly. Not cruel upon cold blood.

    city, or town. He shall pursue the victory even until the enemy be wholly yielded and rendered, and license granted to fall unto the sack and spoil, wherein he shall deport himself neither cruel nor covetous, as a number of bad and graceless fellows do, which without respect of God or man, do leave no kind of ravening cruelty uncommitted,

    Favorable and merciful to the humble vanquished.

    with brutal ravishment both of women and maids, and with merciless murdering of poor innocents yielded. Rather in such cases shall he show himself favorable and merciful to the humble vanquished, procuring to defend them, and especially silly women and maidens; for God, no doubt, will be well pleased in so doing. . . .

    [The Roman disciplines (31-32)]

    Captain: Touching the true and orderly training of your people in this our modern militia, I have in general roved over some part thereof already, but not so particularly as such an action would require: wherein I could heartily wish that, as near as possible we might, we should reduce ourselves, with such arms

    The military discipline of the Romans to be followed.

    as we now use, unto the form, manner, and course of the ancient Romans in their militia and discipline of war, although ages, seasons, and inventions have altered much and many weapons by them used.