Internet Shakespeare Editions

About this text

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

  • Copyright Internet Shakespeare Editions. This text may be freely used for educational, non-proift purposes; for all other uses contact the Coordinating Editor.
    Authors: Balthazar Ayala, Robert Barret, Richard Crompton, Stephen Gosson, Barnabe Rich
    Editor: James D. Mardock
    Not Peer Reviewed

    The Sixteenth Century on 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. . . .