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    Not Peer Reviewed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

    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.