An Apprenticeship in Arms: The Origins of the British Army 1585-1702

By Roger B. Manning | Go to book overview

1
The Irish wars

For empire and greatness, it importeth most that a nation do profess arms as
their principal honour, study and occupation.

Sir Francis Bacon, The Essayes and Counsells, Civill and Morall,
ed. M. Kieran (1985), 95.

He that would England win,
Must with Ireland first begin.

George Story, A Continuation of the Impartial
History of Ireland
(1693), 319.

Better be hanged at home than die like dogs in Ireland.

Old Cheshire proverb, quoted in R. Bagwell, Ireland under the Tudors,
3 vols. (1885–90; repr. 1963), iii. 249.

Prior to the beginning of the Anglo-Spanish War in 1585, Elizabethan Englishmen had enjoyed many years of domestic peace. But some of the queen’s subjects did not regard this as a blessing. For swordsmen, the years of peace during the queen’s reign gave rise to a false sense of security which had bred contempt for the exercise of arms and the study of war, and had also elicited a ‘despising of soldiers and martial discipline’.1 Although the king of Spain had amply demonstrated his hostility to English interests throughout the British Isles and northern Europe by this date, William Cecil, Lord Burghley, the lord treasurer of England and leader of the peace party, had argued that England could not afford a war with Spain and dared not count upon the loyalty of the commonalty.2 By 1584, following the assassination of William the Silent and the collapse of the Protestant Union of Utrecht backed by Holland and Zeeland, it became apparent that if the Dutch Revolt failed, and the Spanish reconquered all the Netherlands, they would next turn their eyes across the Narrow Seas to England. Although a Spanish invasion of England may not have been inevitable, Robert Dudley, earl of Leicester,

1 Robert Barret, The Theorick and Practicke of Moderne Warres (1598), 2.

2 William Camden, Annales: or the History of the Renowned and Victorious Princesse Elizabeth, 3 edn. (1635), 493.

-3-

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