The Low-Countries wars
War is the remedy for a state surfeited with peace: it is a medicine for
commonwealths sick of too much ease and tranquility… it carrieth a
reforming nature, and it is part of justice.
Sir William Cornwallis, Discourses upon Seneca the Tragedian
(1601; repr. 1952), sig. H1r.
The Netherlands wars were the queen’s seminaries and nurseries of many
brave soldiers, and so likewise were the civil wars of France, whither she sent
five several armies, the fence schools that inured the youth and gallantry of
the kingdom, and it was a militia wherein they were daily acquainted with
the discipline of the Spaniards.
Sir Robert Naunton, Fragmenta Regalia, or Observations on
Queen Elizabeth, Her Times, and Favorites, ed. J. S. Cervoski
(1641; repr. 1985), 57.
There were fundamental differences between the Elizabethan conquest of Ireland and the English intervention in the Dutch war of independence. The former was a brutal and ruthless war waged to extirpate Catholicism, Gaelic culture and law and to replace the native Irish with English settlers. As rebels the enemy were denied the status of combatants. The strategic objective was to end Spanish and Scottish influence in Ireland. This enterprise offered the prospect of acquiring wealth and estates, but because the war in Ireland was fought against what the English military adventurers regarded as an unworthy and uncivilized enemy, it afforded small opportunity to display virtue and win honour.1 By contrast, the swordsmen who went as volunteers to the Netherlands were conscious of participating in a
1 Although Edmund Spenser tried to invest the military conquest and colonization of Ireland with an aura of chivalry, his literary efforts were far removed from reality (cf. A. B. Ferguson, The Chivalric Tradition in Renaissance England (1986), 71). Spenser’s ignorance of the rules of engagement and of how wars were fought needs to be emphasized. Arthur, 14th Lord Grey of Wilton, whom Spenser served as secretary, was recalled from his post as lord deputy of Ireland by Elizabeth’s government to face charges for the brutal excesses with which he waged war against the Irish rebels (M. West, ‘Spenser’s Art of War: Chivalric Allegory, Military Technology and the Elizabethan Mock-Heroic Sensibility’, RQ41 (1988), 667, 684–5).