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From Extracts, Describing the Ancient Manner of Placing the Kingdom in Military Array; The Various Modes of Defence Adopted for its Safety in Periods of Danger; and The Evidence of Foreigners as to the National Character and Personal Bravery of the English. Taken from Original State Papers of the Sixteenth Century Collected on the Continent, and hitherto Inedited. Anonymous [Rev. William Gunn], London: W. Bulmer and Co., 1803: pp. 7-11; 33-35.



=== III ===

Ex eodem Codice, p. 33.

RELATION of the most noble Giovanni Michele, at his return to Venice, from an embassy to her most serene Majesty, Mary, Queen of England, in the year 1557.

Incipit “Serenessimo Principe et eccellentissimo Senato.”

LONDON is the metropolis of England; and when we contemplate its advantageous situation, its population, or the profusion of every article, whether of necessary consumption or human indulgence, it is deservedly esteemed the queen of European cities. Including Westminster and the borough of Southwark, the number of inhabitants is estimated at one hundred and eighty thousand. The streets and buildings are handsome; but its principal ornaments are the cathedral of St. Paul, and its stone bridge over the Thames, consisting of eighteen arches.

The city itself derives singular beauty and advantage from its position on the banks of that river; and, notwithstanding its distance of eighty miles from the sea, yet, favoured by the ebb and flowing of the tides, the Thames is constantly filled with a vast concourse of merchant-vessels pouring out their stores from all parts of the globe.

But the riches of the city arise less from the extent of its commerce than from the spirit of freedom with which it is conducted, and the encouragement and support the merchants experience from the patronage of the crown. England, at this time, possesses not more than half the territory which it formerly claimed. At one period, its sovereignty was acknowledged by Scotland; for three hundred years, it governed Normandy, Brittany, Guines, and Gascony, some of the fairest provinces of France; for sixteen years, it had the absolute command of that 8 kingdom, and in 1448, Henry the Sixth was publicly crowned at Paris. These are now nearly all lost, and the realms of Britain are limited to some circumjacent islands, part of Ireland, and, on the continent, to the two fortresses of Guines and Calais. And yet, singular as it may appear, this country seems to have increased in strength, and has continued so powerful, that it requires no foreign aid for its protection; its conquest, therefore, by force, unless weakened by internal division, may be pronounced not only difficult, but even impossible.

The maritime force to which this kingdom owes its security, and by means of which it has long rendered itself formidable to neighbouring states, has much declined from its original importance. In the year 1417, Henry the Fifth sent out a fleet, consisting of more than one thousand vessels,28 against Charles the Sixth of France. In the reigns of Henry the Seventh and Eighth, were kept in pay one hundred ships well manned and always ready for sea. At present,29 either from negligence, or the difficulty of providing for the necessary expenditure, part of them are sold and others become unfit for service, so that the number does not exceed forty. Notwithstanding which, when necessity requires, the king, by hiring the vessels of his subjects, and those of foreigners, can, at any time, collect a considerable fleet, either for the purpose of offence or defence.

As to the land forces,30 if we take into the account every person bound to appear in arms when danger threatens, for the protection of the realm, the infantry will be almost innumerable. It is calculated, that in the county of York alone there are seventy, and others say one hundred thousand men, capable of bearing arms. If required, the number of those who voluntarily enrol themselves to serve out of the kingdom is very formidable. In the reign of Henry the Eighth, many regiments of this description passed31 the sea, in the year 1513, for the taking of Terouenne, and to act against Boulogne32 in 1545. On this last expedition, they amounted to between forty and fifty thousand, men and these would have received considerable additions, but from the expense unavoidably incurred. Generally speaking, the king can 9 raise and equip in corselets, and polished arms, 25,000 men. The barons and gentlemen, even those of the smallest fortunes, augment this force, from among their dependents. The earls of Derby, Shrewsbury, and Westmoreland, can assemble at least one thousand men each, and the earl of Pembroke, many more. These indeed, for want of regular discipline, have much to learn, but mixed with experienced troops, they soon acquire the use of the pike and arquebuse. Aptness, courage, and inclination supply the deficiency of other qualities, and when in action, no natives in any quarter of the world fight with an equal degree of ardour, and contempt of death. Among the arms that appear most congenial to the infantry, is the staff, equal in length to a man’s height,33 and headed with iron, from which proceed spikes of the same metal, fixed in every direction. This is a most destructive instrument, and fatal to whatever it encounters. But the weapons in which they most excel are the bow and arrow; and such is the delight they take in this exercise, that there is no age, rank, or profession, but pursues it with enthusiasm. As the hopes of a country rest principally on the valour of the rising generation, boys, from the age of nine years, are taught to draw the bow, and all possible34 means are practised to make the love of it supersede every other juvenile diversion. The success attending this diligent application is incredible to those who have not been witnesses of their proficiency. Of such as are but moderately skilled, whether they take their aim in a horizontal or other direction, there are few who cannot lodge the arrow within half a palm of the mark. In the more experienced, force is so effectually united with dexterity, that they are reported to pierce35 not only the corselet, but a complete suit of armour. The laws enact, that the head of every house shall keep a supply of bows and arrows, for the use of his family. This is briefly a detail of their offensive arms; as to defensive, they are not greatly esteemed. For, whether they fight on foot or on horseback, they would rather lay aside every incumbrance which, in their various evolutions, impedes bodily agility, than seek protection for their persons under a weight of armour; for which reason the 10 head is partially covered by a light salet, in preference to the morion or other more important helmet, while the breast is imperfectly guarded with a corselet. Those who have the means, employ a jacket or camise of mail, and others one of canvas, quilted with numerous doublings, so as to be arrow-proof, and from the shoulders down the arms are placed lists of mail. As to the36 light and heavy cavalry, the number of the former might be considered almost incalculable; for no country in Europe of the same extent produces so many horses. The English however neglect to take sufficient care of these animals which, being treated as neat cattle, and like them, throughout the year, exposed to weather and the change of seasons, are small,37 weak, and incapable of great exertion. When encouraged or stimulated by the rider, they are reputed bold, and spirited, useful in ambush, in skirmishing parties, and in harassing the enemy in his retreat. As the mountainous parts of Wales are most abundant in those just described, so, certain38 districts of that province are favourable to the production of heavy cavalry. And excepting these, and a breed in the royal stables, it can boast no other. This defect is now so sensibly felt, that the nobles, prelates, and men of fortune, provide themselves with horses for military service, from Flanders. The number of these, with the pensioners,39 gentlemen called servants,40 and archers of the court, who are all obliged to serve on horseback, is now estimated at two thousand. They are all admirably mounted and armed, and many of the horses are barbed. In this brief relation of the English forces, may be noticed the occasional auxiliaries from Ireland, subjects of her Majesty. These can always cross the sea in one day, sometimes even in eight hours; they are an uncultivated, but a faithful and courageous people, and having performed their duty, return home.

The security arising to England, from its insular situation, is very decided. The sea by which it is encompassed differs from all others, both in the turbulence of its waves, and in the elevation of some of its tides. The whole kingdom may be esteemed an immense natural fortress, rising from the waves of the ocean: for this reason, the 11 construction of such as are artificial has been so much neglected by its sovereigns, who have generally considered them unnecessary. Besides the imminent danger of approaching this hostile coast, the natives, in suspicious seasons, are ever upon the watch. Like the Levantines at the appearance of Corsairs, they kindle fires upon elevated situations, which, emitting smoke by day and blaze by night, announce the intended invasion. In consequence of these signals, every ship in view is in motion, whilst, from the land, the peasantry, as obliged by law, under pain of death, are immediately under arms.

These, with the heads of houses and their dependants, each man having furnished himself with four days’ provision, repair to the threatened spot. Thus, those who come forward to repel an invasion, can never be so weak nor so few in number, as not to check the first attack, and every hour brings an accession of reinforcements from the inland counties. In mean time, the enemy, compelled to wait, at a distance from the land, for a calm sea, the flow of the tide, and a favourable gale, is necessarily exposed to the mercy of the elements. For few, like Julius Cæsar, would at all hazard rush through the foaming surge.

Britain therefore, has little to apprehend either from a sudden or deliberate attack; as both would be attended with the greatest risque to the invader.



28  It appears from the Fœdera, (Vol. IX. p. 215,) that this vast naval armament, including those of every description, consisted of 1600 vessels. Many of these were hired in Holland and Zealand. The reader need not be informed the victory of Agincourt was the consequence of this expedition.

29  The condition of the British navy towards the end of Mary’s reign was deplorable. — “At sea we had lost much of our ancient reputation,” and in 1578, or twenty-one years after this period, it is proved that “the royal navy consisted only of twenty-four ships of all sizes.” (Campbell, Vol. I. p. 433.)

30  The year in which this relation is dated, 1557, on account of the great dearth, the pay of the foot-soldiers was augmented from [34] 6d. to 8d. and of the horse, from 9d. to 12d. a day. (Lodge’s Illustrations, Vol. I. p. 263.)

31  Henry the Eighth passed the sea with his army in 400 vessels, and landed at Calais the last day of June, 1513. On the 16th of August was achieved that celebrated victory called the battle of Spurs. On the 24th of the same month, Terouenne surrendered. (See note 17.)

32  He arrived at Calais in great splendor, on the 14th of July, and immediately sat down before Boulogne, which was taken on the 14th of September. It was restored to the French by treaty, for a valuable consideration, in the year 1550.

33  This is the weapon shewn in the Tower, among the spoils of the invincible armada, under the name of the morning-star.

34  By a statute in the reign of Edward the Fourth, it is directed that butts shall be raised in every parish. (Barrington on Ancient Statutes, p. 426.) — Parents and masters were to provide for their sons and servants, from the age of seven years, a bow and two shafts, and cause them to exercise shooting on pain of 6s. 8d. — 33d of Henry the Eighth.

35  “An English arrow with a little waxe put upon the point of the head, will passe through any ordinary corselette or curace.” (Strutt’s Manners, quoted from Patricius, Vol. I. p. 40.)

36  “The Hobbilers were aunciently suche men as in time of daunger rode in poste from place to place, to give notice thereof upon hobbyes or nagges: whereof the name of hobbilers were given to them.” (Lambarde’s Perambulation of Kent, fol. 70.) Grose (Milit. Antiq. Vol. I. p. 109,) says, “the name of Hobbiler was totally lost, the latter end of the reign of Henry the Eighth, or in that of Queen Mary; these troops being then distinguished by the appellation of demy-launces and light-horse. (See note 11.)

37  Ray, in a discourse on seeds and plants, read before the Royal Society, in 1674, asserts that he had seen many horses in Wales, not larger than some dogs, and rated at no more than half a crown or ten groats a piece. (Birch’s Hist. of the Royal Society, Vol. III. p. 171.) The anxiety of the legislature for promoting breeds of large horses is evident from the statute of the 33d of Henry the Eighth. (Chap. v.)


38  Roger de Belesme, created earl of Shrewsbury by William the Conqueror, introduced the Spanish stallions into his estate in Powisland, which part of Wales was for many ages celebrated for a swift and generous race of horses. This information is handed down to us by Giraldus Cambrensis, (p. 222,) who lived in the reign of Henry the Second. This breed was in vigour when this relation was written; for Drayton, who was born a few years afterwards, praises their excellence in the sixth Part of his Polyolbion. (Pennant’s Zoology, Vol. 1. p. 6.)

39  The stipendiary forces, the garrisons and castle-guards excepted, were kept up in time of war only, and, though mercenary, were not a standing army. The first standing forces employed by our kings, were their immediate body-guards, such as serjeants at arms, the yeomen of the guard, and the gentlemen-pensioners, like those here enumerated; yet they seem to have been calculated more for supporting the splendor of the court, than for actual service in the field.

40  In the original, Servienti. — (See note 8.)


Extract IV.

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