“Cry Havoc and let slip the Dogs of War!” (Julius Ceasar)
My latest conversion from cheap plastic Black Prince Knight or men at arms into Armada era Elizabethan / Tudorbethan Muster (my Arma-Dad’s Army) is the aspiring hack-scribe Bill Shaxbeard. Journal-ist, traveller, ballad writer, poet, dramatist, news hound, soldier?, spy?, inventor of words and phrases. Upstart Chough. Theatre Rival of dramatist Christopher Kit Marlowe, who came to a violent and mysterious end.
Shaxbeard? I have long been intrigued about a world before Samuel Johnson’s dictionary where names and spelling were still fluid. Shakespeare, “Shakspere,” “Shaksper,” “Shakspear,” and “Schakspe(a)re,”Shaxberd … lots of variations in print and signature https://www.shakespeareauthorship.com/name1.html
How can I mix in this Shaxbeard character with the Armada and Spanish Raids scenarios for my figures?
The Mousehole, Paul, Newlyn and Penzance Raids on Cornwall c. 1595 saw coordinated naval bombardments and volleys from Spanish landing parties, sufficient that many of the local townsfolk and the poorly trained and poorly armed Muster (a forerunner of the Militia) wisely retreated or sought cover.
Born in 1564, Shakespeare himself was old enough to be drafted for the Trained Bands, overseas Levy or local Muster. Some suggest in his ‘missing years’, the years of the Armada and Anglo Spanish War, that he ‘went for a soldier’ in the Low Countries. There are some convenient useful biographical gaps in his life between 1585-1592). Others such as Catherine Alexander dispute this.
One of the ‘Seven Ages of Man’ in a speech from As You Like It is the soldier,
Full of strange oaths, and bearded like the pard,
Jealous in honour, sudden and quick in quarrel,
Seeking the bubble reputation
Even in the canon’s mouth.
As far as I know, Shakespeare had no direct military experience but would have seen the blue coats of the Trained Bands drilling in London, heard ballads and news of “foreign quarrels” or warres and no doubt met many people who had served overseas.
As he grew in social stature and mixed with more influential people and patrons, the real ‘Bill Shakespeare’ would have been more aware of the requirements of gentlemen and parishes to provide men and arms as the Queen commanded.
Shaxbeard would have heard of the Armadas of 1588, the Spanish landings in 1595 etc.
The Elizabethan and Jacobean world in which Shakespeare grew up was riven by Protestant / Catholic conflict, regime change and the ongoing endless continental wars especially the proxy wars against Spain. Any reference to soldiering and warriors, even those set in the distant past of antiquity, would have been seen then (as today) in the light of Shakespeare’s audience and wealthy (Royal) patrons’ recent experience of war.
Type in ‘Shakespeare’ and ‘War’ or ‘Military’ to your internet search engine and you find many interesting references to his plays and the military world of Tudor or Elizabethan England ranging from dubious ’50 things’ type lists through Wikiquote:
I have been looking out for such details when creating and converting a small army of plastic toy knights into an Elizabethan poorly armed rabble called the Muster (poorly armed compared to the better armed and drilled Trained Bands). Elizabethan foreign wars including Ireland drained men and arms overseas from each parish and County in the Levy system. The ‘Was Shakespeare a Soldier?’ blog post has an interesting section on Shakespeare’s scenes of military life including:
“the recruitment of would-be soldiers. In Henry IV Part 1 Sir John Falstaff describes the soldiers he has recruited, “discarded unjust serving-men, younger sons to younger brothers, revolted tapsters and ostlers trade-fallen, … and such have I, to fill up the rooms of them that have bought out their services.”
In the follow-up play, Henry IV Part 2, he dramatises the actual process by which men were put on the muster roll. Four men are needed, but the two likeliest ones buy their way out leaving the “scarecrows” appropriately named Shadow, Feeble and Wart.” (‘Was Shakespeare a Soldier?’ blog post.)
These characters of Falstaff, Shadow, Feeble and Wart must be the Elizabethan ancestors of Captain Mainwaring and Private Pike etc in my Arma-Dad’s Army Elizabethan Muster.
(Above) Elizabethan armour stage view of Henry V and Agincourt two hundred years before? Interesting illustration by John James in a cut-away type children’s book Inside Story series called Shakespeare’s Theatre by Jacqueline Morley (1994). I also have the 19th Century Frontier Fort and 19th Century Railway Station.
Lots of interesting background detail for our Armada era skirmish games.
Shakespeare’s plays are full of warriors and battle, mostly offstage (to save on extras?) from medieval warfare in Macbeth through more recent Tudor history in the Wars of The Roses (several Henrys and Richards plays) to Agincourt in Henry V.
A description of Macbeth’s warrior achievements offstage in a battle well describes the gory and visceral nature of medieval and Elizabethan warfare.
Arguably hand to hand fighting with boots, fists, bayonets and melee weapons at the sharp end of battle has changed little since then.
Sergeant “… The merciless Macdonwald–
Worthy to be a rebel, for to that
The multiplying villanies of nature
Do swarm upon him–from the western isles
Of kerns and gallowglasses is supplied;
And fortune, on his damned quarrel smiling,
Show’d like a rebel’s whore: but all’s too weak:
For brave Macbeth–well he deserves that name–
Disdaining fortune, with his brandish’d steel,
Which smoked with bloody execution,
Like valour’s minion carved out his passage
Till he faced the slave;
Which ne’er shook hands, nor bade farewell to him,
“Some Shakespeare productions seem to fit neatly into this account, fashioning a patriotic, national theatre that supports the government’s military action and functions as a form of wartime propaganda. Perhaps the most famous production is Laurence Olivier’s film adaptation of Henry V during World War II. It presents a chivalric, airbrushed Henry, achieved by removing some of the play’s most troubling scenes, and was patriotically dedicated to the ‘Commandos and Airborne Troops of Great Britain, the spirit of whose ancestors it has been humbly attempted to recapture’.”
I can never watch this Henry V without thinking it was possibly the first colour film my late father remembered seeing as an eight to nine year old after return from evacuation, a free cinema schools showing as part of Victory celebrations in 1945/6.
Henry V opens with the famous chorus about creating battles on the Elizabethan playhouse stage and in the audience’s imagination, nicely done in the film with scenes of Shakespearean London and a rousing William Walton score.
“O for a Muse of fire, that would ascend
The brightest heaven of invention,
A kingdom for a stage, princes to act
And monarchs to behold the swelling scene!
Then should the warlike Harry, like himself,
Assume the port of Mars; and at his heels,
Leash’d in like hounds, should famine, sword and fire
Crouch for employment. But pardon, and gentles all,
The flat unraised spirits that have dared
On this unworthy scaffold to bring forth
So great an object: can this cockpit hold
The vasty fields of France? or may we cram
Within this wooden O the very casques
That did affright the air at Agincourt?
O, pardon! since a crooked figure may
Attest in little place a million;
And let us, ciphers to this great accompt,
On your imaginary forces work.
Suppose within the girdle of these walls
Are now confined two mighty monarchies,
Whose high upreared and abutting fronts
The perilous narrow ocean parts asunder:
Piece out our imperfections with your thoughts;
Into a thousand parts divide one man,
And make imaginary puissance;
Think when we talk of horses, that you see them
Printing their proud hoofs i’ the receiving earth;
For ’tis your thoughts that now must deck our kings,
Carry them here and there; jumping o’er times,
Turning the accomplishment of many years
Into an hour-glass: for the which supply,
Admit me Chorus to this history;
Who prologue-like your humble patience pray,
Gently to hear, kindly to judge, our play.”
Henry V, Chorus / opening speech
All in all, not so very far from what wargamers do on the tabletop, in the toy theatres and scenery of our games tables and scenarios. All of this is useful for a background feeling of Elizabethan warfare in the age of Shakespeare (or Shaxbeard).
Next up, almost finished on the painting table: those feared Spanish raiders!
Blog posted by Mark Man of TIN 26 October 2020.
B.P.S. Blog Post Script
More recent performances have explored Shakespeare for the PTSD generation of modern warriors:
After reading my last post, Alan Gruber of the Duchy of Tradgardland asked for a “how it was done” blog post on how to downgrade a cheap plastic 54mm knight or man at arms into a Spanish Armada era Elizabethan armed rabble known as the ‘Muster’. This was a Tudor version of the Militia or WW2 Home Guard.
So I took some photos of this downgrade or upgrade when next converting one of these cheap plastic knights or men at arms with its medieval Black Prince type helmet, coronet and heraldic tabard.
Step 1: Off with the helmet point and coronet
Step Two – use scalpel and file to removedetail
Use the file point to tough over any medieval detail such as the plate armour, chain mail around the neck, posh knife belt and heraldic devices on the tabard.
The file point is also useful for roughing up what was chain mail and the neck section of the helmet into long hair.
Step Three – Masking tape trousers or breeches
The strips of masking tape rough measured by eye and cut to size below the knee. Several layers of masking tape needed to bulk out these breeches or trousers. This is not Tudor fashion, the effect you want to achieve is rough working clothes.
Any further plate armour and chainmail detail can be lightly removed by scalpel.
Step Four – More Masking tape
Add masking tape strips to thicken out arms where you have removed armour plate. Cut V shape strips to make a tailored breast plate, secured with a thin dot of super glue. The masking tape roughed up with the file point …
Step Five – Undercoat to blend all together
Step Six – Paint in shiny toy soldier acrylics
Although shiny toy soldier style paint is used including the pink cheek dots, the look of the clothes should be far from parade ground and not ‘uniform’ with the other already completed figures.
Shiny silver paint is used for toy soldier style simplicity. In reality, the scrapyard of armour and helmets that the Elizabethan Muster wore especially in more remote rural and coastal areas were probably already old fashioned and burnished up from their slightly rusty state. The Trained Bands were probably mostly better equipped than the Muster.
Hidden underneath his left hand is a partly concealed dagger in a scabbard, only a small part of the hilt of this knife is visible, hence the reason for the leather belt.
You could if wanted vary the spear to a pole arm or other agricultural looking tool. Whatever pointy stick you choose, “Remember – they don’t like it up ’em!”
I may do another one of these standing figure poses as an archer and one as visiting journalist, playwright, ballad writer and travelling player young Bill Shaxbeard. Somebody has to write up these epic struggles in doggerel, verse and prose!
Step Seven – Gloss spray varnish and base as required.
As regards paints, unless otherwise stated, I use Revell Acrylic Aquacolor, mostly the limited colours of their gloss range but also some of their matt acrylics as well. The light spray of gloss varnish should blend these together.
Some of the brighter colours like the 361-52 Blue gloss looked a little too bright and too much like another of the figures with his blue coat or cassock. Some gloss black was mixed in.
These are not uniforms nor posh Tudor court clothes from portraits, they are everyday working clothes.
The 361-31 Fiery Red gloss of the woollen or cloth hat was also slightly darkened down with some Blue and Black, partly as I am using blue as the overall English bluecoat colour and red for the Spaniards.
The skin tone for my Spaniards and English troops is not the Matt Flesh 361-35 but the 361-35 AfrikaBraun matt. It gives a more old fashioned toy soldier look or tone to the skin. I used Humbrol enamel gloss Pink 200 for the cheek dot.
The leather shoe, hair and spear colour brown is the darker 361-84 Leather Brown Matt and lighter brown leather belt 361-80 Mud Brown gloss.
The green base is Pebeo Studio Acrylic tube 60 Opaque Chrome Green Hue.
So here is another finished member of my Tudorbethan coastwatch, the Beacon Boys, my late Elizabethan Amar-Dad’s Army, ready to ‘Muster’ against any Spanish invasion.
It’s always the way that nobody quite makes the figures you want in cheap plastic 54mm …
Things have gone a bit 16th century here at Man of TIN Towers, thanks to the gift from Alan Duchy of Tradgardland Gruber of a handful of surplus 54mm Mixtec, Zapotecs and Conquistador figures (Chintoys). These are perfect for more Close Wars forest fighting amongst the forest trees. These figures are all steadily gaining bright shiny toy soldier gloss colours on the painting table.
Reading around the times I realised that a bunch of Conquistador Spanish could have several opponents, not least the Late Elizabethan Tudors.
The planned land invasions of the Spanish Armada of 1588 and the Spanish Raids on the West Country in the 1590s both had ‘skirmish’ potential of a relatively small handful of infantry or cavalry figures.
I have done a bit of quick reading around the Tudors, not least in a reprint of A.L. Rowse’s Tudor Cornwall (1941), written when Britain’s shores were again threatened by a different enemy. Rowse makes direct comparison of the late Tudor Cornish forces to the hastily improvised coastal defences and the squabbles and politics of the Home Guard, the WW2 equivalent to the ‘Muster’ and ‘Trained Bands’ in each County during the Spanish Armada invasion scares.
Could I put forth an Elizabethan equivalent of Captain Mainwaring’s platoon in Dad’s Army?
I must admit to some personal interest in this period and era as I can trace Cornish ancestry on one side of the family back to the West Penwith area of the Spanish Raids in the 1500s. Odd to think my farming ancestors may have seen the Armada ships and signal beacons along the Cornish coast, heard tell of the Spanish landings and town burnings of Paul, Nelwyn, Mousehole and Penzance or even mustered in motley defence of their local coastal towns.
54mm Late Elizabethan figures are quite scarce and often fairly expensive.
How best and cost effectively to put together an unfurnished or ill equipped Muster of Cornishmen to oppose these Spanish invaders?
My answer is to convert cheap plastic knights and medievals with paint, scalpel and masking tape. But what should they look like, wear and carry as weapons?
Unfortunately I know from a thread on the Little Wars Revisited 54mm forum that figures or spare recast heads with Tudor caps and Morions seem hard to find. Short of buying the Prince August Spanish Armada homecast chess set moulds, a little plastic conversion might be needed to make a poorly armed rabble.
Finding uniform information about ordinary Elizabethan Tudor soldiers, especially the local Muster, is a bit of a challenge. Only the better off commanders seem to have have left their portraits and images of their rich and fashionable clothes behind, not the ordinary West Country man.
Fortunately I did track down through EBay and second hand books shops the Osprey Elite book on the Spanish Armada and The Bluecoats: Clothing the Elizabethan Soldier 1572-1603 by David Evans. Along with a useful Academia / jstor article by John S. Nolan on The Muster of 1588, I was getting more of a picture of what ordinary Tudor levy and Muster troops would wear and what weapons they would carry.
During the Armada scare of 1588, bows and polearms were still carried by the Muster whereas the Trained Bands were more likely to carry pike and firearms such as an arquebus, caliver or early heavy musket.
By the 1590s Spanish Raids, fewer bows were evident in the national defence but then in the furthest poorest reaches of the West Country, bows and polearms would still have been around in good number. Training and weapons drill varied greatly across each county.
Many of the Levy troops to fight the wars in Ireland and the Muster and Trained Bands of the Armadas period seem to have been issued with blue Cassocks, tabards or coats. Some of them were in a lighter blue colour called Watchet Blue named after the town in Somerset. Most of the Muster would have worn their everyday working clothes and carried farming implements, much like the early Home Guard or LDV in WW2 parading before uniforms were issued.
Some of these medieval figures needed repair, changing a broken spear into a poleaxe for example using wire and plastic card. I want to give the impression that old equipment like a rusty old corselet breastplate or a metal skullcap has been dug out of cupboards and chests and hastily burnished up for the occasion.
A handful of English Civil War musketeers and Pikemen, drummers and standard bearers in my rummage box of figures should do double duty or dual use as the Trained Bands of the late Elizabethan era and also as ECW troops – only 50 years apart.
An interesting period of history and an intriguing Elizabethan Operation Sealion “what if” scenario of what if the Spanish had landed in force during the 1580s and 1590s.
Now a dozen or two more motley archers, men at arms and medieval types to convert from plastic still to see of those pesky Spaniards …