“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.
Conveniently nobody knows what Shaxbeard really looked like, especially as a young man.
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?
Helpfully for the Operation Sealion / Arma-Dad’s Army nature of these Skirmish games, the Spanish Raids were often seen as an early form of Tudorbethan amphibious combined ops and commando raid warfare.
Above – Some of my Elizabethan Muster conversions so far, same figure origin as Shakespeare – https://poundstoreplasticwarriors.wordpress.com/2020/10/16/from-black-prince-knight-to-elizabethan-arma-dads-army-muster-or-militia-54mm-plastic-conversion/
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:
to full academic articles and a PhD thesis.
‘Was Shakespaeare a Soldier?’ 2011 blog article includes details of an Armada Muster Roll for Stratford upon Avon http://theshakespeareblog.com/2011/07/was-shakespeare-a-soldier/
1928 Article on Shakespeare and Military History
Military Culture of Shakespeare’s England by Dong Ha Seo, PhD thesis
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,
Till he unseam’d him from the nave to the chaps,
And fix’d his head upon our battlements.”
From Macbeth Act 1 Scene 2
“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’.”
From a interesting blog that looks at the often controversial wartime staging of some of Shakespeare’s plays over the centuries https://blogs.kcl.ac.uk/english/2018/11/28/shakespeare-at-war/
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: