The fruits of war: The voice of the soldier in Gascoigne, Rich, and Churchyard
Elizabeth Heale. “The fruits of war: The voice of the soldier in Gascoigne, Rich, and Churchyard ” Early Modern Literary Studies 14.1/Special Issue 18 (May, 2008) 5.1-39<URL: http://purl.oclc.org/emls/14-1/article4.htm>.
1. A lengthy headnote describes the occasion of the third of the ‘Devises of Sundrie Gentlemen’ in Gascoigne’s A Hundreth Sundrie Flowres (1573) in which two gentlemen compete for status and prestige. They run ‘three courses at the rynge for one kysse, to be taken of a fayre gentlewoman being then present’; the penalty for the loser is to write some verses ‘uppon the gayne or losse therof’ (1). The losing gentleman then uses his verses to rebuke the vainglorious boast of the winner who ‘much lamented that in his youth he had not seene the warres’:
avayle which thou by Mars hast woon,
Should not allure thy flytting mynd to feeld:
Where sturdie Steedes in depth of daungers roon,
With guts wel gnawen by clappes that Cannons yeeld.
Where faythlesse friends by warfare waxen ware,
And roon to him that geveth best rewarde:
No feare of lawes can cause them for to care,
But robbe and reave, and steale without regard
The fathers cote, the brothers steede from stall:
The deere friends purse shall picked be for pence,
The native soyle, the parents left and all,
With Tant tra Tant, the campe is marching hence. (ll.1-12)
The voice of the losing gentleman is here the voice of an experienced soldier. The poet may have lost this tournament for a kiss, but he can tell his opponent a thing or two about what ‘real’ war is like. A view of war as brutally violent and treacherous is contrasted with the chivalrous game-playing of the tournament, the inexperienced vanity of the victor, and the colourful ‘Tant tra Tant’ of the military trumpets.
2. The poem succinctly dramatizes the complex mixture of authority and abjection that, I shall argue, characterizes the soldier’s voice in a number of writings of this period. The writer is the loser in the competition for a kiss, but within the poem he speaks as the older and wiser man, telling the victor: ‘But my good friend let thus thy youth be spent’ (l.27). Experience of ‘real’ war, as opposed to the gallant display of the tiltyard, gives him authority, but it also contaminates him with the unchivalrous behaviour of those who participate in war: ‘faythlesse friends . . . No feare of lawes. . . robbe and reave, and steale without regard.’ On the other hand, the peaceful life that the writer advises the victor to follow is described in terms which have a pejorative edge to them: ‘High Jove (perdie) may send that thou doest seeke,/ And heape up poundes within thy quiet gate’(ll.19-20). Gascoigne’s imagery echoes the vividly contemptuous terms used by Sir Thomas Wyatt to describe the veniality of the self-server in his third satire, a poem Gascoigne undoubtedly knew very well: ‘Feed thyself fat and heap up pound by pound’ (2). The easy life of the young winner, with his vanities and inexperience, is presented as comfortable but limited, ‘rowe not past thy reach’ (l.31), while the writer speaks with authority and experience, but is a loser, tainted by the ‘cutthrote life’(l.17) that, he tells us, is the life of the soldier.
3. Gascoigne is not alone in showing an interest in articulating the voice and experience of the serving soldier in his writings in the mid 1570s (3). The vivid expression of the experience of the soldier in war characterizes what might be described as a new genre of soldiers’ writing that emerges in the 1570s (4). My primary concern in this essay is Gascoigne’s long and complex account of war as viewed by those with and without experience in the field in ‘The fruites of Warre’, which was printed in The Posies of 1575. Other examples of this ‘new’ genre include Barnaby Rich’s A Right Exelent and pleasaunt Dialogue, betwene Mercury and an English Souldier (1574), Ulpian Fulwell’s miscellany of prose and verse, The flower of fame (1575) which included a ‘Historie of the noble seruice that was at Hadington’ told ‘by the instruccions’ of those who served there, followed by ‘A Commendation of the Englishe Souldiers that serued at this siege of Hadington' (5), and a number of writings by Thomas Churchyard, including items in The Firste parte of Churchyardes Chippes (1575). It is likely that some of Churchyard’s poems and prose pieces in Churchyardes Chippes, most notably ‘The Siege of Leeth’ which had taken place in 1560, and defends the subsequent peace treaty, had previously appeared as broadsheets (6).
4. If Churchyard’s poem on
his experience at
5. Although there is no evidence of direct influence between the three writers on whom I shall be focussing, Rich, Churchyard and, in particular, Gascoigne, all show a similar interest in developing the voice and perspectives of the soldier in very similar ways. All three writers emphasise the grim and inglorious aspects of warfare and explicitly or implicitly challenge the kind of vainglorious over-confidence and ignorance of those who like Gascoigne’s opponent in the tournament have no experience of war. Thus the voice of the serving soldier is essential for asserting an authority based on the experience of battle and knowledge of the disciplines of war. On the other hand, this voice of first hand knowledge that claims to tell the truth, brings with it some problems. The soldier’s voice is both that of an observer, and that of someone shaped by his experience; one who has tasted the fruits of war. His authority as a truth teller is, therefore, always already compromised by his involvement in the events he describes. His status is also compromised by the element of complaint in these soldiers’ writings. As they emphasise the grimness of war, and often complain of misfortune and the lack of reward at court, there is also present within the writings a sense of the abjection of the soldier and his life by a society whose values are antithetical; the soldier emerges from these writings as brave and despised, virtuous yet tainted by the vices of war.
6. In what follows, I shall explore some of these aspects of the use of the serving soldier’s perspective and voice, in Rich’s 1574 pamphlet A Right Exelent and pleasaunt Dialogue, and two of Churchyard’s pieces in Churchyardes Chippes (1575), before turning to a more detailed analysis of Gascoigne’s ‘The fruites of Warre.’ I shall argue that in Gascoigne’s poem, the eyewitness testimony of the serving soldier, characteristic of this new kind of writing, produces a highly complex and unsettling dramatic voice. Gascoigne’s interest in multiple voices and perspectives and his development of often contradictory personae were evident throughout his 1573 volume, A Hundreth Sundrie Flowres. In ‘The fruites of Warre’, however, the soldier’s voice produces a tour-de-force of dramatic inconsistency that throws into doubt any clear moral strategy in the poem, whether it be the soldier’s testimony about war, or the anti-war moral that the soldier’s experience is called upon to authorize. In so doing, it not only demonstrates the dramatic potential of this new voice in writing of the period, but also suggests wider uncertainties and contradictions in Elizabethan attitudes to war and to the profession of the soldier.
‘What fruites by warre are gayned’: Rich and Churchyard
7. Both Rich’s A Right
Excelent and Pleasant Dialogue and pieces in Thomas Churchyard’s Churchyardes
Chippes draw on genres of military writing already in print. Churchyard’s accounts of the sieges of Leith
(which took place in 1560) and
I might see diuerse bands both of Horsemen & footemen being armed, which in very comely order, with auncientes braue displayed, came marching toward mee, and when they were come to ye place where I aboad, putting themselues in troupe one by the assent of all the rest, uttred these wordes. (sig. A.1.v)The soldiers are here represented as a well-disciplined, co-operative group, stalwart and professional in behaviour and appearance. The band ask the writer to be their spokesman ‘to the mighty court of Mars’ (sig. A.1.v) because soldiers have no skill in speech:
for who is so scrupilouse that will looke for eloquence to come from souldiers or to thinke that they must paynt out their matters with any curiouse philed [filed] phrace, vnlesse it be some curiouse philed foole, which knoweth not what appertayneth to a souldier (sig.A.3.v).
Solidarity, plainness and straightforwardness, rather than courtly eloquence and appearance, are the defining characteristics of these soldiers and their speech; theirs is a collective identity as disciplined serving soldiers. There is a sense that such soldiers do not normally speak in print, hence the device of an intermediary. The ambiguity about the writer’s identity, both a soldier and not a soldier, allows Rich to present the soldiers as simple and unpretentious, without ‘any curiouse philed [filed] phrace’, while allowing the writer to articulate with the authority of experience the soldiers’ point of view.
9. The disparaging references to ‘curious philed foole’ points to a suspicion of what is seen as a new courtly breed of men who have no knowledge of war and by whom the soldiers feel marginalized and overlooked:
Hath not the name of a souldior here before been had in such reuerence and accounted of such value, as they haue beene honoured of euery estate, [but] is not the profession of so worthy seruice now becom so odious . . . where they haue been loued, they be now despised, where before al other they haue been had in estimation, they be now as abiects to al other.
Mighty Mars, who
should be the refuge of the soldier, is not protecting his own; indeed, as the
writer discovers, he has absented himself in Venus’s court, a thinly disguised
10. This double view of the soldier as on the one hand upright and manly, and on the other despised and abject, is explored by Rich in a dialogue between Mars and the writer/narrator as they make their way towards Venus’s court. The writer’s enthusiasm about serving as a soldier is cooled by the sight of a graphic allegorical depiction of war in Mars’s court:
Warre . . sate all armed holding in the one hand a sword, & in the other consuming fire: hee was accompanied with Famine on the one side, a most horrible creature, whose yrksome lookes were able to daunt the greatest courage of the most haughty minded wight: on the other syde sate Murther, whose handes and raiment were al imbrued and begoared with blood.The writer exclaims in horror against war and soldiers: ‘I nowe haue plainely seene what fruites by warre are gayned. . . driuen by enuie, fraught with sword, fire, famine and murther, making open scope and waye for ruine . . . no sure the Furies of Hell are not to bee compared to these monsters aboue all other most to be detested’ (sig. B.4.r). It is Mercury’s role in the pamphlet to be the defender of soldiers; while the ‘fruites by warre . . . gayned’ are indeed grim, he tells the writer, war itself is a ‘scourge of the Gods to punishe the Malefactions of the impius’. The soldier is therefore a ‘necessary instrument’, who may also be a noble and magnanimous means, by which the ‘impius’ are scourged and the innocent protected (sigs B.4.v- B.7.r).
11. Rich’s Exelent and pleasaunt Dialogue thus contains a number of elements typical of this new genre of soldiers’ writings. It articulates the perspective of the experienced serving soldier, a figure defined in terms of an unpretentious plainness and disciplined professionalism. This soldierly virtue is opposed to the ‘womanlyke mynded’ court and courtiers, where the idle and self-serving prosper while the deserving soldier is ignored or despised. Both Rich and Churchyard use the perspective of the soldier to launch blistering attacks on the court and the values they associate with it. On the other hand, the soldierly voice of these writings is not one that glorifies war. Eminent captains who have shown particular courage or leadership are regularly named and honoured in both writers’ works, but it is not aristocratic birth or dash that makes a good captain: ‘he that wyl take vpon him the roome of a Captaine, without hauing experience, doth playe Phaetons part’ (Dialogue C.4.v) (13). While Rich’s pamphlet extols the good captain and soldier, it also acknowledges that the poor reputation of the soldier is often well-earned through the appointment of bad captains who are either ‘cleane voyde of experience’ or concerned only to ‘make a common profit by powling and pilling his Souldiers’(C.2.v), and through the Falstaff-like recruitment of unsuitable soldiers: ‘such euell condicioned people, in whome there remayneth neyther Religion, neyther obedience, neyther fidelitie, or good meaning’ (G.7.r).
12. Churchyard is less willing than Rich to concede that there is any justice in the pejorative view of soldiers, although he frequently draws our attention to confused and inglorious aspects of war. The self-consciously innovative nature of Churchyard’s poem ‘The Siege of Leeth,’ is perhaps suggested by its sub-title ‘the schole of warre’. If addressed to the reader, this schooling implies that the poem will teach new lessons about what war is ‘really’ like from the perspective of the serving soldier. The sub-title, however, also implies that the siege proves to be a quick sharp ‘schole’ lesson for the small and inadequate force that marches out of Berwick:
And most of those, not trayned for the field
More rawe then rype, vnready out of vse:
And some men say, ech leader was not skild,
But what of that? I write not of abuse. (14)
13. While Churchyard’s account praises the courage of many of this band, it nevertheless emphasises the chaos of battle, the inadequacy of the supplies, and the grim realities of war:
The Cannons shot, the bowmen stode not still
The smoke was like, a fogge or mistie clowde
That poulder made, our souldiours lackt no will
To clyme the walles, where they receiud much ill
For when they laide, their ladders in the dike
They were to shorte, the lengthe of halfe a pike.
Went of and slew, God knowes stoute men enow
The harquebuz, afore hand made fowle playe
But it behoud our men, for to go throw [through]
And so men sought, their deathes they knew not how
From such a fight, swete God my frendes defende
For out of frame, did diuers find their ende. (fol.9r)
Churchyard is the first to recognize his lack of skill as a writer (‘this naked rime’ fol. 9v), but here the shift from a glorious alarum ‘the drommes did sounde, the trumpettes blew alowde’ to a gradual development of the chaotic grimness of battle, made worse by the inadequacy of the equipment (‘the ladders in the dike / They were to[o] shorte’), is achieved with a terse economy and skill. While these stanzas depict the stout heroism of the common soldiers doing their duty, the poem acknowledges that the horror of battle abashed even ‘our boldest men’, while
And some in campe, came neuer since that day
Some sought discharge, Some sawe so great a fray
They wisht they had, at home bin keaping Crooes [i.e. scaring crows]
Suche is the warres, where men both wyn and looes. (fol. 9v)
14. Churchyard’s discourse of war here shares a number of themes
with that of Rich’s A right exelent and pleasaunt Dialogue. It emphasises the voice of the experienced
serving soldier whose account of warfare is assertively ‘realistic’, that is,
it avoids or undermines the glorification of war, emphasising the bravery and
professionalism of soldiers and their captains as a disciplined group rather
than acts of individual display. The
writer speaks or writes as a soldier, with a plainness whose lack of polished
eloquence seems to guarantee an honest and manly straightfowardness. Good
soldiers, in such writings as those of Rich and Churchyard, are honest men,
stoutly earning a reputation through the acquisition of skills and experience,
and in the face of great danger and hardship, in order to serve their prince
and defend their country. At the same time, they are unrecognized and
unrewarded by those they serve, without any of the gifts of fortune, and marked
by the horrors of war and its evils of violence, maiming, and the destruction
of civic life. The action at
Who goes to warrs, must feele both good and ill16. Military service functions as a synecdoche for an admired model of manliness: an ability to endure physical hardships; a love of danger and the chance to gain a reputation for courage; and an indifference to good and bad fortune. While this idea of masculinity is constructed, as Willy Maley points out, in opposition to an idea of the court as ‘profligate and prodigal’, Churchyard, in spite of the love he claims to feel for the drum, repeatedly describes his attempts to pursue success at court whenever there is a lull in the wars (15):
Some likes it not, and some that life can prayes
Where nights are cold, and many hongrie dayes
Some will not be, yet such as loues the Drom
Takes in good parte, the chaunces as they com.(fol. 61v)
I croetcht, I kneeld, and many a cap could vayllChurchyard’s tone here is thoroughly ironic; the life of the would-be courtier parodies the life of the soldier in its discomforts, its watching and its sense of being one of a band. The word ‘brave’ here meaning showy rather than courageous, exploits a pun which recurs throughout Gascoigne’s ‘The fruites of Warre’. The ‘staets full hye’, that is, the high-born dignitaries he serves, do not share the soldiers’ sense of duty to the common wealth: ‘Say what they will, they loue to keep their own / And part with nought, that commeth in their griep’ (fol. 60r).
And watched laet, and early roes at moern
And with the throng, I follouwd hard at tayll
As braue as bull, or sheep but nuely shoern
The gladdest man, that euer yet was boern
To wayt and staer, among the staets full hye.(fol.59v)
17. The life of the manly and stoic soldier may be morally superior
to that of the successful courtier and his crouching serving man, but it is
nevertheless, as the poem makes clear, a loser’s life:
When thousandes slepte, I waekt I swet I
swelt18. Churchyard’s mixture of manly pride in hard-earned experience,
moral outrage, and a sense of social abjection, is even more explicit in his A
generall rehearsall of warres (1579): ‘Were not this a madnesse, and more then
a meere folly, to be a drudge to the worlde, and a labourer for those that
sittes at reste, and to watche and warde, Feight, striue, and struggle with
strangers for victorie: and then to come home and be rewarded as common
persones, and walke like a shadowe in the Sunne’ (16). The discourse of the soldier, in writings
like those of Rich and Churchyard, critiques the courtly and civic world,
opposing the values of manliness, duty, and application in circumstances that
would daunt all but the hardiest, to the corrupt practices of wealthy citizens
and self-serving courtiers. Nevertheless
it is a world from which they crave acknowledgment, recognition and reward. For Rich and Churchyard, not only is the good
soldier the embodiment of virtues lacking in civil society, but soldiers and
war should be acknowledged as necessary and even beneficial; war is ‘the
scourge of the Gods to punishe the Malefactions of the impius’ with soldiers as
‘necessary instruments’, like the sword, which may be used for good or ill
(Rich B.4.v). While as we
shall see, Gascoigne develops many of the same contradictory aspects of the
soldier’s discourse as Rich and Churchyard, his use of the commonplace that war
is a scourge of God, differs significantly from Rich’s use (17). For Gascoigne, war is indeed ‘Gods scourge,
which doth both Prince and people tame’, but it is a universal scourge from
which few escape in ‘The fruites of Warre’, least of all the soldier (18).
To compas that, I neuer could attaine
And still from hoem, abroed I braek my braine. (fol. 68v)
19. The personal eyewitness of the serving soldier is an essential
element in Gascoigne’s complex poem ‘The fruites of Warre, written upon this
Theame, Dulce Bellum inexpertis.’ The poem was published in The Posies
in 1575 and draws on Gascoigne’s own service in the
And therwithal I termed have all strife21. Like Rich and Churchyard, Gascoigne uses his poem about war to attack the ills of civil society, although his critique is a more wide-ranging and disturbing one than theirs. The accusatory tone anticipates the Gascoigne of The Steele Glas, printed the following year in 1576, but even as Gascoigne’s persona’s moral outrage reaches a crescendo, he pauses: ‘But whether now? My wittes are went awrie, / I have presumde to preache to[o] long God wote’ (stz.32):
All quarells, contecks, and all cruell jarres,
Oppressions, bryberes, and all greedy life,
To be (in genere) no bet than warres. (stz.33)
my theame is stretcht beyond the starres,
And I am entred in a field so large,
As to[o] much matter doth my Muse surcharge.(stz.33)
Where Rich and Churchyard enlisted the perspective of the worthy soldier and their plain-speaking voices to authorize their critique of civil society’s ills, Gascoigne’s authorial voice seems less certain of the moral ground from which it speaks.
22. In the first part of the poem the reader is uncertain whether Gascoigne speaks as a soldier or not. The opening stanzas tell us that the speaker has no personal experience of war, gathering his matter entirely from the writings of others:
I cannot but confesse,He acknowledges that this puts into question his authority to write about war at all:
Howe unexpert I am in feates of warre:
For more than wryting doth the same expresse,
I may not boast of any cruell jarre. (stx.2)
To write of Warre and wote not what it is,The claim that the speaker is inexperienced in war is puzzling as the headnote to the poem tells us it was written ‘as the Aucthour had vacaunt leysures from service,’ and it is dedicated to Lord Grey ‘an universall patrone of all Souldiours.’ Gascoigne apologises in the dedication for his soldierly plain-speaking style: ‘The verse is roughe. And good reason, sithence it treateth of roughe matters, but if the sence be good then have I hyt the marke which I shote at.’ Having been introduced, in the prefatory matter, to Gascoigne the soldier, we seem to switch, once the poem begins, to the voice of a humanist man of letters writing ‘uppon this Theame, Dulce Bellum inexpertis’. The theme, as Gascoigne reminds us at the end of the poem had famously been developed at some length by Erasmus in the 1515 edition of his Adagia, but while Gascoigne shares Erasmus’s emphasis on the horrors of war, his moral that war is God’s scourge is significantly different from Erasmus’s insistence that war is fundamentally ungodly (19).
Nor ever yet could march where War was made,
May well be thought a worke begonne amis,
A rash attempt, in woorthlesse verse to wade,
To tell the triall, knowing not the trade. (stz.1)
24. The moral complexity of Gascoigne’s soldierly persona is far
greater than that of his counterparts in the writings of Rich and
Churchyard. Some of the problems posed
by this figure at once become apparent when he emerges half way through ‘The
fruites of Warre.’ Gascoigne
returns, in stanza 93, to the lack of authority of his moralist persona to
write about war:
Therefore (say some) how fonde a foole is he,It seems to be almost with relief that at this point the moralist throws off his pretence of inexperience to reveal himself as after all a soldier, although he claims that such skirmishes as he has seen do not deserve the name of war:
That takes in hande to write of worthy warre,
Which never yet hath come in any jarre?
No jarre (good sir) yes yes and many jarres,
For though my penne of curtesie did putte,
A difference twixt broyles and bloudie warres,
Yet have I shot at maister Bellums butte,
And throwen his ball although I toucht no tutte.
25. Misrecognition of the nature of war is a recurring theme of Gascoigne’s poem; the lawyer called it ‘strife’ (stz.22), for the nobleman it was merely garden improvement (stz.20), for the soldier, it seems it is a game. G.W. Pigman III, in his edition of A Hundreth glosses the ‘phrase ‘touched no tutte’ as referring to the base in a baseball game, and ‘butte’ as the mark in archery. The sporting imagery, albeit marking the speaker as one who never succeeds in scoring, and the jaunty colloquialisms contrast disconcertingly with the sober voice of the moralist earlier in the poem who had warned those who ‘joy in warre’ to ‘compt it griefe and not a game, / To feele the burden of Gods mightie hande’ (stzs14 and 18). In spite of invoking the experience of Gascoigne the soldier to confirm the warnings of Gascoigne the moralist, each voice problematizes the other. The need for the soldier’s experience to authorize the moralist’s book learning undermines the claim that reliable lessons can be learned from books alone, while Gascoigne the soldier has clearly failed to heed, and at the end of the poem appears to continue to fail to heed, his own high-minded moral warnings against war. The relatively clear moral universe in which the plain and virtuous soldierly selves of Rich and Churchyard strove to prove their manliness and virtue in the face of bad fortune, the horrors of war, and courtly indifference, gives way in Gascoigne’s poem to a landscape in which moral certainties are increasingly hard to find.
26. Like the soldiers’ voices in Rich and Churchyard, Gascoigne’s authority as a truth-teller relies on his first-hand experience:
The bragge ofThe word ‘bragge’ makes it clear that the bravery before the walls of
, where was I that daye? Bruges
Before the walles good sir as brave as best,
And though I marcht all armde withouten rest,
From Aerdenburgh and backe againe that night,
Yet madde were he that would have made me knight. (stz. 95)
And there I sawe full many a bold attempt,Here Gascoigne’s soldierly voice is again at odds with the perspective of Gascoigne the moralist. Where war was an unmitigated evil for the latter, the former occasionally shows a pride in the English soldier that would have pleased Rich and Churchyard:
By seelie soules best executed aye,
And bravest bragges (the foemens force to tempt)
Accomplished but coldely many a daye,
The Souldiour charge, the leader lope away. (stz. 104)
Yet surely this withouten bragge or boast,27. What the ‘English bloudes’ lack is discipline and leadership, the skills of military professionalism that Rich and Churchyard also valued. But where Rich emphasises the importance of obedience for the professional soldier, and Churchyard presents himself as a humble trooper, Gascoigne, while deploring the indiscipline of others, identifies himself with a gentlemanly class for whom personal freedom is a mark of honour:
Our English bloudes did there full many a deede,
Which may be Chronicled in every coaste,
For bolde attempts, and well it was agreed,
That had their heades bene rulde by warie heede,
Some other feate had bene attempted then,
To shew their force like worthie English men. (stz. 98)
My harte was high, I could not seeme to serve,
In regiment where no good rules remayne,
Where officers and such as well deserve,
Shall be abusde by every page and swayne,
Where discipline shall be but deemed vayne,
Where blockes are stridde by stumblers at a strawe,
And where selfe will must stand for martiall lawe.(stz. 110) (21)
As a result, Gascoigne, self-willfully ‘crackt my staffe in two’ (stz. 111). What, to the gentleman soldier, seems a gesture of freedom and honour, may as easily be seen as yet another instance of the military indiscipline the speaker so roundly condemns. How should we as readers respond? Are we called on to admire or to condemn?
28. Gascoigne the moralist attacks particularly the kind of soldier that he named ‘Haughty hart’ in the first half of the poem, that is, the man who glorifies war and ‘hunts (nought els) but honor for to get’, instead finding ‘treason, malyce, sicknesse, sore and smarte’ (stz. 39). He warns that the motive of honour cannot keep ‘Haughty hart’ uncontaminated by the horrors of war:
To see the sucklings put into the pot,Captain Gascoigne’s experience confirms the moralist’s warnings; he too is contaminated by the depredations of his band who, living off the land, ‘brake the Bowres [cottages], and racke them in a rage’ (stz. 100):
To heare their giltlesse bloode send cries alofte,
And call for vengeance unto him [God]. (stz. 41).
Such prankes were playde by Souldiours dayly there,
And though my self did not therein amisse,
(As God he knowes and men can witnesse beare,)
Yet since I had a charge, I am not cleare,
For seldome climes that Captaine to renowne,
Whose Souldiours faults so plucke his honour downe. (stz. 101).
Where Rich and Churchyard acknowledged the grim realities of war, but disassociated the good soldier from moral contamination by such horrors, Gascoigne’s soldierly persona is increasingly compromised by his experience, proving the moralist’s warnings against war, but undermining the ethical authority with which the moralist, whose alter ego is the soldier, speaks.
29. In stanza 101, Gascoigne claims to be guilty only by association ‘(As God he knowes and men can witnesse beare)’, but doubts about the trustworthiness of the speaker are allowed to break into the narrative at a number of points. Increasingly the voice of the soldier is self-justifying and defensive, explaining away disputes and accusations. In the final episode, Gascoigne and some other officers are put in charge of a band and ordered to defend a fort named Valkenburg against an approaching Spanish force:
A conference among our selves we cald,The narrative here combines a sense of order and discipline (the discussion amongst the officers, their sense of solidarity ‘all yfeere’, and comradeship with the soldiers they lead ‘nowe mates what merie cheere?’) with quite the opposite: the men lead the officers and self-preservation takes precedent over duty. The redundancy of the third line, ‘For truth (to tell)’, serves only to raise the possibility that truth is not being told here at all. The sense in this stanza of excuses being made, of others being blamed, and of self-justification, pervades the whole lengthy narrative of the debacle at Valkenburg (22). The narrative of the fort’s abandonment turns into an account of how the captains surrender to the Spanish who treat them like princes:
Of Officers and Captaynes all yfeere,
For truth (to tell) the Souldiours were apald,
And when we askt, nowe mates what merie cheere?
Their anuswere was: it is no bidyng here.
So that perforce we must from thence be gone,
Unlesse we ment to keepe the place alone. (stz. 155)
who could wishe (to ease his captive dayes)30. Not without reason, given this comfortable billet, Gascoigne concedes that some might doubt his moral: ‘Why sayed I then, that warre is full of woes?’(stz.180). Nevertheless, in spite of Gascoigne the moralist’s assertion that honour cannot be won in wars, Gascoigne the soldier is keen on defending the honour of his own behaviour. His defence, however, inevitably entails rehearsing the suspicions that call his reliability into question:
More libertie than on his fayth to rest?
To eate and drinke at Barons borde alwayes,
To lie on downe, to banquet with the best. (stz. 176)
For first we were in Hollande sore suspect,
The states did thinke, that with some filthie gaine
The Spainish peeres us Captaines had infect (stz. 183)
What is more, his own band accuse their officers: ‘They thought and sayde, thus have our Captaines solde / Us silly soules, for groates and glistring golde’ (stz. 186). The episode is a strange and disturbing one in the poem. It confirms the moralist’s argument that war is a scourge of God on all associated with it, but it also imports into the poem, yet again, doubts about the integrity of Gascoigne the soldier and narrator. Not only is Captain Gascoigne compromised by the thieving and depradations of his troops, but also by the accusation that he has sold out his trust to the enemy; an accusation that remains unsilenced in the poem in spite of lengthy protestations of innocence. We only have the word of the soldier to rely on, but in this poem soldiers’ words seem compromised by the trade they follow.
31. Like the deserving soldiers of Churchyard and Rich, Gascoigne presents himself as subject to bad luck and misfortune:
I hoapt for gaynes and founde great losse alas:
I hoapt to winne a worthy Souldiours name,
And light on lucke which brought me still to blame (stz. 145).
The pursuit of ‘a worthy Souldiours name’ implies courage, manly effort, and honesty, aspects of the soldierly persona that have already been problematized by the accusations of treachery and betrayal that Gascoigne rehearses in order to refute. Gascoigne stigmatizes himself as a ‘Haughtie harte’ who foolishly sought honour in war. His soldierly persona is also compromised, however, by the admission that he ‘hoapt for gaynes’ as well as honour. The line recalls the second kind of soldier that Gascoigne the moralist condemned for seeking out martial service: ‘Greedie minde’ who follows ‘warres for wealth and worldlie good, / To fill his purse with grotes and glistring golde’ (stz. 60). It is for such ‘groates and glistring golde’ (stz. 186) that Gascoigne and his fellow captains are accused of betraying their charge at Valkenburg.
32. The moralist lists a third kind of soldier who seeks out war; the poore 'Miser', who is
enforst by chip of any chaunce,Such ‘Misers’ are ‘as brave (sometimes) as best’ (stz. 72) with the word ‘brave’ slipping as usual between its meanings of ‘courageous’ and ‘showy’; do such ‘misers’ appear more grand in show than in fact? Or are they, in spite of misfortune, bold and courageous men? This category seems a long way from Gascoigne’s gentleman officer and closer to the ‘sillie soules’ (stz. 186) he led, but the poem firmly identifies Gascoigne with this kind of soldier. ‘Misers’ include both those cutthroats and thieves that Rich deplored when unscrupulously recruited into the army, as well as those unable to thrive in civilian life in ways that recall Gascoigne’s own biography as he rehearsed it, for example, in ‘Gascoignes wodmanship’ (23). A ‘Miser’ is an ‘unthrift he that selles a roode of lande, / For Flemish stickes of Silkes’ (stz. 76) in the vain hope of thriving as a courtier, or he is, the marginal note tells us, a ‘Prater’ (stz. 77), one who speaks or writes out of turn, ‘Yea some for rymes, but sure I knowe none such’ (stz. 81). For such soldiers, as for ‘Haughty harte’ and ‘Greedy minde’, war is a ‘schole’ of ‘fellonie’ (stz. 83), leaving a skarre ‘Which gives disgrace and cannot be conceald’ (stz. 90):
To steppe aside and wander nowe and than,
Till lowring lucke may pipe some other daunce. (stz. 73)
To prove this true how many in my dayes,
(And I for one) might be rehearced here,
Who after proofe of divers wandring wayes,
Have bene constreyned to sit with sorie cheere,
Close in a corner fumbled up for feare?
Till from such dennes, drummes dubbe hath calld them forth,
To chaunge their chaunce for lottes (ofte) little worth. (stz. 91)
Gascoigne the soldier here appears for a moment (in parenthesis) vividly associated with the cowering and fearful ‘Miser’, before his swaggering persona erupts permanently into the poem at stanza 94. This is a very different view of the soldierly Gascoigne from the gentleman officer who broke his staff in protest at the lack of proper discipline in the regiment (stzs 110-111). Gascoigne’s military self shifts and slips through all the categories listed by his moralist persona and visible in the soldier’s writings of Rich and Churchyard: the serving soldier who understands the disciplines of his profession; the seeker after honour; the victim of incompetence and bad luck; the agent of violence and famine; a desperado ensuring his own survival as best he can. In the final stanza of the soldier’s narrative, Gascoigne teases us about which label should be applied to him: ‘Then whether I be one of Haughty harte, / Or Greedy minde, or Miser in decay’ (stz. 192). Of course, all three labels may be applied to Gascoigne’s complex soldierly persona.
33. Gascoigne the soldier concludes his narrative by affirming the ‘old sayde sawe[s]’(stz. 31) of his moralist self:
I sayde and say that for mine owne poor parte,The pause after ‘Sweete’ suggests the clumsy joking of the rough-speaking soldier, but it also alerts us for a moment to the recurring notes of pride and satisfaction in Gascoigne’s soldier’s narrative, when he has sounded more like Rich’s or Churchyard’s soldiers, and seemed to share their values: when his ‘harte was high’ (stz.110), or he serves ‘in love and favour’ (stz.122) with the Prince of Orange, or when he is drawn on by the hope of honour and success. It also reminds us momentarily that the soldier in the poem has on occasion done rather well for himself, pocketing ‘Three hundreth gilderns good above my pay’ on one occasion (stz.141) and ending up being well looked after at the King of Spain’s expense after abandoning his charge. The pause reminds us of the problematic relation between the moralist’s didactic discourse and the authorizing account of the soldier’s experience. To what extent does the soldier’s story confirm the grim warnings of the moralist? Or are the high-minded lessons of the moralist undermined by the possibility that they are simply part of the special pleading and self-promotion of the soldier with a reputation to repair?
I may confesse that Bellum every way,
Is Sweete: but how? (beare well my woordes away)
Forsooth, to such as never did it trie,
This is my Theame I cannot chaunge it I. (stz. 192).
34. The poem is doubly supplemented at its conclusion; there is a ‘Peroratio’
and following that ‘L’envoie.’
Both confirm, and at the same time undermine the preceding poem. The ‘Peroratio’ appears to take the
sting out of the tail of the moralist’s accusation that the vices of civil life
are as implicated in war as the actions of the soldier. ‘Wicked warres’ according to the ‘Peroratio’
are to be found ‘In Flaunders, Fraunce, in Spaine’ while
for sure withouten doubt,36. It is difficult to know quite what to make of this last manifestation of the poet/soldier. Does the ‘lerned lore’ of books that the moralist told us was enough to ‘warne the wiser sorte’ (stz.18) prove inferior to the experience of the soldier? Or is it that war offers a better chance than writing to ‘recover his estate, / To royst againe in spite of Catchpolles pate [the skill of a petty officer of Justice]’ (stz. 76)? Or is it that, in spite of his anti-war invective, Gascoigne wishes finally to appropriate the stout and manly virtues of the humble, long-suffering soldier as articulated, for example, by Churchyard:
If drummes once sounde a lustie martch in deede,
Then farewell bookes, for he will trudge with speede. (ll. 28-30).
Whan any bruet, or voyce of warrs is hard
A shaemd in street, on foet cloeth heer to ried
Whan forward minds, in feel[d] shuld be prefard
And skorning pomp, and piuish pleasurs vain
For true renowne, ye troedg and toyill a main. (26)
37. Gascoigne claims in his headnote, that ‘The fruites of Warre’ was written ‘by peecemeale at sundrye tymes’ and it may be that this interrupted method of composition produced the poem’s lack of coherence. It is certainly true that Gascoigne seems to have too many agendas in this poem; it is at once a plea for patronage, a topical narrative of a recent campaign, an angry attack on greed in the state and incompetence in the army, and a poem of self-justification. To some extent, the repeated changes of voice and direction that I have tried to follow through the poem serve Gascoigne strategically. After the outspoken stanzas 19-32, in which misuse of power by princes, prelates, nobility and lawyers are characterized as acts of war, Gascoigne seems to withdraw, ‘my theame is stretcht beyond the starres’ (stz. 33). It is true that in apologising for his hawk-like Muse, he also seems to promise that the sharpness of her attacks will not be mitigated: ‘The greater gate she getteth up on highe, / The truer stoupe she makes at any thing’ (stz. 34). The occasionally placatory tone, and the roll call of the great and good that ends the poem in the ‘Peroratio’ and ‘L’envoie’, are strategic in a poem that presents Gascoigne the soldier as in need of friends. The self-rebuke of ‘L’envoie’, ‘Confesse withall, that thou hast bene too bolde, / To speake so plaine of Haughtie hartes in place’ (ll.5-6) apologises for the plainness of the criticisms, rather than acknowledging that the criticisms themselves were misplaced. The shifts in voice and perspective throughout ‘The fruites of Warre’ may therefore be partly strategic, masking, but also confusing, the authorial point of view.
38. Such explanations do not, however, account fully for the contradictions and strains in ‘The fruites of Warre.’ The poem demonstrates, I suggest, the potential, but also some of the problems of a new and vibrant voice in sixteenth-century writing, the voice of the serving soldier. Rich and Churchyard try to keep separate the manly values of the soldier from the social abjection of his association with the horrors of war. The serving soldier’s voice can be used to assert the values of experience, skill and the professionalism of men such as themselves who lack the claims of a privileged birth but who might earn rank and claim authority through service. Their claims are opposed to those who romanticize war or who see gentle birth as a sufficient qualification for a captainship. The soldier’s voice can also be used to critique the ingrained power and privilege of a civil and courtly establishment that denies valiant and honest service its rewards.
39. Gascoigne’s soldier is a far more complex figure; bravery, vainglory, humility, abjection and self-justification are all equally present, each aspect of the persona vying with the others to produce a wonderfully ebullient, self-contradictory, and highly dramatic voice. Where Shakespeare exploits the multiple possibilities of the serving soldier in Henry V, distributing the various aspects of the figure across a multitude of characters, from the Rich-like voice of Fluellen, to the braggadochio and shameful opportunism of Ensign Pistol, Gascoigne’s soldier contains much of this range, and hence many of their contradictions in one persona (27). In order to exploit this figure of experience and eyewitness to critique civil society and its implication in the causes and vices of war, Gascoigne divides his persona in two, suppressing the connection between the moralist and the militarist, until the latter’s voice erupts into the poem at stanza 94. The self-contradictory first person discourse of the soldier takes on a vibrant and dramatic life of its own, disrupting the more ordered and reasoned strategies of the poem. The ‘brave’ captain, proud of the prince he serves, acknowledges that he and his troops survive by thieving from the countryside, and is himself accused of betraying his followers for safety and cash. The gentleman officer is also a craven ‘miser’ ‘fumbled up for feare’ (stz. 91) who was such an object of contempt to the moralist. Contradictory and compromised as this voice is, it contributes to Gascoigne’s poem the tour-de-force of a dramatic soliloquy that overwhelms and undermines the didactic structure by which it should be framed and disciplined.
23 Pigman, A Hundreth, no. 72.
Responses to this piece intended for the Readers' Forum may be sent to the Editor at M.Steggle@shu.ac.uk.
© 2008-, Matthew Steggle (Editor, EMLS).