«In the early part of the sixteenth century, print culture in England was dominated by the publication of religious texts. In 1588, however, after the ...»
WHAT CAN ELIZABETHAN PAMPHLETS AND BALLADS TELL US
ABOUT ELIZABETHAN MILITARY CULTURE?
In the early part of the sixteenth century, print culture in England was dominated by the
publication of religious texts. In 1588, however, after the defeat of the Spanish Armada,
England saw a proliferation of both religious and secular print. Some of the secular
pamphlets were war-oriented ballads and some newsbooks. This explosion of interest in contemporary war-oriented ballads and news pamphlets is often disregarded due to the scholarly belief that such publications constituted a genre that was culturally negligible.
Nevertheless, I argue that if topical war ballads and news pamphlets are investigated in the context of Elizabethan military culture they can be seen as voicing a genuine ‗Elizabethan‘ war experience.
This article aims to locate the status of war-oriented ballads and news pamphlets as a means of determining the importance of cheap print to Elizabethan military culture.
The first section surveys the critical assessments of Elizabethan cheap print as it attempts to locate a general understanding of the significance of news and military pamphlets within existing scholarly discourses. The second section offers a case study of the careers of John Wolfe and Richard Field, two of the most prolific stationers of the age, as it assesses their publishing practices for circulating political and military discourses. These sections coalesce in a reading of military culture that relates its ideological concerns both to an Elizabethan public and to circles of courtly and aristocratic readers.
A. A General Overview of Cheap Print and Public Opinion As Natalie Mears notes, in the sixteenth century there was no evidence that contemporary readers saw print as a formal vehicle of news. 1 Both Fritz Levy and Richard Cust have observed that printed news pamphlets were not produced in large numbers until the outbreak of war against Spain in 15852 and that printed news did not contribute to the establishment of a public sphere in Elizabethan England prior to that date. 3 This opinion, however, has been disputed. For instance, Joad Raymond has identified the significant rise in the publication of news pamphlets as not occurring in the 1580s, but in the 1620s.4 Nevertheless, as Lisa F. Parmelee observes, and as I wish to support, many Elizabethan news pamphlets of the 1580s and the 1590s resemble the political propaganda on the French Wars of Religion. 5 Moreover, the circulation of news pamphlets and ballads that John Wolfe or Richard Field printed, as I will further elaborate, can claim significance in moulding popular opinion.
44 ELIZABETHAN PAMPHLETS AND BALLADSIt is noteworthy that, contrary to the opinions of both Levy and Cust, in the sixteenth century the circulation of news was neither restricted to the London area nor to an elite readership. Examining records from the Star Chamber cases, for example, which include murders, witchcraft trials, accounts of monstrous births, and reports of Elizabeth‘s illegitimate pregnancies or children, Adam Fox demonstrates that news – whether of domestic or foreign political events – was neither geographically nor socially limited.6 Moreover, as Natasha Würzbach asserts in The Rise of the English Street Ballad, ―within the whole spectrum of the forerunners and early forms of English journalism, the street ballad has its fairly fixed position and is characterised by set functions.‖ 7 Therefore, I suggest that the late sixteenth-century ballads and news pamphlets acted significantly as an early form of journalism, similar to those of the 1620s. M. A. Shaaber also notes that war news is a forerunner of the newspaper in sixteenth-century England.8 If the sixteenth-century ballads and news pamphlets, as Tessa Watt speculates, served as news media to the contemporary readers who ―would, no doubt, have picked up the news pamphlets as we do a paper,‖ war news would have been popular and affected public attitudes toward military conflicts in the late sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.9 It is thus hardly surprising to see that, on the one hand, government regulations tried to strictly control printed pamphlets, broadside ballads of topical reporting and political comment, and, on the other hand, the government supported propagandistic broadside print.
Since printed news pamphlets and ballads of the 1620s and 1630s were commonly circulated, they engaged with, as well as acted as, a vehicle for popular opinions. In the 1580s and 90s England was militarily engaged in the Protestant cause in several ways;
but by the 1620s the same militaristic Protestantism was frustrated that England wasn‘t so engaged. Those who were in the 1580s/90s supporting national military action were by the 1620s opposing a government policy, which was not willing to engage in war. So the support of militant Protestantism had shifted politically from being – from the monarch‘s perspective to that of the 1620s and 1630s (when England, responding to the Thirty Years‘ War and Charles I‘s controversial religious policy, faced increasing tension between Protestant and Catholic sides), the role of news pamphlets and ballads would have been similar. Just as people of the 1620s and 1630s were probably conditioned by and likely responded to either print or oral news, so were people of the 1580s and 1590s.
In this sense, George Chapman‘s translation draws on a collected political and military popular memory. The dedication of Chapman‘s translation of seven books of the Iliades to the Earl of Essex, whom he saw as a man of ―living instance of the Achileian vertues,‖ for example, stretches from 1598 to 1609, when he dedicated the Twelue Bookes of the Iliades to Prince Henry. Not only did Chapman dedicate the complete Iliades to the prince in 1611, but in 1616 he also dedicated the second version of the book of Homer to Prince Henry, the late prince, remembering him as a man who ―loved the Theorik of [military] things, to practise the same‖ and was excellent ―in all manner of Things DONG-HA SEO 45 belonging to the Wars.‖ 10 Similarly, early seventeenth-century history plays, such as Thomas Dekker‘s The Whore of Babylon and the second part of Thomas Heywood‘s If You Know Not Me, You Know Nobody about Elizabeth and her reign, illustrate a growing interest in militarism.11 It is not surprising, therefore, that when political conditions in the early seventeenth century evoked Elizabeth‘s memory and military legacy both drama and cheap print used the same military image and language to engage a popular audience.
B. Pamphlets and the Circulation of Military News As Shaaber observes, ―[of] all the news from France printed before 1600, half, roughly speaking, was published by four men—John Wolfe (who published more than 60% of the half), Edward Aggas, William Wright, and Richard Field.‖ 12 At first glance, the publications of these individuals seem to consist mainly of reproductions of material printed or translated from private letters or from letters already printed in France and in the Low Countries. This kind of publishing has therefore been regarded critically as offering only a limited means for understanding Elizabethan politics. Such an approach, however, should be reconsidered because pamphlets of this period, as Clifford C.
Huffman suggests, substantially ―helped to popularise and confirm the highly charged partisan political atmosphere of the 1580s and early 1590s.‖13 Furthermore, I suggest that the kind of books entered in the Stationers‘ Register, especially pamphlets, reflect the interest taken by the English public in the military campaign of France and the Low Countries. Also, Thomas Nashe in his Pierce Peniless (1592) observed an Elizabethan news reader‘s ―greedy‖ purchase of newsbooks and D. C. Collins‘s list of contemporary news pamphlets confirms readers‘ prevailing interest in current affairs.14 These critical understandings suggest that news pamphlets and military ballads need to be discussed not only in terms of their circulation of war news, but also in terms of their functioning as vehicles for popularising military narratives for a non-specialised, public readership.
Despite their performative and musical nature, ballads are characterised by their didactic function. While ballads were seen as offering entertainment, they were also inherently a means for circulating current news and general instruction, especially to groups of individuals at markets, street corners, public houses, and fairs. 15 Although some contemporary ballads, referred to by modern critics as ‗news ballads‘ or ‗journalistic ballads,‘ have been compared with the current embodiment of ‗newspapers,‘ our understanding of Elizabethan ballads does not seem to consider the medium‘s role as ‗news‘ seriously.16 Of course, by comparing Elizabethan ballads like A New Ballet of the Straunge and Most Cruell Whippes Which the Spanyards Had Prepared to Whippe and Torment English Men and Women with twentieth-century newspapers, our understanding of the significance of ballads seems speculative rather than accurate.17 Pamphlets were vernacular works of topical appeal, which engaged with social, political and ecclesiastical issues and were generally published in the quarto format.18 To contemporaries‘ eyes, early pamphlets, like ballads, had been associated with ephemeral,