By the Queene. A proclamation against vagarant souldiers and others.
On August 9, 1588, Queen Elizabeth triumphantly appeared before the troops gathered at Tilbury and addressed them, supposedly saying “I know I have the body of a weak, feeble woman; but I have the heart and stomach of a king, and of a king of England too… I myself will take up arms, I myself will be your general, judge and rewarder of every one of your virtues in the field. I know already for your forwardness you deserve rewards and crowns; and We do assure you, on the word of a prince, they shall be duly paid you.” Accounts vary as to what she actually spoke to boost the morale of ill-equipped, poorly trained soldiers in the now immortal speech. A week earlier England had defeated the Spanish Armada in an astonishing naval victory. One might suppose the Queen knew of the victory. Even if so, she withheld the information since fears of an invasion persisted. However, such fears were fading and the crown was dire financial shape. The mustered troops (for England had no standing army) were soon dismissed to cut costs.
The Tilbury troops and those returning from the Low Country wars resumed their former occupations—at least most of them. Some had no gainful employment and added to the rogues and vagabonds that infested English cities and countryside. In November 1589, the queen issued A Proclamation against vagarant Souldiers and others after “hearing of the great outrages that have bene, and are daily commited by Souldiers, Mariners, and others that pretend to have served as Souldiers, upon her Highnesse good and loving subjects.” The queen appointed a Provost marshall to oversee punishment due to the “remisness and negligence of the Justice of Peace and other inferior officers” to enforce earlier proclamations against vagrants.
The present proclamation ordered that “all Souldiers, Mariners, Masterless men, and other vagarant persons whosoever” expeditiously obtain Pasports and “repair to ye place where they were borne or last resident.” Those that fail to do so will be “apprehended and executed.” Furthermore, she ordered that “the sayd masters, with whome the sayd persons have last served, shall receive them again into their service, and upon refusal thereof, commit them to prison.” “Impotent persons …shall receive some weekly relief” from the “places and parishes and of their last residencie.”
Elizabeth issued some 400 “By the Queene” proclamations during her long reign. Their survival rate is low; ESTC list five other copies of the present proclamation.
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