In the Elizabethan re-organization of the English militia the muster-master was given the responsibility of supervising the training and inspecting the equipment of the trained bands in each county. As an ex-professional captain, he supposedly provided the experience in military matters lacking among those who served in the county lieutenancy and commanded the militia.
In The Muster-Master, a pamphlet written probably by Gervase Markham around 1630, unstinting tribute is paid the Elizabethan muster-masters. Confronted with an unprecedented threat from abroad as well as occasional domestic rebellion, “the state elected so many old and experienced captains and approved officers in the wars, as might furnish every county in the kingdom with one able and sufficient commander” who would instruct the bands, inspect their armor and equipment and certify all defects to the commissioners of muster. These tasks were “faithfully and skillfully performed, not by inferiors, or petty officers, which knew no more but the bare A.B.C. of war: but by such as had run through every grammar rule thereof; such as had borne the office of captain by desert and not from private letters, gaudy clothes, or lustful employments; such as have their wounds in their faces, chasing the enemy, not such as have whole skins by running away, which they now call a violent retiring.”
Not for long, however, did this situation last. By the time of the Armada the Council unwisely shifted the burden of paying the muster-masters on to the counties while the office itself became part of the lord-lieutenant's patronage. Commenting on the rising opposition to paying the muster-master's fee in the early Jacobean period, Boynton writes that the “main complaint was apparently that, subject to the Council's formal approval, the office was venal. Not that there was anything unusual in that; but the lord-lieutenants often retained this piece of patronage for their own clients, so that the county paid but had no say in the matter.” The author of The Muster-Master was deeply troubled by the results attendant on the lord-lieutenant's monopoly of military patronage in the county.