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  • Print publication year: 2009
  • Online publication date: July 2009

1 - Chimneys in summer


Harry Monmouth, being in his right wits and his good judgements, turned away the fat knight with the great belly-doublet; he was full of jests, and gipes and knaveries, and mocks; I have forgot his name.

Henry V, Act IV, Scene 7

In 1584, Sir William Cecil, Baron Burghley, wrote his son Robert a letter containing ten common-sense precepts for ordering his life. The advice was blunt – especially where he advised his hunchbacked son not to marry a dwarf for fear he might ‘beget a race of pygmies’ – and betrayed much about Cecil's prejudices. ‘Suffer not thy sons to pass the Alps’, he intoned ‘for they shall learn nothing but pride, blasphemy, and atheism’ he was also eager to add ‘neither … shalt thou train them up to wars’. Here he was unequivocal. To train a son for war was hazardous because

he that sets up his rest only to live by that profession can hardly be an honest man or a good Christian, for war is of itself unjust unless the good cause may make it just. Besides it is a science no longer in request than [its] use for 'soldiers in peace are like chimneys in summer.

To Burghley's mind, soldiering and the life of virtue were incompatible, and martial men were quick to grow rotten once their season had elapsed.