(London: Printed by Richard Johnes, 1590). 187 x 130 mm. (7 3/8 x 5 1/8"). 18 p.l., 50 pp. FIRST EDITION.
Recent polished calf, covers with blind rules, two brown morocco spine labels, marbled endpapers, all edges gilt. Publisher's device on title page, woodcut headpieces and initials. Cockle 46; STC 22883. Title leaf and final leaf with overall dust soiling and slight fraying at each edge, the four leaves following the title a bit soiled and with flattened creases at upper corner (several other upper and lower corners very slightly defective or also with flattened creases), one leaf with a short closed tear at bottom just reaching into text, but generally a surprisingly good copy internally (especially for a 16th century English book of this sort), with the vast majority of the text clean and fresh, and the retrospective binding essentially unworn.
This work is a panegyric upon the English longbow and the rank and file English soldier who had wielded the weapon with devastating effect in such famous 14th century battles as Crécy and Poitiers. It is also a condemnation of many features--virtually all of them new--of the way British military affairs were being conducted during Smythe's time. Although for him there were certain firearms that had stood the test of time, the author has little respect for the newly developed musket, which he thinks is sadly overrated and the weapon of cowards. He also denounces English policy in the Netherlands as ineffectual and misguided, and he criticizes the callous treatment which English officers mete out to their subordinates. His remarks were so stinging that within a fortnight of publication, the government of Elizabeth I suppressed the work. Although the author may have been swimming against the tide in his contempt for newly developed firepower, the work has much valuable information about 16th century weapons, military organization, and tactics. It is perhaps most interesting today for its support of the virtues and rights of the common soldier, whom Smythe never tires of extolling, and for its frankness about the imperfections of the war machine of Elizabeth. John Smythe (1531-1607) had served as a soldier of fortune and diplomatic envoy to Spain and Calais. After the suppression of his book, he became something of a desperado, and remarks made by him at a drunken banquet led to his arrest and imprisonment on charges of inciting a revolt (he was later pardoned by the queen). Smythe was not a crackpot, nor simply someone whom time had passed by. The first cousin to Edward VI, he is called by Cockle "an accomplished soldier" who had studied military arts abroad under Maximilian II and other princes. The suppression of the book surely accounts in part for its considerable scarcity (ABPC lists five copies at auction during the past 30 years). (CTS1206)
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PJP Catalog: NY19BF.095