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Recruiting Citizens for Soldiers in Seventeenth-Century English Ballads

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This article revisits the “heroic and glamorous language” of recruitment and retention in seventeenth century England through an exploration of the market, medium and message of many hundreds of “military” ballads that were disseminated from London across the country, especially in times of war. These show that military volunteerism among the lower sorts was less surprising and more sophisticated than historians have previously imagined, which suggests the need to reconsider the question of military professionalism among ordinary rank and file soldiers. Furthermore, the common use of the love song as a vehicle for military messages, reveals how regular soldiering became a new vocation for the “lower sorts” in this transitional period for army development. This new “profession” not only marked a direct break from the older system of “estates” which put fighters at the top and workers at the bottom of society, it was negotiating its place within the social structures of household formation in early modern England.

Affiliations: 1: Victoria and Albert Museum


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