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Wednesday, 7 June 2017

Better to be hanged in Cheshire…

A proverbial saying in 16th century Cheshire was “Better to be hanged in Cheshire than to die in Ireland".  No doubt it was heartfelt for Irish service in Elizabeth’s army was notoriously hard, inadequate clothing and hunger were to be expected, pay seldom left the Captain’s purse, loot was non-existent, disease devastated whole armies and the terrain and climate were unforgiving, if you survived all that there were the Irish.

Apart from some, mostly impoverished, members of the gentry and nobility no Englishman wanted to fight in Ireland. The putative soldier was ‘volunteered’ by his social superiors at home and he didn’t like it. Most attempted to desert before embarkation although a variety of measures were taken to prevent this including removing the conscript’s clothes-naked men could not blend into a crowd and escape.

A further chance of escape presented once the conscripts reached Dublin and received their arms and uniforms, the cost would be deducted from pay on an ongoing basis, each shot fired would accrue to the debit side of the conscript’s account. He could of course sell his arms to a middleman who would sell in turn to the Irish.  That might raise the passage money home.

As a last resort, the conscript could actually desert to the Irish and sign on for a higher rate of pay with some Irish Captain and hope to survive until he could afford passage on one of the many English and Scots vessels bringing gunpowder to the Earl of Tyrone.  The language barrier meant that the best chance of doing so was to befriend the many Irish soldiers in his company and leave when they did.

Failing all that the conscript would find himself fighting in the most costly war in both money and men ever fought by the Tudor state.

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