The spirit of this new urban order is captured in a sermon given in 1635 by Thomas Palmer, vicar of St. Thomas and St. Mary, Redcliffe, in Bristol. “This honorable City,” he says,
may be compared unto the sea-faring Tribe of Zebulon, that was a Haven for ships.…And so is this. The men of that Tribe were expert in warre: they could keepe ranke, they were skilfull at all the Instruments of warre.…And so may the men of the City.
Warfare is understood to be the scourge of God upon the wicked; it “is sent into the world for our sinnes, to correct us for them, to deterre us from them.” In consequence, military service is a divine calling. “As warre is from the Lord,” Palmer says,
so let it be for the Lord. If Caesars honour was touched, his souldiers were so prodigall of their blood, so desperately furious, that they were invincible. They gave unto Caesar that which was Caesars: let us give unto God, that which is Gods; the expense of our dearest blood for the maintenance of his Cause.
This militant Christianity was highly political, with the soldier viewed as the counterpart of the government official; each in his own realm battled in God’s name against iniquity and evil. As their roles were conceived by Palmer,
The two coexisted under the Lord of Hosts,
[t]he sword of the Warriour findes an honourable Parallel with the sword of the Magistrate. They are both drawn for the execution of Justice. Experience and skill are requisite to the managing of them both. Let the Magistrate countenance the souldier in time of Peace. And the souldier shall defend the Magistrate in the time of warre.
In contrast to the social vision of the late medieval community, whose hierarchical structure was mediated by a series of ritualized exchanges and mocking reversals of role, this new model of society was a military one, with sharply defined ranks, rigid organization, and harsh discipline. There is no room here for the carnival spirit of abandon that Mikhail Bakhtin argues offered “a second world and second life outside officialdom,” through which “all hierarchical rank, privileges, norms and prohibitions” are suspended, and people are permitted to enter “for a time…the utopian realm of community, freedom, equality, and abundance.”
[t]hat as that God of Peace hath taught us those things which belong unto our peace: so that Man of warre would teach our hands to warre, and our fingers to fight; that neither the sword of the Magistrate, nor of the warriour may bee drawne wrongfully, or in vaine. That the end of our temporall warfare may be a blessed peace upon earth: and of our spirituall, an eternall peace in the heavens. Unto which Peace the God of Peace brings us all.
In this light, the history of Bristol’s midsummer watches on St. John’s Eve and St. Peter’s Eve, 24 and 29 June, is especially instructive. In the fifteenth century, these were convivial gild events involving candlelight processions through the town and gild drinkings, which were generally such bibulous and violent affairs that in 1450 the Common Council took to distributing wine to each gild in strictly limited quantities paid for out of the town coffers. In 1572–73, however, Mayor John Browne ended the drunken revels and “the delightful shows” that traditionally had accompanied these festive occasions and, according to William Adams, “turned the same into a general muster in war-like sort; and all the burgesses being fully armed with all sorts of warlike weapons, every craft and science several by themselves with their drums and colours,” which, Adams says, “was well used and made a comely show.” In making this change Browne was anticipating the view of John Northbrooke, who in his Treatise against dicing, dancing, and vain plays, published only five years later, argued that military exercises “trayning vp men in the knowledge of martiall and warrelike affaires and exercising” and imparting “knowledge to handle weapons” were acceptable forms of play.