Of the general constitution of the bodies of the Britons (from the Description of Britain)

Holinshed 1577, Vol. I: The description of Britaine Book 1
Chapter 14 Of the generall constitutiuon of the bodyes of the Brytaines: fols. 38v-39r

Those that are bredde in this Islande are men for the most part of a good complexion, tall of stature, strong in body, white of coulour, and thereto of great boldenesse and courage in ye warres. For such hath beene the estimation of english souldiers from time to time, since our Isle hath beene knowne vnto the Romaines, that wheresoeuer they haue serued in forrein countries, the chiefe brunts of seruice haue beene reserued for them. Of their conquestes and bloudy battailes wonne in Fraunce, Germany, and Scotlande, our histories are full: and where they haue beene ouercome, the victors themselves confessed their victories to haue ben so dearely bought that they woulde not gladly couete to ouercome often, after such difficult maner. In martiall prowesse, there is little or no difference betwene Englishmen and Scottes, for albeit that the Scottes haue beene often and very grieuously ouercome by the force of our nation, it hath not beene for want of manhood on their partes, but through ye mercy of God shewed on vs, and his iustice upon them, sith they alwaies haue begun the quarels and offred vs meere iniurie with great despite and crueltie. Leland noting somewhat of the co(n)stitution of our bodies, sayeth these wordes, the Britaines are whyte in coulour, & strong of body, as people inhabiting neere the north, and farre from the Equinoctiall line, where contrariewyss such as dwell towarde the course of the same, are lesse of stature, weaker of body, more fearfull by nature, blacker in coulour, and some so blacke in deede as any Crow or Rauen, thus sayeth he. Howbeit, as these men doe come behinde vs in constitution of bodie, so in Pregnancie of witte, nimbleness of Lymmes, and pollitike inuentions, they generally exceede vs: notwithsta(n)ding that otherwise these giftes of theirs doe often degenerate, into meere subtiltie, instabilitie, vnfaithfulnesse and crueltie. Non armis sed ingenio vincuntur Angli We therfore dwelling neere the North, are commonly taken by forrein Hystoriographers and others, to be men of great strength and little policie, much courage and small shift: & thus doth Comineus burden vs after a sort in hys history. But thanked be God, that all the wit of his countrymen coulde neuer compasse to doe so much in Britaine, as the strength and courage of our Englishmen, (not without great wisedome, and forecast) haue brought to passe in Fraunce. Certes in accusing our wisedome in this sorte, he doth in mine opinion increase our commendation, for if it be a vertue to deale vprightly with singlenesse of minde: sincerely and plainly, without any suspicious fetches in all our dealinges, then are our countreymen to be accompted vertuous. But if it be a vice to coulour craftinesse, subtile practses, doublenesse and hollow behauiour, with a cloke of pollicie, amitie and wisedome, then are Comineus and his companie to be reputed vicious. How these latter pointes take holde in Italy, I meane not to discusse, how they are daily practized in many place of the maine, and be accompted most wyse and pollitike, that can most of all dissemble, here is no place iustly to determine, (neyther woulde I wishe my countreymen to learne any such wisedome) but that a king of Fraunce, could say, Qui nescit dissimulare, nescit regnare, theire owne hystories are testimonies sufficient. But to proceede with our purpose. With vs some doe liue an hundred yeares, very many into fower score: as for three score, it is taken but for our enteraunce into age, so that in Britain, no man is sayde to were old til he draw vnto thre score. These two are also noted in vs (as thinges appartayning to the firme constitutions of our bodies) that there hath not beene seene in any Region so many carcasses of the dead to remaine from time to time without corruption as in Britain: and that after death by slaughter or otherwyse such as remayne vnburied by foure or fiue dayes togither are easie to be knowen and discerned by their friendes and kinred, wheras Tacitus and other compleine of sundry nations, saying that their bodies are tam fluidę substantię, that within certaine houres the wife shall hardely knowe hir husbande, the mother hir sonne, or one friende another, after their liues be ended. I might here adde somewhat also of the meane stature generally of our women, whose beautie commonly exceedeth the fairest of those of the maine, their comlynes of person and good proportion of limmes, most of theirs yt come ouer vnto vs from beyonde the sea. I coulde make report likewyse of the naturall vices & vertues of all those yt are borne within thys Islande, but as the tractation thereof craueth a better head then mine to set it forth, so will I give place to other men, that list to take the same in hand. Thus much therfore of the constitution of our bodies, and so much may suffice.

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Holinshed 1587, Vol. I: the description of Britaine, book 1
Chapter 20: Of the generall constitution of the bodies of the Britons

Such as are bred in this Iland are men for the most part of a good complexion, tall of stature, strong in bodie, white of colour, and thereto of great boldnesse and courage in the warres. As for their generall comelinesse of person, the testimonie of Gregorie the great, at such time as he saw English capteins sold at Rome, shall easilie confirme what it is, which yet dooth differ in sundrie shires and soiles, as also their proportion of members, as we may perceiue betweene Herefordshire and Essex men, or Cambridgeshire and the Londoners for the one, and Pokington and Sedberrie for the other; these latter being distinguished by their noses and heads, which commonlie are greater there than in other places of the land. As concerning the stomachs also of our nation in the field, they haue alwaies beene in souereigne admiration among forren princes: for such hath beene the estimation of our souldiers from time to time, since our Isle hath beene knowne vnto the Romans, that wheresoeuer they haue serued in forren countries, the cheefe brunts of seruice have beene reserued vnto them. Of their conquests and bloudie battels woone in France, Germanie, and Scotland, our histories are fulle: where they haue beene ouercome, the victorers themselues confessed their victories to have beene so deerelie bought, that they would not gladlie couet to ouercome often, after such difficult maner. In martiall prowesse, there is little or no difference betweene Englishmen and Scots: for albeit that the Scots haue beene often and verie greeuouslie ouercome by the force of our nation, it hath not been for want of manhood on their parts, but through the mercie of God shewed on vs, and his iustice upon them, sith they alwaies haue begun the quarels, and offered vs meere iniurie with great despite and crueltie.

Leland noting somewhat of the constitution of our bodies, saith these words grounding (I thinke vpon Aristotle, who writeth that such as dwell neere the north, are of more courage and strength of bodie than skilfulnesse or wisdome.) The britons are white in colour, strong of bodie, and full of bloud, as people inhabiting neere the north, and farre from the equinoctiall line, where the soile is not so fruitfull, and therefore the people not so feeble; whereas contrariwise such as dwell toward the course of the sunne, are lesse of stature, weaker of bodie, more nice, delicate, fearefull by nature, blacker in colour, & some so blacke in deed as anie crow or rauen. Thus saith he. Howbeit, as those which are bred in sundrie places of the maine, doo come behind vs in constitution of bodie, so I grant, that in pregnancie of wit, nimblenesse of limmes, and politike inuentions, they generallie exceed vs: notwithstanding that otherwise these gifts of theirs doo often degenerate into meere subtiltie, instabilitie, vnfaithfulnesse, & crueltie. Yet Alexander ab Alexandro is of the opinion, that the fertilest region doth bring foorth the dullest wits, and contrariwise the harder soile, the finest heads. But in mine opinion, the most fertile soil dooth bring foorth the proudest nature, as we may see by the Campanians, who (as Cicero also saieth) had Penes eos domicilium superbię. But nether of these opinions do iustlie take hold of vs, yet it hath pleased the writers to saie their pleasures of vs. And for that we dwell northward, we are commonlie taken by the forren historiographers, to be men of great strength and little policie, much courage and small shift, because of the weake abode of the sunne with vs, whereby our braines are not made hot and warmed, as Pachymerus noteth lib. 3: affirming further, that the people inhabiting in the north parts are white of colour, blockish vnciuill, fierce and warlike, which qualities increase, as they come neerer vnto the pole; whereas the contrarie pole giueth contrarie gifts, blacknesse wisdome, ciuilitie, weakenesse, and cowardise, thus saith he. But alas, how farre from probabilitie or as if there were not one and the same conclusion to be made of the constitutions of their bodies, which dwell vnder both the poles. For in truth his affection holdeth onelie in their persons that inhabit neere vnto and vnder the equinoctiall. As for the small tariance of the sunne with vs, it is also confuted by the length of our daies. Non vi sed virtute, non armis sed ingenio vincuntur Angli. Wherefore his reason seemeth better to vphold that of Alexander ab Alexandro afore alledged, than to proue that we want wit, bicause our brains are not warmed by the tariance of the sunne. And thus also dooth Comineus burden vs after a sort in his historie, and after him Bodinus. But thanked be God, that all the wit of his countrymen, if it may be called wit, could neuer compasse to doo so much in Britaine, as the strength and courage of our Englishmen (not without great wisedome and forecast) haue brought to passe in France. The Galles in time past contemned the Romans (saith Cęsar) bicause of the smalnesse of their stature: howbeit, for all their greatnesse (saith he) and at the first brunt in the warres, they shew themselues to be but feeble, neither is their courage of any force to stand in great calamities. Certes in accusing our wisedome in this sort, he dooth (in mine opinion) increase our commendation. For if it be a vertue to deale vprightlie with singlenesse of mind, sincerelie and plainlie, without anie such suspicious fetches in all our dealings, as they commonlie practise in their affaires, then are our countrimen to be accompted wise and vertuous. But if it be a vice to colour craftinesse, subtile practises, doublenesse, and hollow behaviour, with a cloak of policie, amitie and wisedome; then are Comineus and his countrimen to be reputed vicious, of whom this prouerb hath of old time beene used as an eare marke of their dissimulation.

Galli ridendo idem frangunt, &c.

How these latter points take hold in Italie, I meane not to discusse. How they are dailie practised in manie places of the maine, & be accompted most wise and politike, that can most of all dissemble; here is no place iustlie to determine (neither would I wish my countrimen to learne anie such wisedome) but that a king of France could saie; Qui nescit dissimulare, nescit regnare or viuere, theire owne histories are testimonies sufficient. Galen, the noble physician, transferring the forces of our naturall humors from the bodie to the mind, attributeth to the yellow colour, prudence; to the blacke, constancie; to bloud, mirth; to phlegme, courtesie: which being mixed more or lesse among themselues, doo yeeld an infinit varietie. By this means therefore it commeth to passe, that he whose nature inclineth generallie to phlegme cannot but be courteous: which ioined with strength of bodie, and sinceritie of behaviour (qualities vniuersallie granted to remaine so well in our nation, as other inhabitants of the north) I cannot see what may be an hinderance whie I should not rather conclude, that the Britons doo excell such as dwell in the hoter countries, than for want of craft and subtilties to come anie whit behind them. It is but vanitie also for some to note vs (as I haue often heard in common table talke) as barbarous, bicause we so little regard the shedding of our bloud, and rather tremble not when we see the liquor of life to go from vs (I use their owne words). Certes if we be barbarous in their eies, bicause we be rather inflamed than appalled at our wounds, then are those obiectors flat cowards in our iudgement: sith we thinke it a great pece of manhood to stand to our tackling, untill the last drop, as men that may spare much bicause we haue much: whereas they hauing lesse are afraid to lose that little which they haue: as Frontinus also noteth. As for that which the French write of their owne manhood in their histories, I make little accompt of it: for I am of the opinion, that as an Italian writing of his credit; A papist intreating of religion, a Spaniard of his meekenesse, or a Scot of his manhood, is not to be builded upon; no more is a Frenchman to be trusted in the report of his owne affaires, wherein he dooth either dissemble or exceed, which is a foule vice in such as professe to deale uprightlie. Neither are we so hard to strangers as Horace wold seeme to make vs, sith we loue them so long as they abuse vs not, & make accompt of them so far foorth as they despise vs not. And this is generallie to be verified, in that they vse our privileges and commodities for diet apparell and trade of gaine, in so ample manner as we our selues enioy them: which is not lawfull for vs to doo in their countries, where no stranger is suffered to haue worke, if an home-borne be without. But to proceed with our purpose.

With vs (although our good men care not to liue long, but to liue well) some doo liue an hundred yeers, verie manie unto foure score: as for three score, it is taken but for our entrance into age, so that in Britaine no man is said to wax old till he draw unto threescore, at which time God speed you well commeth in place; as Epaminondas sometime said in mirth, affirming that vntill thirtie yeares of age, You are welcome is the best salutation; Salutations according to our ages. and from thence to threescore, God keepe you; but after threescore, it is best to saie, God speed you well: for at that time we begin to grow toward our iournies end, whereon manie a one have verie good leave to go. These two are also noted in vs (as things apperteining to the firme constitutions of our bodies) that there hath not beene seene in anie region so manie carcasses of the dead to remaine from time to time without corruption as in Britaine: and that after death by slaughter or otherwise, such as remaine vnburied by foure or fiue daies togither, are easie to be knowne and discerned by their freends and kindred; whereas Tacitus and other complaine of sundrie nations, saieng, that their bodies are Tam fluidę substantię, that within certeine houres the wife shall hardlie know hir husband, the mother hir sonne, or one freend another after their liues be ended. In like sort the comelinesse of our liuing bodies doo continue from midle age (for the most) euen to the last gaspe, speciallie in mankind. And albeit that our women through bearing of children doo after fortie begin to wrinkle apace, yet are they not commonlie so wretched and hard fauoured to looke upon in their age, as the French women, and diuerse of other countries with whom their men also doo much participate; and thereto be so often waiward and peeuish, that nothing in maner may content them.

I might here adde somewhat also of the meane stature generallie of our women, whose beautie commonlie exceedeth the fairest of those of the maine, their comlinesse of person and good proportion of limmes, most of theirs that come ouer vnto vs from beyond the seas. This neuerthelesse I vtterlie mislike in the poorer sort of them, for the wealthier doo sildome offend herein: that being of themselues without gouernement, they are so carelesse in the education of their children (wherein their husbands also are to be blamed) by means whereof verie manie of them neither fearing God, neither regarding either maners or obedience, doo oftentimes come to confusion, which (if anie correction or discipline had beene used toward them in youth) might have prooued good members of their common-wealth & countrie, by their good seruice and industrie. I could make report likewise of the naturall vices and vertues of all those that are borne within this Iland, but as the full tractation herof craueth a better head than mine to set foorth the same, so will I giue place to other men that list to take it in hand. Thus much therefore of the constitutions of our bodies: and so much may suffice.

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