Monstrous Regiment is the 31st novel in Terry Pratchett's Discworld series. It takes its name from the 16th century tract by Protestant John Knox against the Catholic female sovereigns of the day, the full title of which is The First Blast of the Trumpet Against the Monstrous Regiment of Women. In it he argued that the Bible supported the position of men over women (Adam was born first) in governing the affairs of state. Knox believed that these Cathholic female monarchs, in particular Queen Mary I of England and the Scottish dowager Queen Mary of Guise who was regent to her daughter Mary Queen of Scots, pre-empted the natural position and authority of men. This attack on women in power, didn't sit well with Mary I's Protestant successor, Queen Elizabeth I and Knox never had the influence in English Protestantism that he hoped for because of it.
The story is primarily based in Borogravia, a highly conservative country whose people live according to the increasingly psychotic decrees of its favored deity, Nuggan, who is believed dead. The list of "Abominations Unto Nuggan" include Borogravia's neighboring states, resulting in little Borogravia having a particularly bellicose nature. The uncertain whereabouts of Nuggan leads the inhabitants of Borogravia to deify their Duchess, to whom they pray instead.
The protagonist of the tale is Polly Perks, who takes her name from the folk song Sweet Polly Oliver. Polly's brother Paul is missing in action after fighting in the Borogravian army, so she sets off to join the army in order to find him. Women joining the army are regarded as another "Abomination Unto Nuggan". To ensure her entrance into this male-only institution, Polly decides to dress up as a man (women doing so is also an Abomination Unto Nuggan) and starts calling herself Oliver. While signing-up she meets one Corporal Strappi, and the corpulent Sergeant Jackrum. Despite her apprehensions regarding Strappi she confirms her intent to enter the army by "kissing the Duchess"; that is, she kisses a painting of the noble. We see that there is a shortage of troops, with a Vampire named Maladict, a Troll, and an Igor also being allowed to join up. Gradually, Oliver discovers all is not well or good in the army. The remainder of the book is about her struggle to come to terms with this new world, and to find her brother.
The portrait of the Duchess watching everyone in the kingdom has its roots in the portraits of the Queen prominently displayed in every school and public place, keeping an eye on the citizens of the Commonwealth.
The name 'Borogravia' is an obvious takeoff on any of the former Soviet Union satelite states that became independent when that country collapsed. Mouldovia by combining Mould and Moldavia (now Moldova) and Borogravia by combining Belgravia (the affluent area of London) or Belgrade (the capital of the former Yugoslavia) and Borogoves (from the Lewis Carroll poem the Jabberwocky). For someone who disliked Lew Carroll's books, Pratchett certainly makes reference to them often.
The troll who charges extra if crossing his bridge with a billy goat is an obvious reference to the fairy tale, "The Three Billy goats Gruff". Pratchett uses this reference often in his books; trolls being a natural for guarding bridges.
The folk songs that Polly Oliver learned as a child from listening to her father and his mates late at night are all well known folk songs about war: The 'The World Turned Upside Down' was played at Cornwallis' surrender to Washington during the American Revolution. 'The Devil Shall Be My Sergeant' is also known as 'the Rogue's March' and was played when dishonoured soldiers were "drummed out of the army". 'Johnny Has Gone For a Soldier' is a version of the Irish lament, 'Siúil A Rún' and was popular during the American Revolution as well. 'The Girl I Left Behind Me' dates back to the Elizabethan era and was the standard song played when troops left for war. 'Sweet Polly Oliver' tells the story of a woman who dresses as a male soldier in order to follow her true love into the army which Polly does in this novel.
So early next morning she softly arose,
And dressed herself up in her dead brother's clothes.
She cut her hair close, and she stained her face brown,
And went for a soldier to fair London Town.
The other two songs are likely made up by Pratchett although both have probably roots in real songs; 'Colonel Crapski' has an appropriately Slavic sounding name for the word "shit", which the army would dish out in large doses but its title bears a similarity to the WWI British march 'Colonel Bogey'. Likewise, 'I wish I had never kissed her' (an appropriate song title given the potential likely outcome of a civilian/army encounter involving more than kisses) draws on parallels from the Norfolk folk song "I wish that I never was wed" popularized by Steeleye Span to "I wish I had never been born" sung by Patti Page.
"There was always a war. Usually it was a border dispute, the national equivalent of the complaining that the neighbour was letting his hedge grown too long." Pratchett also mentions hedge disputes in The Night Watch. It is a reference to disputes between neighbours leading up to violence, which had become a growing problem in Britain around the time the novels were written. In 2003, The national support network for feuding neighbours, Hedgeline - the Campaign for the Control of Problem Hedges of All Species in Residential Areas of the UK - had 4000 paid-up members and estimated 100,000 Britons were locked in hedge wars with neighbours at any one time. At the time Pratchett was writing this novel there had been one hedge related murder and there have been subsequent ones.
The line, "A man sits in some museum somewhere and writes a harmless book about political economy [...]" is a reference to Karl Marx spent who spent a lot of time in the old Reading Room of the British Museum when he was writing Das Kapital. Marx' book was obviously not harmless, leading as it did to the Russian Revolution.
Vimes meets Clarence Chinny he asks if he was a good fighter in school which is a reference to the line "taking it on the chin" or "leading with your chin", two boxing terms. Clarence responds that he was good at the 100 yard dash, the reference being, leaning into the finish line tape with your chin -the first thing to cross the finish line.
The religious zealotry expressed in '[...] the Book of Nuggan.' has parallels throughout fundamentalist religion and Pratchett plays on this throughout the the Discworld novels. Nuggan first appeared in The Last Hero as a short and irritable god; a perfect candidate for someone with a Napoleonic complex, his power on the wane. His various proscriptions from banning everything from the colour blue to barking dogs to babies carries his zealotry to a ridiculous extreme - not much different from some of the edicts of fundamentalist Islam or Christianity.
Vimes says, "any national anthem that starts with 'awake' is going to lead to trouble." The Borogravian national anthem which begins with The opening line "Awake, ye sons of the Motherland" does not seem to parody any specific national anthem. However, the anthem of Romania, one of the former Slavic satellite republics behind the old Iron Curtain, begins "Deşteaptă-te Române" (Wake Up, Romanian!) and France's anthem begins "Allons, enfants de la Patrie" ("come, children of the Fatherland"); The line "Frustrate the endless wiles of our enemies" echoes the second verse of Britain's "God Save the Queen" which goes:
O Lord our God, arise,
Scatter our enemies,
And make them fall;
Confound their politics,
Frustrate their knavish tricks;
On thee our hopes we fix:
God save us all.
National anthems, almost without exception, make reference to victories over enemies and rising up to become free - not surprising given that is usually how a nation is formed.
Polly tells the recruiting Sergeant that she is "seventeen come Sunday". This is a reference to an old English folk song where a soldier meets and has a sexual encounter with a young girl who is "seventeen come Sunday". The song was popularized by Steeleye Span and used by Vaughan Williams in his English folk song Suite.
The Sergeant says, "Give him the shilling, corporal." In the English army, taking the King's or Queen's Shilling was a ritual of induction; upon taking a shilling coin as enlistment bounty, the inductee was legally considered a soldier.
Vimes' "clever ruse" of disguising his troops as washerwomen to gain entrance to the castle resonates with Kenneth Grahame's Wind in the Willows where Toad escapes from prison disguised as a washerwoman. Pratchett ridicules this idea in The Last Hero as well.
The reference to the "undiscovered country" resonates with the quote from Hamlet's famous "To be or not to be, that is the question" soliloquy where he refers to death as "The undiscover'd country from whose bourn / No traveller returns". It might also be a reference to the film Star Trek VI The Undiscovered Country.
The Borgravian army wears a "[...] spanking red uniform [...]" Pratchett has modeled it and its standardization after the English (later British) army, whose soldiers wore red for nearly 250 years from 1645 onward, long before most other armies, including those of major military powers - some of which didn't truly become 'uniform' until as late as the First World War. While red was an ideal color for helping to identify soldiers of the same "side" in an era where soldiers fought in massed lines in the open, it was not ideal when guerilla warfare was introduced as it made an ideal target. Khaki and camouflage uniforms were then introduced.
The vampire, when being recruited says "you can call me Maladict" which is both a play on the name 'Benedict' and on the word 'maledict', which means "accursedness or the act of bringing a curse" ('mal' meaning 'bad' in French combined with 'edict' meaning a 'proclamation'.
Maladict says "I, of course, don't drink... horse piss, [...]" which is a play on Dracula's famous line, "I don't drink... wine". Pratchett uses this in Carpe Jugulum as well. This line, immortalized by Bela Legosi, with the dramatic pause before the word 'wine', appeared in many subsequent movie versions of Dracula, down to the Francis Ford Coppola 1992 remake Bram Stoker's Dracula. It originally came from the Hamilton Deane stage play Dracula which was popular in New York in the 1920s.
Black Ribbons are worn by those vampires who have signed the pledge of the League of Temperance and have sworn to become "B-total", an obvious take off on the Women's Christian Temperance League which was immensely popular in the early 1900s whose members swore off alcohol rather than blood.
The recruitment pamphlet from the Mothers of Borogravia has parallels to the activities of such women's patriotic organizations as the "Daughters of the American Revolution".
The unknown person in the privy says, "is this the escucheon of the grace the Duchess I see in front of me?" This is a play on the line from Shakespeare's Macbeth, "Is this a dagger I see before me?" An excucheon is a shield or emblem bearing a coat of arms.
The Four Lesser Horsemen; Panic, Bewilderment, Ignorance and Shouting are take offs on the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse; Death, Famine, War and Conquest (or Pestilence - Pratchett uses Pestilence).
The Line, "Don't ask, don't tell." is a reference to the United States military's policy regarding homosexuals. The long-standing prohibition on homosexuals serving in the armed forces was re-examined in the 1990s, however social conservatives were strongly opposed to any softening of the prohibition. The compromise that was eventually reached was labelled "don't ask, don't tell". The administration of the military was not allowed to ask a recruit or soldier his or her sexual orientation, but revealing it to be homosexual (or bisexual) was still grounds for discharge. The compromise was widely ridiculed by all sides, but has been upheld five times in the federal court.
Carborundum, the Troll's drink, "the Electrick Floorbanger" has its roots in the Roundworld drink the 'Harvey Walbanger' (the 1970s cocktail made of vodka, Galliano and orange) but it also sounds like a take off on the drinks in the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy such as the "Pan-Galactic Gargleblaster". It contains silver and copper metal in some kind of vinegary acidic electrolyte which would produce an electric current between the silver and copper and make a battery.
Corporal Strappi says, "You're in the army now!" which is a line from the 1917 American song by Isham Jones;
You're in the army now, You're not behind a plow, You'll never get rich, You son of a bitch, (the PG version says - By digging a ditch) You're in the army now.
Father Jupe's name is takeoff on the fact that famous officers (or infamous ones) often lend their names to articles of clothing. Cardigan and Raglan, two of the infamous leaders in the Charge of the Light Brigade lent their names to types of sweater and sleeves for example. 'Jupe' is French for 'skirt' so possibly Father Jupe is a former military hero.
Corporal Strappi says, "'Hands off -- well, you lot wouldn't be able to find 'em...'"
"Hands off cocks, on with socks!" is the traditional military wake-up shout however in this case there are at least two members of the squadron that don't have the required anatomy to be able to do as he says.
Corporal Strappi had written WHAT WE ARE FIGHTING FOR and down the side he had written 1, 2, 3." This comes from Country Joe MacDonald's (of Country Joe and the Fish fame) Vietmam-era protest song 'I-Feel-Like-I'm-Fixin'-To-Die-Rag', (famously performed at Woodstock):
And it's one, two, three,
What are we fighting for?
Don't ask me, I don't give a damn,
Next stop is Vietnam;
And it's five, six, seven,
Open up the pearly gates,
Well there ain't no time to wonder why,
Whoopee! we're all gonna die.
- Чудовищна команда (Bulgarian)
- Podivný regiment (Czech), ISBN 80-7197-242-8
- Monsterlijk regiment (Dutch)
- Le Régiment monstrueux (French)
- Weiberregiment (German)
- Potworny regiment (Polish)
! colspan="3" | Reading order guide