A list of my favourite books on Early Modern Wars

I know it’s been a long time since I’ve written to this blog. Empires rose and fell, students graduated, The Trans-Siberian reached the ocean and went back hundred times while my legal roads still kept me far from my spare-time hobbies, history included. But as I see new readers here, I feel obliged to break the silence.

However, before writing something substantial I’d like to pay tribute to great works that inspire me to study Early Modern warfare. I have read enough of this genre to pave a decent square with, but here are the books I cherish most. The order is simply the order in which I remembered them.

1. J. R. Hale. War and Society in Renaissance Europe, 1450-1620 (The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1986).
This is the oldest book in the list but not obsolete. I can’t remember any new theory that was introduced by this book because for me it is mostly a collection of interesting facts. You can start reading from any page but it is very hard to stop. For someone who is acquainted only with books about battles and campaigns Hale would be a revelation because he touched so many other facets of war: logistics, food, civilian troubles, noble ideals, finances, discipline, etc. Today we see that few authors dare to omit such issues of warfare. It is to Hale among some other historians that we owe this widened gaze upon armed conflicts.

2. Michael Mallett. Mercenaries and Their Masters: Warfare in Renaissance Italy (Pen and Sword, 2009).
I love Italian warfare of the Renaissance era. If I ever learn Italian language I will do it primarily because English literature on this theme is scarce to put it mildly. But we are happy to have this book because it is a rare jewel. Mallett unfurled a story of intrigues, evolution and innovation. He makes many good points about condottieri and their place in military history of Europe and debunks lots of myths. Everything is well-balanced so you can find info about weapons, tactics, strategy, society, famous mercenaries and other Italian peculiarities.

3. Geoffrey Parker. The Military Revolution: Military Innovation and the Rise of the West, 1500-1800 (Cambridge University Press; 2 edition, 1996).
A controversial opus it is. But hardly can anyone name a more influential book on military revolution of Early Modern Warfare. It is bold and provocative, rich and stimulating. It inspires us to think and argue. That’s a great starting point. A third edition is coming soon with many new pages.

4. Geoffrey Parker. The Army of Flanders and the Spanish Road, 1567-1659: The Logistics of Spanish Victory and Defeat in the Low Countries’ Wars (Cambridge University Press; 2 edition, 2004).
Another seminal book of the same author. Simply the best book about Spanish Army of Flanders, at least the best in English. Salaries, weapons, food, billeting, mutinies, command – it has it all. There is less to argue about in comparison to the previous book in my list because research of the author is enormous.

5. David Potter. Renaissance France at War: Armies, Culture and Society, c.1480-1560 (Boydell Press, 2008).
Something similar to Parker’s book on Army of Flanders – the best work we have in English about French Army of 16th century. For me the most interesting here was the description of issues connected to French reliance upon Swiss mercenaries because of a weak national infantry.

6. James B. Wood. The King’s Army: Warfare, Soldiers and Society during the Wars of Religion in France, 1562-76 (Cambridge University Press, 2002).
This book picks up where Potter stopped. It provides a vivid picture of French royal army during the Huguenot Wars. The best parts here are discussion of gendarmerie and its resilience as well as narratives of battle of Dreux and a siege (I forgot its name).

7. Malcolm Wanklyn, Frank Jones. A Military History of the English Civil War: 1642-1646 (Longman, 2004).
Wanklyn and Jones managed to earn my respect even by introduction. You know, from lawyer’s view most historians fail to present an accurate summary of the reasons of the 1st English Civil War. But here I found a very precise wording. What followed was the best narrative of the war I ever saw. Not only battles and movements of units but also account of resources, morale and talent of commanders. Wanklyn has two more books on ECW which I readily recommend.

8. Peter H. Wilson. The Thirty Years War: Europe’s Tragedy (Belknap Press of Harvard University Press; Reprint, 2011).
This 1000-pages book can destroy a tank if you throw it out of the window. However, I kindly ask you to desist from doing it. Not only because tanks are beautiful endangered species but also because it is the fullest book on TYW in English. “It reads like breathe” definitely has to be siad about some other work, but if you have the stomach for digesting this heavy brick, you will be happy to know quite a lot about this long war. It is covered in detail but the author is not a collector of facts. He gave us many insights and arguments that make this book more than a fat reference source. Personally I fully agree with Wilson on many points like: – it is not a single war but many separate and interconnected wars; – it is not a religious war; – it is not a war that destroyed HRE; – it is not as monstrous and barbaric as it is usually presented.

There are two more books that I expect to add to this list in the future but I have yet to read them. The first is David Parrott. The Business of War: Military Enterprise and Military Revolution in Early Modern Europe (Cambridge University Press, 2012). I expect it to be delivered to me next Monday. A book about mercenaries from an acclaimed author of Richelieu’s Army: War, Government and Society in France, 1624-1642 (Cambridge University Press, 2006) – oh, gods, I have ordered it the moment I saw it.

The second book is Michael Mallett, Christine Shaw. The Italian Wars 1494-1559: War, State and Society in Early Modern Europe (Addison Wesley, 2012). I have received it not a while ago but it still awaits my attention. It is sad to know that Michael Mallett is gone, but his work is continued by such brilliant scholars as Shaw. First full research of the Italian Wars in English I think, and I have no doubt it is a great book.

There are many more good books about Early Modern warfare that I have read but my point was to name those that are dearest to my heart. What books are favourite to you? Feel free to name fingers and point names!



Filed under 16th century, 17th century

4 responses to “A list of my favourite books on Early Modern Wars

  1. I just received Parrott’s new book the other day; I’m looking forward to digging into it this weekend.

  2. Mitch Williamson

    Reblogged this on War and Game and commented:
    Superb Reading list…

  3. Reblogged this on The Big Board and commented:
    From Hale to Potter, an excellent reading list, that combs a period fraught with controversy and Anglicized notions.

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