Category Archives: 17th century

Army of Flanders

A moving and accurate description of the Spanish Army of Flanders by Fernando Gonzalez de Leon (from ‘The Road to Rocroi: Class, Culture and Command in the Spanish Army of Flanders, 1567-1659’ 2009):
‘As a royal courtier and chronicler put it, the Army of Flanders was “one of the greatest treasures that any monarchy or empire has ever had in the ancient and modern ages.”. . . The budget of the Army of Flanders amounted to over one half of total Crown expenditures. . . As Geoffrey Parker points out, this was more money than many European kings could spend. . . No other contemporary army had such a deep and well articulated structure of command, nowhere else but in the tercios were each rank’s responsibilities so clearly and permanently defined, no other army counted on such a large group of salaried leading officers serving with permanent patents and no other force had such a comprehensive and professional staff of civil servants in its financial and judicial services. In sharp contrast with contemporary armies, most military functions in the Spanish armed forces were carried out by professional officers commissioned and paid by the King, not private entrepreneurs or foreign mercenaries’.

Oh how I love his focus on command. Personally, I think that evolution of control and command hap far more impact on warfare than purely technical innovations. Can talk about that for hours, but not sure anyone’s interested. Discussion of musket’s penetrating power tends to draw more attention than details of increasing number of NCO’s.

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Filed under 16th century, 17th century, Spain, War & society

Business of war

Hurrah, I have finished the last 50 pages of David Parrott’s The Business of War: Military Enterprise and Military Revolution in Early Modern Europe. This is both the best and the worst book on early modern warfare that I’ve read in last 5 years.

It is the best because it debunks an unprecedented number of myths on mercenary armies, supply, evolution of state and other important issues.

It is the worst because of

huge over-complicated sentences that somtimes span across half a page, and in many places a simple thought is told in ten sentences instead of only one. That’s very uncomfortable after clear and vibrant style of authors like Hale or Mallett. But it’s not author’s fault: it’s editors of Cambridge University Press who did not earn their bread. So I have read it in small chunks of 20-40 pages, which took a long time.

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Armies on the move

The first sign of amateurish book about Early Modern warfare is its focus on battles instead of more important aspects of campaigns. (Second sign is an opinion about non-existence of consistent, fast and mobile strategy in that period).

A lot was written to challenge notions of primitive campaigns in last two decades. Here is a perfect example (footnotes omitted) from an excellent book War in England 1642-1649 by Barbara Donagan (hardcover 2008, paperback and kindle 2010):

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Furies: War in Europe, 1450-1700 by Lauro Martines


I couldn’t miss this new book on early modern wars. Author’s backlog was respectable enough to make me first-day-buyer (I heartily recommend his April’s Blood book about plot against Medicis). I have already finished it by now and here is a brief note (I do not consider myself competent enough for a detailed review).

The book is interesting and well written. The author had put some real emotions into the text, but kept it moderate, so the book is far from dry but is not too irksome in pushing of moral appraisals. However, I am subjective here, because I share most of author’s thought on state, war and their effect on society.
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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.
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On false advises: formations and command in early 17th century

Advises to generals of yore have a respected place in many military history books. I could easily name dozen authors who find it irresistibly tempting to suggest certain improvements which were neglected by those who actually fought in the wars instead of spending time in archives and universities. The only problem is that usually such advises would be useless e.g. in Renaissance wars, because these historians tend to miss some minor details which happen to be of paramount importance on the battlefield.

Personally I find it more efficient to assume that everything in Early Modern warfare was applied for a reason unless proved otherwise. Quest for finding such reasons brings into the light far more interesting facts than simple explanation “they were stupid (to use muskets instead of longbows, to charge with lances, to hire mercenaries, etc.)”. Continue reading

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Definition of an early modern mercenary

Speaking about Renaissance wars without mentioning mercenaries is the same as discussing politics without mentioning scoundrels. But who is a mercenary in Early Modern Europe? Lets find out.

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