Category Archives: Statecraft

Nobles at war

One of the most important things to remember about early modern wars is that kings could not wage them on their own. They needed contribution of noblemen and wealthy townsmen. But from tonwsmen kings needed only money, nobles were indispensible for both money and personal service. In the dawn of the modern state without bureaucracy and military schools only nobles bred for warfare could provide officers. And we know that armies required more and more officers every decade as complexity of warfare grew along with Military Revolution. The custom was to fight as a family: fathers, sons, brothers, nephews and cousins campaigned together providing unequalled cohesion. Also, nobles brought to war their retinues, clients and mercenaries. Refusal of noblemen to enter the war meant that the war could not be waged with success or could not be started at all, as Christian IV of Denmark found out to his grief, twice.

Value of nobles to warring kings is obvious. But what was in war for them? Here is the best summary of the issue I ever saw, in quotes taken from different places of “War, State, and Society in England and the Netherlands 1477-1559” by Steven Gunn and David Grummitt (2007): Continue reading

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Filed under 16th century, Statecraft, War & society

Republic lost: Venice as a perfect state

Oh, Venice, pure city, perfect state, where art thou? Aye, stones and waters still mark the place of your grandeur, but the Serenissima is long dead, never to return. Have no pity, wayfarer, over collapsing buildings and rising water, they are but epitaphs to the mighty Republic that stood firm for a thousand years…

Could it be otherwise? Could Venice survive in all its glory? The bitter truth is that it could live longer by transforming into a different kind of state – into a true empire for the age when only empires can compete. However, that would be the death of Venice nonetheless, because its old soul would be lost. That’s the power of inevitable fate: sometimes a man or a state faces a challenge that can only be passed by a profound change having little difference from death.

One can spend hours admiring the Venetian architecture and its “wet streets”. One can write books in folio about masterpieces of Venetian artists, sculptors and musicians. This “fiancée to the sea” is still ready to put a traveller under her spell, urging to forget about signs of decay and withering. But the real beauty of Venice could not be frozen inside stones and canvas. This splendour was one of the an ideal state — perfection of a unique clockwork in which thousands of small details were working better than hammers and anvils of more powerful empires. Dogado, Stato da Màr and Domini di Terraferma were a pyramid that stood prouder than burial-vaults of the pharaohs. The Venetian Republic left us a memory of the most stable European state that stood unbowed, unbent, unbroken until the end of the 18th century.

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Filed under Italy, Statecraft