Warfare was one of the few experiences between 1453 and 1789 that almost every European had in common. From the Atlantic Ocean in the west to the Ural Mountains in the east, and from the Mediterranean Sea in the south to the Baltic Sea in the north, most could not escape its impact. Its causes were legion, as were its consequences. New tactics and technologies changed how warfare could be fought. Large numbers served, either directly or in supporting roles, and even more were affected in some way, either through the destruction and damage it caused or the opportunities that it creporated. Its effects were socially and economically disruptive, and broke up settled patterns of culture and thought. People and printed material circulated throughout Europe, which stimulated the transmission of new forms of military practice and thought, part of a wider process of cultural transfer.
Incidences and Consequences
The ubiquity of warfare reflected, in part, the high incidence of low-intensity conflicts such as raiding and its reprisals, typical in peripheral regions as diverse as the English and Scottish Borders before 1603 or of the Long War conducted on the Habsburg and Ottoman frontiers in south-eastern Europe between 1591 and 1606. Civil conflict and armed rebellions might also expose populations to warfare, as might the aggressive military or police actions necessary to suppress or deter such behaviour, or to enforce either areas of state policy. Thus, even under the relatively peaceable reign of Louis XIV of France (1638–1715), military force was deployed on several occasions to crush tax revolts and drive the Protestant Huguenots out of France. Between 1640 and 1714 the Iberian Peninsula saw a number of violent revolts in Portugal (1640–1668) and, even more so, in Catalonia (1640–1659, 1687–1689, 1705–1713) that were triggered by popular political, economic and even proto-nationalistic grievances.
States also continued to resort to warfare because it still provided, on occasion, a means of successfully addressing the profound tangle of political, economic and dynastic grievances that had been inherited from the mediaeval period. Major wars such as the French Wars of Religion (1560–1601) and the Thirty Years War (1618–1648) were all in some measure triggered by, and structured around, questions of dynastic inheritance and political control.1 The period between 1688 and 1779 saw a series of conflicts concerning the Palatine, English and Scottish (or British), Spanish, Polish, Austrian and Bavarian successions, though economic and political concerns remained of equal importance.2 Persistent strategic imbalances within the Baltic littoral led to the Northern Wars (ca. 1554–1721) between various eastern and northern European powers, exacerbated by dynastic conflicts between Sweden and the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, and their ambitions to place a Swedish or Polish tsar on the Russian throne.3 The excessive territorial inheritances of the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V (1500–1558), covering the Netherlands, the Habsburg lands in Austria and Bohemia, and the Spanish possessions in the Iberian and Italian peninsulas, destabilised Europe for a generation.
Religious difference also provided both old and new triggers for conflict. In south-eastern Europe and (until 1492) southern Spain, the religious and political threat of Islamic armies seemed very real, and the coalitions of Christian kingdoms that won decisive clashes at Lepanto in 1571 or Vienna in 1683 were probably motivated as much by religious motives as by less elevated considerations of territorial aggrandisement, political consolidation and economic expansion. Yet there were also deep and abiding divisions within Europe itself after 1517, as the religious energies released by the Reformation fragmented and rebounded, exacerbating and inflaming existing social and political conflicts. In the early stages of the German Reformation, religious fervour and millenarian excitement became entangled with existing social and economic grievances, leading to the popular uprising known as the Peasants' War (1524–1525). In the French Wars of Religion, political and dynastic tensions were exacerbated by religious conflict. One of the most important effects of religiously or ideologically driven conflict was to pull in outlying groups who might otherwise have been tempted to stand apart. Thus what began as a serious but relatively contained Protestant uprising in Bohemia in 1618 rapidly metastasised into the Thirty Years War (1618–1648), one of the defining conflicts of the early modern period. Political, strategic and dynastic concerns all interacted, but it was also religious fears that drew in the Catholic powers of southern Germany and the Protestant powers of northern Europe. The strategic imbalances this created triggered the Franco-Spanish War (1653–1659), which caused in turn the Portuguese (1640–1668) and Catalan (1640–1659) revolts in Spain and the civil wars of the Frondes (1648–1653) in France.
Tactics and Technology
Just as wars continued to be fought for both old and new reasons, they continued to be fought in old and new ways. Until recently the early modern period was identified with a process of "Military Revolution", which emphasised the important technological and tactical changes which occurred and the new state structures created to support them.4 Particular emphasis was laid upon the development of gunpowder after the 15th century, and the creation not only of increasingly powerful and durable artillery but also of cheap and reliable firearms, which replaced the longbow and crossbow in the 16th century and the pike in the 17th. Increasingly powerful siege cannon rendered existing fortresses obsolete and stimulated a process of technological evolution from which the star fort, trace italienne or artillery fortress was the result.5 Laid out as a series of low-lying angled bastions, ditches and covered ways, the artillery fortress was intended to deflect attack by besieging ordnance and create interlocking fields of artillery and musket fire to overwhelm storming parties. Developed in the heavily urbanised centres of the Low Countries and northern Italy, and exported from there to Europe and overseas, the artillery fortress worked was both a response and spur to new gunpowder weaponry, and its principles were capable of both simplification and elaboration. Arguably they reached maturity in the fortresses created by Sebastien Le Prestre, Marquis de Vauban (1633–1707) in the late 17th century to defend the French frontiers.
The development of efficient gunpowder weapons also had a transformative effect upon naval warfare. During the mediaeval period war had had, of course, a maritime dimension, but without an effective ranged weapon most ships were used either to transport and escort military forces from one point to another, or as mobile fighting platforms. Gunpowder artillery now offered ships the opportunity to stand off and fight, and the 16th and 17th centuries saw the development of the ship of the line, a sailing ship with up to one hundred and twenty guns, arranged in broadsides and capable of delivering concentrated firepower.6 Further technological developments, such as the development of the carronade – a lightweight, short-range but high-calibre naval gun – by the Carron Company of Scotland in the 1770s, provided further refinements. Yet for a long time the galley, an oared ship of anywhere up to three hundred oarsmen, proved a viable alternative, and the Mediterranean powers maintained large fleets well into the 17th century. Galleys were updated and improved to mount new gunpowder weapons, producing new forms such as the galleass, which aimed to combine the benefits of both types of ship. The French galley fleet was not finally disbanded until 1748.
The rise of the ship of the line as an effective instrument of warfare also required a number of far more mundane technological innovations. The development of copper sheathing for ships’ bottoms by the Royal Navy during the 1770s was one of the most important, greatly reducing damage and thus the time needed for repair and maintenance, yet it was the product of several decades of experimentation.7 New forms of navigation supplemented old ones, and the development of reliable clocks and astronomical tables during the 18th century enabled sailing masters to exploit more fully the opportunities offered by superior mapmaking skills in the production of naval charts. Navies therefore existed in fruitful collaboration with broader maritime developments, as noted below, which not only affected how naval warfare was conducted but also altered the skills that naval officers required. On the other hand, longer voyages reflected both improved maritime technologies and the growing ability of states to supply their ships with sufficient provisions. Yet techniques of food preservation remained unchanged into the 19th century. The difference was in improved organisation, likewise discussed below, which made possible the production and storage of high-quality provisions upon an industrial scale, and the maintenance of domestic and overseas dockyards and victualling yards to supply and repair ships.
Thus the development of new technologies required new and improved means of deploying them, including revisions of naval and military tactics that aimed to make the best use of their capabilities. The development of the line of battle in naval warfare in the mid-17th century was an effective means of delivering the increasingly heavy broadsides of which ships were now capable. Yet it relied upon, and was developed in tandem with, specialised ships and naval artillery.8 The extent and importance of tactical change may well have been overstated, but it undoubtedly did occur, and the adoption of volley fire by infantry regiments, whereby they were drawn up into increasingly thin lines and exchanged concentrated volleys of musketry, likewise relied upon the supply of sufficient and adequate firearms and the training and support of professional officers and soldiers both in wartime and in peacetime. It also profited from the development of new technologies such as the plug and then the socket bayonet in the late 17th century, which allowed armies finally to dispense with pikemen.9 Cavalry tactics likewise entered a period of flux, throwing up experimental and transitional forms such as the dragoon or mounted infantryman of the 17th century, and adopted forms such as the hussar and uhlan discussed below. Moreover, the creation of more elaborate logistical structures notwithstanding, successful campaigns continued to demand the same skills in camp discipline, foraging and geographical knowledge required by mediaeval armies.
Indeed, the scope, scale and speed of these tactical changes should not be overstated. The new tactics of volley fire and the artillery barrage were specialised developments to suit a particular type of high intensity warfare in highly urbanised areas such as the Low Countries and northern Italy, and campaigns such as the Italian Wars (1494–1559) or the Eighty Years War in the Dutch Republic (1568–1648), and local conditions elsewhere supported different but no less effective tactics.10 For example, reflecting the particular strategic, geographical and logistical demands of eastern European warfare, the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth generally placed much greater reliance on its cavalry than on infantry or artillery. It was highly successful and widely imitated across Europe, and although the Commonwealth was dismantled in the late 18th century it was a victim of failed political leadership rather than any inherent military incapacity: The successful relief of Vienna in 1683 showed that it remained an effective force.11 In northern Scotland, the "Highland Charge" proved a similarly effective form of warfare, well-adapted to local conditions. It failed at the Battle of Culloden (1746) because Jacobite forces were underequipped and poorly led, and disappeared thereafter because the victorious British state engaged in a wholesale reconstruction of Highland society.12
Consequently, although myriad important changes occurred in tactics and technology of warfare in Europe, it is impossible to speak of any unique or coherent "European way of war" during this period. What emerges instead is an overlapping series of forms adapted to particular circumstances, and developing state infrastructures. Warfare proved both an important force for cultural transmission during this period, but the content transmitted, even in so specific a field as warfare, might vary enormously.
Direct Cultural Transfer
By its very nature, warfare during the early modern period generated large movements, both voluntary and involuntary, of people who thereby acted as vehicles for the transfer of military cultures and knowledge within Europe and beyond. It was highly disruptive to civilian populations, and the destruction wreaked by occupying armies, either deliberately as a military tactic or indirectly through excessive exactions, stimulated large transfers of population. During the Thirty Years War, large areas of Germany suffered high levels of depopulation, in some particularly active areas anywhere between twenty-five and fifty percent. Over the course of the 17th century, a series of conflicts between English, Scottish and Irish populations in Ireland (1594–1603, 1641–1651, 1689–1691) resulted in substantial elements of the Catholic population being driven overseas into Europe, taking their Gaelic culture with them.13 Increasingly widespread recruitment also resulted from the enormous expansion in armed forces during this period, and the high turnover due to disease, disability, desertion and death. Although figures for all army and navy sizes are unreliable, the French army, for example, rose from around 10.000 in the 1490s to 210.000 or so in the 1630s and then over 400.000 men after the 1690s.14
The line between choice and coercion was therefore blurred, but many people could still exercise agency over the form that their military service took, and thus the types of cultural transfers that resulted. For some, warfare remained an economic opportunity as well as a necessity, and the 16th and early 17th centuries were dominated by the mercenary, either as an individual, in small companies such as the German Landsknecht, or as organised contingents such as the famed Swiss pikemen.15 The process culminated in the Thirty Years War, when the infamous Albrecht von Wallenstein (1583–1634), raised an army of up to 100,000 men on behalf of the Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand II (1578–1637). The British Civil Wars (more narrowly known as the English Civil War) provided similar opportunities, and the memorable Captain Carlo Fantom, a Croatian mercenary who fought for both Charles I (1600–1649) and his opponents, was reported to have boasted that "I care not for your cause, I come to fight for your half-crown[s], and your handsome women".16 After 1660 these options gradually decreased, as states became increasingly suspicious of mercenaries’ loyalty. But because their military effectiveness remained undiminished, the practice of employing mercenary contingents continued. North German principalities such as Hessen-Kassel became notorious for the "soldier trade" (Soldatenhandel), in which their professional armies were formally hired out to states such as Britain for service in the British Isles and North America.17
Religious conviction often proved just as important. Economic depression at home meant that military officers were one of Scotland's most important exports during the 17th century, but most ended up with the Protestant armies of the Dutch Republic or the Baltic or north German states, and returned in the 1640s when the British Civil Wars offered both employment and a congenial cause.18 Huguenot officers expelled from France in 1683 similarly tended to enter British and Dutch armies, and Catholic Jacobites driven from Ireland and Scotland in the late 17th and early 18th centuries tended to join French, Imperial or Russian service.19 Dynastic obligations and connections might also influence allegiances, and the War of the Spanish Succession saw the unusual spectacle at the Battle of Almanza (1707) in Spain, where the Huguenot general Henry de Massue, Marquis de Ruvigny and Earl of Galway (1648–1720) led a British, Dutch and Portuguese army against James Fitz-James, Duke of Berwick (1670–1734) and the illegitimate son of King James II and VII of England, Scotland and Ireland (1633–1701), at the head of a French and Spanish army. As noted below, people might also move around for reasons of professional military education, of which perhaps the most famous example was the visit of Peter the Great of Russia (1672–1725) to western Europe in 1697, where he toured Dutch and English shipyards and brought modern military technologies and culture as well as personnel back to Russia.
Equally important but largely under-appreciated vectors for cultural transfer were the civilian men, women and children who followed armies in the field, or attended them at sieges or in garrisons. Camp followers provided numerous important services, including foraging, medical care and companionship, and thus very often enjoyed the same levels of mobility that soldiers experienced.20 During the 16th and early 17th centuries, armies frequently lived off the land, not only because they were smaller but because this reduced the logistical, administrative and financial burden upon the state. With state formation came the means to institute more reliable supply networks, and after 1660 the providore or professional provisions contractor was a familiar figure in European armies, and an important vector of cultural transfer in his own right. For example, Prince William III of Orange (1650–1702), the Stadholder of the United Provinces and later William III and II of England, Scotland and Ireland, made heavy use of Jewish provisions contractors such as Sir Solomon de Medina (1650–1730) during his wars against France between 1672 and 1702.21
Another channel for cultural transfer were the professional mercenaries, traders and engineers who served abroad and transmitted varying types of European technologies and tactics to local rulers. Some states proved more open than others, particularly where such innovations were consistent with and even enhanced existing forms and conventions of warfare, though in some cases they reflected fashion and the cultural cachet of employing new and exotic forms of military technology.22 In Japan, open but coherent political structures facilitated the early adoption, effective exploitation and independent improvement of European technologies in the 16th century. By contrast, in the Ottoman Empire and the Indian sub-continent there was greater political and cultural resistance. Although Indian rulers such as Tipu Sultan (ca. 1750–1799) hired European soldiers and engineers, Indian armies ultimately proved less successful than the English East India Company, which used its strong political and administrative structures to deploy its own native regiments of sepoys to considerable effect. American Indian tribes likewise readily adopted the muskets and rifles sold to them by European settlers and successfully incorporated them into their existing patterns of warfare, but were unable resist other forms of European warfare, even if their own patterns had inspired European light infantry tactics.
The complex process of adoption and adaption, even within what is generally considered to be European warfare, and the multiple vectors through which new technology and tactics were disseminated, is exemplified by the slow spread of the Europe of the "hussar" as a military type. The original hussars were irregular light cavalry from south-eastern Europe, who specialised in skirmishing and reconnaissance and possessed distinctive items of dress such as the pelisse (a fur-trimmed jacket worn off the shoulder), the busby (a fur cap), and the sabretache (a flat leather pouch). Employed with some success as mercenaries in the Hungarian and Imperial armies in the 15th century, hussars were recruited from the Balkans by their European opponents in Germany, along with their distinctive dress, which was widely reproduced in prints and pamphlets. By the late 18th century the term therefore became something of an empty label: light cavalry regiments in the Britain and the Dutch Republic, and in Spain and its American colonies, simply adopted the name and the dress. The Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth likewise employed hussars in the 15th century, but they evolved in a different direction, and by the end of the 16th century the term referred to the heavy cavalrymen that were deployed so effectively against Gustav Adolf II of Sweden (1594–1632) during the fourth Polish-Swedish War (1626–1629). For skirmishing and foraging the Commonwealth instead increasingly hired Tartar regiments of light cavalry known as Uhlans and armed with lances. Their distinctive weapons and dress, including the czapka (a four-pointed cap or shako), were in turn copied by neighbouring German states in raising Uhlan regiments armed with lances, and even adopted by the British army in the early 19th century, who simply redesignated light dragoon regiments as lancers and clothed them accordingly.
Indirect Cultural Transfer
Thus warfare stimulated cultural transfer not only directly but also through the movement of texts and images. Military literature was an established genre, and Classical texts on both theory (such as Vegetius’ De Re Militari) and history (such as Caesar’s Commentarii de Bello Gallico) had of course passed from hand to hand throughout the mediaeval period. The development of printing after the mid-15th century had an explosive effect on the speed and scale of such circulation, the lower cost and increased ease of ownership encouraging the publication of new literature and allowing professional soldiers to put their experiences into print. For example, the French Huguenot and soldier Henri de Rohan, Duc de Rohan (1579–1638) published his work Le Parfait Capitaine in 1631 as an extended study of and gloss upon Gaius Iulius Caesar’s Bello Gallico (100–44 BC) drawing upon his own military career during the Huguenot Rebellions (1621–1629) against the French state. Studies of military literature in England between 1603 and 1642 have shown that, even at this time of relative peace, large numbers of books and pamphlets circulated.23 Some were translations of foreign and classical works, but others were produced by English soldiers serving abroad, who intended them as much as manifestoes for foreign and religious policy as much as mechanisms of education and cultural transfer. The volume of texts increased even further in the 18th century, and, under the burgeoning influence of early Enlightenment thought, even claimed to subject military affairs to rational analysis: the Reveries ou Memoires sur l’Art de la Guerre produced by Maurice, Comte de Saxe (1696–1750) in 1731 are possibly only the best-known.
Gauging the reception of such works is, of course, more difficult. They continued to be produced throughout this period, suggesting that a strong market remained, and surviving copies frequently contain marginalia or annotations that indicate they were consulted. British army officers during the American Revolutionary War have been shown to have possessed in some cases extensive libraries of English, French and German works.24 On the other hand, it is very difficult to judge how widely such works circulated, and how much of an influence they exercised over professional and amateur soldiers and sailors, many of whom continued to learn by apprenticeship rather than formal education. In 17th- and 18th-century England, the drill book rather than the military treatise remained the most common form of literature, and although treatises helped to standardise infantry tactics and disseminate new ones, it seems that many soldiers found drill books more useful and relevant than more theoretical works.25 The same was probably true of more sophisticated technical publications on complex matters of fortification, military engineering and the use of artillery, as well as broader skills such as navigation, cartography and shipbuilding, and abstract skills such as astronomy, ballistics and pure mathematics that had military dimensions. Given their complexity, such works may have been primarily aspirational and restricted to a small technical elite, but works by figures such as Vauban would have enabled even a conscientious and reasonably educated officer to gain some understanding of the principles of fortification and siege warfare.
The outpouring of military books, treatises and pamphlets after the 16th century was of course part of a wider revolution in print culture, as the falling costs of printing, the rising rate of literacy and the increased ease of postal communication created a series of public spheres within which literature could circulate and ideas be disseminated. Numerous officers serving abroad wrote letters to friends and family at home, often including details of military engagements, tactics and technology, where they might serve as the basis either for direct discussion or further circulation. The rise of pamphlet and newspaper literature during the 17th century, especially as government censorship either eased up or disappeared, created further channels for cultural transfer. Military engagements were widely reported, with growing sophistication, to an increasingly educated and discerning public, and might be copied for further circulation beyond the main centres of consumption. The early 17th century saw the creation of a highly active public sphere in England, where news of warfare abroad and then at home was eagerly consumed, and to which writers responded by providing increasingly high standards of proof, including falsifiable details and multiple independent sources.
During the early modern period, warfare therefore acted as a powerful driver of cultural transfer, but it will have become obvious how far its most visible aspects – larger and more professional armies and navies, and more complex fortifications and ships – were sustained by the new capacities of European states. In Charles Tilly’s phrase, "war made the state and the state made war", though the exact order of events is still widely contested.26 An early modern navy, for example, could only serve as a vector for cultural transfer once a state had committed to produce and maintain not only the ships themselves but also the dockyards and victualling yards needed to maintain them, as well as the necessary ordnance supplies and a corps of professional officers, sailors and shipbuilders versed in the complex skills required to deploy navies effectively. A consistent flow of money and a strong and stable state with adequate administrative resources were therefore essential requirements for the conduct of early modern European warfare.
One important respect in which newly empowered states created the structures needed for wider processes of cultural transfer was in the support, for the first time, of permanent educational institutions that could effect the transmission of military culture and knowledge not just across space but also across time, to new generations of officers and soldiers. The French state led the way in this, and its military academies inspired imitations across Europe, such as the naval and military academies founded by the Danish crown in 1709 and 1713 respectively. In Britain, political fears of standing armies delayed the process, although from 1741 artillery and engineer officers could be trained in both theoretical and practical skills at the Royal Military Academy at Woolwich, and the Royal Hospital School at Greenwich was founded in 1712 for the more acceptable naval education. Most naval officers continued to be trained and educated at sea, but the English state also took a role in enforcing higher standards: After 1673, an English midshipman seeking promotion to lieutenant needed to six years of experience at sea, and to prove, at an examination, that he could splice, knot, reef a sail, work a ship in sailing, shift his tides, keep a reckoning of the ship’s way by plain sailing and Mercator, observe by the sun or star, find the variation of the compass, and do his duty as an Able Seaman and a Midshipman, thereby resolving a tension between amateur "gentleman" and professional "tarpaulin" officers.27
Because most military education still took place within individual units, perhaps of even greater importance was the growing ability of states to maintain permanent cadres of professional officers, and the standing armies and navies that acted as repositories of such skills. Some states maintained household troops or cadet companies specifically intended for training and education, such as the nine cadet companies set up in France by Louis XIV, although in practice the experiment provided anything but a seedbed for a new military elite.28 Yet the maintenance of garrisons and protective fleets at sea provided continuity and the opportunities for further training and education, thereby preserving a core of experienced commissioned and non-commissioned officers who were the backbone of any army or navy. The British system of half-pay, for example, allowed military and naval officers to be pensioned off when war ended and the army and navy shrunk, and to be recalled when war broke out again and these forces grew again in size, where they could staff and train new regiments of recruits. States also began to sponsor the professional education of key officials, as shown in the exemplary case of the brothers Jacob, John and Michael Richards, who were all sent abroad by the British Ordnance Office in the late 17th century to train as artillery and engineering officers.29 All three men accompanied various European armies in the Balkans and the Mediterranean, where they kept detailed journals and diaries of their experiences, and subsequently served Britain and its allies in Ireland, the Low Countries, Spain and Newfoundland.
Finally, the growing power of the state could also be used to support intellectual innovation and cultural transfer through the sponsorship of scientific research. For example, in the British Isles, the Admiralty and Ordnance Office sponsored research into mathematics and astronomy needed for cartography and maritime navigation, both directly – including the foundation of the Royal Observatory, Greenwich, in 1675 – and in collaboration with the Royal Society, founded in 1662. The Academie royale des sciences was set up in France in 1666 with a similar remit. The Spanish, French, Dutch and British states all sponsored prizes and research into the problem of discovering longitude at sea, leading to the development of lunar tables and the marine chronometer in the mid-18th century. From the 17th century, states also sponsored cartographic research intended to build up a stock of maps and charts required for military campaigning and maritime navigation, with obvious benefits for civilian navigation, surveying and engineering. Innovation, such as the development of coppering ships’ bottoms or new metallurgical, gunfounding and shipbuilding techniques, was also undoubtedly stimulated by the guaranteed market that the state now provided for such inventions.
A Military Revolution?
The sheer ubiquity of warfare in all its forms between 1453 and 1789 meant that it had a profoundly important role in stimulating myriad sorts of cultural transfers in Europe during this period. Warfare broke up settled patterns of thought and created new technological and organisational demands, even if these continued to reflect their own specific circumstances and needs. There was no single, definitive "Western way of war" during this period. There were, instead, simply a set of overlapping principles and techniques rooted in and evolving out of the political, economic and cultural conditions in which states found themselves. Neither was it distinctly European, since other states could chose to adopt them.
Change, and cultural transfer, was also mediated through several channels and was frequently a product of human agency, as people consulted their own economic and ideological needs and made choices accordingly. It proceeded both by direct and indirect contact, and was determined in part by the changing intellectual and cultural circumstances of early modern Europe, as well as the increasingly secure foundation provided by the growing power and resources of early modern European states. There may not have been a "Military Revolution" between 1453 and 1789, but the process of warfare was revolutionary in other respects.