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  • Print publication year: 2020
  • Online publication date: March 2020

9 - Warfare in Europe

from Part II - Cultures of War and Violence


Early modern European warfare features prominently in several important discussions of early modern violence, notably the debate on the Military Revolution and its variants, as well as forming part of the standard narrative of state formation and the emergence of an international order based on sovereign states. While the dominant trend was towards establishing the state as a monopoly of legitimate violence, the patterns and practices of European warfare remained diverse, as were the ways in which they interacted with state and ‘international’ structures. The creation of permanent forces was slow and uneven, while their implications varied depending on whether they were navies or armies. This chapter contests conventional conceptual models, such as that of ‘limited war’ waged by allegedly disinterested ‘mercenaries’. It argues that efforts to impose tighter discipline arose from multiple political, cultural, social and religious impulses, and varied in effectiveness. War was certainly not limited in terms of its capacity for violence and destruction, but it nonetheless remained broadly within established Christian concepts of ‘just war’ directed by a ‘proper authority’ for legitimate ends. The risks inherent in military operations were an additional constraining factor, despite this period becoming known as an ‘age of battles’.

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There is no single satisfactory overarching account of European warfare in this period, but Jeremy Black provides good treatments of sections of the time frame: Black, J., European Warfare 1494–1660 (London: Routledge, 2002), European Warfare 1660–1815 (London: University College London Press/Routledge, 1994). Also of use are Mortimer, G. (ed.), Early Modern Military History 1450–1815 (Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2004), and Black, J. (ed.), European Warfare 1453–1815 (Basingstoke: Palgrave, 1999). The key contributions to the long-running Military Revolution debate are assembled in Rogers, C. J. (ed.), The Military Revolution Debate: Readings on the Military Transformation of Early Modern Europe (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1995). The causes of individual wars are covered by Black, J. (ed.), The Origins of War in Early Modern Europe (Edinburgh: John Donald, 1987).

The material and financial means to wage war are examined by Bonney, R. (ed.), The Rise of the Fiscal State in Europe c. 1200–1815 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1999) and Storrs, C. (ed.), The Fiscal-Military State in Eighteenth-Century Europe (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2009), both of which offer good assessments of the fiscal–military state debate. Questions of manpower and organisation are well covered by Parrott, D., The Business of War: Military Enterprise and Military Revolution in Early Modern Europe (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012). This can be supplemented by Glete, Jan’s excellent study of Spain, Sweden and the Dutch Republic: War and the State in Early Modern Europe (London: Routledge, 2002). Ertman, Thomas offers an interesting take on the interaction between military change and political development in Birth of the Leviathan: Building States and Regimes in Medieval and Early Modern Europe (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997), which also references much of the extensive literature on that topic. International aspects are covered from a variety of perspectives by Nexon, D., The Struggle for Power in Early Modern Europe (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2009) and Luard, E., Balance of Power: The System of International Relations 1648–1815 (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1992).

The best overviews of naval warfare are Glete, J., Warfare at Sea 1500–1650: Maritime Conflicts and the Transformation of Europe (London: Routledge, 2000) and Harding, R. Seapower and Naval Warfare 1650–1830 (London: Routledge, 1999). There are many general books on tactics, most of which are of limited value, though Nosworthy, B., The Anatomy of Victory: Battle Tactics 1689–1763 (New York: Hippocrene Books, 1990) provides much useful detail. The conduct of war is also accessible through studies of individual major conflicts such as Mallett, M. E. and Shaw, C, The Italian Wars 1494–1559 (London: Routledge, 2012) and Wilson, P. H., Europe’s Tragedy: The Thirty Years War (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 2009). Various wider dimensions are explored by Hagemann, K. et al. (eds.), Gender, War and Politics: Transatlantic Perspectives 1775–1830 (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010); Lynn, J. A., Women, Armies and Warfare in Early Modern Europe (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007); and Bowen, H. V., War and English Society 1688–1815 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998). A more detailed guide to the literature is provided by Wilson, P. H., ‘British and American Perspectives on Early Modern Warfare’, Militär und Gesellschaft in der Frühen Neuzeit 5 (2001), 108–18.