The early ‘military revolution’ was nothing more than an ‘infantry revolution’. Discuss.

This essay achieved a high 2:1 in the first year of my undergraduate.

The Early Military Revolution was nothing more than an ‘Infantry Revolution.’ Discuss.

There are many conflicting views on ‘The Military Revolution,’ both on what it constituted and by extension when it was. Some historians[1] consider the earlier move from the widespread use of swords, lances and crossbows among others to more uniformly pikes and muskets to be the defining moment of the ‘Revolution,’ and so argue that it took place primarily in the fourteenth and early fifteenth centuries[2]. Others[3] argue strongly for ‘The Military Revolution’ not taking place until later, in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries[4], and that it was the professionalisation of armies which was the revolutionary moment, with the increased emphasis on drill and discipline. Perhaps a more accurate view however is that ‘The Military Revolution’ should instead be described as a ‘punctuated equilibrium evolution,’[5] which is to say that it was more an evolution with a few revolutionary moments, none of which in themselves constituted it. This is certainly more convincing, as it effectively incorporates all the other arguments. There certainly were changes in other areas than just infantry, so it is impossible to describe ‘The Military Revolution’ as ‘no more than an ‘Infantry Revolution’.’ Almost every change to some aspect of foot soldiers was accompanied by a change somewhere else, either to compensate, or to complement.

There are those[6] who argue that ‘The Military Revolution’ was entirely focused on foot soldiers, and that any other changes were simply by-products of this. The main arguments for the ‘Infantry Revolution’ generally have their starting points in the fourteenth century, with the famous victories of infantry over cavalry at Courtrai in 1302, Bannockburn in 1314, Morgarten in 1315 and most importantly Laupen in 1339 and Crécy in 1346. The main reason for these victories is argued to be the development of an early “pike-and-shot” combination, which relied on missile troops being protected from cavalry by dismounted men-at-arms, or infantry armed with pole-arms; increasingly pikes as the period advanced[7]. This ‘Revolution’ progressed first of all with the move away from the use of swords as a primary weapon to a more self-defensive capacity. The resultant decline of swordsmen (mainly those who used large, two-handed weapons, such as in Germany)[8] led inevitably to the rise of the pike as the most popular and economical[9] weapon for infantry defending against cavalry.

According to this line of argument then, ‘The Military Revolution’ was purely an ‘Infantry Revolution’ in that it constituted the move from individual ‘warriors’ to deep, more organised blocks of pike-men, supported by small numbers of musketeers, with the decline in cavalry merely a by-product of this. The power of heavy cavalry in medieval Europe was well-known so developments were in cost-effective ways of combating it. The answer was discovered to be large formations of pikes with supporting musket-fire, and this is what is generally considered by the historians[10] who follow this line of argument to be ‘The Military Revolution’; the revolutionary changes to the way infantry fought (as well as the proportional decline of cavalry). According to this definition, the ‘The Military Revolution’ must be considered ‘nothing more than an ‘Infantry Revolution’.’

The most influential arguments concerning the ‘The Military Revolution’ are those for the importance of the later[11] professionalisation of European armies, most importantly those of the Dutch and the Swedes. This imposition of drill and discipline (which Maurice of Orange regarded as ‘the pre-condition for military success’[12]) is most obviously reflected in the organisation of infantry, with the move from the deep, unwieldy blocks of pike towards far more linear and manoeuvrable formations, as the emphasis became more on firearms; a wider front would allow more muskets to be brought to bear. This change began following the work of Machiavelli, and is rightly recognised as a revolutionary point.[13] Although this was a major part of the later ‘Military Revolution,’ it did not solely represent the contemporary changes to warfare, nor was this imposition of drill and discipline, as well as general organisation (including uniformity of equipment, as well as economy of training[14]) restricted purely to the foot soldiers.

There were simultaneously revolutionary advances in other aspects of warfare, with cavalry abandoning the largely ineffective caracole[15], in favour of the ‘Swedish Charge’ (a tactic which Gustavus Adolphus is credited with[16]) or the arme blanche[17], which involved a disciplined, shock charge with swords[18]. As well as this important change, there were other, more subtle changes in the roles of cavalry throughout Europe, as is shown by the growth of early forms of dragoons units[19].  The artillery also, while not necessarily becoming more disciplined, grew more flexible, with the introduction of more mobile artillery, which allowed close support of both infantry and cavalry. Although it is unclear when this change originated[20], it was certainly an important move from the largely immobile origins of artillery, and must be considered if not revolutionary then at least innovative. This definitely proves that ‘The Military Revolution’ as argued by historians such as Roberts and Parker was in no way exclusively an ‘Infantry Revolution,’ and that advancements were made both in terms of technology and tactics in other areas. This interpretation of particularly Roberts’ argument is however contested[21], that the changes in other areas of warfare were results of the revolutionary advances in the tactics and technology used by the infantry.

These improvements in technology continued away from pitched battlefields, towards siege warfare and the trace italienne, or the new-style fortifications which were built[22] specifically in order to defend against gunpowder weapons. It is argued that the development of these fortifications, combined with the more defensive advantages of gunpowder meant that there was once again an advantage with the defender[23] and this accordingly caused some significant changes to armies. The most important of these is the definite increase in size of armies, most notably 1550-1700[24]. According to some historians[25] the reason for the massive surge in the number of men involved in the military is due to the fact that to storm one of the new ‘star’ forts it generally required a manpower advantage of three to one[26]. It is also generally argued by these historians that ‘The Military Revolution’ also constituted a move away from pitched battles and towards more set piece battles (i.e. sieges), due to the fact that the human cost of storming a fort was too high, and this meant that sieges began to rely on the attackers starving out the defenders.

The terms of ‘The Military Revolution’ are widely debated, and all the arguments set forward have good points: what can perhaps be described as the ‘first stage’ almost certainly can be considered a purely ‘Infantry Revolution,’ as it solely comprised of the rise of infantry or rather, the “pike-and-shot” organisation pioneered arguably by the Flemish at Courtrai in 1302. However, the view of C.J. Rogers, that there was indeed an ‘Infantry Revolution,’ but that it did not constitute the full extent of the changes to warfare[27], is far more accurate as there were undoubtedly other revolutionary advances later on in the Early Modern period, most notably the professionalisation of armies towards the end of the sixteenth and the start of the seventeenth centuries.

By contrast, the arguments that ‘The Military Revolution’ was in the later part of the period (that it was purely this professionalisation which constituted it) seem somewhat incomplete; they fail to take into account the initial move towards gunpowder weapons and the marginalisation of heavy cavalry. These arguments also only mention the decline of decisive pitched battles prior to ‘The Military Revolution,’ while conveniently avoiding how warfare regressed to that point; an issue which has its roots in what is termed by some[28] as the ‘Late Medieval Military Revolution.’

Overall, it is difficult to agree that there was in fact a ‘Military Revolution’ at any specific point because the pace at which the various progressions occurred was so slow, due to the fact that it arguably began in the late fourteenth century and ended in the eighteenth century. C.J. Rogers’ argument that it was less a ‘Revolution’ and more an ‘Evolution’ is far more convincing. Even if it is considered a ‘Military Revolution’ despite its pace, it is undeniable that it was far more than simply an ‘Infantry Revolution,’ as is clearly shown mainly by the various changes undergone by cavalry; from mounted knights to pistoliers and then back to heavy cavalry (admittedly different, but heavy cavalry nonetheless), although the progression in the technologies behind artillery, and siege warfare was also significant, as it arguably[29] led to increased army sizes[30], and  the development of mass warfare.

Word Count (including title): 1,997

 

[1] Such as Ayton and Price, and to a certain degree J. Black and C.J. Rogers.

[2] See A. Ayton and J.L. Price (eds.), The Medieval Military Revolution: State, Society and Military Change in Medieval and early Modern Europe.

[3] Most notably M. Roberts and G. Parker, although J.R. Hale also supports this view.

[4] Although Parker sets the dates 1450-1800, his main argument is for Maurice of Nassau (1567-1625).

[5] C.J. Rogers, ‘Military Revolutions in the Hundred Years War,’ in C.J. Rogers (ed.), The Military Revolution Debate: Readings on the Military Transformation in Early Modern Europe.

[6]‘The Military Revolution’ as an ‘Infantry Revolution’ is argued by A. Ayton and J.L. Price, and C.J. Rogers does argue that there was an ‘Infantry Revolution,’ but that it did not constitute ‘The Military Revolution.’

[7] C.J. Rogers, ‘Military Revolutions,’ p.58-9.

[8] J.R. Hale, War and Society in Renaissance Europe 1450-1620, p.51

[9] In terms of training.

[10] A. Ayton and J.L. Price

[11] In the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries.

[12] D. Eltis, The Military Revolution in Sixteenth Century Europe, p.8

[13] See J. Black, War in the Early Modern World 1450-1815, pp.195-6, and J.R. Hale, War and Society in Renaissance Europe 1450-1620, p.59, as well as M. Roberts, ‘The Military Revolution 1560-1660,’ in C.J. Rogers (ed.), The Military Revolution Debate: Readings on the Military Transformation in Early Modern Europe, pp.15-6

[14] A major reason for the initial move towards muskets and gunpowder in general

[15] For a description of this tactic, see D. Eltis, The Military Revolution in Sixteenth Century Europe, p.22-3

[16] By M. Roberts, see ‘The Military Revolution 1560-1660’

[17] This is contested by G. Parker, see D. Eltis, The Military Revolution in Sixteenth Century Europe, p.10

[18] M. Howard, War in European History, p.59

[19] J.R. Hale, War and Society in Renaissance Europe 1450-1620, p.55

[20] M. Roberts credits Gustavus Adolphus (1594-1632), while J.A. Lynn presents evidence that it was in fact used in the early sixteenth century French army in ‘Tactical Evolution in the French Army,’ French Historical Studies, 14 (1985), pp.176-91.

[21] M.S. Kingra, ‘The Trace Italienne and the Military Revolution During the Eighty Years’ War, 1567-1648,’ The Journal of Military History, 57 (1993), p.432

[22] See D. Eltis, The Military Revolution in Sixteenth Century Europe, p.10 and M.S. Kingra, ‘The Trace Italienne and the Military Revolution During the Eighty Years’ War, 1567-1648,’ The Journal of Military History, 57 (1993), pp.431-46

[23] G.R. Potter (ed.), The New Cambridge Modern History Volume I: The Renaissance 1493-1520, p.275

[24] See B.M. Downing, The Military Revolution and Political Change: Origins of Democracy and Autocracy in Early Modern Europe and for a different argument; that the new fortifications were not the cause for increased army sizes, see J. Black (ed.), War in the Early Modern World 1450-1815, p.185

[25] Most notably by G. Parker, see ‘The Military Revolution 1560-1660 – a myth?’ in C.J. Rogers (ed.), The Military Revolution Debate: Readings on the Military Transformation in Early Modern Europe

[26] D. Appleby

[27] As opposed to A. Ayton and J.L. Price, see The Medieval Military Revolution: State, Society and Military Change in Medieval and early Modern Europe.

[28] A. Ayton, J.L. Price as well as D. Nicholas, see The Transformation of Europe, 1300-1600, pp.33-6

[29] Supported by G. Parker, ‘The Military Revolution 1560-1660 – a myth?’ in C.J. Rogers (ed.), The Military Revolution Debate: Readings on the Military Transformation in Early Modern Europe.

[30] See J.R. Hale, War and Society in Renaissance Europe 1450-1620, pp.62-3

Bibliography

Ayton, A. and Price, J.L. (eds.), The Medieval Military Revolution: State, Society and Military Change in Medieval and early Modern Europe (London, 1995)

Black, J. (ed.), War in the Early Modern World 1450-1815 (London, 1999).

Boot, M., War made New: Weapons, Warrior and the Making of the Modern World (New York, 2006).

Cameron, E. (ed.), Early Modern Europe, (New York, 2001).

Corvisier, A. (trans. Siddall, A.T.), Armies and Societies in Europe 1494-1789 (London, 1979).

Dorn, H., ‘The “Military Revolution”: Military History or History of Europe?’, Technology and Culture, 32 (1991), pp.656-8.

Downing, B.M., The Military Revolution and Political Change: Origins of Democracy and Autocracy in Early Modern Europe, (Princeton, 1992).

Eltis, D. The Military Revolution in Sixteenth Century Europe (London & New York, 1998).

Hacker, B.C., ‘Women and Military Institutions in Early Modern Europe: A Reconnaissance’, Signs, 6 (1981), pp.643-71.

Hale, J.R., War and Society in Renaissance Europe 1450-1620 (European Union, 1985).

Hall, B.S. and DeVries, K.R., ‘Essay Review – the “Military Revolution” Revisited’, Technology and Culture, 31 (1990), pp.500-7.

Howard, M., War in European History, (New York, 2009).

Kingra, M.S., ‘The Trace Italienne and the Military Revolution During the Eighty Years’ War, 1567-1648’, The Journal of Military History, 57 (1993), pp.431-46.

Lynn, J.A., ‘Tactical Evolution in the French Army,’ French Historical Studies, 14 (1985), pp.176-91.

Nicholas, D., The Transformation of Europe 1300-1600 (New York, 1999).

Parker, G., ‘The “Military Revolution,” 1955-2005: From Belfast to Barcelona and The Hague’, The Journal of Military History, 69 (2005), pp.205-9.

Paul, M.C., ‘The Military Revolution in Russia, 1550-1682’, The Journal of Military History, 68 (2004), pp.9-45.

Poe, M., ‘The Consequences of the Military Revolution in Muscovy: A Comparative Perspective’, Comparative Studies in Society and History, 38 (1996), pp.603-18.

Potter, R.G. (ed.), The New Cambridge Modern History Volume 1: The Renaissance 1493-1520 (London & New York, 1957).

Raudzens, G., ‘Military Revolution or Maritime Evolution? Military Superiorities or Transportation Advantages as Main Causes of European Colonial Conquests to 1788’, The Journal of Military History, 63 (1999), pp.631-41.

Raymond, J., Henry VIII’s Military Revolution: The Armies of Sixteenth Century Britain and Europe, (London, 2007).

Rogers, C.J., The Military Revolution Debate: Readings on the Military Transformation of Early Modern Europe (Boulder & Oxford, 1995).

Wiesner-Hanks, M.E., Early Modern Europe, 1450-1789 (Cambridge, 2006).

Feedback:

68%

All the following feedback is rated on the following scale: Outstanding-Excellent-Good-Competent-Pass-Fail.

Breadth of Reading: Excellent

Critical approach to historiography: Excellent-Good

Focus on question: Good

Organization of the material: Good

Depth of understanding and insight: Excellent-Good

Use of examples: Good

Introduction and Conclusion: Excellent

Factual accuracy: Good

Comprehensiveness of coverage: Good

Fluent and correct English: Excellent-Good

Accurate spelling/proof reading: Good-Competent

Sources cited correctly: Good

General Comments and Advice: This is a very impressive first essay, showing a good grasp of the topic, excellent management with historians’ views and awareness of a broad range of examples. There are one or two minor areas for improvement, but most of these are technical. It is better to refer to historians by name in the main body of the essay, rather than using the weaker ‘some historians’. Also, in undergraduate essays, the footnotes should principally be used to cite sources, rather than to expand upon arguments (although this is how they are sometimes used at more advanced levels).

At times you strayed away from the main question by dealing with the whole period, rather than the early ‘military revolution’, but you justify this well with reference to the differing historical arguments. Overall, while a little more focus is at times required, this is an admirable approach to a complex question, and a sign of better things to come. An excellent effort.

 

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