The War of Spanish Succession – Modern Warfare and Throwbacks to a Previous Era

 

Although warfare continued to advance and evolve through the 18th century, a lot of military conflict and engagements continued to harken back to practices, strategies and techniques of previous eras, even though allowances were made for the near-exclusive use of gunpowder for the infantry alongside cavalry.  While new strides were taken in troop makeup (pikemen were made virtually irrelevant with the prevalence of bayonets) and in the standards for siege warfare, fortifications and defensive positions, a lot remained the same.[1]  In addition, armies grew larger and were organized under state control, and administration of the armed forces grew stronger and more aligned throughout Europe as the aristocracy recognized a need for stricter control over their troops due to the high probability of desertion.[2]

 

Medical technology, for example, had not caught up to military technology, and thousands upon thousands of soldiers suffered from disease, wounds and injuries with little to no hope of treatment or recovery.[3]  The cost of campaigns in loss of lives was enormous for relatively small gains in territory or power, and pitched battles were hardly decisive victory conditions for powers at war with each other throughout Europe.  In addition, warfare became more global, as powers struggled in Europe, their holdings in the New World often continued the conflict far from their home countries.

 

The War of Spanish Succession was one of those conflicts that originated primarily in Europe, but spread far beyond the Continent to both North America and the Caribbean.  Fearful that Spain and France would ally under familial bonds, England, Austria and the Habsburg dynasty united to fight against French interests and expansions in Europe and abroad.  Contrary to the standards of the time, English commander John Churchill fought rapid and dynamic against the French, and made significant initial progress.  Typical for the 18th century, however, siege warfare gained far more prevalence than open confrontation and laying siege to row upon row of defensive fortifications built to withstand such tactics became physically, psychologically and emotionally draining in terms of morale and fortitude. [4]  In the end, despite initial victories, the English, Austrian and Habsburg forces became bogged down and could progress no further.[5]  France had maintained the status-quo of European power, but at enormous cost both financially and in terms of manpower that would have lasting impacts on the French aristocracy, its holdings in the Americas and ultimately contributing to the French revolution.[6]

 


[1] Christon I. Archer, John R. Ferris, Holger H. Herwig and Timothy H.E. Travers, World History of Warfare (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2002), 328-329.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

 

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Non-Western Warfare in the 15th Century

It’s clear that the development of warfare and society in the east diverged and developed much differently than it did in the European dominated west.  The question this week asks why.  In our first essay, the author compares the isolationist-leaning specialist troops of the Ottoman Janissaries and the Japanese Samurai, and discusses potential reasons for their aversion to gunpowder technology.  Both of these specialty troops were not only their respective nations’ elites, but they were a different societal class than common warriors that were either pressed into military service or compelled to serve a Lord.  The European model of warfare in this period emphasized chivalry, and their warfare centered on Knights – and then ranged gunpowder weaponry as knights began to lose prominence in favor of newer, more effective technology.[1]  Both the Janissaries and the Samurai, however, refused to adapt to the new gunpowder usage and preferred traditional methods, including the famous Samurai sword which was as much a symbol of prestige as it was a weapon.[2]

Although both the Janissaries and the Samurai began as specialized military orders, they moved from warfare applications to more administrative roles in their respective cultures.  Yet they both desired to retain their status as warriors and a special class above the common people.  Ultimately both of these units failed to live up to their reputations and were eliminated by the cultures that they originally served.[3]   For both Japanese and Ottoman cultures, gunpowder and gunpowder weaponry, although advancing far faster than their traditional weapons, would be “beneath” these military elites, and their refusal to adapt to their usage set both of these cultures behind the technological progress of their European counterparts.

China, unlike Japan, did have a period of expansionist policies under the explorations of Zheng He.  Yet later Emperors denied his progress towards Chinese expansion and exploration, tainted his accomplishments and made future exploratory exploits illegal.[4]  While it is possible that Kristof’s explanation for this shift in opinion can be attributed to Chinese isolationism, this policy cost them dearly as Europe began to explore, trade and dominate Asian waters.  I would imagine the counter to this argument would be that it was isolationism and a combination of other factors, namely political distrust and internal discord that encouraged the change in policy as new Emperors came to power and sought to make a name for themselves through internal policies rather than external exploration.

[1] Oleg Benesch, “Comparing Warrior Traditions: How the Janissaries and Samurai Maintained Their Status and Privileges During Centuries of Peace,” Comparative Civilizations Review (2006): Vol. 55 no. 6, 50.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Nicholas Kristof, from “1492: The Prequel,” The New York Times Magazine (June 6, 1999).

The Battle of Agincourt

The Battle of Agincourt marked a definitive English victory against a much larger, heavily armored French force which is known as a turning point in English/French hostilities in the 100 years’ war.  Although the smaller English force dominated the French army, it is not fair to say that superior military technology and dependence on archers won the victory for the English forces.  Instead, the English victory can ultimately be attributed to a combination of factors including the conditions on the battlefield, previous weather that caused massive amounts of mud on the battlefield as well and the superiority of the English archers over the French crossbowmen.

In the moments leading up to the battle, the French organized their forces in three main parts.  The van included most of the French leadership, 8,000 helmets which included both knights and men at arms with 1200 mounted as well as 4000 archers and 1500 crossbowmen.[1]  Following the van was the French main force which was comprised of an equal force of knights, archers, men at arms as the Van.[2]  The rear guard contained the surplus fighting force.  Combined, the French force is said to outnumber the fielded English army by a ratio of 6 to 1.[3] The English force, by contrast, sent 200 archers to secretly hide in a field near the battlefield to surprise the French as they approached with the rest of the archers, men at arms and dismounted knights.[4]  When both armies were completely formed, the English moved forward while the French remained in position, hemmed in on both sides by woods.[5]  The English, on the offensive, were able to stop periodically for rest in the muddy ground as they advanced.[6]  When the archers were in range, they fired upon the French Van, wounding or killing many.[7]  The French cavalry mounted an attack against the English archers, but many were mowed down by the English longbows which had much greater range than the French crossbows, and the barrage of arrows distressed the horses and sent them into disarray.[8]  As the horses of the heavy French cavalry bolted, the English men at arms as well as the archers equipped with pikes and axes began hand to hand combat.[9]  As the French van disintegrated, the English were able to attack the main force, despite a desperate French move to attack the rear.[10]  All French prisoners were ordered to be summarily executed to prevent them from joining French resistance in sight of the French front lines, further demoralizing the French.[11]

The English smaller fighting force proved superior to the larger French force, in large part, due to better organization, a willingness to follow orders more readily than their French counterparts who were thrown into disarray due to the continual volleys of arrows and the ability to recognize and seize the opportunities presented to them on the field of battle.[12]  Although the English longbow men were far superior in both range and accuracy to the French crossbows, their abilities alone did not claim the battle for the English.[13]  Ultimately the French placed too much faith in the arrogance of superior numbers and did not fully prepare themselves for the reality of the battle that they faced, cementing Agincourt as the best the English had to offer and the worst the French could muster simultaneously.[14]  Previous weather in Agincourt created a muddy battlefield that wreaked havoc on the French heavily armored troops, miring them in the mud, preventing them from reaching full speed in their cavalry charge and leaving them vulnerable to repeated arrow volleys from the English longbow men.[15]  By forcing a French charge and provoking the French into the battle due to increased pressure from both the archers and the hand to hand combat of the men at arms, the French rushed the English, exhausting themselves in the mud before they ever had a chance to reach the front line only to be cut down either by arrows or by swords.[16]

Although many more battles had to be fought to secure the English crown in France, Agincourt demonstrated the English professionalism and control in what seemed to be dire circumstances.  While English archers are often given sole credit for the Agincourt victory, a more fair description of the battle would also include the conditions, the strategy of Henry over the French lords and the willingness to comply with their leader’s orders over the disarray displayed by French forces.  Agincourt remains a unanimous and decisive victory for the English, though it gained King Henry V very little in the 100 years’ war and many more battles followed before a definitive victory over the French could be claimed.

 

 

BIBLIOGRAPHY

 

 

De Monstrelet, Enguerrand.  “Battle of Agincourt, 1415.”  Deremilitari.org. Internet.  Available from http://deremilitari.org/2013/02/battle-of-agincourt-1415/, accessed 20 January 2017.

 

 

Ellis-Peterson, Hannah and Isabelle Fraser.  “Battle of Agincourt: 10 Reasons Why the French Lost to Henry V’s Army.”  The Telegraph.  Internet.  Available from http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/8648068/Battle-of-Agincourt-ten-reasons-why-the-French-lost.html, accessed 27 January 2017.

 

 

Kerr, Wilfred Brenton.  “The English Soldier in the Campaign of Agincourt.”  The Journal of the American Military Institute 4, no. 4 (1940): 209-224.

 

Renna, Thomas. “Battle of Agincourt.” Salem Press Encyclopedia (January 2015): Research Starters, EBSCOhost (accessed January 27, 2017).

[1] Enguerrand De Monstrelet, “Battle of Agincourt, 1415,” Deremilitari.org, Internet, Available from http://deremilitari.org/2013/02/battle-of-agincourt-1415/, accessed 20 January 2017.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Hannah Ellis-Peterson and Isabelle Fraser, “Battle of Agincourt: 10 Reasons Why the French Lost to Henry V’s Army,” The Telegraph, Internet, Available from http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/8648068/Battle-of-Agincourt-ten-reasons-why-the-French-lost.html, accessed 27 January 2017.

[6] Enguerrand De Monstrelet.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Wilfred Brenton Kerr,  “The English Soldier in the Campaign of Agincourt,”  The Journal of the American Military Institute 4, no. 4 (1940): 209-224.

[9] Enguerrand De Monstrelet.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Kerr.

[13] Ibid.

[14]Kerr.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Ibid.

The Military Revolution? 1500-1700

It is undeniable that warfare changed between 1500 and 1700, but is it fair to call those changes a “revolution”? Perhaps the word “revolution” is a term that carries too much baggage – it implies fast, complete and total changes, which perhaps do not apply to warfare in this time period in the way that one would think.

According to Michael Roberts in 1955, the military revolution occurred between the years 1560-1650 and directly related to the introduction of gunpowder weapons, tactics and the bigger historical picture.[1]  The introduction of firearms and artillery into a military force necessitated larger, permanent standing armies which led to innovations in governments and administrations needed to oversee them.[2]  Innovations in warfare, however, which Roberts deemed a “military revolution” created the concept and the necessity for the modern state.[3]  Robert’s thesis on the military revolution between the years 1560-1660 in the early modern period focused on four key points: in tactics, strategy, scale and impact on society.[4]  There is evidence to suggest, however, that the armies of Spain and several other nation states were utilizing what Roberts deemed ‘revolutionary’ prior to the years he marks as the military revolution, including permanent armies that were well trained, adaptations in tactics and overseen by a military administration system.[5]  On the other hand, there were significant examples of standardization in many militaries throughout this century, and the introduction and significant use of military tactical handbooks accounted for many of the changes in tactics observed in the warfare of this period.[6]

In contrast, Geoffrey Parker in the 1970s argued that the revolution also sparked changes in defensive structures, making them capable of withstanding enemy artillery fire.[7]  Comparing the expansion of Western powers in the late 19th and early 20th century makes the innovations of the 17th and 18th centuries pale in comparison.[8]  Regardless of these two ideas of the military revolution, it is safe to say that there was no “standard practice” or “Ideal model” of warfare in these two centuries.[9]  While various countries encountered each other and used various tactics and often adopted tactics that they observed or experienced, warfare varied between states.[10]  Additionally while changes in tactics did occur with the introduction of firepower, it is arguable that morale, resolve and unit cohesion was equally important – if not more so – to a particular army’s success.[11]

Ultimately I think it is clear that there were many changes in both war and society in these two centuries, but I am unconvinced that these changes can accurately be called a “military revolution”. If it was a revolution at all, I think it’s more accurate to say that it was a revolution of society as powers gained wealth, notoriety, territory, weaponry and governmental structures conducive to fielding larger, advanced, technological armies in the attempt to gain the upper hand over their enemies.

[1] Jeremy Black, “Was There a Military Revolution in Early modern Europe?” History Today 58, no. 7 (2008): 34-41.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Geoffrey Parker, “The ‘Military Revolution’ 1560-1660 – a Myth?” The Journal of Modern History 48, no. 2 (1976): 195-214.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Black.

[8] Black.

[9] Black.

[10] Black.

[11] Black.