The Military Revolution?

Michael Roberts’ Military Revolution thesis states that although the period between 1560 & 1660 is often overlooked by military historians, it is a period of profound significance on European history and “stands like a great divide separating mediaeval society from the modern world.”[1]  Roberts’ revolution centers on one primary innovation – one concerning tactics, that he claims was solved by a return to linear formations.[2]  A return to this kind of formation then triggered a cascade of other changes, including a new standard of discipline for soldiers as well as training, uniforms, standing armies and an overhaul of state control over every-day military affairs.[3] In addition, Roberts argues that the armies regularly fielded throughout this period were substantially larger than those previously engaged, and military leaders were forced to consider broader theaters of war – up to and including all of central Europe.[4]  The increase in army size combined with an increase in the scale of war resulted in an inevitable increase in state authority and control.[5]  Rogers closes his argument with the assertion that “by 1660 the modern art of war had come to birth.  Mass armies, strict discipline, the control of the state, the submergence of the individual, had already arrived; the conjoint ascendancy of financial power and applied science was already established in all its malignity; the use of propaganda, psychological warfare, and terrorism as military weapons was already familiar to theorists, as well as commanders in the field.  The last remaining qualms as to religious and ethical legitimacy of war seemed to have been stilled.  The road lay open, broad and straight, to the abyss of the 20th century.”[6]

Parker’s theory of the Military Revolution differs significantly from the one posed by Roberts, although he acknowledges the era as one of significant – even revolutionary change.[7]  First, he disagrees with Roberts’ choice of dates.  Parker argues that many of the revolutionary changes posited in Roberts’ theory came directly from Renaissance Italy; therefore predating the 100 years Roberts highlighted.[8]  He uses examples not only from Italy, but Spain, France, and England as well.[9]  Parker’s thesis focuses primarily on the change in tactics that was necessitated by a change in defense – namely the trace italienne.  The timing and significance of Roberts’ revolutionary changes are therefore questionable, according to Parker’s thesis.[10]  Parker then examines Roberts’ claims about significant military growth.  While he agrees that the numbers most certainly increased, he disagrees with Roberts’ explanation of that growth.[11]  According to Parker, “it cannot stem, as he (Roberts) though, from the tactical and strategic innovations of Maurice of Nassau and Gustavus Adolphus: first, because these modifications were not so new; second, and more important, because the rapid and sustained growth in army size predated them.”[12]  Parker attributes the rise in sustained growth to the transition from cavalry to infantry, which allowed recruitment on a much larger scale.[13]  Parker also credits the increase in size of government and bureaucracy as well as technological advancements to steady army growth.[14]  In closing, however, Parker acknowledges that even his article barely scratches the surface of Roberts’ Military Revolution thesis, admitting that a revolution of warfare in Europe was evident, and that revolution had far-reaching implications for European society.[15]

 

Clifford Rogers focuses his chapter on the military revolutions that took place during Europe’s Hundred Years War.  For Rogers, the “period in which the most dramatic, most revolutionary changes in European military affairs took place: the period, roughly, of the Hundred Years War (1337-1453).”[16]  Rogers’ focus, therefore, is a full century before Roberts’ claim of a Military Revolution.  Rogers argues for not only one period of revolutionary change in the Hundred Year War period, but two.[17]  Rogers’ first revolution was with significant changes in the infantry, and the second with similar changes to artillery.[18]  Although infantry played a role in battle in the 13th century, they did not determine victory: this began to change early in the 14th century.[19]  The development of the longbow as well as a larger opportunity for recruitment and lower equipment costs all contributed to an increased role for the infantry that was fully implemented by the close of the Hundred Years War.[20]  Meanwhile, technological advancements in artillery use and production as well as improvements in gunpowder began to tilt the balance between defense and offense finally toward the latter.[21]  Rogers, in closing, argues for a “punctuated equilibrium evolution” approach to the many changes and innovations that took place during the era, rather than a single, decisive revolutionary change.[22]

Jeremy Black’s chapter, in contrast, focuses on the period between 1660 and 1792.  Black argues that, in fact, two revolutions took place – he puts the first in the late 15th to early 16th centuries and the second in the second half of the 17th and early 18th.[23]  Black goes further, however, and claims that “Roberts’ century was in relative terms one of limited change between two periods of greater importance.”[24]  Black’s focus on the period between 1660 and 1792 allows for the exploration of conflict between Europe and other parts of the world.  He also pays attention to naval developments and the introduction of a professional navy, which allowed European nations to effectively control oversees extensions of empire.[25]  Black also argues that the development of standing armies of increased size occurred a century after Roberts’ Military Revolution thesis.[26]  Black argues that the period post 1650 is especially important because of the continuing clash between European and non-European forces, primarily those of Islam.[27]  Black decisively argues that “the shift in the balance of military advantage…to isolate the period when Europeans became militarily superior to people who in the past had been their equals or superiors, most pointedly the Turks.”[28]  In this way, only after 1660 did the balance between West and East shift, placing Europe at an advantage.[29]  Black also argues that by focusing on individual countries, the bigger picture of changes in warfare is often unfortunately overlooked.[30]  Black concludes by arguing that both Parker and Roberts were incorrect in their placements of the Military Revolution because in many ways they overlooked the significance of warfare on a larger world stage than solely on the Western European front.[31]  Black considers both Roberts’ and Parker’s theories on the Military Revolution more adaptation than truly revolutionary.[32]

[1] Michael Roberts, “The Military Revolution, 1560-1660,” in The Military Revolution Debate, edited by Clifford J. Rogers (Boulder: Westview Press, Inc., 1995) 13.

[2] Roberts, “The Military Revolution,” 14.

[3] Roberts, “The Military Revolution,” 15.

[4] Roberts, “The Military Revolution,” 18

[5] Roberts, “The Military Revolution,” 20.

[6] Roberts, “The Military Revolution,” 29.

[7] Geoffrey Parker, “The Military Revolution, 1560-1660 – A Myth?” in The Military Revolution Debate, edited by Clifford J Rogers (Boulder: Westview Press, Inc. 1995) 37.

[8] Parker, “The Military Revolution Debate,” 39.

[9] Parker, “The Military Revolution Debate,” 40.

[10] Parker, “The Military Revolution Debate,” 45.

[11] Parker, “The Military Revolution Debate,” 43.

[12] Parker, “The Military Revolution Debate,” 43.

[13] Parker, “The Military Revolution Debate,” 44.

[14] Parker, “The Military Revolution Debate,” 45.

[15] Parker, “The Military Revolution Debate,” 49.

[16] Clifford J. Rogers, “The Military Revolution of the Hundred Years War,” in The Military Revolution Debate, edited by Clifford J Rogers (Boulder: Westview Press, Inc., 1995) 56.

[17] Rogers, “The Military Revolution of the Hundred Years War,” 56.

[18] Rogers, “The Military Revolution of the Hundred Years War,” 56.

[19] Rogers, “The Military Revolution of the Hundred Years War,” 58.

[20] Rogers, “The Military Revolution of the Hundred Years War,” 61.

[21] Rogers, “The Military Revolution of the Hundred Years War,” 67.

[22] Rogers, “The Military Revolution of the Hundred Years War,” 77.

[23] Jeremy Black, “A Military Revolution?   A 1660-1792 Perspective,” in The Military Revolution Debate, edited by Clifford J Rogers (Boulder: Westview Press, Inc., 1995) 96.

[24] Black, “A Military Revolution?” 97.

[25] Black, “A Military Revolution?” 97.

[26] Black, “A Military Revolution?” 98.

[27] Black, “A Military Revolution?” 99.

[28] Black, “A Military Revolution?” 102.

[29] Black, “A Military Revolution?” 102.

[30] Black, “A Military Revolution?” 107.

[31] Black, “A Military Revolution?” 110.

[32] Black, “A Military Revolution?” 111.

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