What was revolutionary about the ‘Military Revolution’ in Early Modern Europe?
The Military Revolution:
From Medieval to Modern Warfare
The historical paradigm of the military revolution found its first main proponent in Michael Roberts’s The Military Revolution, 1560-1660. The theory of the ‘military revolution’ is the period of years from the mid fifteenth century to the end of the eighteenth century saw a radical modernisation of the science of warfare. The advancement of gunpowder artillery technology was the catalyst for the fundamental transformation of warfare in the Early Modern period. The innovation in artillery saw a renewal of reconstruction in the military and civic fortifications of the period to enable medieval defences of the Early Modern World to be able to withstand a sustained bombardment from the new advanced artillery. The innovation in gunpowder firepower realised a far-reaching change in infantry tactics to make use of and defend against the new technology. The sixteenth century marked a fundamental shift from anti-personnel small-calibre cannon on board ships to ‘ship-killing’ cannon; this shift has been termed the ‘Dreadnought Revolution’. A consequence of the new technology and the new tactics was a marked increase in the size of a state’s armed forces. In the early modern period there was a change of perception regarding the role of soldiering by society, as well as, the effects of war on society in general. The knowledge and skills of the ‘military revolution’ filtered out beyond the borders of the European states. The Military Revolution of 1450-1800 was the period of years that saw the modernisation of the making of war from the medieval to the modern world.
The end of the fifteenth century saw the beginning of the age of gunpowder firepower. It is evident that gunpowder in various forms were used before this time on the battlefield, it is the new effectiveness of artillery that military historians such as Hammer and Delbruck would argue saw a revolutionary modernisation in warfare. Gunpowder artillery firepower was instrumental in the final phase of the Reconquista with artillery playing a decisive role in the 1481-92 Granada War. Weston Cook, in his article The Cannon Conquest of Nasrid Spain and the End of the Reconquista would argue that at the very least the 1481-92 Granada War was the transition stage of the ‘military revolution’. Cook’s arguments seem to hold water however; other historians such as, Michael Roberts do not lend weight to Cook’s interpretation. To emphasise the importance of the development of Spanish artillery resources foreign experts were sought for advice and The Master of Artillery (Mariscal) was elevated to the Casa Real (palace household). It was not only large siege artillery that improved during the ‘military revolution’ with the Swedish King Gustavus Adolfus arming his troops with light field-pieces that provided the infantry with close artillery support. Eminent military historian Geoffrey Parker claimed that a nation like Scotland were militarily backwards for not including “scarcely any firearms” on their ill-fated Flodden campaign of 1513. Another historian Niall Barr contends that “Scottish kings were also fascinated by the potential offered by modern artillery” and James II was killed by an exploding cannon in 1460. Barr argues that James IV had in the 1513 Flodden campaign a modern artillery train that was “one of the finest in Europe”. Geoffrey Parker, saw the invasion of Italy in 1494-5 by the French King Charles VIII, as the “catalyst of major change”. Parker contended that contemporaries of the invasion saw it as a seminal moment for the new technologies and European states began to rush to acquire firearms forcing a redesign of fortifications to withstand the new technology.
The emergence of new styles of fortifications in the Early Modern World was instrumental in determining the character of military change. The fortifications of the...
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