War, Warfare, Military and Early Modern Europe
New title just released:
Parrott, David. The Business of War: Military Enterprise and Military Revolution in Early Modern Europe. Cambridge University Press, 2012.
This is a major new approach to the military revolution and the relationship between warfare and the power of the state in early modern Europe. Whereas previous accounts have emphasised the growth of state-run armies during this period, David Parrott argues instead that the delegation of military responsibility to sophisticated and extensive networks of private enterprise reached unprecedented levels. This included not only the hiring of troops but their equipping, the supply of food and munitions, and the financing of their operations. The book reveals the extraordinary prevalence and capability of private networks of commanders, suppliers, merchants and financiers who managed the conduct of war on land and at sea, challenging the traditional assumption that reliance on mercenaries and the private sector results in corrupt and inefficient military force. In so doing, the book provides essential historical context to contemporary debates about the role of the private sector in warfare.
Apropos our discussion about logistics, this book will hopefully provide an overarching framework for something early modern military historians have been exploring in their own areas for the past several decades. The broad claim isn’t particularly new (among others, Parrott illustrated it in his earlier Richelieu’s Army) but hopefully he’ll have a detailed argument that integrates more than just France in the mid-17C.
Early modern historians tend to see the late 17C-18C as the period when the central state began to take over (Lynn’s “Army Styles” has been the most recent broad framework). But even then, as we’ve already discussed, combatants still relied on lots of private financiers and companies for credit (secured by future tax receipts), which was then paid to other private contractors and their subcontractors to provide bread and (during winter quarters) fodder for the troops and horses, as well as transport. Even the regiments themselves were ‘owned’ by their colonels and the companies by their captains, which was yet another way the central state could rely on others’ wealth to raise, clothe and feed its troops. The same was true for the navy. Although fleets were increasingly composed of ships dedicated to military service, many of them were still constructed in private shipyards, and in some cases were even lent out to privateers when naval costs became too high, not to mention the permeable boundary between naval service on board a Royal Navy vessel and aboard a merchantman. The war on enemy trade was furthered by recruiting private privateers (full-time as well as opportunistic vessels issued letters of marque). Heck, the same was true for diplomacy, as we can find diplomats constantly begging their political masters back home to reimburse them for their expenditures incurred in the line of duty. It really is amazing how much effort was put into fighting these early modern wars, and how successful governments were in getting other people to put up their money towards the venture.