SMH 2003 Paper on Louis XIV’s Cabinet War

Remember to check out the Recent Comments regularly – sometimes new comments are added to old posts. But now for a new post.

Awhile back I had talked about using the Internet (and this blog specifically) as a way to disseminate smaller bits of research, as an alternative to publication in peer-reviewed journals. Old paper presentations that you haven’t even looked at for almost a decade probably fit this category of digital chimera. A recent comment on early modern communication prompted me to recall a specific paper I had delivered nine years ago. Not quite the “timely-publication” advantage trumpeted by proponents of digitally-‘published’ research, but releasing it into the Internet wilds does fulfill another advantage of digital publication: getting unfinished ideas which otherwise would remain hidden out to a broader audience.

The paper’s release also serves, for those who haven’t attended or presented at an academic conference, as an example of the difference between a short, focused academic conference paper (often a case study and often with tentative results) and a longer, more comprehensive academic journal article that is expected to have a clear answer. So digital publication of such works has multiple benefits. It not only allows the author to 1) remind attendees of what had been argued, and 2) open the argument up to those not in attendance, but also 3) allow the author to provide the more fleshed-out argument that was impossible to give within the 20-minute time limit common in conference panels. I assume I’m not the only person who ends up writing longer drafts of conference papers that then need to be cut down to size – you often don’t end up hearing the full argument or evidence when listening in a panel, even if you manage to stay awake. It’s surprisingly difficult for academics to say much of importance in only 20 minutes (around 10 pages of text).

At some point I’ll return to the question of Louis’ cabinet war, and some of the evidence in the paper might be useful for my battle book, but it’s not high on my priority list at the moment. So here’s the paper: Ostwald L14 Cabinet War SMH 2003. It’s rather straightforward, but still interesting (I think). Feel free to read it and discuss the issues it raises in the comments section of this post. Enjoy.


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13 responses to “SMH 2003 Paper on Louis XIV’s Cabinet War”

  1. Björn Thegeby says :

    I like the paper and I think you got the balance right, between centralising and local tensions. I would perhaps ask what the 1706 French successes before Ramillies were (successful maneuvering in the Rhine Valley and in the Milanese could hardly compensate for having to raise the siege of Barcelona and losing Madrid)? Conversely 1707 did see major successes for the Two Crowns, containing the weakened Allies in Catalonia. None of this really detracts from your argument, though.

    Linking back to a previous discussion, I wonder how the supply situation affected the balance between centralising forces (who knew in late 1709 that increasing supplies to the armies meant semi-starvation at home) and field commanders (who always wants more)?

    • jostwald says :

      In retrospect, I’m not really sure what I meant. Possibly I was thinking of the more general failure of the Allies to push the war home in 1705? It’s interesting that contemporaries at the time commented on the back-and-forth momentum of the war, with the Allies tending to do well in the even years and the Bourbons in the odd years.

      Not really sure about logistical influences – there were a variety of administrators involved with feeding the French army, from provincial intendants to army intendants, as well as the military officers. I’d have to look back through Rowlands and a few others to see if they discuss the matter. I do recall seeing one French officer complain that every garrison commander seemed to demand immediate reinforcement, as they all felt under immediate risk of being overrun no matter how peripheral they were to the operations. Clearly somebody had to organize all these competing demands for supplies. The more things change…

  2. Gene Hughson says :

    Two thoughts:

    I always have to laugh when I hear someone touting the “…’true’ nature of warfare” (not that I think that’s your position). Even Clausewitz understood that it was an abstraction. Warfare has always been subordinate to the political aims of the tribe/city/state.

    Based on the relationship described, it seems like Louis wanted it both ways. Requiring his commanders to seek approval for giving battle while retaining the right to criticize excessive/insufficient zeal. His involvement in the dispute between Berwick and Burgundy was not the action of someone who gives his commanders leeway to act independently. Even with modern communication capabilities, the smart move is to provide goals and general direction, then leave the detailed plan of execution to the subordinates.

    • jostwald says :

      Re: Louis wanting it both ways. I’d generally agree with you, but one thing I liked about Stephen Cohen’s Supreme Command is his point that politicians *have* to make decisions – when appointing one candidate for promotion over another candidate, when choosing among different military plans, and, directly relevant to 1708, when the generals in the field disagree among themselves. It was even more confusing in 1708 because his grandson the Duke of Burgundy was nominally in command, yet inexperienced (1702 hadn’t gone particularly well for Burgundy either and he was recalled mid-campaign rather than see another fortress fall with him a passive spectator) and torn between Berwick and Vendome. Sending Chamillart up to set things aright was a bit interventionist, but ultimately Louis didn’t force his commanders to attack a well-entrenched foe, i.e. he deferred to his commanders, or at least to the situation created by the disputes between his commanders. Unlike Hitler or Stalin or the Jacobins, Louis wasn’t the type to execute his generals for failure; if anything, he was too loyal to mediocre commanders.
      I’d also emphasize that this example of cabinet war was defensive in nature, meaning he wasn’t delaying an advance, which is the usual way cabinet war is portrayed, as limiting decision by holding up an offensive.

      • Gene Hughson says :

        Agreed that politicians have to make decisions. It’s just best that each level of command stay within its own sphere.

        As to cabinet war in defensive vs offensive circumstances, a much later example of the problem in defense is the OKW armored reserves in 1944. Only Hitler could release them and since he was asleep at the beginning of the invasion, valuable time was lost (in an era of much better communication technology).

      • jostwald says :

        Point taken. Although I’m not sure how we decide who gets which sphere; I think there’s a fair amount of overlap between the spheres (policy-strategic-operational-tactical), even if it’s common for military men to claim exclusive authority over everything at the military strategic level and below (operations, tactics…). As a side note, it seems a different matter altogether when rulers really were commanding in the field (William III, Louis XIV till the 1690s).
        Problems arise for the ‘separate spheres’ argument when actions at the lower-level of war undermine the war effort being direct by those at the highest level. (19C feminists made the same argument about the permeability of the divide between public vs. private spheres for women.) Take modern rules of engagement. They are obviously tactical – when can we shoot at the baddies? – yet their aggregate impact is felt at the highest levels of policy when too many enemy civilians are maimed or killed (“collateral damage”), especially if they’re shown on TV (public outrage at enemy civilian deaths didn’t seem to be nearly as much of an issue in the early modern world). Thus higher-level limitations may need to be imposed on tactical situations in order to further the broader objectives of the war, assuming we still think war is the continuation of policy by military means. (The challenge of counterinsurgency operations has clearly brought such issues to the fore.) From the soldier’s perspective, however, strict rules of engagement look like putting their own lives at increased risk, and some military commanders have labeled it “micromanagement”, or “fighting with one hand tied behind our backs.”
        The alternative, however, is possibly worse. We see one outcome of the military monopoly over the intermediate (i.e. strategic) levels of war when the military ends up running the show – many have argued WWI Germany saw this pattern with unrestricted submarine warfare, etc., all to the detriment of their overall war effort. Vietnam (including Johnson’s oversight of targeting) is still a hotly debated case, depending on whether you think there was a military solution to the war or not. Generally the US seems to have followed its ideal of military subordination to political authority, even if it makes the early phases of wars more challenging – whether through minimal peacetime funding, waiting until you’re attacked, or outlawing the assassination of foreign leaders. The US appears to have learned from the lesson of Cromwell (and Tories in 1711 would say, from Marlborough as well).

        Whether this civilian control over the military survives a war also goes back to culture, i.e. how military professionalism is defined (do you take an oath to your self? your patron/leader? your state? your constitution?) and whether generals subordinate themselves to civilian control. It took Louis XIV decades to fully control his own army.

        Another example of confused spheres: when a political leader appoints a ‘political general’ (Louis did this, as well as Lincoln), the spheres also get mucked up because the conduct of the war effort is being subordinated to political concerns, and the political general might even make operational/tactical decisions based off of his political outlook. Whether this is a good or bad idea is debatable, but here too it might be worse for the war effort if a wartime party ignores political imperatives, loses an election (or the support of the noble warrior class), and then has the new party end the war (see Tory landslide of 1710).

        Derek Croxton’s Peacemaking in Early Modern Europe talks about the French case at the end of the 30YW, where Cardinal Mazarin was really concerned about any more battles being fought in Germany, since the results might upset the very byzantine peace negotiations that were taking place at Munster/Osnabruck. The British troops in the Low Countries in 1712 had their own ‘restraining orders’ for similar reasons.

        That being said, checking with political HQ for orders is also a useful technique for generals who don’t want to make a decision, or who fear the consequences of their decision. It’s an uneasy dance.

      • Gene Hughson says :

        (stripped out all the tags and the url…maybe this one will get through… my apologies if the other attempts eventually appear)

        To be honest, I don’t think _we_ get to decide which sphere. That’s a matter of restraint on the part of the commander (and not just the CinC, but all the way down). The best advice I’ve seen is General McCaffrey’s command down just one level rule. Also, we have to consider that the impact of policy considerations, such as rules of engagement, on lower level spheres are appropriate. When a policy, such as RoE has been clearly set, the commander in the field may disagree with it, but he cannot claim “micro-management”. By the same token, when there is no clear policy, but the commander must refer it up the line, then the claim may be valid. It’s up to each level of command authority to draw those lines, recognizing that more control means less flexibility.

        There’s a natural tension between the leader and the follower, particularly when the follower is also a leader. It makes sense that each level will resent those above, while feeling that those below are incapable of understanding. Taking fire tends to shift one’s perspective towards the hawkish.

        Good point re: monarchs in the field. In the Early Modern period, the more compact nature of warfare meant that a ruler could exercise command authority at a very low level. However, I’m fairly certain this was at the cost of attending to affairs of state as well as grand strategy. I can’t help but think that Napoleon’s hands-on approach in whatever theater he thought key contributed to other theaters becoming problematic (the accidental grand strategic equivalent of the Allies latter half of 1813 strategy).

        Regarding the uneasy dance, it works in the opposite direction as well. In my own line of work I’ve seen superiors attempting to delegate decisions down in order to avoid the consequences. It takes a certain fortitude to tell the boss that you can’t make his decisions for him.

      • jostwald says :

        Re: who gets to decide the boundaries of each sphere. I’m not sure if I’m understanding you correctly, but I’d think any group relies on more than just a subordinate’s restraint. Collectively a society or institution/organization or political leadership chooses how much insubordination it will tolerate, at least over the medium-term. If it doesn’t, the result is usually revolution, or at least a ‘failed state’ in modern parlance. The ability of those at the lower levels to create their own rules only works until those subordinates are considered too independent or otherwise harmful to the war effort – then they get replaced (or executed, if you happen to be Wallenstein), their funds cut off… Admittedly insubordination usually has to go pretty far for this to happen: the infractions need to be egregious or persistent, the perpetrators’ misbehavior must overcome their utility to their superiors (i.e. they can be replaced), and usually the harmful impact needs to be made public (e.g. through the media or through diplomatic protests, which lead to threats of reciprocal treatment). Even with all these criteria met, there will be a spectrum of possible punishments, though there will undoubtedly be a delay before they are applied, whether it’s My Lai or Abu Ghraib. But most insubordination is self-limiting, with subordinates generally staying within consensually-approved boundaries.

        I think historical patterns are as important in defining (and limiting) military insubordination as are general principles of ‘what works’ for an organization. Treasonous insubordination on a grand scale was much more of an issue before the 18C, when, e.g., you have French nobles hiring troops “in the king’s name” in order to fight against the king, or the Princely Fronde. At least for the French Bourbon kings, they did the smart thing of generally pardoning their rebellious subjects and mutinous soldiers, largely because it would’ve been too expensive to punish/defeat them, and often because their failure to provide adequate supplies often left the troops with little choice but to plunder (for example). [I wonder if the Roman practice of decimation took this into account – 10% was large enough to make the point, but not so large as to make the entire unit give up hope of surviving the punishment?]. A combination of greater discipline, inculcating officers with a more ‘professional’ (and subordinated) mindset, and improved logistics all worked together to eliminate the most serious conflicts by the late 18C. Competition for honor could still lead to occasional insubordination, but generally militaries are willing to accept that in order to enjoy competition’s other benefits.

        On the other hand, violation of ‘rules of engagement’ specifically was much less of an issue in the early modern period because there weren’t that many enforced limitations on jus in bello. Articles of war listed all sorts of rules to follow in camp, but contemporaries had little concern over noncombatant casualties until the 18C, at least as far as neutrals or enemy civilians were concerned. This has led to a debate over what was driving increasing centralization of the military, with recent historians (e.g. Lynn’s ‘tax of violence’) tending to argue for the priority of royal control rather than a growing humanitarianism. Similarly, historians have argued over why prisoners were taken (or not): More because of their functional utility (POWs ransomable, exchangable)? Or more because of idealistic reasons (it wasn’t honorable to kill a brother in arms, they were members of the same noble/cosmopolitan collective…)?

        You also have the problem in the early modern world where a noble volunteer or officer might have been much more socially powerful than his superior officer – it takes awhile for the ethos of the European military officer corps to adjust to the distinction between military rank and social rank (via Tables of Ranks, seniority lists…). I discuss how this played out in sieges in VuS, where the engineers were outside the normal chain of command and usually socially inferior to the officers, which meant they were tolerated but often ignored. I suppose this still happens today with well-connected individuals, but I’d think it isn’t nearly as frequent a problem.

        David Parrott’s recent The Business of War complicates matters even further, when much of the logistical (and even combat) tasks of early modern armies were privatized and often beyond royal control and even the direct military chain of command – provisioners, wagon teams, mercenary units, etc. It must’ve been just as difficult for allied armies to all get on the same page, whether that be coordinating logistics, tactical drill, where units could be sent or posted, etc. Probably why mercenary contracts were quite specific regarding discipline and chain of command. Throw in disputes within multinational command structures (which often had unclear precedence rules), and you get a mess.

        Levels intersecting other levels – which, until the early 19C I would say, tended to result in those on the spot having a fair amount of leeway.

      • Gene Hughson says :

        I worded that poorly…what I meant was that the subordinate was at the mercy of the superior’s restraint. From the monarch down, each commander decided how much control he wished to exercise over those below.

        I really hadn’t considered the reverse (“independent minded” subordinates). I think you’ve nailed it that the limits of tolerance and the limits of utility intersected.

        Regarding prisoners – I know ransoms were big business during feudal times. Did the practice linger on into the EM period?

        Another question would be about the treatment of civilians and neutrals. I know things were pretty grim during the 30 Years War, but from what I’ve read (admittedly, a limited amount), more “modern” rules seemed to take hold afterwards. Or is my impression mistaken?

      • jostwald says :

        Ah, I see. I interpreted it the opposite of what you meant.

        There wasn’t much ransoming by the late 17C that I’m aware of, but I’m pretty sure it was still common in the 16C and possibly in the early 17C as well. By at least Louis XIV’s reign there were formal POW exchanges, with exchange cartels that included conversion rates (e.g. X number of privates exchanged for one captain). Yet another example of the gradual centralization of royal control over warfare.

        I’m fascinated by the early modern laws of war (jus in bello, how to wage war) and dream of doing a book on the subject someday; I teach a course on ‘Religion, War and Peace in Early Modern Europe’ that covers some of the topics. There’s a small but slowly growing literature on the subject. The classic work is Fritz Redlich, De Praeda Militare: Looting and Booty 1500-1800 (1956); the best (and only) overview is Geoffrey Parker, “Early Modern Europe” in Michael Howard, The Laws of War: Constraints on Warfare in the Western World (New Haven, 1994). John Lynn, “How War Fed War: The Tax of Violence and Contributions during the Grand Siècle,” The Journal of Modern History 65 (1993): 286-310, argues that over the course of Louis XIV’s reign the Sun King managed to prevent most French soldiers from pillaging French soil by paying and supplying them better. Things definitely got better for civilians as chaotic looting was transformed into more regularized contributions and as supply systems generally improved in efficiency, although individual pillaging was still rife even in the Spanish Succession (as the continued ordinances against plunder indicate). And there were still major exceptions, e.g. the devastation of the Palatinate in 1688-89, or any time a town was besieged, when a general bombardment was standard operating procedure.
        I’ll do a post on early modern laws of war sometime.

      • Gene Hughson says :

        I’ve always thought of prisoner exchanges and paroles as utilitarian (no need to build and run POW facilities) rather than entrepreneurial like ransoming captured nobles. I’m sure the growth of royal power played a part in ransoms becoming passe. It would be fascinating to see what other factors applied and the timeline for its decline.

        I definitely agree that the laws of war are a very interesting topic. Looks like my reading list has grown yet again. I look forward to your upcoming post.

      • jostwald says :

        “Utilitarian” is a positive way of saying they couldn’t afford to! I’m not sure how often POWs were immediately exchanged vs. held for a longer period of time, but I’ve seen plenty of examples where prisoners are hosted for a period of time, e.g. French generals and officers staying in England after Blenheim. It would probably depend on when both sides had similar numbers of POWs to exchange – otherwise you’re holding onto their POWs until they capture enough of yours to make a trade. And in the meantime the POWs’ ruler is expected to pay for their upkeep – you can find the occasional letter from a poor prisoner pleading for upkeep from his sovereign. It’s possible that common soldiers were more quickly paroled, or, more likely, that they were ‘recruited’ into your own regiments. Officers were often released “on their parole,” promising not to fight till exchanged.

  3. Gene Hughson says :

    I think my last comment just hit the spam bucket (it had a link in it).

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