Archive | February 2014

There once was a Kirke from Derbyshire…

A new book (soon to be released) from John Childs, building off of his earlier work on the Williamite Wars in Ireland.

Childs, John. General Percy Kirke and the Later Stuart Army. London: Continuum Publishers, 2014. For those of you keeping score, Bloomsbury acquired the Continuum imprint in 2011.
General Percy Kirke (c. 1647-91) is remembered in Somerset as a cruel, vicious thug who deluged the region in blood after the Battle of Sedgemoor in 1685. He is equally notorious in Northern Ireland. Appointed to command the expedition to raise the Siege of Londonderry in 1689, his assumed treachery nearly resulted in the city’s fall and he was made to look ridiculous when the blockade was eventually lifted by a few sailors in a rowing boat. Yet Kirke was closely involved in some of the most important events in British and Irish history. He served as the last governor of the colony of Tangier; played a central role in facilitating the Glorious Revolution of 1688; and fought in the majority of the principal actions and campaigns undertaken by the newly-formed standing armies in England, Ireland and Scotland, especially the Battle of the Boyne and the first Siege of Limerick in 1689.
With the aid of his own earlier work in the field, additional primary sources and a recently-rediscovered letter book, John Childs looks beyond the fictionalisation of Kirke, most notably by R. D. Blackmore in Lorna Doone, to investigate the historical reality of his career, character, professional competence, politics and religion. As well as offering fresh, detailed narratives of such episodes as Monmouth’s Rebellion, the conspiracies in 1688 and the Siege of Londonderry, this pioneering biography also presents insights into contemporary military personnel, patronage, cliques and procedures.
Historians start salivating when they read things like “a recently-rediscovered letter book.”
Feel free to finish the limerick in the comments.

To Beat the Chamade of Love

Another contemporary English merging of the seasons of Mars and Venus – this one a bit more technical, not to mention more genteel, than the previous post.

A Letter from an Engineer in Flanders to his Mistress in London.


This is now the fourth time I have summon’d you to Write me an Answer to my former Epistles. I am now set down before the strong Town of Tournay [besieged 1709]. I believe it will rob us of a great deal of Time, Men, and Money, before we can be possess’d of that Fortress: Nevertheless, you may assure your self, as soon as it falls into our Hands, I shall make bold to lay close Siege to your Cittadel, howsoever Fortified.

If you have ten thousand Charms I have as many Compliments at my Command: I am a Man of Honour, and so much Generousity, as to let you know on which Side I shall attack you, though contrary to the Rules of War. If I break Ground the first Night, though it be with the Expence of some Blood, I shall value that no more than a Templer does an Oyster Women, or a Hackny-Writer does Engrossing Bills at Nine Pence per Skin. If I have but the good Luck, when I attack the Horn-Work of your Stays, as not to suffer a Repulse, I shall then, with more Courage, place my Digites upon your Demi-Bubbylunes, which will enable me to force the Counterscarp of your Hoop-Petticoat; Batter the Stockades of your Gambrils, the Pallisades of your Toes; make a Breach in your Curtell with my Culverin; pass your Fossee o’er the Gallery of you Affections; force you to Beat a Chamade of Love, and yield your self a Prisoner at my Discretion.

Alas, that fictional engineer would have had to wait: the bloody battle of Malplaquet and yet another siege – of Mons – awaited him in Flanders.

Love, Engineering Style

Or, as the t-shirts have it, “Engineers Do It with Precision.”

In honor of the impending Valentine’s Day holiday, I present you with an early modern love story. I’m not a Romantic (ask my wife); I much prefer the Enlightenment over the Romantic age. So I offer this ditty of “vulgar humor” (as the EBBA catalog categorizes it) from late in the 17C. Yes, it’s shocking to learn that late-17C Englishmen and women thought about sex. But they also thought about sieges, and the parallels (get it?) were obvious, as Christopher Duffy noted thirty-five years ago (see Siege Warfare, 256-257). The fortress as an unconquered maiden was a not uncommon trope, the French memoirist Jean De La Colonie, for example, referred to Namur as la pucelle, a stronghold whose defenses had never been breached. So here we have yet one more example of how war got all mixed up with contemporary sexual concerns, in the guise of that age-old ‘siege of the sexes.’ Read More…

Mercenaries vs. Auxiliaries

My exuberant Mercenaries! snark prompted a reignition of the complex question of how we define the term. Motivations, labor relations, national-vs-regional identity: they all get tangled up in one big early-modern Gordian knot.

I don’t claim to have a better typology than I did when we discussed the issue two years ago, but in the meantime I did find this brief English excursus on the definition of a mercenary in 1712, that I’ve been meaning to post.

For background, this discussion comes from The Examiner, a periodical started in 1711 in the wake of the Tory victories of the previous autumn. Its editors and contributors included Tory figures like Henry St. John (future Viscount Bolingbroke) and Jonathan Swift – thus it opposed continuing the war, which included attacking the Duke of Marlborough’s conduct as well as that of the Dutch. The periodical was a political document to be sure, but it seemed to reflect a significant segment of the English electorate at the time.

The particular incident that the following excerpt discusses took place in mid-1712: the British army formally abandoned its allies in the field and marched home. All the signatories of the second Grand Alliance had relied heavily on German troops – the Maritime powers alone employed almost 100,000 the previous year. Thus when the British commander the Duke of Ormonde ordered his British army home, those foreign regiments in British service needed to make a decision: should they join their British paymaster, and presumably be released from service shortly thereafter, or should they switch sides to continue both the fight and their employment? Not surprisingly, they chose to switch to the pay of the Dutch and Austrians, which likely disappointed the Tories, who sought an end to the war and feared that a reinforced Dutch-Imperial army might upend their negotiations.

Here, then, is the Examiner‘s response to foreign complaints that the paper had previously referred to these troops as “mercenaries.”

The Examiner Vol. 2, #40, August 28-September 4, 1712
p2 Postscript
The Writers of the Dutch News-Papers, as well as other Persons of Importance Abroad, have, it seems, taken great Offence at our use of the word Mercenary, when applied to the Foreign Troops, which were lately in Her Majesty’s Pay. And though the Vindication of it may be a Task more proper for the Gazetteer, than for the Examiner; yet to oblige a Brother-Writer, who ’tis likely is otherways engaged, I here observe, that those who make the Objection cannot be very well acquainted, either with Latin or History: For that Word is the only proper one to signify such Troops as are wholly maintained by a Foreign Power; especially if their own Sovereign has no part in the War; which is the Case of the Danish, and some of the German forces. It need not therefore be taken for a Term of Reproach; there being no other Word, which so properly expresses the Thing intended. For Auxiliary Forces, as some would have these called, are only those who engage as Allies; and either wholly or in part provide for their own Subsistence. Suppose however this Word to be taken in it’s worst Sense; (for I own it is sometimes used in no very good one) even then perhaps it would not be ill apply’d, to those who are the Subject of the present Debate. We should have a wrong Notion, sure, of the Wisdom, Sagacity, and profound Politicks of some Princes, were we not persuaded, that when they ordered their Troops so dishonourably to leave their honest old Paymasters, they were well satisfy’d that the Emperor and the States, would at least make them amends for all the Losses they might sustain by such a Desertion; and that they received further Assurances that those Potentates would continue the War, and consequently these Troops in their Service; whereas if they adhered to Her Britannick Majesty, they would be maintain’d at most but a few Months longer. We shall therefore still take the Liberty to say, that in every Sense of the Word, they are Mercenary, very Mercenary Forces.”

What do we learn from this?

  1. That the period’s newspapers frequently argued with one another in print.
  2. That the term “mercenary” could be used pejoratively at the time.
  3. That the historical precedents of the Romans were still relevant.
  4. That the author made a distinction between mercenary troops (those from a country whose ruler was not directly engaged in the war) and auxiliary troops (whose ruler was an ally, and therefore directly engaged in the war). I can also add that this sense of auxiliary was also used in treatises and histories of the period, e.g. when discussing Roman auxiliaries.

Anything revolutionary in all this? Not really. But it does provide an interesting little window into a contemporary distinction made between mercenary and auxiliary, as well as a hint that these definitions themselves, when applied to specific forces, could be politicized, and therefore up for debate.

How the Germans got their own place in the sun

… The Royal Navy sent them there, of course.

Conway, Stephen. “Continental European Soldiers in British Imperial Service, c.1756–1792.” The English Historical Review 129, no. 536 (February 2014).

Continental Europeans were not just enemies and competitors of the eighteenth-century British Empire; they were also allies, auxiliaries, and coadjutors in British imperial activity. This paper examines the role of European and particularly German soldiers in the British Empire in the second half of the eighteenth century. In chronological terms, the focus is on the Seven Years War and especially on the War of American Independence. Geographically, the paper concentrates on three British imperial sites: India, North America, and the Mediterranean garrisons of Gibraltar and Minorca. Historians have already looked at aspects of European military service in the British Empire; but the various foreign military units, and the different imperial theatres, are not usually examined together, as parts of the process of the British state’s use of other Europeans to defend and even expand its imperial possessions. One of the main objectives here is to assess the significance of that European contribution.
The paper begins by considering why the British state chose European soldiers in preference to other available options, particularly locally raised forces in India and North America, and even British and Irish manpower. The second section attempts to quantify the continental European contribution, both in absolute terms and as compared with British and imperial inputs. The final section endeavours to assess the quality of European military involvement. Some Britons regarded foreign soldiers as inherently unreliable and therefore less valuable than their own troops; however, there is plenty of evidence of positive assessments of the military role of continental Europeans.


Someone say publisher catalog?

Yet another catalog released – almost like there’s a catalog season or something. This time from another academic publisher that has a big early modern list: Boydell & Brewer. And they have an even larger medieval catalog. I’ll include here a fewer older works in case anybody missed them the first time around. My opinionated (and often snarky) comments follow.

Zerbe, Britt. The Birth of the Royal Marines, 1664-1802. Boydell & Brewer, 2013.
The Royal Marines come from a long and proud tradition dating back to 1664. However, the first incarnation of the service, the Marine Regiments, was plagued by structural and operational difficulties. The formation of the British Marine Corps at the onset of the Seven Years War in 1755 was a defining moment, for this was the first time the government gave operational priority to the Navy. Following many trials and tribulations, in 1802 the British Marine Corps were made the Royal Marines, giving them official sanction and permanency that has continued to the present day.
This book explores the long period between the Corps of Marines’ inception and its Royal codification in 1802. Based on extensive original research, it charts the development of the marines’ organisational structures and the Corps’ rapid expansion and change. It examines the operations and tasks the marines were required to undertake, showing how special operational requirements and organisational structures combined to give rise to the Royal Marines’ distinctive identity, quite separate from exclusively land-based or exclusively maritime-based forces. Amongst a great deal of fascinating detail, the book provides interesting information on how marines were recruited, from what social backgrounds they came, how they were trained, how they were paid, and how their key duties included guarding against mutiny and desertion, and being available as an imperial “rapid reaction force”. The book includes extensive material on the many, very varied actions in which the marines were involved, worldwide, including the famous, successful action against American rebels at Boston’s Bunker Hill in 1775.

I like the abstract: it’s detailed, and actually gives the reader a sense of what the book argues, rather than simply describe its content.

Harding, Richard. The Emergence of Britain’s Global Naval Supremacy: The War of 1739-1748. Boydell & Brewer, 2013.
The British involvement in the war of 1739-1748 has been generally neglected. Standing between the great victories of Marlborough in the War of Spanish Succession [1701-1713] and the even greater victories of the Seven Years War [1756-1763], it has been dismissed as inconclusive and incompetently managed. For the first time this book brings together the political and operational conduct of the war to explore its contribution to a critical development in British history during the eighteenth century – the emergence of Britain as the paramount global naval power.
The war posed a unique set of problems for British politicians, statesmen and servicemen. They had to overcome domestic and diplomatic crises, culminating in the rebellion of 1745 and the threat of French invasion. Yet, far from being incompetent, these people handled the crises and learned a great deal about the conduct of global warfare. The changes they made and decisions they took prepared Britain for the decisive Anglo-French clash of arms in the Seven Years War. In this misunderstood war lie some of the key factors that made Britain the greatest naval power for the next one hundred and fifty years.
Britain’s victories in the Seven Years War were even greater than Marlborough’s? But Winston Churchill said Marlborough saved all of Europe from Catholic tyranny and slavery! I’m so confused.
Oakeshott, Ewart. European Weapons and Armour From the Renaissance to the Industrial Revolution. Boydell & Brewer, 2012.
A treasury of information based on solid scholarship, anyone seeking a factual and vivid account of the story of arms from the Renaissance period to the Industrial Revolution will welcome this book. The author chooses as his starting-point the invasion of Italy by France in 1494, which sowed the dragon’s teeth of all the successive European wars; the French invasion was to accelerate the trend towards new armaments and new methods of warfare. The author describes the development of the handgun and the pike, the use and style of staff-weapons, mace and axe and war-hammer, dagger and dirk and bayonet. He shows how armour attained its full Renaissance splendour and then suffered its sorry and inevitable decline, culminating in the Industrial Revolution, with its far-reaching effects on military armaments. Above all, he follows the long history of the sword, queen of weapons, to the late eighteenth century, when it finally ceased to form a part of a gentleman’s every-day wear. Lavishly illustrated.
Hopkin, David. Soldier and Peasant in French Popular Culture, 1766-1870. Boydell & Brewer, 2013.
Revolutionary France gave the modern world the concept of the “nation-in-arms”, a potent combination of nationalism, militarism and republicanism embodied in the figure of the conscript. But it was not a concept shared by those most affected by conscription, the peasantry, who regarded the soldier as representative of an entirely different way of life. Concentrating on the militarised borderlands of eastern France, this book examines the disjuncture between the patriotic expectations of elites and the sentiments expressed in popular songs, folktales and imagery. Hopkin follows the soldier through his life-cycle to show how the peasant recruit was separated from his previous life and re-educated in military mores; and he demonstrates how the state-sponsored rituals of conscription and the popular imagery aimed at adolescent males portrayed the army as a place where young men could indulge in adventure far from parental and communal restraints. The popular idea of moustachioed military folk-heroes contributed more to the process of turning “peasants into Frenchmen” than the mythology of the “nation-in-arms”.
Once again, we discover that it’s always good to look at the actual evidence (and maybe even new types of evidence), and not just lazily apply a zeitgeist (like “revolutionary fervor”) to explain everything that happened in a historical period. Eventually the word will get out that there is usually a big difference between the theoretical norm and the reality.
Krimmer, Elisabeth, and Patricia Simpson, eds. Enlightened War: German Theories and Cultures of Warfare from Frederick the Great to Clausewitz. Boydell & Brewer, 2011.
Enlightened War investigates the multiple and complex interactions between warfare and Enlightenment thought. Although the Enlightenment is traditionally identified with the ideals of progress, eternal peace, reason, and self-determination, Enlightenment discourse unfolded during a period of prolonged European warfare from the Seven Years’ War to the Napoleonic conquest of Europe. The essays in this volume explore the palpable influence of war on eighteenth-century thought and argue for an ideological affinity among war, Enlightenment thought, and its legacy.
The essays are interdisciplinary, engaging with history, art history, philosophy, military theory, gender studies, and literature and with historical events and cultural contexts from the early Enlightenment through German Classicism and Romanticism. The volume enriches our understanding of warfare in the eighteenth century and shows how theories and practices of war impacted concepts of subjectivity, national identity, gender, and art. It also sheds light on the contemporary discussion of the legitimacy of violence by juxtaposing theories of war, concepts of revolution, and human rights discourses.

Correggio, Balbi di. The Siege of Malta, 1565 Translated from the Spanish Edition of 1568. Edited by Ernle Bradford. Boydell & Brewer, 2005.
This is the history of one of the great battles of the world, written by a private soldier who was an eye-witness. The siege of Malta was a crucial moment in the long struggle between Islam and Christendom for domination of the Mediterranean, fought out by unequal forces on the small island which commands the sea-routes at the centre of that sea. The Knights of St John were a survival from the medieval world, the largest of the surviving crusading orders, and they had been driven out of their base on Rhodes in the eastern Mediterranean after a great onslaught by the Turks in 1522. Now, forty-three years later, the Turkish ruler, Suleyman the Magnificent, who had been the victor at Rhodes, was determined to finish them off. He sent out a huge armada, carrying the pick of his army, under two commanders. Against this powerful force, the Knights could only raise a handful of men and mercenaries, and had to depend on the fortifications they had raised in the thirty-five years since they first came to Malta, which bore no comparison to the massive walls and ditches on Rhodes. Francisco Balbi di Correggio was a humble soldier of fortune who enlisted under the charismatic command of the Grand Master of the Order, Jean de la Valette. The extraordinary drama that unfolded after the first appearance of the Turkish fleet in the summer of 1565 is told in his own words, giving equal credit to the courage and leadership of the Knights and the grim determination of the ordinary people of Malta.