Tag Archive | battle

For the EMEMDH in your life

So now I have to add another letter to the abbreviation – Early Modern European Military Digital Historian. We are approaching LGBTQIA territory here – except narrowing instead of broadening.

And who leads the pack in this exciting sub-sub-sub-subfield? For my money, it would be Spanish scholar Xavier Rubio-Campillo, who’s already published an article using GIS for early modern siege reconstruction (Barcelona 1714), which I highlighted here several years back.

Now he’s applying computer modeling to early modern field battle tactics, during the War of the Spanish Succession, ‘natch: “The development of new infantry tactics during the early eighteenth century: a computer simulation approach to modern military history.” To reproduce his abstract from Academia.edu:

Computational models have been extensively used in military operations research, but they are rarely seen in military history studies. The introduction of this technique has potential benefits for the study of past conflicts. This paper presents an agent-based model (ABM) designed to help understand European military tactics during the eighteenth century, in particular during the War of the Spanish Succession. We use a computer simulation to evaluate the main variables that affect infantry performance in the battlefield, according to primary sources. The results show that the choice of a particular firing system was not as important as most historians state. In particular, it cannot be the only explanation for the superiority of Allied armies. The final discussion shows how  ABM can be used to interpret historical data, and explores under which conditions the hypotheses generated from the study of primary accounts could be valid.

Link at https://www.academia.edu/2474571/The_development_of_new_infantry_tactics_during_the_early_eighteenth_century_a_computer_simulation_approach_to_modern_military_history?auto=download&campaign=weekly_digest. Though it may require a subscription.

Maybe someday we military historians will collectively set our sights a little higher than tactics (note the military metaphor), and a little lower than grand strategy? Though, admittedly, that’ll require a lot of hard work at the operational level of war. And maybe even a better sense of what we call these different levels.


Early modern movie battles

I’m thinking about making a few minor changes to my European Warfare, 1337-1815 course next semester. Past versions have focused a fair amount on the narratives of various wars: out of the 38 class meetings (50 minutes each), I devote one class meeting each on the 100YW, the Ottoman wars, the Wars of Italy, the French Wars of Religion, the Dutch Revolt, the 30YW, L14’s wars, Frederick the Great’s wars, the French Revolutionary wars, and the Napoleonic Wars. The rest are topical.

This time I’ll be condensing a few of the war narratives and warfare topics into a single class (sorry Dutch Revolt, sorry French Wars of Religion). Thus I’ll focus on the Italian Wars, the 30YW, Frederick’s wars, the Revolutionary/Napoleonic wars, but more and more Louis XIV’s wars. This will give me more space to read a few of the new French books out, and focus a bit more on the actual process of campaigning, Louis XIV-style. This includes dedicated classes on small war, professionalization (military ranks/organization…), maybe even the fiscal-military state. Shockingly, I hardly mention the Military Revolution in the course – I’m not a big fan of sweeping historiography at the undergrad level. Even in a course that covers almost 500 years of European military history!

But to the reason for my post: Any suggestions for good early modern combat sequences from movies? I’ll include a few scenes from Alatriste, and there are a few things on YouTube, but if you have any other favorites, let us know in the comments.

French Cowardice and English Vigor

… was my shorthand working title for a book chapter that’s finally been released. Selected papers from the 2012 Louis XIV Outside In conference have just been published in a collection that should be read by everyone interested in France, Britain and the Netherlands during Louis XIV’s reign.

Claydon, Tony, and Charles-Edouard Levillain, eds. Louis XIV Outside In: Images of the Sun King Beyond France, 1661-1715. Farnham, Surrey, UK, England; Burlington, VT: Ashgate Publishers, 2015.
Abstract: Louis XIV – the ‘Sun King’ – casts a long shadow over the history of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Europe. Yet while he has been the subject of numerous works, much of the scholarship remains firmly rooted within national frameworks and traditions. Thus in France Louis is still chiefly remembered for the splendid baroque culture his reign ushered in, and his political achievements in wielding together a strong centralised French state; whereas in England, the Netherlands and other protestant states, his memory is that of an aggressive military tyrant and persecutor of non-Catholics. 

In order to try to break free of such parochial strictures, this volume builds upon the approach of scholars such as Ragnhild Hatton who have attempted to situate Louis’ legacy within broader, pan-European context. But where Hatton focused primarily on geo-political themes, Louis XIV Outside In introduces current interests in cultural history, integrating aspects of artistic, literary and musical themes. In particular it examines the formulation and use of images of Louis XIV abroad, concentrating on Louis’ neighbours in north west Europe. This broad geographical coverage demonstrates how images of Louis XIV were moulded by the polemical needs of people far from Versailles, and distorted from any French originals by the particular political and cultural circumstances of diverse nations. Because the French regime’s ability to control the public image of its leader was very limited, the collection highlights how – at least in the sphere of public presentation – his power was frequently denied, subverted, or appropriated to very different purposes, questioning the limits of his absolutism which has also been such a feature of recent work.

I presented two different versions of this chapter at the SMH and the Maison française d’Oxford conference. In a nutshell, I argue that popular English perceptions stereotyped France’s military strategy as barbaric, deceptive, cowardly and criminal, in contrast with their own idealized ‘downright’ embrace of field battle. Of course this was baldly one-sided and selective history, but identity is like that, most especially during wartime. Hello, cult of vigor! This cultural preference for battle is a theme I’ve referenced on this blog again and again; this is my first published formulation of a part of the broader argument I’m exploring in my book project on the English cult of battle.
The other chapters are also quite interesting (as was the Oxford conference as a whole), and well worth a look. To wit:

Introduction: Louis XIV Upside Down? Interpreting the Sun King’s Image 1
Tony Claydon and Charles-Édouard Levillain

  1. Image Battles under Louis XIV: Some Reflections 25
    Hendrik Ziegler
  2. Francophobia in Late-Seventeenth-Century England 37
    Tim Harris
  3. ‘We Have Better Materials for Clothes, They, Better Taylors’: The Influence of La Mode on the Clothes of Charles II and James II 57
    Maria Hayward
  4. The Court of Louis XIV and the English Public Sphere: Worlds Set Apart? 77
    Stéphane Jettot
  5. Popular English Perceptions of Louis XIV’s Way of War 93
    Jamel Ostwald
  6. Louis XIV, James II and Ireland 111
    D. W. Hayton
  7. Lampooning Louis XIV: Romeyn de Hooghe’s Harlequin Prints,
    1688–89 133
    Henk van Nierop
  8. Foe and Fatherland: The Image of Louis XIV in Dutch Songs 165
    Donald Haks
  9. Amsterdam and the Ambassadors of Louis XIV 1674–85 187
    Elizabeth Edwards
  10. Millenarian Portraits of Louis XIV 209
    Lionel Laborie

Thanks to Tony Claydon and Charles Levillain for putting the conference, and the volume, together. Hopefully this won’t be the last book in Ashgate’s Politics and Culture in Europe, 1650-1750 series!


Waterloo schmaterloo

Apparently people have been talking about some big event that happened long ago.

Miscellaneous links illustrating the continued resonance of big battles and larger-than-life personalities:

  • Business Insider photos of Waterloo 2015 reenactment, some 5,000-6,000 strong. But only 170 horse? I thought reenactors were gunning for verisimilitude?
  • New issue of the new British Journal of Military History, an open-access journal (read: free to download PDFs). This issue is dedicated to the Napoleonic wars: Waterloo, Wellington and Women.
  • Waterloo Being Used for Political Purposes I: Is there room for a celebratory Waterloo Euro in the European Union? Numerous accounts about the kerfuffle over France’s veto of a Belgian Waterloo-commemorative euro coin are available online, but this short piece provides a good photo of the custom coin that’s now available.

    And you're complaining about a coin?

    And you’re complaining about a coin?

  • Waterloo Being Used for Political Purposes II: Please don’t go! French op-ed (in English) warning England that a Brexit from the EU would be a reverse Waterloo. Or something.

More substantive posts to come… maybe even one on Waterloo.

Screen Shot 2015-06-23 at 11.42.21 AM


My, my, at Waterloo Napoleon did surrender
Oh yeah, and I have met my destiny in quite a similar way
The history book on the shelf
Is always repeating itself

Now it’s your turn

The first week of the Spring semester, and as usual I’m behind already. I’m teaching the Historical Research and Writing course, a senior seminar on Late Stuart England, and my Religion, War and Peace in Early Modern Europe – tomorrow’s lesson: the Old Testament!

So I’ll just throw this out there until I have time to compose a real post:

A colleague wants to know what the latest consensus is (if one exists) about the old saw that British red coats in the American Revolution stood up proud and tall in nice straight linear formations while American militiamen fired at them behind trees and rocks with their rifles.

I’ve read Spring’s With Zeal and With Bayonets Only and Grenier’s First American Way of War and a couple of the recent works on Native American warfare, but since several skulkers focus on the American Revolutionary era and since I have enough trouble keeping up with works on Europe between 1650 and 1750 while doing my own research, I thought I’d check to see what the current status of the topic is. So for this post only, consider this EMEMH blog temporarily a EMAMH blog.

Comment away!

Merry Christmas

If your idea of a Christmas present is watching a guy in 15C armor running on a treadmill, Merry Christmas. The study, published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B (Biological Sciences), argues that steel plate armor doubled the energy expended by unencumbered soldiers. I seem to recall medievalists arguing that the finely-crafted balance of plate mail made it not much of an encumbrance at all, so I wonder if this is a revelation or not. Here’s the abstract from the journal article:

In Medieval Europe, soldiers wore steel plate armour for protection during warfare. Armour design reflected a trade-off between protection and mobility it offered the wearer. By the fifteenth century, a typical suit of field armour weighed between 30 and 50 kg and was distributed over the entire body. How much wearing armour affected Medieval soldiers’ locomotor energetics and biomechanics is unknown. We investigated the mechanics and the energetic cost of locomotion in armour, and determined the effects on physical performance. We found that the net cost of locomotion (Cmet) during armoured walking and running is much more energetically expensive than unloaded locomotion. Cmet for locomotion in armour was 2.1–2.3 times higher for walking, and 1.9 times higher for running when compared with Cmet for unloaded locomotion at the same speed. An important component of the increased energy use results from the extra force that must be generated to support the additional mass. However, the energetic cost of locomotion in armour was also much higher than equivalent trunk loading. This additional cost is mostly explained by the increased energy required to swing the limbs and impaired breathing. Our findings can predict age-associated decline in Medieval soldiers’ physical performance, and have potential implications in understanding the outcomes of past European military battles.

Of course this leaves all sorts of questions unanswered, assuming the scientists included all the relevant variables in their experiment. The British media has framed the question around the battle of Agincourt, no surprise, where the French men-at-arms famously dismounted and slogged their way across a ploughed field to get at the awaiting English. As an aside, the first exam in my first grad school foray into EMEMH (a Joe Guilmartin course) required me to put myself in the greaves of a French knight as I slogged across that soggy field. I don’t remember my grade, but I do remember ending it with dying thoughts of my petite chouchou back home, whom I would never see again. But I digress…

I wonder if the Agincourt framing is a bit misleading, since the English are generally said to be among the first to dismount their own knights, to shore up their archers. So I guess I’m left wondering how we incorporate this information into our understanding of late medieval battlefield tactics. Presumably it provided further encouragement for the preference for defensive dispositions in battle, as Cliff Rogers emphasizes. Any other thoughts?

OMG! They’re nekkid!

Malplaquet battle

Malplaquet battle

I thought I had exhausted Google’s Image search on Malplaquet, but I apparently missed this image.

DuBosc engraving of Laguerre painting (click to enlarge)

DuBosc engraving of Laguerre painting (click to enlarge)

It’s a bit more interesting because it’s a  later 18C engraving of the original painting (c. 1713). Its higher-resolution and more stark lines provide a bit more detail. Noteworthy tidbits:

  • There’s definitely fighting in them thar’ woods.
  • The naked bodies are apparently being picked over by a woman (note the dress), who is fending off a pistol shot from a cavalier. Now I’m imagining women sneaking around the battlefield, dispatching the wounded to more easily acquire their plunder.
  • I’m assuming a large part of this particular nakedness relates to the composition of the work, as the woman and the bodies (along with the tree behind it) pretty neatly divide the image into two parts. The divider is more clear in Laguerre’s original, and is a bit muddled in DuBosc’s image because of the checker-red standard.
  • DuBosc changed the colors of some of the clothing, even reversing the blue and red on occasion, as with the cavalier shooting at the plunderer. Not sure how to interpret this. Laguerre, for example, has blue coats and red coats working together to lift the logs, whereas DuBosc turns them all red. I’m not sure if Laguerre’s buff coats around the cannon are supposed to be civilians (i.e. wagoneers), or just had different uniforms on…
  • The defender’s flag on the right appears to have changed from some kind of large white cross in Laguerre to small (presumably fleur-de-lis) in DuBosc’s engraving.
  • The officer on the far left (pointing) also apparently has a horse of gold now. Nice. Alternately, it looks like a lot of the white objects were turned yellow in the engraving (yet the clouds and perruques remain white).

So is all this artistic crap random? Thoughts?