Tag Archive | war & society

As I was saying

somebody should let people know when there are museum exhibits on early modern military subjects.

I’ve been writing up personal summaries of our recent trip to Vienna-Salzburg-Munich (and sprinkling them with photos off the web, which are usually far better than what we can manage), lest the memories fade from view too quickly. Pursuant to this task, I started looking up a bunch of early modern artists’ works in Google image search. Concurrently, my RSS feed alerted me to Amy Herman’s Visual Intelligence, which I acquired and have been reading with interest. In a suitably artistic state of mind, I thought I’d look up the Frick Collection (where Herman worked), just to see what kind of museum it was. Turns out, it’s in New York City (a few hours from me), and has some early modern works. So on a further whim, keenly aware of the fortuitous timing that allowed us to see the ephemeral Feste feiern and Kaiser Karl V erobert Tunis exhibits in Vienna, I checked to see what special exhibits the Frick had coming up. And, lo and behold, I find this exhibit, starting July 12 and running through October 2: Watteau’s Soldiers: Scenes of Military Life in Eighteenth-Century France. The description of the exhibit:

It would be difficult to think of an artist further removed from the muck and misery of war than Jean-Antoine Watteau (1684–1721), who is known as a painter of amorous aristocrats and melancholy actors. And yet, early in his career, Watteau painted a number of scenes of military life. They were produced during one of the darkest chapters of France’s history, the War of the Spanish Succession (1701–14), but the martial glory on which most military painters trained their gaze held no interest for Watteau. Instead, he focused on the most prosaic aspects of war — marches, halts, and encampments. The resulting works show the quiet moments between the fighting, when soldiers could rest and daydream, smoke pipes and play cards.

Watteau's soldiers

Watteau’s soldiers chilling’ at a Valenciennes gate

Presented exclusively at The Frick Collection in the summer of 2016, Watteau’s Soldiers is the first exhibition devoted solely to these captivating pictures, introducing the artist’s engagement with military life to a larger audience while exploring his unusual working methods. Among the paintings, drawings, and prints will be four of the seven known military scenes — with the Frick’s own Portal of Valenciennes as the centerpiece — as well as the recently rediscovered Supply Train, which has never before been exhibited publicly in a museum. Also featured will be thirteen studies of soldiers in red chalk, many directly related to the paintings on view, as well as a selection of works by Watteau’s predecessors and followers, the Frick’s Calvary Camp by Philips Wouwerman among them.

An accompanying book by Anne L. Poulet Curatorial Fellow Aaron Wile, published by The Frick Collection in association with D Giles, Ltd., London, will be the first illustrated catalogue of all Watteau works related to military subjects.

So if you’ll be in the region this summer, make some time to check it out. I know I will. And if you can’t,  at least consider checking out the catalog. Hopefully it’ll explain why Watteau’s short career should be divided into “early” and “late” works.

More posts on the military art to come.



Early Modern Military-Medical Complex

is what they’re calling a future special issue of the Canadian Journal of History.

To quote from the call:

For this thematic issue of the Canadian Journal of History/Annales canadiennes d’histoire we invite proposals for articles that will explore the changing relationships between early modern armed forces, medicine, society, and the state. Potential authors might want to consider topics such as the administration and treatment of patients in field hospitals and the operational relevance of field medicine, the institutionalization of military medicine and education as well as training and career paths in military medicine, and the relationship between military and civilian medicine and the role of military medicine in the formation of medical knowledge. This thematic issue will develop an international comparative perspective on early modern military medicine and the state.

Abstracts due 15 October. See here if you’re interested.


It seems everything is about representation these days.
Prak, Maarten. “Citizens, Soldiers and Civic Militias in Late Medieval and Early Modern Europe.” Past & Present 228, no. 1 (August 1, 2015): 93–123.
(For those in the publishing biz who need it, the doi is 10.1093/pastj/gtv030)
First paragraph: One of the world’s best-known works of art of the early modern period has an uncomfortable relationship with current historiography. The subject matter of Rembrandt’s Nightwatch, created between 1640 and 1642, is amateur soldiers — but had these not become obsolete as a result of the Military Revolution? As it is, the figures in the Nightwatch are going through military procedures, closely following Jacob de Gheyn’s soldiers’ manual of 1607, even though it is quite clear that they are citizens, not soldiers. In the painting we see officers of an Amsterdam civic militia company on their rounds, depicted against the dark shape of a town gate.1 In seventeenth-century Amsterdam civic militias patrolled the city at night; one of their duties was to shut the gates, and to take the keys to the home of the presiding burgomaster. In the centre of the picture is the company’s commanding officer, Frans Banning Cocq, who, as the son of a German immigrant, was understandably proud of the status that he had achieved in his home town. He and his fellow-officers paid Rembrandt one hundred guilders each to have their portraits included. The painting was to be displayed in the doelen, or militia hall, where it could be viewed by members of their own and other militia companies, as well as by ordinary passers-by.2 A hundred guilders, the equivalent of four months of a labourer’s wages, for a portrait that would not become private property, was a substantial amount of money, suggesting how much importance was attached to the public presentation of one’s person in a militia context. ….

War narrative

An edited collection from a few years back that I missed until now:

Mondini, Marco, and Massimo Rospocher, eds. Narrating War. Early Modern and Contemporary Perspectives. Bologna-Berlin: Il Mulino-Duncker & Humblot, 2013.


One of the most significant aspects of recent historiography on war has been the attention paid to the cultural images of conflict: the visual representation and its memory, language and rhetoric. This approach has brought new attention to ways of representing war and the languages used to recount it. This collection of the essays contributes to this historiographical debate focusing on two paradigmatic periods. The First World War is usually seen as marking a new era; the unusual nature of the violence of this conflict and the mechanization of death, signalling the end of war as a place for generating men’s honour. But so too other moments in the history of Western culture have seen the paradigm of war changing in the accounts and narratives of contemporaries. Among these, the crucial period of the Italian Wars of the sixteenth century, when the image of war transformed from a theatre of conflict between noble-chivalric heroes to the encounters of anonymous armies. Leading North American and European scholars turn here their attention on discourses and narratives without neglecting the reality of war and its dramatic effects on civilian population in order to understand when and in what form the Western narrative of war as generative of individual and collective valour declined.

We historians sure do like to generalize. Something big and amorphous always seems to be rising or declining…

Early modern chapters include:

  • Martines, Lauro. “Notes on War and Social History.” In Narrating War. Early Modern and Contemporary Perspectives, edited by Marco Mondini and Massimo Rospocher, 31–44. Bologna-Berlin: Il Mulino-Duncker & Humblot, 2013.
    As much a criticism of the meager fruits of war & society studies as a dismissal of traditional military history. A bit outdated already (especially since his “early modern” period ends in the late 17C), but worth perusing.
  • Fournel, Jean-Louis. “Narrating the Italian Wars (1494-1540). Contamination, Models, and Knowledge.” In Narrating War. Early Modern and Contemporary Perspectives, edited by Marco Mondini and Massimo Rospocher, 45–62. Bologna-Berlin: Il Mulino-Duncker & Humblot, 2013.
  • Shaw, Christine. “Wartime Propaganda during Charles VIII’s Expedition to Italy, 1494/95.” In Narrating War. Early Modern and Contemporary Perspectives, edited by Marco Mondini and Massimo Rospocher, 63–79. Bologna-Berlin: Il Mulino-Duncker & Humblot, 2013.
  • Rospocher, Massimo. “Songs of War. Historical and Literary Narratives of the «Horrendous Italian Wars» (1494-1559).” In Narrating War. Early Modern and Contemporary Perspectives, edited by Marco Mondini and Massimo Rospocher, 79–98. Bologna-Berlin: Il Mulino-Duncker & Humblot, 2013.
  • Lavenia, Vincenzo. “In God’s Fields. Military Chaplains and Soldiers in Flanders during the Eighty Years’ War.” In Narrating War. Early Modern and Contemporary Perspectives, edited by Marco Mondini and Massimo Rospocher, 99–112. Bologna-Berlin: Il Mulino-Duncker & Humblot, 2013.
  • Stermole, Krystina. “Chivalric Combat in a Modern Landscape. Depicting Battle in Venetian Prints during the War of the League of Cambrai (1509-1516).” In Narrating War. Early Modern and Contemporary Perspectives, edited by Marco Mondini and Massimo Rospocher, 113–32. Bologna-Berlin: Il Mulino-Duncker & Humblot, 2013.

Personally I find it a bit odd, though, to couch the book in terms of a fundamental change in the Western narrative of war, yet the book only focuses on the 16th and 20th centuries. I truly appreciate the case studies, but we historians appear preternaturally averse to the idea of representative sampling whenever we start talking about big ideas. Not only our tendency to present a single country as the paradigm for an age, but chronologically as well, when we draw a straight line between points A and F, forgetting about B, C, D, and E in between. Or as a mathematician might say, linear trends are the only option if you only plot two points.

So much in so little

I just finished my final grades for the semester, leaving me a few precious days to prepare for my month-long research jaunt at the SHD (Archives de Guerre at Vincennes for old-timers like myself) – after I finish up several other outstanding tasks, of course. I’ve got three research projects going on – the battle book, a book chapter on French siege capitulations, and an upcoming paper (presumably an article/book chapter at some point) on the French view of battle. So my archive research will resemble a scattergun approach. To the extent that I have a focus, I’ll particularly be getting photos of French discussions of the Spanish theater’s battles, since the helpful Mémoires militaires series covers Flanders, Italy and Germany, but not, for some reason, Iberia.

I’m looking forward to having all my sources and “books” at my fingertips in the reading room: all the Mémoires militaires volumes and contemporary memoirs/correspondence, all of “my” scanned primary sources and many scanned sections of “my” secondary sources, not to mention all the archival guides and inventories. But to be honest, I’m hoping I won’t have time to consult them in the reading room proper, as I plan on being a photographing machine. But at least I’ll be able to almost immediately introduce my new archival photos to their brethren via the SD card slot (always have extra memory cards, and batteries). All courtesy of DTPO and the tiny MacBook Air of course:

In addition to having all my sources searchable (either full-text or by metadata or by hierarchical folder), I set up Favorites and Smart Groups on the far right to make it easy to jump to oft-used folders.

In addition to having all my sources searchable (either full-text or by metadata or, at least, by hierarchical folder), I set up Favorites and Smart Groups on the far right to make it easy to jump to oft-used folders. And a single document to track all my orders.

But back to grading. One of my student seminar papers (seminar: England in Glorious Revolution) reminded me of an English periodical I didn’t yet have in my Devonthink database. The periodical in question is interesting because it is one of the few types of documents that is guaranteed to give you nothing but opinion. Its title is The British Apollo, or, Curious Amusements for the ingenious, first published in 1708 (available on Google Books). It copied the format of John Dunton’s earlier Athenian Mercury from the 1690s: lots of anonymous readers’ questions answered by the “experts” on staff. The questions range the gamut, from religion to science to sex to you-name-it. The very first page, for example, has the editors answering three questions: why Negroes have black skin (they disavow the old “punishment from God” idea), why the sound of files and saws annoy us (I’m assuming like fingernails on a chalkboard), and why we feel like falling when we look down from tall heights. And there are over 500 pages of similar questions, pithily answered with just a bit of attitude.

So I was looking through it for discussion of warfare – that this is a general-interest periodical and isn’t focused on war makes it useful as a gauge to broader public perceptions – and I came across this:

Q. Worthy Sirs, I beg the favour of you to resolve the following query. Who has been most serviceable to the World, the Priest who found out the use of Gunpowder? Or the Soldier who invented the art of Printing? And you’l oblige your Humble Servant, T.L.

First take a moment to admire the nicely parallel contrast of the respective inventors’ professions with their inventions. I assume the interrogator is referring to Roger Bacon as the “inventor” of gunpowder, though I don’t know who the soldier would be, since Gutenberg was a goldsmith AFAIK. Unless they were already giving the Chinese proper credit for both, which I doubt.

Now, stop and imagine what the response might be – what’s our instinctual reaction, what would we answer today? And then read on:

British Apollo Q&A

British Apollo Q&A. This detail takes up about 1/6 of a page.

A. We shall demonstrate as briefly as we can, the good and bad/ill Effects of these Inventions; the more satisfactorily to answer your Question. And First, The expeditious manner of publishing large Volumes by the Art of Printing, has undoubtedly given vast Encouragement to the Study of all Sorts [of] Learning; since the extravagant Charges of paying Scribes for copying Manuscripts, is hereby taken off, and much greater numbers may be had, for much less Money; by which means, the Books, publish’d in one Country, are spread over another; and Knowledge, formerly confin’d to one part of the World, become Universal. But on the other hand, the same Opportunity has encourag’d the Propagators of Hersey and Schism, Rebellion, and all other Vices, to scatter their malignant Doctrines about the Universe; to sow the dangerous Seeds of Animosity and Sedition, to raise new Sects, and open new Divisions, even to the shaking the very Columns of Religion and Humanity: An Evil, that in our Opinions has very much over/counterbalanced the Good of the invention. Now, let us consider the Consequences which have attended the use of Gun-powder; and we shall find that instead of encreasing, it has lessen’d the Effusion of Blood, and mighty heaps of former slaughter. We hear nothing, in our times, of the Hundred Thousands that so often fell in ancient Battles; we have now a cleaner Art of War, and move with more dispatch, and far less havock; by which it plainly appears, that this Invention has prevented the spilling great Quantities of Human Blood; and consequently [is] preferable to the former; whose dangerous effects have often prov’d it fatal to both to our Religion and Government.

So many interesting things in this, and so little time. So I’ll simply provide a list:

  • Their ultimate answer of book vs. gunpowder isn’t, I’d suggest, quite what your average 21st century reader might expect the answer to be. One of my favorite parts of history is how often one is struck by the gulf between what we expect vs. what we find – most of the time it’s as much about our assumptions differing from theirs as about any greater knowledge we might have – and what we learn about contemporary views based off this gulf.
  • Apparently all periods and places didn’t consider the spread of knowledge as an essential good, even in the age of the Scientific Revolution. Gotta watch out for those dangerous ideas.
  • Interesting how most of the impact of printing comes from spreading from one country to another, vs. spreading knowledge (foreign or otherwise) downward within a country. (It might be worth mentioning that the British Apollo, like most other periodicals/papers of the period, explicitly refused to discuss domestic politics – certain information doesn’t belong in the public sphere.)
  • One can easily play the “Contextualize this!” game that historians like to play. Which types of people were seen as most benefitting from print? What recent events were the authors thinking of when they worried about the impact of print? What does their discussion of the Art of War tell us about how they viewed military history? Sounds like one of my homework assignments.
  • How were such documents to be read? Were they intended as sincere responses, or is there a certain contrariness to them? Given the popularity of English satire in the period, one can never be quite certain…
  • And for the military historians in the audience: did contemporaries consider gunpowder as constituting a military revolution?
  • What do we think of their argument about the relationship between more gunpowder and fewer casualties: causation, or just correlation?

Another missed book

Guess I need to check with Liverpool University Press more often. This one slipped through the cracks of my existing Google alerts and publisher email notifications:

Linch, Kevin, and Matthew McCormack, eds. Britain’s Soldiers: Rethinking War and Society, 1715-1815. Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2014.
Abstract: The British soldier was a fascinating and complex figure in the century between the Hanoverian accession and the Battle of Waterloo. The ‘war and society’ approach has shed much light on Britain’s frequent experience of conflict in this period, but Britain’s Soldiers argues that it is time to refocus our attention on the humble redcoat himself, and rethink historical approaches to soldiers’ relationship with the society and culture of their day. Using approaches drawn from the histories of the military, gender, art, society, culture and medicine, this volume presents a more rounded picture of the men who served in the various branches of the British armed forces. This period witnessed an unprecedented level of mass mobilisation, yet this was largely achieved through novel forms of military service outside of the regular army. Taking a wide definition of soldiering, this collection examines the part-time and auxiliary forces of the period, as well as looking at the men of the British Army both during their service and once they had been discharged from the army. Chapters here explore the national identity of the soldier, his sense of his rights within systems of military discipline, and his relationships with military hierarchies and honour codes. They also explore the welfare systems available to old and wounded soldiers, and the ways in which soldiers were represented in art and literature. In so doing, this book sheds new light on the processes through which soldiers were ‘made’ during this crucial period of conflict.
Chapters include:
Introduction: Kevin Linch and Matthew McCormack
PART 1: Nationhood
1 ‘The eighteenth-century British army as a European institution’, Stephen Conway
2 ‘Soldiering abroad: the experience of living and fighting among aliens’, Graciela Iglesias Rogers
PART 2: Hierarchy
3 ‘Effectiveness and the British Officer Corps, 1793-1815’, Bruce Collins
4 ‘Stamford standoff: honour, status and rivalry in the Georgian military’, Matthew McCormack
PART 3: Discipline
5 ‘“The soldiers murmered much on Account of their usage”: military justice and negotiated authority in the eighteenth-century British army’, William P. Tatum III
6 ‘Discipline and control in eighteenth-century Gibraltar’, Ilya Berkovich
PART 4: Gender
7 ‘Conflicts of conduct: British masculinity and military painting in the wake of the Siege of Gibraltar’, Cicely Robinson
8 ‘Scarlet fever: female enthusiasm for men in uniform, 1780-1815’, Louise Carter
PART 5: Soldiers in Society
9 ‘Disability, fraud and medical experience at the Royal Hospital of Chelsea in the long eighteenth century’, Caroline Louise Nielsen
10 ‘Making new soldiers: legitimacy, identity and attitudes, c. 1740-1815’, Kevin Linch

Sense and Sensibility

New article on the psyche of mid/late-18C soldiers:

Shaw, Philip. “Longing for Home: Robert Hamilton, Nostalgia and the Emotional Life of the Eighteenth-Century Soldier.” Journal for Eighteenth-Century Studies, December 1, 2014.
Abstract: This article focuses on Robert Hamilton’s The Duties of a Regimental Soldier (1787; rev edn 1794). The article places Hamilton’s case study of a common soldier suffering from nostalgia, a potentially fatal disease of the imagination arising in displaced young recruits and in young women removed from their families, within the broader contexts of the history of medical education, contemporary theories of the passions, ideas of military discipline and the culture of sensibility. Hamilton’s treatment of nostalgia raises questions about the relations between class and sensibility, between literature and science, and between medical professionalism and the gendered nature of military identity.
Fortunately, I think we now have a vaccine for nostalgia, thank god.

Erin go bragh (and bragh and bragh…)

Because we just can’t get enough of Cromwell and the Irish:

Cunningham, John. “Divided Conquerors: The Rump Parliament, Cromwell’s Army and Ireland.” English Historical Review 129, no. 539 (August 2014): 830–61.
This article reassesses the relationship that existed in the period 1649–53 between war in Ireland and politics in England. Drawing upon a largely overlooked Irish army petition, it seeks to remedy an evident disconnect between the respective historiographies of the Cromwellian conquest of Ireland on the one hand and the Rump Parliament on the other. The article reconstructs some of the various disputes over religion, authority and violence that undermined the unity of the English wartime regime in Ireland. It then charts the eventual spilling over of these disputes into Westminster politics, arguing that their impact on deteriorating army-parliament relations in the year prior to Oliver Cromwell’s expulsion of the Rump in April 1653 has not been fully appreciated. The key driver of these developments was John Weaver, a republican MP and commissioner for the civil government of Ireland. The article explains how his efforts both to place restraints on the excessive violence of the conquest and to exert civilian control over the military evolved, by 1652, into a determined campaign at Westminster to strengthen the powers of Ireland’s civil government and to limit the army’s share in the prospective Irish land settlement. Weaver’s campaign forced the army officers in Ireland to intervene at Westminster, thus placing increased pressure on the Rump Parliament. This reassessment also enables the early 1650s to be viewed more clearly as a key phase in the operation of the longer-term relationships of mutual influence that existed between Dublin and London in the seventeenth century.

Soldiers and violence – who woulda thunk it

The latest issue of History 99, no. 336 (July 2014) has a collection of articles on violence in early modern Britain, revolving specifically around the intersection between violence and human rights. Those interested in the topic should consult all the articles, but those more narrowly focused on military matters might be particularly interested in:

1) Malcolm Smuts, “Organized Violence in the Elizabethan Monarchical Republic,” pp. 414-443.


This article argues that the Tudor concept of England as a Protestant commonwealth normally implied a belief in the legitimacy and necessity of armed violence against enemies of God and the public good. In the absence of a standing army the instruments of such violence had to be mobilized partly through the voluntary efforts of subjects who regarded warfare as a form of public service. The article goes on to explore how ideas and practices of armed violence shaped government policies in England and Ireland. In England the privy council constructed a system of county militias under the control of a cohort deemed loyal to the Protestant state, and toyed with schemes for using martial law against vagrants and other groups who threatened public order. But in the absence of a successful invasion or major rebellion, this machinery of military control was never fully mobilized and a reaction eventually set in against its potential abuse. By contrast in Ireland linguistic and cultural divisions, weaker institutions of civil government and the preponderance of Catholicism created situations in which brutal military coercion sometimes appeared the only effective method of maintaining ‘civil’ governance and Protestant control. The weakness of royal supervision over the captains who carried out government policy on the ground also enabled freelance violence. Elizabethan brutality in Ireland was not simply a product of colonial rule; it reflected the dark underside of commonwealth ideals of civility, political initiative and godly rule. 

2) Vincent Carey, ‘”As lief to the gallows as go to the Irish wars”: Human Rights and the Abuse of the Elizabethan Soldier in Ireland, 1600–1603,’ pp. 468-486.


This essay explores the treatment of the Elizabethan soldier in Ireland under lord deputy Mountjoy from 1600 to 1603, the years of the most atrocious violence of the conflict. Coming at the experiences of the ordinary soldier in these years from the perspective of human rights forces the historian to a set of rather uncomfortable conclusions. For while many of these soldiers inflicted horrific violence on the native non-combatant population, their own experiences were determined by a set of forces and practices that left them vulnerable to some of the most extreme abuses of the age. While this essay will address the question of human rights and the implications and applications of the terminology for Elizabeth England, it will do so within the context of a war that abused the ordinary soldier as much as it abused the non-combatant Irish. Yet the abuse of these men is worth re-examining as it provides us with an insight to the state’s attitude to the subordinate classes and their basic rights. For in examining the recruitment, equipping and treatment of the ordinary soldiers in the field, we find a brutalized mass whose only option was to endure or flee. A mass whose fundamental rights as subjects of the English crown or indeed as humans were badly abused. They were often masterless men unsuitable for combat and ultimately the victims of ‘social cleansing’, victims of class and coercion. The wretchedness of their conditions of service was thus forced, inevitably downwards, on the helpless non-combatant Gaelic Irish.


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.