J.P.SOMMERVILLE

 

The Military Revolution - 3


Louis XIV at War


William III at war

351-16(3)
 

 Armies and society

During the seventeenth century states asserted closer control over armies and began to establish a monopoly over the use of armed force.
In the sixteenth century and before, cities and individual noblemen raised and equipped troops, sometimes quite independently of the state. The Huguenots were guaranteed by the Edict of Nantes the right to fortify certain strongholds. Even during the Thirty Years War, Albrecht von Wallenstein created an army that was largely independent of the Emperor's control.
 

In the first decades of the seventeenth century, most armies consisted of regiments that were "owned" by their colonels. The colonel received a commission from the government but controlled recruitment, pay, discipline and supply himself.
 

The Dutch army stood at the forefront of the movement to place the government in more direct control of its armed forces. In part, its success was due to the absence of a powerful aristocratic class; in France, the Fronde of the nobles showed how resolutely noblemen clung to their rights to raise independent military forces.
In reaction to the Fronde, Louis XIV and his ministers set a new standard of direct government control over the day-to-day running of armies. A new uniformity and discipline were introduced and the war ministry at Paris controlled ever more aspects of military operations and supply.
The massive increase in the size of armies and in the bureaucracies required directly to administer them led to an increase in the scale of government and the money needed to finance it. Improved weapons were also more expensive weapons - 800 soldiers could be fed for a month on what it cost to buy one cannon. The Spanish war effort against the Dutch was crippled by their inability to finance the enormous cost of military action.
 

War, bureaucracy and taxes



The Battle of Kircholm (1605) 

Armies were expensive, but they on occasion they also made raising money easier. In 1657, Frederick William of Prussia used the army to collect taxes after the Estates had refused to grant any. Sweden received generous sums from France in 1630 and 1672 for using her army in the French interest.
Throughout most of Western Europe, state centralization and bureaucratic expansion went hand-in-hand with the higher taxation needed to finance the military. Almost everywhere, governments grew more powerful relative to their citizens:  Poland was the major exception to this rule.
Individual property rights were often infringed - billeting of troops, seizure of food and materials, and sacking of towns happened intermittently and unpredictably - and not only in enemy territory. When Charles XII invaded Russia in 1709, for example, Peter the Great implemented a "scorched earth" policy in the Ukraine, destroying food supplies and anything else that might help the Swedes.
Gustavus Adolphus adopted a more rational requisitioning system in the parts of Germany occupied by Swedish troops in the Thirty Years War; but even this regime treated peasants who withheld supplies with great harshness.
Even in peace time, the army could be used as an oppressive tool - Louis XIV's billeting of troops in Huguenot homes and Frederick William's occupation of Königsberg (1674) were two such examples.
Two major developments in seventeenth century Europe were the growth of absolute monarchy and the military revolution. It is natural to speculate whether the two were connected?
France, Spain, Prussia, Austria, Denmark and Sweden all saw both a major expansion of the military and the introduction of absolutist government. (In Spain, the process was reversed in the second half of the seventeenth century as the aristocracy effectively regained power from the king).
Prussia's rulers also made some concessions to their nobility, and some popular liberties were preserved in the western provinces, but the state's military and bureaucratic apparatus was effectively autonomous.

In England and the United Provinces, however, military expansion and efficiency developed in conjunction with limited, constitutional government. Charles I and James II both aimed at establishing quasi-absolutist powers but had to stay out of European wars to pursue this aim. The reigns of William and Mary and of Queen Anne saw an unprecedented growth in the size of the army and the navy, but this followed the Glorious Revolution that established significant restraints on the monarch's power. The United Provinces were at war with some European power or other (sometimes more than one) from 1568-1609, 1621-48, 1652-54, 1657-61, 1665-67, 1672-78, 1689-97. Nonetheless, representative government and legal rights were preserved. The House of Orange did acquire more power in wartime, but this never approached that of absolutist princes.
The development of absolutist government was also affected by economic and social structure, political ideas and religious institutions of each state, but the military revolution cannot be denied a key role.

 

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