Can the changes in the conduct of warfare and its impact on society in the sixteenth century justifiably be described as a ‘Military Revolution’

In 16th century Europe, war became the mode for change and development in countries, and this increasing importance meant that very few people were left untouched by war. It is for these reasons that many people have described the events as a military revolution. Two factors contributed significantly to the changes in warfare, being the replacement of cavalry with the pike and musket and the new type of fortification that was developed.Previously, armies had consisted of large numbers of heavily armed knights, who had cost a lot of money due to their arms and had also required considerate amounts of training. It was because of this that armies began to use much more infantry than they had done previously, arming them with pikes and muskets. However, this early firepower was actually a ‘retrograde step’ 1 according to some historians because the longbow was superior in terms of speed and accuracy. The main advantage of both the musket and the pike were that they could be used with virtually no training, which is why they replaced the bow. The use of infantry also brought about changes in the structure of an army because it brought about new ranks and placed new emphasis on order and discipline. This new use of gunpowder led to the ‘most significant military development of all’ 2, which was the increase in the size of armies.Infantry was ‘growing in efficiency and importance’ 3 and was both cheap and easy to supply so the armies of the time expanded greatly, with the only limit being how much the state was able to afford. As is often the case, increased state expenditure was passed on to the population of the country in forms such as higher taxes. Other ideas used in various countries in Europe to raise more money were things like the credit system in Spain and the sale of government offices in France. By the end of the century, this led to discontent amongst the people of Britain and there were even revolts in France. The new warfare had a ‘financial alter ego’ 4 and people such as the tax collectors and customs men could increase the casualty lists if they were accompanied with armed guards.Warfare was now a massive drain on state finance because of the implementation of standing armies and simply because of the money spent to ensure that an army was well equipped and would be able to suffice. With the increase in the size of armies came an increase in the length of wars. The increased duration of wars meant that often people would have to be called upon from outside the campaign, the standing army. These soldiers would still have to be paid by the state and would almost always be needed due to the higher casualty rates that came from the long sieges that began to take place. Again this would require the state spending more money, and whilst this caused unrest with the people, they would not want their country being over-run by foreign invaders.The ‘slowing in the pace of warfare’ 5 has largely been attributed to another development of this period, which was the new type of fortification, the trace italienne. The increase in the use of artillery fire meant that the old forts were nowhere near as useful as they had been previously. The new forts meant that even if an attacking army successfully managed to breach the walls, the amount of casualties suffered would be vast and in virtually all cases, the siege would have taken a long time. The new forts stagnated warfare wherever they were used and made the battle between defensive armies and offensive armies much more balanced. One example of this is northern Netherland, which survived 80 years of attacks due to investment in trace italienne that eventually left their opponents with no resources.Again artillery had a role in producing the slower pace of war because it was the firearms used by defenders that ‘tended to produce stalemates’ 6 and meant that ‘sweeping conquests of medieval fortresses’ 7 were no longer possible. With the new forts, which were designed both to withstand artillery and provide a much more stable defensive platform, ‘it is not surprising that successful assaults were rare in the sixteenth century’ 8. Siege warfare had ‘profoundly altered the face of war’ 9 and had many other implications since building new fortresses was a very costly process and also caused the wars to last far longer, meaning that these forts had a large part to play in the increase in cost of warfare.The increased costs that were so important to warfare at this time make it seem like any state that had money would be able to raise a successful army for either attack or defence. However, this was not always the case; one example is the state of Sienna in Italy which decided to build modern forts but found the costs so high that the work went unfinished and meant that they could not afford to raise an army, which led to it being invaded. A similar situation occurred in Ireland, where they were unable to keep up with the costs of the arms race. This shows the difficulties caused by the financial costs of the new warfare during this period, as attempting to modernise could leave a country or state in more trouble than they were previously.The increase in expenditure was not the only effect that this new warfare had on the state. State bureaucracy also increased during this period because of the need to recruit armies and raise money via the implementation of new taxes. In England, had it not been for the constant need to increase taxes to fund wars, then ‘parliament would probably not have met frequently’ 10. Whilst war did lead to increased bureaucracy, it was ‘only marginally a political issue’ 11, and was rather much more of a social issue.Society was greatly affected during this period by war, such as the Wars of the Netherlands and Italy which have been described as ‘unremitting molestations of normal life’ 12. War now had a greater impact because of the larger armies and the increased duration of sieges and battles. Food prices increased during this period since there were food shortages in countries, which could sometimes have even been caused by armies simply marching through the countryside. Much suffering was caused on non-combatants because of the ‘inability of civilian society to deal with large numbers of men on the move’ 13, which would cause an artificial population surge in an area, again leading to shortages amongst other things. It was often the case that a large army population in a town would lead to things such as theft and sexual crime, and this was after the people had funded the army by paying increased taxes.Although there are fairly few examples, one of the most shocking impacts that war had on society was when an army chose to operate a scorched-earth policy. This would leave villages completely destroyed even if the people had already been evacuated and so would disrupt the lives of normal civilians greatly. When sieges took place, again the effect on the local society would be devastating, as attacking soldiers would steal animals and grain as the supply lines would never provide them with enough to survive. Soldiers were also given priority when it came to things such as clothes and shoes, so any shortages would again mean that it was the normal people that suffered. Whilst this had been the case for many years, the increase in the size of the armies and the duration of wars meant that it now had far more effect on ordinary people than it had done previously.As previously mentioned, the increase in the cost of warfare was funded by the people through taxes and this meant that people were ‘unable to purchase more than what was essential to keep body and soul together’ 14. ‘Normal expenditure was outrunning normal revenue’ 15 and so it was normal people that ended up paying for the war that they now had to take for granted. It can be seen that warfare did lead to increased production in countries, as industries would have to supply the army. Though, as the production was for the army, despite the increase in production in industries such as iron and steel, little extra revenue would have been earned. Another consequence of warfare was the ‘development of a copper-based coinage’ as small change was needed to pay military wages.It can be seen that during this period, there were massive changes in terms of the conduct of warfare. The use of muskets and pikes meant that armies were now structured very differently to how they had been previously, with far more infantry than cavalry. This new firepower meant that soldiers required far less training and supply became much cheaper. This in turn led to the growth in the size of armies, both normal and standing, and this, along with the development of new forts meant that war was now conducted at a far slower pace. The increased army sizes and duration of wars, along with the desire to keep up with the arms race caused the cost of war to escalate massively and lead to the impacts on society that were caused by new taxes. Warfare changed European life during this period in many ways and had a great impact on society and so I believe that it is certainly justifiable to describe the events as a ‘Military Revolution’.

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