Richelieu's Army: War, Government, and Society in France, 1624-1642

Richelieu's Army: War, Government, and Society in France, 1624-1642

Richelieu's Army: War, Government, and Society in France, 1624-1642

Richelieu's Army: War, Government, and Society in France, 1624-1642


It is assumed widely that "war made the state" in seventeenth-century France. Yet this study challenges the traditional interpretations of the role of the army as an instrument of the emerging absolutist state, and shows how the expansion of the French war effort contributed to weakening Richelieu's hold on France and heightened levels of political and social tension. This is the first detailed account of the French army during this formative period of European history. It also contributes more generally to the "military revolution" debate among early modern historians.


With the formal declaration of war on Spain in May 1635, France moved from subsidy war (guerre convene) against the Habsburgs to guerre ouverte. From the early summer of 1635 France embarked upon a war which was unprecedented. While the civil wars of the later sixteenth century had lasted longer than this Franco-Spanish — and from 1636, Franco-Imperial — war, the scale of the individual conflicts was much smaller. Moreover, both this lengthy period of civil war and indeed the Hundred Years struggle against the English and the House of Burgundy were intermittent conflicts. the war which began in 1635 required a major military commitment every campaign season for twenty-five years. There were no truces, no years in which campaigning was substantially scaled down, no respite for the financial and military administration or for French subjects subjected to the burdens of warfare.

Yet there were considerable continuities with earlier foreign policy aims and aspirations, and with the assumptions and methods of waging war inherited from previous conflicts, particularly from the Habsburg-Valois wars of the first half of the sixteenth century. in 1559 the results of French foreign policy had not been deemed wholly negative. the defeat at Pavia (1525) is often taken as the deathknell of French aspirations in the Italian peninsula, but this ignores the subsequent decades of conflict in which the balance of advantage was more evenly distributed. the legacy of this period was in fact particularly dangerous in its impact on the assumptions of those making policy a century later. the HabsburgValois wars demonstrated that military progress could be made by French armies prepared to exploit the weaknesses and the over-extended defences of the monarchia of Charles V It was then easy to allow these assumptions to influence strategic thinking in the very different military context of the first half of the next century.

France and the european crisis, 1618–1626

The decision of the Palatine Elector, Frederick V, to give support to the revolt of the Bohemian Estates against Habsburg rule expanded the issues of a localized . . .

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