The Military Revolution Debate: Readings on the Military Transformation of Early Modern Europe

By Clifford J. Rogers | Go to book overview

6
The Military Revolution and the
Professionalisation of the French Army
Under the Ancien Régime

COLIN JONES

THE MIDDLE DECADES of the seventeenth century saw a shift in the centre of gravity of European dynastic politics from the Habsburgs to the Bourbons. The grandiose schemes of European dominance held by the combined Spanish and Imperial Habsburg power in the sixteenth century had foundered on the opposition of the Turks on one hand and the Dutch and their allies on the other. Even so, in the closing years of the century, Habsburg Spain had still been indisputably the greatest power in Europe, while France had been in eclipse, submerged in a welter of internal dissension which would last down to the Fronde ( 1648-1653). Nevertheless, in the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648 with the Imperial power and in the Treaty of the Pyrenees in 1659 with Spain, France was to assert its primacy in Europe. The resultant change in international ranking order derived above all from feats of arms. Spain had, it is true, developed grave internal problems which weakened its international standing; but its defeat was ultimately military and the French victory over the legendary Spanish tercios at Rocroi in 1643 had symbolically tolled the knell of Habsburg dominance in Europe.

It was France's army which lay at the nub of her newfound primacy of place in Europe: her navy in the 1640s and 1650s was still inconsiderable and was never to be ascribed more than a subaltern role in grand strategy. Successive Bourbon rulers and their principal ministers -- Richelieu ( 1624-1642) and Mazarin ( 1642-1661) not least -- managed to create an original and cogent blend of state power and military strength which, from the middle of the seventeenth century down to the end of the Ancien Régime in 1789, would enable France to aspire to European hegemony. This was an achievement which was intricately associated with profound changes which had been taking place since the late sixteenth century in the conduct of war. These changes, dubbed by Michael Roberts as a 'Military Revolution',

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