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

By Clifford J. Rogers | Go to book overview

7
The trace italienne and the Growth of
Armies: The French Case1

JOHN A. LYNN

STALWART STONE SENTINELS guarded the borders of seventeenth-century France. An interlocking system of strongholds barred her frontiers, particularly to the northeast, where the great engineer Vauban designed a double line of fortresses and fortified cities across traditional invasion routes. French fortifications proved their value in the wars of Louis XIV and saved revolutionary Paris a century later. But did these grim giants simply shelter France, or did they also shape her? The noted historian Geoffrey Parker argues that because the attack and defense of the new style of bastioned fortress demanded huge numbers of troops, European states increased the size of their armies to immense proportions. To take Parker's assertion one step further, military expansion then compelled states to claim the authority and develop the institutions to marshal the vast resources demanded by gargantuan forces -- voila Absolutism. This article tests the theory that fortifications drove up army size in France, with all the attendant consequences.

Over the past decade and a half, Geoffrey Parker has repeatedly accounted for the growth of European armies in the early modern period by reference to the creation and spread of a style of fortress created in Italy during the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries. This trace italienne employed the bastion to render fortifications far less vulnerable to armies equipped with the more plentiful and much improved artillery of the age. He first stated his thesis in a 1976 article, "The 'Military Revolution' 1560-1660 -- a Myth?", and recently up-dated it in his prizewinning volume, The Military Revolution. 2

Parker defines the "military revolution as a series of fundamental developments in weaponry, tactics, and institutions. "First, the improvements in artillery in the fifteenth century, both qualitative and quantitative, eventually transformed fortress design. Second, the increasing reliance on firepower in battle . . . led not only to the eclipse of cavalry but to tactical arrangements that maximized the opportunities of giving fire. Moreover these new ways in warfare were accompanied

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