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

By Clifford J. Rogers | Go to book overview

8
Fortifications and the Military
Revolution: The Gonzaga Experience,
1530-1630

THOMAS F. ARNOLD

ALMOST FORGOTTEN TODAY, in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries the Gonzaga lords of Mantua and Montferrat in North Italy were among the most notable princes of Europe (Figure 8.1). They could legitimately claim descent from the last emperors of the Eastern Roman Empire, and two Gonzaga women married Habsburg Holy Roman Emperors. The justifiably famous Gonzaga court at Mantua supported artists and musicians of European reputation. And at that court the Gonzaga regularly entertained royalty: Charles V of Spain in 1530, his son Philip in 1549, and Henry III of France in 1574. Though Mantua and Montferrat were not large territories in comparison with principalities outside Italy, they were populous and rich, and the Gonzaga capital of Mantua was famous for its gardens, churches, stately palaces -- and formidable defenses. For the Gonzaga could not depend on ruling Mantua and Montferrat simply by right and reputation; other princes, inside Italy and without, could be expected to challenge Gonzaga rule at the slightest opportunity. Such were the facts of political life in dynastic Europe. To hold their lands in the turbulent sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the Gonzaga turned to fortifications. The city of Mantua in the marquisate (later duchy) of Mantua and the city of Casale in Montferrat became two of the best-fortified cities in all of Europe. Belted with bastions and guarded by citadels, fortified Mantua and Casale ensured the continuity of Gonzaga rule; fortifications were the bedrock of the family's determination to survive as lords of Mantua and Montferrat.

The Gonzaga experience with fortifications at Mantua and Casale illustrates a celebrated larger pattern: the spread of angle-bastion fortifications throughout first Italy, and then the other regions of Europe most threatened by war (the Habsburg-Valois/Bourbon frontiers, the Netherlands, the Danube valley, Ger).

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