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

By Clifford J. Rogers | Go to book overview

10
Tactics or Politics? "The Military
Revolution" and the Hapsburg
Hegemony, 1525-1648

SIMON ADAMS

THE CAMPAIGNS INITIATED by the landing of Gustavus Adolphus at Peenemünde in June 1630 are among the best-known events of the Thirty Years' War. The Swedish victory at Breitenfeld was, S. R. Gardiner concluded a century ago, "no common victory." Like Naseby, it was "the victory of disciplined intelligence," the success of which "could not be confined to mere fighting. It would make its way in morals and politics, in literature and science." 1 If Gardiner's Protestant liberalism now has a distinctly dated ring, the Swedish intervention has not lost its wider significance. In his magisterial biography of Gustavus Adolphus, Michael Roberts discovered in the campaigns of 1630-32 the focal point of what he identified as the "military revolution" of the century 1560-1660. By the end of the sixteenth century, he argued, "tactics had withered, strategy had atrophied." Following the military reforms that underlay the Swedish victories, war became once more an effective instrument of policy. 2

A decade ago Geoffrey Parker subjected the Roberts thesis to a searching critical reappraisal. Parker identified four main elements in Roberts's military revolution: a revolution in tactics, a revolution in strategy, a dramatic increase in the scale of armies, and a transformation of the state. He queried both the novelty and the success of Swedish tactics and strategy but accepted the growth of armies and their impact on the state, though for somewhat different reasons. 3 For Parker the military revolution was above all logistical; as he has most recently concluded, "The states of early modern Europe had discovered how to supply large armies but not how to lead them to victory." 4

Other assessments of tactical evolution in the period have reinforced Parker's argument that they were both more diffuse and adopted earlier than Roberts allowed for. Deployment by battalions, for example, appears to have been widely

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