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

By Clifford J. Rogers | Go to book overview

12
The Military Revolution:
Origins and First Tests Abroad

JOHN F. GUILMARTIN, JR.

THE ORIGINS OF THE Military Revolution, however defined, and the immediate consequences of its exportation abroad are clearly a matter of importance, not only to military historians but to social and political historians as well. In his seminal work, The Military Revolution: Military Innovation and the Rise of the West, 1500-1800, 1 Geoffrey Parker placed his topic in context by citing Daniel Hedrick to the effect that Europe controlled about 35% of the world's land surface by 1800, a share which increased to 84% by 1914. Parker went on to argue, correctly in my view, that however important post-1800 imperial expansion was, it was not the crux of the matter. What really counted was the way in which the first 35% was acquired, for it was there that Western Europe established its superiority. 2

Parker began his inquiry at the turn of the sixteenth century, showing how European armies and navies learned to articulate more powerfully the new technologies at their disposal, notably gunpowder weapons and trans-oceanic sailing vessels, and bend them to the process of imperial expansion. Here, I will press the logic behind Parker's approach a step further. Using Clifford Rogers' analysis of developments in the Hundred Years War 3 as a point of departure, I will begin by examining the origins of the innovations in technology and tactics which manifested themselves so dramatically on a global scale after 1500. I will then turn to an assessment of the pivotal initial engagements which began around the turn of the sixteenth century between the beneficiaries of the Military Revolution and those beyond Western Europe upon whom they sought to impose their will by force of arms.

I decided to address the various cases in inverse order of the technological capabilities of the opponents of Western European arms. This not only produced the smoothest narrative flow, but -- more important -- generated more promising hypotheses. That, therefore, is the scheme I shall follow. To avoid becoming embroiled in definitional hair-splitting, I will use the term Military Revolution not as

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