In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Warfare and Military Organizations

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Reference Resources
  • The Military Revolutions
  • War And State Formation
  • Technology Of War On Land
  • Naval Forces And Warfare
  • Mediterranean and Ottoman Warfare and Armies
  • Renaissance Wars of Religion
  • Thirty Years’ War
  • The Ethos of the Martial Aristocracy
  • The Experience of War
  • War and the Arts

Related Articles Expand or collapse the "related articles" sectionabout

Forthcoming Articles Expand or collapse the "forthcoming articles" section


Renaissance and Reformation Warfare and Military Organizations
Clifford J. Rogers
  • LAST REVIEWED: 10 May 2010
  • LAST MODIFIED: 10 May 2010
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399301-0056


Throughout the period c. 1350–1650, warfare was endemic in European society, and most rulers and members of the political elite were deeply involved with the maintenance and use of armies and navies. Wars and the development of the “military art” (tactics, strategy, and other aspects of the conduct of war) are interesting subjects for historical inquiry in their own right. But since the mid–20th century students of warfare and military organizations, reflecting broader trends in the discipline of history, have tended to focus less on the details of fighting than on the social history of those who served in the armed forces (a large and relatively well-documented population). Archival studies, drawing on voluminous administrative records, have provided masses of information about topics such as recruitment, supply, soldiers’ living conditions and social backgrounds, and structures of command and control. Since 1956 much of this work has been tied in one way or another to a grand debate about a “Military Revolution” in the Reformation period. Some see this Military Revolution as resulting from technical-tactical change (particularly the rising importance of gunpowder weapons, both handguns and artillery, and then the new style of fortifications developed to resist cannon) and leading to major political and social changes, particularly linked to the rise of the modern state structure. This is true both of broad surveys and of the extensive literature on the development of the various national armed forces of Europe within the period.

General Overviews

There are number of good books giving overviews of the military history of the era. Arnold 2001 is a heavily illustrated, concise, accessible, and fairly up-to-date treatment by a well-regarded military historian. Hall 1997 and Tallet 1992 are fuller but still introductory surveys, the former focusing on technology, the latter with a more social and administrative emphasis. Corvisier 1979, a seminal work, is similar in coverage to Tallett 1992 and more concise (though now somewhat dated). Hale 1985 is a model of its genre. Black 2002, like the author’s other works, reflects his intelligence, exceptionally broad learning, and willingness to challenge received wisdom. The chronological and geographical range covered in this entry is too great for any one scholar to master completely, yet any given region or century is best understood with reference to neighboring ones. This problem has given rise to several collections of essays in which each chapter is written by a specialist expert, while the chapters collectively provide a rounded treatment of the military of our topic. The nicely complementary volumes of Mortimer 2004 and Tallett and Trim 2010 are both outstanding executions of this model, with contributions by rosters of distinguished historians. Black 1999 puts the European developments in their world context.

  • Arnold, Thomas F. The Renaissance at War. London: Cassell, 2001.

    An excellent first introduction to the subject, focusing on the long 16th century, by a specialist in 16th-century Italian warfare with a broad understanding of military history. Images are used effectively to support the well-written text.

  • Black, Jeremy. European Warfare, 1494–1660. London: Routledge, 2002.

    A wide-ranging and well-informed synthesis of recent work that nicely balances “war and society” approaches with due regard to the traditional matter of military history (battles, sieges, military technology, etc.). Devotes substantial attention to situating European military developments in their global context. Emphasizes contingency over structuralist approaches.

  • Black, Jeremy, ed. War in the Early Modern World, 1450–1815. London: UCL, 1999.

    This collection of essays includes surveys of “European” warfare and Ottoman warfare, warfare at sea (mainly from a European perspective), the influence of Europe on warfare in Atlantic Africa, and European warfare with Aztecs and in North America. It also provides context for European developments with overviews of warfare in Japan, China, and India.

  • Corvisier, André. Armies and Societies in Europe, 1494–1789. Translated by Abigail T. Siddall. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1979.

    A wide-ranging but quite concise overview of the relationships among soldiers, the nations from which they came, and the states that they served. Deals with issues such as morale, discipline, ranks and promotion, civilians’ attitudes towards the military, and the social composition of armies. Translated from Armées et sociétés en Europe de 1494–1789 (Paris: P.U.F., 1976).

  • Hale, J. R. War and Society in Renaissance Europe, 1450–1620. London: Fontana, 1985.

    One of the very best “war and society” surveys. Based on impressive learning and packed with information and insight into how war and military institutions related to sociopolitical structures and developments (downplaying the causative power of military innovation). Also excellent on the social history of soldiers. An interesting chapter describes developments in the art of war in terms of “Reformation” rather than “Revolution.”

  • Hall, Bert S. Weapons and Warfare in Renaissance Europe. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1997.

    Combines technical analysis of how weapons changed over time with chapters relating technological changes to developments in the conduct of war, particularly on the battlefield. Especially good on the chemistry and physics of gunpowder and gunpowder weapons.

  • Mortimer, Geoff, ed. Early Modern Military History, 1450–1815. London: Palgrave, 2004.

    An all-star team of early modern historians survey the field. Concise and accessible for undergraduates; documented. The most relevant contributions include Rhoads Murphey on Ottoman expansion in 1451–1556, Jan Glete on naval power in 1450–1650, Geoff Mortimer on the Thirty Years’ War, and a chapter on Spanish military power in the 16th century by Fernando González de León that calls for “substantial modification or total abandonment” of the Military Revolution model.

  • Tallett, Frank. War and Society in Early-Modern Europe, 1495–1715. London: Routledge, 1992.

    Although it covers the art of war (with some emphasis on continuity over change), the strength of this book lies in the sections on the common soldiers and their experiences. The impact of war on the societies and economies of the period is also well summarized.

  • Tallett, Frank, and D. J. B. Trim, eds. European Warfare, 1350–1750. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2010.

    The conference this collection of essays is derived from was called “Crossing the Divide,” and the contributing historians have aimed to show continuity as well as change over the transition from medieval to modern. As with Mortimer 2004, the authors were invited to participate and given topics with the intent of collectively creating a comprehensive survey; of the two, this book is a more complete study and more thematically organized.

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