The roughly two hundred military treatises and military histories written
in English during the early modern era have cast a hypnotic
spell over several generations of historians rather out
of proportion to their historical significance. One discovers
peril that these fascinating, eccentric and occasionally
enigmatic books have attracted a devoted following among
both professional and amateur historians. At a recent military history
conference the present reviewer unwisely disparaged this genre of
literature, uncharitably suggesting that the study of
military treatises was a lackadaisical alternative to
rolling up one’s sleeves in a
proper archive. Between sessions, a good friend who has
worked on eighteenth-century treatises upbraided me for the public display
of such bigotry. My lame excuse was that military treatises before the
age of the scientific revolution and enlightenment are much less reliable
than those works of a later age. However, historiography might be turning
in favor of the early modern treatises. As a result of postmodernist challenges,
historians have reconsidered discourse as historical evidence. One result
has been the recognition of a “public
sphere”, a collective historical consciousness that revolves around
popular discourse. Even one suffering from a “manuscript fetish” would
admit that research into the public sphere is certainly
intriguing. David Lawrence, perhaps without fully realizing
it, represents how that historiographical trend can inform
the study of war and society. He selects the roughly
ninety military books that he deems emblematic of early Stuart England,
and poses two questions: First, what was the readership of these books?
Second, what role did military literature play in the education (and public
discourse) of soldiering men in the decades up to and including the Civil
To be fair, one cannot ask of historical sources questions that are inappropriate
to that type of evidence. Archival historians might be forgiven for sniffing
that published treatises distort the realities of warfare rather than illuminate
what exactly happened, particularly in battles. Sixteenth and seventeenth
century treatises do not reflect mirror images of combat, either in how
it was sustained (logistics, tactical management) or waged (techniques
such as how to stem a flight or repair weapons under fire). In short, treatises
and histories reveal only a fragment of military history, and a flawed
fragment at that. David Lawrence, however, seems to be asking the right
questions of treatises, unlike many of his predecessors who wrote upon
this subject. Times have changed and maybe it’s time to re-examine
these dog-eared pamphlets and books. The internet and especially Early
English Books Online has now placed printed primary sources in the hands
of anyone interested in history. History-writing has become democratized
to an extent, and anyone capable of rudimentary prose can review scholarly
books on Amazon. In addition to being crucified in print by a sadistic
colleague, now one can anticipate being skewered on the internet by a philistine.
Recessionary economic trends are thinning the ranks of professional historians
employed by institutions of higher learning (especially in the United Kingdom),
especially those who teach national history and on pre-twentieth-century
topics. Medieval and early modern specialists, with their archival skills
and historiographical expertise, are going the way of the brontosaurus,
and without the accompanying blazing glory of a plummeting asteroid.
On the positive side of the ledger, the heightened accessibility of both
primary sources and monographs broadens the audience for the discipline
of history. A contemporary “public sphere” (created by electronics
rather than cheap print culture) has emerged. So it is worth asking, as
postmodernists do, about the nature of discourse and historical realities.
What David Lawrence does is examine the specifics of the relationship between
and the burgeoning print culture of the early seventeenth
century. Although he does not cite the late Jan Glete, he contributes to
our understanding of early modern “competencies” (a pronounced
theme in Glete’s later works). Competencies develop in bureaucracies
but are not explicit in the archival records of institutions. Rather, competencies
reflect consciousness, often a collective, didactic consciousness, very
much what early modern military treatises attempted to achieve. In drawing
a contrast with earlier military tradition, Lawrence writes: “In
this new military environment, individual martial skills were still required,
but they were not to take precedence over corporate skills now being stressed
in military books and manuals.” (373) Some of these competencies
were technical, indeed mathematical. Formations had to be formulated, trajectories
calculated, and distances computed. It is commonplace to associate the
Renaissance of geometry and the mathematical sciences with rise of the
artilleryman. Those skills of calculation and gauging were
“competencies”, and Lawrence accordingly devotes a chapter
to siegecraft. Not content to survey the literature, he anchors the discourse
of the authors in the realities and practices of their military career.
In short, Lawrence strives to square the ideal with the real.
The competency best delineated by Lawrence is the management of infantry.
The increase the number of foot soldiers (a component of the original Roberts
“military revolution” theory from 1955 picked up and amplified
by Geoffrey Parker in the 1970s and 80s)[ 1 ] coincided with the growing complexity
of their armament, particularly in terms of gunlocks. Drill books and manuals
were a means by which an English-reading culture developed that competency.
The author also constructs a fine chapter on cavalry training, a field
deserving of deeper scholarly research, not the least in regard to seeking
to learn what continuities existed between equestrian medieval traditions
and early modern practice. This book confirms for theory what Peter Edwards
[ 2 ] has established for practice, namely that horsemanship
and cavalry played a more ubiquitous and decisive role in the conduct of
the British Civil Wars than has been recognized. Lawrence’s thoroughness
on equine matters is apparent from the extensive subheadings under “cavalry” to
be found in the index.
Finally, the book suggests (but only hints at) another aspect of the
historiography of the public sphere, that of representation and visual
signs. Wisely, Brill has incorporated many illustrations into the volume
(a common practice in Brill’s
“History of Warfare” series, making the high price tag palatable).
Frontispieces, diagrams, and depictions of battle share a vernacular of
symbols and signs even across languages and cultures. Lawrence is particularly
adept at cross-cultural influences, and visuals (motifs, emblems, icons,
logos, and so on) offer raw materials for connecting the English art of
war with its continental counterparts. The engravings of Hogenberg, Merian,
and others provide a rich art historical tradition to military historians.
The methodologies of Peter Lake, Kevin Sharpe and others provide paradigms
for students of the visual representation of war.[ 3 ] The treatises we are discussing are visually
representational sources of history as well as amalgams of texts and narratives.
David Lawrence’s tome, the best so far on those “damnable little
books”, therefore suggests several wider avenues of study.
 See Michael Roberts, The
Military Revolution, 1560–1660 (Belfast, 1956); Geoffrey
"The "Military Revolution," 1560-1660 – a Myth?," Journal
of Military History 48 (1976): 195-214; Geoffrey Parker, The Military
Military Innovation and the Rise of the West (1988; 2nd ed. 1996).
 Peter Edwards, Horse and Man in Early Modern
England (London: Hambledon Continuum, 2007). See a review here.
 See Peter Lake, “Rethinking the Public Sphere
in Early Modern England,” Journal of British Studies 45.2
(2006): 270-292; Peter Lake, The Politics of the Public Sphere in Early
Modern England (Manchester University Press, 2007); and Kevin Sharpe, “The
Image of Virtue: the court and household of Charles I, 1625-1642,” in
David Starkey, et. al. (eds.), The English Court: from the Wars
of the Roses to the Civil War (Longman, 1987).
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