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Some thoughts on historical gaming and military history

As a younger historian, I am always looking for ways to share my passion for history and engage with others. I also look for unique outlets to incorporate into my teaching and work. This is what attracted me to reenacting as a hobby, which I have done for almost five years. Last summer, I ventured into another fun hobby that I feel has a lot to offer in terms of understanding military history: historical gaming.

We all have played games for most of our lives. Games are meant to be fun and stimulating, while, hopefully, teaching us how to play nicely with others, be humble in victory, handle defeat, and learn from mistakes. They can also serve as educational tools, providing valuable lessons packaged in a fun way. While some will argue that games are pursuits best suited for children, I find that historical games have a wonderful niche within military history and can provide a wonderful outlet for practitioners of the field.

There are literally hundreds, if not thousands, of historical games that have been on the market at one time or another. In addition to actual games, many can recall playing with toy soldiers, fighting out mock battles on living room floors, or elaborate tables, which I would classify as a form of historical gaming. In time for the most recent Christmas shopping season, T.S. Allen, a junior officer with the U.S. Army, wrote a thought-provoking piece in the New York Sun extolling the virtues and benefits of playing with toy soldiers for children, including girls.

Allen emphasized how such gaming and play shaped many prominent military and political leaders of the twentieth century, including Winston Churchill. He noted that toy soldiers (he focused on tin soldiers that were popular in the two decades prior to World War I) represent the best simulation for youngsters to how the real world can act on them as they grow up. Allen leveled a harsh critique of the current trend of electronic war games, especially those filled with violent imagery. While not explicitly stating it, he hinted that play with toy soldiers showed the “combatants” the larger scale consequences to war, when large portions of the army are lost as casualties, tipped over, reflecting a potential mistake by one force’s commander. Perhaps the most obvious benefit to such play is the ability to learn conflict resolution.

So what does all this mean in terms of military history? Historical wargaming is a unique way to introduce the larger field to the masses, especially youngsters. Not only does it present history in a package that many children can appreciate (game=toy=fun), but a good historical game bases itself on research into the real period/event it is attempting to simulate, with enough wiggle room to allow for different outcomes. I am aware that some in academic circles frown upon counterfactual history, but, if done properly, it offers some interesting perspectives on the significance of the actual event’s history and how different the subsequent timeline would be if things occurred differently.

With that said, I would like to briefly analyze the two genres of historical gaming that I am familiar with: miniatures and board games, and use examples of a couple games from each that I have played to illustrate their value as tools to expose others to military history and start conversations.

Miniature War Gaming

Miniature wargaming provides a wonderful, three-dimensional simulation of historic combat. They are quite popular in Commonwealth countries (I have my own theory on this, but will not get into it), though America is getting into it too. There are games covering historical periods from ancients to the twentieth century, with several companies creating miniature figures and models, as well as diverse rule books. With all that competition for one’s time and hard-earned money, it is important for these companies to create a product that people enjoy and want more of. However, this does not mean that historical authenticity always suffers.

With games dealing with periods prior to World War II especially, several historical miniature games can provide a wonderful illustration of tactics and combat in bygone times. Some good examples are games developed around Warlord Games rules Black Powder, which covers gaming during the age of musket. Warlord Games also produces Hail Caesar for ancient warfare, Pike & Shotte for early modern warfare, and its World War II game Bolt Action. I have played both a scenario from Black Powder based around the Seven Years War (1756-63), as well as Bolt Action and found both to be interesting, if a bit complex at times.

In addition to Warlord Games (out of the UK), New Zealand-based Battlefront Miniatures produces Flames of War, a World War II miniature game that I have played and have enjoyed quite well, as I have my own forces and terrain. The major differences between Flames and Bolt Action lie in scale (Flames is 15mm, or 1:100, while Bolt Action is 28mm, or 1:72) and diversity of forces. Bolt Action is more of a squad-based skirmishing type of game play, while Flames of War organizes around larger platoons and companies, allowing larger forces to be present on the table.

What these various miniature games offer from a military history standpoint is the chance to see past armies and tactics displayed in smaller scale. Players often research particular units and attempt to paint their figures/models as close to historically accurate as possible, with some room for personalization and customization.

These game systems also allow to a degree the change over time in technology in warfare. For example, Flames of War is divided up into three distinct periods, Early War, Mid War, and Late War, with available figures and models limited to what was used during those distinct periods by the various sides, with overlap for those units and vehicles that were used throughout much of the war. The adherence to such limitations allows for the mock battles to simulate combat during World War II with opposing sides representing actual historical units. Thus players are forced to learn a bit about the unit that they intend to field, which will hopefully lead them to researching in genuine historical scholarship to find out the information they need. It also prevents a player from bringing 1945 technology to a 1940 battle. The various rules for the games also attempt to deal with the fog of war and other contingencies, some better than others, but I will let you all debate those.

Board War Games

There are also several table-top board games available that deal with historical periods. Many of us are likely familiar with that old classic Risk, where you wield armies and attempt to conquer the world. The imagery throughout the game lends itself to the Napoleonic Wars. Some, myself included, probably played the World War II game Axis & Allies. These games are mass produced and are readily available in many stores and are fun and can ignite that spark of knowledge in a person to seek out the real history surrounding the games. Like those reliable classics, several other good games have been developed over the last few decades to wet the appetite of historically-minded players.

One company that has made several popular historically-themed games is GMT Games. This company produced the Napoleonic warfare game Manoeuvre, which is a great, fast-paced game. In this game, players choose one of eight nations to face off on a small board that is made of four sections of available board cards, with many possible combinations. The eight powers selected represented nations involved in some capacity with the broader period: Russia, Prussia, Austria, the United Kingdom, France, Spain, the United States, and the Ottoman Empire, with actual historical units represented on the game pieces. Players form their armies and move them along the board, seeking to defeat their opponent by either destroying sufficient units, or controlling more of the opposing side of the board. Combat and other actions are determined based upon cards played from the national deck, which offers a degree of randomness to the battle. The potential combinations of battles and national combinations offer delightful scenarios, but it may also foster an interest in researching more on the Napoleonic period.

GMT also produces what remains the #1 game on Board Game Geek, Twilight Struggle, which deals with the Cold War. Players play either the US or USSR and seek to exert influence over the various states of the world as part of the larger struggle for global supremacy, all while attempting to avoid nuclear war. Through this game, the larger diplomatic side of military history is illustrated. Such a broad-based game is similar to the game Diplomacy, which allows players to assume one of several powers in pre-World War I Europe, seeking to influence other powers and attempt to attain a position of strength. I played this game with several history graduate students several years ago and it was an enjoyable time.

Another board game that I have played, but am still trying to figure out is A Few Acres of Snow, which deals with the French and Indian War. You play as either the British or French and attempt to control enough points in North America to overwhelm your opponent and win the war. Players do this by building playing decks to control and settle locations, build military forces, and besiege locations. Additional options include use of fur traders, Native American forces, and support from home. Though a little complex, this game covers the many factors that influenced the course of the very real war.

Board games offer several benefits as opposed to miniatures. The most obvious is ease of cost, as you get the entire game. With miniature war games, one must purchase the figures and models at varying costs, and usually must purchase more as they build their armies to play the game. In addition, they are often easier to set up and take less time to play, especially since they do not require the setting up of a terrain table. The rules are often shorter in length and easier to comprehend.

Some enterprising folks with an interest in history will develop a game to teach about a period of history. A great example is the upcoming game Wilderness Empires, which also focuses on the French and Indian War. Full disclosure, I funded this game’s Kickstarter campaign, because I liked the product idea and the reason behind it. The game’s creator, a reenactor, who sought to engage his young son in history, created the game as an easily playable game, dealing with the many facets of the war.

I hope you will take a look at the games I have mentioned, as they have a lot to offer. Are they perfect? No, but can they offer the potential to spark an interest in military history, especially among younger folks, which is always good. This does not diminish the importance of taking the time to read and engage the scholarship on military history, as that is the best stuff. However, nothing compares to the fun of trying to recreate past armies and fight it out on facsimile battlefields with friends, sharing a passion for the past and human interaction. Gaming is a part of us as humans and helps us to learn many important functions that carry over into our broader lives. So, get out there and start waging war.

Note: A great book on wargaming is The Wargaming Compendium by Henry Hyde.

Book Review of Strategy in the American War of Independence: A Global Approach

Donald Stoker, Kenneth J. Hagan, and Michael T. McMaster, editors. Strategy in the American War of Independence: A Global Approach. Cass Military Studies series. Abingdon, England: Routledge, 2010. ISBN 978-0-415-36734-9. Notes. Tables. Appendices. Bibliography. Index. Pp. xvii, 244. $145.00.

Originally posted in International History

Strategy in the American War of IndependenceThe international aspect of the American War of Independence (1775-1783) has traditionally been downplayed by American historians. Important exceptions would be Samuel Flagg Bemis’ The Diplomacy of the American Revolution (1957) and Jonathan R. Dull’s A Diplomatic History of the Revolution (1985). In Strategy in the American War of Independence: A Global Approach, an international group of experts contribute essays that show the global and multilateral angles of the conflict from a strategic perspective. The authors demonstrate that the American struggle for independence “was inescapably enmeshed in the military and diplomatic affairs of the rest of the world” (p.xvii). The American War of Independence was a very complex global conflict.

Battle of Bunker Hill (1775)American strategy was slow to develop. In their essay, Dr Donald Stoker and Dr Michael W. Jones, both Professors of Strategy and Policy at the U.S. Naval War College in Monterey, California, examine American colonial military strategy. They show that the leaders of the Continental Army employed a Fabian strategy in military operations, supplemented by the waging of partisan warfare. American leadership “understood that success in the American Revolution depended on preserving the Patriot center of gravity, the army — in the north and in the south — and demonstrating success through incremental victories that in turn fed the colonials’ ability to preserve their army” (p.30). This strategy allowed the Patriots to make effective use of their limited resources and build British frustration and disillusionment with the conflict. Dr Kenneth J. Hagan, Professor of Strategy and Policy at the U.S. Naval War College, adds to the discussion of colonial military strategy by illustrating the beginnings of American naval strategy. As such, Hagan points out that the American colonies at first lacked a strategy against Britain. But, slowly the colonies developed a naval strategy to consist of commerce-raiding, coastal defense, a reliance on frigates instead of ships-of-the-line to engage like British ships, avoidance of battle on the high seas, and the projection, albeit limited, of naval power on distant shores.

Battle of Yorktown (1781)There are three essays that explore British strategy in the American conflict. Dr Jeremy Black, Professor of History at the University of Exeter in England, addresses British military strategy. Black stresses that Britain had the clear political goal of pacifying the American rebellion, and getting the Americans to return their loyalty to the crown (p.58). He notes that Britain treated the Americans with leniency compared to the military suppression of the Jacobite rebellions in Scotland and northern England in 1715-1716 and 1745-1746. The task of militarily reconquering America was too great. British leaders realized that they would need to negotiate a settlement with the Patriots to get their return to British rule. However, the declaration of independence (1776) proved to be a stumbling block. Moreover, the Patriot success at the battle of Saratoga (1777), with the resulting Franco-American alliance, made it virtually impossible for Britain to achieve its political goal. In the end, Britain, according to Black, failed to develop and implement a strategy that could achieve this political objective.

Battle of the Saints (1782)In the second essay concerning Britain, Dr John Reeve, Senior Lecturer in History at the University of New South Wales in Australia, explores British naval strategy. Reeve states that “Britain was generally without the naval strategic initiative for most of the war due to lack of resources” (p.76). Even so, Britain had amphibious successes at New York (1776), Philadelphia (1777), Savannah (1778), and Charleston (1780). The Franco-American alliance (1778), followed by Spain declaring war against Britain (1779), the creation of the League of Armed Neutrality (1780), and the start of the Fourth Anglo-Dutch War (1780-1784) made the American War of Independence a global conflict. The British Royal Navy had to develop a strategy to deal with American, French, Spanish, and Dutch warships in Europe, North America, the West Indies, and the Indian Ocean. The overstretched British fleet was on the defensive. It also had troubles obtaining naval stores from the Baltic Region. As such, Britain even stopped patrolling the Mediterranean. By 1780, Britain’s naval strategy focused on the defense of the British Isles and trade. Reeve stresses that British naval operations steadily improved during the conflict. By early 1782 Britain had a fleet comparable to the size of the Bourbon Powers of France and Spain. This fleet achieved a major success at the Battle of the Saints (1782) in the West Indies, giving Britain considerable diplomatic leverage in the peace negotiations.

In the third essay about British policy, Dr Ricardo A. Herrera, Historian on the Staff Ride Team, Combat Studies Institute, U.S. Army Combined Arms Center at Fort Leavenworth in Kansas, provides a discussion of the role of Loyalists in British strategy. At first, the British army mostly ignored the Loyalists in military efforts. But Loyalists volunteered and ably served Britain. After France joined the conflict and British resources were stretched thin, George III’s army placed more emphasis on recruiting and training Loyalists. Herrera believes that the British waited too long to make good use of the Loyalists, and when they did, they expected too much from them (p.116).

Battle of Virginia Capes (1781)As for the Bourbon Powers, Dr James Pritchard, Professor Emeritus of History at Queen’s University at Kingston in Canada, assesses French strategy. France sought a return to preeminence as the Great Power in Europe. Louis XVI’s France also looked for revenge for the French defeat by Britain in the Seven Years’ War (1756-1763). France’s anti-British strategy led to involvement in the American War of Independence. France initially concentrated on the West Indies. But, in this struggle, France needed, sought, and gained Spanish involvement against Britain. As such, French leaders had to support the Spanish objectives of attacking British-held Gibraltar and Minorca. The Bourbon Powers also threatened to invade the British Isles. Pritchard says that “French naval strategy took the form of an interlocking relationship between the center and periphery, between the European and American theaters” of operations (p.159).

Siege of GibraltarIn his essay, Dr Thomas E. Chávez, recently retired Executive Director of the National Hispanic Culture Center in Albuquerque, New Mexico, discusses Spanish strategy. The policy of Carlos III’s Spain included secretly aiding the American Patriots while maintaining a “neutral” stance for the first few years of the conflict. Louis XVI’s France needed Spanish involvement in the conflict. The Spanish government made a hard bargain with France for active participation in the War of American Independence. For an offensive alliance, Spain sought such things as French support for the reacquisition of Gibraltar and Minorca, the removal of the British from the Gulf of Mexico and Mississippi River, and the restoration of Mobile and Pensacola (p.167). After France accepted the terms, Spain agreed to the Treaty of Aranjuez and declared war against Britain in 1779. The Spanish navy gave the Bourbon Powers naval superiority over Britain. Chávez states that Franco-Spanish involvement in the conflict created “a world war based on the Spanish idea that the two allies, along with the American rebels, had enough resources to stretch the British thin. The British would have to decide what was more important to them: Central America, their West Indies trade, the 13 American colonies, Gibraltar, Minorca, India, or even, defense of the homeland” (p.169). Spain attacked British interests in the Mediterranean, along the Mississippi River, Mobile, Pensacola, Central America, and the Bahamas. Chávez goes on to say that “the totality of Spain’s actual involvement in fighting, continued financial support and diplomacy actually proved pivotal for the eventual victory” (p.169).

Ile_de_Saint_Eustache_en_1781Dr Victor Enthoven, Associate Professor in History at the Netherlands Defense Academy, examines Dutch maritime strategy. The United Provinces sought to maintain neutrality to protect Dutch world-wide trade and shipping interests. However, the British naval blockade of the American colonies reopened the dormant Anglo-Dutch controversy over the trading rights of neutral powers. British interference with Dutch commerce and the possibility of the United Provinces joining the developing League of Armed Neutrality led to the outbreak of the Fourth Anglo-Dutch War in 1780. The Dutch Republic, however, was ill-prepared for a naval war with Britain. Enthoven states that the Dutch navy “was outnumbered as well as outgunned” (p.188). Even so, the United Provinces was embroiled in a global naval war. The Dutch struggled to defend possessions in the Dutch West Indies and Guiana, West Africa, the Cape of Good Hope, India, and Ceylon (Sri Lanka). In the course of the conflict the British took 324 Dutch vessels. Enthoven argues that the Dutch Republic was clearly a second-rate power, and “must be counted among the largest losers of the American War of Independence” (p.195).

The League of Armed Neutrality is addressed by Dr Leos Müller, Associate Professor in History at Upsalla University in Sweden. The League developed from Catherine II of Russia’s proclamation of armed neutrality in 1780. What exactly was armed neutrality? Müller writes: “Specifically, armed neutrality . . . concerned the neutrals’ rights to conduct trade and shipping under wartime conditions, without being ill-treated by belligerents, the British in particular” (p.202). Russia, Denmark, and Sweden formed the League of Armed Neutrality in 1780. Russia approached the Dutch Republic, the top neutral carrier, to join the League, but Scandinavian rivalry with the United Provinces and British reaction to such talks delayed any agreement before the outbreak of the Fourth Anglo-Dutch War. Prussia, Austria, Portugal, and the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies eventually joined the League of Armed Neutrality in 1781-1783. Müller believes that Catherine II, having little economic interest in wartime shipping and trade, pushed the concept of armed neutrality to stress Russia’s independent status between the warring powers of Britain and France. Within months Russia began returning to a traditional foreign policy, one aimed at interests in Southeast Europe and the Ottoman Empire.

This in an important work that brings together the research that shows the global context of the American War of Independence. The study is a great addition to the growing literature reflecting the international aspect of the conflict. Unfortunately, the hardback version of the book is rather expensive. But a paperback edition (ISBN 978-0-415-69568-8) is available for $49.95. Other studies that explore the international aspect that might interest the reader are Richard Middleton’s The War of American Independence, 1775-1783 (2012), Hamish M. Scott’s British Foreign Policy in the Age of the American Revolution (1990), Piers Mackesy’s The War for America, 1775-1783 (1964), Jonathan R. Dull’s The French Navy and American Independence: A Study in Arms and Diplomacy, 1774-1787 (1975), William C. Stinchcombe’s The American Revolution and the French Alliance (1969), Jan Willem Schulte Nordholt’s The Dutch Republic and American Independence (1982), and Isabel de Madariaga’s Britain, Russia and the Armed Neutrality of 1780: Sir James Harris’s Mission to St. Petersburg during the American Revolution (1962).

Dr William Young
University of North Dakota
Grand Forks, North Dakota

Book Review of The Nine Years’ War and the British Army, 1688-1697: The Operations in the Low Countries

John Childs. The Nine Years’ War and the British Army, 1688-1697: The Operations in the Low Countries. Manchester, England: Manchester University Press, 1991. ISBN 978-0-71903-461-9. Maps. Notes. Index. Pp. xii, 372.

John ChildsThe Nine Years’ War was a major conflict between Louis XIV of France and a European-wide coalition consisting of Austria and the Holy Roman Empire, the Dutch Republic, Spain, Britain, and Savoy.  It was fought on the European continent and the surrounding seas, Ireland, and in North America.  It began with the Sun King’s invasion of Germany in 1688.  In this study, Dr John Childs, Emeritus Professor of Military History at the University of Leeds in England, examines the British army and military operations in the Low Countries against Louis XIV’s army in the Nine Years’ War.  Childs is well-known for such studies as Armies and Warfare in Europe, 1648-1789 (1982), Warfare in the Seventeenth Century (2001), The Army of Charles II (1976), The Army, James II and the Glorious Revolution (1980), The British Army of William III, 1689-1702 (1987), and The Williamite Wars in Ireland, 1688-1691 (2007).

William III at Torbay (1688)Childs discusses the employment of the British army in the Nine Years’ War, or what he likes to call “The War of the English Succession,” a conflict fought to protect the new political order in England (p.26).  The Protestant Dutch stadholder, William III, had replaced the Catholic King James II and ascended to the English crown in 1689.  Childs focuses on William III’s military campaigns against Louis XIV in the Spanish Netherlands.  He emphasizes that the British contingent of the Grand Alliance was small and mostly ineffective.  William III had lost the nucleus of James II’s standing army in the purges of the Glorious Revolution of 1688-1689.  Thus, the British contingents he deployed to Ireland and the Low Countries in 1689 were inexperienced and ill-equipped.  After the Williamite War in Ireland (1689-1691), the King-Stadholder took personal command of the Grand Alliance, including the British corps in the Low Countries.  He slowly ensured that the British troops acquired training, combat experience, modern arms and equipment, as well as improved logistics.  The British army, small in comparison to the Dutch army, increased from 6,000 men in 1689 to 43,000 in 1696 (p.73).  To effectively employ these inexperienced troops, William III divided them among the other forces of the Grand Alliance.

Low_Countries_1700The Spanish Netherlands served as the main theater of operations for the Nine Years’ War.  The conflict quickly became a war of attrition in a region studded with fortified towns and well-defended fortresses.  British contingents fought at the battles of Walcourt (1689), Fleurus (1690), Steenkirk (Steenkerque) (1692), and Landen (Neerwinden) (1693).  They also participated in the great sieges of the era, including William III’s capture of Namur in 1695.  Childs points out that the King-Stadholder built his reputation on his diplomatic efforts as the leader of the Grand Alliance, not as a military commander who could defeat the Sun King’s greatest generals.  He also stresses William III’s advantage with the naval and economic strength of the Maritime Powers of England and the Dutch Republic in the war of attrition against France.  The Maritime Powers achieved naval supremacy over France in 1692, ending the threat of a French invasion of the British Isles.  The economic, naval, and military strength of the Maritime Powers, combined with military assistance from other members of the Grand Alliance, kept France from achieving the decisive victory demanded by Louis XIV in the Nine Years’ War.  Childs calls the Peace of Rijswijk (1697) a major victory for the Grand Alliance because Britain not only acquired the Sun King’s recognition of William III as King of England, but the coalition served Louis XIV his first military setback.

Siege of Namur 1695Childs’ study is a rare account of military operations in the Nine Years’ War.   The author shows that the British army remained insignificant and achieved little success in the conflict.  The military efforts of the Grand Alliance, especially the Dutch army, contributed much more towards winning the War of the English Succession.  The strength of the English economy and navy played a more important role than the army in England’s first war against Louis XIV.  The study is based on archival research in England, The Netherlands, Belgium, and Ireland.  This study can be supplemented by Child’s journal article “Secondary Operations of the British Army during the Nine Years War, 1688-1697” in the  Journal of the Society for Army Historical Research 73 (Summer 1995).

The Nine Years’ War and the British Army, 1688-1697: The Operations in the Low Countries is highly recommended to those readers interested in military operations in the late seventeenth century.  Published in 1991, the study has long been out of print.  It strongly deserves to be brought back into print for the increasing number of readers interested in military history in Early Modern Europe.

Dr William Young
University of North Dakota
Grand Forks, North Dakota

Readings in the Military History of the Thirty Years War (1618-1648)

Map of 30 Years War (1)The Thirty Years War involving the Holy Roman Empire (Germany) and most of Europe continues to intrigue students, scholars, and general readers. The conflict began in 1618 with the Protestant Bohemian nobles rebelling against the Catholic King Ferdinand, later Emperor Ferdinand II (1619-1637). The rebels sought to replace Ferdinand by electing Frederick V, a Calvinist and Elector of the Rhine Palatinate, to the Bohemian crown. But the rebels were defeated by the armies of Ferdinand II and the Catholic League at the battle of White Mountain (1620). In 1621, Spain and the Dutch Republic, after the Twelve Year Truce (1609-1621), renewed their fight in the Low Countries and German Rhineland. Before long the Imperial, Catholic League, and Spanish armies occupied the Palatinate, forcing Frederick V to flee to the Dutch Republic. In 1625, the Lutheran Christian IV of Denmark (who was also the Duke of Holstein) intervened in the German crisis. Imperial and Catholic League forces defeated Christian IV at the battle of Lutter (1626) and Wolgast (1628), forcing him to withdraw from the struggle in the Treaty of Lübeck (1629). Ferdinand II controlled most of Germany at this point. To secure his lands against the Habsburg threat, Gustavus Adolphus, the Lutheran King of Sweden, invaded northern Germany in 1630. The Swedes were financially supported by Catholic France and the Protestant Dutch Republic in the fight against the Austrian Habsburgs. The religious war was becoming more of a political war. The Swedish army drove the Imperials out of northern Germany and soon occupied Bavaria. But, Gustavus Adolphus was killed in the battle of Lützen (1632). The Swedes eventually withdrew to the north, especially after the Peace of Prague (1635) between Ferdinand II and most of the Protestant states of the Holy Roman Empire. The Thirty Years War continued when France joined Sweden in the struggle against the Austrian and Spanish Habsburgs in 1635. The long conflict would grind out until the Peace of Westphalia (1648). The Franco-Spanish aspect of the war lasted until the Peace of the Pyrenees (1659).

Defenestration of Prague 1618Traditional studies focus on the German aspect of the conflict. Nineteenth-century studies include Samuel Rawson Gardiner’s The Thirty Years War, 1618-1648 (1875) and Anton Gindley’s History of the Thirty Years War (1885). Hubert Reade, Sidelights on the Thirty Years War (1924), Cicely Veronica Wedgwood, The Thirty Years War (1938), and Elmer Adolph Beller, Propaganda in Germany during the Thirty Years War (1940) keep the focus on the German Empire. But, Georges Pagès writes about French involvement in The Thirty Years War, 1618-1648 (1938, English translation 1970). Many of the older studies focus on “great men” such as Richard Lodge’s Richelieu (1896), Eveline Charlotte Godley’s The Great Condé: A Life of Louis II de Bourbon, Prince of Condé (1915), Max Weyland’s Turenne: Marshal of France (1930), Francis Watson’s Wallenstein: Soldier under Saturn: A Biography (1938), Nils Ahnlund’s Gustavus Adolphus the Great (1940), and Wedgwood’s Richelieu and the French Monarchy (1949).

Ferdinand II (1619-1637)To study the Thirty Years War, one could start with reading a selection of writings edited by Theodore K. Rabb in The Thirty Years War (second edition, 1981). Sigfrid Henry Steinberg, The “Thirty Years War” and the Conflict for European Hegemony, 1600-1660 (1966) expands the scope of the war to suggest that the conflict started earlier than 1618 and lasted longer than 1648. He also stresses that the conflict, or series of conflicts, involved most of Europe. In his study, the Czech historian Josef V. Polišenskỳ gives a socioeconomic viewpoint of the conflict in The Thirty Years War (1971). In the last thirty years there has been the publication of a number of important surveys of the Thirty Years War. A good starting point is Geoffrey Parker’s general study of the era in Europe in Crisis, 1598-1648 (second edition, 2001). Peter Limm’s The Thirty Years War (1984) in the Longman’s Seminar Studies in History series provides a brief survey with documentation. Stephen J. Lee The Thirty Years War (1991) and Graham Darby’s The Thirty Years War (2001) are brief overviews. David Maland, Europe at War, 1600-1650 (1980) is another valuable introduction to the subject. Geoffrey Parker’s (editor) The Thirty Years War (second edition, 1997) is a modern classic with sections written by Parker, Simon Adams, Gerhard Benecke, John H. Elliott, Richard Bonney, R.J.W. Evans, Christopher R. Friedrichs, Bodo Nischan, E. Ladewig Petersen, and Michael Roberts. The three-volume 1648: War and Peace in Europe (1998, edited by Klaus Bussmann and Heinz Schilling) contains dozens of essays by leading historians in all aspects of the conflict. Herbert Langer explores more of the social and cultural aspects of the conflict in The Thirty Years War (1980). Ronald G. Asch, The Thirty Years War: The Holy Roman Empire and Europe, 1618-1648 (1997) brings the religious and constitutional struggle in the Holy Roman Empire back to the center of events. The latest survey is Peter H. Wilson’s massive study The Thirty Years War: Europe’s Tragedy (2009) which discusses the origins and conduct of the conflict in great detail. A fascinating study is Geoff Mortimer’s Eyewitness Accounts of the Thirty Years War, 1618-1648 (2002).

Battle of White MountainPublished primary source documentation interests many scholars. Peter Limm’s seminar study already mentioned contains documentation. Josef V. Polišenskỳ, War and Society in Europe, 1618-1648 (1978) and Gerhard Benecke, Germany in the Thirty Years War (1978) are important works. Recent document collections are Tryntje Helfferich’s The Thirty Years War: A Documentary History (2009) and Peter H. Wilson’s The Thirty Years War: A Sourcebook (2010). A great reference work that is actually an encyclopedia of the actors and events associated with the making the treaties of Münster and Osnabrück is Derek Croxton and Anuschka Tischer’s The Peace of Westphalia: A Historical Dictionary (2002).

Albrecht von WallensteinThe campaigns and battles of the Thirty Years War continue to receive attention. Ronald G. Asch, “Warfare in the Age of the Thirty Years War 1598-1648,” in Jeremy Black’s European Warfare 1453-1815 (1999) is a good overview. William P. Guthrie explores the campaigns and battles in Battles of the Thirty Years War: From White Mountain to Nordlingen, 1618-1635 (2001), The Later Thirty Years War: From the Battle of Wittstock to the Treaty of Westphalia (2003), and “Naval Actions of the Thirty Years War,” The Mariner’s Mirror 87 (August 2001). Geoffrey Parker, “The Soldiers of the Thirty Years War,” in Konrad Repgen and Elisabeth Müller-Luckner’s Krieg und Politik 1618-1648: Europäische Probleme und Perspektiven (1988) addresses of the soldiers of the period. The essays in Steve Murdoch (editor), Scotland and the Thirty Years War, 1618-1648 (2001) stress Scottish military involvement in the armies of the conflict. Eduard Wagner’s European Weapons and Warfare, 1618-1648 (1979) contains illustrations of arms and equipment used in the Thirty Years War. David Parrott’s article “Strategy and Tactics in the Thirty Years War: The ‘Military Revolution’,” Militärgeschichtliche Mitteilungen 18 (1985) is enlightening.

Sack of Magdeburg (1631)Scholars have always been interested in the origins of the Thirty Years War. The traditional and modern surveys address the causes of the conflict. Some see the origins in the sixteenth century. Most focus on the political and religious causes for the outbreak of the Bohemian revolt. For the causes and outbreak of the Bohemian revolt, Geoffrey Parker’s The Thirty Years War, Ronald G. Asch’s The Thirty Years War: The Holy Roman Empire and Europe, 1618-1648, and Peter H. Wilson’s The Thirty Years War: Europe’s Tragedy are highly recommended. Studies that specifically focus on the origins of the conflict include Myron P. Gutmann, “The Origins of the Thirty Years War,” Journal of Interdisciplinary History 18 (1988) and Nicola Mary Sutherland, “The Origins of the Thirty Years War and the Structure of European Politics,” The English Historical Review 107 (1992). They have different takes on the background and causes of the struggle. Alison Deborah Anderson, On the Verge of War: International Relations and the Jülich-Kleve Crises, 1609-1614 (1999) explains a major German crisis before the conflict. The most recent observations are made in Peter H. Wilson, “The Causes of the Thirty Years War,” The English Historical Review 123 (2008). Brennan C. Pursell, The Winter King: Frederick V of the Palatinate and the Coming of the Thirty Years War (2003) addresses Count Palatine’s involvement in the Bohemian revolt and the ensuing war in Bohemia and the Palatinate. For Spanish involvement in the German crisis, one should consult Peter Brightwell’s “Spain and the Origins of the Thirty Years War” (unpublished Ph.D. thesis, University of Cambridge, 1967) and the series of journal articles that derived from this manuscript, including “The Spanish System and the Twelve Years Truce,” The English Historical Review 89 (1974), “The Spanish Origins of the Thirty Years War,” European Studies Review 9 (1979), “Spain and Bohemia: The Decision to Intervene, 1619,” European Studies Review 12 (1982), and “Spain, Bohemia and Europe, 1619-1621,” European Studies Review 12 (1982). One should also read Josef V. Polišenskỳ, The Tragic Triangle: The Netherlands, Spain and Bohemia, 1617-1621 (1991). The focus of Arthur Wilson White, Jr., “Suspension of Arms: Anglo-Spanish Mediation in the Thirty Years War, 1621-1625” (unpublished Ph.D. dissertation, Tulane University, 1978) is on the failed Anglo-Spanish attempts to mediate a peace settlement in Germany. Thea L. Lindquist, “The Politics of Diplomacy: The Palatinate and Anglo-Imperial Relations in the Thirty Years War” (unpublished Ph.D. dissertation, University of Wisconsin, 2001) is engaging.

Surrender of Breda (1625)The Dutch-Hispanic War (1621-1648) has received some consideration by scholars. Jonathan I. Israel, The Dutch Republic and the Hispanic World, 1606-1661 (1982) is a valuable political, military, and economic examination of the conflict. The background to the conflict is discussed in Geoffrey Parker, The Dutch Revolt (1978) and Paul C. Allen, Philip III and the Pax Hispanica, 1598-1621: The Failure of Grand Strategy (2000). The Spanish army and navy in the Low Countries are the topics of Geoffrey Parker, The Army of Flanders and the Spanish Road, 1567-1659: The Logistics of Spanish Victory and Defeat in the Low Countries Wars (second edition, 2004), Fernando González de León, The Road to Rocroi: Class, Culture and Command in the Spanish Army of Flanders, 1567-1659 (2009), and Robert A. Stradling, The Armada of Flanders: Spanish Maritime Policy and European War, 1568-1668 (1992). Spanish strategy is explored in John H. Elliott, The Count-Duke of Olivares: The Statesman in the Age of Decline (1986), as well as the essays in Robert A. Stradling, Spain’s Struggle for Europe, 1598-1668 (1994) and Jonathan I. Israel, Conflicts of Empire: Spain, the Low Countries and the Struggle for World Supremacy, 1585-1713 (1997). A valuable discussion of the Dutch military during this era is in Olaf van Nimwegen’s The Dutch Army and the Military Revolutions 1588-1688 (2010).

Christian IV of DenmarkDenmark’s role in the Thirty Years War has received some recent attention. Paul Douglas Lockhart provides an important study in Denmark in the Thirty Years War, 1618-1648: King Christian IV and the Decline of the Oldenburg State (1996). Martin Bellamy, Christian IV and His Navy: A Political and Administrative History of the Danish Navy, 1596-1648 (2006) is a notable addition to the literature.

Ferdinand II and Austrian Habsburg policy is explored in Robert Bireley, Religion and Politics in the Age of the Counter-Reformation: Emperor Ferdinand II, William Lamormaini, S.J. and the Formation of Imperial Policy (1982). Bireley continues his examination of Jesuit influence on Catholic rulers in The Jesuits and the Thirty Years War: Kings, Courts, and Confessors (2003). The Imperial commander Albrecht von Wallenstein is the focus of Golo Mann’s Wallenstein: His Life Narrated (1971, English translation 1976) and Geoff Mortimer’s Wallenstein: The Enigma of the Thirty Years War (2010). Vladimir Brnaric, Imperial Armies of the Thirty Years War (2009-10) is a study in Osprey’s Men-at-Arms series.

Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden at the Battle of Breitenfeld (1631)Swedish intervention in the Thirty Years War has drawn much notice. Michael Roberts’ classic two-volume study of Gustavus Adolphus: A History of Sweden, 1611-1632 (1953-58) is important. His work was published in an abridged version Gustavus Adolphus and the Rise of Sweden (second edition, 1992). One should also read Roberts’ “The Political Objectives of Gustavus Adolphus in Germany, 1630-1632,” Transactions of the Royal Historical Society (1957), “Gustavus Adolphus and the Art of War” in his Essays in Swedish History (1967), and “Oxenstierna in Germany, 1633-1636,” in his From Oxenstierna to Charles XII: Four Studies (1991). The battle of Lützen is explored by Richard Brzezinski in Lützen 1632: Climax of the Thirty Years War (2001). The same author provides a look at the Swedish army in The Army of Gustavus Adolphus (1991-93). An interesting study is Erik Ringmar’s Identity, Interest and Action: A Cultural Explanation of Sweden’s Intervention in the Thirty Years War (1996). Boris Fedorovich Porshnev’s study Muscovy and Sweden in the Thirty Years War, 1630-1635 (1976, English translation 1995) is useful.

Battle of Rocroi (1643)The origins of the Franco-Spanish conflict (1635-1559) are explored in Robert A. Stradling, “Olivares and the Origins of the Franco-Spanish War, 1627-1635,” The English Historical Review 101 (1986) and David Parrott, “The Causes of the Franco-Spanish War of 1635-1659,” in Jeremy Black’s The Origins of War in Early Modern Europe (1987). For France’s involvement in the Thirty Years one should consult the many studies on Richelieu and Mazarin, including Robert J. Knecht’s Richelieu (1991) and Geoffrey Treasure’s Mazarin: The Crisis of Absolutism in France (1995). Hermann Weber “‘Une Bonne Paix’: Richelieu’s Foreign Policy and the Peace of Christendom,” in Joseph Bergin and Laurence W.B. Brockliss’ Richelieu and His Age (1992) is important. David Parrott, Richelieu’s Army: War, Government and Society in France, 1624-1642 (2001) shows the limitations of the French army. The French army is also examined in John A. Lynn, Giant of the Grand Siècle: The French Army, 1610-1715 (1997). Spanish strategy is investigated in Jonathan I. Israel’s “Olivares, the Cardinal-Infante and Spain’s Strategy in the Low Countries (1635-1643): The Road to Rocroi,” in Richard L. Kagan and Geoffrey Parker’s Spain, Europe and the Atlantic World (1995). Derek Croxton discusses French strategy in Germany in Peacemaking in Early Modern Europe: Cardinal Mazarin and the Congress of Westphalia, 1643-1648 (1999). Paul Sonnino explores French diplomacy in Mazarin’s Quest: The Congress of Westphalia and the Coming of the Fronde (2008).

A full bibliographic citation for each of the works mentioned above (plus other studies) can be found at: Age of the Thirty Years War (1598-1660): A Bibliography (pdf).

Dr William Young
University of North Dakota
Grand Forks, North Dakota

Louis XIV’s Dutch War (1672-1678/79)

Review Article: Louis XIV’s Dutch War (1672-1678/79)

Paul Sonnino. Louis XIV and the Origins of the Dutch War. Cambridge Studies in Early Modern History series. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002. ISBN 978-0-5215-3134-4. Illustrations. Notes. Bibliography. Index. Pp. xii, 226. $43.00.

Carl J. Ekberg. The Failure of Louis XIV’s Dutch War. UNC Press Enduring Editions series. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2011. ISBN 978-0-8078-9657-0. Chronology. Illustrations. Maps. Notes. Bibliography. Index. Pp. xix, 240. $45.00.

George Satterfield. Princes, Posts, and Partisans: The Army of Louis XIV and Partisan Warfare in the Netherlands (1673-1678). History of Warfare series. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2003. ISBN 978-9-0041-3176-7. Maps. Plates. Notes. Bibliography. Index. Pp. xvi, 334. $203.00.

The Wars of Louis XIV have grabbed the attention of scholars. Most of this interest has been in the last two of the Sun King’s wars: the Nine Years War (1689-1697) and War of the Spanish Succession (1701-1713/14). His first and third conflicts (the War of Devolution [1667-1668] and the War of Reunions [1683-1684]) still lack full treatments. But, Louis XIV’s second conflict, the Dutch War (1672-1678/79), has received attention from several historians. Dr Paul Sonnino, Professor of History at the University of California at Santa Barbara, researched and published a number of journal articles on the origins of the Dutch War. This led to the publication of his Louis XIV and the Origins of the Dutch War in 1988. The course of the first years of the conflict was examined by Dr Carl J. Ekberg, Professor Emeritus at Illinois State University, in The Failure of Louis XIV’s Dutch War in 1979. Both of these studies have been published in paperback editions during the last decade. Meanwhile, Dr George Satterfield, Associate Professor of Strategy and Policy at the United States Naval War College, added to our knowledge of the conflict in Princes, Posts, and Partisans: The Army of Louis XIV and Partisan Warfare in the Netherlands (1673-1678) in 2003. These contributions significantly increase our under-standing of the Dutch War.

What was the Dutch War? In 1667-1668, Louis XIV’s army invaded and overran the Spanish Netherlands and Franche-Comté in the War of Devolution. But, the newly formed Triple Alliance (1668) of Britain, the Dutch Republic, and Sweden forced the Sun King to withdraw from most of his conquests and come to terms in the Peace of Aix-la-Chapelle (1668). Louis XIV then sought revenge. He blamed the United Provinces for the creation of the Triple Alliance. As such, the French king focused on launching a war to knock the Dutch Republic out of the picture to allow him to obtain territory in the Spanish Netherlands. In doing so, the Sun King negotiated a secret alliance (Treaty of Dover) with Charles II of England in 1670, and then gained alliances with Charles XI of Sweden and several German rulers, including the Elector of Cologne and Bishop of Münster.

Dutch War 1672In the spring of 1672, Louis XIV led a French army of 120,000 through the Bishopric of Liége, crossed the Rhine River at Tolhuis, and invaded the Dutch Republic from the east. The French would capture Utrecht and occupy half of the United Provinces, with the Dutch flooding the polders to protect Holland from the invading force. William III of Orange eventually obtained an alliance with Elector Frederick William of Brandenburg (the Great Elector), Leopold I of Austria, Carlos II of Spain, and others against France. This coalition forced Louis XIV to withdraw his overextended army from the United Provinces to protect his borders. The Dutch War turned into a European conflict with France on the defensive. The war continued until the Sun King managed to break apart the alliance and negotiate the Peace of Nijmegen (1678/79). France would acquire the Franche-Comté and about a dozen fortified places in the Spanish Netherlands.

Tolhuis (1672)Historians traditionally gave little attention to the origins and conduct of the Dutch War. Most concentrated on the so-called War of the League of Augsburg (Nine Years War) and War of the Spanish Succession. The Dutch War was usually mentioned briefly in studies of war and diplomacy in the late seventeenth century. There were a few exceptions. Herbert H. Rowen explored the origins of the conflict in The Ambassador Prepares for War: The Dutch Embassy of Arnauld de Pomponne, 1669-1671 (1957). Mary C. Trevelyan examined the war from a Dutch perspective in William the Third and the Defence of Holland, 1672-1674 (1930). Stephen B. Baxter, William III and the Defense of European Liberty, 1650-1702 (1966) and John B. Wolf, Louis XIV (1968) discussed the origins and conduct of the war in their important biographies. Moreover, Paul Sonnino provided a valuable brief essay in “Louis XIV and the Dutch War” in Ragnhild M. Hatton’s (editor) Louis XIV and Europe (1976).

Paul SonninoSonnino researched the topic of the origins of the Dutch War for over a decade before publishing his book. His journal articles included “Arnauld de Pomponne: Louis XIV’s Minister for Foreign Affairs during the Dutch War” (1974), “Hugues de Lionne and the Origins of the Dutch War” (1976), “Jean-Baptiste Colbert and the Origins of the Dutch War” (1983), and “The Marshal de Turenne and the Origins of the Dutch War” (1985). In Louis XIV and the Origins of the Dutch War (1988), Sonnino explores the motives of Louis XIV, the advice of his principal confidants, and the diplomatic maneuvers that led to the French invasion of the United Provinces in 1672. The work examines the decision-making process of Louis XIV’s court. His thesis is that the Sun King was impatient to win further military gloire and eager to annex the Spanish Netherlands. The French plan was to besiege a few outlying Dutch strongholds and force the much weaker Dutch into diplomatic concessions concerning the annexation of the Spanish Netherlands. Louis XIV hoped that Spain could be prodded into intervening in the Dutch War, thereby allowing France to immediately conquer and annex the Spanish Netherlands, instead of waiting for the death of Carlos II of Spain and the implementation of the secret partition treaty (1668) between France and Austria. A series of postponements, dramatic changes of plan, shifts of alliances, and the opposition of some ministers delayed a conflict which might have begun in 1669. Sonnino points out that the ministers in Louis XIV’s council of state were divided in their support of a war against the Dutch Republic. The author views Marshal Turenne as the “evil spirit” who convinced the Sun King of easy French victories and the need of an English alliance (p.7). Sonnino believes that the split among the members of the council of state meant that the conflict was not inevitable. He fully describes how the leading warmongers neutralized or won over their opponents to the war. The study is based on massive archival research in twelve countries.

Carl J. EkbergIn The Failure of Louis XIV’s Dutch War (1979), Carl J. Ekberg expands on his doctoral dissertation (1970) at Rutger’s University and subsequent journal articles “From Dutch to European War: Louis XIV and Louvois are Tested” (1974) and “The Great Captain’s Greatest Mistake: Turenne’s German Campaign of 1673″ (1977). Ekberg’s study focuses on the initial phase of the Dutch War from 1672 to 1674. The author discusses the invasion of the Dutch Republic and emphasizes the diplomatic and military events that led to the French withdrawal from the United Provinces in 1673. He argues that Louis XIV conducted the French invasion of the Dutch Republic paying little attention to the advice of his ministers, generals, and diplomats beyond that offered by his war minister the Marquis de Louvois. Ekberg notes that the Sun King disregarded the interests of the French state, namely the defense of the northeastern frontier of the realm, in search of his own personal military gloire and revenge against the Dutch for their part in the Triple Alliance (pp.173-74). Ekberg contends that Louis XIV and Louvois miscalculated the risks involved in the Dutch War and lacked firm political and military objectives during the first phase of the conflict. Both men expected a brief, limited war. This mistake resulted in the rise of William III of Orange as his arch-enemy and the beginnings of an anti-French coalition centered on the alliance of the United Provinces with the Austrian and Spanish Habsburgs. The Sun King had to abandon his conquest of the Dutch Republic to defend his own kingdom. The study is based on research in French diplomatic and military archives.

George A. SatterfieldGeorge Satterfield provides a military history of the Dutch War in Princes, Posts, and Partisans: The Army of Louis XIV and Partisan Warfare in the Netherlands (1673-1678). The author gives an overview of the conflict, and places his focus on the French conduct of petite guerre (partisan warfare). Partisan warfare consisted of all military actions beyond siege warfare and battles. The author argues that Louis XIV had limited objectives in the Dutch War, and that the conflict was a war of exhaustion or attrition. He professes that the Sun King’s “strategy of exhaustion emphasized partisan warfare over the mass bloodshed of battles and made partisan warfare equal to sieges as a means of attaining the objectives of war. The gathering of war taxes, raids, and blockades were as essential as sieges in French strategy, and more so than full-scale battles” (p.319). French military commanders planned and coordinated partisan warfare to achieve tactical victories, as well as meet the Sun King’s strategic goals. As such, Satterfield discusses important aspects of partisan warfare such as the use of garrison forces to carry out such warfare, the imposition of contributions and war taxes, conduct of raids, support for field armies, blockades, and the use of partisan warfare to defend the French frontier. The monograph is based on archival research in France and Belgium.

The three studies under review enlighten our understanding of the Dutch War. For those students and scholars interested in the Wars of Louis XIV, one should read John A. Lynn’s The Wars of Louis XIV, 1667-1714 (1999) and Giant of the Grand Siècle: The French Army, 1610-1715 (1997) along with James Falkner’s Marshal Vauban and the Defence of Louis XIV’s France (2011). The Dutch army is discussed in Olaf van Nimwegen’s The Dutch Army and the Military Revolutions 1588-1688 (2010). New biographies include Andrew Lossky’s Louis XIV and the French Monarchy (1994), Wout Troost’s William III, the Stadholder-King: A Political Biography (2005), Derek McKay’s The Great Elector (2001), and Anthony F. Upton’s Charles XI and Swedish Absolutism (1998). Aspects of the Dutch War and the peace settlement are explored in the essays in J.A.H. Bott’s (editor) The Peace of Nijmegen, 1676-1678/79 (1980). One can find a brief history of the Dutch War as well as reviews of books, journal articles, and essays regarding the conflict in William Young’s War and Diplomacy in the Age of Louis XIV and Peter the Great: A Guide to the Historical Literature (2004). Despite all this attention to the conflict, there is still a need for a full examination of the war within its European context.

Dr William Young
University of North Dakota
Grand Forks, North Dakota

Originally posted in International History (8 February 2012)