Geoffrey Parker describes the military revolution as a period between 1500-1750 when changes in tactics, army size, and fortifications transformed the way wars were fought and how they were won1. Fortresses were very useful strongholds until cannons became more developed and knocked the fortresses down. Changes in the design of fortresses then made them more successful against bombardment. Firearms on the battlefield slowly became more present until it became the sole dominant choice of weapon in combat.
The size of armies during this period drastically increased, partly because of the need to surround a castle during a siege. The army size of nearly every western power more than doubled during this time period. All of these changes revolutionized the way war was fought in this time period and also for the proceeding periods. This revolution propelled the West to the top of the world and lead to the western nations nearly conquering the entire world. Although some of Parker’s ideas align with those of Machiavelli’s in The Prince, there are others that greatly contrast.
In Parker’s The Military Revolution, it shows how one major change would lead to another and then another. Nations started to build castles with high walls that would give them an advantage during a siege. These high walls allowed armies safety from outsiders who had laid siege upon them. These sieges would last for many months until the inhabitants either surrendered, usually due to starvation or were taken over by force. In addition to protection during the siege, the walls also allowed armies to see the enemy from a distance and launch attacks from the towers.
Siege guns were then developed to strike down the fortress walls. Since the walls of the castles were thin, the bombards had no trouble in penetrating the walls and breaking them down. In response to this, the leaders of these same countries started improving the fortifications of their castles in order to withstand the power of artillery. Castles were then built lower so their target wouldn’t be as big. The walls became thicker, so they could survive the blasts from cannons. Parker quoted Machiavelli, who in 1519 wrote that, “No wall exists, however thick, that artillery cannot destroy in a few days.
”1 With the new modifications to fortresses, castles were able to withstand heavy artillery and bombardment. Due to the high cost of these fortifications, many smaller countries were not able to make these changes because of a lack of funds. Larger and wealthier countries were more successful in applying theses adjustments and even many of those became bankrupt because of the extreme cost. In regards to fortresses, Machiavelli states that there are times when fortresses are necessary and times when they are a detriment. 2 If a prince feared his own people more than foreign invaders, then a fortress is good to have.
If a prince fears foreign invaders more than the people, than he is better off destroying the fortress. Machiavelli gives various examples of both situations, and then concludes, “the best fortress there is is not to be hated by the people. ” 3 When it came to fortresses, Machiavelli claimed that they didn’t matter if your people hated you. If you hid in your fortress from your enemy while your own subjects hate you, then they will join forces to defeat you, making the fortress useless. 4 Aside from the change in fortresses, there were also remarkable changes in the way wars were fought on the battlefield.
In the last chapter of The Prince, Machiavelli explains how it is possible to defeat the Spanish and Swiss infantry by attacking their weaknesses. The Spanish cannot withstand a cavalry charge and the Swiss have fallen against enemy infantry. He concludes that a skilled infantry along with the ability to withstand a cavalry charge would be able to defeat both armies. 1 The Military Revolution explains how direct forward combat dominated the battlefield until firepower began to slowly takeover. 2 Firearms started out as clumsy and inefficient, but over time improvements were made that allowed it to dominate the battlefield.
For example, the bow was the more effective weapon than a harquebus in the 16th century because it was more accurate and could reload faster, allowing for more shots. 3 This is where Machiavelli and Parker contrast in their views of combat. Machiavelli believes that a well-trained and fearless infantry and cavalry would have been more than capable of defeating the dominant armies of the 15th and 16th centuries. In the final chapter of The Prince, Machiavelli talks about cavalry, bucklers, and pikes, but he does not mention firearms. The prevalence of firearms occurred shortly after Machiavelli had written The Prince.
Parker and Machiavelli both also discuss the Battle of Ravenna in 1512. Machiavelli states that the Spanish infantry met the German pike men head-on and were able to bypass the pikes with the help of their bucklers before the cavalry overwhelmed them. Parker also mentions the Swiss dominance of pikemen in battle, but in the Battle of Ravenna and others he explained how field artillery and handguns caused significant damage to the pikemen. 4 While both authors us the same battle to prove their points, they focused on different aspects of it.
Parker concentrated on the successful use of firearms against pikemen, while Machiavelli showed proof of the effectiveness of cavalry and infantry in warfare. Parker showed how advancements in weaponry slowly begun to change the face of warfare in favor of firearms. It is also worthy to note that in the infancy of firearms, rifles took long time to reload, leaving musketeers vulnerable to a charge from infantry and/or cavalry. In order to make up for this, Maurice and William Louis of Nassau, Dutch commanders, devised a new and more efficient method of musketeer formation.
One line of shooters would fire, then would retreat behind the second, allowing the first line time to reload. This allowed for a continuous rate of fire that was extremely difficult to suppress. This technique became so successful and effective that other nations started to use it. 1 The earlier quote of Machiavelli on artillery coupled with his views on warfare gives credence to the idea that some of the material from The Prince has become outdated due to the rise of firearms and fortress modification during the era of the military revolution.
Machiavelli believed that artillery would always be able to bring down the high walls of fortresses. This was disproven after changes to fortresses made walls shorter, thicker, and able to withstand bombardment. When Machiavelli discussed tactics on the battlefield in The Prince, he focused on cavalry and infantry equipped with weapons that predated firearms. He did not take into account the effect the massive impact firearms would have, partly because it had not yet peaked. The evolution of fortresses, rise of gun powder, increase in troop size, and change in tactics brought the west to the top and lead them to colonialism.