The Military Revolution in Early Europe

Did the nature of war change states and societies in Europe between 1500 and 1750 or vice versa? David Parrott looks at the state of play in one of history's most celebrated recent revaluations.

On the afternoon of September 4th, 1634, a combined force of Spanish and Imperial troops managed to breach the walls of the South German city of Nordlingen. The news of the imminent fall of the city was received with consternation by the commanders of the Swedish and Protestant German army, camped about three miles away from the Catholic forces. At dawn on the 6th, the Protestant commanders committed their troops to battle, launching an all-out attack on the Spanish and Imperial forces drawn up to block their advance.

The decision to risk a battle was not necessarily foolhardy: the Swedes and Protestant Germans were outnumbered, but their troops included a high proportion of veterans, and the constricted field of combat would give no clear advantage to greater numbers. In the event, however, the Catholic forces proved more than a match for the Swedes and their German allies. Worn down by unsuccessful offensives, the Protestant forces finally broke before a Catholic counter-attack, and in the subsequent rout lost some 6,000 lives, fifty-four cannon and their entire baggage train. Swedish military power in the Holy Roman Empire was destroyed for half a decade.

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