The Evolution of Warfare in Early Modern Europe

The Evolution of Warfare in Early Modern Europe


The article sheds light on the evolution of warfare in early modern Europe. It highlights the differences between the financing of wars in France and the Dutch Republic, military changes that transformed the conduct of wars including the arms race and military devolution, the role of mercenaries, the importance of training, the recruitment of soldiers, the discipline and commitment of fighting forces, diplomatic conventions, and the Peace of Westphalia.

Table of Contents

  • Financing of Wars in France and the Dutch Republic
  • Military Changes that Transformed the Conduct of Wars
  • Role of Mercenaries and the Importance of Training
  • Recruitment of Soldiers and Importance of Discipline and Commitment
  • Diplomatic Conventions and the Peace of Westphalia


Q: How did France and the Dutch Republic differ in their financing of wars?

A: France relied heavily on mechanisms that bypassed scrutiny to finance loans which were made from fortunes that had been made at the expense of the state, leading to widespread provincial and popular revolts. In contrast, the Dutch Republic managed to raise the required funds for war through high taxation, yet limited protests and a dispersed nature of political and financial institutions, coupled with economic good fortune, ensured that the interest rates remained low.

Q: What military changes transformed the conduct of wars?

A: Military change was another factor that transformed the way states defended themselves, and an arms race, unleashed by firearms and artillery that affected the conduct of war, resulted in longer sieges, increased fixed-capital investment, longer and more complicated operations, and an equivalent arms race at sea. The Thirty Years War is an example of where military ‘devolution’, or outsourcing, was equally important as military ‘revolution.’

Q: What was the role of mercenaries in early modern warfare?

A: The best-trained forces of the sixteenth century were mercenaries, with the Swiss infantry pioneering the technique of organizing a defensive square of soldiers with halberds, which was adopted by the Spanish tercio and German Landsknechte. These mercenary soldiers were raised through the Holy Roman Empire by smaller German territorial princes and nobles, contracting out their units to princes. Enterprisers acted as both contractor and creditor in the military hierarchy, with the biggest profits being made in munitions and armament supplies.

Q: How important was training in early modern warfare?

A: The importance of training increased with the spread of partially mass-produced portable firearms. The school of Alessandro Farnese was highly prized, along with those of Henry IV and Mauritz of Nassau and his cousin William Louis. The young men were divided into small groups and trained together, with intensive drilling being essential. The most successful military manual of its day was Jacob de Gheyn’s Arms drill with arquebus, musket and pike.

Q: How were soldiers recruited in early modern Europe?

A: The Swiss soldiers were recruited from close-knit peasant communities, whereas the Landsknechte had a more diverse basis for recruitment. Each company had its officers elected who were responsible for troop movements, lodging, supplies, and who represented the interests of the soldiers to the captain. Cavalry companies (Reiter) were much in demand, and military changes made the traditional ‘man-at-arms’ a specialized and expensive military weapon.

Q: How did diplomatic conventions play a role in early modern warfare?

A: Diplomacy and conventions played an important part in relationships between princes and peace negotiations, with most negotiations revolving around a princely marriage. However, confessional divisions complicated diplomatic marriages, and the fear of cross-confessional marriages led to ill-feelings between some European countries. The Peace of Westphalia in 1648 was the first major international peace treaty in Europe that was not endorsed by the papacy, and permanent diplomatic representation became increasingly important in the sixteenth century.


In conclusion, the evolution of warfare in early modern Europe was marked by financial, military, and diplomatic changes which shaped the way states defended themselves and conducted wars. The financing of wars, the role of mercenaries, the importance of training, the recruitment of soldiers, and diplomatic conventions were all key factors that contributed to the development of early modern warfare. As a professional writer, it is important to understand the history of warfare in order to provide context to contemporary discussions on defense and national security.

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