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Reviewed by:
  • Princes, Posts, and Partisans: The Army of Louis XIV and Partisan Warfare in the Netherlands (1673–1678)
  • Guy Rowlands
Princes, Posts, and Partisans: The Army of Louis XIV and Partisan Warfare in the Netherlands (1673–1678). By George Satterfield. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2003. ISBN 90-04-13176-0. Maps. Illustrations. Notes. Bibliography. Index. Pp. xvi, 344. $134.00.

George Satterfield has pulled off an unusual feat in the field of the history of warfare: he has written a genuinely original book that will enhance our understanding of military campaigning and strategic thinking in the late seventeenth century. Military historians of this era have been by and large fixated upon the great set-pieces of sieges and battles, grande guerre, but Satterfield has eschewed such an approach and buried himself in archival material to present a clear picture of petite guerre. In doing so he has given clarity to what otherwise seems to be a story of one siege after another in the Spanish Netherlands during the Dutch War; indeed, Satterfield's chapter (1) summarising the Dutch War in the Netherlands must now rate as the clearest thing written on the course of this conflict. Petite guerre might be conceived rather narrowly, as war-by-raid and ambush involving anywhere from a dozen to several hundred men; but by expanding the concept to include large-scale raiding and blockading of strong-points involving up to several thousand troops, Satterfield manages to explain just how closely related were grande guerre and partisan warfare of all shapes and sizes. He takes us through dozens of expeditions, sometimes, frankly, in rather self-indulgent detail. Yet this relentless and well-marshalled material produces a cumulative understanding that helps explain why some sieges took longer than others and why Louis XIV opted to attack one fortress over another at a particular time. Satterfield's argument that by 1676 the French king and his high command had developed an unprecedented understanding of the need to integrate grande and petite guerre in order to wear down their opponents' fortress garrisons has much to commend it, though this may underestimate the skill of both Maurice of Nassau and the high command of the Spanish army of Flanders in the 1590s and 1600s who were struggling under far greater logistical difficulties. Certainly, though, Satterfield's thesis is most convincing as an explanation for why the Dutch and Spanish were singularly unsuccessful in siege warfare in the 1670s while the French had one triumph after another. He also comes to eminently sensible conclusions about the [End Page 225] material importance of petite guerre for the French war effort, engaging in the debate between this reviewer and John Lynn (his mentor) over the relative importance of contributions to the French military budget—even in the Netherlands where the French army was at its most organised in this regard, contributions accounted for only around 12 to 16 percent of military revenue in good years.

As a work of military history, then, Satterfield's book deserves high praise, and in an age when the mightiest army in the world is struggling to match its skill in waging grande guerre with success in petite guerre, it deserves to be studied in military staff colleges. But there are points of debate, and even weakness, which should be highlighted. Like John Lynn, Satterfield has an as yet underdeveloped understanding of the nature of the wider French polity and society, and he needs to sharpen his appreciation of aristocratic political culture and the motivation of regular French officers. On the matter of campaigning, with which the book is of course principally concerned, it should finally be stressed that Satterfield's arguments, if robust for the Dutch War, might break down for the period after 1688. In the Nine Years' War and the War of the Spanish Succession Louis and his generals were up against Allied commanders (including an older and wiser William of Orange) whose logistical support and skill was much improved from the 1670s. The integrated theatre strategy of blockades, raids and sieges during the earlier period could not be carried through on the same scale in the Low Countries by the French in...


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