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Reviewed by:
  • Krijgsvolk: Militaire professionalisering en het ontstaan van het Staatse leger, 1568–1590
  • Geoffrey Parker
Krijgsvolk: Militaire professionalisering en het ontstaan van het Staatse leger, 1568–1590. By Erik Swart . Amsterdam, The Netherlands: Amsterdam University Press, 2006. ISBN 90-5356-876-7. Illustrations. Appendixes. Notes. Bibliography. Index. Pp. 272. €29.50.

At first I wondered whether it was fair for me to review this book because its author repeatedly attacks my interpretation of Dutch military history; but since he also attacks the interpretation of most others who have presumed to address his subject, I decided to persevere. Krijgsvolk forms part of a project on "War and Society in the Dutch Golden Age," funded by the Netherlands Science Foundation, which includes two studies of the impact of war on individual Dutch towns (one already published: Griet Vermeesch, Oorlog, steden en staatsvorming. De grenssteden Gorinchem en Doesburg tijdens de geboorte-eeuw van de Republiek [1570–1680]) and an outstanding analytical and narrative history of the "mature" Dutch army by Olaf van Nimwegen: "Deser landen crijchsvolck." Het Staatse leger en de militaire revoluties (1588–1688) (Amsterdam: Bert Bakker, 2006). Swart's study of the early years of the Army of the States-General (het Staatse leger), which he defended as his doctoral dissertation in 2006 at the University of Amsterdam, thus forms a "prequel" to van Nimwegen's book.

Krijgsvolk contains six chapters based on a wide reading of printed and manuscript sources. After a narrative of the Dutch war to 1590, and a description of the Landsknechten (pikemen) who formed the core of the [End Page 1225] Dutch army throughout this period, Swart studies specific changes in four aspects of military administration: muster and review; military justice; strategy and tactics; and logistics. His book ends with a hard-hitting conclusion, a helpful English summary, an impressive bibliography, and some statistical appendixes. Swart's central argument is that the striking military successes of the Dutch army in the 1590s owed little or nothing to the tactical innovations introduced in that decade by Maurice of Nassau and his cousin William Lodewijk, as previous analysts (most recently Olaf van Nimwegen) have convincingly argued, but instead stemmed from reforms implemented two decades earlier by Maurice's father, Prince William of Orange. Swart highlights certain measures taken by the prince to transform the Dutch and German pikemen who formed the core of the early Staatse leger. Ever since their creation almost a century earlier, the Landsknechten had served in regiments that enjoyed great autonomy: they elected their officers, sat in judgment on their comrades, and mutinied if they felt wronged (for example if their pay fell into arrears). A mutinous Landsknecht regiment (about 4,000 men) could paralyze or abort an entire campaign. William of Orange set out to "professionalize and discipline" the pikemen by breaking them into smaller units in order to reduce their independence, and Swart shows in detail how he did so. He underplays the fact that these same measures reduced military effectiveness, since pikemen fought in squares, and their resilience reflected the shared experience of fighting side-by-side with the same comrades in established formations. Orange's innovations help to explain why the Dutch lost eight of the nine battles they fought between 1568 and 1590.

Swart draws two broad conclusions from his detailed examination of the prince's reforms: that "Orange's poor reputation as a soldier is unjustified" (pp. 159–60, 167); and that the "theory of a Military Revolution cannot be upheld; it is simplistic and profoundly teleological" (pp. 160–61, 168). Regarding the first, Swart is right to chide earlier writers for belittling Orange's achievement in ensuring the military as well as the political survival of the Republic. Yet he surely goes too far: both of the campaigns led by the prince failed spectacularly (in 1568 and again in 1572) and Orange's decision never again to command troops in person perhaps reflects his recognition of his shortcomings in this regard. Furthermore, until 1576, despite Swart's express denial (p. 159), the survival of the Dutch cause owed much to the ability of the Royalists to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory through the repeated...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1543-7795
Print ISSN
0899-3718
Pages
pp. 1225-1227
Launched on MUSE
2007-10-23
Open Access
No
Archive Status
Archived 2010
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