English Warfare, 1511-1642. By Mark Charles Fissel. London: Routledge, 2001. ISBN 0-415-21482-3. Maps. Illustrations. Notes. Bibliography. Index. Pp. xviii, 382. $25.95.
A meticulously researched work that is the result of over twenty years labor, this book is somewhat unfortunate in appearing about ten years too late. It raises some serious objections to the "Military Revolution" thesis championed by Geoffrey Parker, which was the central point in extensive debate about early modern military affairs roughly a decade ago. This book would have been an important contribution at that time, but since then much of the debate over the military revolution has faded into recognition that development of modern military practice in the western world cannot easily be explained by a single "grand thesis," but varied greatly in both timing and form, depending on local circumstances. Though English Warfare, 1511-1642, fits this latter model nicely, Fissel seems compelled to work within the "military revolution" framework. Contrary to Parker's earlier assertions, he maintains that English warfare in the sixteenth and early seventeenth century was consistent with contemporary developments in continental warfare. In particular, he highlights English skills in siege warfare that are often overlooked, firmly placing English soldiers on the continent squarely in the middle of one of the central elements of the "military revolution" thesis. Despite that, the real strength of this book is in demonstrating the development of a distinctly English method of warfare that shows remarkable continuity with both earlier and later periods. Fissel highlights practices such as the use of foreign mercenaries and allies in effective ways, an emphasis on missile weapons and the ability to deploy small expeditionary forces to far flung locations that would be familiar to English commanders from Edward III's day to Marlborough's. This remarkable continuity and distinctive character argue very heavily against the "military revolution" idea generally, instead suggesting an evolutionary process dependent on the local conditions and military needs of the state in question. Further, English Warfare also very clearly demonstrates that extra-state institutions could be the motors of military change as well, a welcome change from interpretations of the period which center exclusively on "state driven" institutions. All this makes Fissel's efforts to fit English warfare into the "military revolution" criteria laid out by Parker seem unnecessary and even a bit self-contradictory, as the overall message clearly points to a new paradigm in this field.
Despite this ambiguity in central thesis, Fissel has produced an important work here because it spans a long chronological gap that exists in the literature of English military history. Certainly the book provides useful reminders to just how extensive English military activity was in this period, with chapters on operations in Ireland, the Netherlands, France, Scotland, and Iberia, as well as several on the administrative support institutions that developed to backstop these operations. In all cases, Fissel has done an excellent job of finding and utilizing relatively hard to find sources, and there are few stones left unturned here. [End Page 224]
Altogether, this is a work which will provoke a lot of thought in
anyone interested in the military history of the sixteenth and early
seventeenth centuries, and which should in particular inspire some
serious reconsideration of long-accepted views about British military
history in the period.
John S. Nolan
University of Maryland University College