Skip to content

Response to Review no. 99

I enjoyed Dr. Coster’s thoughtful review of my book, The Making of a World Power. He has done a thorough job of identifying the main areas of scholarship and historical understanding to which I had hoped to contribute. I was pleased to read that he feels it will ‘remain invaluable to future historians for some time to come.’

My work deals with how warfare shaped the English state, military institutions, and economy in the seventeenth century. Dr. Coster was kind enough to call it the ‘first serious study of military activity in this period’, although in this I think he is wrong. But I do think it contributes to the fine work of superb historians such as Bernard Capp (Cromwell’s Navy), Michael Braddick (The Nerves of State), P. G. M. Dickson (The Financial Revolution), D. C. Chandaman (The English Public Revenue), Ian Gentles (The New Model Army), Henry Roseveare (The Financial Revolution, 1660-1760), and Geoffrey Parker (The Military Revolution). This list of historians who have dealt with aspects of the effects of the Military Revolution on seventeenth century England could include dozens more people, most of whom are listed in my bibliography.

Dr. Coster’s major critique of my book is that it is tied to the Roberts-Parker concept of a Military Revolution, which Coster believes ‘is a concept that has recently begun to melt, or perhaps been overstretched.’ Instead, he believes that Cliff Roger’s ‘increasingly fashionable argument’ about a ‘punctuated equilibrium evolution’ model of historical change is a more appropriate conceptual framework in which the dramatic changes that the detailed evidence I present best fits.

I set out to determine whether or not England experienced anything like the ‘Military Revolution’ described by Roberts and Parker. The evidence in the documents supports the view that England experienced such a revolution in the seventeenth century. The watershed of this revolution was in the short period of time from 1635 to 1672. My chapters on the development of the professional English army and navy and the increasing bureaucratization of the state demonstrate this point. However, I also found that many of the military and administrative changes identified as part of the ‘Military Revolution’ of Early Modern Europe took place over a longer period of time (1550-1640) and were solidified and accelerated during the wars of the mid seventeenth century.

Dr. Coster does not seem to agree that there was a Military Revolution in Early Modern Europe, as described by Roberts and Parker? Therefore, he feels my main thesis is invalid. The place to begin in determining whether or not the ‘Military Revolution’ concept remains viable to our understanding of the development of the modern state is to review what Roberts and Parker meant by that concept. According to Michael Roberts, the Military Revolution began as an attempt to solve tactical problems on the battlefield. The solution was to abandon centuries of military practice and to return to the tactical ideals of the classical Romans. These changes in tactics led to a ‘revolution in strategy’. ‘But they entailed others [changes] of much larger implications’, to include the transformation in the scale and cost of war and an increase in the authority of the state. ‘Only the state, now, [in the period after 1560] could supply the administrative, technical, and financial resources required for large-scale hostilities. . . . This development, and the new style of warfare itself, called for new administrative methods and standards.’

The changes in military tactics and strategy forced qualitative as well as quantitative changes in the way governments operated. These changes in bureaucratic organization and practice profoundly affected the lives of people. Those states which could not compete in the more costly and complex military arena suffered a relative eclipse in status and power. The changes of the Military Revolution helped lead to profound political changes, such as the development of the ‘absolutism’ of either the monarchical or parliamentary state.

To test whether or not this conceptual theory accommodated the events and trends of English history, I analyzed the development of the professional English army and navy. I believe the evidence shows that both on land and sea English armed forces became permanent, professional, larger, more costly, and effective. The core of these developments took place in the period 1635 to 1672, laying the foundation for continued growth in English and then British military power.

Dr. Coster, however, points out that the English army was not large, by French or Spanish standards, in the period from 1660 to 1689. True. However, the professional officer corps inherited from the Cromwellian army continued to lead the army and to provide the cadre for significant expansion of the army on short notice (as in 1677-78, or 1685-88). This army cost only about half as much as the navy in peacetime, but after 1660, this army always cost a great deal to maintain. It was housed in permanent barracks in London, and maintained large garrisons overseas (especially in Ireland and Tangiers). The professional officers of this army learned their professional skills in English regiments detached to Dutch and French service. When the English king needed a field army, those officers and regiments returned to his service. So, in 1689-92, William III had professional English regiments he could deploy to the Low Countries and Ireland, where they were led by men such as John Churchill, first duke of Marlborough.

The Royal Navy had existed for much longer on a continuos basis than the army. But it was only in the 1630s that a cadre of professional naval officers was maintained in peacetime. By the 1640s, these professionals had come to dominate the English war fleets. By 1652, the battle fleets of England were composed completely of state-owned warships, officered by professional naval officers. These developments were continued after 1660.

My book documents these trends by looking at the financial records of the English state in the period from 1600 to 1700. Before 1635, the navy and the army were dismantled during peacetime. In the case of the navy, many ships were kept in storage, but the officers and crews were released to save money. In wartime, a large proportion of the naval and army officers were amateurs. After 1645, the navy and the army were kept on a well established footing, and the leadership of both forces was dominated by professionals. The English state adopted the concept of ‘half-pay’ to retain officers for future service as necessary. Thanks to these developments, the English navy and army kept abreast of ongoing developments in military technology and practice.

The evidence supports the view that due to the adoption of standing professional armed forces by the English state in the period 1635 to 1645, the English Parliament had to adopt new fiscal devices and practices during the next thirty years to pay for the ‘modern’ military organizations. These taxes required significant changes in the state’s administrative and political practices in peace as well as in war. The effects of these changes continued after the initial qualitative changes experienced in the mid century wars.


Because the evidence indicates that England experienced a Military Revolution that looked a lot like one fitting the Roberts-Parker concept, I concluded that the concept of the Military Revolution in Early Modern Europe is still a useful analytical tool to understand major political and social changes.

Again, I appreciate Dr. Coster’s views and his careful review of Making of a World Power. But I must disagree with some of his conclusions and encourage the reader to resort to my book for the evidence.