Hale's focus is on the increased impact of war during this period; he argues that, in part, a state's ability to gather money at home and spend it abroad gave war a broader societal significance. So, too, the overall size of armies increased, as empires were founded and the ability to mobilize food and goods increased.
Larger armies and extended campaigns were the result of an increase in taxable wealth caused by more effective centralized government, population growth, somewhat more cost-effective agriculture and the stimulus given to commerce and manufacture by the flow of gold and silver and the counterflow of manufactured goods across the Atlantic. The reach of war into European society would have been slighter had it not been for the American exploits of Columbus, Cortez and Pizarro. (25)This period is also significant for the technology that supported and spread war-interest: portable guns and printing. Guns changed the composition of fighting forces, and the number of publications about war techniques and technologies encouraged a new professionalism. During this period there was a concomitant increase in organized and trained mercenaries. In a broad characterization, Hale says that the "age in general had a twist of sadism" (83); by this, he accounts not only for the quotidian violence that would repel a modern reader, but also for the omnipresent view that suffering was to be borne as ordinary part of life, and that war was conceived of as a proper activity for a prince, if not necessarily a social good. It is somewhat difficult to draw generalizations from this work because Hale offers many particulars from Spain, Germany, France, England, Italy and Eastern Europe, criss-crossing periods and times to draw examples. In this summary, then, I will follow his own chapters fairly closely.
Why there were wars? Was this a particularly destructive period?
Hale starts his work in 1453, with the end of the Hundred Years War and
the fall of Constantinople, and ends in 1618 with the start of Thirty Years
War. War had been and would be a way of life. Hale quotes Lorenzo
Valla, who wrote in 1440 that wars are pursued "'for the desire of glory,'
'for the hope of booty,' and 'for fear of incurring disaster later, if
the strength of others is allowed to increase,' and 'for avenging wrong
and defending friends.'" (22) (Hale notes, as we might do now, that this
catalog of reasons is pretty complete.) As Europe was settled more
completely by greater numbers of people, there were fewer land resources
and more "face saving" to be gained in defending and extending the borders
of a royal house. Hale reminds the reader that
land and glory were generally more important than economic profit, and that idealized violence was already a part of the chivalric code. Hale also notes that religious wars -- Catholic versus Protestant -- were for the most part waged as civil wars, but religious difference certainly heightened existing reasons for resisting Rome's secular kingdom.
This was an age of military reformation, of new techniques and new organizations. In particular, guns and portable guns make a big change in this period. Huge bombards, like Strasbourg's Ostrich, required stronger fortifications, and made longer sieges possible. Guns of all other sorts, being expensive to get and maintain, increased the cost of war. The need for training, too, increased. The year 1559 sounds strangely modern when one reads Antoine de Granvelle's commentary: "The art of war is now such that men be fain to learn it anew at every two years' end." (57) Military schools sprang up, and France, Milan and Venice began to maintain a standing army. Within the units, the biggest change was the shift in the proportion of cavalry to infantry, generally from proportions of 1: 3 to proportions of 1: 8 or more.
As the need for cavalry changed, so too the personal and organized violence represented by the Second Estate was taking new shape. First, "in proportion to the size of the Second Estate as a whole, fewer sought military careers." (98) Second, "civilianization meant that the motives which led an aristocrat to fight had become declassed, that is, had become much like anyone else's." (99) As chivalric systems and motives faded, privateering " saw a gradual, and from the later sixteenth century, really notable, increase... " (80) Although they were less represented overall, and some were fighting as semi-professional privateers, nobles certainly were still involved in war. Hale asserts that the "elites paid, through taxes and hazardously secured loans, a stiff proportion of the money needed to launch armies. Some of them... increased their fortunes by supplying armies with weapons, clothing, and provision. Others, by bridging with their capital the gap between the passing and raising of a war-tax, actually made mobilizations possible." (102)
How was mobilization accomplished? What was the reaction of the Third Estate to a call to arms? There was indeed a surplus of people "The conjunction of inflation with the un- or underemployment caused by the population surge created an unprecedented proportion of the Third Estate who were not only available for but who, it might be thought, actually needed military service." (106) There were, too, sufficient number of towns from which to organize and send groups to war. However, pressure was needed to produce the required numbers, and needed again to keep those recruited from running back home. People avoided the draft; they pleaded family or business needs. Hale suggests that day laborers, debt-dodgers or released criminals were among those who most commonly became soldiers.
Although there were motivated princes, and theoretically enough materiel, and enough men who could be recruited, there still were not enough, generally speaking, who were willing to fight. So there grew up a society of soldiers: the professionals. Professionals were organized by captains into mongrel or, more kindly, multi-national forces. For a few knights and nobles, war was a way to travel, a way to education, a school for manhood. But for mercenaries, the relationship was not "knight to knight" or elite to elite, but rather a "hard-headed freemasonry of experts" (129) Generally, the knight-mercenary border was defined by the presence of a contractor. Contractors were key to the process of raising large forces. "The contractor's main profits arose from retainers, annuities, grants of land, gifts of plate and gold collars, and kick-backs from subordinate captains." (149). Hale glosses the fortunes of the German Landsknechts a company among the most disciplined of mercenaries. As a society unto themselves: "[t]here emerged, then, a mental frontier between man of peace and man of war ...." (120) Of course, mercenaries were not necessarily a reliable force: captains could steal or short the pay for their men; the men could go on long leave, and be absent when needed; or they could simply "go native" from being stationed long in one place.
Any society of soldiers, even hardened soldiers, suffered under the conditions of service. The biggest problems were caused by salaries and food supplies. Old systems for gathering food were re-routed for new purposes throughout this period. "Broadly speaking, it can be described as a shift from exploiting late medieval rights of purveyance -- the pre-empting of local foodstuffs from a multitude of producers to supply itinerant royal courts -- and attempting to apply them abroad, to relying on contracts with individual merchants, who commanded produce networks of their own and who could elaborate them to ensure massive deliveries, and who had capital enough to bridge at need the all too common time gap between purchase and government payment." (159) Supplying food to a hungry army was one difficulty; sending regular pay was the other. Paid "monthly," a soldier's "month" might be stretched from 45-100 days. The purchasing power of wages was not very high to begin with, and was falling throughout the period. "We can be fairly sure," Hale remarks, "that the wages of war did not act as an incentive to those who considered military service as a way of bettering themselves, let alone emerging with savings." (116). Besides the regular shortages of food and pay, to complete the picture, the commonest wartime deaths were caused by disease.
The subject of disease reminds us that war is not suffered only by soldiers. What was the direct impact of war on civilians? In one way, it is difficult to tell: "deaths caused directly by war are scarcely discernible amidst the still rising tide of population figures as a whole..." (180) However, for commoners "the great majority [of deaths] were not caused directly by sack or pillage or casual brutality but through a conspiracy between war and those more impersonal and far more effective killers, epidemic disease and famine." (180) So soldiers and civilians alike suffered as disease and famine traveled along with war In more than one city, to protect the majority from starvation, "useless mouths" were pushed out from behind the walls and into the way of enemy sieges. Outstanding civic cruelties like these are matched by the ordinary ongoing cruelties perpetrated by a standing army. "The abuse of billeting could lead to bullying, sexual crime and theft, and though householders were entitled to compensation via tax rebates from regional authorities, damage and loss weighed all the heavier on poor householders because of the delays in receiving it: five years in a Venetian case settled in 1613, eight in a claim submitted by villagers in Lorraine in 1587." (184) Speaking generally, Hale says "[c]ompared with the spasmodic nature of the Hundred Years War, the Wars of Italy and the Netherlands were almost unremitting molestations of normal life." (179)
Aside from these direct problems, war had an indirect impact on the economy. Of course the economy was affected by war, and to the extent that capital was drained from an area by destruction, so slowly was that area rebuilt. But the money paid to troops generally went somewhere. Multitudes of small cash transactions [were] made possible by troops' wages. (211). Devastated areas did rebound. Somewhat hesitantly, Hale offers this: "[b]oth the long and wide views of the economic consequences of wars must appear heartlessly at odds with the immediate impact on the civilians caught up in them." (211). The indirect impact also included war, taxation and government. To finance wars, the sale of tax offices increased. Debt was balanced, precariously, by merchant houses. War became the "most weighty cause of public expenditure." (232) Direct costs of war ere seldom less than half of the peacetime revenues, but war costs were superadded to the revenues already being collected which were fully committed to peacetime administration. The heavy burden of taxation spread the effects of war across all areas of society.
War, as Hale describes it, is familiar and yet very different than it
appears now. For kings, war was a way of enforcing borders, pursuing some
ideal of personal glory and possibly increasing the fortunes of one's family.
For soldiers drawn from the peasantry, war was either a reluctant duty
or a way to escape trouble or debt at home. For materiel and mercenary
contractors, war was a way to earn money. For mercenaries, war was
good way to get booty but a bad way to earn money; however, it offered
a society outside of society, a soldier camaraderie with different rules.
For civilians affected by war? Depression, disease, burning, loss
of property, goods. Also, there was the prospect of soldier pay and
possibly a quick recovery. But no one questioned the right of princes
to wage war. "That rulers had the right to initiate or respond to
wars was only weakly challenged. In spite of its expense, its horror,
the contrast between the precision of its aims and the almost limitless
permeation of its consequences, war in this period, perhaps for the last
time, was largely a non-constitutional, only marginally a political issue."