The Military Revolutions of the Hundred Years’ War
By Clifford J. Rogers
The Journal of Military History, Vol.57 (1993)
Extract: I believe, however, that the focus on the centuries after 1500 obscures the importance of the period in which the most dramatic, most truly revolutionary changes in European military affairs took place: the period, roughly, of the Hundred Years’ War (1337-1453). The armies that dominated the battlefields of Europe from the mid-eleventh century through the early fourteenth were composed primarily of feudal warrior-aristocrats, who owed military service for lands held in fief. They served as heavily armored cavalry, shock combatants, relying on the muscle power of man and steed, applied directly to the point of a lance or the edge of a sword. They fought more often to capture than to kill. The armies which conquered Europe’s first global empires, on the other hand, differed from this description on every single count. They were drawn from the common population (albeit often led by aristocrats); they served for pay; they fought primarily on foot, in close-order linear formations which relied more on missile fire than shock action; and they fought to kill. The tremendous revolution in warfare represented by these changes was well underway by the middle of the Hundred Years’ War, and solidly in place by the end of that conflict.
This paper will argue that twice over the course of the Hundred Years’ War new developments revolutionized the conduct of war in Europe, in each case with consequences as significant for the history of the world as those which took place during Parker’s Military Revolution (1500-1800). The first was the transition outlined in the paragraph above, which I shall refer to as the “Infantry Revolution.” The second, the “Artillery Revolution,” occurred when gunpowder weapons reversed the long-standing superiority of the defensive in siege warfare. Each of these transformations fundamentally altered the paradigm of war in Europe, with far-reaching consequences for the structures of social and political life, and thus each truly deserves to be termed a “military revolution” in itself.
When we consider that these two “revolutions” were followed in the succeeding centuries by a revolution in fortification (which once again reversed the balance between offense and defense) and then another in the administration of war (Roberts’s original “Military Revolution”), we are led to reconsider whether the answer to Parker’s question can possibly be a single “Military Revolution.” In the last section of this paper, I will address that issue, and propose an alternative paradigm based on the biological concept of “punctuated equilibrium evolution.” In essence, I will argue that Western military dominance derived from a series of sequential military revolutions, each an attempt to reverse a disequilibrium introduced by the previous one, rather than from a single “Military Revolution.” First, though, we must consider the warfare of the earlier Middle Ages, and the two revolutions which so dramatically altered its character over the course of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries.
See also our video interview with Clifford Rogers