The Evolution Of Warfare Throughout The Renaissance

To The Age Of Religious Wars Essay, Research Paper

During the age of religious wars, leading to the Renaissance, warfare drastically

changed. Strategies, weapons; the whole art itself was reshaped by the contact

with other peoples and the strive to attain more power. Before this time, fighting

was restricted to all the Medieval straitjacket would allow. “Wars” consisted mostly

of the small forces of feudal nobles in their squeamish attempts to obtain more land.

Once the Crusades occurred, everything changed. Alliances were formed and broken, new

weapons unveiled, huge strategies deduced, and suddenly people weren’t just trying to

defend the small plot of land they called “home”, but their entire nation. If there

is a fulcrum in warfare, it was the period of religious wars and the Renaissance.

It should be noted that alliances are very much related to the art of war. They

were (are) as omnipresent as war itself. They have been both the cause of war and

the key to the victory. There is a direct correlation between warfare and alliances.

Throughout this time, alliances were forming (and breaking) between European countries

to either conquer one another, or simply keep each other in check. A very well-suited

example would be the famous Third Crusade. Richard the Lionhearted of England, Frederick

Barbrosa of the divided Germany, and Phillip Augustus of France, some of the most

powerful rulers of Europe (some, bitter enemies), united for religious reasons to

fight a holy war against the “infidel” ruler, Saladin (Wallbank, T. Walter…et al 263).

The three rulers united and traveled to Jerusalem to fight. Frederick died on the way and

Richard and Phillip Augustus were left in charge(Wallbank, T. Walter…et al 263).

England and France have a history of unfriendliness to each other (Wallbank, T.

Walter…et al 302-303), and that was once more displayed when Phillip Augustus

departed after a heated argument with Richard. The alliance was broken and the

war was a failure for the Europeans.

A little later in history, there was a famous example of Balance of Power. Henry VIII of

England, Charles V of Spain, and Francis I of France dominated Europe around the early

1500’s. In order to keep each other from becoming to strong, they formed and broke

alliances within their little triangle. First Henry made an alliance with Charles to

prevent Francis from becoming too powerful (Wallbank, T. Walter…et al 451). Then

Henry realized that Charles was becoming too powerful, so he made an alliance with

Francis. So in this case, it seems that forming alliances prevented war; no one was

strong enough to attack the other (Microsoft Encarta CD-ROM). However this was not

always the case.

The thing that changed the face of war most of all were new weapons. From using these

new weapons, new strategies came about, and goals became larger, for the one with the

most powerful and plentiful weapons was always the largest threat. It was to be weapons

that would offset all the old tactics, and one weapon to be more specific. Actually, one

component of a weapon. Gunpowder (Microsoft Encarta CD-ROM). The Chinese had used gunpowder

for many years, but as fireworks and other devices for celebration. It was during the Sung

Dynasty in China, circa de 1232, that it was used as a weapon for massive warfare

(Scwartz 78). Chinese soldiers who were defending the besieged city of Loyang used

a weapon known as a “thunder bomb” to free the city from the grip of the Mongols (Dyer 55).

It was an iron vessel filled with gunpowder and was hurled at the enemy by catapult. The

explosion blew those nearby to pieces, and the shrapnel of the casing could pierce through

armor (Dyer 55). The Chinese also invented a primitive musket called a “fire lance”. It was

a bamboo tube stuffed with gunpowder and would fire a cluster of pellets about 250 yards.

The Mongols innovated on this idea about 1320, and it was adopted by Europeans when they

came to Europe. From that point of exchange, Europe was the center of the technological

improvements in gunpowder (Scwartz 80).

The European continent was one that was composed of separate, war-torn states, and any

weapon was welcome (Keegan 121). With the introduction of this new weapon, war changed.

The old castle walls could stop a projectile launched by a catapult, but not a 1,150

pound cannonball being propelled by, literally, an explosion. The great city walls of

the last of the Roman Empire at Constantinople fell to the wrath of the Turkish Sultan’s

great cannons (Wallbank, T. Walter…et al 421). The feudal nobility was also destroyed,

when those with the most money, the Kings, obtained more and more artillery (Keegan 134).

They became a real threat to the nobles now.

This new weapon brought about the creation of a new class of warriors and the demise of

another. Before, you had the standard infantry, cavalry, and archers. The archers would

usually send the first waves of death with their arrows, and the knights would finish off

the ones that didn’t die in the first attack. With the addition of artillery, the archers

became obsolete. Cannons could propel things faster, farther, and could do more damage than

arrows (Dyer 85). This definitely changed both outcomes and styles of fighting, especially

countries whose archers were a major key to the victory, such as England. Their Welsh

long-Bowman were no match to the French artillery. The Artillery was also the most

inexpensive route to take (Dyer 55). It requires much training to be a good archer.

To train a member of the artillery requires minimal training. It was not a surprise that

the use of archers in war became a rare practice.

Strategies in war became complex and very thoughtful in this time in history. The best example

of contrasting strategies were the English and the French. The French were extremely foolish

and cared not for strategy. They blindly charged all their forces at the enemy. In that type

of strategy, even shear numbers don’t make much of a difference. The English, by contrast,

had a well planned out strategy. They would position their well-trained archers (or artillery,

in later times) in front of their dismounted knights. Ahead of the archers were iron pikes

planted in the ground at about a 30 degree angle to slow down the advance of the enemy’s

cavalry (Schwartz 201). First the archers would shower the enemy with their arrows while

the enemy was still advancing. The ones who still remained after the arrows and pikes were

quickly dispatched by the dismounted knights. This style was called “feathered death”, and

it was very effective (Wallbank, T. Walter…et al 288). However, with the arrival of gunpowder,

England’s archers were of no contest to France’s artillery. Yet another example to the change

that warfare undertook during this age.

Along with all these advancements, strategies, and constantly changing alliances, everyone was

more of a threat to each other, thus, the goals of conquest grew. A hundred years before that

time no one was strong enough to conquer another nation, because no one was really united. With

these changes in warfare, central governments became more powerful to defend themselves against

a stronger power (Keegan 311). Feudalism declined because of this. The monarchs bought large

armies for national defense. Power was taken from the hands of the nobles and placed in the

hands of the monarchs. Professional armies became more common because they had to be ready

to defend the country (Dyer 187). So, in essence, war, which usually tears countries apart,

brought Europe together. More specifically, the threat of war was the uniting force.

During the time between the period of religious wars leading to the Renaissance, war

undertook many changes, therefore changing the whole continent of Europe as well. People united,

strategies developed, weapons evolved, and the constant changes of alliance kept everyone in

check. Countries became countries and they developed professional armies for national defense.

Mass warfare was coexisting with equally large threats of war, and the whole style shifted to

a more brutal and frighteningly effective one. What should be asked is if there was a change

of the same magnitude of what happened almost 500 years ago, how much worse could warfare

become in this day and age? That question was probably asked around the invention of nuclear


I. Dyer, Gwynne. War. New York: Crown Publishers, 1985.

II. Keegan, John. A History of Warfare. London: Hutchinson, 1993.

III. Microsoft Encarta ‘96. CD-ROM. Microsoft Corporation, 1996. “Gunpowder”.

IV. Wallbank, T. Walter… et al. Civilizations Past and Present. New York: HarperCollins

Publishers Inc, 1992.

V. Schwartz, Jason. The Road to Modern Warfare. New York: Macmillan Publishers Inc,1988.


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