Standing Armies

As late as in the 30 Years' War, countries respectively dynasts had no regular professional armies. In case of a war breaking out, they would hire soldiers (mercenaries) and officers, and they would disband the army as soon as the fighting was over; the army was too costly for any ruler to consider maintaining her permanently.
The able comptroller of finances in France, Jean-Baptiste Colbert, provided his king, Louis XIV., with state revenues enabling to construct the splendid palace at Versailles and to establish a STANDING ARMY. In the new standing army, the soldiers were drilled to perform precise movements and actions on command, like pawns in a chess game. Military academies trained officers, and discussed new methods of military action. A standing army was ready to strike at short notice. The soldiers and officers took an oath to serve their king loyally. In the many wars Louis XIV fought - War of Devolution 1667-1668, Dutch War of Louis XIV 1672-1678, War of the Grand Alliance 1689-1697, War of Spanish Succession 1701-1713 - the French army proved superior in siege technique. French architects established new standards in fortress construction (Vauban).
In Brandenburg (since 1701 Prussia), Frederick William, the Great Elector spent most of the Brandenburg revenue to establish a standing army. During the 30 Years' War, Brandenburg had suffered severely; the army was to deter others from using Brandenburg as a battleground. The Great Elector and his successors were to find out, that the mere existence of his well-trained army would make Brandenburg a potential ally.
Brandenburg entered wars, at times for the purpose to expand the territories of the Duke-Elector (so in the First Northern War 1655-1660, in the Second Northern War 1675-1679, in the War of Spanish Succession 1701-1713. Yet Brandenburg did not start these wars and always fought as a partner, at times a junior partner, in a coalition. In the Dutch War of Louis XIV. 1672-1678 and in the War of the Grand Alliance 1689-1697 they fought in order to maintain the balance of powers in Europe, and because Brandenburg-Prussia was paid subsidies. Brandenburg gained few territories through conquest, but the Emperor supported Brandenburg's claim to a number of territories the succession of which was disputed, and Brandenburg thus acquired Tecklenburg 1707, Lingen 1702, Neuchatel 1707, Moers 1702. In 1701 Emperor Leopold I. promoted Duke Elector Frederick William III. of Brandenburg King Frederick William I. in Prussia - because he wanted Brandenburg to enter the anti-French coalition. King Frederick the Great (r. 1740-1786) would turn Prussia into a great power.
Savoy-Piemont similarly established a standing army and was a desired partner in coalition warfare, in most cases a Habsburg ally. In 1720 Emperor Charles VI. promoted Duke Victor Amadeus II. of Savoy-Piemont King Victor Amadeus II. of Sardinia.
The medium-size German county of Hessen-Kassel established a small, but well-trained standing army. There was little chance she could be used to further the expansion of the territory, as civil wars within the Holy Roman Empire, in the century following the 30 Years' War, did not occur. The Hessian army only was useful as a part of larger coalition forces. The county of Hessen was hardly able to finance her army; Hessen-Kassel balanced her budgets by renting her regiments to foreign powers who paid for the services. The most famous case of Hessians fighting for a foreign power is the War of American Independence 1778-1783. The payment the Count of Hessen-Kassel received was managed by Meyer Amschel Rothschild, who was so successful in his investments that he founded a financial family empire.

Countries not ruled absolute - the United Kingdom, the Dutch Republic, Venice, Poland - were unwilling ro bear the costs of a standing army. The United Kingdom, as an island nation, could manage without; only Hannover, in Dynastic Union with England 1714-1837, could not be defended. Poland in 1772-1795 was erased from the map in a series of partitions; in 1797 Napoleon Bonaparte and the Austrians partitioned Venice. In 1787 the Dutch Republic could not prevent a Prussian troop contingent from invading the country and imposing absolute rule of the stadholder.

The Marshall Vauban Website, posted by Chris Jones

This page is part of World History at KMLA
First posted on September 18th 2003, last revised on November 14th 2004

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