A sergeant in motion outranks a lieutenant who doesn’t know what’s going on.


Bayonets for hire : mercenaries at war, 1550-1789  William Urban ; foreword by William H. McNeill  London : Greenhill, 2007  Hardcover. 1st ed. 304 p., [16] p. of plates : ill., maps. ports. ; 25 cm. Includes bibliographical references (p. 291-294) and index.  Clean, tight and strong binding with clean dust jacket. No highlighting, underlining or marginalia in text. VG/VG 


In this history William Urban takes up the story of mercenaries from 1550 to 1789: from the Wars of Religion to the eve of the French Revolution. The 16th century saw increasing sophistication in European politics and commerce, religious and scientific thought, and military technology. Everywhere professionals became more important and everyone was paying attention to treasury officers. Nothing could be done without money. With money, anything was possible – buying cannons and the neutrality of neighbors, providing troops with food and clothing and most of all convincing men to fight for your cause.


Mercenaries are often considered a marginal phenomenon, but Urban shows that as military professionals they contributed significantly to the development of the modern state. Increasingly not just individual soldiers and officers became mercenaries, but entire armies of well equipped, well trained, and, in time, experienced soldiers were available to friends and allies. By the late-1600s these armies had evolved into large and efficient fighting forces. The infantry were using muskets equipped with bayonets; the engineers were building better fortresses and devising better methods of assaulting them; the cavalry were adjusting to new tactics; the generals learning strategy from service under great field marshals and by reading their books.


By the mid-1700s military service had become a profession. The old-fashioned mercenary was less common, but he would not disappear until swept away by the volunteer armies of the age of revolution when money gave way, temporarily, to patriotism or ideology – if only as a recruiting tool – but we seem to have come full circle where the idealists hire mercenaries and, in the form of special forces, the nation states seem to maintain their own mercenary armies.



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