War and Society in Renaissance Europe 1450-1620

J.R. Hale’s book, War and Society in Renaissance Europe 1450-1620, shows that the purpose of wars in Renaissance Europe was not to gain superiority over other people, but to gain wealth and power. Throughout the book the main theme was how the ending of a war and the beginning of another war affected society. Hale divided the book into three main parts: analysis of military reformation, the political and socioeconomic impact of the 100 years war on Renaissance Europe, and the impact of war on common life. For the most part the book’s main purpose was to analyze not only the effects of war on the common people and Europe.

J.R. Hale attended Jesus College, Oxford, where he obtained his bachelors (1948) and masters (1953) degrees. He then moved to the United States where he attended Johns Hopkins University and Harvard. He was a Fellow in the British Academy and an Emeritus Professor of Italian History at University College, London. This is where he became the head of the Italian Department from 1970 until he retired in 1988. Soon after he became the first history professor at Warwick University in Coventry, England. He taught at many universities including the American universities Cornell, and U.C. Berkeley. Among the many books he wrote, his most well-known was Civilization of Europe in the Renaissance.

The war caused a division between religious and political institutions that had never existed before to this extent. This divided not only the military, but the common people had to choose between Church of England and Rome. Do they go with the Church of England or Rome? Hale’s book was way above this reviewer’s level of expertise because it was written for scholars in need of higher level analysis of a complicated part of European history. As far as one can see, the book is straight-forward and is well organized as was stated at the beginning of this paper. Hale delved expertly into the details of the causes and effects of war during the Renaissance. The bibliography is extensive and Hale backs up the content of his book. In fact, it would seem that Hale took some of the information and came up with many original ideas. These new ideas can found in other books written after Hale’s book was published that rely on his ideas for the bases of their own books. It appears that the majority of the bibliography comes from secondary sources with a few primary sources mixed in.

As stated before, Hale sets in detail the effects of war on society. In fact, he begins with a broad overview about the effects of war on the economy, nobility, and the common man. He starts out the book with a broad overview of why there were wars. This is meant as a preface to the rest of the book. He writes about wars with the bases in religion. Hale explains clearly the importance of the clergy during war time as it was necessary for the king to have the clergy’s backing to support his causes. Hale starts with the start of the Holy Wars and the Crusades and how wars evolved throughout medieval times and into the Renaissance. At this point in history, the people still looked up to the clergy. Religion was still central in everyone’s lives. Hale continues to explain the importance of the 2nd Estate for the king’s war efforts. The king relied on the aristocracy not only for monetary reasons but also for their leadership to organize and lead the troops.
The second chapter of the book is about the military reformation: How the troops that were raised in the 1300’s to the 1400’s changed gradually. The king needed the aristocracy for their leadership but it would not come at great cost. The nobility wanted their due. Throughout the chapter it is eventually stated that the armies in the late 1500’s were of a more permanent type. This facts in this chapter shows, in this reviewer’s opinion, that very little of the chapter is based on the author’s bias. The information is corroborated through other works including, Institutions Militaires de la France Avant les Armees Permanentes.

The next chapter went into more detail about how recruitment was influenced by the 2nd Estate- the aristocracy. The main idea continues to mention the problem in numbers and how difficult it was to raise a proper militia. There was always a danger of hiring the more dangerous mercenaries. The aristocracy hired the militia. Hale then states that because there was a limit to how many mercenaries they could hire, they forced the 3rd Estate (the commoners who were still tenants and/or servants) to serve in the local militia. This led to a draft of sorts that was called “conscription.” Most of Hale’s sources agreed that this is a well-known fact. Most of the chapter is focused on the ability to raise a proper militia. Some of the noblemen who had many that served them could easily have many numbers that were conscripted. The opposite was true of the smaller landowners who had quite a difficult time raising proper numbers.

More importantly due to the small numbers that small landowners had, the landowners forced the tenant farmers to join their personal armies. The Hundred Years War caused these farmers to change, and they slowly became loyal to the nation rather than the landowners. This effect in turn caused the nation-statehood society to form. The people at the beginning of the war were loyal to their feudal lords regardless of what happened. The Hundred Years War caused them to change, and they also slowly became loyal to their nation rather than the landowners. This caused a division between religious and political institutions that had never existed before to this extent that divided not only the military, but made the common people have to pick a side, the Church of England or Rome. This idea reemphasizes with Chapter Seven where Hale discusses at length the effect of the war on the subjects. The Hundred Years War was sporadic; on the other hand, the wars that resulted from this conflict pervaded daily life. According to Hale, “the most drastic and direct civilian confrontation with the military was the siege” (Hale 191). Therefore, reasoning behind this is, if the civilians were not in a walled city, the military took everything. If the citizens were in a walled city, they had a much better chance of defeating the military. The thesis of this chapter was that people invented an enemy to keep the city together. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it (if someone who remembers the weapons of mass destruction in the Iraq this reviewer War)?

The final section of the book deals with the socioeconomic impact of the war on the commoners and military. Hale goes on to explain how the funding of the wars was raised. This included the idea of raising taxes and bonds. This in turn caused the rise of the European banks; the most famous perhaps would be the family of the Medici’s. The Medic this reviewer family was perhaps the most powerful banking family in Renaissance Europe. Their bank in fact was more of a fortress. Personally, this reviewer cannot say the book is reliable because the writer cannot verify if the information is true do to the fact that the reviewer has no previous knowledge on the subject matter, and can only base ones opinion from what was presented in this book. However, based on the books that came after War and Society in Renaissance Europe 1450-1620 on this subject, none of the information has been refuted.

However, Hale uses the evidence with care and discrimination. He uses it with care and discrimination because, in some instances, Hale states the information may not be reliable. He is so meticulous, even the minutest detail is verified by an outside source. For example, Hale directly quotes Machiavelli’s The Art of War, which is considered by many historians to be a primary source. He is fair to all sides. This is evident because he writes about it from the military point of view and the civilian point of view. He does not write based on what he thinks, he writes based on the fact presented to him by authors on the subject previous to his time. The foundation of the book is “The repercussions of war through society as a whole, and a look at the technical nature of combat” (Hale 45).

The central theme of chapter two is how difficult it was to recruit enough men that were qualified to fight. Throughout the book Hale provided many examples of fairness. For example, “The military tone and effectiveness suffered from three major failings: abuse of the leave system, corruption amongst pay masters, captains, the infrequency of governmental inspections to check, going native on the spot, blending, through cohabitation or marriage, and a second, civilian job” (Hale 134-135). The thesis was well supported by the examples this reviewer has already stated. The author did indeed persuade the reviewer in certain parts, but not in others. For example, in chapter two, the author presents a large amount of information about how the at the beginning of the period between the two wars the armies were less permanent and more of a volunteer army, but by the mid 1500’s the armies became much more permanent. It is difficult to refute the information when the reader was presented with so many concrete examples. However, since the reviewer has such limited background knowledge, there still remain many questions.

The material of the book is presented well because the chapters are well defined. The book was extremely difficult to understand, because it was written for a graduate level class at U.C. Berkeley, not for this high school student. The author does not use simple terms: for example, “Compared with the spasmodic nature of the Hundred Years War, the Wars of Italy and the Netherlands, were almost unremitting molestations of normal life” (Hale 175).

The book did not really contribute to the reader’s understanding of history. This reviewer would recommend this book to another student because it is a wealth of knowledge on the socioeconomic impact of the Hundred Years War on the commoners and the military.

Overall the book was very intriguing. This reviewer learned much about the Hundred Years War. J.R. Hale is perhaps the most prolific writer on Renaissance Europe in the last 50 years. He taught at most of the major Universities in England and The United States. His breadth of knowledge is unsurpassed in scholarly circles. The amount of information presented in this book is overwhelming to the novice historian. This reviewer would have no qualms about referring this book to anybody. In this book the reader learns about the three major effects of war on society. The facts are complex and the only way to understand the information is to find it in other books dealing with the same subject matter.

Gormley, Larry. “The Hundred Years War: Overview.” ehistory (2001): 1-3. Web. 8 Nov 2010. .
Hale , J.R. War and Society in Renaissance Europe 1450-1620. 2nd. Guernsey, Channel Islands, Great Britain: McGill – Queens University Press, 1985. 1-286. Print.
Shrier, Patrick. “The Hundred Years War: An analysis of the Causes and Conduct of the Longest European War.” Military History Online .com (2007): 1-7. Web. 8 Nov 2010. .
John Rigby Hale – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.”Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Wikipedia, 11 Oct. 2010. Web. 26 Dec. 2010.