Thursday, April 4, 2019

The Army of the United Provinces ... 1660-1687: Book Review

I can't recall ever anticipating a publication more than this issue from the Hellion & Company's Century of the Soldier series. I think I experienced something similar to that generation who grew up with J.K.Rowling's Harry Potter novels as they queued excitedly for each subsequent release.

Researched, written and illustrated by Bruno Mugnai; this first volume attempts to do more than just plug a gap - it moves into a veritable void. For this reason alone I admire the effort immensely. Following on from Olaf van Nimwegan's The Dutch Army and the Military Revolutions 1588-1688 (2010), this is a military history which concentrates its subject matter on the Franco-Dutch Wars of the 1670s and for this it very much stands alone.

Becoming aware of its impending publication (and to be sure - my purchase and it's eventual delivery into my clutches) I forestalled my revised United Provinces army lists for Black Powder to ensure reference to it.

My first impression was the weight of the volume which was surprising for a paperback. Printed on heavy gloss paper (256 pages), the publishers have spared little expense in production quality. Included are many images and reproduced artistic works which would have benefited from more being in colour. After a rapid leaf through the pages, I set to digestion.

In the introduction Bruno Mugnai makes reference to his editor who he credits with polishing his Italian English. Whilst I am reticent to criticize this publication in any way, there are numerous (many) but not undecipherable translation, grammatical and syntax errors. As English is not the Italian authors first language this is easily understood and forgiven. There nevertheless remain other basic proofing mistakes and typographical errors and on the whole several sentences need to be re-read to be properly understood which does makes it harder going. I hope that should this issue be successful enough to warrant a second print-run (which I hope) a second, more thorough edit takes place. Having noted these, I'm more concerned with the content so let's move on.

It remains to be seen how subsequent volumes in this particular series will follow but this first volume contains a comprehensive treatment on the evolution of the standing army which forms the basis for the innovations in warfare for the latter part of the 17th century. Because of this, I suspect this work will form an important basis for understanding subsequent volumes in the series regardless of the nationality of the subjects.

The author's style and approach is comprehensively academic and fully referenced. The structure of the treatment is akin to an Osprey publication on steroids. It exceeds the more basic requirements of a wargamer in search of background, organisation, uniforms and colours but nevertheless covers these requirements admirably.

Moving from the evolution in Europe of standing armies the treatment passes nicely into the developing army of the Netherlands through the formation of the Republic and into the 'Golden Age'. It goes into considerable detail in discussing the political and economic arrangements for this uniquely 'federal' army and how the political tug-of-war between the Provinces and the Republic as well as the Republic and the Monarchists affected and was reflected in the development of the army.

Bruno Mugnai moves to the army structure and then onto a thorough precis of the army on campaign covering the wars against Cologne and Munster  (1660-64) the second Anglo-Dutch War and more importantly for me, the Franco-Dutch War (1672-8).

Of specific interest to the miniature wargamer and historical re-enactor alike is part 4, Uniforms, Equipment and Ensigns (pages 171-211). This part is broken down into Infantry, Cavalry, Artillery, Militia and Ensigns (colours or flags). Tied to the state funding or re-reimbursement of military expenses of the standing army is the fact that this period certainly did herald the adoption of the uniform. Of this there is certainty and in making the case beyond a reasonable doubt it reflects poorly to my mind on previous assertions to the contrary which appear to have been little more than convenient conclusions born of limited research. What cannot be comprehensively deduced; however, is a complete picture of every regiment's uniforms until after the Franco-Dutch War ... but it takes us a lot closer.

The narrative cross references the sources of the research, includes many highlighted pictorial references and well illustrates the depth of Bruno Mugnai's painstaking research. I was dismayed and disgusted to learn of the destruction of the Dutch National Military Museum in 1944 and with it over 150,000 texts which we would otherwise have benefited from today. It serves as a stark reminder that particularly in light of the destructive nature of warfare in the 20th and 21st centuries, armed conflict should be relegated to history. But I digress. It is hard to conceive of a more valuable contribution to unraveling this slice of the past.

I do feel that the subject of the artillery was glossed over in comparison to the other arms of service, perhaps because of its civilian and contractual nature. We are provided with only one page of text on its organisation. The adoption, for example, of the 3lb short/medium and long ordinance is explained away as "following the Swedish pattern" with no further elaboration. The Sweedish reforms are those of Gustavus Adolphus' artillery doctrine and ranged from development of the cartridge, lighter design, improved mobility of carriages and attachment of battalion guns. Given the remark relates to the 3lb ordinance the reader is forced to assume that it at least relates to the employment of battalion guns.

The inclusion of several colour plates for ensigns is most useful but of special note are the two appendices. The first is army lists and orders of battle for Senneffe, the Siege of Grave, the Battle of Mont Cassel, muster records and known strengths. The second appendix is as comprehensive a list of known details to-date for companies, squadrons and regiments across the period of this book including uniform details where known. In many ways, through these appendices, Bruno Mugnai has left his best til last. These references alone justify the purchase price (which is very reasonable all the same).

This book is simply a must have break-through for everyone interested in this period and whilst not without faults, I can't recommend it highly enough. I'd also like to draw everyone's attention to the efforts of fellow blogger and 17th century aficionado Edwin Groot whose tireless dedication to this period is acknowledged by Bruno Mugnai. If you don't already, you really should follow his immense blog and find his Anno Domini 1672 Facebook page.

In due course I will cross reference my soon to be amended army lists for Seneffe and the United Provinces army for Black Powder. I remain content to proceed with my concept for wargaming this period without colour but this work would have had me follow a different direction had it been released sooner.  Then again, who knows ... maybe one day.


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