05 July 2012

The Italian Wars

Pearson  has been making a real contribution to accessible scholarship with its Early Modern Wars in Perspective series; this book keeps up the high standard.

In the introduction, Christine Shaw (The Politics of Exile in Renaissance Italy) describes how she was brought on board to work with Michael Mallett (The Military Organisation of a Renaissance State with JR Hale, Mercenaries and their Masters, and many others over a long career) to complete this work.  While Mallett passed away before they could work together, she (with full support from his family) brought the work to completion.

Everyone who knows about the late Italian (or early northern) renaissance knows a bit about the Italian wars.  The battles are a large chapter in Oman's History of the Art of War in the Sixteenth Century, along with more recent "battle studies" such as Arnold's The Renaissance at War or Osprey's Campaign Series books on Pavia and Fornovo.  The period is a favorite of film and television as well.  Indeed, for a war that was not fought in English the anglo enthusiast has been amazing well served.  Up until now, however, we have lacked a single modern survey in English to place the whole series of wars in context.

That drought is over.  Shaw has produced a complete and solid narrative history that provides a complete background for the whole period, divided into chapters around the strategic themes that unfolded as the wars progressed and evolved.  In addition to the narrative we are provided with solid analysis.  Chapters on the changes in military operations and military recruitment follow the chapter on Pavia and its aftermath (the traditional place to take a big, deep breath) and a final chapter on the results of the wars.  For me, I think this last chapter was the most enlightening since the conventional conclusion for the period is "and then Italy got boring unless you talk about Galileo".

This is not the engaging, personal history of  Tuchman or Wedgwood.  While it is accessible to the amateur it is a first and foremost  a work of professional scholarship.  It is, on the other hand, superbly clean, readable prose well crafted for a 21st century audience.  This would be an excellent reference for an undergraduate or even an advance high-school research paper but it will also doubtless be used by professional historians as the go-to survey work for background reference.

Books in the series, sadly, seldom stay in print long so if you care about the topic for goodness sakes buy it now; university acquisitions are not what they used to be.

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