Dissertation musings…medieval England, military revolutions, and RMA’s

That last stands for “revolution in military affairs,” which is not a “military revolution”–Cliff Rogers spells out the differences quite clearly in his article ” ‘Military revolutions’ and ‘revolutions in military affairs’: a historian’s perspective.” A military revolution has broad consequences for society in general–it’s what makes historians outside the military field interested. A revolution in military affairs is generally restricted in its impact to the field of military endeavor. That’s a short version, anyway. I wonder occasionally if that’s a bit teleological, since we’re defining terms by the perceived effects of imprecise phenomena.  But I guess you have to start somewhere…

The point of all this? Well, as I continue to work on chapters 1 and 4 (there is logic here, which I’m not going into right now), I’m starting to realize that my study is actually doing more than its already ambitious object of critiquing social/political narratives through the military narrative. [short version, how did Edward III’s reign look from the periphery, rather than the center?] It’s also positioning itself more and more as a case study in how, and to what extent, did 14th-century England experience a “revolution in military affairs,” as Dr. Rogers has written in another article, “As if a new sun had arisen”: England’s fourteenth-century RMA,” originally published in The Dynamics of Military Revolution, 1300-2050, ed. Knox and Murray. Many chroniclers and thoughtful men of letters have recorded their surprise at England’s great military fortune under Edward III, until we get to Walsingham’s rather fulsome praise, “it seemed to the English almost as if a new sun had arisen, because of…the glory of their victories.”

What was so apparent to contemporaries cannot be dismissed lightly. And I’m realizing more and more that by tracing a military community from this time of inferiority (not just in performance, but apparently also in weapons and armor) to its time of triumph, I’m in a great position to really examine the particulars of this “RMA.” After all, the same men who fought under Edward III fought under his father, to a very large degree. They were not without extensive experience in war, which they brought to Edward’s new campaigns in Scotland and France. Did they wind up changing their tactics, equipment, and outlook that completely?  Or were they as unsuccessful as contemporaries seem to think they were?  This takes us to another level of analysis for success or failure in these wars, as we have to somehow develop a methodology for assessing where to look for causation, and also to determine how different levels of war (tactical, operational, strategic) may have influenced each other, so that, say, Robert Morle’s success at Boroughbridge in 1322 was not influenced by better armor or tactics, while his success at Halidon Hill in 1333 was.  Or was it…

Anyway, just some random thoughts. I certainly didn’t expect to be addressing these issues when I started this project, but it just gets more and more interesting…