Sansoucci

Sansoucci

“Battles are the principal milestones in secular history.

Modern opinion resents this uninspiring truth, and historians often treat the decisions of the field as incidents in the drama of politics and diplomacy. But great battles, won or lost, change the entire course of events, create new standards of values, new moods, new atmospheres, in armies and in nations, to which all must conform.”

Marlborough, His Life and Times p 381 Vol 2 (1936)

“A single glass of champagne imparts a feeling of exhilaration. The nerves are braced, the imagination is agreeably stirred; the wits become more nimble. A bottle produces the contrary effect. Excess causes a comatose insensibility. So it is with war: and the quality of both is best discovered by sipping.

The Story of the Malakand Field Force (1916)

Winston S Churchill

With Churchill’s admonishments before us, this website explores the wars of European history between 1618 to 1815 by ‘sipping’ the great battles fought in this period. By both recounting the terrible battles and their context within the wars in which they were fought, the general reader may come to a deeper understanding of why such actions took place in the first place. The wargame alongside each battle is a re-enactment, inasmuch as we adopt the same balance of force used across the same battlefields, with the initial dispositions. Thereafter command and chance of the armies and navies yield their results of victor and vanquished. Via re-enactment by wargames, the reader may once again recall the past in an echo of Petruchio’s cry (The Taming of the Shrew > Act I, scene II).

Have I not heard great ordnance in the field,
And heaven’s artillery thunder in the skies?
Have I not in a pitched battle heard
Loud ‘larums, neighing steeds, and trumpets’ clang?

married to King Richard’s cry at Bosworth (Richard III > Act V, scene IV)

Slave, I have set my life upon a cast,
And I will stand the hazard of the die:

and the even more sombre quote from German Chancellor von Bethmann-Hollweg during the July 1914 crisis

“If the iron dice must roll, may God help us.”

The descriptions accompanying each wargame give such an echo of the day, mixed with a little Olympian observation from a cast of Roman Gods and Goddesses drawn especially for the website by the author.

This nod to Homer’s Illiad and Virgil’s Aeneid is also a nod to our deeper past; if you scratch the surface off modern Western civilisation, you’ll quickly find the granite of Rome reflected in Classical Greek sunlight. This was keenly understood in the period under consideration where classicism redux resounded with Christian verisimilitude in a Baroque blend. In turn this was reforged by Neo-Classicism towards the end of eighteenth century as the great republics of America and France were founded in the spirit of Athenian democracy and Roman virtue.

The title for the webite comes from two sources. The first is attributed to Julius Caesar, the second to von Clausewitz.

Julius Caesar, quoted by Suetonius, said

‘Caesar exclaimed: “Let us accept this as a sign from the Gods, and follow where they beckon, in vengeance on our double-dealing enemies. The die is cast (iacta alea est).” ‘

as he crossed with his army the River Rubicon in northern Italy on January 10, 49 BC, to start the Civil war against Pompey, which eventually gave him absolute control of Rome.

Von Clausewitz, On War

War is the province of danger, and therefore courage above all things is the first quality of a warrior… War is the province of physical exertion and suffering… War is the realm of chance. No other human activity gives it greater scope: no other has such incessant uncertainty of every circumstance, and derails the course of events…

The theme of chance intervening in war was echoed by Napoleon (see David Chandler, Campaigns of Napoleon.)

“Military science consists in calculating all the chances accurately  in the first place, and then giving accident exactly, almost mathematically, its place in one’s calculations.  It is upon this point that one must not deceive oneself, and yet a decimal more or less may change all.  Now this apportioning of accident and science cannot get into any head except that of a genius… Accident, hazard, chance, call it what you may, a mystery to ordinary minds becomes a reality to superior men. “

Mme C de Remusat, Memoirs 1802-08 (London: 1895, p135.

Perhaps the sentiments are even older.

‘I returned, and saw under the sun, that the race [is] not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all.’

Ecclesiastes 9:11 Geneva Study Bible, 1599

Chance or Providence? The choice is yours.

The great European conflicts during the period 1615 to 1815, were caused by many factors.  Politics was in the hands of a governing class, which was mostly monarchical, tied to the ownership of land.  Over the centuries, intermarriage between this ruling elite caused complex loyalties and tensions.

Religion

Power Politics

Dynasty

interacted, it made them the underlying cause for many of the conflicts during this two century time period.  Thus peace was a rare occurrence.

Despite this, it also marked the emergence of societies based on unquestioning faith, through the age of enlightenment to the eventual rebirth of liberty and democracy.

1615 – 1665

Governed by religious & dynastic tensions, it marked the highpoint in the control of the world by the Habsburgs in Spain and the Holy Roman Empire. Militarily, the era of pike and musket.  At sea, the height of Dutch naval power.

1665 – 1715

France under the control of Louis XIV grew in aspiration and control to fill the void left by the declining Spanish.  The era is marked by his wars, culminating in the dynastic question of the war of the Spanish Succession.  To the North, Sweden’s empire under Charles XII waxed and waned in the Great Northern War.

Militarily, this was the era of evolution from pike and musket to the linear musket formations that dominated 18th C warfare.  At sea, it was the period of challenge to Dutch naval power, from the growing French and British navies.

1715 – 1765

The era of further dynastic disputes (Austrian Succession), the rise of Prussia under Frederick the Great and Russia under Peter the Great and Catherine the Great.

Militarily, this was the highpoint of the era of linear musket formations. At sea, it marks the steady rise of British naval power.

1765 -1815

The era of revolutions, the rebirth of Democracy and Republicanism, leading in Europe to the rise and fall of Emperor Napoleon I and the height of French power.

Militarily, the evolution from linear  musket formations to shock columns, and the interweaving of infantry, cavalry and artillery into new forms of attack.  An era of total warfare in wars of national survival.  At sea, the era of the peak of British naval power in the age of  sail.