Battle of Hohenfriedberg – Attack of Prussian Infantry, 4 June 1745, by Carl Röchling.

In contrast to the absolutism of the kingly state, the territorial state was a state of definite limits. We have seen this to be the case in the composition and maintenance of its armies. The governments of territorial states were limited in the revenue base they could derive from their subjects because the territorial state depended for its legitimacy on a compact with the estates of the realm, and not on the axiomatic dynastic rights of an absolute ruler. Nor could these governments draw on the entire human resources of the state: typically the aristocracy was privileged to officer the army and the state. (The kingly state was more meritocratic in this respect.) The people, insofar as they were a material factor in the strategic calculations of the territorial state, were simply taxable assets to be encouraged, and not too much disturbed, by the occasional warfare of the state. Frederick the Great wrote that he “wanted to fight [his] wars without the peasant behind his plow and the townsman in his shop even being aware of them.” The role of the citizen did not require that he take part in war. Sound political economy counseled that armies should be composed of men who were the least necessary, economically, to the well-being of the state. The aristocratic officer corps scarcely demanded from the marginal persons they commanded any of the characteristics of esprit that the officers expected of themselves. Rather they relied on good physical care, medical attention, adequate housing, and regular pay to motivate their troops. The rise of large standing armies under the kingly state had resulted in the systematic use of billeting. Troops were assigned to private houses, taverns, and stables. After the Seven Years’ War, however, the new territorial states of Europe increasingly housed their forces in barracks, isolated from the surrounding populations. It was expected that enlisted men would freely desert if allowed to reconnoiter in small parties and that both officers and men would change sides if presented with the promise of more attractive employment.

Professional armies were expensive and the extensive drill required by eighteenth century tactics meant that the territorial state had a great investment in each soldier. Large-scale pitched battles were seldom risked. Marshal Saxe in his Reveries de Guerre (1732) made the much-quoted statement: “I do not favor pitched battles, especially at the beginning of a war, and I am convinced that a skillful general could make war all his life without being forced into one.” Armies in Europe at this time became, in Clausewitz’s words, like “a State within a State, in which the element of violence gradually faded away.”

The delimited territorial state thus produced a delimited warfare, fought with limited means for limited objectives. Wars of position prevailed over wars of attrition, and precisely because battles were so deadly they were largely avoided and were not decisive when they occurred. Thus even though there were technological breakthroughs, particularly in the ability to deliver firepower, and therefore casualty rates rose appreciably during this period, the abundant possibilities for decisive military action ironically prevented the hegemony of any one state. Small sovereignties that had been active participants in earlier eras however—Cologne, Wurtemberg, Münster, Bremen, Genoa, Hesse—virtually disappeared. War became an activity of the Great Powers because only they could control territory significant enough to finance its defense in an era in which territory itself was the medium of exchange of power.

Prior to the arrival of the territorial state, rights of succession had been the principal source of interstate dispute. These were legal rights, based on ancient titles, marriages, cessions, that didn’t merely provide the monarch with a patrimony, but established his right to rule. As Holsti has put it, “The territories that reverted to a prince, king or queen were less significant than the rights that inhered in them.” But in the eighteenth century, concerns for succession began to relate less to the right to rule—who had the better claim to succeed—than to the power to control territory. To paraphrase Luard slightly, control over territory no longer resulted from a credible claim; the claim resulted from a credible control over territory. We have only to compare the careful preparations of Louis XIV to place a Bourbon prince on the throne of Spain—the thwarted dowry, the Spanish wife, the secret agreement with the other principal contending family—with Frederick’s casual pretexts regarding his Silesian claims. Once he decided to move against Austria, Frederick directed a subordinate to work up a case that Silesia really belonged to Prussia; on being presented with the results, Frederick replied with amusement that the official had proved to be a good charlatan.

Indeed even in the selection of monarchs, sorting out the dynastic priority among competing legal claims became subordinated to aligning the decision with overriding strategic purposes. Dynasts themselves in this era ceased to think of territory in terms of family patrimony but rather as a commodity—the currency of great power relations that it had become. Dynastic rights were now fig leaves for territorial claims.

This was the era of the great territorial partitions: in 1772 of Poland by Russia, Austria, and Prussia; in 1773, of Swedish possessions by Russia, Denmark, and Prussia. Territory could be traded to avoid or terminate a war, disregarding entirely its legal associations with family compacts, marriages, and titles. In place of the princely pursuit of titles and their appurtenant rights, once the coin of European patrimonial conflict, states struggled to gain or hold territory per se. Territorial conflicts became the chief source of war in this period, not simply because land was essential to national power—providing a population from which to conscript, a base of revenue and trade—for this had always been the case, but rather because legitimacy too now came from the sheer control of territory. A state that could consolidate its holdings, shedding noncontiguous family properties that were vulnerable to predation, could build itself a strategic position of relative invulnerability, and this alone was enough to assure its position among the other powers of Europe. Otherwise, it faced steady losses of its territory, even the threat of partition by a coalition. The balance of military technology and tactics was such that no state could hope for the wholesale patrilineal annexation of another—the vindication of a dynastic claim—yet every state was vulnerable to having a province picked off at its borders. The stereotypical view of eighteenth century conflict as indecisive reflects, as Jeremy Black effectively showed, an oversimplification of the political context.

18th century conflicts do appear inconclusive because they were frequently coalition conflicts and… coalition warfare could inhibit a determination to achieve decisive results. [Moreover] governments did not necessarily wish to make their allies too powerful by weakening their rivals excessively.

This reticence lay in the nature of the constitutional basis for the territorial state and not in a lack of decisive military technology or ambition.

Pikemen had been hitherto used to protect musketeers from attack by cavalry and by other pikemen; now bayonets fulfilled this role and more because they added a firepower the pike could not provide. It had always been difficult to maintain the necessary ratio between pikemen and musketeers once a battle began; the bayonet effectively solved this problem. The deployment of the flintlock musket, in which powder was ignited by a spark caused by the striking of flint on steel, produced a lighter, more reliable weapon that, with the aid of cartridges, doubled the rate of fire. Both of these changes swept through the armies of Europe: Prussia adopted the bayonet in 1689, one year after Louvois had instructed Vauban to produce a prototype; Denmark followed suit in 1690. At the battle of Fleurus that year some Imperial units attracted universal attention when they repulsed repeated French cavalry charges though unsupported by pikemen and armed only with muskets. The French abandoned the pike in 1703, the British the next year. The Austrians adopted the flintlock in 1689, the Swedes in 1696, the Danes and the British by 1700.

From the late seventeenth century onward, especially in Prussia, Holland, and Britain, a new kind of regime was supplanting the king-centered states of which Louis XIV’s was exemplar. The primacy of infantry fire made a well-trained and well-disciplined force more valuable than ever but, constitutionally, the state that fielded that force had to justify doing so on some basis more substantial than the vanity of the monarch. During this period, successful military powers were changing the compact that legitimated the state, and this, in the field relationship I have been describing, led to strategic innovation. The crises of legitimacy that brought William of Orange to the British throne and crushed the reign of James II epitomized this change, but it was going on in many states.

The new order was distinguished by a view of the State as a solar system rather than the reflection of the personality of a sun king. Hume expresses this point of view in his 1753 essay “Commerce,” in which he takes up Machiavelli’s subject, the State, and transforms it into a marveling disquisition on the state as an invisible mechanism, enabling growth and the creation of wealth. No less a champion of this idea, though it may be shocking to say so, was Frederick the Great, who ceaselessly portrayed himself as the servant of the State, frugally husbanding its material assets and prudently attending to the increase of its efficiencies. This era, the Age of the ancien regime—before the dawning of an acute national self-consciousness but after the mannered rejection of the hubristic pyrotechnics of the kingly state—was characterized by the adroit use of strategic and tactical positioning.

Its military aspect was in perfect harmony with the constitutional modesty of its regimes. If, at other turns of the wheel, a strategic innovation or constitutional cataclysm signaled the new era, the introduction of the territorial state came with the exhaustion that followed the end of the vast European civil conflict, the Thirty Years’ War. We can almost date its inception to the beheading of the monarch of the English kingly state, Charles I, in 1649.

The territorial state was characterized by a shift from the monarch-as-embodiment of sovereignty to the monarch as minister of sovereignty. A striking example of this occurred in the well-known “Diplomatic Revolu-tion” of 1748, in which reasons that related entirely to perceptions of the national interests concerned were allowed to predominate over the dynastic traditions of the Bourbon and Habsburg houses, and as a consequence, France and Austria found themselves allies for the first time.

In the period after Utrecht a number of decisive changes occurred, in terms of army size, weapons, and most especially the administration of the armed forces, their training and control by the State. Thus it can be argued that the constitutional imperatives of the territorial state were partly the cause, and not merely the consequences of these changes. The period from 1660 to 1760 saw a significant increase in the number of men permanently under arms in Europe, an increase that is more dramatic once we recall that for most of this period European population figures were static. Greater administrative capability was felt in the field: for example, the Austrian conquest of Hungary from 1683 relied on the creation of a series of magazines. Large-scale mapping took place as surveys grew in importance, an obvious consequence of the territorial state’s preoccupations.

But not every state was able to reconstruct itself along such constitutional lines; in Poland, for example, the nobility was unable to reconcile itself to fidelity to the State as an entity of which the monarch was the first steward, and it simply destroyed the state structure that might otherwise have successfully resisted partition. Everywhere that control of the troops—everywhere the state monopoly on legitimate violence—fell from the hands of the State, the advantages of this military revolution eluded the country, as happened in Sweden and Hungary. Yet even the rigid stability of the successful territorial states would soon be shaken by a new, more dynamic constitutional form and its accompanying strategic whirlwind.


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