First of all let me apologise for the long gap between posts. Life sometimes has an unfortunate habit of interfering with our wargaming activities, but I’m happy to say that I now have plenty of time once again for the hobby and will be posting here on a regular basis.
And so to The Art Of War In Italy. Although Renaissance warfare is one of my main areas of wargaming interest, I hesitated about buying a copy of this book…even when Caliver Books republished it at a more reasonable cost than the mega-bucks being asked for by Amazon resellers and their ilk. After all, we’re talking about an academic thesis published in 1920, and I hesitated to shell out twenty quid for what I thought might turn out to be a very dry read. On the other hand, I’d often seen it cited as the only English language study devoted entirely to the Italian Wars, and generally lionised by devotees of the period. So I took the plunge and ordered it just before Christmas.
It turns out that Taylor is a very engaging writer. The book is clear and well-written, and easily stands comparison stylistically with modern writing. There is none of the stodginess that Charles Oman’s writing occasionally slips into. The Art Of War In Italy is an overview rather than a blow by blow account, with chapters on Strategy, Infantry, Cavalry, Artillery, Tactics, Fortification and Siegecraft, and Military Writers. There is an appendix giving a detailed account of the battle of Ravenna, and short pieces on some of the other major battles in the section on Tactics.
I’m strictly an amateur enthusiast of the period, and I wouldn’t presume to take a view of the finer points of Taylor’s thesis. But there is a great deal of useful material here for the wargamer, as well as fascinating analyses of some of the more contentious aspects of the wars. For instance Taylor takes a more balanced view of Machiavelli than Oman, arguing that although his prognostications on the auxiliary role of gunpowder weapons turned out to be way off target, some of his other observations have stood the test of time. Machiavelli correctly predicted that the infantry arm would come to take an increasingly important position in the warfare of his day; and he developed an innovative view of warfare as a continuation of politics and statecraft.
Taylor also comments on some of the minor controversies of the wars. In his analysis of Ravenna, for example, he devotes a couple of pages to the controversial subject of ‘Navarro’s carts’ – two wheeled vehicles mounted with heavy arquebuses and protected at their front by spears and scythes. His conclusion is thought-provoking:
“They represent an early attempt to solve the problem of manoeuvring heavy arquebuses in battle. This was…one of the most pressing military problems of the day… Navarro’s carts were a stage in the arrival of an effective combination of missile with shock action in infantry tactics. The carts themselves represent the part played later by the fork-shaped rest: the spears and scythes represent the pikemen and men-at-arms who protected and co-operated with Pescara’s musketeers at the Sesia and at Pavia.”
Whether modern historians would agree with this generous interpretation of Navarro’s experiment is another matter, but it is indicative of Taylor’s methodical and thoughtful approach that he refuses to dismiss out of hand the possibility that Navarro may have been applying his inventive mind to a real tactical problem of the day.
I’d recommend this book without hesitation to anyone who wishes to develop their background knowledge of the Italian Wars. Apart from anything else, and somewhat against my own expectations, it’s a very good read!
Thanks to Nik over at the Yahoo RenWars Group for pointing out that there is an online/PDF version of the text available here. It would probably have saved me a few bob if I’d known that a couple of months ago! On the other hand it’s a nice book to have in my collection, so I don’t regret paying for a printed hardback copy. Well, not much anyway ;o)