Furies: War in Europe, 1450–1700

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9781608196180: Furies: War in Europe, 1450–1700
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We think of the Renaissance as a shining era of human achievement-a pinnacle of artistic genius and humanist brilliance, the time of Shakespeare, Michelangelo, and Montaigne. Yet it was also an age of constant, harrowing warfare. Armies, not philosophers, shaped the face of Europe as modern nation-states emerged from feudal society. In Furies, one of the leading scholars of Renaissance history captures the dark reality of the period in a gripping narrative mosaic.

As Lauro Martines shows us, “total war” was no twentieth-century innovation. These conflicts spared no civilians in their path. A Renaissance army was a mobile city-indeed, a force of twenty thousand or forty thousand men was larger than many cities of the day. And it was a monster, devouring food and supplies for miles around. It menaced towns and the countryside-and itself-with famine and disease, often more lethal than combat. Fighting itself was savage, its violence increased by the use of newly invented weapons, from muskets to mortars.

For centuries, notes Martines, the history of this period has favored diplomacy, “high politics,” and military tactics. Furies puts us on the front lines of battle, and on the streets of cities under siege, to reveal what Europe's wars meant to the men and women who endured them.

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About the Author:

Lauro Martines is one of the world's foremost historians of the Italian Renaissance and early modern Europe. He is the author of nine books, most recently the critically acclaimed Fire in the City: Savonarola and the Struggle for Renaissance Florence and April Blood: Florence and the Plot Against the Medici. Born in Chicago, he was a professor of history at UCLA. He now lives in London with his wife, the novelist Julia O'Faolain.

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Unlucky were civilians of early modern Europe in the path of an army on the march or in a city under siege. No safer were soldiers, more apt to die from disease and starvation than battle. Vignettes of horror from the era’s maelstroms, grandly titled the Thirty Years’ War or the Dutch Revolt, abound in Martines’ treatment, which tries to raise ethical questions about panoramas of war. Discounting princes’ justifications for war, which come across as aristocratic brigandage in his text, Martines sets aside conventional military history of campaigns and leaders to show the hand of Mars on the peasants and villagers it touched. It coerced them into armies, but Mars’ royal sponsors failed to render promised pay and supplies. To square accounts, their generals instead let soldiers pillage the countryside and sack cities, examples Martines draws from eyewitnesses to plunder, arson, and killing. Ending by asking historians—he is a specialist on Renaissance Florence—to consider morality in their political and military works about the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, Martines poises an agenda atop graphic historical envisioning of what he decries. --Gilbert Taylor

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