Book Review: The Business of War: Military Enterprise and Military Revolution in Early Modern Europe


by David Parrott

Cambridge University Press, 2012. Pp. xviiii, 420. Illus., maps, notes, biblio., index. $27.99. ISBN: 0521735580

A ground breaking study of mercenaries and military entrepreneurs in early modern Europe.  

Specializing in early modern European military history, Dr. Parrott (New College, Oxford), author of Richelius's Army: War, Government, and Society in France, 1624-1642, has been influential in the recent trend in viewing mercenaries and military entrepreneurs not as gangs of thugs-for-hire available to states unwilling to maintain armies of their own, but rather as important players in the development of modern military institutions.  His short point is that mercenaries, whether the common soldier toting a pike or his commander negotiating a contract, were the professional soldiers of their times in an era when state apparatus, even that of major players, such as France or the Hapsburgs, was so administratively weak as to obviate the maintenance of substantial standing forces.  Parrott notes that between about the mid-fifteenth through the mid-seventeenth centuries mercenaries and military entrepreneurs such as the Albrecht von Wallenstein, with his many regiments and far-flung network of mines, arsenals, farms, and more, helped lay the foundations for the military institutions that the great powers would create as their bureaucratic institutions developed, with whole bands of mercenaries often passing into the new regular armies (though he does not mention it, a process reflected in the traditional practice of “purchase” to secure commissions even as late at the nineteenth century). 

Parrott spends about a third of the book looking at the period from the mid-fifteenth to the early seventeenth century, and then plunges into the Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648), which arguably was the acme of the age of the mercenary and the military the era of the military entrepreneur.  The balance of the book examines the work of the military entrepreneurs during that protracted struggle, the conduct of operations, with many at times surprising examples, and how these experiences underpinned the rise of standing armies later in the Seventeenth Century.  In his conclusions, Parrott make some interesting comparisons between the military entrepreneurs of the Seventeenth Century and the newer ones of the Twenty-first, with the rise of the private security and military corporations that have been playing not always laudable roles in recent conflicts. 

The Business of War is an important read for those interested in mercs, the Thirty Years War, the rise of modern military institutions, and the new era of private military institutions.


Reviewer: A. A. Nofi, Review Editor   

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