Law and Authority in Early Modern England
These essays illustrate the relationship between the forms of law and manifestations of authority primarily under James I and Charles I. The multi-faceted nature of this relationship is reflected in studies of judicature and Parliament, of administration and commerce, and central and local government.
Economic power and political power were sometimes compelled to assume the static contours of early modern law and the structures of authority. Beneath the splendor and veneer of the monarchy of Tudor and Stuart England existed social and political tension that threatened the kingdom's stability. By the end of the 1640s, civil wars had been fought and a regicide committed. This collection of essays takes a long view of the breakdown, from the oft-discussed 1590s crisis to the fall of Charles I. The demise of the British monarchy was in many ways the result of a crisis of law and authority.
February 2007, University of Delaware Press. Co-edited with Buchanan Sharp. ISBN 0874139597
" . . . if like John Taylor, the Water-Poet, we accept that the 1630s were indeed a 'brazen age', where public as well as private trust were constantly being put to the test, then the final essay in the collection, by Mark Charles Fissel, aims to show that the disease was entrenched at least as deeply in the head as in the feet of the body politic. In a fascinating and deeply-researched paper on 'Early Stuart Absolutism and the Strangers' Consulage', Fissel traces the levies made by the Crown and its representative on members of the Levant Company trading in Turkey from the late 1620s into the Restoration period. Initially intended as an imposition paid by the merchants in return for protection from the Crown, Charles I allowed 'the strangers' consulage' to be collected as a perk that contributed to the income of his unpaid ambassador and in the 1640s attempted to requisition it to help finance the royalist war effort. But this is to simplify greatly an immensely complicated story of the relationship among government, commercial interests, and private greed. According to Fissel, much of the problem must ultimately be laid at the door of the king, who 'plundered' the Levant merchants in much the same way as he did other business and trading interests through the various royal 'projects' of the 1630s. While many historians might be more cautious than he is about labelling this as 'early Stuart absolutism', Fissel is able to show that by the early 1640s some members of the Levant Company had reason to think that the Sultan was less tyrannical than the King of England. On the other hand, he also demonstrates that first the Long Parliament and then Oliver Cromwell also tried to fill their empty coffers by exploiting the Levant trade. If, as Fissel suggests, this sorry tale provides a background for understanding the 'commercial revolution', it could also be construed as part of the playing out on a larger stage of the 'relationship between the centre and the localities' as English subjects ventured forth over the world in larger numbers and negotiated with the institutions in London, primarily the crown, the legal and jurisdictional frameworks that would underwrite their activities."
- Christopher Brook, "Reviews in History", Institute of Historical Research, London
Amphibious Warfare 1000-1700: Commerce, State Formation and European Expansion
Amphibious warfare was the quintessential warfare of European imperialism, for sea power was required to deliver and sustain land power – not just to and in Africa and the East and West Indies but even in the West European peripheries of the Mediterranean and the Baltic. Commerce did not simply follow conflict, but precipitated it, for trade based on sea power (the prime medium of European expansion) required coastal bases, which had to be obtained and retained; while the possibilities of plunder were sometimes enough to initiate military action by more developed states, which typically involved combined operations. However, the skills of amphibious warfare which the European powers inflicted on the rest of the world were learned and honed in intra-European conflicts, which often reflected Western ideological preoccupations
The volume's essays thus examine the way in which amphibious warfare was conceived, practiced and employed, from the Crusades, through the Commercial Revolution, the first wave of exploration and colonization in the half-century from 1492 and the Price Revolution, up to the nascent Industrial Revolution and the beginnings of a renewed wave of imperialism. By examining not only issues of military technology and strategy, but also of industry and ideology, it provides both a genuine contribution to the historiography of the early modern period, while also capitalizing on existing debates which concern a wide constituency.
Brill Publishing, 2006. Co-edited with D.J.B. Trim. ISBN 9004-13244-9. Now in paperback, 2011, ISBN 978-90-04-20594-9
English Warfare, 1511-1642
English Warfare, 1511 - 1642 chronicles and analyzes military operations from the reign of Henry VIII to the outbreak of the Civil War. The Tudor and Stuart periods laid the foundations of modern English military power. Henry VIII's expeditions, the Elizabethan contest with Catholic Europe, and the subsequent commitment of English troops to the Protestant cause by James I and Charles I, constituted a sustained military experience that shaped English armies for subsequent generations.
Drawing largely from manuscript sources, English Warfare, 1511 - 1642 includes coverage of Henrician military adventures in France, Scotland and Ireland, Elizabeth I's interventions on the continent after 1572, and how arms were perfected, conflict in Ireland, the production and use of artillery, the development of logistics, and early Stuart military actions and the descent into civil war. English Warfare, 1511 - 1642 demolishes the myth of an inexpert English military prior to the upheavals of the 1640s.
English Warfare 1511-1642 broadened the scope of my research chronologically and extended it geographically to continental Europe, especially the wars of religion. A reviewer in the Journal of Military History judged it “a meticulously researched work that is the result of over twenty years labor . . . . which should in particular inspire some serious reconsideration of long accepted views . . . .” (vol. 67, no. 1, January 2003, pp. 224-5). The book was written fairly quickly (five years) and in the midst of numerous academic relocations from 1995-1998 (Indiana-Istanbul-Oxford-Indiana-Augusta). It was a risky work as well, as I had to reach back into the 1490s and use manuscripts from that era as well as more familiar sixteenth and seventeenth century MSS. The most critical review came from an Oxford don who, interestingly, had offered to read the typescript before it went to press. The time constraints of the contract with Routledge, however, prevented me from taking up his gracious offer, and subsequently the would-be reader panned the book for not being ready for publication. Ironically, an historian whose review of The Bishops’ Wars was rather lukewarm was deeply impressed by English Warfare: “In a well-researched and provocative book, Mark Charles Fissel successfully challenges . . . . the notion that England lived blissfully at peace between 1511 and 1642, agreeing with William Shakespeare that ‘this sceptred Isle’ was in truth ‘a seat of Mars’ . . . .Fissel not only tells this story well, but sets it within a broad context . . . . Fissel is to be congratulated for writing a stimulating book on the origins of British military hegemony . . . . [and] . . . . has produced a comprehensive work, which one hoped will stimulate more research . . . .” (The International History Review vol. 24, no. 4, December 2002, pp. 878-9).
Routledge 2001, ISBN 0-415-21482-3; available in paperback and hardback
The Bishops' Wars. Charles I's campaigns against Scotland, 1638-1640
King Charles I twice mobilized England in an attempt to enforce religious uniformity in Scotland, and both times he failed. The result was the resurgence of Parliament as partner in the government of the realm. The Bishops' Wars is an essay in military history in a political context, which analyzes the institutions of war, its financing, and above all the recruitment of forces.
The main purpose of the book is to explain why the King could not and did not reduce Scotland by force. The book is significant in that it demonstrates how the military failures of 1639 and 1640 were determined by Charles's hand. Moreover, it seeks to show how poor strategic and tactical operations, coupled with the political controversy surrounding the war, plagued the English army. In the final measure, it is concluded that the King must bear responsibility for defeat at the hands of the Scots.
The Bishops’ Wars garnered some attention because the book shed light on the origins of the British Civil Wars, particularly in its investigation of Exchequer and Ordnance Office records. According to a Cambridge don, “Fissel’s case is very convincingly argued, and it is based on an impressive range of primary sources, many of which, notably the records of the Exchequer and Ordnance Office, have never before been thoroughly explored for these years” (English Historical Review, September 1996, pp. 283-4)
The depth of the research was noted in virtually all the reviews. The Bishops’ Wars is “a very good book . . . . researched widely in English, Scottish, and American archives” (American Historical Review, April 1996). The London Times Literary Supplement (30 December 1994, p. 25) observed that the present writer’s “work is of value and originality, based as it is on close research in the archives and a complete mastery of the printed sources.” That verdict was seconded by a reviewer in the Journal of Modern History, who wrote, “Fissel sustains his argument with a breadth of research that is truly impressive” (vol. 68, no. 2, June 1996). “Mark Charles Fissel has produced an immensely impressive piece of scholarship based upon a wealth of manuscript and secondary sources” (Albion vol. 27, no. 3, Fall 1995, pp. 488-9).
Cambridge University Press 1994, ISBN 0-521-46686-5
War and government in Britain, 1598-1650
Set within a broad European context, this book breaks new ground in its study of the impact of war on the government and people of late Tudor and early Stuart England. The contributors examine the relationship between war and government in Britain between 1598 and 1650, shedding light on both the causes of the Civil War and the British context of the military Revolution.
The chapters explore subjects as diverse as the Irish campaigns, the Bishops' Wars, naval strategy, local government during the campaigns of the 1620s and the experience of Civil War. The wide geographical and chronological coverage is also matched by a broad analysis of governmental military policy upon society at large. From MPs debating at Whitehall to troopers mutinying in Yorkshire the pervasive effect of war and government on all levels of society is highlighted.
War and government in Britain, 1598 - 1650 extends and clarifies the debates over the relationship between society and war in the eras of the English Civil War and the Military Revolution.
War and Government in Britain “. . . is an admirable effort to bring together recent research . . . . Fissel’s own article on the Short Parliament is in many ways the central piece . . . . Throughout, Fissel does a fine job of coordinating the work of a talented and diverse group of contributors” (Albion). “This well-planned volume consists of five pairs of linked essays focusing on the demands war made on English government and society . . . . [including that of ] Dr Fissel himself [on] the significance of the basic question of consent to taxation and survival of the institution itself in the Short Parliament . . . . [T]here may be the emergence of a new synthesis here . . . . ”(History, February 1993).
Manchester University Press 1991, ISBN 0-7190-2887-6
Works in Progress
Amphibious Warfare: an interpretive history
(now under contract to Naval Institute Press, title tentative)
Co-authored with Dr. David J. Ulbrich (author of 2011’s award-winning Preparing for Victory: Thomas Holcomb and the Making of the Modern Marine Corps) this book fills a niche as an incisive textbook on the development of combined operations from antiquity to the present day.
Contours of Power in Early Modern Britain: Hamilton and the Outbreak of Civil War
This book focuses on the various facets of power in Caroline Britain and asks why power, especially military power, was exercised unsuccessfully by the Crown. The Marquis of Hamilton’s campaign of 1639 (and its context) is an instructive example. Now that 20,000 words are done, contract discussions are underway with a series published by Pickering and Chatto.
The portrait (above) of Mark Fissel was painted by Phillip Morsberger, former William S. Morris Eminent Scholar in Art at Augusta State University, and former Ruskin Master of Drawing of the University of Oxford, England.
English Warfare 1511-1642
MARK CHARLES FISSEL
London and New York: Routledge, 2001.
Pp. xviii, 382. $25.95 (US), paper.
North Carolina State University
International History Review
The English see themselves as having had an especially peaceful history. ‘They were not a martial people,’ wrote Sir Geoffrey Elton, ‘or at least not a military one.’ Their militia has always been satirized as a ‘Dad’s Army’, who, according to the poet John Dryden, were ‘maintained at vast expense / In peace a charge, at war a weak defense’. At best, their regular soldiers – all too often ‘the scum of the earth’ – were lead by plucky gentlemen amateurs who muddled through to victory. And so, after many a reverse, as John Lennon put it, ‘the English Army won the war’. In a well-researched and provocative book, Mark Charles Fissel successfully challenges this view. In the century and a half before the British civil wars, he maintains that the English were extremely good at fighting wars. They did what really mattered: win them. He dispels the notion that England lived blissfully at peace between 1511 and 1642, agreeing with William Shakespeare that ‘this sceptred Isle’ was in truth ‘a seat of Mars’.
Henry VIII, who admitted that his ambition was ‘not merely to equal, but to exceed the glorious deeds of his ancestors’, invaded France in a conscious decision to try and repeat the glories of Poitiers and Agincourt. In this he failed. He also threw away the fruits of the victories his lieutenants, the earl of Surrey and the duke of Norfolk, won against the Scots at Flodden and Solway. Under Edward VI and Mary, England was fairly peaceful, especially when compared to its experience under Elizabeth I, who waged major campaigns to conquer Ireland and to help the Dutch in the Low Countries. Nearly forty thousand English and Welsh troops served in Ireland in the last decade of the queen’s reign, and probably as many served at sea and fought on the Continent – about as high a proportion of the population as went overseas in the Second World War. In contrast, James I was unwarlike. The title he treasured was Rex Pacificus: ‘I am a king who loved peace,’ he boasted. While more bellicose, militarily the reign of his son Charles I was calamitous. Charles’s botched expeditions on the Continent in the 1620s helped provoke a constitutional crisis with parliament, while the failure of his Scots and Irish campaigns (which contrasted with the relatively successful ones of Henry VIII and Elizabeth), provoked the civil wars.
Fissel not only tells this story well, but sets it within a broad context. He deals – inter alia – with supply, training, military theory, impressments, billeting, siege warfare, and ordinance. He makes a valiant, if not wholly successful, effort to write on Scottish and Irish affairs. Perhaps he exaggerates the importance of artillery in this process, but rightly gives the English credit for a skill in waging war on land that has more often been accorded to their prowess at sea. His conclusion is ironic. After demonstrating for over a century how well they could fight, in 1642 the English proved it by turning on each other in a series of civil wars that were, in relative terms, bloodier than any in their history, It was, of course, from these civil wars that the modern military state, which established an empire and was the world’s first superpower, emerged. Fissel is to be congratulated on writing a stimulating book on the origins of British military hegemony. His is not the first on the topic: John Brewer and James Wheeler, for instance, have made important contributions. But Fissel has produced a comprehensive work, which ones hopes will stimulate more research on war, an important, yet sorely neglected force in British History.
Review of English Warfare, 1511-1642 by
This study is excellent both in its range and depth of analysis. Fissel’s impressive footnotes draw extensively on archival material as well as displaying a mastery of the secondary literature in the field. Fissel sets out to discern whether a truly ‘English art of war’ existed between 1511 and 1642; concluding that they did indeed achieve success on their own terms. Fissel effectively demonstrates how England’s geographical and strategic predicament engendered ‘eclecticism and adaptability’ in the English approach to warfare. Fissel convincingly demonstrates that although geographic seclusion to some extent stunted the development of the angle-bastioned fortification in Britain; this ‘did not necessarily prove the inferiority of English warfare against a universal standard dictated by a host of contemporary and somewhat idiosyncratic military theorists.
England’s campaigns against Scotland and France between 1542 and 1547 are identified as clear indicators of the maturity of the English military establishment. Moreover throughout the latter half of the sixteenth century ‘the English became expert at siegecraft in Holland, cavalry charges in Huguenot France, amphibious assault in Iberia, guerrilla warfare in Ireland, and set-piece battles where war of manouvre gave way to brute force and hand to hand combat.’ Fissel lucidly charts the growth of the ‘Irish military establishment’ demonstrating operations in Ireland as crucial to the development of a ‘British art of war’. The Irish understood that they could not defeat the full military might of England and therefore sought to wear them out in a bloody guerrilla war. Gunpowder weapons were rapidly adopted and English and Irish aptitude in the employment of firearms ‘improved each decade until their destructive power utterly ravaged the island between 1641 and 1650’.
Fissel also offers a detailed account of the growth of the lieutenancy and the development of the militia from the largely medieval character it retained in the reign of Henry VIII to Elizabeth’s ‘trained bands’ and finally Charles’ ‘perfect militia’. Fissel alternates with confident ease between chronological narrative and thematic analysis to create a work that must surely be essential reading for any student of military history.
Review of English Warfare, 1511-1642 by
Glendon College, York University, Toronto
Mark Fissel advances a strong and ably-supported thesis – that the English accumulated a great deal of military experience in the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, that they were conversant with the new techniques and technologies of the “military revolution,” that they sometimes achieved military victories against the best armies of Europe, that they were courageous, adaptable and eclectic, but that they refused to become a military culture. He thus effectively challenges the argument of David Eltis and others that England was militarily backward and inexperienced during this period.
English Warfare is grounded in a breathtaking impressive quantity of research. It is densely factual, and up to date with the most recent historiography in the field. Fissel writes clearly, but his prose is sometimes less than sure-footed, resulting in a book that takes considerable effort to read. But the effort is rewarded.
For example, Fissel highlights the relatively little-known fact that Elizabeth sent more men to wars than her bellicose father. Her reasons were also more compelling than those of Henry VIII: the genuine defense of the realm and protestant commitment. It is surprising to learn that English involvement in the Dutch war of independence dated, not from the Earl of Leicester’s expedition of 1585-6, but from 1572, when Elizabeth sent a contingent of ‘voluntaries.’ Within a few years these troops had won their spurs, demonstrating that they “could work in unison with allies, hold their ground, and perhaps even more importantly, maintain discipline in the crucible of battle, even against the best forces in Europe” (141).
Their most glorious moment came under the Earl of Leicester at the battle of Zutphen in September 1586. There a combined force of fewer than 600 cavalry and infantry routed a much larger force of Spanish and Italian troops. The cavalry won the day by the sheer fury of their attack, during which they held their formation and penetrated Spanish lines under a withering barrage of harquebus fire. The consistently impressive performance of the English troops bears eloquent testimony to Elizabeth’s unwavering resolve to back the protestant cause on the continent.
Not only did English soldiers master the new weapons based on gunpowder – the musket, the caliver, and the many varieties of cannon – they also learnt about drill, formation, and troop deployment from the greatest commanders of the age, including Henry of Navarre, Maurice of Nassau, and Gustavus Adolphus. They became equally adept at siege warfare, and showed great skill in making the new siege works, based on the so-called Trace italienne. Thus between the summer of 1601 and January 1602 Horace Vere conducted a brilliant defense at the siege of Ostend against a massive assault by Catholic forces. The English won respect for both their bravery and their mastery of siegecraft. They had become expert miners and sappers, and had more than kept abreast of contemporary developments in artillery, to the extent that their small cannon (sakers, minions and falcons) were in great demand on the continent.
England had its share of military fiascos; the Earl of Essex in Ireland; the Duke of Buckingham at Cadiz and the Isle of Rhé. But these were offset by Mountjoy’s conquest of the Earl of Tyrone whose formidable army had been stiffened by the addition of 3500 Spanish tercios, at Kinsale in 1601, and Thomas Wentworth’s creation of a superb army in Ireland during the 1630s. Hd Wentworth been permitted to deploy this army against the Scots in 1640 Charles would have suffered no humiliation at Newburn, nor been compelled to summon the Long Parliament, Fissel persuasively argues. Nor, had Wentworth been alive to lead his army, would the Irish rebellion of 1641 have had a chance of getting off the ground.
Fissel is right to emphasize English pride in their mastery of the longbow, and its continued relevance as a weapon well into the seventeenth century. However, he allows himself to be misled by a contemporary military writer, Sir John Smythe, into thinking that the bow, along with the pike “be natural weapons and therefore need not teaching” (288). On the contrary, as Charles Carlton has shown, the chief reason why the lethally accurate longbow was abandoned by Charles I in favor of the laughably inaccurate musket, whose range was also much shorter than that of the longbow, was that acquiring the strength and skill to be an effective military archer was the work of many years. On the eve of the civil war there were not enough men in England who had kept up the training, thanks to Charles’s failure to insist on it. A musketeer by contrast could be trained in a matter of weeks.
A second point of dissent: Fissel accepts perhaps too uncritically J. M. Hill’s thesis about celtic warfare and the celebrated Irish or highland charge, which was supposed to be devastating in its effectiveness for nearly two centuries. Hill’s claim has been treated with skepticism by Stuart Reid and Pàdraig Lenihan.
English Warfare is graced with many illustrations, portraits, and exquisite maps, several taken from contemporary manuscripts. The ones specially drawn for this volume, while useful, are unfortunately much less appealing to the eye.
These cavils apart, English Warfare makes a solid contribution to the military history of early-modern England. Fissel demonstrates incontrovertibly that, through their involvement in warfare in Ireland and on the continent, many tens of thousands of Englishmen gained first-hand experience of the military revolution. They mastered the new infantry and artillery weapons, as well as logistics, drill, and siegecraft. Above all they won respect in battle, both for their skill and for their bravery under fire. In 1642 several thousand of them returned from foreign theaters to England where, for the next decade, they turned their hard-won skills against one another.