Boarding Parties in EARLY Modern Atlantic Warfare and the Recomposition of Violence

Monday, 16 July 2018: 10:50
Oral Presentation
Alexandre JUBELIN, Université Paris-Sorbonne, France
Within the field of Early modern warfare, it has long been argued that a "Military Revolution" (Parker, 1988) took place from the 16th to the 18th centuries, creating a deep recomposition of warfare and from there, politics itself - due to the apparition and diffusion of artillery in Western Europe. However, details of this evolution have long been overlooked - and specifically the precise experience of combat by its actors - which would tend to put into perspective any idea of a brutal evolution or revolution due to the limitations to the technical implementation of artillery at sea.

This contribution would argue that something specific is at play in the naval war experience of the 16th and 17th centuries. First because of the uncertainty of most battles of that time, since an encounter at sea is almost always unexpected, contrary to most land battles - hence an experience of waiting and chasing an enemy, then expecting the action, followed by the unleashing of brutal violence in the case of boarding parties - since there is almost no escape in these battles. But also because the development of artillery changes the equation and the representations of battle - being both viewed as a decisive advantage and a somewhat dishonourable weapon compared to previous unavoidable boarding tactics.

Hence a very specific form of combat, at the articulation between close and interpersonal fighting (in which the sensorial environment of fighting would be questioned), and an emerging means of fighting at a distance - in which both psychological warfare and cultural representations come into play in an environment very different from that of land warfare (the wind advantage for instance remaining a cornerstone of naval warfare).