The 17th century was a watershed in European history; it was the century when the superstitions of the Medieval period were largely laid to rest to be replaced by scientific reasoning. Whilst the origins of the Enlightenment and the Agricultural and Industrial Revolutions can be traced to the 17th century, the transformation on the battlefield was no less dramatic – military engineering, which was regarded as an ‘art’ during the 16th century, was very much a science by the end of the 17th.
The military history of Western Europe in the 17th century is dominated by the Thirty Years War, the Wars of the Three Kingdoms (misleadingly, but commonly known as the ‘English Civil Wars’), and the wars of Louis XIV. The common perception of these conflicts is of big battles – cavalry charges on the wings whilst in the centre, massed infantry formations slugged it out. Yet the reality is rather different, as it was the siege rather than the set-piece battle which dominated 17th century warfare.
During the Civil Wars there were more than 300 sieges of various kinds. In the first year of its existence, the New Model Army fought just two major battles but conducted 12 sieges and storms. Christopher Duffy described the conflict as “a war of trenches, ramparts, palisades, bombardments and blockades”. The Civil Wars actually started with the storming of Edinburgh Castle in 1639 and ended with the fall of Dunottar Castle in 1652, whilst Oliver Cromwell’s Irish campaign of 1649-50 comprised nearly entirely of sieges and assaults.
The first ‘English’ Civil War started with an attack on Hull in July 1642, and ended with the fall of Harlech Castle in March 1647. Yet military studies of the Civil War period focus almost entirely on battles and other field-actions.
To help raise awareness of the sieges and fortifications of the civil wars, and to create a home for his on-going research into the sieges and fortifications of the 17th century, military historian David Flintham has recently launched www.vauban.co.uk.
Here, you will find pages devoted to London’s civil defences, sieges and fortifications of the 2nd and 3rd Civil Wars, together with a page devoted to the greatest military engineer, Sébastien Le Prestre, Seigneur de Vauban, after whom the site is named.
David Flintham FRGS
David Flintham is a military historian specialising in 17th century sieges and fortifications. His interest in the historical landscape and how fortifications relate to the local topography has taken David to fortified sites throughout the UK, across Europe and as far afield as North America and South Africa.
He has been interested in the ‘English’ Civil Wars for virtually all of his life; actually, ever since being taken to see the film ‘Cromwell’ when he was a small boy. A member of the Fortress Study Group, he is the author of three books (his third, Civil War London. A Military History of London Under Charles I and Oliver Cromwell, will be published by Helion in September 2017), several academic papers and a number of popular articles. For more than 20 years he has been studying London during the 1640s and 50s, and is regarded as “the one expert on London’s civil war defences”.
David’s other passions include the music of Jethro Tull, cricket and malt whisky. He lives in London with his wife and (military-historian-in-training) son.