Gregory Hanlon. The Hero of Italy: Odoardo Farnese, Duke of Parma, His Soldiers and His Subjects in the Thirty Years' War. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014. xiii + 241 pp. $99.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-19-968724-4.
Reviewed by Brian Sandberg (Institut d'Études Avancées de Paris and Northern Illinois University)
Published on H-Italy (September, 2015)
Commissioned by Maartje van Gelder (University of Amsterdam)
The Thirty Years’ War is often depicted as a German civil war or as an international war fought on German soil. Peter H. Wilson’s sweeping The Thirty Years War: Europe’s Tragedy (2009) presents the European dimensions of the conflict, but largely places Germany at the center of his political and military narrative. Gregory Hanlon’s The Hero of Italy: Odoardo Farnese, Duke of Parma, His Soldiers, and His Subjects in the Thirty Years’ War attempts to widen the geographic scope of the conflict by exploring the “other” Thirty Years’ War that was fought in the Italian Peninsula during the 1630s through the lens of the city-state of Parma and its armed forces. Odoardo Farnese, Duke of Parma, allied with France and led his state into war against Spain in 1635, shattering the Pax Hispanica in Italy and threatening the Spanish domination of the peninsula.
The first chapter offers a historical narrative of early modern Parma and its Farnese rulers as a prelude to introducing the book’s protagonist, Odoardo Farnese, who became Duke of Parma when his father, Ranuccio I, died of a heart attack in 1622. Hanlon describes the adolescent Odoardo as a “boy warrior in dangerous times,” emphasizing the young prince’s passion for military culture and his eagerness to engage in warfare (p. 20). The chapter traces the diplomatic maneuvering in Italy and the fierce rivalry between the kingdoms of France and Spain that gradually led to the outbreak of full-scale Franco-Spanish warfare. Hanlon characterizes Cardinal de Richelieu, first minister of Louis XIII, as aggressive and as “the king’s enabler” in orchestrating the war (p. 34).
Chapter 2 constructs a vivid portrait of Odoardo’s small Parman army, describing its military officers, infantry and cavalry units, rank-and-file soldiers, and militia forces. Hanlon exploits a rich collection of seventy company muster rolls held in the Archivio di Stato di Parma (ASP) in order to map the army’s recruitment areas and to construct a detailed social history of the soldiers in the ranks of the duke’s armed forces. Hanlon argues that “the Parma registers appear to be the most complete collection of documents pertaining to the rank and file anywhere in Europe before the late seventeenth century” (p. 59). He contextualizes these sources using international diplomatic correspondence from diverse archives in France, Spain, and Italy, as well as an impressive range of Farnese state papers, local parish registers, and census records conserved in the Archivio di Stato di Piacenza and the ASP.
Hanlon composes an operational history of the 1635 campaign in northern Italy in chapter 3. When France declared war on Spain and entered the Thirty Years’ War, the Duke of Parma embraced the French cause along with the Dukes of Mantua and Savoy. Odoardo led his Parman forces to join a larger Franco-Savoyard army that was preparing to besiege the Spanish fortified town of Valenza in the Po valley. Hanlon examines in detail the allied army’s investment of the town in early September 1635, the digging of trenches, and the major sorties by the Spanish garrison. A Spanish relief force managed to enter Valenza in late October, however, forcing the allies to abandon the siege and withdraw into winter quarters. An ambitious Odoardo traveled to Paris during the winter to meet with Louis XIII and Cardinal de Richelieu. Hanlon portrays the young Duke of Parma’s diplomatic missteps at the French royal court as resulting from his “haughtiness and arrogance,” yet emphasizes that Odoardo did accomplish his main goal: obtaining command of a joint Franco-Italian army for the 1636 campaign (pp. 127-128).
Chapter 4 examines war finances and strategy in the 1636 campaign, which Hanlon depicts as a “Parman sideshow,” also the title of this chapter. Odoardo took up command of his allied army, leaving his wife, Margherita de’ Medici, to manage Parma’s war finances and complicated political situation. The duke and his forces violated the neutrality of Modena, drawing its Este rulers into the war as allies of Spain. Meanwhile, Gian Andrea Doria, a Genoese nobleman, intervened in the conflict, seeking to recover some of his territories that had previously been seized by the Farnese family. Hanlon narrates the 1636 campaign and the deteriorating military and political situation of Parma, as Spanish reinforcements gathered in Lombardy and the Duchies of Mantua and Savoy both threatened to abandon the French-led war effort. At this point, Odoardo “decided to abandon his army and sneak away incognito in the company with a handful of his subjects” (p. 159). Hanlon curiously spends little time analyzing this crucial political and strategic decision, which left Parma increasingly politically isolated and strategically vulnerable.
The focus of chapter 6, “The Deluge,” is on the crumbling situation in Parma in 1636-37. Spanish forces entered the Duchy of Parma in August 1636, occupying many small towns and imposing contributions on them. Hanlon emphasizes that “from September 1636 onward panic became general in the duchy. Everywhere people were trying to guess which way the invaders would march next, and every rumour triggered waves of departures towards the cities” (p. 176). The duke and duchess still maintained control of the duchy’s major cities, but were blockaded in Piacenza by Spanish forces that disrupted communications with Parma. Hanlon contextualizes the Parman debacle with a brief discussion of the disastrous French campaign of 1636 and the surrender of the fortress of Corbie, but could have expanded the connections between Odoardo’s crumbling war effort and the dynamics of the broader Franco-Spanish war and the Thirty Years’ War elsewhere. The Grand Duke of Tuscany, acting to protect Margherita de’ Medici’s interests, brokered a peace between Parma and Spain in early 1637, ending Odoardo’s war.
In the final section of chapter 6, Hanlon focuses on the question of brutality and devastation in Italy during the conflict, evoking the classic question of demographic collapse in Germany during the Thirty Years’ War. He closely examines evidence of mortality rates drawn from parish registers of the Dioceses of Piacenza and Parma. Hanlon estimates that at least ten thousand subjects of the Duchy of Parma (approximately 4 percent of the entire population) probably died due to the miseries of war. He concludes that war was not as disastrous for a population as bubonic plague, yet we should note that epidemics often accompanied early modern warfare, even if the Duchy of Parma did not experience one during 1635-36.
The Hero of Italy surprisingly sidesteps the Military Revolution debate entirely, not addressing diverse interpretations of military mobilization, army size, army composition, unit organization, military discipline, or state development in the early modern period. Avoiding a historiographical summary of the various arguments concerning the Military Revolution concept may be appropriate, but the book unfortunately fails to engage with (or even cite) key works on the military transformations of the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries by Michael Roberts, Geoffrey Parker, Jeremy Black, John A. Lynn, Clifford Rogers, and others. As a result, only specialists in early modern military history will be able to situate the book’s findings within the broader historical literature on the Military Revolution.
Hanlon does a better job of incorporating recent historical research on military history and state development in early modern Italy, including studies by Maurizio Arfaioli, Claudio Donati, Davide Maffi, and Giovanni Muto. The history of early modern Italy has expanded well beyond Florence and Venice over the past generation, with numerous studies of Savoy, Milan, Naples, the papal states, and other Italian city-states during the period of the Spanish domination in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. Hanlon’s concentrated study of the Duchy of Parma contributes effectively to this historiography, expanding our knowledge of early modern Italian princes and their military systems.
The biographic framing of The Hero of Italy on Odoardo also permits a reading of the book as a case study of a military enterpriser. Hanlon adds to the growing body of historiography on early modern military enterprise and the business of war by such historians as William Caffero, David Parrott, Jan Glete, and Guy Rowlands. Hanlon clearly views Odoardo primarily as a military adventurer, but also points out that he was heir to Alessandro Farnese, the great military enterpriser for King Philip II of Spain during the Dutch Revolt. It would be intriguing to see how Hanlon would situate Odoardo vis-à-vis his contemporaries during the Thirty Years’ War. After all, Bernhard of Weimar, Charles Emanuel of Savoy, Charles IV of Lorraine, Henri I de Rohan, and Albrecht von Wallenstein are often considered archetypical examples of early modern military enterprisers. I wish that Hanlon had developed a comparative framework to assess Odoardo’s experiences in this context.
Hanlon concludes by observing that upon the Duke of Parma’s death in 1646, “the mantle of military adventurism passed from Odoardo to his brother-in-law Francesco I d’Este of Modena, whose first experience of war followed the foraging expedition of Guido Villa” (p. 214). The Hero of Italy thus provides important evidence of a military enterpriser in the “other” Thirty Years’ War, and beyond.
If there is additional discussion of this review, you may access it through the network, at: https://networks.h-net.org/h-italy.
Brian Sandberg. Review of Hanlon, Gregory, The Hero of Italy: Odoardo Farnese, Duke of Parma, His Soldiers and His Subjects in the Thirty Years' War.
H-Italy, H-Net Reviews.
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