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Cultures of War. Theory and Practice of War in the Habsburg World (1559-1659)


Admission requirements

History students should have successfully completed their propaedeutic exam and both second-year BA-seminars, one of which in Algemene Geschiedenis.


On the evening of November 23rd 1572, the celebrations around the wedding between Henry III of Navarre and Margaret of Valois turned into the memorably bloody event known as St. Bartholomew’s Massacre. A turning point in the French wars of religion, the attack was as well triggered by political, social and economic interests. The legitimacy of this slaughter was widely debated by learned men who profusely theorized on the laws of ‘just war’. Despite such theoretical premises, the outbreak of Reformation led to unforeseen situations in practice; for it entailed a crucial shift from fighting an external and Muslim enemy, toward fighting the heretic neighbour. Since European politics were made up of intertwined prominent families, religious dissidence created an unprecedented tear in the fabric of diplomacy and interterritorial allegiances. Moreover, troops were not necessarily aware of the rules for a ‘just war’, nor were they always obedient to their leaders. Mutiny was a real issue that threatened careers, diplomatic stances and the well-being of the civilian population alike.
Such events of military disobedience reflected the important social changes that the military sphere was undergoing as triggered by the needs of emerging modern states. Traditionally gathered from loyal noble clans by a monarch to serve specific and rather temporary purposes, armies became increasingly permanent. This new need for a massive war force that was available at all times led to the inclusion therein of other social strata. Within this novel composition of the army, warfare became to be regarded as a career opportunity, while the honour codes inherited from the Middle Ages started to be challenged. The roles imposed on and acquired by noblemen, foot-soldiers and civilians within this new situation are essential to understand the development of war practices at the time.
In this course we will delve into the complexity and changing character of war as it took place between 1559 and 1659. The main material to discuss cultures of war will be primary sources produced in any territory pertaining to or in armed conflict with the Habsburgs. The debates on the ius ad bellum and ius in bello reflected the existent gaps between theory and practice of war, and will be the focus of our first discussions. The following sessions will deal with the profound changes the military underwent in the social arena; and we will conclude with close examination of characteristic primary sources for the period, such as chronicles and news reports.

Course objectives

General learning objectives

The student can:

  • 1) devise and conduct research of limited scope, including:
    a. identifying relevant literature and select and order them according to a defined principle;
    b. organising and using relatively large amounts of information;
    c. an analysis of a scholarly debate;
    d. placing the research within the context of a scholarly debate.

  • 2) write a problem solving essay and give an oral presentation after the format defined in the Syllabus Themacolleges, including;
    a. using a realistic schedule of work;
    b. formulating a research question and subquestions;
    c. formulating a well-argued conclusion;
    d. giving and receiving feedback;
    e. responding to instructions of the lecturer.

  • 3) reflect on the primary sources on which the literature is based;

  • 4) select and use primary sources for their own research;

  • 5) analyse sources, place and interpret them in a historical context;

  • 6) participate in class discussions.

Learning objectives, pertaining to the specialisation

  • 7) The student has knowledge of a specialisation, more specifically - in the specialisation General History: of the place of European history from 1500 in a worldwide perspective; with a focus on the development and role of political institutions;

  • 8) Knowledge and insight in the main concepts, the research methods and techniques of the specialisation, more specifically - in the specialisation General History: of the study of primary sources and the context specificity of nationally defined histories.

Learning objectives, pertaining to this specific seminar

The student

  • 9) will understand the the political, economic, social aspects involved in European early modern military.

  • 10) will be able to position his/her research within the ongoing debates concerning the military revolution.

  • 11) will be able to assess the role played by the Habsburg military apparatus in his/her chosen historical context.

  • 12) will be able to analyze diverging sources and their potential for historical research, such as treatises, correspondence, chronicles, maps and other pictorial material.


The timetable is available on the History website

Mode of instruction

  • Seminar (compulsory attendance). This means that students have to attend every session of the course. If a student is not able to attend, he is required to notify the teacher beforehand. The teacher will determine if and how the missed session can be compensated by an additional assignment. If specific restrictions apply to a particular course, the teacher will notify the students at the beginning of the semester. If a student does not comply with the aforementioned requirements, he will be excluded from the seminar.

Course load

Total course load 10 EC x 28 hours = 280 hours

  • Attending class: 24 hours

  • Preparation for class (including required reading and assignments): 52 hours

  • Preparation of oral presentation/collective tutorial (including instruction and feedback) : 42 hours

  • Writing a paper (including individual research): 162 hours

Assessment method


  • Written paper (ca. 7200 words, based on problem-oriented research using primary sources, including footnotes and bibliography)
    measured learning objectives: 1-5, 7-12

  • Oral presentation
    measured learning objectives: 3-12

  • Participation
    measured learning objectives: 6


Written paper: 70%
Oral presentation: 20%
Participation: 10%

The final grade for the course is established by determining the weighted average with the additional requirement that the written paper must always be sufficient.


Written papers should be handed in within the given deadline


The written paper can be revised, when marked insufficient. Revision should be carried out within the given deadline

Exam Review

How and when an exam review will take place will be disclosed together with the publication of the exam results at the latest.


Blackboard will be used for:

  • sharing reading material

  • placing announcements

Reading list

Reading before the first session (available online):

  • Geoffrey Parker, ‘The ´Military Revolution´, A Myth?’ in: C. J. Rogers (ed.), The Military Revolution Debate : Readings on the Military Transformation of Early Modern Europe (1995), 1-10.

  • Frank Tallett, ‘Preface’ and ‘Introduction’ in: War and Society in Early-Modern Europe, 1495-1715 (1992), vii-20.

  • Additional articles and book chapters will be announced in class and on Blackboard


Enrolment through uSis is mandatory.

General information about uSis is available in English and Dutch

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Not applicable


L. Álvarez Francés MA B. Santiago Belmonte MA