Friday, 12 March 2010


No more gaming at the moment, so I thought I’d write up on some basic books for the period. The books mentioned are the ones I’ve got –I’ll try to more when I get them.

Probably THE title to get for the technical details of galley warfare is still Guilmartin’s “Gunpowder and Galleys”. This was originally published back in 1974, and republished in 2003. It’s still the best single source for Mediterranean Renaissance naval warfare, covering the galleys of the Christian and Muslim powers and the social and economic influences that affected their design and armament. The author’s main purpose is to demonstrate that the Mahanian view of naval history so prevalent in Anglo-American circles is not applicable to the Mediterranean. He puts a lot of the warfare into a much broader perspective and shows why commanders took the decisions that they did, when from a Mahanian view they made no sense; a must-read for anybody interested in the period. Another book by the same author is “Galleys and Galleons” (2002). Part of Cassell’s ‘History of Warfare’ series, this covers much of the same material, but more briefly, and has a wider scope including warfare in the Atlantic and Baltic, and in the Far East (the Korean turtle ships). Again, he challenges the Mahanian view of naval conflict and attempts to treat things on their own terms. I have to say that I really like these books. The style is easy to read, and they are both extremely informative. The author, J.F. Guilmartin maintains a website which has some extracts from both books, and also other papers of interest, which are well worth reading.

Over Christmas I picked up a copy of Roger Crowley’s “Empires of the Sea” in London. This is a general history of the Turkish maritime wars from 1520 to 1580, and covers all the major events of the period, including the battles of Preveza, Djerba, and Lepanto; the sieges of Rhodes, Malta, Nicosia and Famagusta, and the career of Khaireddin Barbarossa. Basically it’s a very readable poplar history in enough depth to be interesting without become too dry and academic. By comparision, Jacques Heers’ “Barbary Corsairs: Warfare in the Mediterranean 1520 – 1580” is less easy to read. It covers a lot of the same material, sometimes is more depth, but the style didn’t grab me the way the Crowley book did. Partly it may be because of the way it’s been translated from the French original. Some of the criticisms I saw on Amazon about this book were because American (?) readers expected a book about the Barbary pirates to be about the nineteenth century campaigns, so they felt the title was misleading. My French isn’t great, but my translation of the original would be “The Barbary Corsairs: Raiding and War in the Mediterranean from the Fourteenth to Sixteenth centuries”. It’s a little different, but there’s no ambiguity about what to expect. It also helps to explain why the early part of the book constantly refers to events in the fourteenth century – puzzling if you expect it to cover sixteenth century or later.

There are several relevant Osprey titles available. Probably the first port of call for most people interested in the subject, they vary in quality. To start with, their ‘New Vanguard’ series includes a title on the “Renaissance Galley 1470 - 1590” plus one on Spanish galleons and a couple on Tudor ships. All are by Angus Konstam, an ex-naval officer and museum curator. I haven’t yet read the two volumes on the Tudor warships, but the one on Renaissance galleys is a very good introduction to the subject. The biggest criticism is that it’s limited by the Osprey format, so the text is necessarily brief and skims over the subject a little. Konstam is also the author of the Elite series title “Elizabethan Sea Dogs”, which gives a good overview of the small-scale amphibious warfare and piracy in the period, and of the Campaign volumes covering the battles of Lepanto and the Spanish Armada. Both of these must be amongst the best Campaign titles produced by Osprey. The author attempts to avoid bias, and largely succeeds. The book on “Lepanto” in particular is an excellent account of the battle and events leading up to it. It’s really an example of how to write about a campaign. The other Osprey Campaign of interest is “Malta 1565 by Tim Pickles. The author’s father-in-law is a member of the modern Order of St. John, and seems to have lent a certain bias to the account. Events are dealt with mainly from the Knights’ point of view; very little effort seems to have been made to consider the Turkish position. The illustrations, too, are not well chosen, I thought. Many seem to be from eighteenth century antiquarian volumes, or are irrelevant (like the pictures of Elizabethan trained bands, or of reiters loading and firing pistols – were there any on Malta?). Osprey would have been better advised to try to find some more period prints of the siege or of the armies and navies. The antiquarian stuff just looks wrong and adds nothing to the text. All in all, not one their better efforts, not really worth buying even for the pictures (and let's face it, why do we buy Osprey books?). The account of the siege in Crowley is better balanced and better written, and has the advantage of being in a book that puts it nicely into context.

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