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In the military campaigns of early modern Europe, there were a great multitude of women – some of whom went under the guise of men to fight, others as prostitutes, seamstresses, cooks and nurses who tended to the many needs of the army. In addition, because armies often lacked adequate state funding, women were integral in the pillaging of defeated foes and plundering to help finance the campaigns.
In “Women, Armies and Warfare in Early Modern Europe” (Cambridge University Press/2008), author John A. Lynn, a professor of history, examines the important roles of women who campaigned with armies from 1500 to 1815. Lynn argues that before 1650, women were fundamental to armies because they were integral to the pillage economy that maintained troops in the field. But as state funding for armies increased and the pillage-supported armies went out of fashion, so did women in the camps. Part of this was a result of enforced discipline of the soldiers and an increased efficiency in military campaigns.
“Before 1650 women were vital to the very existence of field armies,” Lynn said. “They, in part, explain why the men were there, owing to their part in creating ‘the libertine lifestyle.’ The daily lives of women became inescapable aspects of military life, army reform and state formation. These were some tough ladies.”
To understand the role of women in the campaigns of early modern Europe is to understand the nature and history of Europe itself. As society moved toward Reformation and formal, efficient armies, women moved home and changed the dynamics not only of military conquests but of the entire continent and European society as a whole.
“I hope I have succeeded not only in dealing with my subject but in presenting it in a way that interests military historians, historians of women and gender, and the profession in general,” Lynn said.