Web Gallery: The Absolutist Army


Louis XIV (1701)

This is an official portrait of Louis XIV in his later years. Why did Louis XIV, the greatest of the absolutist monarchs and a model of sorts to the rest of Europe, wish to appear in this fashion?

Les Invalides

Built by Louis XIV as a hospital for old and crippled soldiers, Les Invalides is now the home of Napoleon's tomb and a very large military museum. If architecture talks what is this complex saying? What point did Louis XIV want to get across with such a structure?


Versailles was Louis XIV's great palace outside of Paris. What qualities does it share with Les Invalides? What does this palace say?

Prussian Platoon (mid-18th century)

The linear formations of Gustavus Adolphus had progressively grown shallower until the mid-eighteenth century when most European armies fought about three ranks deep (except the British who fought only two deep). Such a formation allowed for the maximization of firepower. At the same time, officers had to keep the men in a rather dense formation for a number of reasons: they could make orders heard over the din of battle, the men derived psychological comfort from being close together when in danger, and it was easier to keep the private soldiers from running away.

Prussian Battalion (mid-18th century)

This diagram represents a typical Prussian battalion of eight platoons. Notice the placement of the officers—all stand on the flanks and particularly the rear of each platoon, in part, to keep the men from running away.

View of Fontenoy from the French Lines (1745)

On May 11, 1745, at Fontenoy in the Austrian Netherlands, a French army withstood the repeated assaults of an Anglo-Dutch-Austrian-Hanoverian force to win the day. This image, which presents the battle from the French side, is interesting in several respects. The enemy lines are quite close, perhaps no more than 70 yards apart, yet neither side has opened fire yet (there is no smoke). The French officers on horseback are saluting their English counterparts—aristocratic officers on both side felt a certain bond. The drummers to the right prepare to bang out orders to the men. Notice the non-commissioned officers standing to the rear of the French lines with their pikes, particularly the one left of center in the foreground. These sergeants, placed behind the ranks, were responsible for, among other things, keeping the men in the proper formation. A little nudge of the pike in the back could remind private soldiers that a non-com was watching them—thus discouraging any thoughts of running away at a critical moment such as this one.

Prussian Army at Leuthen (1757)

Fought in the snow on December 5, 1757, Leuthen was one of Frederick the Great's hardest victories. A brutal all-day battle eventually culminated in an Austrian retreat. This image presents an idealized picture of a Prussian assault across a snow-covered field. Notice that despite the heavy fire, the Prussian lines appear almost perfect.

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Copyrighted by Hugh Dubrulle, 2003.