Alberto Raúl Esteban Ribas, The Battle of Rocroi 1643 (Helion, 2022)
There are those who argue that Rocroi was possibly the most important battle of the 17th Century, and one on which the fate of Europe truly hung. It marked the end of Spanish military supremacy along with their famous tercios, and the beginning of French hegemony in Europe coincident with the accession of the infant Louis XIV to the French throne. But it is a battle familiarly told from the French perspective with few Spanish historians’ voices raised in opposition. We need a proper, balanced account of Rocroi, and Alberto Raúl Esteban Ribas is here to tell it.
Battle narratives tend to follow a similar format, and Ribas’ Rocroi is no exception. The historical context comes first, followed by a description of the opposing armies. As with everything else in this book, Ribas provides a thorough overview, which is accompanied by suitable contemporary illustrations. Having surveyed the armies, Ribas moves on to examine the respective generals and commands. With the set-up established, Ribas drives into the narrative with a chapter on how the respective sides arrived at the battlefield of Rocroi. The two armies then line up facing each other, though their deployment is the subject of some dispute, which Ribas navigates well. Then we are into the action. Here too, some confusion abounds as to who was where and what they did, which you might expect if you are familiar with battle narratives. But Ribas again works his way through the evidence to present a clear picture of events. For this, he is aided by illuminating, sequential maps, all the way through to the controversial massacre of the last standing Spanish units. Ribas closes his account with the aftermath of the battle, including casualties and prisoners, then the wider consequences, though he downplays the effect of the battle on the Spanish military; despite French historians arguing otherwise, Rocroi was not the disaster for the Spanish or triumph for the French they portray. Ribas’ concluding analysis of the battle is, therefore, a particularly interesting and quite persuasive piece of revisionism – Ribas adds a useful bibliography if you would like to argue with him.
The Battle of Rocroi takes a well-trodden path as far as battle narratives go, but Ribas digs deeper than most to write an interesting story and analysis that challenges the orthodox view of the battle. That alone should put it on top of your 17th Century books pile. The production value is high too, with contemporary illustrations, maps, and colour plates of soldiers for you to peruse while you ponder Ribas’s arguments. Whether this is the new definitive account of the battle will, of course, be questioned, but Ribas certainly takes the historiography of Rocroi in a new direction.