Is History Just a Collection of Biographies? Notes from a Military Historical Database
International Journal of the Humanities
Since 2004, a research team (Historical Knowledge Mapping) at the University of Western Ontario have been constructing and using a database to track a historically-defined population of late Elizabethan military officers. Here, in the first published study of detailed data, the lives of 63 Elizabethan captains are analyzed using a prosopographical database method: they were not chosen randomly. Their persistence in service through a “drought” in military office-holding, 1595-6, during the late-Elizabethan wars (1579-1603) poses some thought-provoking observations on how military history is conceived, and where the “life” assumes importance against the actual structures of military culture—in this case the English military—as it was in a state of formation. These officers served through the large-scale removal from Continental to Irish military activity, 1593-5. Further, this 1595-6 group sit between the two largest of Elizabeth’s armies: the earl of Leicester’s 1585-8 assistance to the Dutch (485 officers); and the Irish wars which reached a peak in 1599-1601 (over 400 officers). This paper offers context and original insights into the group of 63, and asks questions of their careers and placement which cannot be asked which would be impossible without the “officers and stations” database for studying armies at the cusp of the “Military Revolution”. By making a profile of this group, innovatory methods and their implications for the study of military history in the early modern period are considered.