IMPROVED communications tended during this century to the concentration of national resources for national wars, and the modern conception of Europe as an armed camp really dates from 1494. As war has grown more intense it has, mercifully, grown spasmodic: and it is true also that aspirations towards a Society of Nations began in the sixteenth century. Sixteenth-century Europe knew nothing of Russia and did not recognise the Turk, sprawled over everything from the Danube to the Jordan, as civilised. The three chief powers were the great agglomeration of territories which had fallen by marriage into Habsburg hands, the smaller but central, fertile, defensible, and cultured kingdom of France, and the still smaller kingdom of England. There were princes of some importance in Germany and Italy, of whom the Pope was the chief as ruler of a considerable Italian state.
The central theme of modern military history is the opposition of France to the chief German power-the Habsburg dynasty till 1866, and since then Prussia. England, generally in alliance with the weaker, has brought down one dominating power after another-Charles V., Philip II., Louis XIV., the France of Napoleon, the Germany of Bismarck. In the absence hitherto of any hope of establishing international peace by a permanent organisation, this Balance of Power has mitigated international bullying. But at its worst it has degenerated into jackalism, any accession of power to a state being made grounds by its rivals for demanding " compensation," usually at the expense of weaker neighbours.
The bone of contention from 1494 onwards for nearly forty years was Italy. Charles VIII. of France first overran the north. France continued to plan a conquest and was resisted by the rival power of Spain, whose kings had claims to certain Italian principalities. The wars were conducted by mercenaries who inclined, as mercenaries generally do, to reserve their ferocity for neutral civilians. Modern conceptions of the nation in arms and of striking the enemy hard at his strongest point are out of place in these wars. They reached their climax in 1525-27, when Francis I. of France was matched against the Emperor Charles V. The wealth of the Netherlands enabled Charles to win a victory at Pavia in 1525 and to sack Rome in 1527. Italy now became virtually a Spanish province for two hundred years and provided Spain with the best of her generals and infantry. The next three centuries of Italian history were torpid, but she remained the Mecca of scholars and cultured travellers-a remoter Mecca to Englishmen of that day than London is to a New Zealander of ours.