What is the Kabinettskriege Era?

Dear Reader,

So far in this blog, I have tried to identify interesting themes about the Kabinettskriege era, informing you that it was an era of limited warfare. You might even know the events which bracket the Kabinettskriege era: the Thirty Years War and the French Revolution. However, I have failed (at least thus far) to adequately explain the prominent features of war in the Kabinettskriege era. In this post, I want to identify five crucial components of warfare from 1648-1789.

1. Limited Goals

During the Kabinettskriege era, army commanders, usually royal or noble commanders, attempted to take limited tracts of territory away from their opponents. Total domination of the European continent was never on the table for these commanders- they pursued limited expansion, designed to incrementally expand the power of their states, and preserve the European balance of power. It was hoped that a balance of opposing forces would make previous wars, like the Thirty Years War, an impossibility.  

2. Limited Prosecution

In this period of history, army commanders attempted to avoid popular involvement in warfare. European states professionalized their armies in order to avoid the atrocities which had dominated the Thirty Years' War. By keeping warfare in the hands of professional soldiers, state leaders hoped to make warfare more civilized, while still vigorously pursuing foreign policy. 

3. Limited Battles

When compared with the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, the Kabinettskriege era displayed commanders who were less able, and willing to wage decisive battles. The exception to this rule was the Prussian army under Frederick II of Prussia, who did not answer to any higher authority in his capacity as a general. With that said, large battles still occurred frequently and were often initiated by generals other than Frederick. In terms of their scope, many Kabinettskriege era battles involved a similar number of men to Civil War battles. Most eighteenth-century commanders tended to be cautious, unless they were confident in their abilities, troop quality, and position. 

4. Limited Religious Involvement

Most eighteenth-century conflicts saw religion as a motivator for the working classes, not for the policymakers. While religion and religious motivation for conflict still played a role in soldiers' thoughts, enforcing religious change was not the primary reason for conflict. Policymakers looked at ways to strengthen the state, rather than religious factors. However, they continued to use religion in order to motivate populations to support their actions. 

5. Limited Resolution

As a result of the previous limitations on warfare, it should not come as a surprise that warfare in the Kabinettskriege era did not witness many decisive conflicts resulting in the total overthrow and desctruction of dynasties or states.. Frederick II of Prussia's success in taking and holding Silesia provides historians with an exception, not a rule. Fortresses played a decisive role in limiting the progress of armies and preserving the balance of power. Defending fortresses, and by extension, lines of communication and supply, became vitally important. While on the fringes of the European world, in Scandinavia and North America, the balance of power radically shifted, for Western and Central Europeans living in the Kabinettskriege era, the limitation of warfare often produced stability. 


  1. A very accurate summary by a well-read source, though in regard to your fifth component I would have to disagree as there were plenty of decisive changes that resulted from the Cabinet Wars (ex. the Glorious Revolution in England, the end of the Habsburg rule of Spain, the end of the great power status of the Swedes Danes and Dutch and the beginning of Russian preeminence in the East, the decline of the Ottomans due to the efforts of Austria Russia and Poland, the weakening of larger German states such as Saxony and Bavaria and the beginning of the Habsburg-Hohenzollern rivalry in Germany, the rise of the Kings of Piedmont-Sardinia who would play a key role in the unification of Italy, and the transfer of Lorraine to France following the War of the Polish Succession, which played a very key role in tensions between the French and Germans for years afterwards.)

  2. For your first criteria of "limited goals", would Louis XIV fit that? Wasn't he trying to dominate Europe? Didn't he have to some extent global ambitions? I'm thinking of North America and India.