Spain, Europe and the Wider World, 1500-1800by John H. Elliott
When J. H. Elliott published Spain and Its World, 15001700 some twenty years ago, one of many enthusiasts declared, “For anyone interested in the history of empire, of Europe and of Spain, here is a book to keep within reach, to read, to study and to enjoy" (Times Literary Supplement). Since then Elliott has continued to explore the/i>/i>… See more details below
When J. H. Elliott published Spain and Its World, 15001700 some twenty years ago, one of many enthusiasts declared, “For anyone interested in the history of empire, of Europe and of Spain, here is a book to keep within reach, to read, to study and to enjoy" (Times Literary Supplement). Since then Elliott has continued to explore the history of Spain and the Hispanic world with originality and insight, producing some of the most influential work in the field. In this new volume he gathers writings that reflect his recent research and thinking on politics, art, culture, and ideas in Europe and the colonial worlds between 1500 and 1800.
The volume includes fourteen essays, lectures, and articles of remarkable breadth and freshness, written with Elliott’s characteristic brio. It includes an unpublished lecture in honor of the late Hugh Trevor-Roper. Organized around three themesearly modern Europe, European overseas expansion, and the works and historical context of El Greco, Velázquez, Rubens, and Van Dyckthe book offers a rich survey of the themes at the heart of Elliott’s interests throughout a career distinguished by excellence and innovation.
"Not only an excellent summation of the major historiographical positions but also an insider''s look at the academic origins of the original debate in the pages of Past and Present. . . . Throughout these essays, Elliott seeks explanations in constitutional and political arrangements but also in the vagaries and contingencies of time and place. It is his ability to balance structural, conjunctural, and individual elements that gives these essays their freshness. . . . These essays also demonstrate that careful scholarship, elegant prose, and a disciplined historical imagination can, whatever the national origins of the author, always illumine and provoke, which is exactly the objective accomplished here."—Stuart B. Schwartz, Journal of Modern History
Stuart B. Schwartz
"Scholars, students, history aficionados, and even policymakers will find that Elliott offers valuable insights on the early modern world that speak to our own as well."--Roger Louis Martínez, The Americas
Roger Louis Mart�nez
- Yale University Press
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SPAIN, EUROPE & THE WIDER WORLD 1500-1800
By J.H. ELLIOTT
YALE UNIVERSITY PRESSCopyright © 2009 J. H. Elliott
All right reserved.
Chapter OneA EUROPE OF COMPOSITE MONARCHIES
The concept of Europe implies unity. The reality of Europe, especially as it has developed over the past five hundred years or so, reveals a marked degree of disunity, deriving from the establishment of what has come to be regarded as the characteristic feature of European political organisation as against that of other civilisations: a competitive system of sovereign, territorial nation states. 'By 1300', wrote Joseph Strayer in a highly perceptive little book, 'it was evident that the dominant political form in Western Europe was going to be the sovereign state. The universal Empire had never been anything but a dream; the universal Church had to admit that the defense of the individual state took precedence over the liberties of the Church or the claims of the Christian commonwealth. Loyalty to the state was stronger than any other loyalty, and for a few individuals (largely government officials) loyalty to the state was taking on some of the overtones of patriotism.'
Here in embryo we have the themes that form the agenda for the bulk of nineteenth- and twentieth-century historical writing on the political history of earlymodern and modern Europe: the collapse of any prospect of European unity based on dominion by a 'universal Empire' or a 'universal Church', followed by the preordained failure of all subsequent attempts to achieve such unity through one or other of these two agencies; and the long, slow and often tortuous process by which a number of independent sovereign states succeeded in defining their territorial boundaries against their neighbours and in establishing a centralised authority over their subject populations, while at the same time providing a focus of allegiance through the establishment of a national consensus that transcended local loyalties.
As a result of this process, a Europe that in 1500 included 'some five hundred more or less independent political units' had been transformed by 1900 into a Europe of 'about twenty-five', of which the strongest were judged to be those that had reached the highest degree of integration as fully fledged nation states. Anomalies still survived-not least the Austro-Hungarian monarchy-but that they were anomalies was amply confirmed by the cataclysmic events of the First World War. The subsequent triumph of the 'principle of nationality' in the Versailles settlement of 1919 appeared to set the seal on the nation state as the logical, and indeed necessary, culmination of a thousand years of European history.
Different ages bring different perspectives. What seemed logical, necessary and even desirable at the end of the nineteenth century looks less logical and necessary, and somewhat less desirable, from the vantage point of the early years of the twenty-first. The development, on the one hand, of multinational political and economic organisations, and the revival, on the other, of 'suppressed' nationalities and of half-submerged regional and local identities, have simultaneously placed pressures on the nation state from above and beneath. These two processes, no doubt connected in ways that it will be for future generations of historians to trace, are bound to call into question standard interpretations of European history conceived in terms of an inexorable advance towards a system of sovereign nation states.
This process of historical reinterpretation clearly involves a fresh assessment of earlier attempts to organise supranational polities. Indeed, one such attempt, the empire of Charles V in the sixteenth century, received a semi-endorsement from an unexpected quarter shortly after the Second World War, when Fernand Braudel argued in 1949 that, with the economic revival of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, the conjuncture had become 'consistently favourable to the large and very large state, to the "super-states" which today are once again seen as the pattern of the future as they seemed to be briefly at the beginning of the eighteenth century, when Russia was expanding under Peter the Great, and when a dynastic union at least was projected between Louis XIV's France and Spain under Philip V'.
Braudel's perception that history is in turn favourable and unfavourable to vast political formations does not seem to have stimulated much enquiry among political and economic historians, perhaps because of the inherent difficulty in assessing the optimum size of a territorial unit at any given historical moment. Nor do historians of political thought seem to have accepted fully the implications of Frances Yates's insistence on the importance of Charles V's revival of the imperial idea. Ideas about the sovereign territorial state remain the principal focus of attention in surveys of early modern political theory, at the expense of other traditions concerned with alternative forms of political organisation subsequently regarded as anachronistic in a Europe that had turned its back on universal monarchy and had subsumed its local particularisms into unitary nation states.
Of these alternative forms of political organisation, one that has aroused particular interest in recent years has been the 'composite state'. This interest certainly owes something to Europe's current preoccupation with federal or confederal union, as submerged nationalities resurface to claim their share of the sunlight. But it also reflects a growing historical appreciation of the truth behind H. G. Koenigsberger's assertion that 'most states in the early modern period were composite states, including more than one country under the sovereignty of one ruler'. He divides these states into two categories: first, composite states separated from each other by other states, or by the sea, like the Spanish Habsburg monarchy, the Hohenzollern monarchy of Brandenburg-Prussia, and England and Ireland; and, second, contiguous composite states, like England and Wales, Piedmont and Savoy, and Poland and Lithuania. By the time of the early modern period of which Koenigsberger is writing, some composite states, like Burgundy and the Scandinavian Union of Kalmar, had already dissolved or were on the point of dissolution, while others, like the Holy Roman Empire, were struggling for survival. On the other hand, it was Charles V's imperial successors, drawn from the Austrian branch of the Habsburgs, who were to fashion from their own inherited kingdoms and patrimonial lands a state whose composite character would stay with it to the end. While some early modern states were clearly more composite than others, the mosaic of pays d'élections and pays d'états in Valois and Bourbon France is a reminder of a historical process that was to be repeated once again when Louis XIII formally united the principality of Béarn to France in 1620. A state that was still essentially composite in character was only adding one further component to those already in place.
If sixteenth-century Europe was a Europe of composite states, coexisting with a myriad of smaller territorial and jurisdictional units jealously guarding their independent status, its history needs to be assessed from this standpoint rather than from that of the society of unitary nation states that it was later to become. It is easy enough to assume that the composite state of the early modern period was no more than a necessary but rather unsatisfactory way-station on the road that led to unitary statehood; but it should not automatically be taken for granted that at the turn of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries this was already the destined end of the road.
The creation in medieval western Europe of a number of large political units-France, England, Castile-which had succeeded in building up and maintaining a relatively strong administrative apparatus, and had at once drawn strength from, and fostered, some sense of collective identity, certainly pointed strongly in a unitary direction. But dynastic ambition, deriving from the deeply rooted European sense of family and patrimony, cut across unitary tendencies and constantly threatened, through the continuing pursuit of new territorial acquisitions, to dilute the internal cohesion that was so laboriously being achieved.
For monarchs concerned with aggrandisement, the creation of composite states seemed a natural and easy way forward. New territorial acquisitions meant enhanced prestige and potentially valuable new sources of wealth. They were all the more to be prized if they possessed the additional advantages of contiguity and what was known as 'conformity'. James VI (of Scotland) and I (of England and Ireland) would use the argument of contiguity to strengthen the case for the union of the Crowns of England and Scotland. It was also considered easier to make the new union stick where there were marked similarities in 'language, customs and institutions', as Machiavelli observed in the third chapter of The Prince. Francesco Guicciardini made the same point when he spoke of the conformità that made the newly conquered kingdom of Navarre such a fine acquisition for Ferdinand the Catholic. Yet contiguity and conformity did not necessarily of themselves lead on to integral union. Spanish Navarre remained in many respects a kingdom apart, and saw no major transformation of its traditional laws, institutions and customs before 1841.
According to the seventeenth-century Spanish jurist Juan de Solórzano Pereira, there were two ways in which newly acquired territory might be united to a king's other dominions. One was 'accessory' union, whereby a kingdom or province, on union with another, was regarded juridically as part and parcel of it, with its inhabitants possessing the same rights and subject to the same laws. The outstanding example of this kind of union in the Spanish Monarchy was provided by the Spanish Indies, which were juridically incorporated into the Crown of Castile. The incorporation of Wales with England by the Acts of Union of 1536 and 1543 may also be regarded as an accessory union.
There was also, according to Solórzano, the form of union known as aeque principaliter, under which the constituent kingdoms continued after their union to be treated as distinct entities, preserving their own laws, fueros and privileges. 'These kingdoms', wrote Solórzano, 'must be ruled and governed as if the king who holds them all together were king only of each one of them.' Most of the kingdoms and provinces of the Spanish Monarchy-Aragon, Valencia, the principality of Catalonia, the kingdoms of Sicily and Naples, and the different provinces of the Netherlands-fell more or less squarely into this second category. In all of them the king was expected, and indeed obliged, to maintain their distinctive identity and status.
This second method of union possessed certain clear advantages for rulers and ruled in the circumstances of early modern Europe, although Francis Bacon, in A Brief Discourse Touching the Happy Union of the Kingdoms of England and Scotland, would later comment on its inadequacies. In any union, the problem was how to hold on to such new acquisitions in a ruthlessly competitive world. Of the two recommendations offered by Machiavelli in his laconic piece of advice about the treatment of conquered republics-'destroy them or else go to live there'-the first was liable to be self-defeating and the second impracticable. But he also suggested letting conquered states 'continue to live under their own laws, exacting tribute and setting up an oligarchical government that will keep the state friendly towards you'. This method was a natural consequence of union aeque principaliter, and was employed with considerable success by the Spanish Habsburgs over the course of the sixteenth century to hold their enormous Spanish Monarchy together.
The greatest advantage of union aeque principaliter was that by ensuring the survival of their customary laws and institutions it made more palatable to the inhabitants the kind of transfer of territory that was inherent in the international dynastic game. No doubt they often felt considerable initial resentment at finding themselves subordinated to a 'foreign' ruler. But a promise by the ruler to observe traditional laws, customs and practices could mitigate the pains of these dynastic transactions, and help reconcile elites to the change of masters. The observance of traditional laws and customs involved in particular the perpetuation of Estates and representative institutions. Since sixteenth-century rulers were generally used to working with such bodies, this was not in itself an insuperable difficulty, although it could in time lead to complications, as it did with the union of the Crowns of Castile and Aragon. The traditional institutional restraints on kingship were so much stronger in the Aragonese territories than in sixteenth-century Castile that it became difficult for a Crown grown accustomed to relative freedom of action in one part of its dominions to accept that its powers were so curtailed in another. The disparity between the two constitutional systems was also conducive to friction between the constituent parts of the union when friction expressed itself in a widening disparity between their fiscal contributions. The difficulty of extracting subsidies from the Cortes of the Crown of Aragon naturally persuaded monarchs to turn for financial assistance with increasing frequency to the Cortes of Castile, which were more amenable to royal direction. Castilians came to resent the higher tax burden they were called on to bear, while the Aragonese, Catalans and Valencians complained at the diminishing frequency with which their Cortes were summoned, and feared that their constitutions were being silently subverted.
Yet the alternative, which was to reduce newly united realms to the status of conquered provinces, was too risky for most sixteenth-century rulers to contemplate. Few early modern rulers were as well placed as Emmanuel Philibert of Savoy, who, after recovering his war-devastated territories in 1559, was in a position to begin the construction of a Savoyard state almost from scratch, and passed on to his successors a centralising bureaucratic tradition which would make Piedmont-Savoy, at least by the standards of early modern Europe, an unusually integrated state. In general it seemed safer, when taking over a new kingdom or province in reasonable working order, to accept the status quo and keep the machinery functioning. Some institutional innovations might be possible, like the creation in Spanish Naples of a collateral council, but it was important to avoid alienating the province's elite by introducing too many changes too soon.
On the other hand, some initial degree of integration was called for if the monarch were to take effective control of his new territory. What instruments were available to secure this? Coercion played its part in establishing certain early modern unions, like the union of Portugal with Castile in 1580; but the maintenance of an army of occupation was not only an expensive business, as the English found in Ireland, but could also militate against the very policy of integration that the Crown was attempting to pursue, as the Austrians were to discover towards the end of the seventeenth century in their attempts to bring Hungary under royal control.
Failing a more or less permanent military presence, the choice came down to the creation of new institutional organs at the highest level of government, and the use of patronage to win and retain the loyalty of the old administrative and political elites. Since royal absenteeism was an inescapable feature of composite monarchies, the first and most important change likely to be experienced by a kingdom or province brought into union with another more powerful than itself was the departure of the court, the loss of capital status for its principal city and the replacement of the monarch by a governor or viceroy. No viceroy could fully compensate for the absence of the monarch in the face-to-face societies of early modern Europe. But the Spanish solution of appointing a council of native councillors attendant on the king went some way towards alleviating the problem, by providing a forum in which local opinions and grievances could be voiced at court, and local knowledge could be used in the determination of policy. At a higher level, a council of state, composed largely, but not always exclusively, of Castilian councillors, stood in reserve as at least a nominal instrument for final policy decisions and coordination in the light of the interests of the Spanish Monarchy as a whole. A council of state was something notably absent in the British composite monarchy of the seventeenth century. Here the privy councils of Scotland and Ireland operated in Edinburgh and Dublin rather than at court, and neither James I nor Charles I attempted to create a council for all Britain.
Excerpted from SPAIN, EUROPE & THE WIDER WORLD 1500-1800 by J.H. ELLIOTT Copyright © 2009 by J. H. Elliott . Excerpted by permission.
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