Abstract and Keywords
In the late pre-Reformation period, re-urbanization and increasing monetization impacting on what had become a profoundly rural civilization gave rise to political structures markedly different from those of the pre-Christian Mediterranean world. The increasing availability of energy from water power and wind power was one important (and much underestimated) factor enabling economic growth. Another was the expansion of the monetary mass as a result of the establishment of a supralocal financial system (unknown to the ancient world) and the easy availability of credit. This helped to give the more important princes an increasing edge over lesser actors, at the same time that development was both furthered and impeded by conflicting cultural and ideological currents — as reflected in the thinking of such authors as Enea Silvio Piccolomini, Nicolaus Cusanus, Jean Bodin, Johannes Althusius, and Thomas Hobbes. Even 18th-century ‘absolute’ monarchies like the French or Prussian ones remained closer to the ‘heteronomous’ political structures of the pre-Reformation period than to today's state.
4.1 A new, more dynamic era
As discussed, the economy of the pre‐christian Mediterranean world, in which trade and technological innovation played a comparatively small role, was relatively static, not characterized by the kind of ‘economic growth’ nowadays considered normal and indeed imperative. As we saw in Chapter 2 , the population of the Roman empire is generally assumed to have reached a maximum of about fifty million (seventy million if we take a high estimate) around the beginning of our era. In other words, the number of inhabitants thereafter remained stagnant; indeed, the long‐term trend even in the prosperous early part of the first millennium was probably downward.
The disappearance of the western Roman empire in the fifth century was followed by a further decline, both of the population of that part of the world and of its living standards. 1 Exactly why this should have been so seems hard to answer. It cannot just have been the result of instability, even though this would have been an exacerbating factor. Visigothic Spain was essentially free of foreign invasion and hardly affected severely by the recurrent infighting of the ruling elite over the throne. The royal court at Toledo at least provided the country with some measure of administrative unity and continuity—yet even if it was less badly affected than war‐torn Italy, Spain did not escape the economic and cultural degradation observable throughout the west. The eastern empire seems still to have been populous and wealthy in the sixth century, and its marked decay, both economically and culturally, from the seventh century onwards is easy to blame on its great territorial losses and long drawn‐out struggle for survival against the Arabs. Yet this conspicuous drain on resources may mask other, additional, and conceivably still more important causes undermining its vitality and at work even before the seventh century. Although, naturally, the evidence is not all one‐way, an underlying downward trend, including culturally, to me seems to characterize the whole of the old Mediterranean world from at least the third century onwards.
(p. 342 ) According to the frequently cited figures of J. C. Russell, the population of southern, central, and western Europe fell from 21 million around the year 500 to 14.5 million around the year 650. But thereafter, the same population started to grow again, to 29 million around the year 1000 and 60.5 million in the mid‐fourteenth century, prior to the onset of the great plague. 2 Even that stopped the growth of the population of Europe only temporarily: within 100 years a strong upward trend was restored.
4.1.1 Economic renewal: the millennium of mills
A favourable evolution of the climate seems to have played a role here, 3 but technological advances may have been far more important. Ploughs were improved in the second half of the first millennium, which was the more necessary as the soils of northern Europe are heavier than those of the Mediterranean basin. Wheeled ploughs made it possible to regulate the depth of the furrows, plough shares made of iron or covered with iron made for greater efficiency and durability of the equipment. Mould boards served to turn the soil opened up by the plough shares. The type of yoke used in the pre‐christian Mediterranean world was suitable for oxen but less so for horses, since if the load was heavy it asphyxiated them. It was only the introduction of the horse collar that permitted horses to be used for ploughing, for which they are better suited than oxen, and for pulling heavy carts. (The horses known to the pre‐christian pólis‐world—and, presumably, the Roman world, too—were considerably smaller than the breeds to which we are used nowadays, and ill‐suited for ploughing and heavy loads in any case; conversely, to plough the lighter soils of, e.g. Attikế, mules could be used as well as oxen.) 4 No more than the horse collar did the pre‐christian Mediterranean world have horse shoes or stirrups. They arrived in western Europe in the ninth or tenth century, having originated, like the horse collar, in Asia. Stirrups allowed the rider to handle his weapons more effectively, and also enabled him to wear heavier armour, for which the breeds of horses by then available were large and strong enough. More importantly, from an economic point of view, horse shoes further increased the efficiency of horses as draught and pack animals. 5
But a still more significant and basic factor contributing to the economic and demographic dynamism of Latin christendom and indeed ancien régime Europe right up to the onset of industrialization was the spread of watermills. The old Mediterranean civilization was run on very little energy. By the end of the ancien régime, Europe had far more energy available to it than did the Graeco‐Roman world; the reason was mills. Though we are familiar with the enormous impact on society of the increased availability of machine power resulting from the invention of the steam engine, the fundamental importance of the history of milling for the evolution of western civilization, including its political structures, is far from having received the attention that it deserves.
The kind of grain that, from its inception in the Greek world, has been the main nutritional basis of western civilization cannot be eaten raw, nor can it be cooked (or baked) as it is. It has to be ground first, for which mills are needed. In the pre‐christian Mediterranean world, for a long time milling was done by hand. A significant portion (p. 343 ) of the available labour had to be invested in milling. ‘[F]ifty slave women he had in the house, of whom some grind the yellow grain on the millstone, and others weave fabrics, or, as they sit, twirl the yarn’: in describing the residence of the king of the Phaiaks, a very grand lord with whom Odysseús is staying at one point in the course of his travels; Homer in the eighth century bce lists milling as the first of two major tasks of the slave women, before the production of textiles. 6 The royal residence of Odysseús himself, on the island of Ithákê, is somewhat less grand, requiring less flour: at the mills there ‘twelve women in all plied their tasks, making meal of barley and of wheat, the marrow of men’. When Odysseús, unrecognized, returns after a twenty‐year absence, he overhears one of those women curse her bone‐breaking work late at night—being the weakest, she is still busy with it even as the others have gone to sleep. She interprets a distant thunder as an omen from Zeus that the days of the suitors, who have taken over the royal residence while they are trying to get queen Pênelópê to marry one of them, are numbered. 7
For this woman, reducing the number of mouths to feed was the only way to lessen her workload. It was not until many generations later that the harnessing of water power and wind power would set free an enormous amount of labour that, like hers, hitherto had unavoidably been tied up in milling. Moreover, once this technology had been established, it proved the catalyst for many further improvements, liberating still more labour while at the same time increasing productivity in every production process to which it was applied. Slow to get under way in the Graeco‐Roman world, in the period of Latin christendom this development eventually gained enormous momentum.
22.214.171.124 Tentative beginnings: watermills in the Greek and Roman world
The mills operated by the women mentioned by Homer had an upper millstone or runner stone that was moved back and forth across the lower millstone, the grindstone or bedstone (sometimes spelled ‘bidstone’). Such mills consumed a lot of muscle power, since the runner stone had to be continually stopped and re‐accelerated, a great waste of momentum. Even with the levered version that appeared some time after Homer, the back‐and‐forth movement of the runner stone remained intrinsically wasteful of energy. The invention of revolving mills—operated by hand, or by draught animals—was thus a breakthrough in itself. Here, the milling could be carried out in one continuous movement. Not introduced until the fourth century bce, revolving mills were also the prerequisite for the invention of watermills, which appeared in the third century bce at the earliest.
Millstones have to be horizontal. In the simplest type of watermill—the turbine mill—the mill wheel, built like a propeller or ship's screw, is horizontal, too. Linked to the revolving runner stone by a vertical axle, it requires no gearing. More refined than the kind of turbine mill common in parts of Europe in the more recent past, the Roman mill complex of Simitthus (Chemtou in what is now Tunisia) consisted of three circular shafts of masonry that ensured that no water could bypass the horizontal mill wheel at the bottom, while also acting as pressure tanks. Water was fed into the shafts tangentially, giving it a circular movement from the start and, because the ducts were tapered, accelerating it in the manner of a jet. The water came from the Bagrada (p. 344 ) river (now Oued Medjerda), which was dammed at this point by a collapsed bridge that archaeologists think was last restored in the late third century. Evidently the mill complex was built later, yet seems to have been abandoned as early as the first half of the fourth century. A nearly identical complex at Tichilla (now Testour) on the same river has been dated to the same period. However, no further example of this type of mill has yet been discovered anywhere, either from the Roman period or of later date, suggesting that it was the work of a local inventor that failed to spread beyond its area of origin. If it had spread, the technology, as efficient as it is simple even as it seems to bear the signature of an experienced engineer, would no doubt have continued to be employed after the demise of the empire, so that recent examples of the same type would have been found. 8
The type of mill wheel most familiar from Europe and North America is vertical (i.e. the axle is horizontal). This requires gearing to transform the vertical rotation of the waterwheel into the horizontal rotation required for milling. The two basic varieties of the vertical mill wheel are the undershot wheel and the far more powerful overshot wheel. In the case of an undershot wheel, the water hits the wheel paddles in the lower section of the wheel, which can simply be hung into the current. It thus requires little site preparation, least of all in the case of the ship mill, which has an undershot wheel mounted between two pontoons anchored in a river and which in much of Europe was a familiar sight well into the nineteenth century. The water for running a mill can also be supplied by a mill race, indispensable in the case of the overshot wheel, which the water hits from above. If the mill race makes the construction of the mill more complicated, in return it makes it possible to control the water flow (by means of a weir), and to tap even quite small streams. In the case of the overshot wheel, a big additional advantage is its high power output. 9
It is generally taken for granted that the overshot wheel was known in the Roman period, but the evidence to me seems to point the other way. In Capital (Chapter 15 Section 3b), Karl Marx cites a poem 10 by Antípatros of Thessaloníkê dating from the latter part of the first century bce and which Marx presents as an early example of machine power being regarded (wrongly, in his view) as enabling people to work less. He quotes the poem in the 1782 German translation of Christian zu Stolberg, rendered as follows in the 1887 English edition of Capital edited by Friedrich Engels:
- Spare the hand that grinds the corn, oh, miller girls, and softly sleep.
- Let Chanticleer announce the morn in vain!
- Deo has commanded the work of the girls to be done by the Nymphs,
- and now they skip lightly over the wheels,
- so that the shaken axles revolve with their spokes
- and pull round the load of the revolving stones.(p. 345 )
- Let us live the life of our fathers, and let us rest from work
- and enjoy the gifts that the Goddess sends us.
‘Deo’—Dêố;—is the Homeric name for Dêmếter, goddess of grain, but also in charge of the nymphs, who in Greek mythology were water spirits associated with sources, streams, and the like. The Greek text describes the nymphs as kat'akrotátên halloménai trochiến, which may be rendered as ‘jumping (or skipping) along the topmost (or outermost) (part of the) wheel’. Andrew Wilson, 11 in claiming that the phrase means ‘jumping down onto the topmost part of the wheel’, and that the nymphs are simply identical with the water, overlooks the alternative reading adopted by Stolberg. This has the nymphs 'skipping over’, or dancing on the wheel, as if rejoicing in the power of the water, from which they are distinct, but with which they are associated. That seems more in keeping with the traditional image of nymphs, and is applicable to either type of vertical mill wheel: even if the water flows underneath the wheel the nymphs can still frolic on top of it. The poem is thus entirely compatible with the assumption that the overshot wheel was not yet known, and no proof at all that it was.
Wilson further points out that Antípatros is alluding to a geared mill, and that this rules out a horizontal mill wheel since that does not require gearing. In fact, it does not follow that such a mill cannot be geared; archaeological evidence of a second‐century geared horizontal mill will be cited in a moment. In Antípatros’ poem, it is not the fact of gearing that rules out a horizontal mill wheel but its kind. The reference to gearing consists in the words aktínessin heliktaís, a dative of instrument which literally means something like ‘by means of rotating (or: swirling) rays’. Wilson believes this to be a reference to ‘ “encircling” or “rotating” cogs’. That seems to be stretching the meaning of the word ‘rays’. Stolberg, more correctly I think, has ‘the shaken axles revolve with their spokes’, where the words in italics correspond to aktínessin heliktaís. He may have got the image of spokes from the ‘rays’—something radiating outwards from a centre, as spokes of course do: indeed radius is the Latin for 'spoke’—being described by Antípatros as ‘rotating’ or 'swirling’, like for example the rotating spokes of the carriage wheels with which Stolberg (1748–1821) would have been familiar.
But where are the spokes in a mill? In the mill wheel? Perhaps Stolberg thought so, but there is another solution. In the 1940s, archaeologists discovered the remains of a watermill belonging to a second‐century Roman villa (a country estate) near Hagendorn in the Swiss canton of Zug. Part of the finding was at first identified as wagon wheels: wooden rods looking very much like spokes radiating from axles. On closer examination the spokes seemed rather short for wagon wheels. There was no trace of a rim, and the axles turned out to have been connected to a waterwheel and a revolving millstone, respectively. The contraption was identified as what the archaeologists’ report (not published until 1991) 12 calls a Sterngetriebe or star gearing: the axles were set at right angles, geared together not by means of cogs but by means of the pointed 'spokes’ inserted into (and thus radiating from) sturdy discs around the axles. As the spokes were quite numerous, even a relatively slow rotation would produce the 'swirling’ effect that Antípatros may be alluding to. No one seems as yet to have established a connection between Antípatros’ poem and the Hagendorn find; but I suspect that he had a star gearing in mind.
(p. 346 ) With a star gearing, at least of the Hagendorn type, both axles turn at the same speed. It is apparently still found, or was found until recently, in the Near and Middle East—not for milling, but for pumping water: think of a vertical waterwheel, with buckets on the rim scooping water, and driven by a donkey turning a horizontal wheel. Here, the fact that the waterwheel turns no faster than the donkey walks presents no great disadvantage, there being no need for the waterwheel to rotate particularly fast. In milling, however, the faster the rotation of the millstone the better. Clearly, the star gearing documented at Hagendorn and, with some likelihood, described in Antípatros’ poem, represents an early stage of watermill technology. This is in keeping with the fact that Antípatros adopts the pretence of telling the ‘miller girls’ something new. Of course, real mill operators would not have needed a poet to advise them of this new invention. At the same time, however, if the invention had been around already for generations, the poetic pretence would not have worked.
In interpreting Antípatros’ ‘rays’ as ‘cogs’, Wilson was no doubt influenced by a famous passage in Vitruvius (10.5.2), which describes a gear box for a mill driven by an undershot waterwheel. Vitruvius unambiguously speaks of ‘toothed discs [tympana dentata]’, of which the one on the axle driven by the waterwheel was the larger (maius): in other words, the millstone rotated faster than the waterwheel. It is striking that Vitruvius was familiar with this kind of gearing, much more suitable for milling than the star gearing, but Antípatros writing more or less at the same time apparently was not. Vitruvius was an expert engineer. Antípatros, on the other hand, must have based himself on what he was seeing around him, which suggests that the relatively few watermills that he was able to inspect (they must have been relatively few or he could not have presented them as a novelty) typically had the more primitive star gearing.
Both Vitruvius and Antípatros were active in the second half of the first century bce. Wood from the Hagendorn mill has been dated with the help of the tree rings: it was cut in the year 176 ce. So even then news of the superior gearing described by Vitruvius had not reached the Hagendorn villa. The reason for this was not its geographical remoteness from the core areas of the Graeco‐Roman world, since evidence of more advanced technology from the same period has been found still further north. In 1912, archaeologists discovered the remains of a Roman mill at Zugmantel near Frankfurt‐am‐Main, on the very edge of the Roman empire. Situated on a hilltop and associated with a Roman fort, this mill was not water‐powered but turned by humans or animals. Yet it possessed a whim: a gearing with wooden gear wheels of different size but parallel axles. In other words, the sole purpose of this gearing was to speed up the rotation of the millstone, not—as is necessary in a watermill—to convert the vertical rotation of the waterwheel into the horizontal rotation required for milling. In 1996, another Roman mill was found near Aschheim in Bavaria. Consisting of a wooden frame, about a metre high, that supported the millstones, it had a metal crank turned vertically by hand and a gearing that, if the archaeologists have reconstructed it correctly, already looked exactly like the standard mill gearing of the late pre‐industrial age. A large cog turned by the crank was geared to a small pinion on the axle of the millstone, which therefore rotated much faster than the crank. This pinion—like the Zugmantel one—was not toothed, but of the ‘lantern’ type, a trundle: two parallel discs connected by sturdy cylindrical bars along their rim. The large cog of the Aschheim mill likewise was not toothed along the rim but, like the standard large cog wheel employed by the millwrights of the ancien régime, consisted of (p. 347 ) short, thick pegs set vertically into the rim on one side of the wheel but without sticking out beyond its circumference.
This gearing is not the one described by Vitruvius. The problem with toothed cogs (tympana dentata) would have been to keep them geared precisely to each other, since the pressure brought to bear on them by the inertia of the waterwheel and of the millstone, and the torque of their axles, would easily either shift them out of position or cause damage to the teeth along the rim—a late ancien régime gear wheel for a mill would typically have replaceable teeth and pegs made from softer wood (such as fruit wood) than the wheel frame so that in the event of some mishap they would shear off without damaging the frame. The shorter the teeth, the more robust the cogs. Short teeth required a sturdy construction ensuring that the cogs were held in position securely, since even a little play would incapacitate the machine. Long teeth allowed for more play but were more easily breakable. A star gearing (which as it were consists of very long teeth) allowed for maximum play but would have been least pressure‐resistant. Clearly, the abandoning of protruding teeth in the gearing of the Aschheim mill is the fruit of some experience with milling and of adaptation to the stresses to which the machinery is exposed—and that despite the fact that, as I think is likely, the overshot wheel with its high energy output had not even been invented. The torque exerted by an overshot wheel is notoriously high; probably too high for a star gearing. The ‘circumference gearing’ represented by the Aschheim mill is less affected by torque. Used even for a handmill as in the Aschheim find, it is no indication that the overshot wheel was known—though it was a precondition for its eventual introduction. 13
Both the Zugmantel mill and the Aschheim mill are dated by the archaeologists to the second century, which means that they are roughly coeval with the Hagendorn mill. The coexistence of the advanced gearing of the former two with the primitive star gearing of the latter to my mind suggests that advanced milling technology, which all three of them display (the Hagendorn mill by virtue of its power source), was rare, preventing the emergence of a common technological standard. Perhaps this also explains why (apparently) innovative technology such as that found on the Bagrada river failed to catch on and spread to other areas.
When the Goths besieged Rome in 537, they cut the aqueducts serving the city. This did not lead to any shortage of drinking water, only to the closure of the public baths. More inconveniently, it caused a shortage of flour: served by one of those aqueducts, the Aqua Traiana, the watermills on the Ianiculum hill (now Gianicolo) were left without power, forcing the defenders to build ship mills on the Tiber. The historian Prokópios, in his eyewitness report of that war, speaks of the Ianiculum as ‘a great hill where all the mills of the city have been built from old, because much water is brought by an aqueduct to the crest of the hill, and rushes thence down the incline with great force’. 14 Still in good condition, the Traiana now supplies a monumental fountain on the slope of the Gianicolo built in 1605 by pope Paul V. Since the aqueduct brings water to a hillside, there is so much height of fall available here that any late ancien régime engineer commissioned to use this water for driving mills would as a matter of course have equipped them with overshot wheels, which require a lot of head (the difference in height between the (p. 348 ) ‘headwater’ upstream of the mill and the ‘tailwater’ downstream) but yield far more energy than undershot wheels. A third‐century complex of mills drawing on the water of the Traiana and partly excavated in 1998 is the only evidence of the Roman mills of the Gianicolo so far discovered. It was equipped only with undershot wheels. 15
Overshot mill wheels are generally assumed to have turned in the great mill complex of Barbégal near Arles in southern France, variously dated to the second, third, or fourth century. An aqueduct brought water to a ridge overlooking a plain. As the water leapt downhill over eight terraces set into the hillside, it apparently powered twin mill wheels, separated by a stairway, on each of those terraces. Almost nothing now remains of the architecture of the complex, so not only is it not clear how the machinery was housed, but also there is nothing to indicate what type of mill was employed here. If the many reconstruction attempts unanimously posit overshot wheels, it is because their authors assume the Roman builders of the complex to have realized that overshot wheels are the most energy‐efficient and that the height of fall provided by the hillside practically cries out for them. But on closer examination that assumption seems questionable.
The total height of fall available here is 18.6 m, or 2.33 m for each of the eight wheels: for overshot wheels, that is just about feasible, but suboptimal. 2.33 m corresponds pretty much exactly to the minimum head of four ‘ells’ (Ellen) posited for overshot wheels in the self‐consciously scientific handbook on milling technology of Leupold and Beier of 1735—anything less, the handbook explains, and the wheels would have to be very broad. More recent literature tends to give a slightly higher minimum (such as 2.5 m). But overshot wheels are the more powerful the larger they are—where enough height of fall was available, in the late ancien régime they routinely had a diameter between 5 and 10 m. Anyone wanting to operate overshot wheels on this site and who knew what they were doing would have built seven terraces at most, and almost certainly fewer. That of course would have meant fewer machines, too—but more powerful machines, with less construction and maintenance effort: thus, if the mills were gristmills (as fragments of millstones on the site indicate), with larger overshot wheels their throughput of grain would have been higher.
Now what about simply positing undershot wheels (or ‘breast wheels’, which the water hits halfway up their total height, and which the archaeologists’ report on the Hagendorn mill speculates may have operated both there and at Barbégal)? All difficulties disappear: 2.33 m of head is ample for them, nor would there have been a premium, in this case, on having larger rather than more wheels: larger undershot wheels would have made sense in a big river with its unlimited supply of feeding water, but not given a relatively sparse supply as here (overshot wheels do not have this problem as they make better use of limited feeding water). Even though, at Barbégal, overshot wheels would have been physically possible, they would indicate a lack of expertise concerning them. The set‐up with its eight terraces more plausibly suggests a scenario in which whoever planned this site was, as a matter of course, thinking in terms of undershot wheels (or perhaps breast wheels)—quite likely because overshot wheels were as yet unknown. 16
(p. 349 ) 126.96.36.199 Takeoff: water and wind power as the motor of post‐Roman western civilization
What drives overshot waterwheels is almost exclusively the weight of the water filling the cell‐like compartments or ‘buckets’ along their rim and pulled down by the force of gravity, rather than the impetus of the current captured by the paddles of undershot wheels: in the jargon of physics, undershot wheels are powered by the kinetic energy of the water, and overshot wheels by its potential energy. That overshot wheels are the more efficient type is not intuitively obvious—especially as they turn slowly, as if lazily. To understand why they are more powerful one has to remember that the impetus provided by flowing water is likewise solely due to the force of gravity (for doing which of course it is necessary to have the concept of gravity in the first place, as, if I am not mistaken, the Graeco‐Roman world did not).
Unless we are talking about a waterfall, a natural watercourse like a stream or river has only a moderate to imperceptible incline. Whereas in a horizontal waterwheel the Coriolis force may play a minor role depending on its construction, what drives a vertical waterwheel, of any construction, is ultimately the force of gravity and nothing else; and that force is the greater the greater the incline along the distance over which the water acts on the waterwheel. With this in mind, it becomes clear why, given the same quantity of water acting on the wheel per unit of time, the overshot wheel makes more efficient use of it than the undershot wheel. The vertical distance travelled by the water while it pushes the overshot wheel is far greater. Moreover, trapped by the ‘buckets’ of the wheel, the water cannot escape from acting on the wheel, whereas part of it does just that in the case of the average undershot wheel (unless there is a mill race and the wheel is encased to keep all the water acting on the paddles). The energy output of a waterwheel is the product of the weight of the water acting on the wheel per unit of time and the vertical distance that the water travels while acting on the wheel. Other things being equal, an undershot wheel turns faster than an overshot one, which means that during the same period it ‘processes’ more water than does the overshot wheel. This in part compensates the fact that it operates with a far lesser height of fall. Nevertheless, the energy output of the overshot wheel is several times (five or more) that of a comparable undershot wheel.
The overshot wheel is subject to greater constraints than the undershot one, which means that not infrequently only an undershot wheel is possible—starting with the necessary minimum head that in flat terrain is usually not available. Further, the slow rotation of the waterwheel necessitates a gearing with a high speed ratio to ensure that the upper millstone rotates fast enough. Moreover, less incline in a watercourse often means more water—a torrent in the mountains carries far less water than a mighty river in the plain. If the discharge (quantity per unit of time) and flow rate of the feeding water is not a problem, the low energy output of an undershot wheel can be compensated by simply placing a number of them one after the other, since each ‘uses up’ so little head. Alternatively, in the case of a ship mill, or a mill built between the pillars of a bridge as also was often done in Latin christendom, it is possible to equip it with a very broad wheel, or again use several, set side by side.
In the famous passage cited earlier, Vitruvius explains that the mills discussed by him were powered in the same way as the bucket wheel (for irrigation) that he describes immediately before; this was, and to some extent still is, common in the Near and Middle East. Known as noria in Arabic, it is basically a paddle wheel driven by the current—that (p. 350 ) is, with respect to the way it is powered it is an undershot wheel. Since mill builders were initially interested in a power source, a source of rotational kinetic energy for milling, and since it is the paddles, not the buckets, that cause a bucket wheel to turn, it is easy to see why they happily adopted the paddle wheel for milling and did not bother to reflect whether an even better, if less obvious, power source might not, as it were, be hidden in the buckets, which instead were got rid of. (The breast wheels that may have operated at Hagendorn or Barbégal would have had paddles like undershot wheels, not buckets like overshot wheels.) The buckets of a noria empty the water scooped out of the river that makes the wheel turn into a conduit connected to an irrigation system. It seems to have required more lateral thinking than anybody could be bothered to invest in to grasp that instead of powering the wheel—by means of paddles pushed by the current—to empty the buckets it was possible to do the reverse: fill the buckets to power the wheel. This leap of the imagination was the less likely as the kind of river powering a noria—like the Orontes (in Arabic, Asi), where they are still quite numerous—did not permit overshot wheels owing to its slight incline. Most likely, the requisite mental breakthrough came only once watermills had become ubiquitous, which in the Roman world was not yet the case, and were routinely experimented with by a considerable number of people specializing in their construction.
Watermill technology was less simple than in retrospect it may appear. By the standards of the pre‐industrial age, the overshot mill, in particular, set free a vast amount of kinetic energy, which could cause havoc if not controlled properly. We have already discussed the need for sturdy gearing. By the late ancien régime, a good watermill would have a large ‘pit wheel’—so‐called because it was often partly sunk into the floor of the mill house—mounted on the same axle as the waterwheel. The pit wheel was geared to a small pinion and thereby drove a horizontal ‘great spur wheel’, a large, fast‐revolving toothed wheel on the floor above and mounted on the same vertical axle as the pinion. The spur wheel in turn meshed into the 'stone nut’, another small pinion driving the runner stone (or several, each with its own pinion and set along the circumference of the spur wheel). The double transmission ensured that the runner stone rotated twenty‐five to thirty times faster than the waterwheel: for milling flour with horizontal millstones a minimum of some fifty revolutions per minute is apparently necessary, but a good mill in the late pre‐industrial era would achieve 120 or so. That required sturdy metal bearings lest some fast‐spinning axle pierced its worn‐out bearings and set the wooden machinery on fire. Nor is a millstone indestructible: the stresses on the stone rise as the square of its rotational speed. There was a considerable risk of its disintegration, and a lump of stone with an average weight, in the late ancien régime, of two to three tons breaking up as it turns at high speed is not an experience one would want to repeat. Moreover, a high‐quality millstone—often imported from far away, and made up of several pieces joined together—could cost a small fortune. It was commonly secured with iron hoops around its circumference. 17
The higher the rotational speed of the runner stone, the more important was it that it never touch the bedstone, even though at the same time the distance between them has to be minute. If the two were to touch, not only would the result be stone grit mixed into the flour, but the valuable grinding surfaces would be damaged. In the Graeco‐Roman world, (p. 351 ) millstones were conical, the inclined grinding surfaces forcing the grind to travel across them under the pull of gravity. Developed for querns, they were also used at Hagendorn or the third‐century mill complex on the Gianicolo, indicating either low‐powered, slow‐moving millstones or a failure to grasp that with high‐powered, fast‐moving millstones the centrifugal momentum is sufficient to pull the grind across the grinding surfaces. Millstones in ancien régime Europe were exactly level and inscribed with an intricate pattern of straight or curving sharp‐edged lines. Wide‐profile lines brought in air to cool the grist and prevent it from being roasted during the milling process. Other lines broke up the grist and directed it along as long a route towards the outer rim as possible (or a less long route if groats rather than flour were desired). The lines needed to be regularly resharpened, and the surfaces between them roughened since the milling process polished them—unless one invested in high‐quality millstones of hard, small‐pored material, such as the burrstone of La Ferté‐sous‐Jouarre (on the Marne river east of Paris) or the lava stone from the Eifel hills near Mayen. As even prolonged wear would never render their surfaces smooth, millstones from those two places were so sought after that they could be exported widely, including to England—where in the pre‐Reformation period millstones from the Mayen area were known as ‘Cullen’ stones because they were marketed (via the Rhine) by merchants based in Cologne. 18
To keep the runner stone at just the right distance from the bedstone, a tentering mechanism was needed to permit it to be lifted and lowered with millimetre precision. It was in a raised position while the mill was being powered up; only when it reached the required rotational speed was it carefully lowered into the desired position, almost touching the grindstone but not quite. Keeping it in this position was somewhat tricky too, since its rotational momentum pushes it upwards. Since grist fed into the mill ‘lubricated’ the grinding surfaces as it was being ground up, it was imperative that the runner stone not turn in the lowered position when there was no grist to insulate it from the bedstone. In other words, the grist must not be allowed to run out while the runner stone was turning. This was ensured by the hopper suspended above the runner stone and feeding the grist into the hole at its centre through a 'shoe’ struck by the ‘clapper’, a damsel connected to the rotating machinery and first recorded in an illustration of about 1480. 19 Agitating the shoe and hopper was necessary to keep the grist flowing. For added safety, a bell would be mounted inside the hopper: it remained silent as long as it was covered with grist but, owing to the rhythmic shaking of the hopper, went off when it became uncovered. 20
Perhaps because there were as yet few watermills in the first place, and perhaps also because the absence of overshot mills meant that less energy was available in total, mills in the Roman period appear to have been employed almost exclusively for milling grain. But with mills becoming a standard appliance, and especially with overshot mills in operation, a surplus of energy meant that more and more mills were employed for other purposes as well. Concerning the Roman period, a passage in Ausonius’ poem on the Mosel river of 371 is generally considered the only testimony of an ‘industrial’ application, beyond milling, of water power. In enumerating the tributaries of the Mosel, (p. 352 ) Ausonius says of one of them, the ‘marble‐famed Ruwer [marmore clarus Erubris]’, that
praecipiti torquens cerealia saxa rotatu
turning with rapid rotation the grain‐crushing stones
stridentesque trahens per levia marmora serras
and pulling the screeching saws through smooth marble slabs
audit perpetuos ripa ex utraque tumultus
from both its banks it hears a ceaseless din.
Evidently, the mills on the banks of the Ruwer were used both for milling grain and for cutting marble, and quite a lot of it too, it seems. Ausonius describes the rotation of the millstones as praeceps, a word that by its etymology literally designates a ‘headlong’ rush. This suggests that the mills in question were quite advanced. Millstones are not actually very loud, nor does their low rumble carry well, and wooden gear wheels, lubricated with tallow or beeswax, are practically noiseless. So the ‘ceaseless din’ must have been due to the saws eating into the marble. The same poem speaks of the grand country houses (villae) lined up along the Mosel, which, Ausonius says, had coffered ceilings of marble as well as floors of ‘Phrygian tiles [Phrygiae crustae]’, the raw material for the latter—popular in the Roman world—being quarried in Asia Minor (nor is marble found in the Ruwer area). The Ruwer joins the Mosel just downstream from Trier, at that time residence of the Roman emperor, Valentinian I, to whose entourage Ausonius belonged. The frequent presence of the ruler around the time when the poem was written may have caused additional demand both for flour and for upmarket building material. 21
In the second half of the first millennium, watermills clearly spread swiftly. The abbey of Saint Wandrille‐de‐Fontenelle in Normandy owned 63 in about 787, the abbey of Saint Germain‐des‐Prés in Paris had 85 around the year 820, and Prüm abbey in the Eifel hills had 50 in 893. 22 Those mills may still have been of a somewhat primitive type, like the Hagendorn one, or even horizontal mills. But the spread was important to create the critical mass that enabled the technology to progress: the more mill owners there were, the greater the chance that some improvement hit on by any one of them would be copied by his neighbours, and spread in its turn. The Domesday Book of 1086 lists some 6,000 watermills in the English kingdom. It assigns each a money value, which varies enormously—perhaps reflecting, among other things, different levels of technological achievement. 23 Whereas until the eighth century more mills appear to have been given to monasteries than built by them, 24 later on the role of the great monasteries in promoting watermills seems to have been considerable. From the twelfth century onwards, it was the Cistercians in particular whose rapid expansion throughout Europe meant a boost for water power technology. The Cistercians had a strongly ‘industrial’, engineering‐oriented streak, and liked to found their monasteries in remote areas, spreading state‐of‐the‐art mills to parts of the continent where they were perhaps not yet known. An unknown author presumably writing in the second half of twelfth century has left a somewhat (p. 353 ) humorous Latin description of the great abbey of Clairvaux, a model foundation and showpiece of the Cistercians and which established more daughter houses (some 350) all over Europe than any other of their monasteries, including Cîteaux itself. In a stunning display of verbal showmanship, the author devotes much space to the various production processes mechanized with the help of water power, illustrating the long way travelled since Antípatros. Whereas the Greek poet had only been aware of water power being used to mill grain, at Clairvaux, in the twelfth century, that was but one task performed by water power (though it still tops the list). Indeed the twelfth‐century text spells out a dependence on water power that to Antípatros was as yet unknown:
That part of the river which the wall, acting as porter, admits rushes first to the mill. Careful [i.e., anxious] and troubled about many things, 25 now he crushes the grain under the weight of the millstones, and now separates the flour from the bran by means of a fine sieve [which, like the hopper, would be shaken back and forth by a damsel connected to the mill mechanism]. But already he is filling the cauldron in the next building, giving himself over to the fire for boiling so as to furnish a drink to the friars …[The allusion, elaborated on in the omitted part of the passage, is to the brewing of beer.] But he has not yet discharged his duties. For now the fullers, right besides the mill, are calling him over, demanding that just as in the mill he was careful [anxious] to provide nourishment to the friars, so in their workshop he by rights should see to it that they have garments, too. Nor does he object, or refuse any task that he is asked to perform: alternately, he lifts and lowers the heavy pestles, or, if you prefer, hammers—perhaps it is best to call them wooden feet, for that seems most appropriate to the fullers’ business, which is jumping [in non‐mechanized fulling, the fullers stomped or jumped on the fabric]. Thus, he acquits the fullers of their heavy labour, and, if a joke be permitted on so serious a topic, indeed acquits them of the penalty for their sins [expelling Adam and Eve from the garden of Eden, god, in the book of Genesis, puts this curse on them that as a punishment for disobeying him they and their descendants from now on have to toil for their livelihood]. Dear god, how much solace you offer to your poor children, lest they sink into excessive melancholy! How much relief from their punishment you grant those who are repentant, lest they risk being quashed under the weight of their labour! For how many horses broke their backs, how many human arms spent their strength in that drudgery which the river, without our doing anything, graciously takes from us, even as without it there would be no clothes for us, nor food? But the river shares himself with us, and expects no other profit of his labour which he taketh under the sun 26 than that, having diligently accomplished everything, he is free to flow away. So he sends a great many nimble wheels spinning rapidly, and emerges foaming to the point of giving the impression of being ground and softened himself. Now he is received by the tanning house, where he displays a great deal of industrious activity in the making of what is necessary to produce [leather] shoes for the friars. Then, by and by dividing himself into many branches and busily flowing hither and thither, he has a look at all the different workshops, making a point of inquiring how he might be of service: whatever needs cooking, sieving, turning, grating, watering, laundering, milling, softening, his loyalty is unfailing. At last, unwilling to earn anything but total gratitude or to admit that his accomplishments fall short in any way, he leaves everything clean. 27
(p. 354 ) The text illustrates that mills released a great deal of labour—which could then be employed elsewhere; at the same time productivity rose. The Greek and Roman world was not yet very good at exploiting water power—but without it there was no energy to power mechanized production processes. Contrary to a widespread perception, 28 Graeco‐Roman civilization was not indifferent to technological innovation because it had slaves. Rather, with no other energy source available to power production it could not but rely heavily on human labour—which, unsurprisingly, fell first and foremost on the slaves as the least privileged part of the population, even though many craftsmen and farmers who were free men of course worked hard, too. Put simply, it was not that slaves rendered water power unnecessary, but that the lack of water power rendered their exertions the more necessary.
In fact, Roman civilization, too, went to great lengths to save muscle power—quite literally so. Prokópios, in the sixth century, was much impressed by the aqueducts serving the ancient capital of the empire: ‘[T]he aqueducts of Rome are fourteen in number, and were made of baked brick by the men of old, being of such breadth and height that it is possible for a man on horseback to ride in them.’ 29 Figures on how long those aqueducts were are hard to come by and differ alarmingly—perhaps because the course of the aqueducts is not always quite certain, especially where they ran underground (as they normally did except when they crossed valleys or approached their end point), or because rather than taking account of every bend authors adopt a more pragmatic approach based on straight lines; generally the question seems under‐researched. Roughly speaking, the shorter kind were around 20 km (12 miles) long. The longest seems to have been the Aqua Marcia at a little over 90 km (56 miles), with the rest in between. Clearly, plentiful water at sufficient elevation could be found at the shorter distance; curiously, and contrary to what one would expect, there seems to be no correlation between the age of the aqueducts (the Marcia, completed in 140 bce, is one of the older) and the remoteness of their source.
Nor were long aqueducts the privilege of the capital. The aqueduct supplying Roman Cologne, on the very edge of the empire, is stated to have been 95 km (60 miles) long. 30 Here, there may have been less choice—unlike Rome, Cologne is situated in a plain. A previous aqueduct carrying water from low hills closer to the city seems to have been lengthened in the second century to the more remote Eifel hills, presumably because the old source was deemed insufficient. The problem was to find an abundant source—in fact, the aqueduct draws on several—at a high enough elevation for the water to flow all the way to the city by itself. It was necessary to maintain a constant slight incline (at least overall—siphons were of course possible, e.g. to cross valleys): in fact even the new catchment area is not that remote as the crow flies, but the aqueduct made a considerable detour to avoid higher ground in between and cross the watershed between the Maas and the Rhine without having to dig through it at any great depth.
All this was done to obviate the need for pumps. We are accustomed to regarding the great Roman aqueducts with awe. In a way this is justified—they are great works of engineering. But at the same time they bear conspicuous testimony to the fact that (p. 355 ) Roman civilization lacked the knowledge to harness energy other than muscle power. Aqueducts were not built to obtain water as such. Both Rome and Cologne are after all situated on a great river, whose vicinity meant plenty of clean groundwater at shallow depth. Aqueducts were built to obtain running water. If no more aqueducts were built in Latin christendom, it was not because technology had regressed. If, as in the Roman period, pumps could be driven only by muscle power, then building 95 km of aqueduct might appear attractive. In Latin christendom, pumps would simply be powered by a water‐ or windmill, available at a fraction of the cost of an aqueduct. Water or wind power was frequently employed in Latin christendom and post‐Reformation Europe for pumping water—for example for irrigation, or for draining (of mine shafts, or of low‐lying land reclaimed from the sea). Where in the Roman period an aqueduct would have been the only solution, Louis XIV of France had the once‐famous (but now destroyed) machine de Marly, built in the 1680s: fourteen undershot waterwheels with a diameter of 8 m on the Seine river at Marly, driving 235 pumps that propelled water over a total difference in elevation of 165 m—their sole purpose being to feed the spectacular jets in the park of Versailles. 31
The clichéd depiction of the Graeco‐Roman world as lacking the interest in technology and innovation characteristic of the ‘early modern’ period may be due to a misperception of pre‐industrial technology as primitive and there for the taking. In fact, the technological evolution under review here probably followed its natural, exponential trajectory independently of any cultural paradigm shift: unhindered, that is, by any indifference or even hostility to technological innovation in the pre‐ or early christian period. The beginnings of watermilling were necessarily slow. Precisely because it was unaccustomed to watermills, the Graeco‐Roman world did not depend on them and thus necessarily failed to generate much pressure for perfecting the technology. A civilization in which the only machine exploiting non‐muscle power to be in widespread use was the sailing ship could have no notion of the impact that the kind of technological innovation represented by watermills might have. As long as watermills were few and far between, progress was haphazard, with technological dead ends (such as, it would appear, the Bagrada mills) inevitable.
Yet in the second half of the first millennium a tipping point was at last reached when the number of mills became great enough to spur rapid technological progress through emulation, comparison, and experiment. Now, the more people saw a watermill operating successfully, the more people wanted one for themselves. From this point onwards the evolution presumably became self‐reinforcing and ever faster. After the turn of the millennium, a veritable take‐off is evident, of which Clairvaux abbey is one manifestation. Waterwheels powered more and more applications: fulling cloth, tanning leather, boring holes, turning wood, cutting and sawing, polishing, whetting, grinding (e.g. for making gunpowder), and stamping (e.g. to soften and pulp rags for making paper in paper mills). Mills not only produced flour and bran, but also oil. Not least important, water power was ever more evident in metallurgy. Waterwheels were used to drain and ventilate mine shafts. Trip hammers crushed the ore as well as serving in forges; rolling mills mass‐produced sheet metal, wire drawing mills, invented in the early fifteenth century, mass‐produced wire. And waterwheels made possible the construction of blast furnaces.
(p. 356 ) Since the beginning of the iron age, iron ore had been smelted in small, charcoal‐fired ‘bloomery’ furnaces, oven‐like contraptions which were not hot enough actually to liquefy the metal. Rather, such furnaces initiate a chemical reaction that separates the metal by making the oxygen in the iron oxide of the ore react with the carbon monoxide building up in the oven to form carbon dioxide. The metal precipitates as blobs of ‘bloom iron’ of a dough‐like consistency, which has to be processed immediately to remove slag particles trapped in the bloom and give the metal a less compact form (such as rods or sheets) to facilitate its reheating to a temperature sufficient for forging it. By contrast, water‐powered bellows enabled larger furnaces consisting essentially of a huge chimney to reach much higher temperatures and produce molten iron. Such blast furnaces appear in Sweden, a country rich in iron ore, around 1350; by about 1500 they could be found in much of the rest of Europe as well. Bloomery furnaces took many hours to smelt a rather small amount of ore. Then they had to be restocked with fuel and ore and fired up again. By contrast, blast furnaces could be restocked while in operation and, as long as this was done, produced iron continuously and in much larger quantity.
At the beginning of the second millennium, iron was still scarce and precious in Europe: the smallest scraps were continually re‐forged, swords were precious heirlooms, iron ship's anchors were so expensive that, in twelfth‐century Venice, several merchants would join together to rent them. Blast furnaces changed that. It has been estimated that the total annual production of iron in Europe rose from 25,000 tons in 1400 to 40,000 in 1500 to 160,000 in 1760 (it would reach 20 million tons in 1900 and 100 million in 1960—a typical exponential curve). 32 Needless to say, water‐powered bellows also proved advantageous in smelting and forging other metal. Metal (ferrous or not) thus grew more plentiful and affordable, resulting in productivity gains in agriculture and many crafts. Metal had endless applications (e.g. horse shoes, iron ploughshares, other iron tools and gear, weapons, and armour). Blast furnaces also enabled iron canon balls to be mass‐produced, rapidly pushing stone shot off the market and helping the spread of heavy artillery.
The dynamism inherent in the exploitation of water power is also evident from the fact that it became an increasingly scarce resource. Good sites for new watermills were clearly increasingly hard to come by. By the late pre‐Reformation period, watermills dotted the banks even of the least suitable river. The river Niers (Neers in Dutch) is a good example. A typical river of the plain, the difference in altitude from its source near Mönchengladbach (a little to the west of Düsseldorf) to its confluent with the river Maas at Gennep just south of Nijmegen is no more than 67 m. Nevertheless, it powered a considerable number of watermills. Weirs were built to gain some head for them—but, unfortunately, reduced the head for any nearby mills upstream. The only solution was a code of conduct binding on mill owners along the entire course of the river. It was negotiated in 1487 between the princes through whose territory the Niers flowed—the duke of Guelders, the duke of Cleves, the duke of Jülich, and the archbishop of Cologne—and among other things laid down a maximum head for weirs of one and a half feet (Cologne measure, fractionally shorter than English feet), corresponding to 43.5 cm. This is rather little even for undershot wheels, and forced mill owners to build mill ponds: the ponds were left to fill up overnight or whenever the adjacent mill was not in operation, and emptied to power the mill. The rather draconian nature of this (p. 357 ) requirement, the fact that four generally quarrelsome princes managed to agree on it, and the fact that the 1487 mill code for the Niers was regularly renewed (the last time in 1841) indicate the strong pressure to have as many mills as possible on the banks of even a small, sluggish river like this.
Things were more comfortable a little further south on the river Erft, which between its source in the Eifel hills and its confluent with the Rhine just south of Düsseldorf drops 479 m. Whereas the incline of the Niers is only 0.52 per mille along its entire course, the incline of the Erft is 1.53 per mille even if its relatively steep upper course through the Eifel hills is not taken into account. Both rivers were canalized in the nineteenth century, shortening the course of the Niers by about 10 km and the course of the Erft by no less than about 30 km. Until then, they were practically equal in length at 129 km for the Niers and 131 km for the Erft (a little over 80 miles). But whereas, in the late eighteenth century, there were thirty‐nine watermills on the Niers, the total for the Erft was seventy‐five, so that the average distance between them was only 1.75 km (just over a mile). Whereas a mill code for the Niers proved indispensable already by the late pre‐Reformation period, it was only in 1772 that the two major princes on the Erft, the archbishop of Cologne and the duke of Jülich, named a joint commission to investigate the situation of the mills on that river. The commission found that on the Erft, too, weirs were a problem, and recommended that they should be allowed a maximum head of 3 or 3.5 feet, as opposed to the 5 feet or more frequently encountered. There seems to have been no follow‐up: evidently the problem was insufficiently urgent. 33
The figures do indicate that watermills were spaced as close as possible, and no doubt often rather too close; many must have been of marginal merit. A map of mills mentioned in the 1086 Domesday Book shows much of England to have been densely covered in mills already at that date, with 30 mills along one 16‐km (10‐mile) stretch of the river Wylye in Wiltshire—but very few mills in northern England and Cornwall, though perhaps the 1086 record is incomplete for those parts of the country. 34 Of course the saturation point where no more good sites could be found was not reached everywhere at the same time, depending on topography, degree of economic development, and the legal and political situation (a powerful mill operator could defend a monopoly for his mill—a 'suit of mill’ or ‘thirl’—in a relatively large district). Yet it seems clear that as Latin christendom became more and more dependent on watermills, the growing scarcity of good river or stream sites intensified the pressure for technological improvements.
This phenomenon presumably underlies the appearance of tide mills, at a surprisingly early date. They apparently existed in Ireland already in the seventh century. 35 The Domesday Book lists one at Dover; at least 168 such mills dating from before 1500 have been identified in England and Wales, no doubt less than the total. 36 This is the more remarkable an indication of the hunger for energy generated by the widespread adoption of watermills as tide mills are particularly difficult to build. The sites are usually tricky and exposed to destruction by storms, the flow reverses its direction twice daily (usually, therefore, there would be one mill wheel for the ‘inbound’ current and another for the ‘outbound’ current), and the constant variation of the water level means that the mills (p. 358 ) are operational only twice during daylight hours for a rather short period. But to offset this was the fact that the tidal flow on the Atlantic and North Sea coasts is very powerful.
Easier to build than tide mills were windmills—which, in England, not infrequently came to replace tide mills when those were destroyed in a storm, being a cheaper and safer alternative. 37 They are recorded on both sides of the English Channel from about 1180 and presumably originated in that general region. Their power source, the wind, is far less reliable, and most of the time less strong, than either a good river or the tidal flow. But their advantage was that they could be built almost anywhere and that there was no limitation on the number of windmills on given sites. Unlike waterwheels, which competed with each other either directly (in the case of overshot wheels) or because their weirs took away head from the mills upstream, windmills hardly interfere with each other. Windmills were unknown in the pre‐christian Mediterranean world, and the kind first found in northern Europe (later southern Europe, too), whose vanes turn a horizontal or slightly inclined axle, appear to owe nothing to the type with vanes turning a vertical axle that emerged in the Middle East in the late first millennium. The windmills of Europe, it is worth underlining, were invented only because the spread of watermills had created a hunger for cheap non‐muscle kinetic energy, and because watermills (abstracting from the relatively few tide mills) could only be built along river banks, where the good sites were filling up or were inaccessible to those not living near the river. Windmills in Europe were a corollary of, and complemented, the watermills, to which they remained secondary; in particular they were ill‐suited for heavy machinery and for quasi‐industrial production processes that required a constant energy input. In that sense they are, above all, another testimony to the demand for energy generated by watermills.
The same pressure that led to the development of windmills from the twelfth century onwards may have been responsible for the development of overshot watermills as well, and perhaps at roughly the same time. If my hypothesis that contrary to the general assumption the overshot wheel was unknown in the ancient Mediterranean world is correct, then the question arises at what point in time it did appear. The earliest indisputable evidence for overshot mills that I have found is the depiction of one in a miniature dated to c.1225. 38
The tendency towards growing mechanization manifest in Latin christendom has another aspect that should not be underestimated: it accustomed people to technological progress and made them look for it, including beyond the applications of water power that had started this tendency in the first place. The wiredrawing mill was invented, in the fifteenth century, at the instigation of the Nürnberg city council, which exempted investors in the project from the dues collected from mill operators. Beyond water power, the spinning wheel and the horizontal loom (both arriving from Asia in the thirteenth century) greatly increased productivity in textile production. Ultimately, inventions like printing and indeed the steam engine were the result of a mentality for which the exploitation of water power had first created the conditions—to say nothing of the fact that the enormous output of the printing presses of Europe, commonly estimated at fifteen to twenty million books in the four decades before 1500 alone, would likely not have been possible without the easy availability of inexpensive paper owed to water‐powered paper mills.
(p. 359 ) One intuitively understands that the Greeks and Romans could not have invented the steam engine, or if they had would not have known what to do with it: they lived in a society that being non‐mechanized (and low‐energy) had no need for (more) mechanization (or more energy) and was incurious about it. By contrast, and thanks, ultimately, to the simple watermills described by Antípatros or excavated at Hagendorn, ancien régime Europe would have been unthinkable without its machines. They literally were its daily bread: the flour for the bread that everybody ate every day came mostly from water‐ or windmills. Meanwhile, the labour for which Homer has the miller girl curse the suitors of Ithákê and which the twelfth‐century author of the description of Clairvaux abbey thanks god for delivering him from could be invested elsewhere and, often, in production processes that were likewise mechanized. Unlike the pre‐christian Mediterranean world, late ancien régime Europe was a civilization where the steam engine was not only more likely to be invented but also could not but catch on. Significantly, in the nineteenth century, watermills were sometimes converted by substituting a steam engine for the waterwheel to power the mill mechanism: they were not that far apart. It is not for nothing that in the English language industrial plant, even if no longer water‐powered, still goes by the name of ‘mill’, as in 'steel mill’ or ‘mill town’. 39
188.8.131.52 The countryside 40
Technology was not the only field in which the society of Latin christendom manifested a dynamism not found in the pre‐christian Mediterranean world. Even though subsistence remained the main economic aim of almost every household and community, the role of commerce gradually increased. Markets were not yet of fundamental importance for society. But they created the preconditions for the growing monetization of economic life after the turn of the millennium. That in turn caused social structures to change in a dynamic, cumulative, and self‐reinforcing development, of a kind unknown to the ancient Mediterranean world.
In the countryside, the growing role of monetized exchange and the growing demand for refined products and services that local resources could not provide but which were available for sale increased the demand for money. To give but one example, the typical lordly residence of eleventh‐century northern Europe, the ‘motte’—a moated artificial mound with a wooden tower and palisade on top, sometimes with a ‘bailey’, a fortified enclosure at its foot—could be created entirely from local materials and by drawing on labour services that the local population owed the lord. The much more refined stone castles that became ubiquitous from the twelfth century onwards could not. Peasants were no stonemasons (assuming that suitable stone could even be quarried locally), to say nothing of more complicated tasks required for constructing such edifices. 41
(p. 360 ) As a result there was a tendency for dues in kind to be converted into monetary dues. But monetary dues were subject to devaluation by inflation, which in the long term was often dramatic. To maintain the purchasing power of the revenue from such dues, they had to be raised and new dues introduced, neither of which was easy. One response to this difficulty was a trend to convert long‐term into short‐term leases so they could be put up more often and more easily. On the whole and in the long run, it was the peasants who benefited from inflation, since the market price of their produce would often rise faster than their lord could put up the dues that they owed. On the other hand, transforming labour services into monetary dues benefited the lord, too. Peasants rendering labour services had no incentive to work hard, and had to be fed by the lord for the duration, the cost of which might be considerable. Moreover, labour services required of the peasants were hardly ever very heavy, and were in fact often foregone.
As peasants acquired monetary wealth, they were differentiated by it. It was mostly the richer peasants that supplied the markets, whereas the poorer peasants were obliged to earn money by selling their labour. It was they who often left their village to join the swelling population of the towns or of the new settlements that in much of continental Europe sprang up in newly cleared woodlands. Contrary to a widespread perception, the mobility of the rural population in Latin christendom was high. Leaving the village was not especially difficult. Otherwise the population of the towns would not have grown as fast as it did (or at all, for that matter, since the mortality rate in the towns was persistently higher than the birth rate), to name but the most obvious effect of this mobility. 42
As monetization progressed, many minor lords faced impoverishment, a phenomenon that by the end of the pre‐Reformation period had become widespread. 43 Inflation reduced the real value of income from monetary dues, while at the same time the cost of the lifestyle that lords would consider appropriate kept rising—a lifestyle that owed much to the example of the richer burgesses of the towns, who, as we shall see in a moment, were at the centre of the monetization process. The great plague of the mid‐fourteenth century reduced the population of Europe considerably and lowered agricultural prices owing to lack of demand; they remained depressed throughout the fifteenth century. As the rural population decreased, too, and the towns remained a magnet for it (not least because salaries increased markedly and quite durably as a result of the plague), it was often difficult for the lords to find enough peasants to work the land. Indeed, monetary dues owed by those peasants might have to be lowered at a time when the financial situation of the lords required the opposite. Many minor lords therefore joined the service of greater lords for pay. Or they became ‘robber barons’—a phenomenon precisely of the fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries (though the term is not).
On the whole, the rural economy seems to have expanded in the period between the turn of the millennium and the early fourteenth century (stagnation set in already a generation or two before the advent of the great plague). Not only was the area under cultivation extended continually, especially with the great clearances of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, but productivity increased, too: the fact that more grain was harvested was not only due to the larger area under cultivation but also to greater yields. (p. 361 ) This phenomenon is hard to pin down statistically, yet the general tendency seems clear enough. 44
184.108.40.206 Long distance trade and the towns
Progress in agriculture benefited the towns, which could not have multiplied and grown as after the turn of the millennium they rapidly did had there not been the capacity to feed them. The towns played a key role in the process of monetization. They were very different from the towns of the pre‐christian Mediterranean world. Those towns had been dominated by landowners, with traders and craftsmen playing only a minor role. In the towns of Latin christendom, it was the opposite.
No more than the pre‐christian Mediterranean world was Latin christendom dependent on trade for its subsistence. Even in the towns each household tried as much as possible to remain self‐sufficient. Markets served to get rid of any surplus. But they did not control production, or furnish the bulk of what a household required. 45 Many townspeople, even the less wealthy, bought agricultural rents, which played a major role in covering their basic everyday needs. Under this system, peasants pressed for cash borrowed money from townspeople in return for regular deliveries of agricultural produce—for example food, fuel, and wool. At first, rents could not be redeemed and were unlimited in time; later they could be bought back and tended to be limited to the lifetime of the creditor and his immediate heirs. (The lack of any obligation to pay back the principal meant that this kind of arrangement fell outside the prohibition of loans by the church.) 46 Increasingly, too, townspeople would buy agricultural land and lease it out: again the payment might often be in kind. In seventeenth‐century Beauvais, a normal household would receive some or even most of its food, fuel, wool, yarn, or cloth, and thatch for its roof, from lease revenue in kind. 47
Although they might use markets for buying and selling, few people depended on them, least of all on markets far away. The only merchandise playing a significant role in long‐distance trade that was not a raw material or comestible was cloth. But no one depended on imported cloth: it could even be woven at home. Other goods that were the object of significant long‐distance trade—such as timber, wax, metal, leather, fur, wine, salt, salted fish, and grain—could be had in many places and, often, locally, too, so that there was no dependence on given centres of production. Finished products for everyday use were rarely imported but made locally. 48 To be sure, some great cities, or areas that were highly urbanized, might rely on long‐distance trade for part even of their basic needs, especially grain. Thus, in late Latin christendom much grain from the southern Baltic region was exported to Flanders, 49 and the populous cities of Italy, such as Venice, Florence, and Genoa, also imported grain from far away. 50 The Hansa (p. 362 ) used trade embargoes as a means to exert political pressure, which might cause food shortages—especially in Norway and Flanders. 51
But even here it is hard to speak of real dependence. Flanders in the early fourteenth century had an estimated 5.5 million inhabitants on the territory of what is now Belgium. That is more than half of the present population, at a time when Europe as a whole had perhaps a fifth of its present population. Twenty‐seven per cent of the inhabitants of Flanders are thought to have lived in towns: 52 they alone can have suffered from shortages of imported grain. Norway is a still more striking case in point. It is routinely stated that in late Latin christendom ‘Norway’, a main supplier of dried cod, relied on imported foodstuffs, especially grain. But ‘Norway’ can here mean only the population of the towns, of which there were four. Among them, Bergen with 8,000 inhabitants was the biggest by far, the other three not exceeding 2,000. 53
The towns of Latin christendom kept attracting immigrants from the countryside. Many newcomers looked for employment in the crafts. The growing labour force in the crafts stimulated the competition between them and the creation of improved or new products. On the whole, owing to a low degree of mechanisation production remained labour‐intensive rather than capital‐intensive. Products were handled by the same worker throughout the production process.
Rather than division of labour there was a division of crafts bordering on the extreme. In Paris, around the year 1300, already more than 300 can be identified. In 14th and 15th‐century Frankfurt more than 200 have been counted. Thus, for example, joiners, turners, coopers, millwrights, and cartwrights split off the carpenters. The reason was failure to break up the production process; for individual craftsmen were rarely sufficiently skilled to be able to make very different products of equal quality. 54
A worker lived in the workshop of a master craftsman more like a member of the household than as an employee in today's world. The relationship between the owner of the workshop and his labour force was thus primarily personal rather than mediated by money. The special position of the master craftsman was not so much the result of his possession of productive capital than of his recognition by the local guild—whose control over access to the market (the number of master craftsmen active at a given time was normally limited) served the purpose of securing the livelihood of all its members rather than fostering competitive entrepreneurial dynamism. With their survival ensured, individual craftsmen had no pressing need to expand their business, an ambition that in any case would often have been impeded by the narrowness of their markets: joiners, coopers, etc. were found everywhere and their products thus could not be exported. So although employment in the crafts went up as the towns grew more populous, this was not accompanied by much concentration of capital in the hands of few.
Trade was different. Whereas a craftsman primarily managed labour, a merchant primarily managed capital in the form of money and stock, which he could increase without any intrinsic limit. That is what led the society of Latin christendom onto a (p. 363 ) very different path of development from the ancient Mediterranean world, despite the fact that it was no more dependent on trade than pre‐christian civilization. The wealth of the (agrarian) elite of the towns of the old Mediterranean civilization had been based on a finite resource: land. By contrast, the wealth of the (mercantile) elite of the towns of Latin christendom was based on a non‐finite resource: capital invested in an expanding economy. If long‐distance trade became so much more important in Latin christendom than it had been in Graeco‐Roman civilization, it was not because it had become more necessary, but simply because the urban elite of Latin christendom consisted of traders not landowners.
Many burgesses came to own agricultural land when they grew wealthy, but unlike townspeople in the old Mediterranean world they were not wealthy because they owned land. Normally, when people first moved to the towns they did not own much at all. Instead, their wealth was generated by selling something, which they therefore had an interest in doing as much as possible. Nor, unlike the situation in the ancient world, was there anyone trying to prevent traders from rising to the top of the social hierarchy at least within the towns, since the great landowners mostly did not reside there and left the towns pretty much alone. Further, there was nothing to stop mercantile wealth from growing and the richer traders from leaving their less successful colleagues ever further behind—as a result of which by the end of the pre‐Reformation period we have the phenomenon, unknown to the ancient world, of super‐rich traders like the Medici or Fugger families, who operated across Europe and whose wealth was greater than that of most princes. Among traders, competition led not so much to differentiation of mercantile activity but to ever greater capital investment. This in turn stimulated the establishment of business relations regardless of distance: the more capital a merchant possessed already, the further afield he might have to look for opportunities to invest it to keep up with the competition of his peers. Wealth, high rank in the social hierarchy of the towns, and long‐distance trade tended to go together. Thus, in the towns of the Hansa (which put pressure on its members to adopt similar institutional arrangements) only the richest traders were ratsfähig, ‘eligible to the council’. 55
As we saw, christendom was a single cultural community where no one sharing the faith could be considered an alien. Latin was spoken by all, including traders—as noted, it was the exclusive official language of the Hansa well into the second half of the fourteenth century. Nor was there much in the way of ‘protectionism’ from rulers: mostly, they wanted to attract traders not keep them out. It was therefore easy to extend business relations across christian Europe. The spread of the horizontal loom throughout christendom from the thirteenth century onwards provided a great stimulus to both the cloth industry and the cloth trade, on a continental scale and without precedent in western civilization. Much of the wool produced by English sheep was exported to Flanders. Much of the cloth produced there was exported to northern Italy for further processing (though much of the wool of northern Europe also went to Italy directly). The fine cloth of Italy was then in part re‐exported to northern Europe, while at the same time fine cloth was also produced in Flanders itself and exported; efforts were also made to build up a cloth industry in England. 56 In the linen industry, the towns (p. 364 ) of southern Germany specialized in the production of fustian, a material made of both linen and cotton. The cotton was imported from the Near East, for example via Venice. The cloth itself was then sold all over Europe, and even re‐exported to Asia and North Africa. 57 Cloth was thus responsible for a major part (in terms of value) of the sales in the long‐distance trade of the period, not least precisely because the geographical separation of different stages of the cloth‐making process meant that value was added more than once before the merchandise reached the consumer. This was not the case with products like wine, grain, timber, salt, and the like that were likewise hauled and sold across the continent, but without being processed again before they reached their final markets.
Growing production and growing long distance trade resulted in more and more money flowing back and forth across the continent. That in turn is mirrored in the evolution of supra‐local finance. Paying for goods imported from far away by sending bags of cash in the opposite direction was risky, and onerous. Coins differed across Latin christendom, so importing them from far away entailed the necessity to exchange them for local coins, at a cost. To be sure, some prestigious currencies existed that were accepted practically everywhere. They were used for payment in long‐distance trade; they were moreover necessary as a monetary standard by means of which local currencies could be compared, and as an accounting unit. Yet for traders in regular business contact with each other it made more sense to grant each other credit, only occasionally 'settling accounts’. Even then sums owed by one party to the other might be paid by means of a piece of parchment or paper constituting a title to someone else's debt. The chief instrument for cashless money transfer was the bill of exchange, which appeared in the thirteenth century; cheques and remittances, as well as clearing payments between banks, are found from about 1300. Payment in parchment or paper was not (or did not remain) limited to long‐distance trade. Pierre Goubert describes how even the local businessmen of seventeenth‐century Beauvais preferred a system of mutual credit to payment in cash, which occurred only rarely. 58
A big advantage of this system was simply that it was safer than cash, since the documents circulating between business partners in lieu of cash were worthless to robbers (loss of such documents in long‐distance trade was guarded against by sending several numbered copies separately). But an even greater advantage was that this system of mutual credit put at the disposal of the traders more money than circulated in cash. The currencies of Latin christendom were based on gold or silver, precious because they were rare; hence, cash was rare, too. If cash had been the only means of payment, no more goods would have been offered for sale than cash existed to buy them with (if we abstract from barter trade); and that would have meant far fewer goods reaching the markets than could be produced. To the extent that trade was financed from credit, the monetary mass increased beyond the supply of cash based on precious metal, and this was of fundamental importance as an enabling factor for trade.
Traders could grant each other credit back and forth without paying much heed to the limited availability of coined precious metal. Since only a fraction of it was ever actually transformed into cash, the total credit volume in christendom could be far greater than (p. 365 ) the total amount of cash in circulation. At his death in 1693, Gabriel Motte, one of the richest traders of Beauvais, left a monetary fortune of 163,000 livres. Of that amount only 4,000 livres (less than 2.5 per cent) were in cash, the rest in paper 59 —which gives some idea of the dimensions of the phenomenon. But an augmentation of the monetary mass caused more products to be offered for sale, and the economy to grow. By contrast, in the old Roman empire, where there was little in the way of supralocal credit, the limited availability of cash acted like a straight‐jacket on the economy. Debasing the coinage, the remedy resorted to by third‐century Roman rulers, also increased the monetary mass, but payment in bad currency did not spur production.
Well aware of the growing role of credit for trade, the towns of the Hansa from the late thirteenth century onwards kept municipal credit ledgers as a service to merchants, both enabling them to have their claims to outstanding debts registered officially and publicly, and facilitating clearing operations (similarly, in seventeenth‐century Beauvais debts and claims were authenticated by the civic authorities, or a notary). Indeed the credit volume went up so quickly that already in the fourteenth century attempts were made by the Hansa to reign in the expansion of credit‐financed trade, in particular by trying—with only moderate success—to exclude credit operations involving business partners outside the Hansa. In the fifteenth century, maritime insurance developed in the Mediterranean to protect merchants from the loss of cargoes. In the Hansa, this was frowned upon, and the old method of dividing up cargoes among many owners (e.g. four, eight, or twelve Parten—parts—belonging to as many Partner or partners) clung to. Splitting the risk in this fashion was also an efficient protection but unlike the new Italian method involved no financial operations and had no effect on the monetary mass. Even bankers were frowned upon by the Hansa: no banking firms developed within it, although the Medici and other Italian companies offering financial services had branches for example in Lübeck. It is tempting to see this kind of conservatism as a possible cause of the decline of the Hansa that became manifest in the sixteenth century. 60
In the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, Italian banking firms were heavily engaged in financing the English crown. Philip IV of France also had Italian bankers: around 1300, the brothers Albizzo and Musciatto Guidi, representatives of a Florentine trading company, were so conspicuous at the French court that they were popularly known as Biche et Mouche (‘hind and fly’). Italian bankers contributed to financing the papacy, for example by participating in the collection of ‘Saint Peter's penny’, a levy raised throughout christendom and destined for Rome: in the fifteenth century, the Scandinavian revenue from this source was channelled via the Lübeck branch of the Medici and other Florentine firms in Lübeck. 61 In the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, trading and banking firms like, in Augsburg, the Fugger family (first mentioned in the fourteenth century as weavers and cloth merchants) and the Welser family loaned huge amounts of money to the Habsburg dynasty, while in Florence the Medici became rulers of their city and were at length accepted as princes by the royal houses of Europe (in Germany, the Fugger family also rose to princely rank). 62
(p. 366 ) 220.127.116.11 Monetization and political change
Unlike pre‐christian Greek and Roman society, in Latin christendom town and country were clearly distinct in legal terms. In the old Mediterranean world, the land surrounding a town (and usually extending all the way to the borders with the land belonging to neighbouring municipalities) was as much part of that town as the central square. There was, thus, little inhabited land that was not legally part of a town. By contrast, in Latin christendom a town was clearly marked apart, both in terms of legal status and territorially, from the surrounding countryside. Here, most land did not belong to a town but was part of an entirely different legal sphere. A town had ‘freedoms’, privileges exempting it from that rural sphere, into which it had developed as a legal newcomer and within which it constituted an enclave.
In the old Mediterranean world, where trade was of limited importance, landownership determined wealth and status. Divided up among the existing citizens, the territory belonging to a town was difficult to extend for reasons discussed in Chapter 2 . As a result, the citizens had no incentive to accept new arrivals in their midst, or to give much encouragement to resident non‐citizens active as craftsmen or merchants: if such non‐citizens became too prosperous, they might have gained too much influence, or at least made uncomfortable demands, jeopardizing the monopoly on landownership of the citizens. In a fundamental sense both the economy and the politics of a town of the ancient Graeco‐Roman world were zero‐sum games. A town in Latin christendom—after the turn of the millennium—was different. Here, neither an increase of the total number of citizens through immigration nor the accumulation of wealth in the hands of individual town‐dwellers had a negative impact on the community. On the contrary, they strengthened it. Wealth was not based on a fixed resource (land), but on the production of goods and services, which in principle could be expanded endlessly. United in solidarity against the rural world of the lords beyond its walls, the citizens (burgesses) had an interest in being as numerous as possible, not in keeping migrants out or at least down.
Yet the greater lords also had an interest in seeing the burgesses prosper. Some early towns of the new type arose spontaneously as merchants and craftsmen congregated for example near a royal or episcopal residence. Many more towns were founded at the initiative of powerful nobles, who gave ‘their’ towns privileges exempting them at least partially from their rule. This was because the towns attracted money, goods, and skills that in purely rural markets would not have been available even to the lords. At least as importantly, the lords profited for example from toll revenue along the roads, rivers, and harbours used by the traders. As a result, nobody was opposed to the growth of individual towns or the growth of the number of burgesses within them or the growth of the total number of towns, since everybody profited from this expansion. In terms of game theory, this was a highly dynamic win‐win situation.
The whole phenomenon was unprecedented in the history of western civilization—and it had important consequences for the evolution of its political structures. Whoever was able to ‘tap’ the growing flows of money between the markets of christendom gained a decisive advantage in the competition for political power. The late pre‐Reformation period was a time of rapidly growing monetary dues—commuted service obligations, tolls and fees, legal fines, and taxes. They increasingly replaced (but also were simply added to) older labour dues and dues in kind. For levying such monetary dues, especially taxes, secular lords were better placed than the church. It was not clear what the church (p. 367 ) could now 'sell’ people that it had not offered before. Whereas secular lords provided protection and law courts of which it could always be argued that more was needed, the church could not offer more complete salvation than it had, or claim that the traditional dues payable to it, such as tithes, were no longer adequate. To be sure, it did introduce new 'services’—most famously, granting indulgences (that promised faster salvation by reducing the time a person had to spend in purgatory to atone for his or her sins) for a fee. But there were narrow limits to what it could do to profit from monetization.
In Latin christendom, money taxes had fallen into disuse after the end of the old (west) Roman empire, and re‐establishing them after the turn of the millennium was a slow and incremental process. Secular lords therefore turned to other, easier sources of money, such as fees, legal fines, tolls, mining, and minting. The right of coinage, that is, the right to produce the coins that, as a consequence of the growth of markets, were in ever greater demand, could be an important source of revenue. Coins were stamped with the official emblem of the emitter, who in this fashion certified their metal value and vouched for it with his reputation. As pope Innocent IV in the mid‐thirteenth century recognized, this was a service justifying the fact that such coins circulated at a higher nominal value than their metal value, with the emitter pocketing the difference. Even professional money changers could determine the exact precious metal content of given coins only by melting them down; the guarantee implicit in the emblem of the emitter normally made this unnecessary. Besides, coins with a high precious metal content were soft and not very resistant to wear; bits along the rim would even be cut off deliberately to gain precious metal, in spite of prohibitions. Coins used for payment would therefore be weighed rather than counted (the names of many currencies—such as ‘pound’, livre, lira, Mark, peso, peseta—are actually the names of units of weight). 63
Crucially, the more money a ruler could extract from his (rarely her) subjects the better able was he to establish effective supralocal authority. This sounds banal, but it is not. For this to work two conditions had to be met that, in Latin christendom before the thirteenth century, were in fact met only in the most inchoate fashion: the economy had to be monetized, and the ruler had to be able to secure a share of the money circulating among his subjects for himself. Let us remind ourselves of two remarks by Marc Bloch cited in Chapter 3 and which characterize the situation of Latin christendom before the thirteenth century. Là où les transports sont difficiles, l'homme va vers la chose plus aisément qu'il ne fait la chose venir à lui—where transport is difficult it is people who travel rather than the things they want. And: seul le pouvoir sur place était un pouvoir efficace, only local power was effective power. 64 This was because such power was based on a right on the part of the ruler to services and dues in kind rather than money. Services and dues in kind could be consumed only at the place of their production. To be sure, goods could be shipped to places far away, and those who owed services could be made to travel, but both were practical only to a limited degree. Transporting goods was laborious, and scarcely possible if they were perishable. People who owed services could not be kept away from their homes for very long. Moreover, the ‘revenue’ from dues in kind or services could not be accumulated, at least not very well: stockpiles were again not possible if goods were perishable, and might not be very useful anyway since not only (p. 368 ) did the goods have to be transported to central storage facilities, but then transported again to where they might be needed. Likewise, a standing army was impossible to build from people whose obligation to serve was limited to six weeks per year.
Hence, until the thirteenth century or indeed later, the ‘travelling kingship’ of Germany, the Scandinavian and Iberian realms, Scotland, or England (already in the Anglo‐Saxon period, and still more pronounced in the Norman and Angevin period, when the royal dominions comprised vast continental possessions in addition to England itself): the king and his court travelled from one estate of the royal demesne to the next to profit locally from the goods and services due to them. Similarly, the French monarchy was essentially limited to the region around Paris and Orléans because that was where the royal demesne was concentrated. Monetization brought massive change to this system. Replacing labour dues and dues in kind with monetary dues had evident advantages for everyone. Even the local substitution of money dues for other dues increased the circulation of money in the economy as a whole and enhanced the ability of great lords to siphon off some of this wealth for themselves. Money even in the form of coins (rather than parchment or paper) was relatively easy to transport, it was not perishable and could thus be accumulated, and it could easily be converted, at whichever time was convenient, into most other things its possessor might need or want. The ruler could now stay where he was (increasingly, a fixed central residence), and yet exercise control even over faraway places by means of paid agents of often relatively humble rank. They were much more dependent on him than vassals (who of course did not disappear overnight, indeed the ‘feudal’ system was not abolished anywhere in Europe before the end of the ancien régime).
4.2 Kingship in Latin christendom
By extending their ‘reach’, their ability to project power, monetization favoured greater lords at the expense of lesser lords. Other things being equal, greater (in the sense of higher‐ranking) lords were better able to tap the new money flows not least simply because their authority was recognized in a more extensive area. That must be one reason for the growing focus on the ‘prince’ (whether that was the king or someone of subroyal rank). This new focus on a powerful ruler in effective control of a large territory is quite noticeable already in the political theory of the fifteenth century, as we shall see in looking at the thinking of Nicholas of Kues and Enea Silvio Piccolomini. The same trend is manifest in the redefinition of 'sovereignty’ as absolute supremacy by Jean Bodin in the sixteenth century and the further radicalization of the concept of sovereignty by Thomas Hobbes in the seventeenth century.
At the same time, however, monetization, the developing ‘cult of the prince’ (as it has been called), and the success of some power‐holders in establishing a more centralized form of rule did not create new political communities. Throughout the ancien régime, the main political units of christian Europe remained kingdoms, whether or not the crown in those kingdoms was powerful. This in turn had everything to do with the fact that throughout the ancien régime supralocal power, whether exercised by the crown or someone else, remained weak compared to what we are used to nowadays (we shall return to this). The most powerful ancien régime king would have been nothing without the voluntary submission, cooperation, and indeed adulation of his subjects; by the same (p. 369 ) token, anyone who was powerful but not of royal status could hope to be obeyed in the long term only if they had the formal blessing of the crown. Throughout the ancien régime, legitimacy made up for deficient power, and because of its special status that other power‐holders lacked, the fount of legitimacy was the crown. It thus remained indispensable, and continued to define the basic political units of christendom, even where (or when) it was weak.
What made a king different from all other lords, no matter how powerful, was the sacred nature of his office. Yet kingship in christendom was not sacred from the beginning. John Ruggie has pointed out that the transition, in the fifteenth century, from what could be called a multilayered, multifocal system in which no one ruler was all‐important to one which focused almost exclusively on a single ruler for any given territory was quick: ‘The shift came suddenly.’ 65 Although the 'suddenness’ of the phenomenon ought perhaps not to be overstated, there is much truth to this observation. Similarly, although it had antecedents in the first millennium, sacred kingship, the ‘traditional’ kingship of the ancien régime, seems actually to have been the result of a fairly rapid paradigm shift in the early second millennium.
4.2.1 The foil: first‐millennium warrior kingship
Kingship in the second half of the first millennium had a strong military aspect. The army, often convened more or less annually whether or not it would then go on campaign, was the embodiment of the kingdom, bringing together nobles and commoners and, of course, the royal household. This was true even though a normal first‐millennium army numbered in the low thousands or indeed in the hundreds. The chief role of a king was to lead his followers into combat, small scale and even symbolical as that might often be. 66 For the same reason, during that period the office could not be held by a woman—queens as rulers in their own right appear only after the turn of the millennium, as a result, precisely, of the paradigm shift in question.
The Saxon History of Widukind of Corvey, written in the 960s, still illustrates the old military kingship well. Its heroes are the rulers of the east Frankish realm 100 years before the reign of Henry IV, discussed in Chapter 3 . Those rulers belonged to the Saxon ducal dynasty, the Liudolfingians. Henry I, the first of them to gain the east Frankish kingship, did so at an open‐air ceremony in 919 attended by ‘the leaders and the higher‐born of the army of the Franks [congregatis principibus et natu maioribus exercitus Francorum]’. At that assembly, the brother of the late king Konrad designated (designavit) Henry as king ‘before the entire people of the Franks and Saxons [coram omni populo Francorum atque Saxonum]’. It seems clear from this phrasing that the term ‘army of the Franks’ included many Saxons (the kingdom as such was also officially the [east] Frankish kingdom even though non‐Franks, chief among them the Saxons, made up the bulk of its population) and that, politically, the army was the ‘people’ (populus). On being offered ‘the unction and the crown [unctio cum diademate]’ by the archbishop of Mainz, Henry declined politely—which pleased (placuit) the crowd (multitudo). ‘Lifting their right hand to the sky, they [the crowd] saluted the new king by loudly shouting his name again and again.’ 67
(p. 370 ) Henry thus became king without entering a church. The crowd apparently saw nothing wrong with this; Widukind clearly approved. Received from a bishop, unction and coronation were an emblem of sacredness denied other secular lords, yet also in a way a symbol of subjection to the church, expressed by the fact that the new king would prostrate himself before the altar. Widukind seems to have considered the unction a Frankish custom, casually noting elsewhere that the Franks ‘anointed Thiadricus [Theoderic, Dietrich] as their king’—clearly a periphrastic way of saying simply that they made him their king. This would have been around 530, under the Merovingians, and thus over 200 years before the actual adoption of the practice by their successors the Carolingians. 68
Henry I was succeeded in 936 by his son Otto I, a youth whose right to the throne was controversial. Not least no doubt because he thus started from a weak position, Otto had himself acclaimed in the manner of his father, but also anointed and crowned 69 —seizing on whatever might shore up his legitimacy. If he went on to become an even more powerful figure than his father, it was because of his military successes against rebels and external adversaries. After conquering the kingdom of Italy, he had himself crowned emperor by the pope in 962—an event that would have seen him prostrate himself before the pope. Widukind, who otherwise wastes no opportunity to let the Liudolfingians shine, makes no mention of this coronation at all. He does call Otto imperator, but also Henry, who never used this title; in both instances the context is military victory over the Hungarians, who represented the most serious threat to both Henry and Otto (1.39, 3.49).
Rather than treating imperator as a dignity bestowed by the pope, Widukind implicitly (re)defines the word as designating someone who wielded power over several peoples rather than just his own, for example when he has the dying king Konrad say of Henry that he would be ‘truly king and emperor of many peoples [vere rex erit et imperator multorum populorum]’. 70 When the imperator in Constantinople first occurs in the text, Widukind explains in the same sentence that ‘the Greeks almost since the beginning of the world were masters of most of the nations [plurimarum gentium domini].’ At first defeated by the Greeks in southern Italy, the east Frankish army soon scores a victory over them. ‘When the people of Constantinople heard that their men had fought badly’, Widukind tells us, ‘they rose against their emperor and killed him …by having some soldier ambush him, and in his stead they raised the soldier to the emperorship. On being made king [!] he immediately released’ Frankish captives held by the Greeks, and sent Otto the bride for his son that he had earlier asked for. 71
Widukind is referring to the murder of Nikêphóros II Phôkás by his successor, the general Iôánnês Tzimiskếs, in 969. In reality, this coup almost certainly had nothing to do with the conflict in southern Italy, and if Iôánnês proceeded to make peace with Otto it was no doubt simply because for a usurper not yet securely in power in the capital it was prudent to get rid of this military commitment at the empire's periphery. Besides, (p. 371 ) Nikêphóros, prior to his own usurpation of the throne, was also a general and anything but unsuccessful. But the gloss put on those events by Widukind is interesting in its own right. Again he uses the terms ‘emperor’ and ‘king’ interchangeably, and seems to have seen nothing wrong with a (militarily) hapless ruler being replaced by someone whose only qualification—at least that we are told of—is that he was a 'soldier’. Again, ‘the people’ is presented as involved in the making of the new ruler—in the Latin original, ‘the people’ is the grammatical subject of the entire sentence reporting the change of ruler and its circumstances. In reality, Nikêphóros fell victim to a court intrigue rather than any popular discontent; that Widukind imagines the latter reflects not the actual events but his own notion of kingship.
The hands‐on warrior kingship portrayed by Widukind and clearly taken for granted by him, without any sense that its demise might be imminent, was dead a mere century later. The crown became an institution rather than a badge of power. Kings might of course still be powerful, but even if they were not they remained the focus of a great deal of loyalty. This is well exemplified by the emperor Henry IV (reigns 1053–1106), encountered in Chapter 3 . As noted, he faced a succession of four anti‐kings and yet held on both to the crown and a considerable following among his subjects, because he rightfully wore the crown and in spite of never being victorious in any of the battles against those anti‐kings. It did not detract from his status that, from the mid‐1070s onwards, he was prevented from ever setting foot in Saxony again, or that, with his adversaries guarding the Alpine passes, for years he was marooned in Italy. At the time of his unexpected death in 1106, he had, it is true, recently been taken prisoner and forced formally to abdicate by the last of the anti‐kings, his younger son Henry. But, determined to regain the throne and by no means despairing of his ability to do so, the emperor escaped from his captivity and immediately found refuge and support with the bishop of Liège and the duke of Lower Lorraine. It is also worthy of note that the anti‐kings themselves had to rely on papal backing for what standing they possessed.
4.2.2 The lord's anointed
The sacred nature of kingship, its special legitimacy, was expressed most clearly by the unction. Following Old Testament precedent, it was first introduced in seventh‐century Visigothic Spain, where the crown was continually fought over by rival contenders to the throne and no stable dynastic succession developed; the point clearly was to bolster the legitimacy of whoever happened to get hold of the throne and improve his chances to hang on to it. Visigothic kingship ended as a result of the Muslim conquest of most of Spain in 711, but the unction was reintroduced in the eighth‐century Frankish realm. Here, it helped compensate the Carolingians’ lack of dynastic legitimacy when they usurped the Frankish kingship from the Merovingians in 751. The fashion seems to have spread quickly. It was already imitated in the Lombard realm before its annexation to the Frankish kingdom in 772, and in 787 Ecgfrith, son and designated successor of king Offa of Mercia (still alive at that time), became the first English king to be anointed—presumably as a result of the close contacts between Mercia and the Frankish court. Perhaps the last christian realm to adopt the practice was the empire of Constantinople, where the unction was apparently introduced only after the reconquest of Constantinople from the ‘Latins’ in 1261 and presumably in imitation of the western example; as we saw in Chapter 3 , by the 1390s patriarch Antony already considered it traditional.
(p. 372 ) The unction was a church rite. Originally (in the early church) applied to the sick and as part of the baptismal rite, it became part of the consecration ceremony for bishops at around the same time it began to be applied to kings—thereby suggesting some sort of affinity between them and bestowing a quasi‐priestly status on kings. Anyone standing in front of the glass case in the Vienna Hofburg (the former imperial palace) where the crown of the Holy Roman Empire is currently displayed may be surprised at its size. There is a famous photograph of a US soldier ‘wearing’ the crown, retrieved, at the close of the Second World War, from the salt mine at Grasleben where it had been put into safe storage. A cigarette in one hand, the soldier is holding up the crown with the other, since otherwise it would visibly have come to rest on the bridge of his nose, or indeed his shoulders. Made either for the imperial coronation of Otto I in 962 or that of his son as co‐emperor in 967, it was meant to be worn over a mitre, reinforcing the parallel between the coronation and the consecration of bishops. The crown made for the emperor Rudolf in 1602 and which became the crown of the Austrian Empire that existed from 1804 to 1918 actually incorporates this mitre. (Conversely, the tiara, the papal crown last used by pope Paul VI in 1963, consists of a pointed, mitre‐like cap—at least it is thought to have developed out of a mitre—on which are superimposed not one crown but three.)
Similarly, the early fourteenth‐century choir stalls of Cologne cathedral have two special, facing seats reserved, respectively, for the pope (this was sat on by John Paul II in 1980 and Benedict XVI in 2005) and the emperor—both considered ex officio honorary canons of the cathedral chapter even though normally lay persons (as, despite everything, the emperor technically was) cannot be canons. This arrangement is said to date back to 1049, when the emperor Henry III and pope Leo IX met in Cologne. Until the sixteenth century, the emperor‐to‐be was also made a canon of Saint Peter's cathedral in Rome, and of the Lateran basilica, prior to being crowned by the pope. Elsewhere, too, the coronation ceremony became replete with references to the quasi‐priestly status of kings. Besides being anointed, they were also often clothed in priestly vestments, and took communion under both kinds (i.e. both bread and wine: in the Roman Catholic eucharist, laypersons normally partake only of the bread, with the wine reserved for the clergy).
The coronation ritual as developed in the late first or early second millennium for the German–Roman crown imitated the consecration of bishops in almost every detail, including the prostratio: as a sign of humility and submission, the king lay face downward before the altar, his arms stretched out in the shape of a cross. 72 The prostratio was practised until Maximilian II (crowned in 1562) decided to omit it 73 —one suspects that Widukind, for one, found it objectionable already 600 years earlier. The mitre, too, came to be omitted at some point, its place now taken by a velvet cap that fits inside the crown and which is thought to be of eighteenth‐century date. The change created a problem, noted by the young Goethe though he evidently did not realize why it had arisen. Describing, in his memoirs, the coronation of Joseph II, in Frankfurt in 1764, that he witnessed as a boy, he recalls that the crown ‘jutted out over the head like a projecting roof’ and had required ‘a lot of padding’. 74 It seems that in the seventeenth century the emperor would usually wear the 1602 crown for ceremonial purposes other (p. 373 ) than the coronation itself 75 —indeed that crown (and any predecessors that it probably had) may well have been commissioned because the ‘proper’, tenth‐century crown was simply too inconvenient. In any case, from the fourteenth to the early nineteenth century it was kept at Nürnberg, not at the imperial court—but that arrangement itself was of course facilitated by the fact that this crown was unsuited for any but the most solemn, and least secular, royal ceremony of all.
Goethe in his memoirs bears witness to the fascination that the imperial coronation still commanded in his time. He notes the ‘awe and wonderment’ (Schauer und Erstaunen) that seizes the populace thronging the streets and squares of Frankfurt as the tocsin is rung to announce the beginning of the 1764 proceedings, emotions which eventually erupt into ‘a boisterous Vivat rising from untold thousands of throats and, surely, hearts, too’. And although he has a sharp eye for incongruous or even absurd aspects of the event, he was evidently moved himself. Touching on the psychological mechanism that made the spectacle so powerful, he observes that ‘a political‐religious celebration holds an immense attraction. We see the earthly majesty before our eyes, surrounded by all the symbols of its power; but, by inclining itself before the celestial majesty, it brings their union before our senses. For the individual, too, can activate his affinity with the godhead only by his subjection and adoration.’ 76
The unction—retained everywhere even after the Reformation, or even newly introduced, as in the case of the (protestant) Prussian monarchy created in 1701—placed kings in the ancient and correspondingly prestigious tradition of the Jewish kings of the Old Testament. Thus, the crown of the Holy Roman Empire portrays the Old Testament kings Solomon, David, and Ezechias. Twenty‐eight statues of kings of Israel and Juda aligned in a long row conspicuously adorn the west front of Notre‐Dame cathedral in Paris. The present statues are nineteenth‐century replacements, as the thirteenth‐century originals, considered symbols of monarchy, were smashed during the French Revolution. Unction turned kings into what the bible refers to as ‘the lord's anointed’, something that other secular lords could not match. Moreover, the Latin for this expression is the rather suggestive christus domini. (The English word ‘Christ’ derives from Latin christus, a Greek borrowing: christós means ‘anointed’ and is the Greek translation of the Hebrew word itself Anglicized as ‘messiah’. According to Jewish tradition the ‘messiah’ would renew the kingship of Israel.)
In the early second millennium, the emphasis on sacred kingship began to have the result that kings were believed to have magic properties. Einhard, describing the death and burial of Charles I in 814, mentions sinister portents of his imminent demise, but gives no indication of any white magic being associated with either the living emperor or his corpse, or of any veneration of the latter. 77 Widukind similarly fails to invest Henry I or Otto I with any mythical aura. He reports their death and burial in matter‐of‐factly fashion, with assertions of popular grief that sound dutiful more than anything else. 78 By contrast, after the turn of the millennium, kings in Germany were thought capable (p. 374 ) of influencing the weather and other forces of nature; even touching a royal corpse would bestow benefit. 79 When, after a not particularly glorious reign, the emperor Henry IV died at Liège in 1106, peasants placed seedcorns on his bier or scratched soil from his grave to improve their harvest. 80
Kings achieving the status of saints of the Roman church have always been a rarity, as Gregory VII pointed out in a programmatic letter of 1081 asserting the primacy of papal over royal authority:
Besides, how many are the names of kings or emperors to whom Holy Church has ordered church buildings or altars to be dedicated, or in whose honour it has ordered masses to be celebrated? Kings and other princes ought to be afraid lest they be made to suffer the eternal fires of hell to a greater extent in proportion as in this life they enjoy preferential treatment over others …For they shall have to give account before god for all those that were subject to their rule. 81
For Gregory, kings were in general even worse sinners than common mortals—responsible, in particular, for so many battlefield deaths: an echo, it would appear, of the military kingship of old. The whole long letter from which the quotation is taken is a furious rejection of the tendency to treat kings as superior beings, in its way attesting to the virulence of that (as I contend, novel) trend. Indeed, the number of kings ‘raised to the honour of the altars’, that is recognized as saints, was about to go up sharply.
In the first millennium, no formalized canonization procedure had as yet evolved. The cult of saints arose locally and was regulated, if at all, by the local bishop. In Latin christendom before the turn of the millennium, kings who became saints all either lived in England (five: Edwin, Oswald, and Oswin of Northumbria in the seventh century, Edmund of East Anglia in the ninth century, and Edward ‘the Martyr’ of Wessex in the tenth century) or in what is now France (three: Sigismund of Burgundy in the sixth century and two seventh‐century Merovingian kings, Sigibert III and Dagobert II). All were either murdered (the majority) or at least killed in battle (with Sigibert the single exception). The canonization of Saint Ulrich of Augsburg in 993 seems to have been the first canonization pronounced by a pope. Remarkably quickly after that, the papacy attributed to itself, and, even more remarkably, without being able to force anybody's hand in the matter was recognized as possessing, an exclusive right to adjudge saintly status. The first formal canonization of a king, Stephen of Hungary, by a pope was performed by none other than Gregory VII, in 1083—rather ironically, perhaps, though Gregory no doubt thought it entirely fitting that he should be judge of such matters. King Knud (Canute) IV of Denmark followed in about 1100. The emperor Henry II was canonized in 1146, followed by Edward ‘the Confessor’ in 1161, Olav of Norway in 1164, and the emperor Charles I in 1165—the latter move apparently suggested to the then emperor, Frederic I, by his close friend, the English king Henry II, who had also had a hand in pushing for the canonization of his own predecessor Edward four years earlier. The canonization of Ladislaus (László) I of Hungary in 1192 made the twelfth century the century with by far the highest incidence of the canonization of kings.
To the kings benefiting from papal canonization in the twelfth century must be added Eric IX of Sweden, a somewhat obscure figure slain in 1160. His relics at Uppsala quickly (p. 375 ) became an object of such veneration that his status as patron saint of the Swedish realm was subsequently unchallengeable even absent explicit papal recognition, which was never forthcoming. Eric IV of Denmark also became an object of popular veneration after his assassination in 1250, but efforts by his brother and successor Christopher to have him canonized came to nothing. There seems also to have been some veneration of David I of Scotland (died in 1153). He was not canonized, but his mother queen Margaret of Scotland was (in 1251), the rare case of a queen (even if she was ‘only’ the consort) raised to sainthood. Louis IX of France, canonized in 1297, was a straggler, no further royal canonization taking place until 1671 (when it was granted to Ferdinand III, the thirteenth‐century ruler of Castile, for his part in the reconquista). The total of only eight saintly kings (plus at least one queen) in the second millennium again seems low, but the fact that six of those nine achieved sainthood in the late eleventh or in the twelfth century, with two more in the thirteenth, is again indicative of a cultural shift about that time.
Martyrdom was no longer necessary for a king to achieve saintly status. To be sure, Olav of Norway was killed in battle, and both Eric of Sweden and Eric of Denmark were murdered—but neither of the latter was actually canonized. By contrast, and strikingly, of those that were none but Olav died a violent death. Canonization was, in every case, supported or indeed initiated by the successors of the rulers that were to benefit from it, and in order to shore up the prestige of those successors. Edward ‘the Confessor’ is a good illustration. He combined an unremarkable reign with dying a natural death, a fact advertised by his sobriquet, used to distinguish him from his uncle king Edward ‘the Martyr’ (‘confessor’ is the technical term for a saint not put to death for his or her faith). There are no sources from his lifetime about what sort of person he was; the saintly qualities with which those campaigning for his canonization credited him are probably pure fiction. But for the twelfth‐century English crown promoting him to sainthood underlined the continuity of English kingship since before the Norman conquest, and the legitimacy of the Norman dynasty to whom (unlike the unfortunate king Harold, the opponent of William ‘the Conqueror’) he was related. By the same token Westminster abbey, which Edward founded and where he was buried, became the English royal church, site of the coronation as well as royal mausoleum—despite the fact that it was just one great ecclesiastical foundation among a plethora of similar ones, many of them older and/or royal foundations as well.
From the twelfth century onwards, for kings to be credited with that major ingredient of sainthood, the ability to work miracles, not only was it no longer necessary to have suffered martyrdom, it was in fact no longer necessary even to be dead, at least if they wore either the English or the French crown. Edward ‘the Confessor’ of England (died 1065) seems to have been the first English monarch to be credited—if only posthumously—with the ability to heal the sick while he was alive. It was highlighted (and probably invented) in the context of the mid‐twelfth‐century campaign to have him canonized. In France, Guibert of Nogent in the 1120s ascribes the ability to heal the sick not only to the late king Philip I (died 1118), but also to his reigning successor. The next extant reference to this royal ability is by Peter of Blois in 1181, who specifically mentions the curing of scrofula. Until the eighteenth century, French and English kings practised what was called the toucher royal or ‘royal touch’, a ceremony in which those suffering from scrofula were brought before the monarch and touched by him (or her). It seems impossible to determine exactly how or when the custom (p. 376 ) was established, but by the 1270s this ceremony had become routine at the English court. 82
The easy arrogation, from 993 onwards, by the papacy of an exclusive, and totally unprecedented, right of canonization is another indication that the turn of the millennium coincided with a general shift in the perception of supreme authority, respected or at any rate important no matter how faraway or indeed nominal—in this case, much more so than that of the local bishop. This was headship rather than leadership, in the case of the papacy just as in the case of kingship. Thus, it was normally not the pope who took the initiative in having someone promoted to sainthood. Rather, he approved or rejected (or ignored) a local initiative, an activity very much akin to the crown granting privileges—usually at the request of the beneficiaries. Rather than initiate action, rulers mostly merely sanctioned it. To that extent their power essentially consisted in the faculty to withhold their approval, or put differently, to withhold legitimation.
However, putting it negatively like this perhaps misses the point which explains how this shift came about: in an increasingly complex, increasingly institutionalized society, abstract legitimacy became more important relative to the ability to control a personal following. Necessarily and quickly, in the search for a source of better, more ‘competitive’ legitimation one reached the top of the tree: the king, or, in ecclesiastical affairs, the pope. Their supreme rank being incontrovertible and independent of their ‘practical’ power, they retained, or indeed acquired, a key role even if they lacked such power. Thus, it is remarkable that the ‘royal touch’ evolved in both England and France at a time when the French crown was much less powerful than the English. In the same way, the weight of kingship or the papacy as an institution grew relative to that of the incumbent considered in a personal capacity. Not to be misunderstood, I repeat that I am talking about the relative importance of abstract, institutionalized legitimacy. This is not to say of course that the ability to control a personal following, or the personality or ‘practical’ power of supreme power‐holders, ceased to be important.
In Germany, the kind of enkinging by armies identified with ‘the people’ as described by Widukind for the tenth century had, by the eleventh century, become unthinkable. Another discontinuity is that from the twelfth century onwards the four gentes (Franks, Saxons, Bavarians, and Swabians), prominent as late as the rising of the Saxons in the 1070s, practically drop out of political history and even, largely, from political discourse. They did not disappear. Indeed they are, up to a point, extant now, even though their present‐day incarnations invariably represent only a fraction of their former selves in both geographical and demographic terms. For example, Austrians are distinguished—in the sense of being popularly considered completely separate—from Bavarians even though both are descended from the Bavarians of a millennium ago; in similar fashion the Swiss are distinguished from the Swabians, the inhabitants of the Rhineland from the Franks, and so on.
This is because political emphasis shifted from ethnic groups to princes, who were increasingly seen to owe their role not to the backing of their ‘people’ but to formal investiture by the crown. Investiture as such was not new—but its relative importance grew even as the crown was weaker than it had been in the tenth century. In fact, the stress on the gentes in political discourse was probably already somewhat out of date (p. 377 ) even in the eleventh century, masking the rapid obsolescence of those ethnic (sub‐)groups and the growing importance of institutional legitimacy. If Bavaria is not as large as it used to be, it is because its ducal rulers lost much of its territory to other rulers, such as those of the ‘eastern march’ (of Bavaria, hence Österreich ‘Austria’, literally ‘eastern realm’), themselves elevated to ducal rank by the emperor Frederic I in 1156. The area around Würzburg, a mere appendix of the territory settled by the Franks, became Franken (= [land of the] Franks, ‘Franconia’) because the bishop of Würzburg in the twelfth century managed to have himself recognized as heir to the Frankish ducal dignity (which the Franks, unlike the other three gentes, had never in fact had). The area around Meissen and Dresden became Sachsen (= [land of the] Saxons, ‘Saxony’) despite likewise being peripheral to the old Saxony because, when the line of the previous incumbents became extinct in 1422, the crown somewhat arbitrarily bestowed the ducal dignity of the Saxons on the margrave of Meissen. The ducal dignity of the Swabians was held by the Hohenstaufen dynasty, and when that ended in 1268 Swabia remained acephalous, shared among many lesser lords. Efforts by both the Württemberg dynasty and the Habsburg dynasty to assemble, by purchase and marriage, enough minor lordships to restore the dukedom of Swabia failed, not least since neither of the two would give way to (or wed) the other. In the end, the emperor Maximilian did give the longed‐for ducal dignity to the Württemberg dynasty in 1495—but by creating a new ‘dukedom of Württemberg’ while retaining the essentially empty title ‘duke of Swabia’ for himself along with all territory that his ancestors had ‘collected’ within the confines of the old ethnically based duchy. It is significant that much as both contenders took the concept of ‘Swabia’ very seriously, essentially because of the immense prestige attaching to the eponymous ducal dignity, in order to get it they felt compelled to collect what were essentially bits of territory rather than gain the backing of a people.
In each of those instances, the ‘feudal’, and territorial, element outweighs the ethnic aspect. A part of Germany is still known as ‘Swabia’, probably because the dukedom of Swabia—or rather, of the ‘Swabians’, though as noted the word in German is the same—survived long enough to impress itself in the collective consciousness, and therefore ‘Swabia’ had to be somewhere (perhaps not fortuitously the Hohenstaufen dynasty, which last held that dukedom, originated in the relatively small area now known as ‘Swabia’). Elsewhere, the territory of the old gentes shrank with the sphere of influence of the rulers holding their ducal dignity (genuine or pretended), and came to be identified with that sphere of influence even if (as in the case of the Saxons and Franks) it was not only a mere fraction of the former territory going under that name but did not even cover its core area. If this fraction could now take on the name of the former whole, it was because control over territory now counted more than ethnicity. With the gentes no longer foci of political power (though they retained some importance as foci of collective identity), their territory was free to fragment politically.
The magnates of the realm now were the ‘lords of the land’, a term likewise indicating increased importance of territory over ethnic affiliation. In the vernacular, it occurs already in the late eleventh‐century Annolied (lantheirrin, stanza 39); thirteenth‐century royal charters refer to the domini terrae. 83 Much is usually made of how their rise undermined the power of the crown. It may have done (I would not overestimate the (p. 378 ) power of the crown to begin with, nor underestimate the power it always retained), but at the same time they very much needed the crown as the source of their legitimacy. Of course, they did not consciously engineer the trend towards the sacralization of kingship discussed in this section, but they certainly benefited from it and therefore, probably quite instinctively, became mainstays of the new system. This was to be the case until the end of the ancien régime. The strength of the German princes is often pointed out (and exaggerated) and contrasted with the ‘weakness’ of the empire. Curiously, no one seems to think it strange that the many German princes succeeding each other over countless generations never attempted to do away with the empire, which did materially restrict their freedom of action, and go independent—even the most powerful, like the rulers of eighteenth‐century Prussia, failed to make any efforts in that direction. There was a symbiotic relationship here, to which we shall return; the point in this section was to explain how the new system represented enough of a shift to consign the German gentes to political insignificance within a century while benefiting a new type of political actors. It is also worth underlining that this structural change seems to be essentially due to a cultural phenomenon rather than military or economic factors.
No longer defined by the ability of kings to defend them, but by the mere existence of a crown conceived much more hieratically than before, in the sense that kingship as such now counted more than the person of the incumbent, kingdoms after the turn of the millennium became less fluid geographically than they had been earlier. Armed conflict continued. But it took place within kingdoms as much as between them, and involved individual lords (who might or might not be the kings themselves), not kingdoms as institutional entities, or peoples (even as nationalist feeling might occasionally run high). Kings were kings because of their legitimate accession, expressed by their unction and coronation, not because they were militarily successful. Even William ‘the Conqueror’ of England, in a way one of the last ‘warrior kings’ typical of the first millennium, actually had a dynastic claim to the English throne, whereas his defeated opponent Harold did not.
4.2.3 Kingship as a structural factor in the politics of ancien régime Europe: the case of Plantagenet expansionism
The observation that, after the turn of the millennium, kingdoms became less fluid, indeed virtually indestructible if they possessed an established, recognized crown—no matter if that crown was actually weak—runs counter to established ‘Realist’‐style wisdom, which posits that 'states’, certainly in that period, survived because of their ability to defend themselves. 84 But it is borne out if we look, for example, at the British ‘Celtic fringe’: lacking a crown, Ireland and Wales were easily satellized by the Plantagenet dynasty of England, whereas Scotland escaped this fate. Nor was the English crown, in the ‘Hundred Years War’, able to absorb the French crown.
18.104.22.168 Ireland and Wales I: the absence of unitary native kingship leads to absorption by the English crown
If Ireland, in the twelfth century, became nominally subject to the English crown without even having to be conquered, it was ultimately because there was no Irish (p. 379 ) kingship comparable to that of other European kingdoms. Like a microcosm of Latin christendom at large, Ireland was notionally organized as a social hierarchy encompassing the entire island and whose politically important figures, at every level, bore the title rí (rig[h] in more ancient spelling, plural ríthe). An Indo‐European cognate of Latin rex, the word is ordinarily if misleadingly translated as ‘king’. ‘Leader’ would perhaps be more appropriate (certainly, Latin rex is related to the verb rego ‘to lead’), or simply ‘lord’. ríthe were elected from among the family of their predecessor, usually while that predecessor was still alive. On the local level, there would be a rí túaithe, the leader of a túath (plural túatha). A cognate of Germanic theod ‘people’, this word designated a (perhaps somewhat nominal) community of descent, a clan; the number of túatha has been estimated at around 150 in Ireland as a whole. At the next higher level, a ruiri was presumably a rí to whom other local ríthe owed allegiance. The term rí ruirech would appear to mark someone ranking at the level above that of ruiri. At the top of the hierarchy there was the ard rí, a term habitually translated as ‘high king’. After the turn of the second millennium, this title designated a primacy of honour among the great ríthe attributed to one of them by his peers. It seems to be a relatively late development, even if the sources trace it back to a mythic past; nor was this position always filled. Generally, superordination in the Irish hierarchy did not entail any formal power of command. 85
In 1155, pope Hadrian IV, himself an Englishman, granted the English king permission to land in Ireland (ut …insulam illam ingrediaris) in order to reform the morals of the Irish (pro corrigendis moribus) and on condition that the king would levy in Ireland an annual tribute to the Holy See. 86 The text, known as the bull Laudabiliter, states that the English king had requested it, but it is not clear whether the initiative really came from the English crown or whether, for example, church circles were behind it. The reference to Irish morals may not have been entirely hypocritical, since, among other liberties with church doctrine and to the chagrin of the clergy, divorce for example was at that time common in Irish society. For his part, the English king, Henry II Plantagenet, was evidently in no hurry to invade Ireland since, following Laudabiliter, he did nothing of the sort, not even when, in 1167, the rí of Leinster, Diarmait Mac Murchadha (Dermot MacMurrough), called on him for support in a quarrel that opposed him to the then ard rí. Diarmait politely did homage to Henry, but rather than intervene himself the king merely authorized Diarmait to recruit Anglo‐Norman barons from the unruly Welsh marches for his cause.
However, those barons were so successful militarily that in 1171 the king at last did land in Ireland to receive the homage of the Irish magnates, including the ard rí, a title that was henceforth redundant. 87 It seems that, just as much as Henry himself, the Irish feared that otherwise the immigrant barons would grow too powerful. Under feudal law, their allegiance to the English king made him the protector of the Irish and thus made it more difficult for the barons, out to win land for themselves, to attack them. The Irish may also have regarded their acknowledgement of the English king as a natural prolongation of their own hierarchy, since, after all, they considered themselves part of (p. 380 ) the larger christian community, too: ‘The Irish had always recognized the Roman emperor [i.e. the German ruler] as “king of the world.”’ 88 So did Henry, who, in 1157, had done homage to his ‘most cherished friend [precordialis amicus]’ the emperor, at a time when, king of England as well as lord of much of France, he himself was probably the most powerful secular ruler in Latin christendom:
We put our kingdom …at your disposal, so that everything may be done in accordance with your wishes and in conformity with your imperial will. Let there be indivisible unity of peace and love between us and our peoples …albeit in such a way that you, being of higher rank, have final authority, while we shall not be found wanting in obedience. 89
This had no practical effect whatever, and no doubt was not expected to. The Irish may likewise have felt that their homage to Henry would at best provide some protection from the barons, and at worst remain an empty gesture.
No compulsion against the Irish was exercised by the English king during his stay on the island. He had the support of the Irish episcopate, who may have hoped to gain, with his help, a stronger position for the clergy in Irish society, similar to that of the clergy in England. Pope Alexander III confirmed Henry as secular master of Ireland in letters to the king as well as to the secular and ecclesiastical magnates of Ireland, expressly describing the submission of the Irish as voluntary. 90 Pope Hadrian in Laudabiliter had referred to Ireland as an island, as a country (terra), and as a nation (gens), but not as a kingdom (regnum). Accordingly, Henry took the title ‘lord of Ireland’ (dominus Hiberniae), not ‘king of Ireland’. It was only in 1542 that Henry VIII adopted that latter title.
Like Ireland, Wales, after the end of Roman rule in the early fifth century, had always been divided into plural principalities. In Welsh sources, their leaders are sometimes called brenin, which in present‐day Welsh is the equivalent of the English word ‘king’, as well as rhi (the etymological counterpart of rí in Irish). After the turn of the millennium, Welsh sources prefer tywysog, equated with Latin princeps ‘prince’, and arglwydd, equated with Latin dominus ‘lord’, whereas English sources written in Latin actually tend to employ rex. 91 As in Ireland, we have the phenomenon of voluntary submission of one of the Welsh magnates to the English crown as a result of a power struggle within Wales: in 1267, the prince of Gwynedd, Llywelyn ap Gruffudd, recognized the suzerainty of the English king, Henry III Plantagenet, in return for support against Llywelyn's two brothers, and in order for Llywelyn to gain the overlordship of the whole of Wales. Henry III in his turn recognized Llywelyn as princeps Wallie, ‘prince of Wales’, a title originally adopted in a treaty between Llywelyn and Simon de Montfort, the leader of the English rebels against Henry in the so‐called Barons’ War, and later approved by Henry. If homage done to the English crown by Welsh magnates was nothing new in itself, the adoption of a title implying rulership of one of those magnates over Wales in its entirety was. Subsequently, however, Llywelyn refused to pay homage to the new English king, Edward I, despite (p. 381 ) being called on to do so several times. Edward thereupon marched against Llywelyn and defeated him.
Llywelyn kept the title princeps Wallie, but his authority was once more largely limited to his native Gwynedd. Moreover, he was left in a very uncomfortable position, suspect both to the English and to the Welsh and with little leverage over either. When a (minor) Welsh uprising broke out, Llywelyn had no option but to join it, the more so as the rebellion was led by one of his brothers—if standing back might have been safer, it would also have meant sacrificing all credibility with the Welsh. Llywelyn was killed somewhat accidentally in a skirmish in 1282. It was only thereafter that the Welsh‐speaking territory was largely occupied by English troops, partly converted into shires placed under royal administration (but often entrusted to indigenous nobles), and secured with a number of strong castles.
22.214.171.124 Scotland I: a unitary, but non‐standard native kingship
We shall return to Ireland and Wales but must first turn to Scotland. Whereas, in the first millennium, Ireland and Wales were ethnically quite homogeneous, this was not true of northern Britain. The inhabitants of the north and west of what was to become Scotland, known as Scot(t)i, were Irish by language and culture. Much of the east was populated by the Picts. The area around Glasgow (Strathclyde) belonged to Britons speaking the language that in English is now called Welsh, and the south and the area around Edinburgh (Lothian) in the latter part of the first millennium were settled by Angles. This ethnic diversity may at least partly account for the fact that conflict between those groups of inhabitants seems to have been fiercer than conflict among the inhabitants of Ireland and Wales. At any rate, it resulted in the unification of Scotland by the rulers of the Irish realm of Dál Riata straddling Northern Ireland (Antrim) and western Scotland (Argyll) and inhabited by the Scot(t)i. With what appears to have been considerable brutality, Cináed Mac Alpín (Kenneth MacAlpin, reigns 841–58) of Dál Riata destroyed the Pictish principalities already weakened by Viking raids.
Later chroniclers regard him as the first incumbent of what was to become the Scottish throne, even though it was not before the early eleventh century that both the Britons of Strathclyde and the Angles of Lothian had finally been brought under ‘Scottish’ rule: all rival centres of power having been eliminated, the appellation Scot(t)i came to be applied to all the subjects of Cináed's successors. Based on conquest, this Scottish kingship was evidently stronger, in organizational terms, than those whom it subjugated, but it was weaker than Norman kingship, likewise based on conquest. After his occupation of England from 1066 onwards, William of Normandy advanced with his army and navy to the Firth of Tay, but omitted to conquer Scotland. Moreover, the Scottish king Malcolm III (reigns 1058–93) did homage to William. Thereafter, relations between the two kingdoms remained largely friendly, while culturally as well as politically Scotland was exposed to strong Anglo‐Norman influence.
Although, from today's perspective, the ‘feudal’ system seems to be characterized by decentralization of power, it was nevertheless more centralized, and focused on the king, than the Irish system, where the lower ríthe were not in any formal way linked, let alone answerable, to those of higher rank. Until the twelfth century, the Scottish system, with its Irish cultural heritage, seems to have been quite similar to that Irish system in that the leading nobles were not in any formal way obligated to the king. To reduce the (p. 382 ) influence of the native magnates, king David I (reigns 1124–53) enfeoffed Anglo‐Norman barons like the (de) Bruce (who took their name from the town of Brix in Normandy) and the (de) Balliol (who called themselves after the town of Bailleul‐en‐Vimeu in Picardy) with estates, court offices, and the new Scottish bishoprics and abbeys that he founded—that latter measure designed to reduce the influence of the native Celtic church, which like the native magnates had no formal ties with the king. However, at least some of the native nobles adapted, and likewise became royal vassals. We have the same phenomenon here as in contemporary Germany, with the allegiance of some subcommunity within the realm being replaced by allegiance to the king as the main ingredient of the legitimacy of the magnates. David also founded towns, with settlers in part recruited in the Low Countries and Germany, which became an important source of revenue for the Scottish monarchy.
David in this fashion did much to turn Scotland into a ‘normal’ kingdom similar to those found elsewhere in christendom at that time. Yet it remained archaic in one important respect. Like Irish ríthe, and due evidently to the Irish cultural legacy of the realm of Dál Riata, the Scottish king was not crowned or anointed at his inauguration. Until purged by David, this seems originally to have involved much ancient ‘pagan’ ritual, like the sacrifice of a horse. Typically Irish elements of the enkinging that were retained even by David included reciting the genealogy of the king at great length (it went back to Scota, daughter of Pharao) and in the Irish language—Latin, the ‘holy’ language of the church and of ‘modern’ administration, was probably not used in the ceremony. The new king was invested with a staff and perhaps a robe, and the ceremony somehow (the details are now lost) involved a sacred stone, a plain, roughly hewn slab on which the king may have stepped or sat. This sacred stone is often referred to as the Scottish ‘coronation stone’, a misnomer since the enkinging involved no coronation. Scone having been an important religious centre of the Picts, it was there that the ceremony was held—at least this was certainly the case after the foundation of Scone abbey in 1115. However, the event did not take place in the abbey church but next to it, in the open air—certainly this was so at the inauguration of Alexander III in 1249, which is the first such occasion about which we know even this much.
In a basic sense, this is the type of enkinging preferred over the more ‘modern’ coronation and unction by Henry I in 919. But Henry had the choice: the more ‘modern’ mode was offered to him, and his successors, beginning with his son Otto in 937, all availed themselves of it—to the point that after the turn of the millennium nothing else was even conceivable any longer. The Scots, for their part, by the thirteenth century would dearly have liked their king to be properly crowned and anointed. The catch was that this required a bishop, and he needed papal authorization. It was repeatedly petitioned for by the Scots, but Rome always turned them down, in response to English objections based on a claim that the Scottish rulers were vassals of the English crown. 92
In 1286, the royal house unexpectedly became extinct. The regents arranged for the future marriage of the heiress to the Scottish throne, 3‐year‐old Margaret of Norway, with the English crown prince (himself only aged 2 at that time), while the English king, Edward I, agreed that Scotland and England would never be merged even if they came to share the same king (treaty of Birgham). But Margaret died during her crossing to (p. 383 ) Scotland. This left no fewer than thirteen claimants to the Scottish throne, all more or less distantly related to the defunct dynasty. The Scots sought the arbitration of Edward I, who agreed to examine the respective merits of the claimants but insisted that the Scots had to acknowledge his suzerainty over the Scottish kingdom; this was reluctantly agreed to. After all, the previous king Alexander III had also done homage to the English king, although the Scots liked to think that this was only for his possessions in England (I do not know what, in Alexander's case, those possessions were, but David I held three English counties from king Henry I, his brother‐in‐law). In what seems to have been a scrupulously legal procedure, Edward decided that of the thirteen candidates John Balliol had the best dynastic claim. John duly became king and did homage to Edward. If this homage had been treated as essentially symbolical like that of the Irish magnates to Henry II or that king's homage to the emperor, history would have taken a different course. But Edward, a powerful and energetic ruler, was not content with the token overlordship common on every level of the feudal hierarchy. He encouraged the Scots to appeal to him, the supreme liege lord, against their king, and imposed humiliating sanctions when John objected. On a strict interpretation of feudal law, Edward was within his rights, but politically his behaviour was a disaster for John.
In his desire to strengthen his kingship by making the most of his formal prerogatives, Edward was much like his contemporary king Philip IV of France, whom we encountered in Chapter 3 . Philip in fact made the same sort of demands of Edward in his capacity as Edward's liege for the continental possessions of the English king as Edward was making of John. When Edward failed to comply, Philip in 1294 stripped him of the duchy of Aquitaine. Edward refused to give it up, which meant war with Philip. As any liege faced with a feud would have done, the English king called on his vassals to serve him in this war with their men, including king John. For John it was the last straw: he could not ask the Scots to follow him into a war in a foreign land on behalf of the English king and retain any hope of acceptance of his own kingship by them. Instead, in a desperate bid to save his throne, he entered into an alliance with Philip against Edward. Edward thus had a perfectly legitimate cause for war on John as well as Philip. Well‐organized militarily as he was, he forced John into submission in a matter of weeks, formally stripping him of his kingship and putting him under arrest. The Scots were disorganized and disunited. Support for John was lukewarm, and some Scots indeed supported Edward even on the battlefield—among them the two Robert Bruce, father and son, whose claim to the Scottish throne was considered the best after that of John Balliol and who must have hoped that, John having failed, Edward would now give the Scottish throne to them.
But he did not. Edward may have felt that such a move could only lead to the same unsatisfactory situation as before, where he could not make any demands in his capacity as liege of the Scottish king without undermining the position of that king in Scotland itself. He could, then, either allow his suzerainty over Scotland to become a mere empty claim, or take the country over himself. Given his personality, and the situation (he had just, more or less, conquered the country), it is not surprising that he chose the latter. On the other hand, if the Bruce family expected that Edward would name another native Scottish king, it was because anyone could see that the attempt by Edward to impose his authority in Scotland directly was ambitious to the point of temerity. After all, he was a foreigner whose sole claim to the Scottish throne was a suzerainty that the Scots themselves had always tended to contest, and only half‐accepted as long as it remained (p. 384 ) largely meaningless in practice. Edward must of course have been aware of this problem, and this may explain why, having chosen the option that for him was the only acceptable one, he made no attempt to placate the Scots. Instead, he seems to have decided quite consciously that ruthlessness was the only viable strategy. This included dismantling Scotland as a kingdom.
As liege, he would have been entitled to keep the Scottish throne, which had escheated to him, for himself, simply adding the Scottish kingship to the English kingship that was his already but without merging the two (had the treaty of Birgham, voluntarily agreed to by the Scots, been implemented, this would have happened in the next generation in any case). But the Scottish kingship, defined, like any other European kingship, by a specific tradition and set of customary rights, was weaker than the English kingship, and so this solution would have demanded of Edward, the powerful ruler of England, not to employ the resources at his disposal in that country to impose a claim to the kingship of Scotland so controversial that those resources were actually badly needed. This would have been schizophrenic; small wonder that Edward, though by no means unscrupulous with regard to legal questions, in this situation chose resources over legitimacy and attempted to hold Scotland by force. Besides, I suspect that for Edward the idea of going to Scone and subjecting himself to a ritual whose christian credentials were at best dubious, and performed in a language he did not understand, was too abstruse to be entertained. What he did instead was take the sacred stone from Scone Abbey to Westminster Abbey, where he had it incorporated in a specially made throne. This so‐called Coronation Chair is still kept at Westminster Abbey and has been used for the coronation of subsequent English/British monarchs down to Elizabeth II in 1953 (in 1996, however, the septcentenary of its being brought to England, the stone was returned to Scotland).
The case of Scotland is similar to that of Wales in that there, too, following the failure of the attempt to exercise power indirectly in his capacity as liege, Edward assumed direct control and secured it militarily, this being the only alternative to becoming prince of Wales himself. The latter option was not really acceptable since as with Scottish kingship, though for a different reason, the position was not suitable for Edward. Whereas Scottish kingship was sanctioned by tradition but of inferior status, the title ‘prince of Wales’ had only been created for Llywelyn, and had never had real backing among the Welsh at large. The takeover of Wales by the English crown worked because however much the English might be disliked the Welsh had never been united. By the time they came under direct English rule, it was too late to create a common polity to serve as a framework for successful resistance. By contrast, the English failed in Scotland even though the full weight of English military might was brought to bear on Scotland in a way that Wales, let alone pre‐Reformation Ireland, never experienced. There were many contingent factors, even chance events, that contributed to the successful assertion of Scottish independence. But the crucial difference went far back in time and ultimately lay in the unification of Scotland by Cináed Mac Alpín and his successors, and the efforts, in particular of David I, to bring Scottish kingship in line with the prevailing political culture of the age. By the turn of the fourteenth century, it was too far advanced on the road to consolidation for Scotland to go the way of Ireland and Wales and become annexed to the English crown. Even such as it was, Scottish kingship provided too clear a focal point for what had, unlike Ireland and Wales, become a unified polity in its own right, to be swallowed up even by so powerful a kingdom as England was at that time.
(p. 385 ) 126.96.36.199 Scotland II: a unitary native kingship reasserted and standardized
This manifested itself early on in the immediacy, scale, and degree of organization of the Scottish rebellion. In pre‐Reformation Ireland, there was no large‐scale contestation of English suzerainty at all. In Wales, resistance was sporadic and mostly low‐key until the great revolt of Owain Glyn Dŵr in the early fifteenth century. Ten years passed between the reorganization of the country by Edward in 1284 and the brief Welsh revolt of 1294/5. By contrast, the Scots rose against Edward the moment he left the country again, and inflicted a resounding defeat on the English in the battle of Stirling Bridge (1297). To be sure, this was no doubt due partly to the English crown being taken by surprise at the quickness and magnitude of this reaction, and the initial Scottish triumph was followed by a long series of military disasters. Yet despite their defeat at Falkirk (1298) the Scots went on to form a regency council.
The Scottish resistance was not powered by nationalism in an ethno‐cultural sense. At its forefront were leading families of Anglo‐Norman origin who held estates and fiefs in England as well as Scotland. They were culturally indistinguishable from the political elite of the English kingdom, or indeed from the very barons who had also partly colonized Wales and Ireland. Thus, the Balliol family had vast estates in northern England and had founded a college at Oxford. The Bruce family likewise had important English estates; Robert Bruce junior, subsequently king of Scots and hero of the resistance, was married (in his second marriage) to the daughter of a powerful figure at the English court and holder of an Irish fief, Richard de Burgh, earl of Ulster. But the Scottish nobles had become attached to their own court and king and the prestige and preferment emanating therefrom. They were not going to have that taken away from them without a fight, especially as the positions of influence at the English court were already occupied by the English nobility.
Obstreperous and independent‐minded as they tended to be, the Anglo‐Norman barons in Wales and Ireland nevertheless were supporters of the English crown at least in the sense that they were not going to repudiate it. The English crown was their crown, and with their help a degree of English control or at least influence could be maintained in parts of Ireland and Wales (even if in the pre‐Reformation period it always remained tenuous). What made Scotland different was that there the same group had an alternative kingship to adhere to, which they did. The character of Edward I, aloof, severe, ungenerous, must have helped to push them in that direction, but this was a contributing factor in a development for which the existence of an established Scottish kingship was a necessary condition.
Scottish kingship was imperfect in that incumbents had hitherto not been crowned and anointed, but that deficiency was remedied in due course. Here, the attitude of the pope was crucial. The declaration of Arbroath was addressed to the pope; but Scottish lobbying at the curia was intense already in the preceding decades, and quite successful. Following the Scottish revolt of 1297, pope Boniface VIII sent Edward a stern missive in which he claimed that the kingdom of Scotland was a papal fief, not an English fief, and demanded of the English king to justify his behaviour regarding Scotland by a set date (papal bull Scimus fili, 1299). In fact, unlike the kingdom of Sicily, or Ireland (where this was derived from the fake Donation of Constantine), Scotland most certainly was not under papal suzerainty. This papal claim may have been a calculated gamble, or an (p. 386 ) honest mistake perhaps based on the papal bull Cum universi of 1189 or thereabouts, in which, at the request of the Scottish clergy, the Scottish church had been exempted from the ecclesiastical jurisdiction of the English archbishop of York and placed directly under papal jurisdiction. 93
Papal pressure seems to have been responsible for the liberation of John Balliol. He withdrew to the old Balliol family seat in Picardy but seemed poised to be reinstated as Scottish king. This prompted the Scottish rebels to date their official utterances by the years of his reign from 1301 onwards, and Robert Bruce junior to leave their ranks and defect to the English again. When, despite Robert Bruce the elder and his son of the same name having fought for Edward against John Balliol, the Bruce family nevertheless did not receive the Scottish kingship, Robert Bruce junior joined the Scottish insurgency and indeed became a member of the regency council. Switching sides again, in 1302 he made his peace with Edward, a move no doubt dictated by several motives. Robert had no gratitude to expect from John Balliol; he may have hoped that Edward would now back his candidacy for the Scottish throne after all, as an alternative to the humiliating Balliol restoration; and his father Robert Bruce senior might not live much longer (indeed he died in 1304): as one of the Scottish rebels, Robert junior would not have been able to succeed to the family estates in England.
The difficulty with which his Scottish policy had met may have contributed to Edward's decision in 1301 to create a new Prince of Wales: his son, the future Edward II. Indeed that young prince soon achieved considerable popularity in Wales, another indication that ethno‐cultural nationalism was not the chief root of Welsh political discontent. In the face of domestic English opposition to the exactions imposed by the crown to finance its military efforts, and of the Scottish rebellion, Edward abandoned the French war in 1297. He concluded a truce with king Philip but continued to fund adversaries of his French opponent in the Low Countries and the Rhineland. This strategy scored a major success when, in 1302, Philip suffered a disastrous defeat at Kortrijk at the hands of the Flemings (encouraged by Edward). Unfortunately for the Scots, this forced Philip to convert his truce with Edward into a full‐scale peace and restore Aquitaine. Already in 1299, Edward had married Philip's sister; now the Anglo‐French reconciliation was cemented by the engagement of the English crown prince—the new Prince of Wales, the product of an earlier marriage by Edward—with Philip's daughter Isabella.
Also in 1302, pope Boniface issued his bull Unam sanctam, which destroyed what little goodwill was left in the already strained relationship between the French court and the curia. With the French king now working to have the pope deposed, Boniface naturally grew more sympathetic to Philip's rival Edward, and accused the Scottish episcopate (quite correctly) of fomenting the Scottish insurgency. In this situation the pope became inclined to accept Edward's reply to Scimus fili, to the effect that when Edward's forbears the Trojans (led by Aeneas’ son Brutus) had conquered Britain (named, of course, after Brutus), they had also subjected the Scots—even if the Scots countered immediately with a story similar to that later included in the declaration of Arbroath, that they, invaders themselves, had come to Scotland via Egypt and Spain and had never been subject to anyone. 94
(p. 387 ) Following another successful campaign, Edward imposed a peace on Scotland in 1304 that most of the Scottish magnates accepted. Meanwhile, Robert Bruce junior was once again disappointed with Edward's failure to reward his (new‐found) loyalty to the English crown, indeed to treat him with any regard. Of course Robert had proved fickle; the English king may have felt that pardoning Robert was already more than he deserved, to say nothing of giving the man a throne to sit on. Anyway, with king Philip and pope Boniface no longer pushing for the restoration of John Balliol this had ceased to be a pressing concern. But Robert was a major Scottish player with a good dynastic claim to the Scottish kingship, and in retrospect it is clear that the English king made a mistake in not trying at least to string him along.
There was a third great Anglo‐Norman family in Scotland with a claim to the throne, the Comyn family. To get anywhere in Scotland, Robert needed their support, or at least their neutrality. But he trusted them so little (or they him, or both) that when they arranged to meet it was in the assumed safety of a sanctuary, the greyfriars’ church at Dumfries (1306). To no avail: the exact circumstances are unclear, but at the end of the meeting the senior Comyn was dead and Robert a fugitive guilty of so major a sin—killing someone in a church—that it made him automatically excommunicate. To be sure, the bishop of Glasgow helpfully granted him absolution straightaway, but the curia would not hear of it. Reckoning no doubt that in the face of this disaster nothing could conceivably make things worse, Robert hastily had himself inaugurated king of Scots at Scone by a handful of loyal adherents, in a makeshift ceremony and with an ersatz sacred stone. His sole chance of turning the situation around and saving himself from total ignominy was to get accepted as Scottish king. The odds were long: he was up against king Edward, the Comyn family and their following, those in Scotland who thought that their rightful king was John Balliol, and the pope. But, his ambition fuelled further by the absence of any alternative, Robert succeeded. Hunted by Edward, who imprisoned his wife, daughter, and other female relatives and had three of his brothers executed, he made himself the soul of the resistance, outshining the passive John Balliol. John died at Bailleul in 1313; already in 1309, at a parliament at Saint Andrews, the Scots had transferred their allegiance to Robert.
Luck was on his side in that the English king did not have much time left to deal with him. In 1307, Edward was succeeded by the incapable Edward II, who alienated the English nobility by heaping extravagant favours on his equally incapable lover Piers Gaveston. Although Edward II remained committed to crushing the Scottish resistance, he lacked his father's single‐minded resolve; moreover, the walking domestic crisis that he represented distracted from the war effort. In 1314 at Bannockburn, Robert inflicted a crushing defeat on the English army. In 1316, the pope readmitted him to the church, only to excommunicate him again in 1318 in the context of a quarrel over the nomination of Scottish bishops. It was in this context that the declaration of Arbroath was dispatched in 1320; in 1324, the pope recognized Robert as king. Caught up in domestic turmoil, Edward II meanwhile pursued the Scottish war only languidly.
In 1327 he was deposed by his French wife, Isabella, who assumed the regency for her son Edward III. A new campaign against the Scots having failed, the cash‐strapped queen made peace with Robert in return for a payment of 20,000 pounds. The peace involved the marriage of her daughter with the Scottish crown prince, David Bruce. In a document negotiated at Edinburgh in 1327 and ratified at Northampton in 1328, Edward III relinquished any claim to suzerainty over Scotland. Robert now dispatched another (p. 388 ) petition to the Holy See asking for permission to be crowned and anointed. This time it was granted: Robert having died in 1329, his little son David II in 1331 became the first king of Scots to be christus Domini, as, likewise, were his successors. Although Isabella had agreed to return the stone of Scone, it was not delivered to her by its keeper, and she travelled north to the marriage of her daughter at Berwick on the English–Scottish border without it. 95 It seems that the Scots did not make a fuss, either then or thereafter: the reason for that may well be that the stone had become dispensable.
Thanks to the acquisition of a proper crown the kingdom of Scotland was now indestructible, even though its relations with its southern neighbour remained turbulent and the power of the Scottish crown, negligible. Indeed, in the fourteenth century the country basically sank into anarchy. Edward III of England seized power from his mother in 1330 and repudiated the ‘quitclaim’ of 1328 that freed the Scottish king from any obligation to the English crown—on the grounds that although it was issued in his name he had had no part in it. The new English king supported the claim of Edward Balliol, son of John, to the Scottish throne. In return for English military backing, Edward Balliol recognized English suzerainty, landed in Scotland, and had himself inaugurated at Scone (I have been unable to find any reliable information about whether this involved a coronation). While Scotland once again came under English occupation, young king David was sent to the safety of France, only to be captured by the English at his very first military venture against them. A nominal prisoner at the English court, he felt so at home there that he returned repeatedly even when, eleven years later, he was released for a huge ransom raised by the Scots; moreover, it was with difficulty that, on at least two occasions, the Scots prevented him from appointing the English king (his brother‐in‐law) as his heir if he died childless, which he did.
The Scots meanwhile got rid of Edward Balliol, who despite military victories by his English troops was unable to establish any real control over the country. With king David in exile, the realm was administered by his nephew, who also succeeded him at his death in 1371; his original position as steward of Scotland gave the new dynasty its name (albeit usually in the spelling Stuart). Hampered by power struggles within the dynasty, long periods of regency (in the fifteenth century, king after king died young, leaving under‐age heirs), powerful magnates, and intermittent warfare against the English (with, at best, inconclusive results), Scottish kingship after the reassertion of independence in the early fourteenth century never gained much strength. But, significantly, it was never again contested by the English crown. Its independence was not the result of its ‘deterrent’ capability (except perhaps in the sense that the English had learned the lesson that it was unwise to stir up this hornets’ nest). Rather, by the late pre‐Reformation period destruction of an established kingdom had become simply unthinkable.
In the ancien régime, a kingdom might—occasionally, and typically to a quite limited extent—expand through conquest. But the only way to join another kingdom, as such, to one's own was to marry or inherit it. Merger by conquest was simply out of the question—unless you went to war in pursuit of a title based on heredity. Not infrequently, more than one claimant might have such a title, and it might be genuinely impossible to determine which of them had the best. In such a situation, war was an accepted way of settling the question. The attempt by Edward Balliol to displace David II is a case (p. 389 ) in point: his dynastic right to the Scottish throne was as good as David's. Scotland and England eventually were joined, in the manner typical of the ancien régime, and entirely peacefully: the Stuart dynasty inherited the English throne when the Tudor dynasty became extinct in 1603.
188.8.131.52 Ireland and Wales II: absent a native crown, English overlordship proves impossible to remove
If the Bruce family successfully claimed and consolidated the Scottish kingship (because it was there to claim in the first place), they failed in Ireland, where they tried, too. After the usurpation of 1306, Edward I of England had all the Bruce brothers killed but two—Robert himself and Edward. When Robert was recognized as Scottish king at the parliament of Saint Andrews in 1309, he had no son, which made Edward his heir‐presumptive. But once Robert was reunited with his wife in 1315, as a result of a prisoner exchange following his victory at Bannockburn, it was reasonable to expect that he would in due course produce a direct heir. A plan was conceived to find Edward, who seems to have been a difficult and unruly character, a kingdom of his own in Ireland. For Robert, this had the double advantage of getting Edward out of his hair while opening a new front for the English in Ireland, diminishing the resources that they could direct against Scotland. In 1315, Edward thus landed in Ireland and had himself inaugurated as king of Ireland at Dundalk. However, his reception in Ireland was far from enthusiastic, not just among the Anglo‐Irish, but also among the ‘Irish’ Irish. The Scottish attempt to take Dublin by surprise having failed, in 1316 Robert Bruce himself landed in Ireland to aid Edward militarily, but withdrew without achieving any breakthrough; thereafter military operations continued inconclusively until Edward was killed in battle in 1318. Already in the previous year, an Irish relative of the Bruce brothers, Domnall Uí Néill (Donald O'Neill), had sent the pope an address in support of the Bruce claim to the ‘Irish’ throne, a document that is commonly if misleadingly referred to as the ‘Remonstrance of the Irish princes’. 96
It has been compared with the declaration of Arbroath and even, incongruously, attributed to the same unknown drafter. In fact, it conspicuously lacks the rhetorical and psychological skill apparent in the Arbroath document. The 1317 remonstrance is much longer, indeed excessively so, much of it taken up by an endless and, in part, intrinsically implausible rant against the misdeeds of the ‘English’ (including the Anglo‐Irish) in Ireland. The remonstrance recognizes the English claim to Ireland based on Laudabiliter, but argues that because the English had failed to improve Irish morals (or levy the tax for the Holy See provided for in the bull) they had forfeited that claim. At the end of the document the pope is informed, rather summarily, that because the English had not carried out the mandate given to them in Laudabiliter, and moreover were impossible to live with, the Irish had chosen Edward Bruce to be their king instead of the English king. Thus, having recognized papal suzerainty over Ireland the document goes on to ignore it, without any apparent awareness of the contradiction. By contrast, the declaration of Arbroath cleverly combines pressure on the pope (who is warned that any further bloodshed in the English–Scottish conflict will imperil the salvation of his soul unless he leans on the English king to prevent it) with promises (do what we want (p. 390 ) and we shall go on a crusade), and a great rhetorical display of humility and deference. And whereas the remonstrance assails the perfidy of the English at inordinate length and returns to this topic at every opportunity, the declaration, having gravely but with adroit concision alluded to English cruelty, continues in an inclusive and conciliatory register (no difference, for christians, between ‘Jews and Greeks, Scots and English’; Scottish readiness ‘to do for [the English king] what is in our power’).
The main similarity between the remonstrance and the declaration (it is of course possible that, even if they were not composed by the same person, whoever drew up the declaration knew the earlier remonstrance) is the emphasis on the ancientness of the native kingship: the Arbroath document advertises 113 native Scottish kings, the line unbroken by any foreigner; the 1317 remonstrance declares Domnall to be heir to 197 native Irish kings, and to ‘the whole of Ireland’. But although the Ui Néill had indeed frequently held the post of ard rí, this was no ‘Irish kingship’ comparable to the Scottish kingship. In the document Domnall actually describes himself as rex Ultoniae, ‘king of Ulster’, without explaining how the existence of a separate Ulster ‘kingship’ squared with the ‘Irish’ kingship that he postulated: it did in the old Irish system outlined above, but this could of course not be invoked in support of the kind of kingship Domnall was trying to obtain for Edward Bruce. Nor does Domnall explain why, if he himself was heir to a long line of native kings, that kingship should now be given to someone else, and a foreigner, too. In a brief throwaway phrase the text does assert Edward to have 'sprung from our noblest ancestors’, but even though the Anglo‐Norman nobility in Scotland had intermarried with the native nobility, and Edward was related to Domnall, he could hardly be described as Irish. The Bruce family, ironically, was just as Anglo‐Norman as the Anglo‐Irish barons that the remonstrance complains about—indeed, as mentioned, Robert Bruce was the son‐in‐law of the Anglo‐Irish earl of Ulster. (Domnall was actually rí of Tir Eógain/Tyrone, and in the sixteenth century an ‘earldom of Tyrone’ was created for the Ui Néill.)
The declaration of Arbroath was issued by some forty Scottish magnates that it lists by name and whose seals (or, at any rate, a corresponding number of seals: some of them do not match) were appended. By contrast, the remonstrance, even though it purports to be speaking for the Irish as a whole, only lists Domnall by name. Moreover, the declaration of Arbroath was dispatched after a successful Scottish revolt against the English invaders; but the 1317 document announces an Irish revolt that was yet to take place. It never did—even though, if the Irish had wanted to stage a rebellion, this would have been the moment to do it. Their failure to do so, along with many of the oddities of the text, is explained if rather than taking the document at face value the whole undertaking is interpreted as very much a Scottish initiative with minimal Irish input—which of course Domnall could not let on to. Robert Bruce had hoped that after Bannockburn the English king would be ready to negotiate, but when that expectation turned out to be wrong Robert must have been eager to increase the pressure on the English further. In fact they came to believe (possibly encouraged by Robert himself) that he would land in Wales and launch a rising there, so that the English were preparing to fend off an invasion of Wales when what occurred was an invasion of Ireland. As a result, English forces were tied down in Wales and Ireland. Stuck in Ireland, Edward in 1316 issued an appeal to the Welsh magnates to make him the leader of a revolt against the English—evidently falling back on plan B; no rising, however, occurred. Nevertheless, northern England, militarily left to its own devices (p. 391 ) throughout most of the remainder of Edward II's reign, lay open to devastating Scottish raids.
As Archibald Duncan has ingeniously and convincingly shown, the common assumption that Edward Bruce adopted the Irish kingship only in 1316, over a year after his arrival on the island, is due to a chronicler's error. In fact, the inauguration at Dundalk must have taken place very soon after Edward had disembarked—presenting the Irish with a fait accompli rather than taking place at their invitation. On the contrary, it was an invitation to them—but which they largely failed to warm to. Nor, it would appear, was the bulk of the 1317 remonstrance—the jeremiad against English mistreatment of the natives—originally connected with the Bruce mission, to which reference is made only at the end of the document. A pre‐existing text seems to have been adapted for the purpose of providing a semblance of legitimacy for Edward. 97
In Wales, the single great revolt against English domination took place over a century after the integration of the country into the English kingdom. Interestingly, in light of the thesis proposed here that after the turn of the millennium independence of a country rested on the presence of a crown, there seems to be no evidence that the leader of the revolt, Owain Glyn Dŵr (Owen Glendower), ever explicitly sought independence for Wales or a crown for himself. Such a new crown would by this time have been very difficult to create, against the opposition of the English crown and given that English suzerainty had been acknowledged for so long and by so many, including Owain himself.
Owain took advantage of the revolt of leading English nobles against the English king: the incumbent, Henry IV Lancaster (a branch of the Plantagenet dynasty), being of doubtful legitimacy since he owed the throne to the deposition of Richard II in 1399, the rebels wanted to replace him with another member of the dynasty (an ancestor of what would later become known as the York branch of the royal house). Owain was a well‐to‐do member of the Welsh gentry, linked to the English court by his career and marriage—and thus no obvious victim of any ‘colonial’ oppression. By the terms of the so‐called Tripartite Indenture concluded by the rebels in 1405, Owain was to become prince of a Greater Wales, territorially augmented by several English counties adjoining the principality. A copy of a treaty that Owain concluded with the French king in 1404 and now in the British Public Record Office preserves his magnificent seal. It shows him sitting on a throne, behind which angels hold up his mantle, embroidered with heraldic emblems—the lions of Gwynedd, from whose rulers he claimed to be descended though apparently he was not (he was related to the ancient rulers of Powys and Deheubarth). The impression is certainly regal. But although the figure on the throne is holding a sceptre, his head is bare.
The legend reads owynus dei gracia princeps wallie, Owain, by god's grace Prince of Wales. Kings would routinely date charters as having been issued ‘in the so‐and‐so‐manieth year of our reign [regni nostri]’; Owain put ‘in the so‐and‐so‐manieth year of our being prince [principatus nostri]’. The ambiguity of his position and aims was never resolved. In the feudal hierarchy of christendom, a mere ‘prince’ needed a (royal) liege. Presumably, if Owain had prevailed he would nevertheless have done homage to the English king, especially as it is hard to see how he could have got away with establishing an independent Welsh kingdom that would actually have incorporated a substantial amount of unquestionably English territory. In any case he did not prevail, because (p. 392 ) Henry IV defeated his English adversaries and held on to his throne. For some time, Owain's cause was quite popular in Wales, feeding on mutual animosity between the Welsh and the English. But in the end, the rising subsided as abruptly as it had begun; the self‐appointed prince simply vanished, and we do not even know when or how he died (probably in 1415 or 1416). Many Welsh magnates no doubt preferred the English crown to a shady Welsh dignity whose precise nature was yet to become clear, and which had no real roots in Welsh tradition since the country had never been united under one of its native leaders—except briefly and still incompletely by Llywelyn ap Grufudd, who at the time was actually resented by many Welsh. 98
Probably quite typical is the case of one Welsh family descended from a court official of Llywelyn ap Grufudd and as yet without a surname, in place of which Welsh tradition used the ap 'son of’. In the fifteenth century, rather than changing in every generation, the name following the ap was often adopted as a fixed patronym. In this manner one Owain, son of Maredudd ap Tewdwr (Meredith son of Theodore), used his grandfather's name as a surname and called himself Owen Tudor in English. Following the occupation of Wales by Edward I and the death of Llywelyn in 1282, some members of the family had made peace with the English king immediately. Two direct forbears of Owen Tudor, Tewdwr Hen (i.e. the elder) and his son Goronwy, joined the rebellion of 1294, but they, too, ultimately made peace with Edward and served in the royal administration of north Wales. When Owain Glyn Dŵr rebelled, the family dominated Anglesey. Kinsmen of Owain Glyn Dŵr, two uncles of Owen Tudor joined the rebellion. Owen himself, too young to have any part in it (he was born around 1400), apparently profited from efforts by Henry V to conciliate the Welsh after the collapse of the rising, and gravitated to the royal court. Despite being of no particular prominence, he managed in 1429 secretly to wed the widow of king Henry VI, Catherine of Valois. The York and Lancaster branches of the royal house having fought over the crown until they were both extinct, in 1485 his descendant Henry Tudor mounted the English throne (champion of the already extinct Lancaster branch, he defeated the last York claimant, killed in that battle).
184.108.40.206 France and the Hundred Years War
As in the case of Scotland, the expansionist English kingship was unable to gain control of the kingdom of France, despite military superiority and a presentable claim to the French throne. In 1328, the direct male line of the Capet dynasty became extinct, as the sons of Philip IV, who succeeded him, left no male heir. This left king Edward III of England (reigns 1327–77), the son of Philip's daughter Isabella, as Philip's sole male descendant. Women were barred from succeeding to the French throne, and so there was no question of Isabella ascending the throne herself. But it was not clear whether women could pass on the right of succession. If so, then Edward III of England after 1328 was also king of France by right of inheritance. If, on the other hand, the exclusion of women from the throne was taken to imply that not only the crown, but also the right of succession could only be passed on in the male line, then the heir to the throne was Philip's nephew, the count of Valois (son of Philip's brother Charles, the unsuccessful rival of Henry of Luxemburg in the election for the Roman–German throne of 1308). (p. 393 ) Either interpretation could be argued with some plausibility—the typical backdrop of a war of succession in ancien régime Europe. In France, the prospect of the French crown being united to the English crown was not welcome. It would have meant depriving the French nobility of a source of prestige and preferment with which they had established ties in favour of magnates whose main attachment was to the English court. This, more than any ‘national’ sentiment, is likely to have been the main reason why the French preferred the Valois succession. After all, the English crown was not culturally alien. The English king was duke of Aquitaine, that is, one of the greatest lords in the French realm, and French was the language of the English court and the English nobility.
But Edward could not be expected simply to give up his claim. Militarily, he was in a promising position. His French possessions gave him a bridgehead on the continent, while the fact that England was an island made it difficult to strike at his base. What, in spite of such resounding victories as Crécy and Azincourt (the correct spelling), led to the ultimate defeat of the English crown in the ‘Hundred Years War’ was simply that the French, like the Scots, preferred to keep a king of their own. Edward I had sought to tread a fine line between confiscating Scottish estates, awarded to English magnates as an incentive for assisting him in the durable subjugation of Scotland, and not confiscating Scottish estates so as to keep some backing among the native magnates. Edward III resumed the attempt to bring Scotland under English control (through the client kingship of Edward Balliol) in part to allay the dissatisfaction of English nobles deprived of their Scottish gains by the earlier recognition of the Bruce kingship. What in Scotland proved unfeasible would have been even more difficult in France. To get military support in England for its French war, the English crown needed French spoils. But that made it impossible to get the political support of the French nobility—which was at least as necessary for the English crown to win recognition of its authority in France.
Edward III may have realized this. It is unlikely that he started the French war with the intention actually to deprive his Valois cousin of the French throne. Rather, he must have hoped to be able to sell his dynastic claim—for doing which it was necessary to assert it militarily first, to show his determination not to give it up for free. The most obvious prize that he could aim for was a quitclaim for Aquitaine, removing the irksome obligation on the English king to do homage for this fief to the French crown, and instead incorporating it in the English kingdom proper. From a French perspective, however, this was already a huge concession, not to be granted except in an extremity.
Edward successfully created that extremity, defeating and capturing king John II of France at Poitiers in 1356. He even laid siege to Reims in 1360—as if threatening actually to have himself crowned king of France, a ceremony normally held in Reims cathedral. The fact that the siege was quickly lifted suggests, however, that it was essentially symbolical, a means of putting pressure on the French. Indeed they agreed on a sweeping peace settlement, involving the cession of Aquitaine in return for Edward abandoning his claim to the French throne. But the settlement was eventually ratified by neither side—ultimately no doubt because it was so unbalanced in favour of the English that even they did not consider it viable in the long term. King John was released in return for a promised payment of three million écus to the English crown. Hostages at the English court were to vouch for this, among them a younger brother of the French crown prince. When he returned to France without authorization, king John voluntarily went back to London, where he died in 1364—a striking demonstration of attachment to a chivalrous code of honour.
(p. 394 ) His successor Charles V avoided major showdowns with the English, which the French had an alarming tendency to lose, and preferred diplomatic means to check the ambition of the English king. Count Louis of Flanders wanted to marry his daughter and sole heir to a younger son of Edward III, Edmund. This would have given the English dynasty another of the great French principalities in addition to Aquitaine. King Charles, for his part, sought the hand of the Flemish heiress for his brother Philip, whom he had created duke of Burgundy. Both Edmund and Philip were so closely related to their prospective bride that the marriage required a papal dispensation. It was Charles who secured it, not Edward, a triumph for the French king—even if it ultimately led to another big problem for the French monarchy in the shape of the virtually independent ‘Burgundian’ realm, a development that at the time could not be foreseen. The episode again illustrates the huge importance of legal considerations for the politics of the period, where warfare was unlikely to be successful unless it was in support of what could plausibly be considered a valid legal claim, or if at least it did not run too visibly counter to any such claim. No amount of English military strength could alter the papal decision awarding Flanders to the Valois rather than the Plantagenet dynasty.
In subsequent generations the (rather intermittently fought) war between the two royal houses became more acrimonious. Unable to turn their military prowess into any lasting settlement in their favour, the English grew more reckless. This culminated in the coronation of the English boy king, Henry VI, as king of France in Paris in 1431, after king Charles VI of France had been prevailed on to marry his daughter Catherine to Henry (she was later to marry Owen Tudor) and disinherit his son, the future Charles VII, in favour of the English crown. But the timid Charles was famously persuaded by Joan of Arc to have himself crowned at Reims anyway. Reims was the right place to do it, not Paris, and this symbolized the greater legitimacy personified by Charles. The English side had gone too far, and in the end the English crown (which stubbornly continued to claim the title ‘king/queen of France’ throughout the ancien régime) even lost Aquitaine.
4.2.4. The fiction of the efficient ruler: Thomas Aquinas and Giles of Rome
The powerful popular attachment to the crown led to positive qualities and achievements being attributed to the crown that existed only in the imagination of its loyal adherents. The crown was credited with ensuring the peace of the realm and the safety of its subjects, and with causing other benefits to accrue to them, when in reality it was quite incapable of doing any such thing. No doubt by the end of the ancien régime the actual efficiency of central government had increased compared with the pre‐Reformation period, but its perceived efficiency was still largely based on a legitimizing fiction.
Already in the twelfth century, the panegyric on the emperor Frederic I by the anymous poet known as the Archipoeta or ‘archpoet’ incongruously praises Frederic for stamping out banditry in Italy. Stanza 28 explains that the roads of Italy used to be infested with robber bands. The poet continues:
Cesaris est gloria,/Cesaris est donum,
Caesar's is the glory, Caesar's gift it is
Quod iam patent omnibus/vie regionum,
That now the roads of the land are open to all,
Dum ventis exposita/corpora latronum
While, exposed to the winds, the robbers' corpses
Surda flantis boree/captant aure sonum.
Catch the rustling northern breeze in their deaf ears.
(p. 395 ) The poet drives home his point by making a statement—the emperor has rid the country of robbers—and illustrating it graphically by letting the audience imagine the dead robbers dangling from gallows or trees and deaf to the blowing of the ‘northern breeze’ (meaning the emperor, come from north of the Alps). Of course this is pure hyperbole: intent on imposing his authority on the rebellious towns of northern Italy (the poet narrates at some length the capture of haughty Milan in 1162), the emperor cannot have had much time to deal with robbers. Even if some suffered the fate indicated by the poet, it was a drop in the bucket, a success strictly limited in terms of space and time, as other robbers no doubt quickly filled the ‘vacancies’ created while in most parts of Italy they remained unaffected by any imperial activity. That the poet brings up the subject at all may be connected to some specific occasion or incident highlighting the issue, though I have no knowledge of what it could have been.
People in Italy of course could not rely on the itinerant emperor to address the problem of banditry. Frederic I came to Italy five times during his reign (1152–90), which is unusually often in comparison with his predecessors. Even so he was more of an absence than a presence, quite apart from the fact that even northern Italy, the only part of the country where his writ ran, is quite large. There was no permanent imperial administrative apparatus controlling the empire in its entirety, let alone Italy. But it is significant that the poet happily attributes to the crown a spurious achievement or at least one that he complacently inflates out of all proportion with reality. The attribution is emphasized very strongly in the first line of the stanza quoted, which describes the safety of the roads as the ‘glory’ and ‘gift’ of the emperor. By means of the word order and through repetition the phrasing places heavy stress on Cesaris ‘Caesar's’.
Good‐humouredly (the whole poem is in a somewhat ironic vein, as if gently mocking the commonplace, even trite notions that it deals in) the poet ascribes to the emperor all the usual regal virtues and, importantly, stresses the indebtedness of the subjects (stanza 5):
Tu foves et protegis/magnos et minores,
You look after and protect the great and the less great,
Magnis et minoribus/tue patent fores.
The great and the less great find your doors open.
Omnes ergo Cesari/sumus debitores,
All of us therefore are debtors of Caesar,
Qui pro nostra requie/sustinet labores.
Who for the sake of our peace takes exertions upon himself.
Note again the tu ‘you’ placed at the beginning of the first line and the more resonant as, in Latin, nominative personal pronouns are exclusively used for emphasis. In the society of the 1160s, when the poem was written, this sort of claim was utterly counterfactual. Northern Italy demonstrates this well: nominally subject to the German crown, most of the time it was left completely to its own devices. On the rare occasions when the king or emperor ‘of the Romans’ did appear in Italy, this regularly caused more, not less instability and indeed warfare, as the poem under discussion also unintentionally shows. For the long‐term development of pre‐Reformation northern Italy the imperial presence or absence proved irrelevant as, unruly and war‐prone though it was, the country nevertheless rose to spectacular economic prosperity.
In late ancien régime Europe, rulers were routinely idolized in essentially the same manner that is already manifest in the twelfth‐century panegyric on the emperor Frederic, and which, the treatment of this type of thinking by the ‘archpoet’ suggests, was (p. 396 ) well‐worn and clichéd even then. It is the fact that this habit of praising rulers was already established at a time when clearly the assertions involved were wholly unbelievable that should alert us to the possibility that it may not have been any more solidly founded in fact in the eighteenth century than in the twelfth century. Rulers in ancien régime Europe were not idolized because they were strong, but, conversely, gained much of their political strength from this well‐ingrained habit of idolization.
What could be called the theme of fictive efficiency of princely governance is prominent in two influential thirteenth‐century political thinkers, Thomas Aquinas and Giles of Rome. In an unfinished treatise known as De regimine principum ‘On the governance of princes’ or De regno ‘On kingship’, and datable to about 1265/70, Thomas (˜1225–74) pioneered the application of Aristotelian ideas to the subject of social organization that would become the hallmark of the political thought of the scholastics. Closely following Aristotle, Thomas explains the evolution of human communities as a result of the striving for autarchy.
Since man is destined to live as part of a group [in multitudine], because he cannot on his own fulfil the requirements of life [sibi non sufficit ad necessaria vitae si solitarius maneat], the fellowship of the group [multitudinis societas] must be the more perfect the more it is able to fulfil the requirements of life on its own. 99
For Aristotle, the pólis allowed complete autárkeia: nobody, for Aristotle, needed anything beyond, and that of course also meant, on a level above, the pólis. In Latin christendom, the enthusiastic appropriation of Aristotelian thinking inevitably raised the question of how princely rule over more than one city could be justified. Thomas 'solves’ this problem by invoking the need for common defence.
In a city, which is the perfect community [quae est perfecta communitas], are found all the necessities of life. Yet still more so is this the case in a country, because of the need to fight together and of mutual assistance against enemies. 100
It is evident from this how difficult it could be to reconcile Aristotelian ideas with contemporary social reality. If the city was already a communitas perfecta (the koinônía téleios of the Greek original, e.g. Politiká 1252b 29), how could the provincia or country be perfecter still? 101 Unlike Aristotle, who explicitly rejects this approach for the pólis, 102 Thomas uses utilitarian reasoning to justify community at every level, from the house via the village to the city and beyond to the provincia, the task assigned to that latter community being defence against enemies. But if we are to go beyond the city at all, why stop at the provincia? If uniting towns facilitates their defence, why not unite countries? In Thomas’ treatise the king is always king only of a city or a (=one) provincia. He repeatedly refers to civitas vel provincia (or the other way around)—a somewhat tortured (p. 397 ) homage to the philosophus, since if it had not been for Aristotle the ‘city’ would not have played any very prominent role in the political thinking of the period at all. No king of Latin christendom was king of a city, the institution of kingship as it existed then being inherently un‐urban in origin. Even if for Aristotle this was perhaps not the conscious reason for denying that the pólis served the purpose of common defence, it certainly saved him from the logical trap into which Thomas walks: his emphasis on merging communities for the sake of better defence must culminate in the political union of all mankind, unless some other criterion is introduced to establish where the process is to stop. Thomas, however, offers no such criterion. He seems to have taken existing kingdoms for granted. There is no allusion to the possibility of merging kingdoms—another indication, perhaps, of how unthinkable that had become.
Of course, merging people into larger communities for the purpose of common defence presupposed that peace could be maintained within those communities.
The advantage [or interest, bonum] and the welfare [salus] of an organized group [consociata multitudo] is the preservation of that unity which we call peace; without it any utility of life in society [socialis vita] is lost, and a group at odds with itself will be a burden for itself. The most important goal of the leader of a group [rector multitudinis] must therefore be to establish the unity of peace. 103
Domestic concord and peace are here treated as synonymous. This definition of peace leaves out any consideration of external relations, the opposite of what we are accustomed to nowadays. For Thomas, defence against external enemies is important, yes, but they are not a threat to ‘peace’. It is likely that in fact he did not consider them much of a threat at all, as indeed in thirteenth‐century Latin christendom (or, for that matter, in the pre‐christian Graeco‐Roman world) they were not. Violent conflict took place mainly within kingdoms, certainly if they were large. Of course such conflict might also (but rarely exclusively) involve ‘foreign’ enemies, but since more often than not it did not the absence of peace was not seen as a ‘foreign’‐political problem.
Opposed, on this issue, to Aristotle, Thomas without much ado concludes from the great importance of domestic concord that monarchy is necessary. He does add the claim that experience [experimenta] showed monarchy to best:
For countries and cities not governed by a single person [quae non reguntur ab uno] suffer from dissension and in the absence of peace lack stability [absque pace fluctuant]. …Conversely, countries or cities governed by one king [quae sub uno rege reguntur] enjoy peace, prosper through justice, and live in happy abundance. 104
In chapter 1.16, Thomas notes three threats to the common weal (bonum publicum or res publica—the assumption that he uses the two expressions synonymously cannot be proved from the text of the treatise but is compatible with it). First, the infirmity that comes with old age, which according to Thomas makes it necessary for the king to replace officials (qui officiis praesunt) in time; the question of what to do with an infirm king is not addressed. Secondly, a perverted frame of mind (perversitas voluntatum): people were lazy (desides) or indeed maliciously disturbed the ‘peace of others’. Therefore it was (p. 398 ) incumbent on the king ‘by his laws and mandates, by punishments and inducements, to force those subject to him to abstain from injustice, and to encourage them to engage in virtuous activities, following the example of god, who gives laws to man, rewarding those who observe them, and punishing those who do not.’ Third—lastly!—external aggression: it was incumbent on the king ‘to render the group subject to him safe from enemies [ut multitudo sibi subiecta contra hostes tuta reddatur]. For it would be no use to avoid internal danger, if one were unable to ward off external danger.’
Thomas then explains that ‘in founding a city or kingdom’ (in institutione civitatis aut regni: the phrase suggests that regnum and provincia are indeed used synonymously) one should prefer locations with a moderate climate, since this brought ‘great advantage with respect to the wars by means of which human fellowship is rendered safe’. 105 No notion here of ‘wars’ being a threat to society, on the contrary; which of course made them unsuitable as an antonym of ‘peace’. In support of this stance Thomas invokes Vegetius and cites examples given by that author. They refer to peoples or polities of the pre‐christian Mediterranean world, much more clearly set apart from each other than the peoples forming part of Latin christendom. To be sure, Vegetius himself wrote in the fourth or fifth century ce. But, on the one hand, he was essentially compiling material from pre‐christian writers, and on the other in his appreciation of the positive contribution of wars must have been thinking of the universal Roman empire—a ‘fellowship’ that, unlike the kingdoms of Latin christendom, was indeed in his day kept in being through continual wars against the ‘barbarians’ beyond its borders. What Vegetius had in mind was inapplicable to the social and political reality of thirteenth‐century Latin christendom. If Thomas invokes Vegetius anyway, it is simply out of respect for a prestigious Roman author—widely read in Latin christendom from what seems to have been a fascination with Roman militaria at least among clerics, even though, as Guy Halsall has pointed out, there is no evidence that his advice was followed in practice by military leaders in the field. 106
Illustrative examples in Thomas’ treatise are either taken from the bible or from Roman history (rarely from Greek history) but never from the contemporary world. The whole treatise is a mishmash of pre‐christian and early christian thinking. Aristotle's concept of koinônía is somewhat nonchalantly extended beyond the ‘city’. Vegetius’ praise of belligerence and military virtue is cited despite being alien to the thinking of the Politiká—yet no attempt is made to reconcile the two. The king is presented as a lawgiver in the manner of Aristotle's nomothéthês or the late Roman princeps—but the kingship of the period was largely bereft of legislative power. More generally, Thomas simply asserts that the king should do x, y, and z but wastes not a word on how he might do it and what kind of obstacles he might encounter. Any real existing king of the period was far from having the sovereign power within his kingdom that this presupposes. If Thomas clearly saw nothing wrong with implying such power, what we have here is the same phenomenon as the archpoet claiming that Frederic I had rid Italy of robbers.
It is an interesting mental experiment to imagine that Thomas’ treatise were the only surviving evidence on the political organization of the period. We would then have no hint that the political reality of thirteenth‐century Latin christendom was actually (p. 399 ) characterized, more than anything else, by decentralization of power, by the absence of any monopoly on legitimate violence, by a universally recognized right of free men to resist demands that they considered unjust, and by the near‐impossibility even for a king to go against established custom. If one thing emerges clearly, it is the paramountcy, the supreme legitimacy that Thomas takes it for granted is vested in kingship—not in the imperial office, nor in lower‐ranking political players, neither of which figure in the treatise. And this despite the fact that the great Aristotle, invoked over and over by Thomas, was no great friend of monarchy. It is the idolization and idealization of kingship that makes this treatise important—a treatise that in other respects is of such poor intellectual quality that one wonders whether its author perhaps left it unfinished out of frustration with himself.
Yet his theme was evidently of general interest. After Thomas’ death, the treatise was ‘finished’ by his pupil Tholomeus of Lucca. At any rate, Tholomeus around 1300 made four books (in the sense of subdivisions of the treatise) out of the one that the master had completed and a second that he had only begun, without sticking to the plan of the work announced by Thomas in his introduction. Another pupil, Giles of Rome (Aegidius Romanus; ˜1243–1316) as early as about 1280 produced a treatise of his own, likewise known under the title De regimine principum, which takes up the reasoning put forward by Thomas and, while often following it closely, also greatly expands on it. Plodding and repetitive, the book nevertheless was a runaway success. With at least 362 extant manuscripts (in the original Latin or in vernacular translation), it was one of the most widely disseminated books of the pre‐Reformation period; the number of extant pre‐Reformation manuscripts of works now held in much greater esteem is about thirty each for the Monarchia of Dante Alighieri, the De potestate of Jean Quidort, the Defensor pacis of Marsilius of Padua, or the Dialogus of William of Ockham. 107
‘If we examine the said Politiká [of Aristotle] closely’, Giles writes with fine disregard for the truth, ‘it will appear that there are four types of community: to wit, that of the house, that of the village, that of the city, and that of the kingdom.’ 108 In reality, of course, the last‐named community is not found in Aristotle, as Giles well knew. Chapter 3.1.1 is announced as showing ‘that the community of the city is in some way the most important [Quod communitas civitatis est aliquo modo principalissima]’. Explicitly invoking Aristotle, Giles deduces this from its superordination over the community of the house and the community of the village. But Giles then adds, without any reference to Aristotle since none would have been possible, that there is a still more important (principalior) community than that of the city, 'such as the community of the kingdom [cuiusmodi est communitas regni]’. One may wonder how there can be a community more important than the most important. 109
(p. 400 ) Giles explains that the community of the house exists for the sake of those things that we need every day. But since not all requirements of life can be found in a single house, the village community is also needed, so that what is not found in one house may be found in another. Yet, because even so not everything that is necessary might be found, we have the community of the city. So this latter community ‘clearly exists to supply everything that is needed in life’ (communitas ergo civitatis esse videtur ad supplendam indigentiam in tota vita). But again it is not enough: ‘However, since it happens that cities may be at war, it is useful [utile] for a city to ally itself [confoederare se] to a second city so as to defeat [ad expugnandum] another city.’ Giles also at this point drops into his text the concept of what he calls, somewhat enigmatically, prohibentia corruptiva, or obstacles of ill effect: things that not only stand in the way of what one wants to achieve, but which actually do harm, such as, precisely, enemy attacks (John Trevisa, in his fourteenth‐century English translation, renders this variably and rather vaguely—in this instance as greues [griefs] that destroyeth).
So, since an alliance of cities is useful for fighting enemies, and for removing obstacles of ill effect, beyond the community of the house, the village, and the city the community of the kingdom or principality was created. It is an alliance of several castles and cities existing under one prince or king [inventa fuit communitas regni et principatus, quae est confoederatio plurium castrorum et civitatum existentium sub uno principe sive sub uno Rege].
Giles here highlights an aspect largely absent from his pre‐christian exemplar. In Aristotle, followed on this by Thomas and also Giles himself, human association serves to achieve positive things that would not otherwise happen. But, Giles implicitly objects, what about preventing negative things that we do not want to happen? Of course, it can be argued that in Aristotle this is simply subsumed under the positive things, under the general (positive) rubric of autárkeia or eu zên. Thomas, as we saw, wants the king ‘to force those subject to him to abstain from injustice’. Yet Giles has a point in insisting on this aspect as a logically distinct category, and uses it to justify his position that the supreme community is really the ‘kingdom or principality’. This notion of rule‐as‐prevention had a great future, culminating in Thomas Hobbes.
Elsewhere Giles dedicates a special chapter to the demonstration ‘that beyond the community of the city the community of the kingdom was useful for human life’ (3.1.5: Quod praeter communitatem civitatis, utile fuit in vita humana esse communitatem regni). For Giles, this could be shown in three ways: with respect to the self‐sufficiency of life (sufficientia vitae), with respect to the acquisition of virtue (adeptio virtutis), and finally with respect to defence and the removal of hostile obstacles (defensio et remotio impedimentorum hostium; John: defence and withstondynge of enemyes). 110
Concerning the first point, Giles incongruously claims that, for example, a village with smiths could not be self‐sufficient unless associated with a village with weavers. Likewise, he goes on, some cities had an excess of wine and lacked wheat, and so it was useful to bring several cities together in one principality or kingdom (civitates plures congregari sub uno principatu aut sub uno regno). Thomas (De regimine 1.2) attributes to the village unum artificium, ‘one/a [single] craft’, and Giles apparently took his cue from this. It is possible that Thomas understood unum simply as an indefinite article and did not intend to stress, and perhaps not even to imply, that in a typical village only one (p. 401 ) craft was exercised; maybe the phrase could be rendered as 'some craft’. However, John Trevisa in his translation of Giles regularly renders unus by a fourteenth‐century English equivalent of ‘one’, not by the indefinite article. Anyway, it is hard to imagine that Giles actually knew of any village specializing in a single craft as suggested in his example. Moreover, such a village would not fit the description given earlier by Giles himself, of the village community existing for the sake of ‘non‐daily activities’ (in the plural). Further, Giles cannot have it both ways; first claiming that the city is there to ‘provide for life as a whole’, and then that it might have to import essential foodstuffs. Finally, even if it did, it would not follow from that that it should be within the same kingdom as its economic partners. Thirteenth‐century long‐distance trade (e.g. in wheat) took little account of, and was scarcely impeded by, borders between one kingdom or principality and the next.
Concerning the second point—the acquisition of virtue—Giles posits that the intention of the ‘lawgiver’ (legislator = nomothétês in Aristotle, John: he that even the lawe) must not only be to ensure that the ‘citizens’ (cives = polítai) have what they want to cover their physical needs (habeant quae requiruntur, ad supplendam indigentiam corporalem), but also, as in Thomas, that they live virtuously and in accordance with the law (secundum legem et virtuose).
Those governing the city therefore must have military power so as to coerce and punish those who do not want to live virtuously and disturb the peace and the good standing of the other citizens [John: Thanne the rector of a citee mot haue cyuyl (=military, see note) myt and power that he may compelle hem that wol not lyue vertuousliche and hem that disturblen the pees and good astaat of the citeseyns].
Giles thinks that ‘the evil men in a city will not dare rise against a prince if they know that he has great military power and is a lord of many cities’; hence, for the sake of virtuous life and the punishment of evil men cities should be joined together under one ruler. The terminology (‘lawgiver’, ‘citizens’) is Aristotelian, and alien to the political and legal reality of thirteenth‐century Latin christendom. On the other hand, Aristotle would have been shocked at the notion that virtue, however desirable, could be enforced militarily, or that to facilitate this, the citizens should sacrifice the independence of their city. In any case, Giles is fantasizing. The crown had no very significant part (if any) in policing the average thirteenth‐century kingdom. Nor could it be said of cities largely free from princely intervention—for example, the imperial free cities of Germany, or the cities of northern Italy—that they were any more lawless than, for example, cities that were actual royal residences. Even Giles in fact qualifies the passage just discussed by adding that it presupposed trust in the righteousness of the ruler, implying a right of resistance if that were lacking. 111
Concerning the third and final point—defence against external enemies—Giles repeats that cities will find it easier to ward off attacks by allying themselves with other cities, and (p. 402 ) that a kingdom is really an alliance of cities, by virtue of the fact that they are united under one king (cum ergo regnum sit quasi quaedam confoederatio plurium civitatum, eo quod uniantur sub uno rege), with the king obliged to direct the joint resources of those cities against attacks on any one of them. Hence the utility of forming the single community of the kingdom. Or as John Trevisa puts it:
a regne is as it were a confideracioun and couenant of manye citees for to be ioned vnder o [=one] kyng that schal defende eche partie [=part] of the regne and ordeyne cyuel [=military] myt and power of othere citees to defence of eche cytee of the regne if it is ouersette with strangers. 112
Giles like Thomas remarks repeatedly that ‘experience’ showed that cities (or countries: provinciae) not united under a single king tended to suffer more from warfare and be less prosperous. The last point, as observed earlier, is belied by the prosperity of the un‐united and bellicose cities of northern Italy. 113
Of course, as noted, historically no kingdom of Latin christendom arose from an alliance of cities: the importance ascribed to the latter results from their prominence in Aristotle. Conversely, Giles, like Thomas, simply leaves out that which really made up a kingdom, to a far greater extent than ‘cities’, and which remained at least as important as cities throughout the ancien régime: lordships. The reason must be that, on the one hand, this is not a category found in Aristotle. On the other hand, it was not a category that Thomas or Giles wanted to deal with, as that would have distracted from the single focus on kingship. They present an image of kingship or princely rule that can only be described as utopian, a fantasy. Yet, as the success of Giles’ book in particular shows, it was a fantasy that many were ready to share.
No more than Thomas does Giles provide a criterion determining why given cities should be part of one kingdom rather than another, or why there should be more than one kingdom in the first place. As with Thomas, everything that he adduces in favour of uniting cities could easily be adapted to call for the establishment of universal monarchy, for the uniting of all mankind under a single king or emperor. Logically, one can only either adopt Aristotle's position and declare that the pólis really can be self‐sufficient and no larger community is necessary. Or one follows writers like Dante Alighieri, Engelbert of Admont, and indeed Pierre Dubois, all of whom saw that once one went beyond the level of cities there was no reason to stop short of positing a single political community of mankind, or at least of christendom. But if Thomas and Giles—as well as Bodin or Hobbes, for that matter—got away with ignoring this issue, it was because, throughout the ancien régime, external enemies never did threaten the survival of any established kingship or indeed principality. Significantly, in Thomas as in Giles this aspect, if used as one argument for kingship among several, is invariably treated last.
(p. 403 ) 4.2.5 The imperial office as an archetype of monarchical rule: Nicholas of Kues and Enea Silvio Piccolomini
We saw that both Thomas and Giles treat the king as legislator. The concept as such they found in Aristotle, but according to Roman law in its Justinianic redaction this was a capacity reserved for the Roman emperor. On the other hand, it was obvious that the emperor had long ceased to control christendom in its entirety, resulting, by the turn of the thirteenth century, in a current in legal thought that tended to negate the difference between kingship and the imperial office. Thus, in the 1190s the English legal scholar Richard de Lacy noted that ‘both emperor and king owe their office to [literally: are anointed by] the same authority [the church], the same consecration, the same chrism. Where, therefore, would any difference in their powers come from?’ 114
That there was no such difference meant that rex est imperator in regno suo, a king is emperor in his own kingdom, in the famous formula coined around the same time by Italian lawyers. 115 Pope Innocent III, himself a legal scholar, gave added weight to this position in his decretal (legal opinion) Per venerabilem of 1202, which famously says of the French king that ‘in temporal affairs he recognizes no superior at all [superiorem in temporalibus minime recognosc(i)t].’ Therefore, according to Innocent, the French king had the right to turn directly to the pope to have an heir issued from a marriage of doubtful validity confirmed by the pope, whereas a prince subject to a feudal superior, like count William of Montpellier, to whom the document is addressed, did not. The position here adopted by Innocent was a double slight to the Roman crown: not only did the pope implicitly deny its superordination to the French crown, but the legitimation of bastards was normally held to be an imperial right. Innocent is thus in effect annexing part of the imperial office to the papacy (on grounds set out at some length in the decretal), in line with a trend towards turning the pope into some sort of emperor himself. Indeed, although saying that the French crown had no temporal superior sounds magnanimous, both the arrogation of the right to pronounce on this and the exercise, vis‐à‐vis the French king, of the imperial right to legitimize bastards went some way towards asserting papal suzerainty over the French crown. In another decretal of the same year, Venerabilem fratrem, Innocent explicitly claimed suzerainty over the Roman crown, declaring that the newly elected king of Romans needed to be approved by him (a position which, however, was never accepted in Germany); and in 1213 Innocent made king John of England do homage to him and submit to papal suzerainty for his kingdom in order to be received back into the church. This trend towards an imperial papacy culminated in, and failed with, Boniface VIII. We saw how contemporary chronicles depict Boniface with imperial insignia and even claiming the imperial dignity for himself as he rejects the request of the king of Romans, Albert, to be crowned emperor in 1298. 116
His imperial pretensions, in particular the bull Unam sanctam of 1302, for once led to a massive falling out between the pope and the French king rather than the Roman crown, and indeed to a rapprochement between Boniface and Albert. Reversing the stance taken by his predecessor Innocent a hundred years earlier, the pope peremptorily declared the French king to be subject to the Roman crown (Albert in turn had declared himself (p. 404 ) homo papae, accepting papal suzerainty). 117 This interlude was shortlived: ten years later the emperor Henry VII once more found pope Clement V and the French king united (more or less) in their opposition to him, reaffirming the prevailing pattern of conflict between the papacy and the Roman crown. Not least simply because the territory of the latter included parts of Italy, it was tempting for the papacy to play more distant rulers against it—more particularly the French king, who was happy to go along with this. (The opposition of the papacy to the emergence of a rival power centre in Italy was a recurrent pattern ever since it invited the Frankish king to attack the Lombards in the eighth century, the very move that, ironically, led to the re‐establishment of the western imperial dignity in the first place.) Had they been consistently united, pope and emperor might have been invincible; as it was, their disunity weakened both and helped promote the autonomy (never actually threatened) of the other realms.
From 1250 to 1312, there was no emperor, and the king of Romans was weak. In such circumstances it made little sense to deny that a king could make laws just as the emperor once did. Although some still had misgivings about this, Thomas and Giles already take it for granted. Indeed their (utopian) king is clearly an absolute ruler, like the Roman princeps of old—or the pope of their own day: not fortuitously, Giles of Rome at a later stage of his career became an outspoken supporter of the notion of papal suzerainty over christendom, including in secular matters, a position expressed in his other famous treatise De potestate ecclesiastica (‘On the powers of the church’) of 1301/2. As we saw, Thomas and Giles in their writings on kingship do not discuss the issue of political organization beyond the level of the kingdom. But by the fifteenth century, even those who developed a theory of the empire—concretely, Nicholas of Kues and Enea Silvio Piccolomini—expound a notion of rulership that is closer to the activist kingship portrayed by Thomas and Giles than to the conservative, minimalist conception of the imperial office put forward by Engelbert and Dante. Both Nicholas and Enea Silvio were travelling further in the direction indicated earlier by Thomas and Giles, along a road that was to lead to the ‘absolutism’ of the post‐Reformation period.
220.127.116.11 Nicholas of Kues and Sigismund of Luxemburg
In the fifteenth century, the notion of Latin christendom as a single community repeatedly found dramatic expression in the form of general councils, assemblies not just of church dignitaries, but also of secular notables from all parts of christendom—in particular the councils of Konstanz (1414–18) and Basel (later moved to Lausanne, 1431–49). The councils were a forum for discussing the reform of the church, the current condition of which was the object of widespread and fundamental criticism. Foreshadowing the Reformation, already the Hussite movement in Bohemia had separated from the church of Rome in an attempt at radical reform, providing another topic of debate by the councils. The councils were dominated by a grass‐roots movement calling for what one is tempted to call a democratization of the church, and which in the historiographical literature goes under the name ‘the conciliar movement’. One major focus of criticism was the role of the pope, whom many wanted to put under the control of the councils—in a manner comparable to the efforts of the assemblies of estates that in the fifteenth century also sprang up or were consolidated in the secular realms and principalities of christendom, (p. 405 ) and which aimed at establishing a degree of control (in this instance, financial control in particular) over their princes.
Among the tasks facing the council of Konstanz was ending the Great Schism, the rivalry between competing popes that had been going on for decades. The council therefore declared that it ranked higher than the popes (in the decree Haec sancta, 1415), initiated formal legal proceedings against two of the three claimants to the succession of Peter at this time, and, having condemned them, declared their deposition, this being a precondition for the voluntary withdrawal of the third candidate. The council then elected a new supreme pontiff to replace them all. The work of the council was facilitated by the king of Romans—as well as of Hungary—Sigismund of Luxemburg (great‐grandson of Henry VII; nominally, in 1419 he also succeeded to the throne of Bohemia but until 1436 was prevented by the Hussites from actually occupying it). His arrival at the council in 1415 was the occasion for a great pageant, but his role in the proceedings was not merely symbolical. In an attempt to resolve some of the major quarrels within christendom, in the next two years he undertook a great deal of travelling—for example to the Aragonese court at Perpignan (where he held negotiations that succeeded in prevailing on the Spanish rulers and the king of Scots to withdraw their support for ‘their’ candidate to the papacy), and then to Paris and London (where he unsuccessfully tried to end the Hundred Years War). In 1417 Sigismund held a second, and even more spectacular formal entry into Konstanz. 118
The papacy unsurprisingly took a detached view of the ‘conciliar movement’ and its activities. The council of Konstanz having, in the decree Frequens of 1417, mandated the calling of a new council after five years (then after seven years, and then once every ten years), pope Martin V—the one elected at Konstanz—reluctantly convened one at Pavia in 1423. It was poorly attended and soon dissolved. Sigismund was busy fighting the Turkish threat to his other kingdom, Hungary, and unable to intervene effectively. The next council assembled at Basel in 1431; like its predecessor it was at first attended poorly. The new pope Eugene IV was in a hurry to disband it again, but the council for its part initiated legal proceedings against him on the grounds that he had been elected in contravention of canon law. This generated much attention for it and attracted a big crowd of participants (anyone in christendom with either a title of nobility or an academic degree was free to take part—he simply had to register and swear an oath to observe the regulations governing the proceedings). Sigismund was on his way to Rome to receive the imperial crown when news reached him that Eugene had dissolved the council and convened another in Bologna. Inviting the Basel council to stay in session, Sigismund at the same time called on pope Eugene to rescind its dissolution in return for support against the accusations levelled at him by the council. Eugene complied, and Sigismund in 1433 held another triumphal entry at a general council of christendom, this time as freshly crowned emperor. He died in 1437. In 1439, the council declared Eugene deposed after all and elected an anti‐pope. The new king of Romans Frederic of Habsburg (reigns 1440–93) at first remained neutral, but then inclined towards Eugene. Thus, against the background of the quarrel between the conciliar movement and the papacy, the emperor (whether or not he had already formally received that title—both Sigismund and Frederic eventually did) once more played an important role in christendom, or at the very least enjoyed a high degree of visibility.
(p. 406 ) Among the participants of the Basel council was the theologian and philosopher Nicholas of Kues (a town in the Mosel valley, near Trier; the Latin version of the name is Nicolaus Cusanus or de Cusa) (1401–64). In 1433—the emperor Sigismund had just arrived in Basel—Nicholas addressed to the council and to the emperor a long treatise on no less a subject than christendom as a whole, known under the title De concordantia catholica (‘On the universal concordance’ or ‘On the concordance of all things’). The treatise deals with the church in the wider sense (the christian people, but also supernatural beings like the different categories of angels, or god himself), the church as an earthly institution (whose hierarchical character, culminating in the pope, Nicholas underlines), and the secular organization of christendom. This is the subject of the last of the three books into which the treatise is divided, and takes up more than half of it. Significantly, for Nicholas the question of the secular organization of christendom is still simply identical with the question of the nature of the ‘empire’. Nicholas demonstrates how different the perception of political ‘reality’ (to the extent that such a thing exists) at that time could be from what we are used to nowadays. An age for whose most astute intellects the existence, for example, of the nine choirs of angels was an unchallengeable given treated the question of the reality of the Roman empire in a different way from what would come naturally to us. 119
In the introduction to Book III (§§268–91), Nicholas sets out the basic tenets of his political thinking, garnishing them with copious references to Aristotle—references gleaned from the Defensor pacis of Marsilius of Padua of 1324, a source that Nicholas does not acknowledge but the mistakes of whose quotes from Aristotle he faithfully reproduces; much else is borrowed from Marsilius, very much a proto‐conciliarist thinker, too. 120 According to Nicholas, correct organization of any human community is predicated on rule over that community being exercised by the consent of the ruled; on the other hand, rule is indispensable because of the unequal intelligence of men and their unequal ability to hold evil passions in check. It is a requirement of nature that the wise (sapientes) should lead those who lack wisdom (insipientes), with the voluntary subjection (voluntaria subiectio) of the less wise to their betters dictated by a natural instinct (naturalis instinctus) and resulting in ‘a kind of natural servitude [quaedam naturalis servitus]’. 121
Among the various forms of rule, rule by a single person was preferable (§§282–3), though that person had to respect the laws where they existed. In this context, Nicholas quotes Aristotle to the effect that in the politeía, the proper, legitimate political community, only the laws should rule. 122 For Nicholas, the passing of laws (legis latio) was not the task of the ruler, but of all those who would be bound by the laws in question, or at least their elected representatives. 123 The ruler himself should be elected, if possible without regard for any hereditary claim, with the participation ‘of all, or the majority, (p. 407 ) or at least those among them of highest rank’. 124 This sort of thing is quite in line with ‘conciliarism’; indeed, Nicholas also expressly endorsed the view that the authority of the council was above that of the pope. 125 It is likewise in line with (and evidently to a large extent copied from) Marsilius. Marsilius, too, had already stressed the authority of the council and assigned it prerogatives—for example, the right to elevate someone to sainthood—that were in fact exercised by the pope; he had also ascribed to the council authority to depose the pope.
At the same time, however, Nicholas was in favour of a markedly hierarchical social organization, with a strong position for the ruler. This was not very ‘conciliar’, and it seems that among the Basel radicals Nicholas felt increasingly uneasy. In 1437, he left Basel to join the counter‐council that Eugene had convened in Ferrara and which was later moved to Florence. Eugene subsequently made Nicholas bishop of Brixen and created him a cardinal. In his later writings Nicholas keeps away from political subjects, and when he himself produced an edition of his collected works, the Concordantia catholica was not included. Perhaps the hastily written treatise by then seemed half‐baked to him; besides, he may have been embarrassed by his flirtation with ‘conciliarism’.
After the general introduction to Book III of the Concordantia, inspired by Marsilius, Nicholas proceeds to his discussion of the empire. For him—as a necessary corollary of the hierarchical organization (hierarchica ordinatio) of society, concretely christendom—the king of Romans is the first among kings, just as the bishop of Rome is the first among bishops. 126
In what way is the ‘holy empire’ ‘of god’ (quomodo imperium sacrum a deo)? (For the expression ‘of god’ cf. Romans 13.1: non est enim potestas nisi a Deo ‘there is no power but of God’.) Does it depend from god directly (depend[e] t [a deo] immediate, i.e. rather than by the intermediary of the pope)? Where is it situated at present (ubi hodie exsist[i]t)? Nicholas notes that those are questions that many contemporary scholars address differently and at length (istae quaestiones varie ac prolixe per multos modernos doctores habentur). He declares that he will not address them himself, 127 but then does so anyway—he was evidently writing in a hurry, which may explain certain inconsistencies. 128 He begins by debunking the Donation of Constantine (the eighth‐century fake according to which the emperor Constantine I bestowed the imperial prerogatives in the west on the pope when he moved the capital of the empire to the Bósporos) and the notion of the translatio imperii or transferral of the empire (according to which when pope Leo III crowned the Frankish king emperor in 800 he was taking away the imperial dignity from Constantinople, a notion developed from the eleventh century onwards). Nicholas rejects both on the grounds that his extensive research failed to yield any mention of either in ancient sources where one would expect references to them (more famously, but a little later, the humanist scholar Lorenzo Valla demonstrated the inauthenticity of the Donation of Constantine on both historical and philological grounds).
(p. 408 ) This was tantamount to positing the independence of the empire from the papacy. 129 But what was the emperor needed for? According to Nicholas, the empire as such was not universal, since there were kings and princes not subject to the emperor. Nonetheless, the emperor was the guardian of the universal faith and the keeper of the universal statutes (universalis fidei custos ac statutorum universalium conservator: a position close to that outlined by patriarch Antony in his letter to Moscow). In that capacity he could, according to Nicholas, even pass laws (leges) that bound those who otherwise ‘de facto or by privilege’ did not recognize the suzerainty of the empire and who therefore ‘perhaps’ were not bound by other imperial laws. 130
As was warranted by the circumstances in which this treatise was written or at least finished, Nicholas discusses at some length the role of the emperor at the council. He recalls that in previous ages this role was very important—his exemplar here is, in particular, the Eighth (and last) Ecumenical Council, which met in Constantinople in 869/70 and which was presided over by the emperor Basil I; Nicholas quotes extensively from its proceedings. Of course Sigismund, too, was conspicuous enough at both the council of Konstanz and the council of Basel. Nicholas nevertheless concedes that the emperor no longer had the power (potestas, i.e. the capability combined with the right) to ‘bind and restrain all’ (cum imperatoris potestas hodie non omnes sicut quondam stringat et compescat). Consensus should therefore be achieved through consultation with ‘the other princes and the kings that are in christendom’ (per principum etiam aliorum et regum, qui in Christianitate sunt, advocationem). 131
Despite the responsibility of the emperor for christendom as a whole, for Nicholas the empire as such was clearly, in practice, coterminous with Germany. He is not pleased with the political situation there, which he discusses with noticeably less academic detachment than he does christendom as a whole.
There no longer is any concern for the commonwealth [or: the public good] …the laws are all woven of spider webs, hardly capable of catching even the smallest locusts. …All control has ended. Rebels go unpunished. And as the empire has diminished, many powerful princes have sprung up by usurpation. …Oh the supreme blindness! The princes should not believe that, having enriched themselves out of the property of the empire, they will stay rich for long. For if each is only concerned to increase his property while the empire is in the process of vanishing, how can this not end in the destruction of all? Absent a greater power [potentia] that preserves and pacifies the empire, jealousy and this same ever‐growing greed will cause wars, schisms, and divisions …the hierarchical order will lapse. There is no first man for all to turn to. And where there is no order there is chaos. And where there is chaos no one is safe. And thus while the nobles quarrel among themselves, leaders of the people rise up who seek the law only in their own weapons. Just as the princes devour the empire, so the leaders of the people devour the princes. …And people will search for the empire in Germany, and they will not find it there. And as a result others will seize our lands, and we shall be divided among ourselves, and so shall become subject to some foreign nation. 132
(p. 409 ) It is a little difficult to see what, concretely, Nicholas is talking about in this famous passage. There certainly was no strong central power in Germany, but there never had been, and even though among the German princes no doubt there were few paragons of patriotic self‐abnegation, nevertheless the situation of the empire in the 1430s could hardly be described as lawless chaos. Feuds might occur, but there was no generalized conflict among the princes, nor any generalized popular rebellion against them. Nicholas probably has in mind the Hussites in Bohemia, much discussed at Basel. Defying the established social order, they had indeed set up a radical, broad‐based regime that proved militarily invincible, and capable of raiding into the empire far beyond Bohemia itself. That Nicholas was thinking of them is also suggested by his use of the term schismata 'schisms’, which implies a religious dispute: the Hussites rejected the universal church on theological grounds. But this movement remained confined to Bohemia; elsewhere there was neither any conspicuous contestation of the established social order nor, as yet, of the universal church. The quoted passage oscillates between the perfect tense, the present tense, and the future tense. It is evidently only partly inspired by the actual political situation: much of it is an apocalyptic extrapolation.
Nicholas’ negative appraisal of the empire stands in a tradition. We saw that both Adso of Montier‐en‐Der in the tenth century and Engelbert of Admont in the early fourteenth century regarded the empire as largely destroyed. Many more adherents of that view could be adduced. In the 1140s, Otto of Freising, an uncle of the emperor Frederic I, remarked that the Roman empire, once supreme, had of late become almost the least respected realm of all; 133 and Jordanus of Osnabrück, very much like Nicholas, already in the third quarter of the thirteenth century warned ‘the German prelates and princes [presules et principes Germani]’ to be careful ‘lest in their ambition for temporal power they claim for themselves and usurp rights and property of the empire’, hastening its downfall and thereby the coming of the antichrist. 134 Like Nicholas (o caecitas maxima! ‘oh the supreme blindness!’), Dante, in castigating what he saw as the self‐seeking particularism of those of his fellow Italians who opposed the emperor‐designate Henry VII, called them ‘blind’ (Nec advertitis dominantem cupidinem, quia ceci estis; La cieca cupidigia che v'ammalia). Henry himself took a similar view: proterviunt inconsulte , ‘thoughtlessy they mock us’. 135
Nor, as we likewise saw, was this type of complaint confined to the empire. Writing roughly at the same time as Dante and Engelbert, Pierre Dubois thought that ‘the vice of disrespect for the welfare and interest of the commonwealth has up to now been more (p. 410 ) strongly developed in the kingdom of France than in other parts of the world’; and in the late fifteenth century, Philippe de Commynes lamented that ‘our realm [France] …is more oppressed and persecuted by this situation [of recurrent violent conflict among the major princes] than any other lordship that I know.’ 136 Pierre and Philippe were active in the reign of what are now normally considered 'strong’ kings, Philip IV and Louis XI. The common denominator of all those utterances is that they express a longing for a strong monarchy. This must have helped efforts by the crown to enhance its position, while at the same time it suggests that few observers in pre‐Reformation christendom were impressed by the power of the crown (any crown) as it then was. It seems that ‘real’ monarchy was widely considered a goal whose (future) attainment would finally cure society of many much‐resented ills.
There is a surprising resemblance between Nicholas’ critique of the empire and Thomas Hobbes’ famous theory about the need for subjection to a 'sovereign’ as the only remedy for the war of all against all that, for Hobbes, in the absence of such a sovereign is inescapable. Nicholas insists on the need for a ‘greater power’ (potentia maior: power in the sense of physical power) to keep everybody else in check, a ‘first man’ (primus) to whom recourse can be had, failing which there will be chaos (confusio) and wars (guerrae) on account of the selfishness (cupiditas) of individuals all intent on expanding their possessions (curantibus omnibus sua augmentare), leading to a situation where no one was safe (nullus tutus). As Hobbes noted but Nicholas did not, this kind of position was incompatible with Aristotle's axiom that man was by nature a social being. 137 Thomas Aquinas and Giles of Rome also called for a strong ruler capable of coercing his subjects, but, well‐versed in, and respectful of, Aristotle's political thinking, did not go so far as explicitly to make coercion the necessary precondition of an orderly social life. Nicholas, by contrast, despite great erudition displayed throughout the De concordantia seems only to have ‘discovered’ Aristotle when he wrote the introduction to Book III of the treatise, apparently the last part to be finished; and his acquaintance with Aristotle seems to have been limited to such quotations from the political writings of the philosophus as he found in Marsilius of Padua. Elsewhere his political thinking is far removed from Aristotle's. Thus, according to him
The force of the law lies in coercion. Coercion is preserved by [physical] power [potentia]. If this is taken away, control by the law and therefore peace and justice will not last long, since we persevere in what is forbidden and the imagination of our heart is evil from our youth [an allusion to Genesis 8.21]. 138
This bleak view of human nature is again paralleled in Hobbes, as is the notion that no law can exist unless backed by coercion. Aristotle, as we saw, held the opposite view, insisting that ‘the law has no power to secure compliance other than habit.’ 139
(p. 411 ) Concretely, Nicholas pleads for the ‘restoration’ of an imperial army, mistakenly assuming that the tenth‐century (east Frankish) empire, which he regarded as a model, had already possessed it. This standing army was to be financed from taxes and to have the task not just of defending but also of policing the country, in particular to combat robbers; that, Nicholas thought, would be cheaper and more efficient than the current situation, where this task fell on local power‐holders. 140 Nicholas also condemns feuds as incompatible with Roman law; he wants to see them abolished in favour of compulsory jurisdiction. 141 That he devotes quite a lot of space to such proposals may be due to the fact that the emperor Sigismund had called the Reichstag (imperial diet) to Basel for January 1434, to sit in parallel with the council; the diet was in particular to discuss the problem of ‘peace and justice’, the suppression of violence and crime. Nicholas’ proposals clearly go in the direction of a central power with a monopoly on legitimate violence. Nicholas wants that power controlled by an assembly representative of the country—such as, precisely, the 1434 Reichstag. He is, however, vague on the composition and prerogatives of that controlling assembly. 142
In contrast with Engelbert and Dante, who ascribed to the emperor only those responsibilities that the lower‐ranking power‐holders or communities could not exercise themselves, for Nicholas the power of the emperor is not residual but absolute, or in any case should be. Nicholas thought that when, in 962, Otto I received the imperial crown in Rome—thus again re‐establishing the western imperial dignity after the Carolingian effort to do so had failed—the Romans (in the sense of inhabitants of the city) accepted that he should have vera suprema imperialis potestas absque diminutione et conditione, truly supreme imperial power without limitation or condition. 143 This description of imperial power sounds very much like what Jean Bodin would later call souveraineté. By contrast, the notion, which Engelbert or Dante took for granted, that there should be power‐holders and communities below the ‘first man’ and wielding power in their own right for Nicholas was a source of anarchy.
So we have Nicholas (and Hobbes) claiming that society and law cannot subsist in the absence of coercion and Aristotle claiming the opposite; and we have early fourteenth‐century authors accepting unquestioningly the existence of intermediate power‐holders whose power was not delegated by the central power when for Nicholas (and Hobbes would have agreed) this is a recipe for chaos and a threat to the social order. We are clearly dealing here with political preferences, or fashions, that were not dictated by any evolution of society itself. It is not as if what worked (more or less) for the pólis—law enforced almost exclusively by peer pressure and social control rather than coercion—no longer worked in fifteenth‐century Germany (or seventeenth‐century England), or as if the fourteenth century, with its concept of society as a hierarchy of autonomous communities topped by a concomitantly weak central power, was characterized by greater social instability than the fifteenth century, when this concept began to be rejected and 'sovereignty’ (to call it by its later name) of the ruler came to be seen as desirable. Of course, calling for strong, coercive governance came more easily as few had actually experienced any such thing.
(p. 412 ) The autonomous communities envisaged by the early fourteenth‐century scholastics could be treated simply as given, since their genesis could be assumed to be spontaneous. The kind of central authority envisaged by Nicholas needed to be set up. On this model, political communities came into being by virtue of a treaty between the ruler and the subjects. Remarkably, Nicholas depicts the ruler as both a larger‐than‐life ‘father’ and a ‘creature’ of the ruled, in a manner reminiscent of the illustration on the famous title page of the first edition of Hobbes’ Leviathan of 1651—a giant composed of the bodies of many individuals and representing Hobbes’ 'sovereign’. The relevant passage, which also recalls Hobbes in other respects, would have benefited from revision by Nicholas, for which he apparently found no time. It is so complex that Nicholas himself lost his way in it grammatically, a reflection, perhaps, of his own difficulty with the subject matter also.
Now if we recall that which we discussed earlier, that every superior power [superioritas] properly ordained arises from the elective unity of voluntary subjection, and that the people [populus] partakes of that divine seed by virtue of the equal birth and the equal natural rights shared by all men, so that every [legal] power [potestas], which, like man himself, takes its origin from god, is considered divine if through their shared consent it arises from the subjects, so that the person established in this fashion, and in exercising his princely office as it were carrying in himself the will of all, should be called a public and shared person and the father of the individuals, governing everything with rightful, rule‐bound, properly ordained might [potentia] and without pomp or arrogance, and knowing himself to be the collective creature of all his subjects, he is the father of the individuals. 144
Despite the convoluted phrasing, the basic theses are clear: the subjects, whose natural equality is emphasized, create the ruler by means of their voluntary subjection to him. So on the one hand that ruler is responsible to them, but on the other all power or might (potentia) is his, governing ‘everything’ (cuncta gubernans); and the whole arrangement is regarded as enjoying ‘divine’ legitimation. The ruler exercises his function less as a human being than as an abstract ‘public’ person, rather like Hobbes’ ‘Artificial Man’, and in line with Hobbes’ assertion that ‘every Subject is Author of every act the Soveraign doth.’ 145
18.104.22.168 Enea Silvio Piccolomini, Frederic III of Habsburg, and Maximilian of Habsburg
When Nicholas presented his treatise to the Basel council, the participants included one Enea Silvio Piccolomini (1405–64). Elected to the papacy in 1458, he was later to (p. 413 ) make Nicholas a member of the curia and his deputy when he was not in Rome. 146 He evidently read De concordantia, since bits and pieces of that treatise reappear (without acknowledgement) in his own treatise De ortu et auctoritate imperii Romani ‘On the origin and authority of the Roman empire’. This treatise has the form of a long letter, dated Vienna, 1 March 1446, to the then king of Romans, Frederic III, a Habsburg whose secretary Enea Silvio was at the time. 147 Further borrowings, likewise unacknowledged, come from Engelbert and Dante. In the latter instance it is, however, possible that Enea Silvio lifted the relevant material not direct from the Monarchia of Dante, but from the eponymous treatise of his own teacher, the legal scholar Antonio Roselli, who had himself appropriated much of the work of his predecessor without ever mentioning his name. 148
Enea Silvio evidently drew the inspiration for his title from Engelbert, whom indeed he partly follows on the ‘origin’ (ortus) of the early kingdoms in general and then of the monarchia in the sense of lordship over the whole world; however, there are also telling departures. According to Enea Silvio, after their expulsion from the Garden of Eden men at first lived as scattered individuals, but then discovered the advantages of communal life. To resolve disputes they found it necessary to subject themselves to a common arbitrator, who later received the title king. Led by kings, the original ‘nations and peoples’ (gentes nationesque) were not interested in expanding their territory beyond their own homeland (intra suam cuique patriam regna finiebantur). 149 But soon quarrels erupted between the kings over questions of territory and jurisdiction. Since they did not recognize each other's authority, those quarrels could only be settled by the sword. This led to the creation of ‘what the Greeks call monarchia, and we ourselves [nostri] call imperium’—for this was the only way to ensure a general peace (Nec enim aliter pax universalis haberi poterat). 150
First there was the empire (imperium) of the Assyrians under Nínos, later ruled by the Medes and Persians, the empire (Enea Silvio refers to it as a principatus) of the Greeks under Alexander, and the empire (dominium) of the Carthaginians. Each is introduced with hinc ‘thence, therefore’, suggesting that each is seen as a separate instantiation of the basic phenomenon rather than as part of a pre‐ordained succession as in the traditional interpretation of the prophesy of Daniel—which in any case knew of no empire of the Carthaginians. That Enea Silvio wanted to stay clear of Daniel here is also indicated by the fact that he does not employ the word imperium throughout but varies his terminology. Unlike Engelbert, Enea Silvio does not regard the phenomenon of empire as, at least in origin, the product of (reprehensible) passion rather than reason, instead presenting it as divinely willed and as a product of reason because empire was the precondition of general peace.
Whereas Engelbert and Dante felt compelled to prove the legitimacy of Roman rule against the accusation that the Roman conquests were unjust, Enea Silvio—and, for (p. 414 ) that matter, Nicholas—completely ignored that whole theme. Ubiquitous in the early fourteenth century, in their day this particular debate had clearly gone out of fashion. Nor did Enea Silvio have any use for Engelbert's eschatologically motivated fatalism, based in part on the prophesy of Daniel and according to which the decline of the empire would ineluctably continue until the coming of the antichrist. Engelbert's treatise was about ‘the origin and [future] end of the Roman empire’: even though the translation ‘the origin and purpose of the Roman empire’ is likewise possible, the former sense is unavoidably present, too. By contrast, Enea Silvio, striking a less ambiguous and more positive note, called his own treatise ‘On the origin and authority of the Roman empire’.
Since the Assyrians, Medes, Persians, etc. ‘never brought the entire world under their control [nunquam sibi totum orbem subjecissent] and therefore were unable to establish a general peace, it pleased nature, who nourishes the human race, or god as lord and leader [rector] of nature, to bring the Roman empire into being’. 151 The legitimacy of the Roman empire is derived by Enea Silvio from the usual staple of arguments that we encountered before. Thus, there is the indispensable observation that Christ was born in the reign of Augustus, as well as a reference to the reply given by Jesus to Pontius Pilate ‘Thou couldest have no power at all against me, except it were given thee from above’ (John 19.11). This, as we saw, is also adduced by Dante (Monarchia 2.11), though Enea Silvio may likewise have found it in Jordanus of Osnabrück. Acquaintance with that latter author is suggested by the 'spin’ that Enea Silvio puts on the notion that the Roman empire would not end until the coming of the antichrist—interpreting it, like Jordanus, as a special honour bestowed by god on the Roman empire. 152
What most sharply distinguishes Enea Silvio from both Engelbert and Dante is his emphasis on the fullness of the imperial power, a subject on which he seems to be following in the footsteps of Antonio Roselli. As in the case of the original realms discussed at the beginning of the treatise, so, too, the universal monarchia should be ruled by a single person, which according to Enea Silvio is a dictate of ‘natural reason’. But who could this single person be other than the king of Romans, long known to have been in possession of that office (quem diu constat in possessione ejus fuisse)—presumably an allusion to the Roman law concept of usucapio, according to which a possession must be considered lawful if sufficient time passes without its being contested effectively. 153 Enea Silvio concedes that there were people unwilling to submit to the empire, yet points out that even so no one had yet thought of calling someone other than the king of Romans lord of the world (mundi dominus). This incidentally establishes an implicit equivalence between the ‘king of Romans’ (as the addressee of the treatise, Frederic III, as yet was when it was written) and the ‘emperor of the Romans’ (as Frederic became by virtue of his imperial coronation in 1452). Enea Silvio also follows the example of Engelbert in simply ignoring the question of whether the pope had some kind of suzerainty over the emperor, thus implicitly denying that he did. (Nicholas, for his part, expressly states that the ruler of the empire had the same rights whether he had received the imperial coronation or (p. 415 ) not, and thought that the point of having the pope bestow the imperial title proper was merely to encourage the incumbent to seek a close relationship with the Holy See.) 154
In contrast with Engelbert, but in line with the trend to do away with traditional limitations on the power of the supreme ruler, Enea Silvio rejects the notion that anyone could be exempted from the suzerainty of the empire by some privilege. This is precisely because the ruler of the empire is absolute, all‐powerful: according to Enea Silvio, no more than god himself could the emperor create someone who was his equal. Moreover, this would be in contradiction with the natural purpose of the empire, to preserve peace (pacem tenere) and to apply justice (justitiam distribuere). A plurality of supreme powers (multitudo summarum potestatum) could not do that. 155 The existence of other princes is a given even for Enea Silvio, but he insists that by rights the emperor exercises a suzerainty over them that is not merely nominal.
We do not …contest that kings and other princes have great power [potestas], but we say that they are under the empire [eos esse sub imperium dicimus], and that it is incumbent on the Roman prince to take them to task if they become tyrants. We affirm that all quarrels of the kings must be submitted to the emperor [cesar] and that for the sake of the common welfare [salus communis] all are obliged to defer to the emperor [imperator], to assist him militarily when called on to do so, to contribute expenses, to send troops, to permit their passage, to furnish supplies, and not to evade anything that the imperial majesty [cesarea majestas] has enjoined, granting to their lord the emperor [imperator] the same obedience that they demand of their own subjects. 156
For Enea Silvio, there was no need for obedience to be counterbalanced by representation as in Nicholas. Enea Silvio moreover rejects the principle of the ‘feudal’ order empowering subjects or vassals to resist their lord if in their view he acted unjustly. Such unjust behaviour by the lord was the will of god and often a punishment for the sins of the subjects. The emperor, and he alone, could make laws binding on everyone, and he alone could interpret or repeal them. He himself was not bound by laws, legibus solutus. He should normally respect them, but could deviate from them if equity suggested it. 157 For Enea Silvio, there could be no appeal against a decision of the emperor, just as according to a legal principle of the church (challenged, it is true, by the conciliar movement) the pope could be judged by no one. 158
Like Nicholas, Enea Silvio sees the imperial office as the secular equivalent of the papal office: ‘just as in spiritual matters the individual …bishops are subject to the Roman pontiff, so, too, is it clear that secular persons of whatever kind are subject to the Roman prince [sicut in spiritualibus Romano pontifici singuli …prelati subjecti sunt …sic et Romano principi temporales quoslibet liquet esse subjectos]’. 159 (Curiously this postulates authority of the pope only over the leaders of the church hierarchy, whereas the emperor is given authority over all laymen.) As Antonio Roselli 160 and Nicholas 161 (p. 416 ) had done before him, Enea Silvio applies the doctrine of the church as the mystic body of Christ (corpus mysticum) to the ‘commonwealth’ or res publica: this, too, is treated as a mystic body (or perhaps rather: the same mystic body as the church), with the emperor as its head (princeps, qui caput est mystici rei publice corporis). 162 As was the case with early‐fourteenth‐century writers like Engelbert or Pierre Dubois, the ‘commonwealth’ tout court is still christendom, clearly still the natural interpretation since Enea Silvio saw no need to define what he meant.
Antonio Roselli had adapted arguments developed by Dante to assert the primacy of the emperor to defend the primacy of the pope against the challenge of conciliarism. Enea Silvio re‐adapts those arguments to assert the primacy of the emperor once more. 163 This is another instance of how concepts of rule that in the post‐Reformation period became ingredients of the general theory of princely rule now commonly called ‘absolutism’ were shaped in the pre‐Reformation period in the debate on the respective rights, and mutual relationship, of the emperor and the pope, as well as on their role with regard to christendom generally. With regard to christendom as a whole, the emperor as presented in the political thinking of Nicholas and Enea Silvio remained a theoretical construct. Yet the two authors are instructive in that they illustrate how ideas of rulership and political organization had changed since the time of Engelbert and Dante (especially as Enea Silvio at least was actually conversant with the thinking of those two). The ruler as conceived by Nicholas and Enea Silvio is the source of all power rather than merely wielding what power could not be wielded at a lower level of political organization, more particularly the lower communitates (household, village, city, kingdom) of Engelbert and Dante. Thomas Aquinas and Giles of Rome (cited approvingly by Nicholas) 164 had already stressed the power and importance of the king, but while they completely ignore any lesser lords than the king, in their thinking the self‐organizing communitates are likewise prominent. By contrast, Nicholas and Enea Silvio do away with the communitates, which simply drop out. The supreme ruler alone now runs the show, though (in Nicholas) he faces some kind of representative assembly of the subjects. Of course, in the nature of a theory of empire rather than of kingship neither Nicholas nor Enea Silvio could ignore that the king of Romans was not the only king in christendom. But Nicholas, having established a rather vague superordination of the emperor over every other ruler in christendom, whether or not they were subject to the empire, in matters regarding the common faith, then concentrates on German politics, which he had clearly more at heart; Enea Silvio prefers the intrinsic logic of his theory over contemporary political reality in simply denying that anybody at all could be not subject to the empire. In a similar spirit, as pope he issued a stinging condemnation of conciliarism (papal bull Execrabilis, 1460).
John Ruggie has observed that the ‘[t]he concept of sovereignty …was …the doctrinal counterpart of the application of single‐point perspectival forms [in the figurative arts] to the spatial organization of politics’ 165 —precisely around the time when Enea Silvio composed his treatise. His political thinking has the clarity and systematic consistency of the depictions of ideal, classical‐inspired architecture popular among Renaissance artists. As tended to be the case with those ideal designs, too, it found at best an imperfect echo (p. 417 ) in projects carried out in the ‘real world’. On the other hand, of course there is a marked resemblance between architectural projects of that period that were actually carried out and those ideal designs—they share the same, novel style, superseding the Gothic style, which by the sixteenth century gave way to it everywhere. Interestingly, late in his life Enea Silvio himself ventured into town planning: having become pope he renamed his Tuscan birthplace, the village of Corsignano, Pienza (i.e. Pius‐Town, after the name he took as pope, Pius II), elevated it to an episcopal see, and started rebuilding it as an ideal Renaissance town, with various palaces clustered around, and oriented towards, the new cathedral at the centre.
Frederic III never became the all‐powerful emperor envisaged by Enea Silvio. On the throne for over half a century, for much of his reign he was contested from within his own dynasty and had a hard time even hanging on to his hereditary lands, to say nothing of exercising a powerful influence as emperor. The great question of his reign was the future of the Burgundian dominions. We saw that king Charles V of France managed to secure the hand of the daughter and only heir of the last count of Flanders for his brother, whom he created duke of Burgundy. In this way, two of the great principalities forming part of the French kingdom, Flanders and Burgundy, were united under a member of the French royal house—a solution preferable by far, for king Charles, to the prospect of a marriage between the Burgundian heiress and a son of Edward III of England, which would have resulted in two of the great French principalities, Flanders and Aquitaine, being held by the English royal house. But the Burgundian branch of the Valois dynasty thus created subsequently embarked on a dynamic career of its own, collecting more and more dominions stretching from Holland down to Burgundy proper, even though they were not all contiguous. (This accretion of dominions occurred mainly through inheritance and purchase. Moreover, Burgundian support of the English claim to the French crown was paid for with additional fiefs granted by the English crown, possession of which was then confirmed in return for switching support back to the French king.) Sandwiched between France and Germany, all those dominions were either French or German fiefs, the duke of Burgundy theoretically remaining a vassal for all the lands that he ruled and lacking any dominions held in his own right—but he behaved like a king, his court easily rivalling any royal court of the period in terms of wealth and refinement.
However, like the count of Flanders a century earlier, the last duke, Charles ‘the Bold’ (1433–77, in power since 1454), only had a female heir, Mary, ardently sought in marriage by both the French crown and the house of Habsburg as a way to recover the fiefs belonging to their respective kingdoms—while, if possible, of course hanging on to the rest as well. When Charles was killed in the battle of Nancy in 1477, Louis XI of France hastened to occupy those Burgundian fiefs that the duke had held from the French crown. Shocked at this, the Burgundian court at last opted for Frederic, whose son Maximilian got to marry the orphaned Burgundian heiress. Their son, heir to the combined Habsburg and Burgundian hereditary lands despite the loss of some Burgundian fiefs to the French crown, would later marry the heiress of the Spanish realms (and the Spanish overseas colonies), providing their grandson, the emperor Charles V, with dominions ranging from the Philippines to the Americas, and in which famously the sun never set. It should be noted that—as had also been the case, on a smaller scale, with the Burgundian lands themselves—this spectacular expansion of the Habsburg dominions was not achieved by conquest. Though unusual in its dimensions, the phenomenon as such is entirely typical (p. 418 ) of the ancien régime, where acquisitions by inheritance tended throughout to be vastly more extensive than acquisitions by conquest.
Being nominal lord of a vast array of dominions did not mean that the ruler was necessarily very powerful in those lands; moreover, his position would be different in each of his separate dominions. Yet in a highly status‐conscious culture, possession of many dominions was prestigious, a source of pride and envy. More than his father Frederic, whom he succeeded as king of Romans in 1493, Maximilian was not only imbued with the magnificence of his position, but, in the manner that became typical of princes in the post‐Reformation ancien régime, was keen on outward expression of this magnificence.
In 1508, Maximilian commissioned his funeral monument, employing the best available artists. Perhaps the largest and most magnificent monument of any prince in the history of christendom, at his death in 1519 it was still unfinished; moreover, it turned out that even so the floor of the church of Saint George at Wiener Neustadt, where Maximilian is buried, would not support the weight of its many bronze statues because of the crypt underneath. The monument was to have comprised a funeral procession of forty more than life‐sized ancestors and relatives of the deceased, of which only twenty‐eight were carried out; as were thirty‐four busts of pre‐ and early christian Roman rulers and twenty‐three statues of saints with whom the house of Habsburg was considered to have a special affinity. (In the 1570s, the emperor Ferdinand I at last had the unfinished monument installed in the newly‐built Hofkirche or palace church at Innsbruck.) Only a decade and a half separate the planning of this gigantic Renaissance monument, which has nothing Gothic at all, from the magnificently carved, but perfectly conventional and determinedly Gothic marble tomb of Frederic III in Vienna cathedral—which in comparison looks humble indeed; but Frederic, aged 77 at his death in 1493, was the product of an earlier age.
In Germany, Maximilian, because of his love of chivalry, is popularly known as ‘the last knight’. But this is a romantic misconception (chivalrous ritual, such as tournaments, remained popular throughout the sixteenth century). Rather than being a remnant of a dying age, he really epitomizes the prince of the future, much more imbued with his own importance than was typical of pre‐Reformation Latin christendom. This change took place despite the fact that Maximilian was hardly a more powerful figure, within the empire or within Europe, than his predecessors. Within the empire, he shared power with the estates of the empire, that is the greater princes and the free cities. Within christendom at large, he was the senior of a dynasty whose extensive possessions spread over different parts of Europe and which had family ties with practically everybody who was anybody in christendom—thus, as just one aspect of this, daughters or granddaughters of Maximilian himself were, at one time or another, married to the king of France, the king of Portugal, the next king of Portugal, the king of Denmark, Norway, and Sweden, the king of Bohemia and Hungary, and the duke of Savoy. But while this made Maximilian a key figure with a great deal of influence, it did not mean that he could lay down the law to anybody—not within the dynasty, nor within the empire or even simply the Habsburg hereditary lands, nor within christendom at large.
It was in the same year 1508 that Maximilian unilaterally assumed the imperial title. In a proclamation informing the estates of the Holy Roman Empire of this step, he explains, with apparent humility, that he was unable to obtain the imperial coronation (p. 419 ) from the pope, ‘owing to our small power and great opposition, the like of which no Roman king has ever encountered’. Appealing to German national sentiment, he protests that the behaviour of the Holy See was unfair and that, without prejudice to any papal prerogatives and in the hope that the coronation would yet take place, he felt compelled to adopt the imperial title ‘for the sake not just of our own honour but rather for the sake of confirming and preserving the Roman imperial dignity, in honour of us all and of the German nation [nicht allein um Unserer Ehre willen, sondern mehr zur Bestätigung und Erhaltung des Römischen Kayserthums, Uns allen und Teutscher Nation zu Ehren]’. 166
Less than a decade before Martin Luther set in motion the movement that was to end the unity of Latin christendom and the authority of the pope over all of it, this document already makes clear that a new age had begun. Two hundred years earlier, in the reign of Henry VII, assuming the imperial title without the requisite ecclesiastical ceremony in Rome was utterly unthinkable. That title in itself was considered of such moment that his adversaries tried to block the ceremony by force of arms, occupying Saint Peter's cathedral. Having obtained the coronation anyway, Henry in his circular informed all christendom of that fact, employing, of course, the common language of christendom, Latin, and at length invoking universal christian politico‐religious doctrine. In 1508, we find his successor Maximilian deciding that if he cannot have the ceremony, that, with due respect to the Holy See, was no reason not to adopt the imperial title—for which his position as king of Romans made him the automatic and sole candidate. No doubt the courts of christendom were also informed of this step. But the place of the 1312 circular is here taken by a communication internal to the Holy Roman Empire, employing the German language, and appealing to German patriotic pride. In striking contrast to the 1312 circular, in the 1508 proclamation christian doctrine plays no role at all.
This is not to say that the traditional ideology of the empire with its universalist and strongly religious orientation was abandoned by Maximilian—it is still found in his reign, and under his successors well into the seventeenth century. But the emphasis on this kind of discourse decreased steadily. Conversely, the overt invocation of German national sentiment not only marks another break with the past—if I am not mistaken, Maximilian was the first emperor to resort to it—but it caught on massively; one is tempted to say, with a vengeance. By the mid‐sixteenth century, the political discourse of the Holy Roman Empire, including, but far from limited to, official utterances by the crown, 167 became replete with references to the ‘beloved fatherland of German nation’ (equated with the empire), with which it remained saturated throughout the ancien régime. One more emperor, Charles V, was crowned by the pope, in 1530; after that, all took the imperial title from the moment of their accession as sole rulers (having mostly been elected and crowned as king of Romans in the lifetime of their predecessors).
4.2.6 The crown as an imagined central power
The crown, mystically enhanced after the turn of the millennium, served as focal point for concepts of legitimate rule. In some instances, this helped it to strengthen its political power; in every case it enabled the crown to constitute political community, by virtue of uniting people in their loyalty to it. I contend that this creation of a political community (p. 420 ) centred on the crown was quite independent of the greater or lesser degree to which the crown wielded actual, let alone coercive, power.
The fanciful depictions of a powerful crown by Thomas Aquinas and Giles of Rome suggest that in the political thinking of the period simple kingdoms were treated no differently from the empire: treated, that is, as political fiction. It would be an error to assume that the empire alone existed only in theory, as wishful thinking, or that it had once been powerful and thus ‘real’ but later declined because its central power weakened (a notion already held by Nicholas of Kues). In reality, the empire, or, within it, the Roman king/emperor, had never been especially powerful—but the same was true of simple kingdoms as well. Here, too, the crown had to fill, grow into, a political space defined by political theory, rather than political theory taking its cues from really existing kingdoms. The difference between the empire and the other kingdoms was not that the empire lacked power, but that it lacked the popular acceptance and support of the crown enabling it to fill its conceptual space.
Take taxation: in origin, it was not based on coercion. Philippe de Commynes, at the end of the fifteenth century, denies that the king of France or any other lord could tax people without their consent. He devotes some discussion to this question, which was a subject of controversy: some in the royal entourage, denounced by Philippe, thought that the French crown needed no consent for taxation. Indeed, by the seventeenth century this principle had essentially won the day: but if this was so, and if the notion could be put forward already in the fifteenth century, ultimately it was not because the crown was in a position to compel people to pay but because they accepted that they should do so. Philippe notes with surprise that decades of ever more intense exploitation by the king had not diminished the eagerness of the subjects to provide him with fresh funds. According to Philippe, under Charles VII (reigns 1430–61) annual taxes had never amounted to more than 1.8 million francs, whereas under Louis XI (reigns 1461–83) the figure had been around three million and by the time of his death had risen to 4.7 million, ‘without the artillery and other similar things’ (I am not sure what Philippe means by this qualification). Louis was succeeded by a 13‐year old, at whose accession his advisers resolved to convene the estates (representatives) of the entire kingdom at Tours—this was the first time that this type of assembly took the name estates‐general (it remained a rarity in France, where it was much more common for the estates to meet on a regional basis). The decision was taken against warnings that such an assembly was dangerous as well as beneath the dignity of the crown. However, the estates turned out to be supportive, and this is adduced by Philippe as an argument against those opposed to any such consultation with the subjects.
Despite the kingdom being so trodden under and oppressed in many ways, was there any hostility among the people against their ruler? Did princes [the great lords of the realm] and subjects take up arms against their young king? …Did they wish to strip him of his authority …? …No …all came before him, the princes and the lords as well as the men from the towns …to swear allegiance and render homage …some demands and remonstrances were put forward in the presence of the king and his council, in great humility for the good of the kingdom, and always leaving everything to the pleasure of the king and his council. And they granted him all that they were asked to …without raising any objection; and the sum that was asked for was two million five hundred thousand francs …, and the said estates begged that after two years they should be convened anew; and that if the king lacked money they would supply whatever sum he (p. 421 ) wanted; and that if he faced wars, or anyone who wanted to harm him, they would put forward their persons and possessions, and not withhold anything from him that he might need. 168
To operationalize the concept of a French kingdom with a powerful crown it was necessary (and, indeed, not far short of sufficient) for a majority of people within that kingdom to adhere to that concept. This they did, spontaneously and even—to the astonishment of Philippe de Commynes—faced with an unpopular, demanding ruler like Louis XI. It is true that demands by the crown did not always meet with the kind of favourable reception described by Philippe, far from it. But the general principle that the crown was entitled to financial contributions from its subjects was widely accepted. By contrast, to operationalize the concept of the empire in the sense of making its head the supreme secular ruler of christendom it was not enough for people in Germany and perhaps northern Italy to adhere to it. People in the rest of christendom would have had to do so as well. They did not: the notion of, say, the emperor Frederic III, into whose reign the 1488 meeting of the French estates‐general fell, requesting representatives of all christendom to grant him funds seems surreal. It is not that people actively rejected the empire, but neither would they put themselves out for it as they did for their ‘local’ crown. Moreover, to some extent, a political community of Latin christendom united under a single ruler already existed: that ruler was the pope (and he did tax much of christendom in the shape notably of Saint Peter's penny). As a focus of loyalty, in christendom he competed with, and outshone, the emperor, whereas within the various realms the crown had no such competition. It is the fact that the acquisition of real power by the crown presupposed the prior constitution of a political community focused on that crown which explains why the emperor never gained any power over lands outside those of which he was also king.
Ironically, he was always, essentially, ‘emperor in his own realm’. On the other hand, that was what every other king of the post‐Reformation ancien régime wanted to be, too—never mind that their constitutional position varied greatly from one realm to the next or indeed, within the same realm, from one period to the next; or that, again ironically, the position of the emperor in his German realm was actually less powerful than that of some of his royal colleagues elsewhere. As a result, the kind of ideas on ‘imperial’ rulership developed by Nicholas of Kues and Enea Silvio Piccolomini were to have a great future.
4.3 Crown and 'state’ in the ancien régime
4.3.1 The nature of the period, and what to call it
Contrary to the rule that I have endeavoured to adhere to elsewhere, the term ancien régime is, of course, by its nature alien to that period itself. But I have been unable to think of a better one to designate pre‐industrial Europe—meaning in particular, though not exclusively, pre‐industrial but post‐Reformation Europe. Not exclusively, because although the Reformation is an important historical marker, it marks a break only in some respects while in many other important respects there was continuity. Conventional historiography speaks of the ‘middle ages’ and the ‘(early) modern period’ (p. 422 ) in a way that suggests that a new era began around 1500. It did, but there was less of a new era, less of a break with the old era than there was around 1800. The discontinuity between fifteenth‐century Europe and sixteenth‐century Europe, after the Reformation and the discovery of America, is much smaller than between eighteenth‐century Europe and nineteenth‐century Europe, after the French Revolution and the onset of industrialization. Among the aspects of the fundamental change occurring at this time, not the least important is that nineteenth‐century Europe had the 'state’ essentially as we know it, and eighteenth‐century Europe did not. Around 1800, within a few decades the social and political organization of the whole of Europe underwent massive, radical change that indeed deserves the epithet revolutionary; this did not happen around 1500. Thus, if I am not totally dissatisfied with the expression ancien régime, it is because at least it conveys the basic point that socially, politically, and economically things were substantially different, until the late eighteenth century, from what came later and what, because to us it seems so natural, we are constantly tempted to regard as timeless and to project back in time.
4.3.2 The heightened profile of princely governance in post‐Reformation Europe
Beginning in the fifteenth century, throughout Europe the role, or at least the profile, of princes increased. It really does appear that, as John Ruggie has surmised, the major, fundamental change went on in people's heads—Ruggie speaks of a ‘broad transformation in the prevailing social episteme’—and that it occurred quite fast, within a generation or two. 169
According to Ruggie, the main agent of change was 'social empowerment’, a new conception of politics creating acceptance for a centralization of power in the hands of the prince in much the same way as painters adopted single‐point perspective—in response neither to any functional need, nor to coercion, nor to any ‘technology’ not available earlier. Nevertheless, certain trends in the economic and military evolution of European civilization no doubt promoted the increasing focus on centralized princely governance and are worth recalling, briefly and without any claim to being exhaustive. Cause and effect are often hard to distinguish here. In most instances, what we have is probably best described as a cumulative, self‐reinforcing process, where the ‘transformation of the prevailing social episteme’, of the prevailing way of looking at the social world, encouraged certain types of material change that in its turn consolidated a new climate of thought. The new thinking itself, on the other hand, remained permeated with ideas on the role of power‐holders imprinted on western civilization by christianity.
22.214.171.124 Economic and military factors
In the economic sphere, the overall expansion characterizing the period after the turn of the millennium continued and probably intensified in the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries, helped by the fact that Europe increasingly dominated the rest of the world: new crops, raw materials, trade goods, and markets kept stimulating trade and thus monetization. In the conditions described earlier, more trade also meant more credit, an expansion of the financial system of Europe accompanied by its increasing (p. 423 ) sophistication. This general expansion meant that more and more wealth was up for distribution within Europe.
In the latter part of the ancien régime, many of the proud self‐governing towns of Latin christendom went into decline, not least economically. One reason for this was the tendency to move artisanal production to the countryside, where it was not controlled by guilds: this meant that there were no restrictions on the nature or quantity of what could be produced, or by whom. Since workers did not have to be approved by the guilds, and women and children were not barred, either, the workforce was greater and the cost of labour, less. Entrepreneurs mostly still resident in the towns supplied the raw materials and collected and marketed the output, with production itself put out to scattered rural households. 170 This was true for example of the textile industry—woollen and linen cloth—of northern France in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Wealthy citizens of towns like Beauvais, such as Gabriel Motte, whom we encountered earlier, distributed raw materials partly imported from far away (such as fine Spanish wool) to villagers and then sold the finished cloth throughout Europe and even in the Americas. 171 On the plateau separating the towns of Amiens, Aumale, and Beauvais, many more looms could be found than ploughs. 172 This situation—full‐time farmers being outnumbered in the countryside by artisanal workers—was likewise found throughout much of the rest of late ancien régime Europe.
Even the greatest cities of the pre‐Reformation period had usually been dominated by merchants. After the Reformation, such cities were increasingly rivalled by princely residences. Some princely residences, like Paris, London, or Naples, had been great cities before, but they were now joined by many that before the Reformation had been of little significance. Thus, when, in the fifteenth century, the Hohenzollern family was enfeoffed with the electorate of Brandenburg, all of whose towns were quite modest, they chose to establish their main residence at Berlin—then a settlement of perhaps some 6,000 people, which actually put it among the large towns of the electorate. By 1730, the population of Berlin had risen to about 72,000, approaching 100,000 in 1760. 173 This was a lot less than Paris, London, or Vienna had at that time. But since nothing in its geographical position in the middle of a thinly settled land of poor soils and few other natural resources predestined Berlin ever to reach this size, it exemplifies the effect of serving as a princely residence particularly well.
We have already discussed the crucial role played by monetization as an enabling factor for centralizing power. As a result, from the late pre‐Reformation period onwards political power was increasingly paralleled by financial power. Armies made up of vassals gave way to armies made up of mercenaries, and successful warfare increasingly demanded manpower, weaponry, and infrastructure (e.g. fortresses) on a scale putting it beyond the means of minor lords. The evolution of fortifications well exemplifies the phenomenon. The vertical walls of pre‐Reformation castles and towns were easy to breach with heavy artillery. To make them reasonably difficult to overcome, a new type of fortifications was necessary, the so‐called trace italienne first encountered in fifteenth‐century Italy: relatively low, sloping walls reinforced with earthworks, broken up by complicated, (p. 424 ) many‐angled bastions; a wide glacis, secured by a wide ditch or moat and ancillary fortifications beyond it, served to prevent attackers from getting close. Fortifications of this type were difficult, or at least uneconomical, to execute on a small scale and typically enclosed whole towns; where they were built on a green field site, such as some of the fortresses constructed by Vauban to secure the frontiers of France under Louis XIV, this often actually amounted to the foundation of new towns. So huge were fortifications of this new type that they often took up more space than they protected: for example, the relation in terms of area between the fortifications of eighteenth‐century Mainz and the settlement at their centre was 4:3. It has been estimated that the cost of fortifications rose by a factor of thirty in the course of the seventeenth century. 174
Armies (and to a lesser extent, navies) expanded, too.
The sixteenth century, at least from the 1530s onwards, had seen an unprecedented growth in the size of armies; and this was to continue throughout the century which followed. The Spanish army, perhaps a mere 20,000 in the 1470s when Spain's rise to the military leadership of Europe was about to begin, had reached 300,000 in the late 1630s …France, which was maintaining an army of about 50,000 in the 1550s, had one three times as large in the 1630s. 175
Building and maintaining armies, navies, and fortresses was expensive in itself, and using them was more expensive still. Again the new fortifications were most responsible for this.
A long siege ate up money, materials and often men in a way that even the greatest battle hardly ever did. …A great siege was, with the possible exception of the building of a great canal, the biggest engineering operation known to the age [the 17th and 18th centuries]. …[It] could therefore strain the resources of the greatest states so seriously as to make it impossible to accomplish anything more in an entire campaigning season. 176
The huge fortresses, huge armies, and navies of the late ancien régime were only possible because those who commissioned them could take out loans to finance them—loans secured against their revenue for example from taxes. As we saw, such loans were impossible in the pre‐christian and early christian period; and in the late ancien régime they were not available to minor lords. 177
126.96.36.199 Cultural preconditions: The christian ethos of obedience and obligation
Jean Bodin and Thomas Hobbes explicitly derive the justification of strong ('sovereign’) centralized rule, and of the (near‐)unconditional obedience of the 'subjects’ from the obligation of 'sovereign’ princes to provide security for those subjects: for them, the two are inseparable. Yet in earlier phases of western civilization this type of justification of rule—on the basis of mutual obligation—was absent. Traditional Greek and Roman political culture was predicated on the concept of citizens, free men only beholden to (p. 425 ) their peers. Only tyrants had subjects, but they were by definition illegitimate. Free men could not be subjects, even if they were no citizens, like the metics of Athens. Only slaves were unfree, but this was essentially a category of private law not public law. With the category of subjects essentially absent from political thinking, so was the notion of duties of subjects towards their ruler. Thus, in the post‐Persian Greek world, pólis citizenries on the one hand and kings on the other are always assuring each other of their mutual good will (eúnoia), but on neither side is there any notion of obligation to the other side. 178 Nor is there any notion of ‘duties’ of 'subjects’ towards the (pre‐christian) Roman ruler, however much that ruler is eulogized in official discourse as all‐powerful.
The only sources that, from a surprisingly early date onwards, very much insist on duties, especially that of obedience, are christian sources. The reason is no doubt that christianity consistently stresses subjection and control. God, but also his representatives—the clergy—are routinely referred to by the term ‘father’, denoting a position of virtually unchallengeable authority in every Mediterranean culture. The term ‘lord’ is routinely applied to god as well as higher clergy. The image of god, or a priest, as a 'shepherd’ is common, as is its converse, the image of the faithful as a ‘flock’ of sheep—animals easily terrified, anything but self‐determined, and weak (note that other herd animals could have been chosen for this simile). Key functionaries of the church bear the title epískopos ‘overseer’, whence ‘bishop’.
True, Zeus is addressed as ‘father’ in Homer, too, if less insistently. Moreover, poimến laố;n 'shepherd of peoples’ is a description routinely applied to kings by Homer. An eastern origin of this simile has been proposed. Being found in Homer, the expression was likewise used by later authors, such as Pindar or the fifth‐century playwrights of Athens. This was an implicit homage to Homer rather than an expression of the prevailing political culture, the more so as Greek society by that time no longer had kings except in Lakedaímôn. Plátôn in the Politikós discusses the simile, though in such an opaque manner that opinions are divided on whether he meant to endorse or reject it. Xenophố;n, however, despite his conservative outlook and his well‐advertised admiration for royalty like the Persian prince Kýros (Kurosh) and Agesílaos of Lakedaímôn, expressly denies the validity of the simile. Tellingly for the political culture of pre‐christian Greek society, he objects that herds of cattle or horses will readily do what the herdsman wants, ‘but men conspire against none sooner than against those whom they perceive to be trying [!] to rule them’. 179
Unfortunately, virtually nothing survives of the literature on kingship from the post‐Persian Greek realms, with the exception of the so‐called Letter of Aristéas, a second‐century bce Jewish text discussing royal virtues with specific reference to the then king Ptolemy of Egypt, and a number of fragments attributed to ‘Diotogénês’, ‘Sthenídas’, and ‘Ékphantos’ included in the fifth‐century ce anthology of Iôánnês Stobaíos (4.7.61ff.). Whereas the Letter of Aristéas is compatible with the generally libertarian political culture of the pre‐christian Greek world, the fragments strikingly depart from it. Oddly reminiscent in tone of both Thomas Aquinas and Giles of Rome, they depict the king not (p. 426 ) only as practically divine but as indispensable for the social order. ‘Ékphantos’ in particular moreover reflects an image of sacred kingship necessary to a harmonious cosmos and mirroring the superordination of god over the creation, a conception reminiscent of the kind of thinking displayed for example in the preamble of the coronation circular of Henry VII of 1312, or the cosmology of Engelbert of Admont. The status of those fragments is, however, unclear. No other sources mention them, nor can their purported authors be identified with any figures otherwise known; despite the archaic Doric dialect in which they are written they almost certainly date from the post‐Persian, possibly the early christian era. They are not christian themselves, but, like christianity, reflect mid‐eastern influence. 180
Of course, christianity, through the intermediary of judaism, has mid‐eastern cultural roots, too. Whereas for Xenophố;n it was normal to resist authority, for judaism it was sacred: in the Old Testament man is called on unconditionally to submit to the deity in a manner alien to Greek or Roman religion. In line with this tendency to accept established authority, even Jesus supposedly admonished his listeners to ‘render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's,’ which in the context of the passage specifically refers to taxation. 181 The most famous, and, for the history of christian political culture, momentous call for obedience was formulated around the year 60 by another Jew, Paul:
Let every soul be subject [hypotassésthô/subdita sit] unto the higher powers [exousíais hyperechoúsais/potestatibus sublimioribus]. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God. …Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? …For he [the ‘ruler’, árchôn/princeps] is the minister [servant: diákonos/minister] of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain …Wherefore ye must needs be subject [dió anánkê hypotássesthai/ideo necessitate subditi estote], not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake. For for this cause pay ye tribute [tax] also …Render therefore to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute is due; custom [toll, customs duties] to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honour to whom honour. 182
All this was new to western civilization. Although, in the pre‐christian Graeco‐Roman world, those in power would be seen as enjoying the favour of the gods, they were not regarded as ‘ordained of’, installed by the gods in any institutionalized fashion. One might revere them, but deferring to them was an act of prudence or indeed good will (eúnoia), not a sacred obligation. Not even the ‘emperor cult’ of the Roman empire—another eastern import—actually involved veneration of the living ‘emperor’ as a god, or an obligation to obey him. Rather, what was paid homage to—not, unlike ‘real’ gods, prayed to—was his genius, the Latin word for each individual's personal protective spirit; only after his death was an ‘emperor’ declared to be divine by the senate (an act known as consecratio). The ruler might be addressed as ‘divine’ even while he was still alive (as is Antoninus Pius in the second‐century decree by the Lykian league quoted in Chapter 3 ), 183 but this was in the context of a religion that had a more casual attitude (p. 427 ) towards the divine than did christendom. By contrast, the new ethos of obedience insisted on (here and elsewhere) by Paul was meant very seriously, giving the Roman ruler a potentially much stronger position than he held before.
It is true that Roman society had always been somewhat more ready than the Greek world to accept authority, and that it had always indulged in a certain paternalism, manifested notably in the institution of clientship discussed earlier. Indeed, senators were addressed as patres, fathers, and Augustus and his successors were honoured with the title pater patriae, father of the fatherland. As early as the late first century, Domitian insisted on being addressed as dominus, lord, the first Roman ruler to do so, if also, for a long time, the last. The title ‘lord’ was taken up anew only in the third century, somewhat before the adoption of christianity by those in charge of the empire. Absent from the second‐century decree of the Lykian league honouring Antoninus, the title ‘lord’ is used in the—non‐, indeed anti‐christian—third‐century petition from Arýkanda also quoted earlier. 184 This may be another indication that the same (eastern) cultural exemplars drawn on by Paul were also at work independently of judaism. At any rate, once christianity became the official religion of the empire, obedience, subjection, to its ruler, and generally ‘the powers that be’, at last did become a sacred obligation.
From at least the fifth century onwards, the ruler of the empire would routinely claim to owe his office to god: a gesture of humility at the same time as it bestowed a religious legitimacy unknown in the pre‐christian empire. Thus, the western augustus Marcianus (in power 450–7) wrote to pope Leo I that he had gained his supreme position through god's providence as well as election by the senate and the whole army. 185 Iustinus (in power 518–27) similarly wrote to pope Hormisdas that he reigned by the favour of the Holy Trinity, as well as election by the dignitaries of the palace, by the senate, and by the whole army. 186 Justinian (in power 527–65) credits god as the one who put him in power over the empire, entrusted to him by the ruler of the heavens (Deo auctore nostrum gubernantes imperium, quod nobis a caelesti maiestate traditum est), and protests that rather than rely on his army or his reason he puts all his hope in the providence of the Holy Trinity (ut …omnem spem ad solam referamus summae providentiam trinitatis). 187
In all those instances, god is not yet the sole source of legitimacy mentioned, as he would later become when kings, following the example of the Carolingians, would simply claim to rule ‘by god's grace’, dei gratia. But already god was always named first, and the simplification that consisted in naming only god was merely a matter of logic and time. In parallel with this development, the Roman ruler rose above the law. In his eulogy of Trajan, addressed to the Roman senate in the year 100, the younger Pliny still insisted that ‘the ruler is not above the law, but the law above the ruler’. 188 By contrast, the Corpus iuris promulgated by Justinian states that the ruler is not bound by the law, princeps legibus solutus, a formulation credited in the text to Ulpian, a legal scholar active around the turn of the third century. Whatever standing this opinion had at that time, (p. 428 ) its inclusion in the Corpus iuris made it part of official Roman law, with its enormous influence not just on Latin christendom, but even more so post‐Reformation Europe. 189
On the other hand, the new concept of a sacred obligation of obedience was matched by the equally novel notion that the ruler himself had duties. He was himself subject, and thus answerable for his acts, to god. Paul, in the passage quoted, calls him a 'servant’ of god, which would have been inconceivable in a non‐christian Graeco‐Roman text. No more than a pre‐christian Greek or Roman ruler would be seen as installed by the gods would he be considered their servant. He was as little beholden to the gods (although of course he was well‐advised to stay on good terms with them) as he was to those over whom he exercised power.
Seneca, in exhorting Nero to refrain from cruelty in his treatment of those under his sway, invokes no moral argument but the idea that a cruel ruler will gain a bad reputation passed on even to posterity. He compares the position of the ruler with that of the father with regard to his children (in traditional Roman law, a father had power of life and death over his offspring), the teacher with regard to his pupils, the commander (tribunus) with regard to his soldiers, indeed, if somewhat obliquely, the master with regard to his slaves. (Seneca is of course exaggerating the power that this implicitly ascribes to his addressee, whom is seeking to flatter.) All those instances have in common their one‐sidedness, the absence of any mutual obligation—certainly at that time. In every case, those in the inferior position could literally only hope for the best, for generosity on the part of the superior, which, especially in the case of a ruler, would be celebrated the more effusively as it was entirely voluntary. But neither, for Seneca was obedience an absolute imperative. He notes that a cruel father, teacher, or commander will often find his behaviour to produce undesired results: thus, a cruel commander ‘will produce deserters, whom yet no one will blame [desertores faciet, quibus tamen ignoscitur]’. 190
Compare this with the admonition addressed to the Frankish king Charles I by his English adviser Cathwulf in a famous letter of about 775:
Therefore, my king, always be mindful of god who is your king, with fear and loving, because you have been set as his vice‐regent over all his limbs [the members of the christian people, regarded as the mystical body of Christ], to guard and direct them, and to give account on the day of judgment, even for yourself. 191
The idea that the gods might call Nero to account is present in Seneca, too (cf. the passage quoted in Chapter 2 , n. 246), but the emphasis is different: it is treated as a hypothetical possibility, and one moreover that would simply give Nero another occasion to shine. If Seneca, whose real feelings for his one‐time pupil were no doubt mixed at best, purports to treat Nero with unalloyed deference, it is because he had no demands to make. Cathwulf, by contrast, feels free, in the name of religion, to call on the powerful king of the Franks to be both responsible and humble, reminding the king that he will have to account for his reign and that how he will be judged is no foregone conclusion. (p. 429 ) Three centuries later, in a letter already quoted, pope Gregory VII would make that point quite stridently:
Kings and other princes ought to be afraid lest they be made to suffer the eternal fires of hell to a greater extent in proportion as in this life they enjoy preferential treatment over others …For they shall have to give account before god for all those that were subject to their rule. 192
The notion of service is a corollary of the christian emphasis on obedience and finds expression already in the gospel:
whosoever [Jesus says to his disciples] will be great among you, let him be your minister [=(free) servant: diákonos/minister]; And whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant [doúlos/servus: this typically means 'slave’]: Even as the Son of man [=Jesus] came not to be ministered unto [=to be served, diakonêthếnai/ministrari], but to minister [=to serve, diakonếsai/ministrare], and to give his life a ransom for many. 193
The injunction was, to some extent, taken seriously by those in power. Since Gregory I (in office 590–604), the pope has referred to himself as servus servorum dei, servant of the servants of god. 194 Coins from the reign of Justinian II (basileús 685–95 and 705–11) show him standing with a large cross in his hand and the legend servus Christi, servant of Christ. 195 The emperor Otto III (late tenth century) included in his title the words servus apostolorum, servant of the apostles, and Henry II in the early eleventh century called himself servus servorum Christi, servant of the servants of Christ. 196 Iôánnês Zônáras, in the twelfth century, exhorts the ruler of Constantinople to be a steward, oikonómos, not a despótês, a lord or master, with regard to the commonwealth (politeía), 197 and Nicholas of Kues similarly insists that the emperor is not a lord or master but a steward, non dominus sed administrator. 198 Engelbert, as we saw, thought that ‘in the natural order of things the king exists for the sake of the kingdom and not the other way around’. 199 Similarly, for Dante
The citizens do not exist for the sake of the consuls and the people do not exist for the sake of the king, but rather the consuls exist for the sake of the citizens and the king for the sake of the people …Even though the consul or the king are lords of the rest with respect to the path, they are servants of the rest with respect to the goal, but especially the monarcha [emperor], whom we obviously must consider the servant of all [minister omnium]. 200
This is echoed in famous formulations by Frederic II of Prussia (reigns 1740–84): ‘the sovereign, far from being the absolute master of the peoples under his domination, is really (p. 430 ) only their chief servant’; 201 or: ‘A prince is the first servant and the first magistrate of the state; he is answerable to it for the use to which he puts the taxes.’ 202 This whole theme would have been alien to the political culture of the pre‐christian Mediterranean world, where those in power owed nothing to those over whom they had power even if they were expected to extend their generosity towards them. In this respect, the triumph of christianity marks a profound change, which proved durable even when the attraction and power of the church began to wane again—as Frederic, who was no friend of the church, demonstrates.
Christian and post‐christian rule was thus necessarily conditional. A prince now had subjects, but he also had duties towards them. Something was expected of him; what, precisely, remained open to definition. Thomas Aquinas and Giles of Rome, as we saw, provided some answers: for them, a king had to maintain ‘peace’, or unity, among his subjects, incite them to be virtuous, punish wrongdoers, and direct them towards the life eternal. Nicholas of Kues, who cites them, 203 imitates them in this. Yet Nicholas, amalgamating the stress on popular participation that he found in Marsilius with the growing emphasis on strong princely governance, also foreshadows two other important aspects of post‐Reformation political thought: the notion of the social contract—for Nicholas the ruler is ruler only by virtue of the consent of the ruled—and the expectation that a strong ruler will, above all, provide security. Although the term as such is not yet prominent in his text, the notion is implicit in his criticism of the situation in Germany, where according to him a weak central power meant that no one was safe (nullus tutus).
In Latin christendom, rule was conditional also in the sense that subjects retained the right to question decisions or demands by the ruler, and to disobey if they held them to be illegitimate. This had something to do with the difficulty faced by those in power to enforce decisions on a supralocal scale, a difficulty that diminished with the progress of monetization and the greater facility with which a ruler could act, including supralocally, through paid agents, armed (i.e. soldiers) or not (i.e. administrators or judges). The growing potential power of the ruler provoked two types of reaction: enthusiasm as well as vigilance. Some felt that greater power necessitated greater control. As mentioned, representative assemblies of the ‘estates’ of a realm or principality sprang up or were consolidated everywhere in Latin christendom in the fifteenth century, and the conciliar movement in a sense is simply the ecclesiastical equivalent of this phenomenon. Since the increasing potential power of princes was linked to the progress of monetization, tellingly what assemblies of the estates sought to control above all was taxation. Others, however, impatient with attempts to hem the ruler in, felt that the time was ripe for ‘real’ governance by a powerful ruler, which they hoped would prove the cure for all sorts of social ills. Nicholas of Kues, as we saw, wavered between those two impulses, while Enea Silvio Piccolomini came down firmly on the side of complete subjection and obedience.
So, after the Reformation, did the most influential theorists of strong princely governance, Jean Bodin and Thomas Hobbes. Stressing as they did the fullness of the power of the ruler, they were also at pains to make clear what was expected of that ruler (p. 431 ) in return. Here the concept of security became central. However, the opposite strain, that of the need for the subjects to keep their ruler in check, continued into the post‐Reformation period, too, being represented for example by Johannes Althusius.
4.3.3 Post‐Reformation theorists of princely power: Bodin, Althusius, and Hobbes
188.8.131.52 ‘Absolutists’ and ‘monarchomachs’: Jean Bodin and Johannes Althusius
In his Coutumes de Beauvaisis of 1283, a codification of the customary law of the Beauvais region, Philippe de Beaumanoir explains that
Since in this book in several places we speak of the souverain and of what he may or ought to do, but do not mention counts or dukes, some might think that reference is to the king. But whenever the king is not mentioned, we refer to those holding a fief, for every holder of a fief is souverain within it. However, the king is souverain above them all [par dessus tous], and by rights has the general care of his kingdom, whereby for the common weal he may make as many statutes as he likes, and what he lays down must be observed. 204
The passage shows that, on the one hand, there was no royal monopoly on political power, and on the other that nevertheless the king had a special position. Souveraineté was more ‘naturally’ attributed to him than to other lords, whose similar, if geographically more restricted competence Philippe finds it necessary to remind readers of. 205
The word souveraineté is in fact derived from the Latin comparative superanus, 'superordinate, superior, higher‐ranking’, and not from the superlative supremus, 'supreme, highest’. (In the Latin of Latin christendom, the adjective superanus tends to supersede the ‘classical’ forms superus and supernus.) From the fifteenth century onwards, high‐ranking law courts in Paris and other French cities came to be known as cours souveraines—an expression of course of their superordination over other courts and not of any 'sovereignty’ in the more recent sense. It was only in 1661, when Louis XIV took power, that he had the adjective changed from 'sovereign’ to 'superior’ (cours supérieures—but historians of eighteenth‐century France routinely refer to the cours souveraines even if they mention the 1661 measure, so perhaps the new appellation (p. 432 ) did not prevail). Earlier, in his highly influential Six Books on the Commonwealth first published in 1576, the legal scholar Jean Bodin (1530–96) had taken the step that we find foreshadowed in Philippe de Beaumanoir, redefining souveraineté as absolute rather than relative superordination. Whereas Philippe denied that only the king had sovereignty, Bodin asserts precisely that.
Bodin starts from the position outlined in the preceding section. Rule for him means exercising an office and serving a function, and being answerable to those for whose sake that office is held and the function fulfilled. There is a mutual obligation between the ruler and the ruled: ‘The prince’, Bodin writes, ‘is obliged [obligé] to preserve [maintenir], by military force and the force of the laws, the safety [seureté] of his subjects [subiects] with respect to their persons, belongings, and families; and the subjects, by reciprocal obligation [par obligation reciproque], owe their prince fealty, subjection, obedience, aid, and assistance [foy, obeissance, subiection, ayde, & secours].’ The relationship between the ruler and the ruled is still conceived here on the model of the ‘feudal’ order with its emphasis on reciprocal loyalty. But, unlike the social paradigm of Latin christendom, here there is only one lord, all others are 'subjects’. 206
It is true that the concept of sovereignty even as redefined by Bodin still falls short of giving the ruler certain rights that nowadays are taken for granted as being vested in the 'state’ or ‘government’. Thus, Bodin denies that the ruler may dispose of the property of his subjects—probably because the right of property was considered by Bodin to be part of natural law, which even the 'sovereign’ could not modify. Bodin is even opposed to the levying of taxes by the ruler, presumably because this, too, meant encroaching on the property of the subjects. Bodin holds that the king should properly be satisfied with the income of what belongs to the crown, that is, the royal demesne. He insists that even in a public emergency, such as in wartime, extra funds should be raised through loans rather than taxes, presumably because he feared that once granted such taxes would be difficult to abolish again. 207 Moreover, there were, for Bodin as for other French lawyers of the period, certain fundamental laws of the realm that the ruler had no authority to change. In the French case, this was true notably of the order of succession to which the ruler himself owed his office. In the French text, Bodin refers to such fundamental laws as loix royales ‘royal laws’, but in his own Latin translation of the work he calls them leges imperii ‘laws of the empire’—in line with the tendency at that time to equate regnum and imperium, that is, to treat every kingdom as a legal equivalent of the (Roman) empire. 208
Employing ‘imperial’ terminology, French lawyers thus spoke of the French kingdom as a corpus mysticum (the mystic body of Christ: this originally meant christendom, which, however, thinkers like Nicholas of Kues or Enea Silvio Piccolomini equated with the empire), or of the Parlement de Paris as an analogue of the Roman senate. 209 The Tudor kings and queens of England likewise display a certain fondness for such terminology. Henry VIII repeatedly qualifies his crown as ‘imperial’ in his official utterances: ‘[the] crown imperial of this our realm’ (in the proclamation rejecting papal authority over the church of England, 1535), ‘our imperial crown of our realm of England’ (in the proclamation announcing the adoption by Henry of the title ‘king of Ireland’, 1542). On (p. 433 ) their accession, Edward VI in 1547 was proclaimed heir to the ‘crown imperial of this realm, and other his realms’, and Mary I in 1553 was proclaimed heiress to the ‘crown imperial of the realms of England and Ireland, with the title of France’. When Elizabeth I was proclaimed in 1558, the document only spoke of ‘the crown of the foresaid kingdoms of England, France, and Ireland’. But a few weeks later another proclamation specified her exact title as being ‘the most high and mighty Princess, our dread sovereign Lady Elizabeth, by the grace of God Queen of England, France, and Ireland, defender of the true, ancient, and Catholic faith, most worthy Empress from the Orkney Isles to the Mountains Pyrenée’. This kind of grandiloquent, and often very long, title is typical of the post‐Reformation period but not of pre‐Reformation Latin christendom, and again demonstrates the heightened profile of the ruler in the 'social episteme’ of the period. 210
In a book published in 1566, Bodin himself had concurred in the opinion then prevailing among students of French law that the power of the French crown was limited, especially by the prerogatives of the Paris parlement, its counterparts in the French provinces, and the assemblies of the estates, and that the king could not legislate on his own. 211 By contrast, in De la république Bodin holds that the king of France alone held supreme power in the kingdom and was the sole possessor of what he calls rights of sovereignty, or in Latin iura maiestatis. 212 The fact that despite many intrinsic contradictions and logical weaknesses this book caused so much interest—it was reprinted countless times, as well as quickly translated into Latin (1586), Italian (1588), Spanish (1590), German (1592), and English (1606)—shows that Bodin had hit a nerve. Ultimately, the controversy that it helped to fuel oscillated between poles already represented by Nicholas of Kues and Enea Silvio Piccolomini (and indeed by Bodin himself, in 1566 and 1576 respectively): is the possessor of supreme power also, to some extent, controlled by the subjects, or only they by him? One of those who explicitly took issue with Bodin was Johannes Althusius (1563?–1638), professor at a Calvinist college at Herborn (in northern Hesse), then 'syndic’ of the town of Emden in East Frisia, in a Latin work entitled Politics, systematically discussed and illustrated with sacred and profane examples.
Although his book did well (four editions in his lifetime), Althusius never quite achieved the popularity, or lasting fame, of Bodin, and as far as I am aware there is at the time of this writing still no full translation of the Politics in any other European language. 213 Althusius shares this fate of relative oblivion with fellow ‘monarchomachs’, (p. 434 ) or ‘fighters against the monarch’, as the Englishman William Barclay termed them in 1600 (Barclay himself belonged to the opposite camp, the ‘absolutists’ or advocates of ‘absolute’ monarchy, but this is not a contemporary coinage: the word ‘absolutism’ only appeared in the nineteenth century). 214 Other such monarchomachs included Frenchmen like Theodore Beza (Théodore de Bèze) and the author or authors of the anonymous Vindiciae contra tyrannos (‘A defence against tyrants’) of 1579, many of whose arguments are taken up by Althusius, or the two Scotsmen George Buchanan and John Knox. All of them adhered to calvinist protestantism, a creed particularly prone to preaching resistance to the crown for conscience's sake, and an inspiration also for the English ‘puritans’, who played a major role in the temporary overthrow of the British monarchy in the mid‐seventeenth century. None of them, however, offers a global, comprehensive theory of society and politics in the manner of Althusius, who therefore seems best suited for a comparison of this general position with the ‘absolutism’ of Bodin and Hobbes.
Unfortunately, for the monarchomachs, the prevailing 'social episteme’, or ideological fashion, favoured a strong central power, and thus authors who supported this idea. That the two opposing camps actually shared many premisses is shown by the fact that their respective adherents might quite easily switch between them. We saw that Bodin in 1566 argued that the French crown shared its power with other political agents within the kingdom, only to contend that it did not in 1576. Likewise, in a textbook on Roman law the young Althusius had affirmed in the 1580s that the ruler was suis et alterius legibus solutus, not bound by any laws made by himself or by others; that the ruler had plenum et absolutum imperium, full, unrestricted power of command; and even that he was entitled to levy taxes—which Bodin, whom Althusius in his treatise cites frequently, disapproved of. 215 Althusius, too, later changed his tune completely.
As 'syndic’ Althusius was really ‘only’ legal adviser and representative of the town council of Emden. In reality, however, he acted very much like the leader of the citizenry, encouraging their resistance to their nominal overlord, the count of Frisia. The town, on the mouth of the river Ems, is situated just east of the border dividing West Frisia, one of the provinces of the Low Countries and now part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, and the county of East Frisia, now part of the Federal Republic of Germany. Following its near‐total destruction in the air raids of the Second World War, little now reminds the visitor to this town of its wealth and self‐confidence in Althusius’ day. The rebellion of what became the ‘United Provinces’, the calvinist‐dominated northern provinces of the Low Countries, against the Spanish crown from 1566 onwards proved a boon for Emden. Its port profited greatly from being safe from the war going on further west, and its population was swelled by calvinist merchants and other refugees. Unlike calvinist West Frisia, the county of (East) Frisia was lutheran. But with its size and prosperity thus enhanced, and its religious orientation altered, the town in 1595 officially abandoned its lutheran affiliation in favour of calvinism, and in the treaty of Delfzijl—endorsed by the emperor Rudolf—forced the count to give up much of his prerogatives over the town, though his suzerainty was confirmed.
(p. 435 ) Friction between the town and the count continued, however. In 1604, the town council dismissed its syndic as being too sympathetic to the count and offered the post to Althusius, recommended by his Politica, first published the year before and very much in favour of restricting the power of the ruler. Althusius accepted, a decision no doubt facilitated by the ‘rather extraordinary salary’ (as one contemporary source puts it) that the town was willing to pay him and which later was repeatedly increased further; Althusius remained in office until his death in 1638. Under his leadership, the town in 1608 again rebelled against the count, who saw his residence and archive at Aurich pillaged by troops maintained by the estates of the county supposedly for its defence but manipulated by Althusius; in 1618 the town forcibly detained the count, who had come there for talks, for several weeks. When the count died, Althusius insisted that the town should no longer swear ‘obedience’ to his successors, but only ‘loyalty’. Althusius pursued a policy of strengthening the estates of the county generally, against the count, but did not hesitate to put the interest of Emden above that of its fellow estates. Although Emden had been equipped with modern fortifications at the expense of the estates, Althusius after the outbreak of the Thirty Years War in 1618 refused to contribute to the defence of the county as a whole, and with his pro‐Dutch attitude undermined efforts to keep the county neutral and out of harm's way. During the Emden years, Althusius meanwhile continued to work on the Politica, subjecting it to many modifications. 216
The Althusius of the Politica rejects Bodin's opinion that sovereignty is vested in the ruler alone. Already in the preface, he formulates the opposite view:
I have attributed the so‐called rights of sovereignty [jura majestatis] not to the supreme magistrate [summus magistratus] but to the commonwealth or in other words the universal association [respublica vel consociatio universalis]. Most legal and political authors attribute them to the prince [princeps] and supreme magistrate alone. …By contrast, I, along with a few others, maintain that they belong to the symbiotic body of the universal association [corpus symbioticum consociationis universalis]. …I recognize the prince as the administrator, trustee, handler of the rights of sovereignty [administrator, procurator, gubernator jurium majestatis], but as the owner [proprietarius] and usufructuary [usufructuarius] of sovereignty [majestas] none other than the people as a whole [populus universus]. …For those rights of sovereignty establish and preserve [constituunt et conservant] the universal association. And as they have their origin [inceperunt] in the people, or the members of the commonwealth or realm [populus, seu membra Reipublicae vel regni], so also can they only exist in them, and be preserved by them [non nisi in illis consistere possunt, et ab illis conservari]. Likewise, their administration [administratio], entrusted by the people to a single mortal, the prince or supreme magistrate, reverts to the people …when he dies or is deprived of his office [exauthoratus]. 217
The terminology—majestas, jura majestatis—is Bodin's: even in standing the Frenchman on his head Althusius would be unthinkable without him.
If Bodin's theory put the emphasis on the ruler, Althusius stresses the primacy of the people:
The commonwealth or realm does not exist for the sake of the king, but the king and every other magistrate exists for the sake of the realm and of the polity [politia]. For the people, prior, in the nature of things and in time, to its leaders, is more powerful than they, and above them [Nam populus, natura et tempore prior, potior, et superior est suis gubernatoribus]. 218
It follows that a people can exist without a magistrate, but a magistrate cannot exist without a people. 219
Engelbert and Dante had said much the same, but did not go quite so far: they did not place the people before and above the king, at least not explicitly, nor did they assert that the people could do without him, or leaders in general.
Not least because Althusius did not regard the ruler as constitutive for the commonwealth, he was at liberty, unlike Bodin and Hobbes, not to regard that commonwealth itself as monolithic—as indeed no large realm of his day was. Althusius treats the commonwealth as a hierarchy of communities much like the scholastics, but in a more elaborate manner. It is the totality of those communities that for Althusius represents ‘the people’. ‘Private associations’, in this system, include families and kinship groups (familiae et cognationes) established by marriage or blood ties, and ‘minor corporations’ (collegia minora—such as craftsmen's guilds, but also associations of clerics, judges, and the like). ‘Public associations’ include municipalities (universitates), defined as ‘associations, established by means of laws, of a number of married couples, families, and corporations and inhabiting the same place’ 220 and taking the form of villages (vici), districts (pagi), towns (oppida), and cities (urbes); and provinces (or lands: provinciae), represented by their estates (ordines). The estates are made up of ‘great corporations’ (collegia maiora): clergy, gentry, towns, and peasants. Althusius regrets that peasants were not everywhere represented in assemblies of the estates (they were in Frisia). 221
For Bodin, the commonwealth is made up of households (mesnages, familiae). By contrast, Althusius emphasizes that it is towns and lands that make up the commonwealth, not households or local corporations, just as a ship is not formed by planks, nails, and dowels, but by the prow, stern, and keel. 222 Bodin, too, considered corporations and estates useful and advocated their consultation. 223 But essentially, for him, there is the ruler on the one hand, the subjects on the other. For Althusius, ‘politics’ is not primarily about subjection or the exercise of power.
Politics is the art of associating people for the purpose of establishing, cultivating, and preserving a communal life among them. That is why it is called symbiotics [i.e. the art or science of living together; I have not been able to find out what other authors, if any, employ this term apart from Althusius.] The object of politics is the association by which, through an explicit or tacit agreement, those living together [symbiotici] enter into a mutual obligation to share whatever is useful or necessary for the communal life and fellowship. 224
(p. 437 ) The communities, on every level, of ‘those living together’ are based on such an ‘explicit or tacit agreement’. Althusius is evidently inspired by a definition of Cicero already cited, and which he, too, adduces: Est igitur res publica res populi, populus autem …coetus multitudinis iuris consensu et utilitatis communione sociatus, ‘The commonwealth’ [literally ‘the public cause’], then, is the cause of the people, and the people …is a group associated by consensus on what is the law, and ties of mutual interest.’ As I have pointed out earlier, this formulation, often taken as a definition of the 'state’, omits any mention of a governing agency, let alone of subordination to it. 225
Why certain towns and countries should be part of a given ‘universal association’—the expression that Althusius uses as the generic term to designate the greatest, and fully autonomous, political unit—but not others seems not to be explained in the book, except indirectly in that Althusius considers the consociatio or association to be voluntary at every level. This is true all the way down to the smallest and most basic units, and despite the fact that these are described as ‘natural’: even the domestica et naturalis consociatio of families and kinship groups consists of individuals bound together, and acknowledging a single leader, ‘by their own consent [consensu suo]’. 226 Similarly, Althusius says of the consociatio universalis that it is ‘a people, merged into one body by the consent of several symbiotic associations and particular corporations, or of the bodies of several associations, and gathered under one law’. 227 Membership in a ‘universal association’, then, is in effect based on a right of self‐determination exercised separately by each of the subdivisions, or smaller associations, forming part of a commonwealth.
Decision‐making for Althusius is mainly in the hands of assemblies recruited from among the members of the various associations—the councils (senatus) of the towns, the estates of the provinciae, the estates of the realm in its entirety, with the latter described as as ‘the epitome [epitome] of the polity or realm’. 228 Concerning the ruler, Althusius pushes to its extreme the notion that, a mere 'steward’ and 'servant’, he has duties to fulfil—failing which he can be dismissed: a corollary that earlier authors had been reluctant to admit.
The people has entrusted itself to the governance of the king on certain conditions and terms, retaining, in certain conditions, power and authority [potestas et autoritas] over the king should he prove unworthy. His leadership and stewardship is not unrestricted, absolute, and completely free [Directio et administratio haec, non est plena absoluta et liberrima] …but aimed at their welfare and circumscribed and limited by certain laws. …Individual subjects are under the king, but in their entirety they are above the king. …If he exercises his stewardship properly, he is paramount [praeest] with regard to the individuals to the extent that he is the executor, guardian, and servant of the law [quatenus legis est exsecutor, custos et minister]. …Hence, when he commands something that runs counter to what the law lays down, he falls under the (p. 438 ) power of the law and loses his superior status; in that case he becomes subject to those who carry out the law [Ergo contra legis praescriptum imperans, legi fit obnoxius, et superior esse desinit; quo casu incipit subesse legis exsecutoribus]. …As a result …he ceases to be king and a public person and becomes a private person, and thus if he proceeds and acts with evident injustice anyone is free to resist him. 229
By contrast, for Bodin the ruler was above the law, and he denies that active resistance even to a tyrant was permissible; he does concede a right of disobedience if what the king commands runs counter to divine or natural law. 230
What are the sovereign rights (iura maiestatis)? According to Althusius, generally they concern the implementation of what he calls the ius commune or common law, which for him consists in basic, natural law norms that he sees exemplified in the Ten Commandments. Apart from that, a given realm will have need of specific norms, tailored to its particular requirements, in such domains as trade, money, language, public offices, the bestowal of privileges, defence, the upkeep of common institutions such as a common treasury, arsenals, archives, and the like. 231
If I am not mistaken, Althusius never spells out why the ruler is necessary at all, or if there is anything that should properly be left to his discretion. Whereas Nicholas of Kues, Bodin, or Hobbes all thought that the ruler was indispensable to ensure the safety, the protection of the subjects, Althusius, clearly in reaction to a climate of opinion eager to empower the ruler, seems almost exclusively concerned with protecting the people from their ruler. Far from pining for a strong ruler, Althusius actually posits that he should be kept weak. What power the ruler has is determined by the contract by which the people give him his mandate (pactum seu contractus mandati). 232
The supreme magistrate possesses as many rights [tantum juris] as are expressly awarded to him by the associated bodies, or members of the realm, and what is not awarded to him has to be considered as remaining with the people, or universal association; for this is in the nature of the contractus mandati. The less power is given to those in command [qui imperant], the more long‐lived and stable the realm [imperium]. …Absolute power, or fullness of power, as it is called, cannot be given to the supreme magistrate [Absoluta potestas, seu plenitudo potestatis, quam vocant, summo magistratui dari non potest]. 233
At his inauguration, the ruler had to swear to respect the laws of the realm: this was the practice everywhere in Europe, as Althusius is able to illustrate with abundant examples. The French king, too, did so at his coronation, posing a problem for Bodin: how could the king be above the law if he had to swear to uphold it? Somewhat lamely, Bodin argues that he was not actually bound by his oath, only expected not to alter the laws in question except for a weighty reason. 234
For Bodin (at least the Bodin of De la république), the sovereign is sole legislator. Althusius has no patience with this.
Nowadays general laws are made by assemblies. For it would be a mark of reckless and foolish arrogance for one man, or a few men, to consider themselves capable of giving adequate laws to some nation [gens], without its assent and the combined advice and opinion of many. 235
(p. 439 ) What Althusius depicts is not so much a programme as a (somewhat pointed) description of what he saw around him, in Frisia, in the Netherlands, in the Holy Roman Empire, in Europe as a whole: everywhere estates and their assemblies were powerful, nowhere was the ruler a real 'sovereign’. France is a case in point: when Bodin wrote De la république, the country was shaken by religious turmoil and the crown was weak. Likewise, Hobbes published his Leviathan at a time when the English monarchy had in fact just been abolished, a result, not least, of the kind of ideas propagated by people like Althusius.
184.108.40.206 Hobbes and the beginnings of IR theory
The sovereign as a prerequisite of society: a break with tradition. Thomas Hobbes (1588–1679) is the most radical exponent of the intellectual current favouring a strong, even omnipotent ruler. Like Bodin, he wrote his masterpiece Leviathan, or The Matter, Forme & Power of a Common‐Wealth Ecclesiasticall and Civill against the background of political turmoil experienced first‐hand: when the book was first published in 1651, two years after the execution of king Charles I of England and Scotland, Hobbes was living in exile in Paris. Hobbes explicitly states that the work was ‘occasioned by the disorders of the present time’. 236
Among the writers so far encountered in our overview of the western tradition, Hobbes stands out because of his explicit refusal to accept that tradition. His political thinking would be inconceivable without the christian ethos of obedience and obligation, or the redefinition of sovereignty popularized by Jean Bodin. But as Hobbes saw it, all western political thought prior to his own was pretty much useless. Whereas Bodin and Althusius are full of references to other authors, such references are largely absent from Hobbes. Only the very greatest, and ancient, western thinkers are deemed worthy of being named—albeit, more often than not, only to be trashed. Aristotle is singled out for the most acerbic criticism.
I beleeve that scarce any thing can be more absurdly said in naturall Philosophy, than that which now is called Aristotles Metaphysiques; nor more repugnant to Government, than much of that hee hath said in his Politiques; nor more ignorantly, than a great part of his Ethiques. 237
Hobbes in fact repudiates Graeco‐Roman political thought generally.
In these westerne parts of the world, we are made to receive our opinions concerning the Institution, and Rights of Common‐wealths, from Aristotle, Cicero, and other men, Greeks and Romanes, that living under Popular [=democratic] States, derived those Rights, not from the Principles of Nature, but transcribed them into their books, out of the Practice of their own Common‐wealths, which were Popular. …And by reading of these Greek, and Latine Authors, men from their childhood have gotten a habit (under a false shew of Liberty,) of favouring tumults, and of licentious controlling the actions of their Soveraigns; and again of controlling (p. 440 ) those controllers, with the effusion of so much blood; as I think I may truly say, there was never any thing so deerly bought, as these Western parts have bought the learning of the Greek and Latine tongues. 238
The great problem with pre‐christian political thinkers was their rejection of dominion, of strong rule, particularly by a single person, which had exercised a deplorable influence on all later western thinking: ‘as to Rebellion in particular against Monarchy; one of the most frequent causes of it, is the Reading of the books of Policy, and Histories of the antient Greeks, and Romans’ 239 —even though, actually, more recent calvinist writers, not of course mentioned by Hobbes, were perhaps more to blame. Western thinking, for Hobbes, being thus hopelessly vitiated, it was necessary to start afresh, which is what Hobbes proposes to do. Salvation from all sorts of social problems lay in strong, unitary rule, preferably by one man. As we have seen, this was hardly a new idea. But Hobbes fails to acknowledge any positive contribution to his own theory by earlier authors and instead implicitly dismisses them all for not having been sufficiently radical. One had to be systematic and rigorous in developing a theory of politics, not intuitive and pragmatic—‘unlesse we shall think there needs no method in the study of the Politiques, (as there does in the study of Geometry,) but onely to be lookers on; which is not so. For the Politiques is the harder study of the two.’ 240 Not for the last time in the academic treatment of politics (or international relations), what Hobbes was dreaming of was social science as ‘hard science’: ‘The skill of making, and maintaining Common‐wealths, consisteth in certain Rules, as doth Arithmetique and Geometry; not …in Practise onely.’ 241
If there really were such rules of politics, why had no one yet found them? Obviously, the Greeks and Romans had something to answer for, but in dealing with this anticipated objection Hobbes here puts forward a different argument: that, quite simply, someone had to be the first to find those rules. ‘Time, and Industry, produce every day new knowledge.’ 242 In reality, what Hobbes offers is not new knowledge but skilful advocacy, under cover of scientific objectivity, of an ideology that (albeit in less radical form) many people of his time adhered to anyway and would have adhered to without him. He presents an impressively coherent body of thought, but the simple premisses with which he begins are wilfully selective and intrinsically questionable—for example: ‘in the first place, I put for a generall inclination of all mankind, a perpetuall and restlesse desire for Power after power, that ceaseth onely in Death.’ 243 What Hobbes presents as deductive reasoning is actually inductive: it was the message itself, a personal, subjective, political choice on issues hotly debated in his day, that was Hobbes’ real starting point.
Hobbes’ sovereign is not bound by human law of any kind. As a result, it is not possible to enter into a treaty with him: he cannot be bound by it. The social contract, then, that had been posited at least since Nicholas of Kues, for Hobbes cannot be concluded between the sovereign and his subjects, but only among the subjects themselves: they agree among themselves to give up all power to the sovereign. But Hobbes is splitting (p. 441 ) hairs. Although he claims that the sovereign cannot be bound by this treaty, Hobbes nevertheless admits that, along with the power, it bestows on him an ‘end’, a function—‘The Office of the Soveraign …consisteth in the end, for which he was trusted with the Soveraign Power, namely the procuration of the safety of the people’ 244 —and that if he fails to fulfil this function he loses his position:
The Obligation of Subjects to the Soveraign, is understood to last as long, and no longer, than the power lasteth, by which he is able to protect them. For the right men have by Nature to protect themselves, when none else can protect them, can by no Covenant be relinquished. 245
It is difficult to see how this is different from a treaty whereby the sovereign promises protection in return for power.
In any case, even the treaty between the subjects is actually fictitious. Hobbes infers from his analysis of human nature that autonomous individuals would have to make such a treaty to protect themselves from each other, and further, that the sovereign created by this treaty would then necessarily have the right to treat individuals not parties to the treaty as enemies and force them into subjection. This being a logical necessity, the sovereign is legitimate whether or not such a treaty was ever concluded in fact; for the same reason there is no need ever to renew it. Hobbes actually doubts that any sovereign was ever created from voluntary subjection rather than usurpation: ‘there is scarce a Commonwealth in the world, whose beginnings can in conscience be justified.’ 246 Put the other way around, as long as the sovereign protects the subjects from each other and from outsiders, how he obtained his position is of no importance. Although Hobbes is often described as a ‘contractarian’, a theorist of the social contract, the treaty on which the position of the sovereign is supposedly founded thus turns out to be a redundant element of his thinking.
Hobbes famously posits that there can be no social life, material well‐being, or culture without subjection to, and coercion by, a sovereign:
during the time men live without a common Power to keep them all in awe, they are in that condition which is called Warre; and such a warre, as is of every man, against every man. …In such condition, there is no place for Industry, because the fruit thereof is uncertain: and consequently no Culture of the Earth; …no Arts, no Letters, no Society; and which is worst of all, continuall feare, and danger of violent death; And the life of man, solitary, poore, nasty, brutish, and short. 247
This has long become a familiar passage; but when it was new it shocked readers brought up on the notion propagated by Aristotle that man was by nature a social being, politikón zố; i on.
Hobbes compares the sovereign to the biblical Leviathan, a mythical creature from whose description in the Book of Job he quotes two verses (41.33–4): ‘There is nothing on earth, to be compared with him. He is made so as not to be afraid. Hee seeth every high thing below him; and is King of all the children of pride.’ 248 The rest of the description, (p. 442 ) not quoted by Hobbes, is quite forbidding. Oddly, too, the prophet Isaiah (27.1) predicts that ‘the lord with his sore and great and strong sword shall punish leviathan the piercing serpent, even leviathan that crooked serpent,’ and Psalm 74 praises god for delivery from this monster (verse 14: ‘Thou brakest the heads of leviathan in pieces’).
But, if an all‐powerful ruler was so desirable, why had people never yet seen one? ‘The greatest objection is, that of the Practise; when men ask, where, and when, such Power has by Subjects been acknowledged. But one may ask them again, when, or where has there been a Kingdome long free from Sedition and Civill Warre.’ 249 The implied answer to this rhetorical question is clearly: never and nowhere, as yet. Today's readers of Hobbes tend to overlook that he is presenting a vision and not describing something that was even close to being implemented in his own time, let alone in any earlier period.
Hobbes as pioneer of today's concept of statehood. In previous publications I have been guilty of downplaying Hobbes’ theory of ‘international’, or interstate, relations. I have argued that this alleged theory is limited to scattered bits and pieces, over‐interpreted or indeed misinterpreted by present‐day IR authors. Thus, I have observed that the famous passage in chapter 13 of Leviathan about the natural state of war between ‘kings and persons of sovereign authority’ speaks of relations between individuals, which cannot simply be equated with interstate relations 250 —but it can, as we shall see shortly. It is true that there are only scattered elements of a theory of interstate relations in Hobbes. Yet taken together they do add up to a coherent approach, centred on something that Hobbes at least occasionally calls 'state’ and which is largely equivalent to what is nowadays understood by that term. Moreover, Hobbes’ theory of interstate relations is indeed comparable to the present‐day ‘realist’ view of relations between autonomous actors as, at bottom, necessarily a constant struggle for power between them.
Writing in Latin, Althusius had no word for the 'state’ (paradoxically, since that word is derived from the Latin status). Instead, his generic term for the greatest autonomous political unit is consociatio universalis or universal association, which he uses alongside politia, imperium, regnum, and respublica. In his Politica, they all mean the same thing. Like Bodin, Althusius uses regnum ‘kingship’ and imperium ‘empire’ indiscriminately; Althusius moreover inveighs against the tendency of some authors to employ respublica ‘commonwealth’ as an antonym to ‘monarchy’ (a sense that has since come to prevail: ‘republic’). This refusal to look at whether power in them was shared or not to distinguish types of political association is of course in keeping with Althusius’ notion that power should as far as possible remain with the ‘people’ in any event. 251 Bodin, on the other hand, routinely uses the word état (estat) to designate political units, synonymously with république (commonwealth) and royaume (kingdom) (e.g. chapter 2.1: l'estat de France). At the same time, Bodin uses the word to designate the estates within the kingdom (e.g. in the same chapter les trois estats ‘the three estates’, i.e. burgesses, nobility, and clergy). Similarly, Hobbes routinely uses state to mean that which the sovereign is in power over—though again this is not the only meaning of the word in Hobbes.
(p. 443 ) For a long time, 'state’ and ‘estate’ were used interchangeably in English. In Leviathan we still find ‘estate’ where current usage would require 'state’: ‘the estate [=condition] of Man can never be without some incommodity or other,’ or ‘no new evill is thereby on any man Inflicted; he is onely left in the estate he was in before.’ 252 Elsewhere the word evidently means ‘government’ or ‘form of government’, as in the passage already quoted: ‘Greeks and Romanes …living under Popular States’ (where, the context makes clear, Hobbes uses ‘popular’ to render dêmokratikós in Aristotle); likewise (despite the variant spelling) in the passage ‘Monarchy …bitten to the quick, by those Democraticall writers, that continually snarle at that estate.’ Elsewhere again, Hobbes speaks of the pre‐christian supreme priest of the Romans (the pontifex maximus) as ‘an officer subject to the Civill State’. What he means is 'subject to the civil authorities’; ‘civil state’ is used several times in the chapter in question and evidently synonymous with such expressions, also employed in that chapter, as ‘civil dominion’, ‘civil sovereign’, ‘civil power’, and ‘civil laws’. 253
The Oxford English Dictionary dates the earliest use of 'state’ in the sense of ‘body politic’ to 1538. Hobbes often does employ the word in this sense, treating the 'state’ (body politic) as a bounded community, homogeneous in its subjection to a central power. Bodin clearly separates the sovereign from the 'state’ (état), in the sense of the community of the subjects. For Althusius, the people is sovereign, not the ruler. Hobbes is ambiguous. By virtue of the fictitious treaty of subjection the sovereign is both the creature of those who concluded it (even though, in practice, no one actually concluded it), and their lord—a notion already developed by Nicholas of Kues. At the beginning of his book Hobbes expressly equates both ‘commonwealth’ and 'state’ with Latin civitas ‘citizenry’, as well as with the ‘artificial’ person of the Leviathan or sovereign: ‘that great Leviathan called a Common‐wealth, or State, (in latine Civitas) which is but an Artificiall Man.’ According to Hobbes, ‘every Subject is Author of every act the Soveraign doth.’ 254
This step in the direction of the notion of corporate sovereignty (a notion absent from Bodin, but already present in Althusius) is interesting if also (again) redundant, since in the context of Hobbes’ theory nothing of substance rides on this. Perhaps the idea was to suggest some sort of ‘democratic’ legitimation of the sovereign—which it would be tempting to see as a half‐conscious nod to the monarchomachs, ‘those Democraticall writers, that continually snarle at [Monarchy]’. But elsewhere, as we saw, Hobbes is clear that the sovereign needs no legitimation other than effectiveness. For Hobbes, the sovereign might be either a single person or, less ideally, an assembly; in his text he usually treats the sovereign as a person, more concretely a man (by employing male pronouns).
All power not exercised by the ruler is still his, only delegated: ‘[N]o man but the Soveraign, receiveth his power Dei gratia simply; that is to say, from the favour of none but god: All other [sic], receive theirs from the favour and providence of god, and their Soveraigns.’ 255 The sovereign makes and unmakes the laws without being bound by them:
The Legislator in all Common‐wealths, is only the Soveraign. …The Soveraign of a Common‐wealth …is not Subject to the Civill Lawes. For having power to make, and repeale Lawes, he may when he pleaseth, free himselfe from that subjection, by repealing those Lawes that trouble him, and making of new.
For Hobbes, ‘Law, properly is the word of him that by right hath command over others.’ 256 This left no room for customary law:
When long Use obtaineth the authority of a Law, it is not the Length of Time that maketh the Authority, but the Will of the Soveraign signified by his silence. …And therefore …the Length of Time shal bring no prejudice to his Right. 257
Hobbes also disagrees with Bodin that the sovereign cannot alter the law of succession:
There is no perfect forme of Government, where the disposing of the Succession is not in the present Soveraign. 258
All of this was far removed from contemporary reality. No ancien régime monarch could afford to call in question, let alone abrogate in any very aggressive manner, the customary law followed by his subjects—and that meant the vast bulk of the law, since the kind of quasi‐perpetual and all‐encompassing legislative activity typical of today's politics was then unknown. Likewise, however much he might be called a 'sovereign’, a ruler could not easily change the law of succession that had become customary in a given kingdom or principality.
The phrase attributed to the thirteenth‐century English lawyer Henry de Bracton, lex facit regem ‘the law makes the king’, remained valid throughout the ancien régime—an empirical social fact that did not prevent Hobbes from pouring ridicule on the notion of the rule of law (and, once again, on Aristotle while he was at it). Bodin, as we saw, shied away from a radical, consistent approach in this respect: his sovereign was not supposed to touch the law of succession, or the property of his subjects even in the form of taxes, and had to expect passive resistance if his commands were deemed unethical. Hobbes, who evidently prided himself on his rigour, admits no such qualifications. His sovereign really is above the law, legibus solutus:
this is another Errour of Aristotles Politiques [Politiká 1292a: 32], that in a wel ordered Common‐wealth, not Men should govern, but the Laws. What man, that has his naturall Senses, though he can neither write nor read, does not find himself governed by them he fears, and beleeves can kill or hurt him when he obeyeth not? or that beleeves the Law can hurt him; that is, Words, and Paper, without the Hands, and Swords of men? 259
If, in Hobbes’ vision, everybody is not equal before the law, nevertheless they are necessarily equal before the sovereign.
The safety of the People, requireth further, from him, or them that have the Soveraign Power, that Justice be equally administred to all degrees of People; that is, that as well the rich, and mighty, as poor and obscure persons, may be righted of the injuries done them; so as the great, (p. 445 ) may have no greater hope of impunity, when they doe violence, dishonour, or any Injury to the meaner sort, than when one of these, does the like to one of them. …The Inequality of Subjects, proceedeth from the Acts of Soveraign Power; and therefore has no more place in the presence of the Soveraign; that is to say, in a Court of Justice, then the Inequality between Kings, and their Subjects, in the presence of the King of Kings [i.e. god]. …To Equall Justice, appertaineth also the Equall imposition of Taxes. 260
This is strikingly more close to the state of the twentieth century (or its theory, anyway) than to any real existing kingdom of the ancien régime.
Neither Bodin, nor Althusius, nor Hobbes stress any territorial aspect of political community: none of them sees the territorial dimension of politics as important in its own right. On the other hand, political community as conceived by Hobbes is, at least, clearly demarcated: individuals are or are not subjects of a given sovereign, to the same degree and with internal divisions playing no role. One may therefore assume that the community of subjects of a given sovereign is clearly bounded also in a territorial sense—it is not to be expected after all that subjects of the same sovereign will be scattered over non‐contiguous parts of the world, or intermingled with subjects of some other sovereign. Indeed Hobbes speaks of frontiers:
…Kings, and Persons of Soveraigne authority, because of their Independency, are in continuall jealousies, and in the state and posture of Gladiators; having their weapons pointing, and their eyes fixed on one another; that is, their Forts, Garrisons, and Guns upon the Frontiers of their Kingdomes; and continuall Spyes upon their neighbours; which is a posture of War.
For as amongst masterlesse men, there is perpetuall war, of every man against his neighbour. …So in States, and Common‐wealths not dependent on one another, every Common‐wealth, …has an absolute Libertie, to doe what it shall judge (that is to say, what that Man, or Assemblie that representeth it, shall judge) most conducing to their benefit. But withall, they live in the condition of a perpetuall war, and upon the confines of battel, with their frontiers armed, and canons planted against their neighbours round about. 261
Comparison of those two passages shows that Hobbes in discussing the external relations of autonomous political units switches easily between vocabulary designating individuals on the one hand and corporations on the other. Kings and other ‘persons of sovereign authority’ are equated with states and commonwealths. What nowadays seems natural enough was new to the ancien régime; it is of course logical given Hobbes’ (novel) notion that the 'sovereign’ acts for (in place of) his subjects (or they through him). The two could thus be equated, and the state anthropomorphized: ‘A Multitude of men, are made One Person, when they are by one man, or one Person, Represented.’ The reason why the sovereign can be said to represent the subjects is that they have transferred all power they may have held to him (as in ancien régime society they in fact had not). (If the sovereign is not one person but an assembly, then according to Hobbes it is (p. 446 ) the majority within that assembly that on a given issue may be taken to represent the subjects.) 262
As I said earlier, nothing in Hobbes’ theory actually rides on this equivalence established between the sovereign and the subjects; it is semantic rather than of any substantive importance for the theory. Its ideological potential however was to prove considerable: in our day, the ‘person in the street’ interviewed on the politics of their ‘country’ (meaning, in fact, government) is likely to say ‘we’ when referring to those in power, despite the fact that he or she has no influence on what the government does. (Of course, unlike Hobbes’ sovereign, the government of present‐day states is supposed to defer to the ‘will’ of the people, allegedly expressed by means of elections. But that, too, is a form of words rather than a substantive assertion. At best, elections will have some limited influence on the identity of those in power—limited in that candidates not backed by the political establishment stand no chance—but only in the most indirect and tenuous manner on their decision‐making.) Hobbes effectively treats the sovereign—a person—as if he were the state; but with that equivalence once established it is just as easy to speak of the state as if it were a person. The idea or, perhaps more appropriately, the ideology of the 'state’ as a unitary political actor, which, therefore, may be equated with a person (and, in effect, its government), is a core element of the ideology of the state in the twentieth century and thus, of course, of IR ‘realism’. 263
On the basis of this conception of autonomous political units, Hobbes sketches a view of interstate relations that seems largely familiar to the early twenty‐first century—because key elements of his thinking suffuse present‐day political culture, which was not the case in his own time. Hobbes thus speaks, as we do nowadays, of (‘foreign’) 'states’ and ‘nations’, of the decision on war and peace belonging to the central power (government), represented by such personnel as ‘ambassadors’ (though to be sure ‘ambassadors’ in the seventeenth century were not quite the same thing as what are so designated now, nor are ‘messengers’ or ‘heralds’ used any longer):
[There] is annexed to the Soveraignty, the right of making Warre, and Peace with other Nations, and Common‐wealths. 264
Publique Ministers abroad, are those that represent the Person of their own Soveraign, to forraign States. Such are Ambassadors, Messengers, Agents, and Heralds, sent by publique Authoritie, and on publique Businesse. 265
A key tenet of Hobbes’ theory of interstate relations is that they are characterized by a perpetual if sometimes latent state of war, with actors forever waiting for opportunities to outmanoeuvre one another in a zero‐sum game. In this game, those without power lead a precarious existence.
And in all places, where men have lived by small Families [which Hobbes regards as the natural form of human community], to robbe and spoyle one another, has been a Trade, and so farre from being reputed against the Law of Nature, that the greater spoyles they gained, the greater was their honour. …And as small Familyes did then; so now do Cities and Kingdomes which (p. 447 ) are but greater Families (for their own security) enlarge their Dominions, upon all pretences of danger, and fear of Invasion, or assistance that may be given to Invaders, endeavour as much as they can, to subdue, or weaken their neighbours, by open force, and secret arts, for want of other Caution, justly; and are remembred for it in after ages with honour. 266
forraign Common‐wealths; who in order to the good of their own Subjects let slip few occasions to weaken the estate [= position? government? state?] of their Neighbours. 267
And as for very little Common‐wealths, …there is no humane wisdome can uphold them, longer then the Jealousy lasteth of their potent Neighbours. 268
The last sentence seems to imply that units incapable of defending themselves only remain in existence because of a stand‐off, a balance of power, between stronger units that begrudge each other the expansion resulting from absorption of weaker units. Equilibrist thinking is also found elsewhere in the book:
The Multitude sufficient to confide in for our Security, is not determined by any certain number, but by comparison with the Enemy we feare; and is then sufficient, when the odds of the Enemy is not of so visible and conspicuous moment, to determine the event of warre, as to move him to attempt. 269
Since, for Hobbes, law can only either be natural law or consist of the enforceable decrees of the sovereign, there can of course be no ‘international law’. ‘Where there is no common Power, there is no Law: where no Law, no Injustice,’ 270 Hobbes remarks with regard to individuals—but by the logic of his theory the phrase is fully applicable to 'states’ as well: they are in the pre‐social state of nature in which only natural law applies. This, for Hobbes, means that anything is allowed in order to ensure one's survival. In the traditional view of the period, natural law comprised rules of coexistence and of the treatment of others to be found among all humans (hence the traditional identification of natural law with the ‘law of [all] nations’, ius gentium). Hobbes rejects that tradition and redefines the concept completely. He retains the notion that natural law is what reason dictates, but, for him, this is not respect for others (or their lives, property, etc.), but only respect for oneself.
A LawOf Nature, (Lex Naturalis,) is a Precept, or generall Rule, found out by Reason, by which a man is forbidden to do, that, which is destructive of his life, or taketh away the means of preserving the same; and to omit, that, by which he thinketh it may be best preserved. …The Right Of Nature, which Writers commonly call Jus Naturale, is the Liberty each man hath, to use his own power, as he will himselfe, for the preservation of his own Nature; that is to say, of his own Life; and consequently, of doing any thing, which in his own Judgment, and Reason, hee shall conceive to be the aptest means thereunto. 271
This natural law, in the sense of a natural right to defend one's own existence without regard for others, ends as soon as there is a sovereign to take over the protection of individuals that hitherto they had to ensure themselves. Between sovereigns (states) (p. 448 ) it subsists. In this context Hobbes explicitly draws a parallel between individuals and sovereigns/commonwealths.
Concerning the Offices of one Soveraign to another, which are comprehended in that Law, which is commonly called the Law of Nations [=ius gentium], I need not say any thing in this place; because the Law of Nations, and the Law of Nature, is the same thing. And every Soveraign hath the same Right, in procuring the safety of his People, that any particular man can have, in procuring the safety of his own Body. And the same Law, that dictateth to men that have no Civil Government, what they ought to do, and what to avoyd in regard of one another, dictateth the same to Common‐wealths, that is to the Consciences of Soveraign Princes, and Soveraign Assemblies. 272
…every Common‐wealth, …has an absolute Libertie, to doe what it shall judge (that is to say, what that Man, or Assemblie that representeth it, shall judge) most conducing to their benefit. 273
Hobbes’ image of interstate relations: not analysis, but ideology. Hobbes’ depiction of interstate politics is derived not from empirical observation of Hobbes’ own present or of the past (there is no discussion of historical events in Leviathan), but from a desire to justify a radical normative political theory, an ideology. Hobbes needs the state of war between individuals that he posits to legitimize his omnipotent sovereign. It is only because individuals are irredeemably evil, and incapable of constructive coexistence, that depriving them of all freedom can be defended at all.
Inevitably, such a radical stance must provoke doubts. Are men really so bad? Hobbes counters such doubts by adducing various observations from everyday life (Leviathan, chapter 13). The comparison between pre‐social ordinary individuals and ‘kings, and persons of sovereign authority’ is the capstone of this reasoning. If readers still hesitated to accept that a state of nature as described by Hobbes ever actually existed, all they had to do was look at the relations between sovereigns, who for the purpose of the argument had the merit of still existing when other pre‐social individuals at least in Europe did not. In fact, Hobbes himself was so little troubled by the prospect of foreign war that he saw no need for ending the state of nature as between kings by creating a global Leviathan.
Kings, and Persons of Soveraigne authority …are …in the state and posture of Gladiators; …which is a posture of War. But because they uphold thereby, the Industry of their Subjects; there does not follow from it, that misery, which accompanies the Liberty of particular men. 274
Hobbes even thought that the state of war might be a good thing to prevent domestic strife: ‘when there is no common enemy, they [the multitude] make warre upon each other, for their particular interests’; and again: ‘no great Popular [i.e. democratic] Commonwealth was ever kept up; but [e.g.] by a forraign Enemy that united them.’ 275 One may wonder, of course, how it can even be that a commonwealth lacks a ‘foreign enemy’, if it is true that it is automatically in a state of war with its neighbours.
(p. 449 ) Hobbes’ image of interstate relations is no more based on an analysis of real social phenomena than his depiction of domestic society as characterized by universal unconditional subjection to the prince, or his contention that humans could only be in one of two situations: war of all against all or complete subjection. We have seen that, in fact, western civilization has known stages dominated by forms of cooperative social organization rather than rule, such as notably the Greek pólis; nor were the towns that played such a crucial role in the evolution of Latin christendom after the turn of the millennium based on subjection in their internal organization. In rejecting the notion that laws could be effective in the absence of a coercive central power Hobbes is historically wrong: as noted there was no such power for example in Greek society, which nevertheless found laws useful. Closer in time to Hobbes, Althusius paints a more realistic picture of seventeenth‐century society as a complex conglomerate of nested communities each of which retained considerable autonomy—on which more in Section 4.4 of this chapter.
Concerning the domestic situation, Hobbes himself concedes explicitly that his vision is utopian, an ideal that would not become reality until people had grasped Hobbes’ theory. Hobbes hoped that this would happen:
considering how different this [Hobbes’] Doctrine is, from the Practise of the greatest part of the world, especially of these Western parts, that have received their Morall learning from Rome, and Athens; and how much depth of Morall Philosophy is required, in them that have the Administration of the Soveraign Power; I am at the point of believing this my labour, as uselesse, as the Common‐wealth [‘Republic’] of Plato; For he also is of opinion that it is impossible for the disorders of State, and change of Governments by Civill Warre, ever to be taken away, till Soveraigns be Philosophers. But when I consider again, that …neither Plato, nor any other Philosopher hitherto, hath put into order, and sufficiently, or probably proved all the Theoremes of Morall doctrine, that men may learn thereby, both how to govern, and how to obey; I recover some hope. 276
By contrast, Hobbes presents his view of interstate relations as grounded in reality: the alleged state of war, and thus the state of nature, among kings is presented as empirical evidence of what would be the situation of all individuals were there no kings. However, the contention that there is indeed a permanent state of war between kings only works by virtue of some semantic legerdemain: ‘the nature of War, consisteth not in actuall fighting; but in the known disposition thereto, during all the time there is no assurance to the contrary.’ 277 This is not a very useful notion (useful, that is, other than for Hobbes’ advocacy of a strong sovereign): no matter how long an absence of violent conflict lasts, or between how many sovereigns, by this definition it is still war since no one can guarantee its further continuance. Even a pledge by sovereigns to abstain from war, or indeed an alliance between them, could not end the state of war between them, since for Hobbes a treaty that cannot be enforced has no value: ‘Covenants, without the Sword, are but Words, and of no strength to secure a man at all.’ As with the state of war, this kind of assertion may be said to be corroborated in logic if one treaty out of a hundred is broken; and yet this defies common sense. 278
(p. 450 ) 4.4 The reality of late ancien régime society
And now, at the beginning of our reign, we can give our beloved estates of the realm and all its inhabitants no more forceful and convincing proof of our sincere good will than by expressing, along with them, rightful displeasure and fitting distaste for what is called sovereignty or an unlimited royal monopoly on power [ett rättvist misshag och billig osmak för den så kallade souveräneteten eller det oinskränkte konungslige enväldet], by whose effects the realm has, in manifold ways, been harmed, diminished, crippled, and almost emptied of people. Therefore, both for ourselves and for our successors we do hereby altogether abolish, quash, outlaw, and undo this noxious monopoly on power now and for all time to come. We declare, as the estates of the realm have likewise done, that whoever, by open violence or covert intrigue, aims to secure such a monopoly on power shall forfeit the throne and be regarded an enemy of the realm. 279
In this fashion Ulrika Eleonora of Sweden, on her accession to the throne in 1719, forswore what to many among her subjects was clearly an enemy ideology. The passage from her konungaförsäkring or ‘royal pledge’ (a declaration traditionally part of the accession procedure) shows that the thinking of the monarchomachs could still score points in the early eighteenth century against the tide of ‘absolutism’. The rejection of ‘absolutism’ in Sweden owed much to historical contingency. The Swedish rulers of the second half of the seventeenth century and the beginning of the eighteenth managed to come ever closer to the envälde or monopoly on power condemned in the 1719 text, but eventually overreached themselves in their foreign relations. Much of the territory gained was lost again when a new opponent arose in the shape of the Russian czar, Peter I. Successful in his determination to obtain access to the Baltic, from which his predecessors had been cut off, he brought to that region resources and a geostrategic advantage—a vast hinterland—that the Swedish crown could not match, despite massive efforts that led king Charles XII to fight battles as far away as Ukraine. Meanwhile, the czar was building his grand new capital, Saint Petersburg, on the very shore of the Baltic, in what had until recently been Swedish territory.
When Charles XII was killed in a siege, the Swedish estates, assembled in the Riksdag or diet of the realm, elected his sister Ulrika Eleonora to succeed him, but imposed limitations on the power of the crown which her konungaförsäkring reflects. Henceforth, and until the new system was overthrown in its turn by king Gustav III in 1772, the Swedish crown could do virtually nothing without the consent of the estates. It was decidedly not sovereign: no one in Sweden was. Eighteenth‐century Sweden is often belittled by historians as narrow‐minded domestically and timid and weak in terms of its foreign relations, and contrasted unfavourably with the aggressive ‘great power’ of the preceding period. Yet contrary to what Hobbes would have his readers believe, it does not appear that life in Sweden was any less safe in the absence of a sovereign than under the envälde system. It was certainly more peaceful in that far fewer men were sent to their deaths on foreign battlefields.
In what follows, I propose to compare the social and political organization in the late ancien régime of two countries, of which one, France, is generally assumed to have been fairly similar to a 'state’ as we know it, whereas the other, Germany, is ordinarily depicted as having failed to develop in that direction. In reality, until the French Revolution both (p. 451 ) countries conformed to a paradigm of social and political organization quite different from today's state, from which even in the late eighteenth century both were further removed than, for all their dissimilarities, they were from each other. One salient feature of this paradigm is that no central power in the ancien régime had effective domestic sovereignty, or presided over a unified, centralized polity. Power was shared between the crown and other actors, both at the centre (where, most notably, the German crown faced the Reichstag, and the French crown the formidable Parlement de Paris, though in neither case was the relationship one of pure opposition), and locally. To function, the crown and those other actors had to work together. They could also block each other: instances from German history could easily be adduced, but not the least striking example of this phenomenon is the domestic paralysis of late eighteenth‐century France that led up to the events of 1789.
4.4.1 Germany in the ancien régime 280
Ancien régime Germany always remained a country where the crown as such was weak—despite some important prerogatives that the emperor always retained, and even if in his capacity as ruler of the hereditary provinces of his dynasty he was a major European player. But the weakness of the crown far from rendered it unimportant in German politics. Its main function was to embody and bestow legitimacy. Inherited from the pre‐Reformation period and deeply anchored in the political culture, its mystic prestige remained enormous. It may be that in the age of enlightenment the charisma of the crown began, in some circles, to wear thin. Yet the complex social, political, and legal structures that had come to be built around it trapped even the most cynical actors (like Frederic II of Prussia) in a tight web that they could not destroy without danger to themselves. It is no accident that until 1804 no German princes tried to secede from the empire, not even Frederic II—whose title to nearly all his dominions presupposed the legal framework of the empire and the legitimacy it bestowed, since they were imperial fiefs. Conversely, it is no accident, either, that those who did secede were no princes—the Dutch and the Swiss (and as we shall see, even they were strikingly reluctant to let go of the prestige and legitimacy radiating from the crown).
The complementary set‐up characteristic of ancien régime politics is easily discernible in the German case. Power was divided between the centre—formed by common institutions, which in Germany included the crown, the Reichstag or imperial diet, and the two supreme courts—and other actors, most prominent among whom, in Germany, were the princes. However, as we shall see, the myriad local lords, quite independent of those princes, played a key role, too. Taken separately, almost all of them—meaning not just local lords, but princes, too—were weak; even among the most powerful princes few were at all formidable. But to look at them separately precisely misses the point of how the system operated. It is perhaps worth noting that no more than in eighteenth‐century Sweden did the absence of a strong central executive lead to any insecurity. There was no standing army at the disposal of the emperor (in his capacity as such) or, until the eighteenth century, of most princes. Yet the country remained far from the apocalyptic (p. 452 ) vision put forward by Nicholas of Kues, for whom in such conditions ‘no one was safe’. From the sixteenth century onwards, almost all warfare that took place in Germany was linked to conflict in the European system as a whole. For most of the period, the country was little affected by political or criminal violence. Feuds petered out in the sixteenth century as they did elsewhere—not so much (if at all) as a result of coercion, but due to the ‘transformation of the social episteme’ discussed earlier: faced with the growing prestige and resources of princes and the widening gulf separating them from minor lords, the latter came to see greater promise in seeking princely favour and patronage than in armed self‐help.
It is normal for historians to apply the term 'state’ to political structures under princely rule within Germany, rather than to the Holy Roman Empire. This is especially true of the dominions of powerful princes, such as, most notably, ‘Prussia’. Yet what sounds like the name of some sort of ‘country’ is actually shorthand, in eighteenth‐century usage, for the title ‘king of Prussia’, or ‘the court of Prussia’, after the elector of Brandenburg acquired his royal title in 1701. It designates not one territory but a whole bunch, of which Prussia proper was only a small part. If any actors within the Holy Roman Empire came close to forming something akin to a state as we know it, surely it would have been mighty ‘Prussia’—so let us look at this seemingly ‘hard’ case in more detail.
When the emperor Sigismund, in 1415, enfeoffed Friedrich von Hohenzollern, steward of the imperial castle at Nürnberg, with the margraviate of Brandenburg, that lordship had seen better days. During the preceding century, it had changed hands often, with the various holders of the margraviate all foreign to the region. Frequently short of funds, they would sell or pawn lands belonging to the margraviate rather than lands that their dynasty had held for longer and considered part of its core territory. Nevertheless, the margraviate remained important enough for its ruler to be an ‘elector’, one of the seven princes whose right to choose the emperor was confirmed by the Golden Bull of 1356.
Like any other princely family of the ancien régime, the Hohenzollern dynasty ‘collected’ dominions. Newly established at Berlin (which they made their capital), they sought to regain lands previously part of the margraviate, though of course they also seized the opportunity to expand elsewhere if it presented itself. As usual in the ancien régime, law trumped military might here. The latter could be useful, but in a highly legalistic political system like the Holy Roman Empire it was not, by a long way, as useful as money. Often, what was purchased was an expectancy, which would fall due on the death of the current holder. Hohenzollern purchases included the lordship of Cottbus in 1445, the Neumark (New March) north of the river Warthe (Warta) in 1455, the lordship of Zossen in 1490, and the county of Ruppin in 1524. In 1535, the Land Sternberg (the area around Sternberg, now Torzym), the lordship of Krossen (Krosno), and the lordship of Züllichau (Sulechów) were added to the Neumark. (Where a place name is given in Polish as well as in German, the place in question is situated east of the Oder‐Neisse line and thus now in Poland.) The lordship of Beeskow and Storkow was purchased in 1555/8. After the Reformation, the bishoprics of the region—Brandenburg‐an‐der‐Havel, Fürstenwalde, and Havelberg—came under the control of Hohenzollern ‘administrators’ and in the late sixteenth century were incorporated in the margraviate. (In the Holy Roman Empire bishops were secular princes as well as church functionaries.)
After this, a main vehicle of Hohenzollern expansion became inheritance. In 1614, the elector inherited the duchy of Kleve (Cleves), the county of Mark, and the county of (p. 453 ) Ravensberg, and in 1618 the duchy of Prussia. In 1637, he would normally have inherited the duchy of Pomerania, but it was the middle of the Thirty Years War and the duchy was occupied by the Swedes, who had a mind to stay. In the Peace of Westphalia of 1648, the duchy was divided: to his chagrin, the Brandenburg elector only got the eastern half, while the western half remained Swedish. The elector in fact received generous compensation from bishoprics that the catholic church at last gave up for good, agreeing to their transformation into purely secular fiefs that could be held by protestant princes. The bishoprics of Halberstadt, Kammin (Kamień Pomorski), Magdeburg, and Minden thus came to augment the Hohenzollern dominions. In 1701, the elector, with the consent of the emperor, adopted the title king of Prussia—the duchy of Prussia, whose capital was Königsberg (now Kaliningrad), was outside the empire: originally it was under Polish suzerainty, but in the seventeenth century a quitclaim was obtained by the elector. In 1702, the king received the principality of Neuenburg (Neuchâtel), the county of Lingen, and the county of Moers out of the legacy of his relative William of Orange, king of Britain.
In 1707, the county of Tecklenburg was purchased (and Moers raised to the status of principality by the emperor). A few years later, in the Peace of Utrecht the king was awarded a portion of the former duchy of Guelders bordering on Cleves and Moers. Never reconciled to the loss of western Pomerania to the Swedes, already in 1675 the elector had vainly tried to conquer it. It was only after the military disaster of the Great Northern War that, in 1720, the Swedish crown ceded part of western Pomerania to the king of Prussia (it kept the rest until the early nineteenth century). In 1740, young king Frederic II had no sooner mounted the throne than he exploited the succession crisis in the house of Habsburg to annex Silesia by force. In 1744, he inherited the principality (in Althusius’ day, county) of East Frisia. In 1772, part of the kingdom of Poland was divided up, without a war, between Frederic, the czarina Catherine II, and the empress Maria Theresa. Finally, in 1780 the king inherited part of the county of Mansfeld.
The dominions listed were by no means all contiguous. In the late eighteenth century, they consisted of no less than nine distinct non‐contiguous dominions or clusters of dominions, without taking into account 'splinters’ (for example, the town of Krefeld on the lower Rhine formed part of the principality of Moers, but was separated from the rest of the principality by territory belonging to the elector‐archbishop of Cologne, within which it formed an enclave). Without crossing ‘foreign’ territory, from the margraviate of Brandenburg proper it was possible, in the eighteenth century, to reach the Neumark, Silesia, Magdeburg, Halberstadt, and Pomerania. Part of the territory belonging to Magdeburg was geographically separated from the rest, but contiguous with the part of Mansfeld that the king inherited in 1780. It was only by virtue of the annexation of part of the kingdom of Poland in 1772 that the duchy of Prussia was linked geographically with the margraviate and the surrounding dominions. In western Germany, Ravensberg (around Bielefeld) bordered on Minden, Lingen bordered on Tecklenburg, and Cleves bordered on Moers and Guelders, but those three clusters remained geographically separate from each other. Completely without any geographical link to any other dominions forming part of Brandenburg‐Prussia were the lordship of Cottbus to the south of the margraviate of Brandenburg, East Frisia on the North Sea coast, the county of Mark (in western Germany, with towns like Gelsenkirchen, Bochum, Hagen, Hamm), and Neuenburg (Neuchâtel, in Switzerland—it formed part of Prussia until 1857, when it became a Swiss canton). Note also that of all those dominions only one—Silesia—was (p. 454 ) acquired by conquest. It could be argued that the acquisition of part of western Pomerania was due to the participation of the king of Prussia in the Great Northern War, and that the acquistion of some Polish territory in 1772 was likewise owed to military force even if there was no war. Even so, the bulk of ancien régime Brandenburg‐Prussia consisted of dominions assembled by peaceful means.
They did not form a centralized, unified state until after the end of the ancien régime. Contiguous or not, all of those dominions remained separate political entities, with their own local law and their own political institutions (most notably, their own estates). It is true that there might be a degree of cooperation between some of them if they were situated close to each other. For example, although, even in the eighteenth century, the estates of the duchy of Cleves and those of the county of Mark (non‐contiguous dominions, as we saw) remained separate bodies, they coordinated their activities. In both dominions, the assembly of the estates consisted of two separate councils comprising the gentry on the one hand, the towns on the other. In the eighteenth century, all four councils met annually in the town of Cleves, usually in November, but deliberated separately. At least they presumably listened jointly to the royal Proposition, read by a representative of the king and which indicated what the king wanted them to vote on. In little Moers, on the other hand, the estates assembled separately even though the principality was contiguous with Cleves. They were also organized differently, comprising all those who owned inherited rural property within the territory (thus excluding ‘foreign’ buyers of land at least in the first generation, but including peasants, not represented in Cleves or Mark). 281
The king had a joint ‘privy government’ (Geheime Regierung) for Cleves and Mark headed by a president (Präsident), with a separate ‘government’ and president for Moers. With the possible exception of the president, the members of the ‘government’ did not come from Berlin but were local notables. In the case of Cleves‐Mark, like the Imperial Aulic Council in Vienna it was formed by a ‘noble bench’ (Adelsbank) made up of noblemen (here, members of the local gentry), and a 'scholars’ bench’ (Gelehrtenbank) made up of non‐noble persons with formal legal training; both benches had the same weight. Contrary to what its name might lead one to believe, and like the Aulic Council, the ‘government’ was essentially (though not exclusively) a law court; the same seems to have been true of its counterparts in other dominions of the king at least in western Germany, though they were organized differently.
In the eighteenth century, the actual administration of dominions like Cleves, Mark, or Moers fell to bodies called the Kriegs‐ und Domänenkammer or ‘military and demesne chamber’ (demesne chamber for short), established in an attempt by the king to instil a degree of homogeneity into the running of his dominions. The demesne chamber seems to have been organized in more or less uniform fashion throughout the Hohenzollern dominions, and it often had responsibility for several dominions that in other respects remained separate. Thus, when the new system was created in 1723, there was only one demesne chamber for Cleves, Mark, and Moers. Likewise, a single chamber was set up for Ravensberg and Minden, and in 1769 it was merged with that previously responsible for Lingen and Tecklenburg (conversely, however, in 1788 a separate demesne chamber was set up for Mark). Since what the king did with his demesne—local lordships and estates held directly by the crown—was considered essentially his own affair, he was (p. 455 ) more free here to disregard boundaries between dominions. The ‘government’ of adjacent dominions might also be merged; thus, in 1719 the Ravensberg government was united with the one at Minden in order to save money.
However, the estates of Minden, Ravensberg, Lingen, and Tecklenburg always remained separate, clearly because that was what they preferred. In Minden, a territory formerly ruled by the bishops of Minden, the Landtag, the assembly of the estates, in the eighteenth century convened at no fixed interval, but at least annually and up to three times in some years. A meeting of the Landtag had simply to be signalled to the demesne chamber, not authorized by it. The Landtag consisted of two councils, made up respectively of the cathedral chapter and the local gentry. The latter, besides thirty‐three holders of specified rural property, also comprised a catholic Benedictine abbot, a protestant commander—Komtur—of the order of Saint John, and the (male) representatives of three protestant ladies’ convents. The canons of the cathedral chapter were noblemen, but, unlike the gentry, often from outside the territory. If they died in even months, their successor was appointed by the chapter, but prebends that fell vacant in uneven months were filled by the elector/king. The 1648 Peace of Westphalia laid down that until the religious schism between catholics and protestants was resolved peacefully, all dominions and ecclesiastical institutions in the empire (with the exception of the Habsburg hereditary provinces) would remain divided up between them in the way found to have existed on 1 January 1624. Not at all untypically, at Minden it turned out that on that day there had been eleven catholic canons in the cathedral chapter and seven protestant ones, and thus the situation remained until the end of the ancien régime.
In transferring Minden to the elector of Brandenburg, the 1648 peace also gave him the right to one quarter of the canons’ prebends at the death of their current holders. In fact, the relevant provisions are somewhat unclear. About Minden, the peace treaty only says that the elector was to have it on the same terms as the bishopric of Halberstadt. Concerning Halberstadt, the treaty awards him one quarter of the prebends (quarta pars canonicatuum), with the proviso that catholic prebends would only be suppressed if there were not enough protestant prebends—indicating that the drafters of the treaty actually envisaged a reduction not only of the endowment but also of the number of canons. The actual number of prebends is not stated in the treaty for either bishopric. 282
At Halberstadt there were sixteen, but at Minden eighteen, so the number was not in fact divisible by four. The elector seems to have decided early on not to suppress any prebends at all, but simply to claim one quarter of their total endowment. The Minden canons, however, simply ignored repeated requests by the elector to provide him with an inventory of their endowment, until, in 1662, he sequestrated their possessions. Thereupon an inventory was furnished, but turned out to be incomplete. In 1665, the elector nevertheless made a treaty with the chapter by which the canons paid him 27,000 Taler and he declared himself satisfied. But he clearly was not—which is not difficult to understand seeing that in 1662 the Halberstadt canons, in a similar treaty, had actually paid him 100,000 Taler, even though that territory was hardly bigger and the number of prebends, smaller.
Evidently, he despaired of prevailing on the recalcitrant canons at least for the time being and took what he could get, but in 1684 he tried again. The chapter, on the other (p. 456 ) hand, considered its treaty to be final and legally unchallengeable and saw no reason to enter into new negotiations. It stuck to that view when king Frederic I made another attempt in 1711 and king Frederic William did so again in 1720. Unlike his two predecessors, however, Frederic William decided not to give in. As the chapter would not reveal details of its endowment, the king had it researched: in an elaborate inquiry interviewers were sent out to find and question all those who owed the canons dues or services both inside and outside the territory. Dues in kind and services were assigned an estimated equivalent money value, and the total assumed to represent 4 per cent interest on the total capital of the endowment. By this means, that total was calculated: in 1721, an irate king informed the canons that the quarter of their wealth that actually belonged to him amounted to 116,803 Taler and that the 1665 treaty was thus fraudulent and invalid.
As the chapter saw it, the result of the inquiry was legally irrelevant. A treaty had been agreed on, which the king could not now revoke unilaterally. His doing so was a breach of the law, and the chapter intended to have this view confirmed by the highest authority in the land. This was not Frederic William who, in law, was king only of Prussia proper; Minden was a fief of the Holy Roman Empire and in his capacity as possessor of that fief the king was answerable to the emperor. The canons therefore filed suit against the king before the Imperial Aulic Council in Vienna. In principle, the step taken by the canons was not unusual. Anyone in the empire could sue their prince before one of the two supreme courts of the empire, the Imperial Aulic Council and the Imperial Cameral Tribunal (at Wetzlar near Frankfurt‐am‐Main), which dealt with such cases all the time. Nevertheless, it was not every day that they heard complaints against the king of Prussia. At this time, both councils of the Minden estates, the chapter and the gentry, received an annual payment of 300 Taler from the king, the so‐called Dispositionsgelder or discretionary funds. The draft of a royal rescript of 1721 concerning disbursement of this money is crossed out, with a handwritten remark underneath in the earthy German characteristic of its author: ‘Are not to have any more discretionary funds until the quarter issue is settled. The bastards have filed suit in Vienna. F.W.’ 283
Early in the following year, the king composed an ‘instruction’ for his successor—the future Frederic II, as yet only ten—in which he passes his dominions in review and gives advice on how to treat the local ‘vassals’, a text remarkable for its eccentric spelling and the frank, mostly unflattering manner in which the king describes his subjects. Thus, according to Frederic William, the ‘vassals’ of Cleves and Mark were ‘dumb oxen but malicious like the devil [dume oxen aber Malicieus wie der deuffel]’; likewise, the ‘vassals’ of Minden (lumped together with those of Ravensberg, Tecklenburg, and Lingen), were ‘dumb and opinionated’. The king warns his successor that he would not be able ‘to employ them much because they are too lazy to serve’, but concedes that they are ‘not as bad as those of the Altmark’ (the ‘Old March’, an area west of Berlin). 284 Frederic William clearly had it in for the latter: they were
wicked disobedient people who show no good will in anything but are refractory and are right frivolous people in their behaviour towards their prince. My dear successor must keep his thumb (p. 457 ) on their eyes and not treat them well. …This will show them that you mean to be master and they must be vassals and must have no share in your power. 285
Among the ‘vassals’ of the Altmark, the king singles out the von der Schulenburg, von Alvensleben, and von Bismarck families as the ‘chiefest and worst [die vornehmeste und schlimmste]’. Apart from a quick temper, such utterances evidently indicate a ‘will to power’ on the part of the king. But it is also clear that the ‘vassals’ or lesser lords of the territory had no intention simply to move over. On the contrary, the ‘vassals’ of the Altmark, at least, apparently considered that by rights they should share in the power of the prince.
It seems that the complaint by the Minden canons had an effect: in January 1722, at more or less the same time as he was working on the text quoted above (January/February 1722), the king softened his stance. In conciliatory wording he offered to abandon his claim if the chapter would donate a portion of its endowment to the military orphanage that the king had established at Potsdam. Yet again the canons refused, and the king thereupon confiscated some of their property in favour of the orphanage. As this does not appear to have been researched, one can only speculate why the canons evidently desisted from pressing their complaint before the Aulic Council, which it seems was withdrawn at some point. It could be something to do with the fact that the complaint came at a politically inopportune time for the emperor. Frederic William was, in fact, quite loyal to Vienna, and the emperor, Charles VI of Habsburg, had no sons and was extremely keen to have his daughter Maria Theresa recognized as his heiress and her future husband as emperor‐designate. Frederic William recognized this arrangement in 1726 (secret treaty of Wusterhausen) and again in 1728 (treaty of Berlin) in return for a promise by the emperor to support his claim to the succession of the duchy of Berg (which he did not get—one reason why his son Frederic II annexed Silesia, or so he claims in his Histoire de mon temps). In this, for the emperor, highly sensitive situation pressure may well have been brought to bear on the canons not to insist on their complaint. Not that they ever acquiesced in their loss: they last raised the issue in Berlin in 1802, shortly before the Reichstag, in 1803, passed a law suppressing ecclesiastical endowments in favour of the local prince and thus pulling the rug from under the canons’ feet.
Meanwhile, payment of the discretionary funds to the Minden gentry resumed in 1727 and to the chapter in 1736, even though it seems that for the remainder of his reign Frederic William refused all direct communication with the canons. Thus it was that when he was succeeded by his son, Frederic II, in 1740, the new king was only greeted by the gentry, not by the chapter, in a written address thanking him for the confirmation of their rights and privileges. Those rights and privileges were pretty much typical. The estates voted the taxes levied in the countryside—not the Akzise or excise levied in the towns, which were considered part of the princely demesne, but, it would appear, the Contribution, a direct tax paid by the population of the countryside (not of the towns), though not (except in Prussia proper and in Silesia) by the local lords themselves. They were to be consulted on all measures concerning the territory. They insisted on what (p. 458 ) was called the Indigenat, the appointment to local administrative posts only of persons native to the territory, and were normally consulted on any such appointment. All those rights were by and large respected by the king, even though in the 1740 address the Minden gentry admonish the king to respect the rights of the estates somewhat more scrupulously with regard to taxation. 286
Compared with nineteenth‐century, let alone twentieth‐century bureaucracies the central administration of an ancien régime kingdom tended to be minute. True, the kind of abstract discussion of the evolution and tasks of the various branches of the administration of Brandenburg‐Prussia provided by historians tends to project the image of a purposeful, fairly complex machinery. But what was the reality on the ground? King Frederic II for years was barely on speaking terms with the president of the Brandenburg demesne chamber, Carl Ludwig von Siegroth (in office 1766–82), but did not remove him. Things got off to an inauspicious start when Siegroth, freshly appointed, complained to the king that working conditions for the chamber, housed in the Berlin royal palace, were impossible. Siegroth found that it was
restricted to single room …where the requisite conferences and committee meetings of different departments are held simultaneously. …Despite the fact that unnecessary papers have previously been removed …the registry, which concerning demesne affairs also includes the archive, is now so full of indispensable dossiers and documents that for lack of space nothing can be separated properly, and the most important things thus often take several days to find, and sometimes cannot be found at all.
Siegroth also observed that the ‘chief tax office’ (Ober Steuer Casse) likewise disposed only of a single room, so small that the staff did not know where to put the ‘money chests’. Siegroth asked for at least one additional room—which, out of a total of some 1,200 which the royal palace (demolished in 1950) is said to have contained, should not have been all that difficult to find. But in his reply Frederic acerbically informed Siegroth that
I cannot possibly give over the entire palace to serve as chancery [office space] for the chamber. You just have to examine the papers properly, and put aside any unnecessary stuff and have it burned, and then the present storage containers will no doubt be more than sufficient for what remains. 287
Frederic II ‘the Great’ is an icon of ‘Prussia’, a name itself associated by popular cliché with discipline and efficiency. Treating eighteenth‐century ‘Prussia’ as a ‘great power’, conventional historiography lets us imagine Frederic as served by a well‐oiled governmental machinery worthy of such a successful 'state’. Though anecdotal, the exchange between Siegroth and Frederic should at least warn us not to assume too much in this respect. It is striking that the ‘chief tax office’ mentioned by Siegroth apparently handled payments in the shape of actual coins, when one would expect (p. 459 ) the central administration to deal only in more abstract transactions. Were we to become curious what the coins in those ‘money chests’ may have looked like, we would find that eighteenth‐century ‘Prussia’ had neither a currency of its own nor a single currency. The basic currency unit was the Reichstaler, common to the Holy Roman Empire (but used beyond—indeed the word Taler became ‘dollar’ in English). Thus the Berlin mint—identified by a small capital ‘A’ on the coins—under Frederic II emitted silver coins with the bust of the king and the legend fridericvs borvssorvm rex, ‘Frederic King of the Prussians’, and on the reverse the Brandenburg eagle with the legend ein reichs thaler (the specimen to which I refer bears the date 1765). The prefix Reichs‐ in eighteenth‐century German unambiguously refers to the Holy Roman Empire: no pretence of a separate currency here. Moreover, the way the Taler—spelled nowadays without the h—was divided varied between dominions, as did the coins circulating there (many of those dominions had their own mint). In the margraviate of Brandenburg the Taler corresponded to twenty‐four Groschen of twelve Pfennige each, in Prussia proper to ninety Groschen of three Schillinge each, in the Rhenish dominions to sixty Stüber of eight Deut each, and so forth, evidently reflecting local traditions. A unified system was not introduced until 1821; it was still based on the old Reichstaler.
But we should go further and ask why it was that Frederic could be so nonchalant: if the system, somehow, worked when a present‐day state, in similar conditions, would not, what was it that made it different from a present‐day state? The royal administration did not take up much space because it was in part decentralized (with, for example, not just one demesne chamber but several and only a minimum of central oversight); much of the work that the demesne administration might have done itself was actually left to lessees, who rented the royal estates; and what was not part of the demesne largely ran itself, rather impervious to, but also un‐requiring of, any input from the central power. The last point may be the most important: whereas in a present‐day state the central government has equal responsibility for, and concomitantly equal power over, the entire territory, that was far from the case in the ancien régime.
Cartographic representation of ancien régime political geography is often only possible at the price of radical simplification that presses period phenomena into the mould of present‐day concepts of social and political structures (it may be significant that ancien régime mapmakers on the whole did not colour in territory but only marked its limits in colour). Thus, whereas on a present‐day historical map the margraviate of Brandenburg will appear as a homogeneously coloured territory, it would in fact look like a Swiss cheese if the demesne were distinguished from local lordships not held by the elector/king. Efforts by the Berlin government to bring the lordships of the margraviate under tighter control persistently failed even in the eighteenth century. 288 In 1805, the margraviate of Brandenburg still had 589 local law courts outside the royal demesne, corresponding to as many lordships in which the king, far from being 'sovereign’, had no automatic jurisdiction—but neither did the central power have to invest any resources to keep them functioning. 289
(p. 460 ) It was lords who, in the pre‐Reformation period, had succeeded in collecting for their dynasty a great many local lordships—by means of grants by the crown, purchase, marriage, and inheritance—who became estates of the empire, represented in the Reichstag. When the constitution of the empire was remodelled in the late fifteenth/early sixteenth century, many of the lesser lords placed themselves under the protection of those greater lords (princes)—with whom often they would have had ties of vassalage already before. For this protection (or promotion of their interests) they were willing to pay the princes, beyond their dues to the empire of which those princes came to be agents of collection, too. But the submission of the lesser lords to the princes was never total. The princes were not at liberty to impose decisions, or taxes, on them without hearing them: just as the princes (together with the imperial free cities) became the estates of the empire, assembled in the Reichstag (the diet of the empire), so the lesser lords, and the lesser towns, became the estates of the dominions of the princes, assembled in a Landtag (a diet of the land or territory).
After 1653, in the margraviate of Brandenburg the estates usually only convened in plenary session to do homage to a new ruler on his accession—although in 1696 they were called to vote ‘extraordinary funds’ for the elector. This was an exception in the sense that otherwise, in the second half of the seventeenth century and in the eighteenth century, the elector/king did not ask them to vote any new taxes in addition to those traditionally established. This used to be seen as a disempowerment of the estates. More recently it has been interpreted more as a surrender, born from the calculation that the possible increase in revenue that the estates might be prevailed on to grant was not worth the kind of hassle that, for decades on end, rocked the neighbouring duchy of Mecklenburg in that period. (In Mecklenburg, continual, bitter altercations between the Landtag and successive dukes involved numerous lawsuits brought against those dukes by the Mecklenburg estates before the Aulic Council in Vienna, culminating in the deposition of one duke of Mecklenburg by the emperor in 1728, and ending with a complete victory of the estates in 1755. The duchy of Württemberg presents a similar case.) In any case, the Brandenburg estates continued to form permanent committees and to meet locally, with each Kreis or district having its own Kreistag. 290
Local lordships in Germany usually comprised a number of adjacent villages (but might also include small towns). The lord might reside in the lordship, or be represented by a steward; the latter was usually the case if the ‘lord’ was actually an institution, such as a monastery, or if he was a prince. The lord was powerful, but no more than the king in his kingdom could he treat his 'subjects’, the population of the lordship, as he liked. He was supposed to protect and represent the inhabitants of his lordship and in return obtained a substantial part of the revenue that they generated—in the form of money, produce, and services. Assemblies of the peasants—themselves no homogeneous group but a strongly hierarchical one, with the holders of certain specified farmsteads the most powerful—met routinely and could not be ignored by the lord. He had both privileges and duties, as did everybody else. Farmsteads were considered the property of the families (p. 461 ) (in the sense both of living relatives and of heirs yet unborn) of the individual peasants, who could not sell their plots. With the permission of the lord, they could usually leave, but had to pay the lord an indemnity (fixed by local customary law), as might peasants who wished to take their place. The lord could not, however, dispossess them, at least not by legal means. He could sell the lordship (if he had the consent of all his living agnatic relatives), but only in one piece, not in part; similarly, if the lord had several heirs they had to run the lordship jointly. Since it did not constitute private property (of which the owner can dispose freely), it would not be quite right to describe the lord as a landowner. 291
Not the least important function of the local lord was that of judge: he presided over the law court that, in every lordship, met regularly to adjudicate conflicts among the inhabitants. Frequently, from at least the sixteenth century onwards, a lordship would have its customary law codified in writing. The lord (or his representative) directed the proceedings, but did not deliver verdicts; this was invariably done by jurors selected from among the peasants. The jurisdiction of the lord was not delegated by the local prince, who throughout the ancien régime, and no matter how powerful he was, had no jurisdiction in local lordships within his dominions yet outside his demesne (i.e. in local lordships where the local lord was someone other than himself). Thus, the prince could not have people arrested in lordships outside his demesne except with the consent of the lord. A local lord usually could not hear cases involving a crime punishable by death; for this it was necessary to turn to the nearest local lord who had capital jurisdiction. Throughout the Holy Roman Empire and until the end of the eighteenth century, this was always held from the emperor, never from the local prince. In practice, the nearest lord with capital jurisdiction might well be the local prince—but it need not be. The nearest appellate court was also normally one set up by the local prince. However, it was usually possible ultimately to appeal beyond the prince to the Imperial Aulic Council or the Imperial Cameral Tribunal, as frequently happened.
There is a popular perception of ancien régime peasants as little more than slaves who laboured under constant oppression, and exploitation, by their lord. If we bear in mind (we shall return to this presently) that a kingdom or principality even of the late ancien régime functioned essentially without a police force, it is immediately apparent that this would not in fact have worked. The peasants were many, the lord was one: why should they have obeyed him? Because the lord was backed by the prince and his army? But normally he was not, and did not want to be (nor, in fact, did the average German prince even have a standing army before the eighteenth century). A typical, non‐princely, local lord in ancien régime Germany was both attracted by the princely court and wary of any intervention by the prince in the affairs of his own lordship. That being so, the last thing that he would have wanted to depend on was armed support by the prince. Many a lordship in fact had a militia—but it was made up of the peasants themselves, to deter marauders, bandits, itinerants, and it could not, of course, be used against the inhabitants. One major reason why peasants obeyed the lord was that they considered him legitimate—the same, and probably the most important reason, why people obeyed, or at least respected, the crown.
(p. 462 ) In his impressive case study of one fairly large local lordship in Upper Swabia, that of the abbey of Ottobeuren, from the sixteenth to the eighteenth century, Govind Sreenivasan notes that although the power of a local lord
could be focused in particular instances to collect a tax or punish a malefactor, it was never a continuous presence in the villages and was rarely successful in shaping the actual behavior of the subjects. The reason for this impotence is perfectly straightforward: an adequate coercive apparatus simply did not exist …At Ottobeuren, for example, the monks could only count on their Vogt [bailiff], a single local noble who arranged for peasant compliance with the monastery's decrees when the moral authority of the Abbot was insufficiently persuasive. Beyond the Vogt, the monastery was dependent upon the admonitions of the parish priest, a clutch of scribes and administrators, and a dozen poorly paid Pittel [the word, normally spelled Büttel in present‐day German, is a cognate of the English ‘bedel’], or sheriffs, to maintain order among thousands of stubborn, well‐armed, and litigious peasants. For almost all of his subjects the Abbot's authority was thus an episodic and often reactive intrusion into their lives. 292
Mutatis mutandis, this analysis in fact aptly describes the situation of ancien régime lordship on any level—including that of the kingdom itself.
But if there were limitations on how far the monks could coerce the peasants, there were also limitations on how far the peasants could, or even wanted to, weaken their overlord. The enhanced property rights secured over the course of the fifteenth century now gave the peasants a considerable investment in the lordship of the monastery as the most effective guarantor of those rights. …Major confrontations between the monastery and its subjects therefore almost always took the form of negotiations. Violent rebellion was rare.
All this again aptly describes the essence of relations even between an ancien régime crown and those placed under it: the crown, too, was important to the subjects as a guarantor of privileges and property rights. Sreenivasan continues:
Moreover, by the early 1500s, a century's experience of blustering and haggling had established a familiar and reliable formula for peasant negotiation with the monastery. Grievances which the monastery refused to redress were regularly appealed to a higher authority, usually the Holy Roman Emperor [presumably via the Imperial Aulic Council]. The Emperor would then commission some prominent authority [some other local abbot, bishop, or nobleman] as a mediator. Mediation invariably forced the monastery to disgorge at least some concessions, while preserving its essential prerogatives intact. 293
In the chapter from which I have been quoting, Sreenivasan is speaking about the sixteenth century, but he also notes that ‘the structure of late medieval Swabian lordship [remained] unchanged in its essentials from the close of the fifteenth century to the Napoleonic era.’ 294 He is mainly concerned with the social and economic history of the local peasantry and less with the legal and political history of the lordship as such: in his book, the legal‐political set‐up of the lordship is not traced through time in any detail. If (p. 463 ) the focus had been different, I suspect that even on the local level the same trends would have shown up as in ancien régime history in general, with the lord gaining in stature and the peasants, by the eighteenth century, probably no longer armed (though no doubt no less litigious and prone to go to court over their rights), in a development paralleling the cessation of feuds among nobles. But all those trends occurred without any change in the coercive power of those concerned and as a result, basically, of cultural change. Nor—Sreenivasan is right to emphasize—did they alter the ‘essentials’ of the 'structure of lordship’. Those remained the same both throughout the late ancien régime, and from one region to the next.
The deteriorating position of the peasantry, from the sixteenth century onwards, in Poland and Russia is often emphasized. I lack the knowledge of the history of that part of Europe to venture an opinion on this issue. I do confess to some scepticism concerning the usual grim (if mostly rather sweeping and abstract) depictions of serfs ruthlessly exploited by their noble masters, because similar depictions are found also concerning the situation in France or Germany, where they have a way of proving inapplicable as soon as one takes a look at concrete local evidence. Concerning Germany itself, one will often come across a supposed distinction between a more liberal form of lordship in the west and a more oppressive form east of the river Elbe. Bernd Marquardt argues that this distinction, too, is both an oversimplification—with elements of the alleged ‘eastern’ model found in the west and vice versa—and an exaggeration in that the ‘eastern’ model was less different from the western, and less oppressive, than is usually alleged.
For what it is worth, prima facie visual evidence would not appear to support the notion of ‘east‐Elbian’ local lords successfully squeezing wealth from their peasants: though elegant, the country seats that the Brandenburg gentry built for themselves in the eighteenth century are invariably rather modest, and the same is true of Mecklenburg and Pomerania. Had their owners been the profit‐seeking ‘agro‐capitalists’ as which they are often depicted, and which some of their successors in the nineteenth century may have become, they should have been rich. Yet in the late ancien régime, their main economic characteristic was debt: thus, in 1806, the local lordships of the Neumark carried an average debt of 106 per cent of their estimated value. 295 Compare, by way of contrast, the grandiose scale on which, in the eighteenth century, the monks of Ottobeuren rebuilt their monastery in exquisite baroque style (it has been dubbed the ‘Swabian Escorial’)—and they probably could not even go into debt, owing to the constraints of canon law. Nor, as Sreenivasan shows, was the level of agricultural productivity attained in this lordship ever impressive. He does, however, demonstrate that, by the eighteenth century, its economy was markedly more monetized and market‐oriented than in the late pre‐Reformation period.
In our society, it seems very important to keep authorities apart: separating them in a clear hierarchy (eliminating ambiguity as to who is subordinate to whom) and separating them both with regard to their functions and spatially, with each assigned its own exclusive geographical sphere of influence. This latter aspect has been identified by John Ruggie as ‘[t]he central attribute of modernity in international politics’. Ruggie opposes this ‘peculiar and historically unique configuration of territorial space’ to
medieval Europe, with its ‘patchwork of overlapping and incomplete rights of government,’ which were ‘inextricably superimposed and tangled,’ and in which ‘different juridical instances were geographically interwoven and stratified, and plural allegiances, asymmetrical suzerainties and anomalous enclaves abounded.’ The difference between the medieval and modern worlds is striking in this respect. 296
However, contrary to a common perception, the ‘territorial state’ was not invented in the fifteenth or sixteenth century, or enshrined by the Peace of Westphalia. What Ruggie calls ‘modernity in international relations’ did not start until the French Revolution: eighteenth‐century ‘Prussia’, or any other kingdom of the period, still conformed to the ‘medieval’, not the ‘modern’ type as distinguished by Ruggie.
The king of Prussia was in a somewhat special position in that, with regard to almost all his dominions, he had the emperor ‘above’ him and in those dominions thus was not 'sovereign’. True: the emperor could not dictate to the king. But that does not mean that the suzerainty that he embodied was purely notional. The Minden canons appealing to an imperial court failed, but even so the episode is significant. More importantly, if less visibly, the king was bound by the legal framework of the empire. He could not, for example, alter the biconfessional set‐up of the Minden chapter, or touch any of the other ecclesiastical institutions in this or his other dominions, protected as they were by the 1648 peace settlement that, considered part of the constitutional law of the empire, in eighteenth century Germany was treated as pretty much sacrosanct. ‘Concerning the catholic religion’, Frederic William of Prussia notes matter‐of‐factly in the 1722 instruction for his successor, ‘you must tolerate it to the extent made necessary by the Peace of Westphalia.’ 297
More typically—in the sense that this was a situation found throughout Europe, not just in the empire—the king had no uniform jurisdiction in his dominions, but had by and large to respect established rights and structures. He could try to work around them. For example, not calling the Brandenburg estates meant that the elector/king did not have to face their joint opposition. Yet in addition to foregoing a potential source of revenue (in the shape of extra taxes that the estates might have voted), this failure to engage them also meant that for all the high‐sounding edicts addressed to them from Berlin the Brandenburg local lordships were among the most autonomous and self‐contained in Germany. Territorially, they were effectively enclaves—or rather, it was the lordships forming part of the princely demesne that were enclaves (around 1800, perhaps one‐third of the total number of farmsteads in the margraviate belonged to the demesne). 298 Elsewhere, the demesne chamber system established in 1723 tended to supersede older, more locally rooted governmental structures, notably the Regierungen. But it is significant that those older structures were not simply abolished. They continued to exist side by side with the more ‘modern’ structures and had to be left, or found, something to do (as law courts, overseeing religious and educational matters, etc.).
Fundamentally, eighteenth‐century Brandenburg‐Prussia was not, like a present‐day state, built on the notion of uniform jurisdiction of a 'sovereign’ over the entirety of a given territory. The position of the ruler did not consist in exclusive control of a bounded (p. 465 ) territory. Rather, as in the pre‐Reformation period, it was essentially a bundle of rights and privileges, shot through with rights and privileges of other actors below the crown and even, in this instance, above it (owing to the dominions of this particular crown mostly forming part of the Holy Roman Empire). Rights could overlap in a way purely territorial jurisdiction could not, and they did. The inventory of the endowment of the Minden chapter drawn up for king Frederic William in 1721 indicates that some 18 per cent of the revenue of the canons came from outside the Minden territory. Since that revenue did not result from private property but from lordly rights, this means that a number of lordships, or rights therein, were controlled from Minden even though they were situated in the dominions of other princes (or, conceivably, other dominions of the king of Prussia). 299 Tellingly, the border of the Minden territory itself was not linear. There were many small bits and pieces of Minden territory beyond the main border, and likewise bits and pieces of ‘foreign’ territory situated within the border. 300
That political power even in the eighteenth century was not predicated on exclusive control of territory is shown particularly well by the fairly frequent phenomenon of shared or joint lordship (Samtherrschaft in German), which tended to arise in areas where, in the pre‐Reformation era, powerful local actors had clashed and compromised. Thus the elector/king of Brandenburg‐Prussia had inherited, together with the duchy of Cleves, a joint lordship (established in 1445) over the town of Lippstadt in Westphalia, shared with the count of Lippe and which continued until 1850. In a twist entirely typical of ancien régime political geography, the territory of the town was contiguous neither with the duchy nor with the main territory of the count—although the latter also ruled, on his own, a sliver of territory (around Lipperode) that was contiguous with the joint lordship. Another, particularly interesting example is furnished by the largish lordship named after the castle of Tomburg in the Rhineland (south‐west of Bonn), whose peculiar set‐up reflects the intense rivalry of the duke of Jülich and the archbishop of Cologne in the late pre‐Reformation period. In the late eighteenth century, this lordship was jointly held by the Elector‐Palatine (in his capacity as duke of Jülich) and one baron von Dalwigk‐Lichtenfels, a local gentleman presumably not personally acquainted with the elector (who resided in Munich after he also became elector of Bavaria in 1778). If this still sounds innocuous enough, the picture gets more complicated—but instructively so—if we increase the magnification.
The Tomburg lordship itself was not a unitary entity but a compound consisting of the lordship of Flamersheim (with three parishes), the lordship of Hilberath (two‐and‐a‐half parishes), the lordship of Odendorf (three parishes), the lordship of Ollheim (one parish), the lordship of Oberdrees (one parish), and the lordship of Winterburg (one parish), plus land (e.g. woodland) outside any of the parishes. This whole was not divided up equally: the duke of Jülich (i.e. in the late eighteenth century, the elector of Bavaria) held one third of it, while the baron held the remainder from the archbishop‐elector of Cologne. However, there was no line dividing up the territory. One reason why this would have been difficult—had the idea even arisen—was that in a deviation from the general arrangement the two parties each had an equal share in the lordship of Flamersheim and in the lordship of Hilberath. But we saw that, in fact, they only had two‐and‐a‐half of the (p. 466 ) Hilberath parishes: whereas one half of the parish of Oberkastenholz belonged to them, the other half belonged to the abbey of Kornelimünster (near Aachen), which also held all of the neighbouring parish of Niederkastenholz. Moreover, the lordship of Winterburg had a lord of its own, apparently a vassal of the duke/elector. Evidently, the combined revenue accruing to the lord in each subunit of the Tomburg lordship was divided up pro rata between the duke/elector and the baron, even though the territory was not and could not be. Each subunit apparently had its own law court (though some of them perhaps held joint sessions in practice). Notwithstanding the fact that a two‐thirds share of the fief as a whole was held from the archbishop‐elector of Cologne, appeals from any court within this fief would be lodged with a superior court in nearby Euskirchen, situated in the duchy of Jülich. 301
An example of this kind of phenomenon still survives in the Netherlands. The southern Netherlands (with Brussels as capital) had been separated from the northern Netherlands as a result of the latter's secession from the Spanish crown in the sixteenth century. Held by the Habsburg dynasty until the French Revolution, at the Congress of Vienna in 1815 those southern provinces were reunited with the northern Netherlands, which at this time became the Kingdom of the Netherlands. In 1830, the southern Netherlands rebelled and became independent as the Kingdom of Belgium, so a border reappeared between the southern and the northern Netherlands. With the ancien régime gone and the new territorial state triumphant, this had to be linear border. It proved difficult, and, in one section, the village of Baarle, impossible to work out: concerning Baarle, the only solution that the members of the commission in charge of establishing the demarcation line were able to agree on was to leave things essentially as they had been in the ancien régime.
The problem was that in the ancien régime Baarle was divided. Part of it belonged to the lordship of Breda, which in 1403 was acquired—married, in effect—by one count of Nassau, ancestor of the present‐day Dutch royal house. The rest of the village belonged to the duke of Brabant. The lordship of Breda was actually part of the duchy of Brabant, too; the difference was that in ‘his’ part of the village the duke of Brabant himself was the suzerain and the local lord (it was part of his demesne), whereas in the part that belonged to the count of Nassau the duke was only the suzerain, not the local lord. Unfortunately, the village was not divided neatly down the middle. To the chagrin of the nineteenth‐century demarcation commission, houses assigned to one or the other lord turned out to be distributed in such a way that no line could be drawn between them. Within the area of the village, there are now some thirty territorial enclaves. As the place is surrounded by territory belonging to the Kingdom of the Netherlands, more of those enclaves belong to Belgium than the other way around, but the fact that about a quarter are actually Dutch enclaves makes clear the degree of topographical intricacy that the commissioners were up against. One suspects that nationalist sentiment on the part of the commissioners and obstinacy on the part of the locals prevented a more ‘rational’ compromise (the locals last vetoed efforts to ‘tidy up’ the situation in the 1990s).
Administratively Baarle is not one village but two—there is Baarle‐Nassau, which is part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, and Baarle‐Hertog (Duke's Baarle), which is part of the Kingdom of Belgium. On the ground, however, the visitor will find only a (p. 467 ) single, large village, some kilometres north of the main (linear) border separating the two countries. Only close inspection will reveal that many of its houses are actually part of Belgium: the little plaques bearing their number sport the respective national flags. Shops in houses belonging to Belgium will be open on Sundays, but not shops in Dutch houses. Although this sounds complicated, in practice it seems to work smoothly—suggesting that people in the ancien régime had no difficulty with this kind of arrangement either. 302
4.4.2 France in the ancien régime
Most ancien régime lordships, on any level, were composite lordships. On the macro level, the Spanish monarchy, in the seventeenth century the largest in Europe, is a good example: according to the Spanish ambassador to the French court, in 1700 it consisted of no less than twenty‐two separate kingdoms; and the Spanish king held many more lordships (such as the duchy of Brabant) which, however loosely, were part of the Holy Roman Empire. 303 Even the French crown, domestically powerful (by ancien régime standards) as it was, nevertheless proved incapable of administratively unifying its realm. Its control of French society was too precarious to allow it to shape that society deliberately.
Both the power of the crown and its glaring limitations are well illustrated by the salt tax (gabelle), which was given a decisive boost in the mid‐fourteenth century by the need to raise the enormous ransom demanded by the English crown for the release of king John II. In the post‐Reformation period, the gabelle obliged the inhabitants of many parts of the kingdom to buy salt from the royal salt depots at an artificially high price. This could only work because the crown was able to exercise a degree of (mildly) coercive control over many of its subjects. But even in the late eighteenth century, the salt tax was not the same throughout the kingdom—far from it. The result not of rational design but of path‐dependent piecemeal accretion, by this stage the system had become utterly absurd, but at least it was traditional and established. The crown could not abolish it, because it depended on the money; and it could not reform the system (even though that would have left both it and the subjects richer) because it lacked the power.
In the pays (plural!) de grande gabelle—north‐western and central France with the Île‐de‐France and Burgundy—the salt tax was high. The price of salt was fixed by the authorities on the basis of a somewhat notional cost of production, calculated separately for each tax district and influenced by factors like the distance of a given district from the place of production, the modalities of transport, and tolls payable en route. The tax farmers were exempted from such tolls if they were levied by the crown, but even in eighteenth‐century France tolls were also levied by some towns and lords. At the beginning of the eighteenth century, the grande gabelle made salt about ten times more expensive than the cost of production as determined by the authorities, but in the course of the eighteenth century it underwent further increases.
In most districts—those situated at the interior of the pays de grande gabelle—all heads of households were obliged to buy a minimum quantity of salt annually. But in districts bordering on territory where the price of salt was lower, and where cheap (p. 468 ) smuggled salt was a correspondingly greater problem, an annual minimum quantity of salt had to be bought from the crown by each parish as a whole. Each parish would annually designate someone from its midst—excluding nobility and clergy—who had to come up with the money for the salt for the whole parish and prevail on the locals to repay him, in doing which he could not count on enforcement by the crown. In fairness it has to be said that this financially responsible person was remunerated, but if he defaulted, his movable goods would be confiscated and sold; if this did not yield enough money, the parish as a whole—again excluding nobility and clergy—was held answerable. (Probably in order to ease the financial pressure on this person, parishes would buy their annual salt in four instalments; they had to come and get it from the royal depots and organize the distribution themselves.) This was a way of passing on to private individuals the burden of administering a system that the crown simply did not have the resources to administer itself; a similar method was used for other kinds of taxes.
In every case the salt in question was only to be used as table salt, and this was, in theory, controlled by the authorities. Salt fed to animals, or used for pickling, had to be purchased additionally (and the purpose for which it was purchased declared) at a slightly lower price; table salt could be ‘rededicated’ for some other purpose only in certain conditions and with the express approval of the authorities. The grande gabelle was thus distinguished from an ordinary indirect tax in that consumers were not free to decide how much of the product they wanted to buy. The advantage for the crown was that the amount of revenue from this tax could thus be calculated in advance. Moreover, if the mandatory quantity of salt that households or parishes had to buy was ample, this was also to discourage the purchase of cheap smuggled salt. That at least was the idea. In practice, the system always worked badly.
In the pays (plural) de petite gabelle (south‐eastern France) the salt tax was lower and there was no mandatory minimum quantity. Inspectors would, however, call on households to check certificates proving the provenance of their salt, in order to clamp down on smuggled salt. In some areas where salt was actually produced, the salt tax was still lower (eastern France: here the gabelle de salines was paid) or was not paid at all. This was the case of northernmost France, Britanny, and the south‐west, which in part had never been subject to this tax (the pays exempts) or had at some point redeemed it once and for all (the pays rédimés). The pays (singular) de quart‐bouillon on the coast of Normandy, where salt was produced (by boiling), originally paid the crown a quarter of its output (hence the name), but by the seventeenth century this tax originally payable in kind had been replaced by a monetary payment that in fact amounted to more than half of the value of the salt produced. Here as everywhere else in France the production of salt was in private hands, but, in theory, strictly controlled by the crown.
In a border zone of between 2 and 5 French miles (1 French mile corresponded to 2.5 English miles, or 4 km) between the pays de grande gabelle and areas where no salt tax was paid, but on the side of the former, it was only possible to buy the quantity of salt that one would be expected to need for six months, and proof of local residency—furnished by the vicar—was required. The idea, again, was to keep surplus salt away from areas from where it could easily have been smuggled into the pays de grande gabelle. Consumers complained that the maximum quantity that they were allowed to buy tended to be less than what they needed for six months.
(p. 469 ) Exceptions from the general system abounded. Paris, Versailles, and Burgundy paid the grande gabelle, but were exempt from the mandatory minimum quantity, as, in the eighteenth century, were those who according to the local tax registers had less than a certain minimum wealth. People in this latter category could buy their salt from retailers called the regrattiers. Licensed by the royal salt depots, the regrattiers had to buy their merchandise from those depots at the normal price, and thus to sell it at a higher price; as a result, the only advantage for the less well‐off of buying from the regrattiers was that they could buy less salt. Anyway, this was only possible where the mandatory minimum was imposed on individual households; in districts where it was imposed on whole parishes the tax inspectors were, on the contrary, expected to see to it that even those too poor to pay other taxes did buy some of the parish salt.
Within the pays de grande gabelle, numerous towns or parishes paid a special reduced rate for their salt as a privilege. The nobility and clergy also paid a reduced rate and were exempted from the minimum quantity. Then there were those enjoying what was called the privilège de franc‐salé, which, however, meant different things for different people and in different places. Certain high officials were only charged the ‘market price’ (prix marchand) for their salt. Of course, as there was in fact no (legal) free market, this was a notional concept, calculated by the authorities for each tax district. If such officials bought less salt than they were entitled to, a proportional sum was actually paid out to them. A few officials (governors of provinces and états‐majors de places, i.e. officers in charge of fortresses) got their salt for free, as did hospitals and two mendicant religious orders. Certain municipalities, lords, or indeed private individuals were entitled to cheaper salt because they had ceded to the crown certain tolls that they had previously levied. Finally, cheap salt was also sold to the army. 304
The system was not efficient; it could not be. Revenue was produced: in 1646 the tax farmers paid the crown some 13 million livres, in 1681 24 million, in 1785 58.5 million (in every case, for a five‐year‐period). The tax farmers were not free to determine the prices that they charged consumers. The advantage to the crown of farming out the tax—to the extent that there actually was one—was that it obtained the entire tax revenue in advance; the tax farmers for their part formed consortia and indebted themselves to raise the money. But despite the risk of heavy punishment much of the salt actually consumed was untaxed even where this was illegal. Although they are the delight of present‐day genealogists, the salt tax registers or sextés were evidently often incomplete, and the sale of black‐market salt (an activity known as faux‐saunage) has even been called ‘the [!] great national industry’ of late ancien régime France by Marcel Marion. It was practised by many and various people, including employees of the tax farmers. In the late eighteenth century we hear of near‐daily violent clashes between salt smugglers (operating in gangs up to three or four hundred strong, even if they were mostly much smaller) and the enforcement staff of the tax farmers. Even the army would sometimes be involved. 305
The profit for the crown was substantial, the lack of cooperation on the part of the subjects, typical. Pierre Goubert cites the historian Ernest Lavisse as saying that (p. 470 ) French ‘absolutism’ was tempered by disobedience; and observes that in many places the opposite may well have been closer to the truth. He points out that Louis XIV disposed of a total of some 2,000 gendarmes (constables) for his entire kingdom. In his view, what is astonishing is not the anarchy found at every turn in late ancien régime France, but the fact that, despite totally insufficient means of coercion at the disposal of the crown, the system actually worked at all, however badly. 306
The French army, which in wartime would be several hundred thousand strong, was employed only rarely to police the kingdom. The desertion rate was high at the best of times, and letting the soldiers roam the French countryside in the absence of any threat to them (other than that posed by their superiors) no doubt only made it worse; moreover, the fact that soldiers often practised faux‐saunage themselves made them still less suited to clamp down on this particular abuse. There were, to be sure, forces of order besides the royal gendarmes. The administration of the royal tax monopoly had a staff of some 18,000 helpers anachronistically known as archers (archers) or as gardes (guards). They worked for the tax farmers to ensure compliance with gabelle regulations, but at least some of them swore an oath to the crown, and in that sense were not just private employees. The relevant royal ordonnance of 1680 laid down that gardes should (seront tenus à) wear shoulder straps (bandoulières) with the royal arms, but the phrasing suggests that this was not always the case. 307 There were no uniforms. Clearly not many people wanted this kind of job, with the gardes neither popular nor respected. Applicants appear to have come from the lowest, least privileged strata of the population. Of course, 18,000 men for the whole kingdom were far too little to ensure a reasonable degree of compliance. The 1784 Encyclopédie méthodique: Finances gives that number, scoffing that 18,000 people were ‘busy making war on twenty‐two million inhabitants’ of the kingdom. 308
It seems unlikely that the number of gardes would have been higher in previous decades—if anything it must have gone up not down. In fact, what is unusual for ancien régime Europe is not that the French crown disposed of insufficient enforcement personnel but that it disposed of such personnel at all. We talk about ‘absolutism’ and imagine powerful princes, more often than not busy oppressing their subjects. In fact, those princes did not usually have much personnel to do any oppressing with—they would be reluctant to rely on their army for this for the same reason that the French crown hesitated to let its soldiers out of their barracks except for foreign campaigns. In eighteenth‐century London, it was up to the parishes and other local corporations to maintain constables, described by an expert on the period as ‘a chaotic assortment …most of them of less than doubtful efficiency’. In ancien régime Spain, fighting crime was the task of local militias (with their own tribunals) known as ‘brotherhoods’ (hermandades). Notorious for their corruption, they effectively ceased to operate in the Napoleonic period, though they were not formally abolished until 1835. 309
The number of royal gendarmes in France grew in the eighteenth century: in the 1780s, there were a little under 3,900 in the whole kingdom, and on the very eve of the revolution the number was raised to 5,000. Until 1720, they were organized in local (p. 471 ) ‘companies’ (compagnies) that often were very small; thereafter those were replaced by larger ‘companies’, one for each of the administrative districts known as généralités. They received orders from the crown or its local representatives, but also from the parlements—which were not organs of the crown. Paris, with, in the 1780s, perhaps 700,000 inhabitants, had some 1,500 law enforcement officials of various kinds, about one for every 470 people; this was a very high density for the period. Chartres with about 15,000 inhabitants had six law enforcement officials (one for every 2,500 people). Bordeaux (on the size of whose population in the eighteenth century I have found no data, but which was surely rather larger than Chartres) had seventy law enforcement officials around 1750, thirty of them mounted. But they belonged to the town watch (guet) organized by the municipality, not the crown. Indeed, the royal gendarmes and local militias of this kind were often on bad terms rather than cooperating. 310
Maybe in the case of Bordeaux this had something to do with the fact that the town watch worked well, whereas the maréchaussée (to which the gendarmes belonged) even after 1720 worked so badly that one cannot help wondering what it was good for. It is hard to escape the impression that it was essentially a façade, a symbol staking a claim even though the institution was unable to live up to that claim other than in the most inchoate fashion. The royal constables were paid very badly (if they were paid at all) and, as a consequence, highly corruptible. Although this was technically prohibited, most had another source of revenue, for example as innkeepers. They could achieve nothing against the will of the local population, only with its support.
[S]cattering police power over the ground in small, isolated, units was …an open invitation to guerilla warfare, and the constables of the maréchaussée met violent resistance whenever they overstepped the bounds of popular tolerance. …In situations where the twentieth‐century police would have imposed itself with brute force, the eighteenth‐century maréchaussée had to temporize or beat an undignified retreat …it can be questioned whether the authorities, in spite of sweeping government ordinances, ever conceived of the maréchaussée as the guarantor of public order. 311
‘Intermediary powers’ (pouvoirs intermédiaires, the expression used by Montesqieu) retaining a certain autonomy from the crown subsisted. There were the parlements and the other cours souveraines both in the capital and in the provinces. Their political weight was considerable. Throughout the ancien régime, the crown had to submit legislation and similar measures, including in particular the annual tax law as well as foreign treaties, to the most important of the parlements, the one in Paris, and occasionally (depending on the issues in question) other cours souveraines for ‘registration’ (enregistrement) before they came into force. The bodies in question could raise objections and refuse the registration totally or partially, which was a regular occurrence. This obliged the crown to justify its measures; controversial issues provoked a public debate in the form of pamphlets. The crown disposed of means to force registration (lettre de jussion, lit de justice), but they were not infallible; as a last resort it could decree measures in the form of an arrêt du conseil, a decision by the royal council, which did not require registration, rather than as an ordonnance or an édit. 312
(p. 472 ) Assemblies of the estates likewise remained important. The estates‐general were not convened between 1615 and 1789, but had met only at long intervals even before. The provincial estates had always been more important, and remained so. In the pre‐Reformation period, they had enjoyed the favour of the crown, which needed interlocutors to vote and thereby legitimize taxes for the crown. From the sixteenth century onwards, it was generally accepted in France that the crown could levy taxes without authorization from the estates. As this was no longer a necessary function of the assemblies of the estates, some of them convened less frequently thereafter.
Until the French Revolution, a distinction was made between the pays d’états, those provinces or areas where the estates (états) normally met annually or biannually to vote and administer the taxes requested by the crown, and the pays d’élections, where taxes were levied under the supervision of so‐called élus, officials originally—in the pre‐Reformation period—elected (élus) by the estates‐general. Since the sixteenth century, they were in fact appointed by the crown, and in the eighteenth century they were under the authority of the intendants, chief regional officials of the crown whose role developed from the 1630s onwards. In the late ancien régime, the pays d’élections were concentrated in the middle of the kingdom, whereas the pays d’états tended to be situated on the periphery (Brittany, Artois, Cambrésis, Pays de Lille, Tournaisis, Hainault, Burgundy, Charolais, Mâconnais, Bresse, Bugey, Provence, Languedoc, and numerous areas in the south and southwest like Foix, Béarn, or Basse‐Navarre). Also on the periphery were the pays d'imposition, where there were no élus, with tax administration overseen directly by the intendants. The pays d'imposition were new provinces gained since the reign of Charles IX—however, that was true also of some of the pays d’états. In the eighteenth century, the pays d’états paid noticeably less in taxes than the pays d’élections, though the situation of the latter was by no means homogeneous.
In fact, even in the pays d’élection the estates often remained active. Taxes for the crown were not normally on their agenda. That is the main reason why they met irregularly, as circumstances required. They would elect a syndic as their representative, raise complaints with the royal council, and indeed vote taxes for themselves, to be used for their own purposes. But, in the early eighteenth century and again in the late eighteenth century, the estates of the pays d’élections were actually convened by the crown, on the occasion of the introduction of additional taxes or other changes concerning taxation. This happened in 1694, 1710, 1711, 1772, 1773, 1774, 1782, and 1786. Moreover, in all provinces there existed some representative institution, a parlement or a conseil souverain, recruited from local notables and accepted both locally and by the crown as entitled to speak for their peers. Tellingly, new provinces acquired in the course of the expansion of the kingdom in the seventeenth century were routinely equipped with some such institution. The Franche‐Comté received a parlement at Besançon, French Flanders one at Douai, Alsace obtained a conseil souverain at Colmar and Roussillon one at Perpignan. Corsica, purchased from Genoa in 1768, retained its estates. 313
Such intermediary powers could not block measures desired by the crown in an open confrontation. They had to be heard, they could object, provoke a debate; but the crown had the last word. It was powerful. Yet it cannot be called sovereign in the sense in which that term is understood nowadays. For example, it could not really legislate. As noted, (p. 473 ) thinkers like Bodin faced a major problem in trying to reconcile their notion that the king was above the law with the fact that on his accession he swore an oath to respect that law, meaning the rights and privileges of his subjects. I know of only one instance in which this oath was abolished and the one that had been sworn by the current king declared invalid—in Denmark and Norway (united under the same crown) in 1665, with the consent, ironically, of the estates of the realm. 314 France remained less ‘absolutist’ than that. That, in fact, the law remained above the king rather than the other way around is clear from the fact that there was more than one law. According to Pierre Goubert, late ancien régime France had some sixty regional systems of customary law (coutumes) and as many again that had only local validity. The clergy had its own legal norms, which were not the same throughout the kingdom. Efforts undertaken by the crown to unify French law never got at all far. 315
As was the case elsewhere in ancien régime Europe, the local lordships (seigneuries) played a considerable role in France. Without them, the kingdom could not have functioned socially or politically. Among the many corporations of which the kingdom was composed, they were among the least spectacular—small, ubiquitous, their number vast. But it was they which, along with the parishes, provided much, perhaps most, of the administrative activities needed to keep social life going—at no cost to the crown. Without them, the appearance of a central power could not have been kept up.
Income from lordly rights—dues and services owed by the rural population—seems generally not to have been very substantial in the late ancien régime. It seems to have been more profitable to cultivate the land belonging to the lord himself (the demesne), or to lease it out. Yet the role of seigneur was apparently still coveted, not least because of the social prestige that went with it. It remained a functional role. The lord acted as protector of the rural community under his tutelage. His jurisdiction—he paid the personnel necessary to run a law court, but did not act as judge himself—seems to have remained important until the revolution; the number of lordships with active jurisdiction in the kingdom as a whole is estimated at 70,000–80,000. This jurisdiction was more accessible, faster, and cheaper than that of the crown, and frequently resorted to. Certain major offences could only be tried in crown courts; moreover a distinction was made between ‘low’, ‘middle’, and ‘high’ jurisdiction, depending on the money value of the case. Contrary to what one might expect, there was no necessary correlation between the prominence of the lord and the kind of jurisdiction that he possessed, with high jurisdiction sometimes attaching to very small lordships. Death sentences were possible but (as in ancien régime Germany) rare; in the province of La Marche (north‐west of the Massif Central) they were automatically reviewed by the Paris parlement, and there may have been similar arrangements elsewhere.
Local lordships in France were mostly smaller than in Germany, where their total number, though upward of 10,000, was correspondingly lower. In Germany, they would normally comprise several villages, quite commonly ten or more; in France, although large lordships existed, often they covered only a single parish or, indeed, part of one. Thus, in the bishopric of Beauvais in the seventeenth century there were 432 parishes, but 617 local lordships. Of those, 294 lordships covered a whole parish, the other 323 less (p. 474 ) than one parish. 316 Noble estates without jurisdiction, which therefore did not qualify as lordships, existed both in Germany and in France, but appear to have been more frequent in France. It is my impression that in Germany most of the countryside was divided up into lordships, whereas in France there were many fiefs (fiefs) without jurisdiction. As in Germany, assemblies of the local inhabitants played an important role in community life and wielded some power with regard to the local ruling class; for example, they could (and did) take the local lord to court (and, again as in Germany, often won their case). They were in charge of maintaining the church, the vicarage, and the village school, as well as roads and bridges. In France they appear normally to have been coextensive with the parishes (rather than lordships, fiefs, or the like) and met several times a year after Sunday mass. They could be presided by the vicar or a representative of the lord, but most often would choose a leader from their midst. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the crown made them the object of regulations and sought to use them as a means of increasing its influence in the countryside, with, at best, mixed results.
Fiefs could be bought and sold almost like private property. However, they were nominally held from a lord who had to be acknowledged, paid ‘homage’ and indeed dues, which even in the eighteenth century happened as a matter of course. Dues were often light, symbolical. Selling fiefs also entailed dues to the lord, often (though this varied from one region to the next) a fifth of the selling price, the quint, plus the requint (a fifth of the quint, i.e. another 4 per cent of the selling price) if the dues to the lord were charged to the buyer (since in this case the selling price was less, so was the quint, a loss for which the requint partially compensated the lord). Likewise, when the lord died, his heirs were entitled to special dues. Fiefs could, in theory, only be held by those of noble status. This did not stop some of those of lesser status to acquire them anyway, often as part of a strategy to move up the social ladder. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the crown, perennially short of money, repeatedly offered to ennoble non‐noble holders of fiefs for a fee. Repeatedly, too, it later declared such ‘bought’ noble status invalid—without refunding the fee but with the offer of clemency for an additional fee. Otherwise, non‐noble holders of fiefs were subject to a special tax, the droit de franc‐fief (unless they were burgesses of Paris or Périgueux).
If they wanted to avoid such extra expenses, those of non‐noble status had to be content with so‐called censives (which however might also have noble owners). Like fiefs, they were almost like private property but not quite. They were less prestigious than fiefs—a not unimportant consideration in a highly hierarchical, status‐conscious society; perhaps for this reason the lods et ventes payable to the lord if one sold such property were markedly lower than the quint et requint to which they corresponded (the actual rate varied greatly). Further, there were many types of property often held by peasants (complants, quevaises, etc.) that entailed dues and occupied a position somewhere between a ‘feudal’ grant and a simple lease. Of course, it was not just peasants who would lease property. Anything could be the object of a lease—including, indeed, fiefs and censives themselves, or some portion thereof. Not necessarily a portion of the lands, or buildings, that they comprised, but also rights which went with them, for example to certain dues. Private (or, in ‘feudal’ terminology, ‘alodial’) property (franc‐alleu) also existed, but it was not very common—in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, perhaps some 10 per cent in the pays (plural) de droit écrit (southern France, (p. 475 ) so called because the law there was based on Roman law, unlike the pays de coutume of northern France with their law based purely on custom—which, however, played a role in the pays de droit écrit as well). In ‘feudal’ legal parlance alodial property was ‘held from god’. The crown made recurrent, and ultimately quite successful efforts to get accepted a theory under which any such property was actually to be considered as granted by the crown, in recognition of which the owners would pay the crown a fee—modest, but then there were many such owners. Understandably, the wealthy invested a great deal of care in their terriers, inventories of their lands (terres) and property rights. 317
There is one part of ancien régime France in which a social and political system similar to that sketched above subsists even now. This is the Channel Islands, part of the old duchy of Normandy and at the same time the one part of its once extensive continental possessions that the English crown managed to hold onto. Although subject to the English crown, the Channel Islands never became part of the English kingdom and are not part of the United Kingdom now (the citizenship of the inhabitants is not ‘British’ but ‘Channel Islander’). Their legal system is based on the customary law of ancien régime Normandy. Typically for the ancien régime, the fact that the archipelago is small (195 km2, 130,000 inhabitants) is no reason for the different islands not to have a different political and even social system each. On the two largest islands, Jersey and Guernsey, the crown is represented by a Lieutenant Governor and a Bailiff, and the people by assemblies of the local estates (chaired by the Bailiff): the States of Jersey and, on Guernsey, the States of Deliberation (the States of Guernsey additionally comprise representatives of the parish councils and of the island of Alderney).
Apart from Guernsey itself and Alderney, the Bailiwick of Guernsey also includes the island of Sark, but at the same time Alderney and Sark are largely autonomous. Thus Alderney has its own estates, the States of Alderney. They are chaired by a President and have two representatives in the States of Guernsey. The little island of Sark (population c.500) is a fully functioning local lordship, complete with a hereditary lord bearing the French title Seigneur and an assembly, called the Chief Pleas. This comprises the more important members of the community, the holders of the forty original allotments of land on the island (known as ‘tenements’); in addition there are twelve elected representatives. The Seigneur holds the island from the crown and in recognition of this fact pays it an annual sum of 1.79 pounds sterling (the odd figure no doubt resulting from the introduction of the ‘decimal’ pound; as noted, such symbolical dues were quite typical already of the late ancien régime). For his part, every time someone sells land on the island the Seigneur receives the Treizième, that is one‐thirteenth (a little under 8 per cent) of the selling price; the rate suggests that we are dealing (p. 476 ) with censives not fiefs. The Sark system is of relatively recent origin, based on a royal charter of 1565 issued as part of a planned effort to settle the hitherto uninhabited island. 318
The system in evidence in the archipelago is simply a remnant, with some recent modifications, of the type of system once found from one end of ancien régime Europe to the other—made up of units, from the kingdom as a whole downwards and with the smallest units very small, in which invariably a lord or his representative faced an assembly and/or other institutions representing the population through its more prominent members. If the same patterns recurred everywhere, nevertheless there was no uniformity, but rather endless variety in the details. This, too, was as true on the highest level—that of kingdoms, of which no two were really alike—as it was on the local level. As Pierre Goubert has remarked of Louis XIV, ‘the King was not king to the same extent throughout his kingdom.’ 319 Even ‘absolutist’ France in the late ancien régime was not a centralized territorial state in today's sense, but ‘essentially a society of corporations and communities, which preserved powers of their own, freedoms, privileges’. 320 It remained closer to Althusius than to Hobbes.
This is also manifest from its lack of linear borders. Ancien régime France remained riddled with enclaves—a phenomenon that, as in Germany, reflects a social organization that was not primarily territorial. As noted, in the late fifteenth century the French crown and the imperial crown competed for the legacy of the duke of Burgundy, whose heiress eventually married a Habsburg rather than a French prince. This triggered two centuries of continual, and often determined, warfare between the French crown and the Habsburg dynasty. But in the treaty of Senlis of 1493, the French crown restored some Burgundian possessions that it had annexed to the Habsburg dynasty, among them the county of Charolais, situated deep within France. It is a little noted but significant curiosity that even as, more often than not, the French crown was at war with the Habsburg dynasty, Charolais remained in Habsburg hands until 1684, even though the French crown could have annexed it with ease. Similarly, the principality of Orange, in southern France, passed to the counts of Nassau in the sixteenth century. William ‘of Orange’, count of Nassau, stadhouder of the United Provinces and king of Britain from 1688, held it from the French crown even as that crown was at war with both the Dutch and the British. After his death in 1702 it passed, by inheritance, to the king of Prussia, who ceded it to the French crown in 1713 (which in its turn recognized his new royal title).
The Württemberg ducal house also held territory from the French crown—Horburg (Horbourg) and Reichenweiher (Riquewihr) in Alsace, and a little further south the county of Mömpelgard (Montbéliard)—which in fact came in two non‐contiguous parts, one held from the French crown and one from the German, with the latter surrounded by French territory on all sides. Even after the annexation of much of Alsace by Louis XIV, and until the French Revolution, those Württemberg possessions remained untouched, since Louis only seized what he claimed were Habsburg rights to which he was entitled (p. 477 ) under the terms of the Peace of Westphalia. That claim was often extremely dubious, but it is significant that even at his most reckless Louis never simply grabbed Alsace, the territory, as such—it was only revolutionary France that, in the 1790s, did precisely that. Similarly, the former imperial free city of Mülhausen (Mulhouse), in Alsace, remained an associated member (zugewandter Ort) of the Swiss Confederation until the French Revolution, even though it did not border on Confederation territory but was surrounded by French territory. The large but geographically frayed duchy of Lorraine passed to the French crown only in 1766, the duke having been given the grand‐duchy of Tuscany, available after the demise of the Medici dynasty, instead. The pope kept Avignon and the county of Venaissin—within which the principality of Orange was almost an enclave—until the Revolution.
Peter Sahlins, in his study of the Spanish‐French frontier in the late ancien régime, has demonstrated how little importance was attached to linear borders even in the seventeenth century. 321 In the Peace of the Pyrenees of 1659, the Spanish crown ceded two areas forming part of Catalonia, the Rosselló (Roussillon) and a portion of the Cerdanya (Cerdagne), to the French crown. The Cerdanya is a wide, fertile mountain valley drained by the Riu Segre (Sègre). I suspect that even a half‐century later the main watershed of the Pyrenees would have been chosen as a demarcation line—as happened in the Utrecht peace treaties, which in 1715 defined the frontier between France and Savoy in the vicinity of the valley of Barcelonnette as following the crête des Alpes. 322 Rosselló/Roussillon is on the northern, ‘French’, side of the Pyrenees. But the Segre is a tributary of the Ebre (Ebro in Castilian): the Cerdanya is situated on the Spanish side of the main divide. Partitioning the Cerdanya rather than leaving it to Spain corresponded to the then French policy of securing ‘gateways’ (portes) into neighbouring territory, evident also in the acquisition of Breisach (as a bridgehead on the east bank of the Rhine), or the efforts to gain Casale, Pignerolo, and Saluzzo in Piedmont, and thus easy access to northern Italy.
The 1659 peace did not define the new frontier, leaving that task to a future agreement. It was negotiated in 1660 and basically cut the Cerdanya in half—though not, as one might have expected, along the river, which flows in an east–west direction, but in a north–south direction. Choosing the course of the river would have separated the many settlements on or near it from their fields and pastures on the other bank and thus, more importantly, cut up the local lordships. If there was one thing that, in line with the then prevalent ideas on, and the resources of, a central power, the French crown did not want, it was having to reorganize the local administration of the region. The desire to gain additional territory had to be subordinated to the need to leave the self‐administration of the local population intact, so as not to burden the crown with a task it could not easily carry out.
After much haggling, thirty‐three out of a total of some eighty towns and villages of the Cerdanya were ceded to the French crown. Both of the major settlements, the capital Puigcerdà and Llívia, remained Spanish, even as the land around Llívia became French. This was no oversight: both sides dispatched commissioners to the valley and were informed about every detail of the situation there. Indeed, the French demanded a (p. 478 ) guarantee from the Spaniards that Llívia would not be fortified, whereas the Spaniards demanded that the portion of the road connecting Llívia with Puigcerdà that ran through French territory would be considered neutral. No demarcation line was fixed: it was understood that the settlements in question knew themselves where their own territory ended. An exception was the hamlet of Hix, where a tributary of the Segre, the Riu Reür (Raour), was agreed on as marking the frontier. At the same time, however, it was expressly laid down that while the Reür would henceforth separate the French kingdom from the Spanish kingdom, it would not separate those parts of the seigneurie (lordship) of Hix situated beyond the river from the rest. More generally, the new frontier had no effect on existing feudal and ecclesiastical arrangements. Private individuals as well as the church kept all rights—for example, to nominate clergy or levy tithes—and property they might possess. The bishop of La Seu d'Urgell (the Catalan name; Seo de Urgel in Castilian), situated downstream on the Segre, remained in charge of all of the Cerdanya—at least in theory, though with Franco‐Spanish relations often poor he might be barred from visiting parishes in the French part. In time of war, the Spaniards would occupy the French part of the Cerdanya or vice versa, but the next peace treaty invariably brought a return to the 1660 agreement.
Sahlins shows that in the eighteenth century, and in particular in the last two decades of the ancien régime, the French crown began to be dissatisfied with the, from a ‘territorialist’ viewpoint, ‘messy’ character of its borders. Thus, negotiations with the Spanish crown were begun to simplify the common frontier in the Pyrenees, causing the inhabitants of Llívia to protest against what they feared was their imminent passage under French rule. The Spanish crown seems to have been unmoved by the feelings of a mere few hundred people and prepared to cede this splinter of Spain in the middle of territory already French. But rectification of the frontier began at the other end of the Pyrenees, in the Basque country, and had not reached the Catalan end when the French Revolution intervened. As a result, it was only in 1866 that a treaty concerning this part of the frontier was concluded. Meanwhile, the territorial, centralized, homogeneous nation state had been invented. The fate of Llívia was now a question of Spanish national honour. Whereas in the late eighteenth century the Spanish crown would have ceded the little town without compunction (it had a population of some 700 in 1660, and of some 1,200 at the time of writing), now it held on to it—but the French side was not prepared to give up any territory, either.
Thus, paradoxically, in 1866 the 1660 agreement was retained, with this difference that now a demarcation line was fixed. Absurdly, Llívia, as a Spanish outpost, now finds its 13 km2 territory surrounded and defined by forty‐five numbered stone markers, despite the fact that the distance separating that territory from the rest of Spain is about a kilometre (less than a mile). As more people acquired cars, in the twentieth century the ‘neutral’ road linking Llívia to the rest of Spain became the scene of what French inhabitants of the region refer to as la guerre des stops: nationalists on the Spanish side of the frontier took offence at the fact that the French authorities expected those travelling on this road to give way at two intersections, hazardously ignoring and, time and again, demolishing the 'stop’ signs put up to that effect. The problem has recently been fixed by means of a roundabout and an overpass constructed at the expense of the Spanish government, even though they are situated on French territory.
(p. 479 ) 4.4.3 Ancien régime kingdoms and comparable political units as precursors not prototypes of the modern state
Even two countries as different, at first sight, as France and Germany in the late ancien régime were in fact closely related not only in their social organization, but even in their political organization. Their constitutional arrangements were markedly dissimilar, but derived from the same basic patterns, and those underlying patterns were not those of the modern state.
The similarity of the underlying patterns is demonstrated in similar phenomena occurring in different parts of Europe. Thus, in the pre‐Reformation period, Tomburg castle and the surrounding land were disputed between the count (later duke) of Jülich, some 40 km (25 miles) distant, and the elector‐archbishop of Cologne, whose main residence, Bonn, was some 20 km distant. Both sought to secure, if not the place itself, then at least the fealty of its tenants. In the fifteenth century, the Tomburg lordship was divided among three tenants: the lord (Burggraf) of Rheineck castle (not far distant on the Rhine) held it jointly with the von Quadt and von Sombref families, of which the last‐named resided in Tomburg castle itself. It is said that they used it as a base for raids. At any rate they incurred the wrath of the duke of Jülich as liege lord. In 1473, he had the castle captured and dismantled; it has been a ruin ever since, with the stump of the keep still a landmark. The duke thereafter kept the Sombref share in the lordship for himself. In subsequent generations, the duchy of Jülich passed to the Elector‐Palatine by way of inheritance, as did the electorate of Bavaria. In the sixteenth century, the Quadt family purchased the Rheineck portion of the lordship; this two‐thirds share eventually passed to the Dalwigk‐Lichtenfels family. As a result, in the late eighteenth century the little lordship was held jointly by one of the very greatest princes of the German empire and an obscure local gentleman.
A very similar case is better known because, by a historical accident, it has survived the end of the ancien régime. In the thirteenth century, control over seven valleys in the Pyrenees situated immediately west of the Cerdanya was sought both by the local bishop, whose cathedral stands 20 km to the south, and by the count of Foix, a town situated 50 km (30 miles) to the north. Tired of the endless quarrel between those two, the king of Aragón in 1278 forced them to establish a joint lordship (paréage in French, pareatge in Catalan) over the seven valleys. As in the case of the Tomburg lordship, one of the parties to this set‐up remained a local figure, whereas the other ‘evolved’: the county of Foix passed by inheritance to the king of Navarra (or more precisely the other way around), as, in 1589, did the French crown. In 1607, Henry IV of France and Navarra formally joined his share in the lordship over the seven valleys to the French kingdom. As a result, the little principality of Andorra (453 km2, some 70,000 inhabitants; so called after the capital of the seven valleys) is now ruled jointly by the bishop of a Catalan mountain town, La Seu d'Urgell (population, 20,000), and the President of the French Republic (population, fifty‐seven million).
Like the (from today's point of view) idiosyncratic division of the Cerdanya next door, this set‐up might not have survived the rectification of the Spanish‐French frontier in the late eighteenth century had that not been interrupted by the French Revolution. It was the supersession of ancien régime monarchy by the nation state that probably saved it, paradoxically freezing the situation as it did in the Cerdanya: Andorra survived because, with both having a stake in it thanks to the old paréage, neither the Spanish (p. 480 ) nor the French government would give it up. The 1993 constitution of the principality explicitly confirms the bishop and the president as ‘co‐princes’ (coprinceps) and indeed gives them considerable powers, which, however, they can only exercise jointly, through their local representatives. Of course there are ‘estates’, too, assembled in the General Council of the Valleys (Consell General de las Valls). The Council, which has met since 1419, now serves as a legislature. Traditionally, it consisted of four representatives from each of the seven valleys. Since nowadays most of the population lives in the capital Andorra la Veja, the new constitution lays down that the Council is to be composed of at least twenty‐eight and at most forty‐two members, half of them representatives of the valleys (each of which is to have an equal number of representatives), and the other half elected from lists by the electorate as a whole. 323
The king of France had and has a reputation for being powerful. He was, in the politics of ancien régime Europe as a whole, indeed of the world. This was a consequence of the wealth that he managed to extract from his subjects, and of the fact that his domestic position was secure—but his domestic power was quite limited. Referring to various branches and officials of the royal administration under Louis XIV, Pierre Goubert paints a picture of near‐anarchy:
The King anointed at Reims, the quasi‐priest King was revered, almost venerated—from afar, that is. Let one of his envoys turn up in the village …and there was hostility, or at least a principled distrust: what new‐fangled thing would he bring now? what insult to custom? …One cannot insist enough on that partitioned life …that pious horror of innovation …that were like the very texture of the kingdom of France in the ancien régime. Go try and make the voice of the king heard deep in the countryside if the vicar, sole agent of diffusion, sabotages, messes up, or forgets that role …, when the [royal] courts are far away, expensive, not very reliable and not very respected, the maréchaussée absent, the intendant unknown, and the subdélégué powerless? You have to see the unfortunate Colbert trying to impose his manufactures, his pedantic regulations, his companies: no one wants them …; you have to count, in the archives of the Eaux et Forêts, the files of the gabelle administration, the incredible number and variety of contraventions. …If, blinded by the golden gleam of Versailles, you forget the pullulation of all those deep phenomena, you have understood nothing of the France of Louix XIV, of the impossible task that the monarch and his clerks dared undertake, of the enormous inertia that made it so difficult. 324
This was no territorial state with a central power able to control (and if necessary, coerce, or, for that matter, provide incentives to) the inhabitants. Nor was the limited reach of the crown due to some ‘malfunction’ or exceptional weakness: it was, on the contrary, part and parcel of the social and political organization of the ancien régime. There could be no strong central power in the ancien régime—people like Nicholas of Kues, Bodin, Louis XIV, Colbert, Hobbes, Frederic William of Prussia might dream of such power, but it was not until the French Revolution at last triggered a paradigm shift and ushered in a form of social and political organization radically different from that of the ancien régime that the type of governance to which we are accustomed nowadays became possible.
If it was a revolution in France that triggered this paradigm shift, the reason was not that France was more advanced on the road towards the ‘modern state’ than other countries. It was the fact that the crown had pushed into the background those players (p. 481 ) and institutions that in other countries retained a more visible share of power. The apparent royal monopoly on power made the crown more vulnerable. If, in reality, it was far from all‐powerful, nevertheless it liked to present itself as very nearly that; as a result, even though it had not in fact succeeded in attracting all power to itself, it did succeed in attracting all the dissatisfaction with the condition of French society. Unfortunately for it, the crown was far from having the coercive means to defend itself, and, absent other players with a stake in running the country, now lacked domestic allies. By contrast, in Germany or Britain, where there was no ostensible monopoly on power of the crown, bringing the system down would have involved more than simply disempowering the king. This situation is comparable to that of Russia in 1917. There, too, the socialist, ‘workers’ revolution did not succeed because Russia was more developed than other countries, but because its autocratic regime was easy to topple.
Both the power and the powerlessness of the French crown are well illustrated by the salt tax. On the one hand, the income from it was substantial, and the fact that the crown was able to keep this highly invasive and unpopular system of taxation in being is a mark of its strong position in society. On the other hand, people at the time were agreed that the system was irrational and cried out for reform. Any observer could see that a system forcing part of the population to buy a basic, indispensable commodity at a price many times that paid by the rest of the population necessarily gave rise to a huge and ultimately uncontrollable black market. The profit margin of the smugglers was very high, as, by consequence, was their number; had they wished to combat them effectively the tax authorities would probably have been forced to spend all their revenue from this tax for this purpose. Of course that would have been absurd: what resulted instead was a situation where a still expensive supervision and enforcement staff served merely to affirm the principle that what the smugglers did was illegal without being able to put a stop to it.
The solution was obvious and proposals to bring it about were repeatedly made to Louis XIV, Louix XV, and Louis XVI. The crown would take over the production of salt from the private entrepreneurs that hitherto it had been controlling at a cost not much less, if at all, than the cost of simply taking their place. The price of salt would have been set at a uniform, relatively low level for the entire kingdom. Although some would have paid more, on average the population would have paid less for their salt. But the crown would have saved the money for a bloated administration to run the system. As noted, in 1681 the tax farmers paid Louis XIV 23.9 million livres for a period of five years. Six years earlier Vauban had suggested to the king a system which he calculated would bring in 23.4 million annually. Vauban assumed that the crown would charge retailers eighteen livres per minot (c76 l) and leave it to them at what price they would resell to their customers; the 1680 ordonnance set a price of between thirty and forty‐three livres (the figure was calculated individually for each tax district) per minot to be paid by consumers in the pays de grande gabelle. Similar proposals were made in the eighteenth century by Boulainvilliers, Saint‐Simon, Necker, or Calonne. 325
If no reform took place, it was not because the crown was stupid, but because, bound by tradition, it did not have the power. A major problem addressed by the authors of reform projects was the likelihood that provinces where the price of salt would go (p. 482 ) up would rebel (the very rumour that a salt tax was to be introduced caused riots in Britanny in 1675). To prevent that, it was deemed necessary to hold out new privileges to those put at a disadvantage by the reform projects to mollify them. Enticing as the prospect of multiplying its revenue from the salt trade must have been, the crown never took the risk, preferring to put up the gabelle again and again. This of course made the black market still more lucrative; but the advantage was that the gabelle was a traditional tax to which people were accustomed and against which they would not rebel just because it had gone up another fraction. If even nowadays people tend to accept social or political arrangements that would outrage them if they were newly introduced, in late ancien régime France this was compounded by the ‘inertia’ highlighted by Goubert, the widespread notion that custom ought to be respected and innovation was bad.
The gabelle demonstrates clearly that even the crown of ‘absolutist’ France possessed little legislative power. It could not simply abrogate the old system and put in place a new one even if objectively everything should have pushed it in that direction: both itself and the population as a whole would have been better off. The basic difficulty here was that ancien régime society was not based on laws but on their opposite: on privileges. Engelbert of Admont reminded his readers that privilegia paucorum non faciunt legem communem, the privileges of the few do not give rise to common laws. 326 It would not be much of an exaggeration to say that common or general laws—very much a cornerstone of today's state—were exactly what no one in the ancien régime wanted. The crown was incapable of legislation in today's sense because it was the epitome of a society based not on legislation but on privileges—of which the prerogatives of the crown were only the most conspicuous. Any attempt to tamper with privileges as the basis of ancien régime society endangered—indeed would soon bring down—the crown, and with it that entire society itself.
It is probable that abolishing the gabelle would have provoked a negative reaction of those with special rights in regard of it—the nobility, the clergy, those enjoying the privilège de franc‐salé—even if the measure had resulted in reducing the price of salt for them. Saving money may well not have been as important to them as the outward marks of their status, which, in ancien régime society and unlike today's society, were not directly linked with their wealth. This is indicated by abundant records of eighteenth‐century lawsuits concerning failure to comply properly with the obligations incumbent on holders of fiefs, trivial as those obligations often were. Roland Mousnier cites the case of a ‘liege lord’ entitled to annual ‘payment’ of a goose. When the accused protested that he had in fact had the goose delivered, he was told that his failure to send a liveried servant for the purpose amounted to an insult; this was then fought over in court for ten years. Comical as this may appear it illustrates the importance of status symbols whose main value was not economic. 327
Thus, in the late ancien régime, many noble families in France were much less successful economically, and indeed much poorer, than many rich burgesses, often their creditors and therefore also, in the long run, new owners of what had once been noble property. Indeed, non‐noble creditors would seek out desirable noble property to secure loans that they expected would not be repaid. Nevertheless, however rich they became, non‐noble persons could never hope to outclass noblemen, however impoverished, socially. (p. 483 ) What they could hope for—and this to some extent masks the fact that many old noble families were under increasing pressure from non‐noble capital—was to attain noble status themselves: awarded for service to the crown, bought, or, not infrequently, faked. Even conferment of a noble title would not immediately bring social equality with more ancient nobility. But, strapped for money, ancient nobility was not above marrying new nobility of lesser status but greater wealth to save themselves economically, reducing if not levelling the status difference over time. 328
Far from being above the law, the crown was its prisoner: it had to work within a framework that it could not substantially alter. Reform was either not attempted at all, as in the case of the gabelle, or it failed. For example, chancellor Maupeou in 1771 abolished the Paris parlement and its branches in the provinces in an attempt, precisely, to free the crown from the stranglehold of the notables and their established interests, opposed to innovation. But the measure was rescinded only three years later. A very serious problem at this time was that the crown needed more income than the established taxes could yield, difficult as it was to raise them yet further. At the beginning of the 1780s, Necker, the contrôleur‐général des finances or finance minister of the crown, calculated that the Champagne paid six times as much in taxes to the crown as the Franche‐Comté, situated near the eastern border of the kingdom—even though the Champagne had only 20 per cent more inhabitants; or that on average a Breton annually paid the crown twelve livres in taxes, but someone living in the Île‐de‐France paid sixty‐four. 329
This is more evidence of the heterogeneity of the kingdom, of the fact noted by Pierre Goubert that ‘the King was not equally king’ throughout it; it also suggests that the degree of control exercised by the crown still diminished in proportion as Paris was more distant. What we saw to be true of the gabelle was no doubt true of taxes generally: equalizing them throughout the kingdom would have brought relief to those who, as a result of continual piecemeal augmentation of the existing chaotic array of taxes, bore an increasingly disproportionate share of the total burden; it would not have overburdened the rest; and it would have given the crown a much greater income than before. But the crown was powerless to initiate the necessary reforms: André Bourde has described the French ‘absolutism’ of this period as ‘fettered’ (absolutisme ligoté). 330
Almost ruined by a general economic crisis made worse by the expensive intervention of the French crown against the British crown to aid the newly independent USA, the crown at last became desperate to reform the system of taxation, but projects to that effect by Calonne and Loménie de Brienne failed in quick succession. Calonne, in 1787, tried to get the support of an ‘assembly of notables’ (assemblée des notables) picked by the king, bypassing the parlements; Loménie de Brienne in 1788 appealed to the parlements themselves. But rather than the hoped‐for support for the projects of the crown this produced calls to convene the estates‐general, dormant since 1614. The crown did so in 1789 and quickly lost control of the situation to that assembly.
Adopting the new name of ‘National Assembly’, the delegates set about replacing privileges with general laws. Since privileges had hitherto been everything and general laws had been practically non‐existent, this produced a ‘revolution’ in the most literal sense. Everything changed; everything that was old vanished. The gabelle was abolished (p. 484 ) in 1790; the crown itself in 1792. The old kingdom as a conglomerate of individual (and individualistic) corporations and communities was replaced by a territorial state whose central power exercised homogeneous control over its territory, now more clearly demarcated than before as the new French state annexed enclaves like the pope's Venaissin or the Württemberg possessions in Alsace. The police grew enormously: rechristened gendarmerie nationale, as early as 1792 it had a staff of 11,000—up from 5,000 three years before. 331 Out went the old provinces with their distinct legal and administrative traditions, to be replaced by new administrative districts (the départements) of roughly equal size and whose borders ignored the historical geography of the country completely. In 1801, the new Code civil gave the country the unitary legal order that it had never previously had. In this new France, this new state, there was no room for property that was not either private or public. Hitherto, as we saw, very little property had in fact been either: but the fiefs, the censives, the seigneuries that had been building blocks of ancien régime France disappeared without a trace, as if they had never existed. It is no exaggeration to say that, for better or worse, a whole social universe vanished so completely that few people even know about it now, giving rise to the entirely erroneous notion that ancien régime social and political organization was comparable to that of a nineteenth‐ or twentieth‐century state.
But did the revolution not remain limited to France; was it not fought by the rest of Europe, which at last, in 1814/15, engineered a ‘restoration’? In fact, that word is a misnomer. The French monarchy is a good illustration of this: a king indeed returned in 1814, and he was even a member of the ancient dynasty, yet the new monarchy had very little in common with the old. France remained a unitary, homogeneous state based on laws not privileges; if not only the royal house but indeed much of the nobility resumed an elevated position in society, nevertheless it was on a totally different legal basis than before. Meanwhile, the revolution triumphed elsewhere as well, key aspects of it enthusiastically espoused by the very rulers who claimed to be opposed to it. The king of Prussia introduced a new legal code for all his dominions as early as 1794, suppressed the cathedral chapters and monasteries (such as those that we encountered in Minden) everywhere in his dominions in 1810, and in 1815 replaced those dominions themselves with ‘provinces’ (Provinzen) which within their new, partially arbitrary borders all functioned alike. At the same time (beginning with the so‐called October Edict of 1807, and more importantly the Edict of Regulation of 1811), the destruction of the local lordships and their transformation into private property—mostly of the lords rather than of the peasants, many of whom were deprived of their livelihood in the process—got under way.
Nor were such phenomena limited to the dominions of the king of Prussia. Throughout the Holy Roman Empire, stronger rulers grabbed what could be grabbed. In 1803, they agreed within the framework of the Reichstag to suppress the ecclesiastical principalities, numerous lesser secular principalities and lordships, and almost all the free cities for their own benefit. In some parts of Germany, a kind of civil war between princes and lesser lords briefly flared up: castles were seized and even went up in flames, their lords led away in chains. 332 The emperor protested against such excesses, in vain, and in 1806 declared the Holy Roman Empire dissolved. This was only logical. With the revolution (p. 485 ) unleashed and impossible to force back into the bottle whence it had escaped, the empire could not be saved. Like the old French kingdom, it was an elaborate, intricate edifice built on custom and privileges; it simply could not be turned into the centralized political unit now mandatory. Instead it fragmented, with the more powerful rulers each creating a separate state of their own in place of the larger entity of which they had previously been part. Contrary to their predecessors in the old empire, those rulers were now largely unimpeded by provincial estates or other ‘intermediary powers’: they were, for the first time, absolute rulers, truly sovereign.
The main difference between France and much of the rest of Europe was that in France those who smashed the old order also smashed the monarchy, whereas elsewhere it was rulers themselves who got to do the smashing—for their own benefit even though that of course is not how they presented it. (It also helped that under Napoleon or even earlier much of Europe came under French occupation: this destroyed much of the old social and political structures or at least left them in disarray, facilitating their subsequent removal.) It has to be said in those rulers’ favour that they only had the option of smashing the existing set‐up themselves, or of being smashed along with it. Once called in question at a fundamental level, the ancien régime unravelled almost by itself, in a sort of chain reaction, and simply could no longer be sustained even if anyone had wanted to.
4.4.4 Autonomous political actors in the ancien régime
In the late eighteenth century, the equivalent of what present‐day IR theory calls ‘international actors’ were still, on the whole, persons wearing a crown. The basic political unit of ancien régime Europe was always the kingdom, irrespective of whether, or to what degree, the crown actually acted as a central power. It needed no power to survive: no ancien régime kingdom ever disappeared through conquest. True, the Polish kingdom was suppressed in 1795—but only after the French Revolution had broken out, and the general process of smashing the old order and grabbing the spoils had begun.
In the ancien régime, the princes and cities of the Holy Roman Empire were content formally to defer to the emperor. To be sure, the 1648 Peace of Westphalia had confirmed their right to make alliances with actors outside the empire—but this was an old right, not a newly won one, and the text of the peace insisted that it must not be exercised to the detriment of the empire or the emperor. 333 Princes largely respected this restriction. Loyalty to Kaiser und Reich was very much part of the prevailing political culture, so that even contraventions were dressed up accordingly. But, in any case, it simply made more sense to seek the good will of the emperor than that of rulers outside the empire: both in terms of legitimacy and of relative material power the emperor played the role of natural hegemon in central Europe, a role that the king of Prussia began to challenge only in the second half of the eighteenth century. Moreover, the right confirmed in 1648 belonged to the period before the cult of 'sovereignty’. By the latter part of the seventeenth century, non‐royal, non‐'sovereign’ actors were no longer regarded as the prized interlocutors they had once been. Not that they were completely shunned, but they were not held in the same respect as before.
In this situation, actors wanting to be part of the inner circle of European politics were well advised to find themselves a crown. Contrary to the thinking of those who have (p. 486 ) tended to equate 'state‐making’ with ‘war‐making’, royal status could not be achieved by military means. It took the elector of Brandenburg years of laborious negotiations to have his new title of ‘king of Prussia’, adopted in 1701, accepted by the other members of the European royal club. We should note that this elector was Frederic III (Frederic I as king), much less bent on military achievement than either his predecessor or his eighteenth‐century successor Frederic II. We should also note that although his predecessor had been involved in quite a lot of warfare, he had not been very successful, and that of the Brandenburg dominions under him or Frederic I not one had been acquired by conquest. The notion that Brandenburg became a major military player already in the seventeenth century has been shown by Peter Michael Hahn to be a myth produced by nineteenth‐ and twentieth‐century historians. Hahn points out that prior to the conquest of Silesia in 1740 the Brandenburg rulers were rather less conspicuous in terms of military achievement than other German princes. 334 In fact, this probably helped Frederic I in his endeavour to have his new royal title recognized. His grandson Frederic II was far more respected as a military leader, but also far more controversial. Idolized by some, decried by others, he would no doubt have experienced far greater difficulties having his crown recognized had he not inherited it.
The second ‘new’ European crown of the late ancien régime was acquired by the duke of Savoy in 1713, in the context of the Peace of Utrecht. He, too, did not gain it because he was powerful, but because by adroitly oscillating between other, more powerful actors (the French crown, the British crown, and the emperor) he managed to sell his support very profitably. In fact, what he originally secured was not a new crown but the ancient crown of Sicily. As this was far removed from the rest of his dominions, he soon exchanged it for Habsburg‐held Sardinia. As the duke of course insisted on retaining his royal status as part of the bargain and became ‘king of Sardinia’, a new kingship was added to the European system, although this had not been the original intention. (In fact it was not totally new in that already in 1297 pope Boniface VIII had created a kingdom of Corsica and Sardinia and given it to the king of Aragón as a papal fief. The Aragonese had, however, still to conquer the two islands, and eventually established their rule only over Sardinia, not Corsica. Later, the dominions of the Aragonese crown became part of the Habsburg dominions by inheritance.) Again, the duke was seen as a suitable candidate for a crown because he was reasonably powerful, but not to the extent of being a serious threat to anyone else.
There were indeed some notable non‐royal autonomous actors in the late ancien régime, but they were exceptional—not a deliberate antithesis to the paradigm of kingship but the result of historical contingency. They were the Swiss Confederation, the Dutch United Provinces, Genoa, and Venice. As free cities, the latter two were relics of an age when the crown had not yet been considered 'sovereign’ in the sense which Bodin gave to that word, and cities acting independently in European politics were as yet nothing unusual. Genoa was technically one of the free cities of the Holy Roman Empire, and Venice had actually been part of the eastern empire. Since neither empire established any very effective rule over northern Italy, they retained their autonomous status. So did their rival Florence, with this difference that whereas the leadership of Genoa and Venice remained elective, in Florence it became hereditary in the Medici family, who became grand dukes of Tuscany.
(p. 487 ) Genoa technically continued to be part of the Holy Roman Empire until the end of the ancien régime. True, it last did homage to the emperor Matthew in the early seventeenth century and evaded this obligation under his successors. But that did not prevent it, in 1714, from prevailing, in a not very ‘republican’ spirit, on the emperor Charles VI to grant it the right to add royal insignia to its flag—so that its ships would not have to greet foreign ships, likewise sailing under some royal flag, first! If Charles was well disposed towards Genoa, it was because the city had, in fact, agreed to pay the taxes to the emperor that had been demanded of it in the course of the War of the Spanish Succession, just ended. In any case, leading Genoese families, such as notably the Doria, held other Italian fiefs from the emperor. In 1731, the Genoese appealed to the emperor in his quality as their liege lord to support them against the insurgent Corsicans, which he did by sending troops.
Conversely, in 1729 the town of San Remo filed suit against Genoa before the Imperial Aulic Council on the grounds that its subjection to Genoa was unlawful. However, as the request of 1731 also shows, the emperor—still Charles VI—rather favoured the Genoese, and did not do much to help San Remo. That caused the town, in 1753, to appeal to the king of Sardinia, whose court was in Turin. Unfortunately for San Remo, this only led to the town being bombarded by the Genoese and subjected to humiliating punitive measures, but not to any intervention from Turin. With remarkable pertinacity, in 1769 San Remo actually brought the matter before the Reichstag. In 1772, Genoa at last agreed to give up San Remo—the negotiations being led, on the side of the emperor, by one prince Doria. The Genoese did not quite fulfil their pledge, only relaxing but not abandoning their control of San Remo. But the point here is that throughout the whole affair they never denied being subject to imperial jurisdiction. The same was true of the north Italian princes. When the emperor Leopold, in 1697, requested all holders of north Italian fiefs to present the relevant charters for confirmation, he was surprised to learn that he had far more Italian vassals than his chancery knew of. Even though it had never done homage to Leopold itself, Genoa in response to the decree nevertheless asked the emperor to be re‐enfeoffed with several places under its control—a request granted, if only after lengthy negotiations, in 1709. 335
The Swiss Confederation obtained exemption from the jurisdiction of the empire in 1499, but this did not amount to a formal separation. The more so as this was still the pre‐Reformation period, demarcating oneself from the neighbours was not yet a pressing political concern, and no one, either among the Swiss themselves or in the rest of christendom, was particularly bothered about their formal status within it. Forming a confederation within the empire was nothing unusual—close by, the Swabian Confederation played an important role in the politics of the empire around 1500. Nor was exemption from the jurisdiction of the empire so unusual. The Habsburg dynasty obtained it in 1548 for those of their possessions that they had inherited from the dukes of Burgundy, that is, essentially, the Low Countries (the present‐day Benelux countries) and what is now western France. It is this fact which explains why, contrary to a widespread misperception, the United Provinces (the seven northernmost provinces of the Low Countries, now the Kingdom of the Netherlands) in 1648 sought formal recognition of their independence from the Spanish crown but not from the empire. At the time of the Peace of Westphalia, the Low Countries had been outside the jurisdiction of the empire (p. 488 ) for a century (this essentially meant that neither the Reichstag nor the supreme courts of the empire had any authority there). The southern part of the Low Countries (what is now Belgium) passed to the German branch of the Habsburg dynasty after the Spanish branch became extinct in 1700, and today's historical maps show those lands as part of the eighteenth‐century empire. But this is simply because they happened to belong to the emperor. In fact the Reichstag or the supreme courts had no more authority in Brussels than they did in Amsterdam or in Zürich, that is, no authority at all—whereas they did have authority in Genoa.
The Swiss Confederation was very much a phenomenon of the ancien régime in that it had no clearly demarcated territory or linear borders. There were full members and associated members (the latter known as zugewandte Orte). Associated members were under the protection of the full members but had no share in the decision‐making of the Confederation—at least they were not formally entitled to any such participation. They comprised for example the Grey Leagues (Graubünden), themselves composed of three distinct local leagues, the principality of Neuenburg (whose prince, in the eighteenth century, was the king of Prussia, having been elected to this position by the Neuenburg estates from among a number of contenders for the succession of William of Orange in 1702), the Valais, Geneva, Mülhausen (now Mulhouse) in Alsace, and Rottweil in Swabia. The latter two were free cities of the empire, and thus estates of the empire represented in the Reichstag as well as being associated members of the Swiss Confederation. By the late eighteenth century, Mülhausen had ceased to be listed among the estates of the empire, 336 but Rottweil always retained this status. On the other hand, Basel, also originally a free city of the empire, gave up that status on joining the Confederation in the early sixteenth century—but it joined as a full member.
The sole common institution of the Confederation was its assembly or diet, the Tagsatzung. It consisted of the representatives of the full members and in the post‐Reformation period normally met about three times a year—in the sixteenth century ordinarily in Zürich, in the seventeenth century at Baden‐im‐Aargau, in the eighteenth century at Frauenfeld. It was a purely consultative assembly without any executive powers. Unlike the German Reichstag, its decisions bound only those members that ratified them, a procedure that took place once the delegates had returned home. Majority decisions were only taken with regard to the Untertanenländer or dependent territories of the Confederation. More frequent than Tagsatzungen of the entire Confederation were particular Tagsatzungen in which the catholic and protestant members met separately. Like other decisions of the Tagsatzung, foreign treaties concluded by the Confederation were binding only on those members (full members as well as associated members) that wished to be included. 337
No more than the treaty of 1499 did the members of the Confederation regard the Peace of Westphalia as marking the formal end of their belonging to the Holy Roman Empire. It was the city of Basel which, having joined the Confederation only after the 1499 treaty, insisted on a reference to the Confederation being included in the 1648 peace, for the specific purpose of confirming its own membership in the Confederation (p. 489 ) since that had not yet been recognized in any formal way on the part of the empire. The relevant clause in the 1648 Treaty of Osnabrück clearly reflects this specific purpose, rather than being concerned with the status of the Confederation in general—though that, in the nature of the whole undertaking, was of course confirmed as well. 338 Even after 1648, the oath of citizenship in some cantons (full members of the Confederation) contained a reference to the Holy Roman Empire—in Zürich until 1654, in Solothurn until 1681, in Schaffhausen until 1714. Even after that date, the village of Wilchingen sued the town of Schaffhausen, to which it was subject, before the Imperial Aulic Council in the context of a quarrel that erupted in 1717 and continued for many years. 339
The ancien régime Swiss Confederation again poses a problem for today's mapmakers. Owing to the different status of its component parts, it cannot be shown as a homogeneously coloured territory—at least not without creating a false impression of what it was; yet unless the focus is on Switzerland alone the amount of detail necessary to indicate the character of the Confederation as a rather heterogeneous conglomerate is usually not practical. For example, the territory controlled by the abbey of Saint Gall (territory that now forms one of the Swiss cantons) is usually shown on present‐day maps of seventeenth‐ or eighteenth‐century Europe as belonging to something that most people looking at such maps would simply identify as ‘Switzerland’. But Saint Gall was an associated, not a full member of the Confederation and combined that status with continuing links with the empire. In his capacity as secular prince of the territory of the abbey, the abbot received his investiture from the emperor until 1805 even though he was not represented in the Reichstag. The abbot had capital jurisdiction—and not only was this jurisdiction originally given him by the emperor (no doubt sometime in the pre‐Reformation period), but even in the eighteenth century this fact was explicitly invoked for the purpose of formal legitimation. When, in the eighteenth century, a representative of the abbot opened sessions of the abbot's court, he would do so using the following formula:
Whereas by virtue of the full powers granted by His Majesty the Roman emperor, our most gracious lord, and his most gracious investiture of the most worthy and noble lord abbot of the princely abbey and house of god of Saint Gall, our gracious prince and lord, I have been appointed a bailiff of the Holy Roman Empire, and …having been asked to bring to bear the emperor's law, have appointed this day to enquire: whether time and place be appropriate that I should seize the sword and, taking it in my hand, should sit down with the members of the jury to judge the causes brought before us, in accordance with the law of the emperor and the Holy Roman Empire? 340
(p. 490 ) The passage makes clear that Saint Gall, an associated but important member of the Swiss Confederation, was unconcerned with the notion of sovereignty as it is nowadays understood—happy to emphasize that both its jurisdiction and its legal order derived from an ‘outside’ power (although, of course, the clear distinction of inside and outside is itself only really possible in the case of today's state; conversely the fact that this distinction is here muddled is typical of the ancien régime). The town (as opposed to the abbey) of Saint Gall likewise emphasized its continuing association with the empire by using the imperial insignia (the imperial crown and the double‐headed eagle) in its coat of arms until at least 1798. 341
The constitutional organization of the Confederation was unsystematic in the extreme: here, too, there was no general legal order binding on all, but only individual rights and privileges of the various units making up the Confederation. Thus, regarding the terms of their membership no associated member was quite like the other. Protestant Mülhausen was associated (zugewandt) only with the protestant cantons. The catholic prince‐bishop of Basel—who at the same time remained a prince of the empire and unlike the abbot of Saint Gall was also represented in the Reichstag—was only associated with the catholic cantons; at the same time the city of Basel was itself one of the protestant cantons. The dependent territories (such as the Aargau, the Thurgau, Locarno, or Lugano) were not administered by the Confederation as such, but by ‘consortia’ of cantons that included different cantons in the case of each of those territories; those cross‐cutting ‘consortia’ were an important bond ensuring the cohesion of the Confederation.
Although they had no automatic right of representation, certain important associated members nevertheless routinely voted in the Tagsatzung—such as, in the eighteenth century, the abbot of Saint Gall, or the town of Biel: technically part of the territory of the catholic prince‐bishop of Basel (associated, as we saw, with the catholic cantons), protestant Biel was itself one of the associated members while still remaining, in some sense, part of the dominions of the prince‐bishop—just as Saint Gall in some sense remained part of the empire even as it played an important role in the Confederation, or as the prince‐bishop continued to be represented in the Reichstag as well. The dominions of the prince‐bishop in fact furnish another nice example of ancien régime complexity. Parts of the episcopal territory were verburgrechtet with members of the Confederation (associate or full: Berne, Solothurn, Biel), meaning that they had the Burgrecht (a period Swiss term for citizenship) of those places—it was a Swiss particularity that municipalities would grant their citizenship to outsiders (individuals, such as local noblemen, or corporations, such as other municipalities) as a way of establishing formal ties with those outsiders. Those parts of the episcopal lands that were verburgrechtet in this way were held to be Confederation territory, whereas the rest was considered to belong to the Holy Roman Empire—even though, of course, those were not totally exclusive categories. 342
The emperor himself (or, to be exact, the house of Habsburg) held territory in Switzerland. The lordship of Tarasp, entirely surrounded by territory belonging to the Grey Leagues, was held by the emperor until he passed it on to the Dietrichstein family in 1684; despite its location it legally remained part of the empire rather than the Confederation until 1803. However, there were also Habsburg possessions within the territory of the Grey Leagues—such as the lordship of the Münstertal (Münster valley), (p. 491 ) which its inhabitants purchased in 1748/62 (the inhabitants of a lordship buying out the lord was not so unusual), or the lordship of Rhäzüns (which had been pawned but was redeemed by the emperor in 1696 and kept throughout the eighteenth century). 343
The Confederation was even less centralized than the empire. As in the empire, there was no central government. Nevertheless, the system worked—despite occasional domestic violence, like the peasants’ rising in Berne, Lucerne, and Solothurn in 1653, the so‐called Villmerg War of 1656, the Toggenburg (or Second Villmerg) War of 1712 (in whose long preparatory phase abbot Leodegar Bürgisser of Saint Gall cancelled his treaty with the Confederation and concluded an alliance with the emperor instead), or the protracted constitutional quarrel in Geneva culminating, in 1782, in the occupation of the city by troops from Berne—in conjunction with troops from France and Savoy—in order to dismantle a new, more broadly‐based regime that had been installed there. Note that such conflicts did not involve the Confederation as a whole.
The seven northern provinces of the Low Countries, united in the Utrecht union of 1579, rebelled against Spanish rule even as many of the inhabitants remained staunchly loyal to the Spanish crown, blaming the need to fight on evil advisers. The uprising was not fuelled by any sort of republicanism or nationalism; thus, somewhat surprisingly from today's perspective, the opening stanza of the sixteenth‐century Wilhelmus, the song about the leader of the anti‐Spanish rebellion William of Nassau that now serves as the Dutch national anthem, has him proudly declare both his ‘German blood’ and his unswerving loyalty to the king of Spain. With that loyalty sadly unrequited, the Dutch would have given their allegiance to some other crown instead of the Spanish crown, but could not find one that wanted them: both Henry III of France and Elizabeth I of England declined the offer. They thus became a republic originally without wanting to. But as a result, they illustrate (as does the Swiss Confederation) how little the social structures of the ancien régime were in need of a crown. That fact, in turn, left kings free to devote a great deal of their resources, not needed actually to run their dominions, to foreign policy and indeed foreign warfare.
Everywhere in ancien régime Europe, even in seemingly ‘absolutist’ monarchies like France or Brandenburg‐Prussia, the crown was in some manner or other faced with estates in its dominions. Yet whereas the crown could not have survived without the support of the estates, conversely the estates were easily capable of dispensing with the crown. In the Dutch case, the whole apparatus of local and regional communities (consociationes) placed beside and above one another as depicted by Althusius (who based himself not least on the example of the northern Netherlands) simply continued to function after the authority of the Spanish crown over it had been removed: the towns and local lordships, the provincial estates (staten‐provinciaal), the States General (staten‐generaal). Here, too, as in the Swiss Confederation, we find the phenomenon of subject territories—in essence those portions of the southern provinces not part of the Utrecht union that were subsequently conquered by the northern provinces (Flanders north of the mouth of the Scheldt, north Brabant, north Limburg). Until the end of the ancien régime, they were administered under the joint authority of the States General (i.e. the estates of the union or confederation).
As in the Swiss case, there was no central government. Formally, the seven provinces were completely autonomous and not subject to any common authority. The union as (p. 492 ) such, embodied by the States General, was mainly responsible for foreign policy. It is true that the States General effectively resembled a government: they convened very frequently, often every day (in the Hague Binnenhof), and were a rather small group. Each of the seven provinces had a single vote in the assembly, so that seven delegates would have sufficed; the actual number of delegates present was usually between ten and twenty. Majority decisions were possible; in any case the largest of the provinces, Holland, had such preponderance in the union that the other provinces usually followed its lead. Unlike the Swiss Confederation, the United Provinces had other common institutions apart from the assembly of their delegates. They were of an administrative nature: the raad van state (council of state) was in charge of running the army, the common fortresses, and the dependent territories; the rekenkamer (audit chamber) was in charge of the common finances, and the muntkamer (mint chamber) supervised the monetary system of the union—the provinces minted their own coins, yet (unlike the Swiss Confederation) had a de facto currency union. The totality of those central administrations, established at The Hague, was referred to as the generaliteit. 344 (‘Council of state’ sounds like a reference to the 'state’ in Hobbes’ or our sense but really means ‘royal council’; in the same manner, individual provinces and also the union as a whole often—not always—had stadhouders, literally 'stead‐holders’ or ‘place‐holders’, so called because they represented—took the place of—the prince or king. In both instances the anachronistic retention of terms dating from the time when the seven provinces were still under the authority of the Spanish king shows once more that the union was not founded on any sort of anti‐monarchical ideology.)
What enabled actors, royal or not, to take part in European politics was their recognition: recognition by each other, but also recognition by those under their authority. Contrary to the theory that, in the words of Charles Tilly, ‘until recently only those states survived that held their own in war with other states,’ 345 it was really because their continued existence did not depend on their ability to coerce either their subjects or their neighbours that ancien régime European actors were able to engage in war with each other in the first place. Subjects (or vassals) accepted the authority of the crown despite the fact that had they chosen not to do so the crown would have been unable to overcome the resistance of more than a few of them; nor need a crown fear that, even if it lost a foreign war, the penalty would be any worse than having to cede some peripheral territory or dominions. But it could invest massive resources in foreign warfare—in fortifications, navies, and armies—precisely because those resources were not needed domestically. Louis XIV had up to half a million soldiers to make war for him abroad, but made do with 2,000 gendarmes to assert a token sovereignty domestically. He could do this because he was not needed to maintain order within France, any more than the United Provinces, or the Swiss Confederation, needed a king, or indeed any sort of central executive, to maintain order among their inhabitants. Much of that part of the annual budget of the French crown that did not go into financing the military served to pay for the royal court. Very little went into financing the central administration of the kingdom of France, quite simply because that existed only in the most inchoate fashion.
An expert on the period, M. S. Anderson, has this to say on ‘government and administration’ (the heading of the relevant chapter) in the late ancien régime:
During the eighteenth century few European States possessed efficient administrations. For this inefficiency there were several reasons. The governmental machines of the period were defective because nearly all of them were operated, to varying extents, by men who were not professional administrators: nearly all of them depended on the help of unofficial or semi‐official bodies of various kinds. Moreover the officials whom they employed, as well as being often few in numbers, were as a rule inadequately trained and often poorly and irregularly paid. Most important of all, they were faced almost everywhere by a complex array of traditional institutions, often with deep historic roots and able to call on considerable reserves of popular support in their own localities. These were almost always hostile to any concentration of power in the hands of a centrally controlled and efficiency‐minded bureaucracy and distrustful of any move towards administrative rationality which seemed to threaten their own powers. The amateur and semi‐official character of much eighteenth‐century administration was bound up with the nature of society as an aggregate of traditional groupings and institutions. It seemed reasonable, and was often economical of money and effort, to allow groups and institutions of this kind not merely a high degree of autonomy in the regulation of their own internal affairs but also a large share in the execution of government policies which particularly concerned them. 346
Anderson cites as an example the fact that the University of Paris was entrusted by the crown with the supervision of the French book trade, an arrangement formalized by a royal arrêt of 1725. Like any other ancien régime university the Sorbonne was an autonomous corporation: it had not been created by the crown, was not run by the crown, and far from receiving funds from the crown was actually, from 1695, obliged to pay the crown taxes.
The passage is remarkably judgemental: eighteenth‐century European ‘States’ (with a capital S) were ‘inefficient’ (in comparison with what? with present‐day 'states’? but are present‐day states more efficient, just because their administrative apparatus are more elaborate? how can this efficiency be measured?). Their ‘governmental machines’ were ‘defective’ because they were insufficiently ‘professional’—their staff small, badly trained (but how much training did they need?), and badly paid (this was partly because supra‐local administrative resources were less vital to the functioning of ancien régime society and thus held in lower regard—witness Frederic II's reply to Carl von Siegroth—and partly because the staff was often made up of gentlemen expected to have an independent income in addition to their salary). Eighteenth‐century administration was ‘amateur’ and 'semi‐official’. To make up its shortcomings it relied on ‘traditional institutions’ distrustful of ‘administrative rationality’.
This attitude is not entirely anachronistic in that it was in fact shared by many eighteenth‐century reformers, enamoured with rationality and efficiency and distrustful of what was ‘merely’ the result of historical contingency: they were preparing the next ‘transformation of the prevailing social episteme’, and the upheaval triggered in 1789. Nevertheless it is one thing for contemporaries to be critical of their own age, and another for historians to adopt such a partisan perspective. Historians should primarily seek to understand the past as it was, rather than blame it for not having been something else. Anderson criticizes eighteenth‐century society for having been too far removed from what we think 'states’ should be. Psychologically, this is made easier, (p. 494 ) even, on the face of it, compelling by the fact that our notions of what 'states’ should be are akin to, indeed linear descendants of, those held by reformist authors in the period itself: there is an ideological continuity here. It is also true that the ideology to which Anderson subconsciously subscribes is what brought the ancien régime down: it ultimately imploded because the discrepancy between what it was and what the elites of the late eighteenth/early nineteenth century—both revolutionary and conservative—wanted instead became unbridgeable. Nothing short of an earthquake could release the pent‐up tectonic energy inherent in this situation.
But the fact that the ideology of the intellectual elites of the period is one still widely shared at present does not make it anything less of an ideology, or using it as a yardstick to judge historical phenomena by, any more permissible. In this sense, judging the late ancien régime from the point of view of enlightenment rationalism is like blaming sixteenth‐century France for having been far removed from the kind of kingdom imagined by Jean Bodin, or seventeenth‐century England for having been nothing like the commonwealth imagined by Thomas Hobbes. The social and political structures that still existed in the eighteenth century and which indeed, until the 1790s, very much dominated the scene, were not, as Anderson and many other present‐day historians would have it, as yet imperfect states. They were something intrinsically different, a legacy of the past much more than anticipation of the age to come.
(4) Sallares (1991: 312, cf. 399).
(8) According to Andrew Wilson ( 1995 ), a mill find at Kaisáreia in Palestine is wrongly considered to be of the Simitthus type. Nor should that be confused with the so‐called drop‐tower mill. Here, a round masonry shaft serves as a pressure tank for the water driving the mill wheel (collecting the water in this fashion means that even small streams can be tapped, if only in mountainous terrain), but the wheel is not built into the shaft itself. Common until recently in the Near and Middle East and in northern Africa, this type seems to be a post‐Roman invention.
(9) I shall not discuss other varieties of mill wheel such as the breast wheel and the pitch‐back wheel, which appear not to have been common in Europe before the 19th cent.
(10) Anthologia palatina (Anthologia graeca) 9.418.
(14) Prokópios of Kaisáreia, Pólemoi 5.19.8 (1968: 187).
(16) For a critical discussion of the Barbégal complex, see Roos ( 1986 ); for a typically absurd reconstruction of the complex, see Hodge ( 1990 ) (Hodge sinks the lowermost of the eight overshot wheels that he posits halfway into the ground to gain some height of fall and then posits an—undiscovered and wildly impractical—underground drainage for the run‐off); for the suggestion of breast wheels, see Gähwiler and Speck ( 1991 : 72–3).
(21) Ausonius, Mosella 360–4, cf. ibid. 48–9. Wilson ( 1995 : 499 n. 2) also cites Gregory of Nýssa (died 394) ‘In Eccl. 3, 656A, Migne’ as a further indication of watermills being used for sawing stone.
(22) LdM ‘Mühle, Müller’ (column 887).
(23) Holt ( 1988 : 11–13). Different authors have arrived at different totals for the number of mills mentioned in Domesday. According to Holt ( 1988 : 8), 6,082 is a better figure than the 5,624 quoted most often.
(25) The words are borrowed from Luke 10.41, where they are used to describe the eagerness with which Martha seeks to make her visitor Jesus comfortable. The Revised Standard Edn. replaces the ‘careful’ of the King James Bible with ‘anxious’.
(26) Ecclesiastes 1.3: ‘What profit hath a man of all his labour which he taketh under the sun?’
(27) Descriptio …Monasterii Claraevallensis, Migne PL 185, 570–1, my trans.
(29) Prokópios of Kaisáreia, Pólemoi 5.19.13 (1968: 189).
(30) Kreiner ( 1996 : 88). Internet research on pages devoted to this aqueduct showed that here, too, different figures are in circulation (85–130 km). In this case, part of the explanation seems to be that the main aqueduct had several smaller feeders.
(32) LdM ‘Eisen’.
(36) Shaw (1984: 14).
(39) On the evolution of water and wind power cf. also e.g. Cipolla (1993: 140–3); Contamine et al. ( 1993 : 69–71, 85–6, 146ff., 179–82); Duby ( 1977 : i 200ff.); Ennen ( 1979 : 77, 234); Fossier ( 1991 : 133–4); Gies and Gies ( 1994 : 35, 113–17, 178, 200–3 [blast furnaces], 246 [book production before 1500], 265–7).
(44) Duby ( 1977 : i 215; cf. i 191–7) estimated that the productivity of the soil increased fourfold between the 9th cent. and the 12th cent. Contamine et al. ( 1993 : 150–1) avoid giving figures, but cautiously confirm the general tendency. See also the discussion (of, among other things, the contradictory figures arrived at by B. H. Slicher van Bath and J. Z. Titow) in Cipolla (1993: 100–2).
(46) LdM ‘Rente, ‐nkauf, ‐markt’.
(67) Widukind 1.26.
(68) Widukind 1.9: Populus autem Francorum …Thiadricum ungunt sibi in regem.
(69) Widukind 2.1.
(70) Widukind 1.25. In the parlance of the period, the plural populi, unlike gentes, is not necessarily a reference to ethnically distinct peoples, but I do think that the latter meaning is implied here. Cf. Widukind 1.9.
(71) Widukind 3.73: Populus autem Constantinopolitanus audiens a suis male pugnatum, consurrexerunt adversus imperatorem suum et …cuiusdam militis insidiis occiderunt, locoque domini militem imperio designantes. Constitutus autem rex continuo captivos absolvit.
(74) Die Krone, welche man sehr hatte füttern müssen, stand wie ein übergreifendes Dach vom Kopf ab. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Dichtung und Wahrheit, book V; my trans.
(76) Eine politisch‐religiöse Feierlichkeit hat einen unendlichen Reiz. Wir sehen die irdische Majestät vor Augen, umgeben von allen Symbolen ihrer Macht; aber indem sie sich vor der himmlischen beugt, bringt sie uns die Gemeinschaft beider vor die Sinne. Denn auch der einzelne vermag seine Verwandtschaft mit der Gottheit nur dadurch zu betätigen, daß er sich unterwirft und anbetet.
(77) Einhard, Vita Karoli Magni 30–2.
(78) Widukind 1.41, 3.75.
(81) MGH Ep. sel. 2.2, VIII.21, at p. 559.
(83) e.g. the Statutum in favorem principum of the emperor Frederic II of 1231 (MGH Const. 2 no. 171) or a decree by his son, king Henry, of the same year (ibid., no. 305).
(89) Regnum nostrum …vestre committimus potestati, ut ad vestrum nutum omnia disponantur et in omnibus vestri fiat voluntas imperii. Sit igitur inter nos et populos nostros dilectionis et pacis unitas indivisa …ita tamen, ut vobis, qui dignitate preminetis, imperandi cedat auctoritas, nobis non deerit voluntas obsequendi. Rahewin, Gesta Friderici 3.7 (MGH SSrG 46).
(95) Statement by the Secretary of State for Scotland, Lord James Douglas‐Hamilton, in the House of Commons on 16 July 1996, Hansard col. 1055.
(99) Thomas Aquinas, De regimine principum 1.2. Latin text in Thomas Aquinas, Opera omnia, ed. by Roberto Busa, vol. 3, my trans.
(100) Thomas, De regimine 1.2.
(101) The word provincia has the meaning ‘[independent] country’ already in late antiquity, as is clear from a passage quoted in the last chapter (Paulus Orosius 5.1.14, supra ch. 3, n. 222). The word still retained the meaning ‘country’ in 18th‐cent. German (e.g. Teutschland ist …diejenige Provinz Europens, welche …, ‘Germany is …that country of Europe which’ etc., Moser 1766 : 22). It thus seems safe to assume that ‘country’ is the meaning that Thomas had in mind.
(102) Cf. supra ch. 3, n. 351.
(103) Thomas, De regimine 1.3.
(104) Thomas, De regimine 1.3. sub uno rege ‘by one king’: this un‐‘classical’ usage of a preposition other than ab to express agency is typical of the Latin of the period.
(105) ad opportunitates bellorum, quibus tuta redditur humana societas, regionis temperies plurimum valet. Thomas, De regimine 2.1.
(107) Based on data in Cheneval (1995: 19–20) and Miethke ( 1991 : 92 n). The 1998 edn. of the De ortu of Engelbert of Admont identifies nineteen manuscripts, but the list is incomplete; Engelbert ( 1998 : 285), criticized in Ubl (1999). The 1607 edn. of Giles' treatise quoted here exists in a facsimile reprint, but as far as I am aware there is no recent edn. of the Latin text—the critical edn. of Giles' complete works begun in 1985 at the initiative of Francesco del Punta seems to be making slow progress. There is a recent edn. of the 14th‐cent. English trans. of the treatise by John Trevisa (Giles 1997 ). In quoting from this trans. I have converted / to Th/th, but retained the letter yogh (), since this does not correspond to any single letter or combination of letters in present‐day English.
(111) Oportet ergo rectores civitatis habere civilem potentiam, ut possint cogere et punire nolentes virtuose vivere, et turbantes pacem et bonum statum aliorum civium. Quare cum perversi in civitate aliqua non audeant insurgere contra principem, si sciant ipsum magnam habere civilem potentiam, et dominare in civitatibus multis, si constet de principe quod iuste regat et quod non convertatur in tyrannum, expedit civitatibus propter virtuose vivere, et propter corruptionem perversorum congregari sub uno regno. Giles, De regimine 3.1.5 ( 1607 : 412; 1997 : 295). Giles oddly uses civilis potentia in the sense of ‘military power’, as is shown unambiguously by his discussion of Vegetius in ch. 1.1.10. In criticizing Vegetius and denouncing warlikeness Giles for once parts company with Thomas.
(113) videmus enim civitates non existentes sub uno rege plures guerras et discordias habere ad invicem (we seen that citees that ben not vnder oo kyng hauen ofte greet discord and stryf eche with other). Giles, De regimine 3.1.6 ( 1607 : 414; 1997 : 296)—Experti enim sumus civitates et provincias non existentes sub uno rege esse in penuria, non gaudere in pace, molestari dissensionibus et guerris: existentes vero sub uno rege, e contrario, guerras nesciunt, pacem sectantur, abundantia florent (For we knowen and seen that citees [provincias goes untranslated here] that ben not vnder oon kyng ben in pouert and in meschef and not in pees but ben agreued with stryf and werre. And citees that ben vnder oon kyng aenward, and hauen non werre but pees and plente). Ibid. 3.2.3 (1607: 458; 1997: 327–8).
(116) Supra ch. 3, n. 240.
(117) MGH Const. 4,1 no. 173.
(119) Nicholas of Kues ( 1959 ). The English trans. by Paul E. Sigmund (Nicholas of Kues 1991 ) is unreliable (to put it mildly). On Nicholas, see also e.g. Bellitto, Izbicki, and Christianson ( 2004 ); Lücking‐Michel ( 1994 ); Posch ( 1930 ); Sigmund ( 1963 ); Walther ( 1976 : 229–60); Watanabe ( 1963 ).
(120) Lücking‐Michel ( 1994 : 38). Nicholas does mention Marsilius at the end of Book II (§256), where he says that he only became aware of the Defensor pacis when he had almost finished De concordantia.
(121) Nicholas, De concordantia §271, cf. §274.
(122) Nicholas, De concordantia §§277, 279, quoting Aristotle, Politiká 1292a 32.
(123) Legis autem latio per eos omnes, qui per eam stringi debent, aut maiorem partem aliorum electione fieri debet. Nicholas, De concordantia §276.
(124) (electio) omnium aut maioris partis vel saltem eorum procerum. Nicholas, De concordantia §283.
(125) Nicholas, De concordantia e.g. §155.
(126) sicut inter cunctos patriarchas Romanus est primus, ita inter cunctos reges Romanorum rex. Nicholas, De concordantia §293.
(127) Nicholas, De concordantia §294.
(129) On the relationship between the two cf. Nicholas, De concordantia 3 ch. 41.
(130) Nicholas, De concordantia §§348–9, 355–6.
(131) Nicholas, De concordantia §411; cf. §482.
(132) Periit omnis cura reipublicae …leges omnes de aranearum telis connexae sunt. Minutissimae vix locustae teneri in ipsis possunt. …Censura omnis cessavit. Non puniuntur rebelles. Et facti sunt ex tyrannica dominatione principes multi et potentes imperio decrescente. …O caecitas maxima. Non credant principes de bonis imperii divites fieri et permanere posse aliquamdiu. Curantibus enim omnibus sua augmentare, imperio ad nihil tendente, quid sequitur nisi universorum destructio? Quoniam non exsistente potentia maiori conservativa et pacativa imperii, invidia eademque semper crescente cupiditate guerras, schismata divisionesque faciet …desinet hierarchicus ordo. Non est primus, ad quem concurratur. Et ubi non est ordo, est confusio. Et ubi confusio, ibi nullus tutus. Et sic nobilibus inter se altercantibus ius omne in armis propriis quaerentes surgent populares. Quoniam, sicut principes imperium devorant, ita populares principes …Et quaeretur imperium in Germania, et non invenietur ibi. Et per consequens alieni capient loca nostra, et dividemur inter nos, et sic alteri nationi subiciemur. Nicholas, De concordantia §§496, 502–3, 507.
(133) regnum Romanorum …ex tot alternationibus, maxime diebus nostris, ex nobilissimo factum est pene novissimum. Otto of Freising, Chronaca, preface (MGH SSrG 45).
(134) Jordanus, Tractatus super Romano imperio 13.
(137) Aristotle famously postulates that man is by nature (phýsei) an ‘animal geared towards the pólis’, politikón zốion (Politiká 1253a 4).
(138) Vigor legis in coerctione est, coerctionem potentia custodit et exequitur, qua sublata—quia nitimur in vetitum et sumus ab adolescentia proni ad malum—legalis censura et per consequens pax et iustitia non diu persistent. Nicholas, De concordantia §552.
(139) Aristotle, Politiká 1269a 20.
(140) Nicholas, De concordantia 3, ch. 39.
(141) Nicholas, De concordantia 3, ch. 31, 34.
(143) Nicholas, De concordantia §483; cf. 495, 500.
(144) Ecce si ea, quae superius habentur, ad mentem revoces, quomodo omnis superioritas ordinata ex electiva concordantia spontaneae subiectionis exoritur, et quod populo illud divinum seminarium per communem omnium hominum aequalem nativitatem et aequalia naturalia iura inest, ut omnis potestas, quae principaliter a deo est sicut et ipse homo, tunc divina censeatur, quando per concordantiam communem a subiectis exoritur, ut sic constitutus, quasi in se omnium voluntatem gestans in principando, publica et communis persona ac pater singulorum vocetur in recta regulari ordinata potentia cuncta gubernans absque fastu superbiae, dum se quasi omnium collective subiectorum sibi creaturam cognoscit, singulorum pater exsistat. Nicholas, De concordantia §331.
(147) Enea Silvio Piccolomini ( 1939 ); an English trans. (not used here) is in Izbicki and Nederman ( 2000 ). On the borrowings from the De concordantia, see the editor's introduction to the 1939 edn. p. 39, and the critical apparatus. On this treatise, see also Esch ( 1989 ) and Schmidinger ( 1978 ).
(148) The Monarchia of Antonio Roselli (Antonius de Rosellis), mostly written in 1433 or 1434 but reworked in the early 1440s (Cheneval 1995: 295–6), is in Melchior Goldast (ed.), Monarchia S. Romani Imperii (Hanau 1611 ), vol. 1, pp. 252–556. I have not read this massive work, relying on Cheneval 1995 for information on its content.
(152) Cf. Jordanus, Tractatus super Romano imperio 8. Nicholas, too, cites John 19.11 (De concordantia §289), but, invoking Augustine, interprets the passage as meaning that the secular power in general was god‐given. According to the editor of Nicholas' treatise the reference to Augustine is to his commentary on the gospel of John.
(154) Nicholas, De concordantia §336.
(161) Nicholas, De concordantia §292.
(164) Nicholas, De concordantia §378.
(170) Kriedte (1984: esp. 162–5).
(177) On the very controversial issue of the impact of trends in military technology on political structures—often referred to as a ‘military revolution’, though there is little consensus on what exactly this ‘revolution’ consisted in—see esp. Black ( 1991 ); Eltis ( 1998 ); Parker ( 1996 ); Rogers ( 1995 ).
(179) anthrố;poi de ep'oudénas mállon synístantai ê epí toútous hous an aisthố;ntai archeín hautố;n epicheiroúntas. Xenophố;n, Kyroupaideía 1.1. On poimến laố;n, see Schulte (2001: 26, 80, 104–10, 117, 211).
(181) Matthew 21.22.
(182) Romans 13.1–7.
(183) Supra ch. 3, no. 4.
(184) Supra ch. 2, no. 248.
(185) Ad hoc maximum imperium venimus dei providentia et electione senatus excellentissimi cunctaeque militiae. Leo, letter 73, Migne PL 54, p. 899.
(187) Corpus iuris, De conceptione digestorum praef. 1.
(188) Non est princeps super leges sed leges super principem. Pliny, Panegyricus 65.1.
(189) Corpus iuris, Digest 1.3.31.
(190) Seneca, De clementia 1.16–18.
(191) Memor esto ergo semper, rex mi, dei regis tui cum timore et amore, quod tu es in vice illius super omnia membra eius custodire et regere, et rationem reddere in die iudicii, etiam per te. MGH Ep. 4, p. 503.
(192) 1081; MGH Ep. sel. 2.2, VIII.21, at p. 559.
(193) Matthew 20.26–8.
(197) Iôánnês Zônáras 18.29.
(198) Imperator, qui imperialium omnium non dominus sed administrator exsistit. Nicholas, De concordantia §579; cf. §500: cum imperator solum administrator in utilitatem rei publicae exsistat.
(199) Ordine naturali rex propter regnum, et non e contra. Engelbert, De ortu 19.
(200) Dante, Monarchia 1.12.11–12.
(201) le souverain, bien loin d’être le maître absolu des peuples sous sa domination, n'en est en lui‐même que le premier domestique. The passage is from the first ch. of Frederic's Anti‐Machiavel, first publ. 1740.
(202) Un prince est le premier serviteur et le premier magistrat de l'État; il lui doit compte de l'usage qu'il fait des impôts. The passage is from the section on Frederic I of Prussia in Frederic's Mémoires pour servir à l'histoire de la Maison de Brandebourg, first publ. 1746 (rev. edn. 1751).
(203) Nicholas, De concordantia catholica §378.
(204) Pour ce [=Parce] que nous parlons en cest livre, en pluseurs lieus du souverain, et de ce qu'il puet et doit fere, li aucun pourroient entendre, pour ce que nous ne nommons conte ne duc, que ce fust du roi, mais en tous les lieus la ou li rois n'est pas nommés, nous entendons de ceux qui tiennent en baronie, car chascuns barons est souverains en sa baronie. Voirs [=vrai] est que li rois est souverains par dessus tous et a de son droit la general garde de son roiaume, par quoi il puet fere tens [=tant] establissemens comme il li plest pour le commun pourfit, et ce qu'il establist doit estre tenu. Philippe de Beaumanoir, Coutumes de Beauvaisis, ed. by A. Salmon, vol. 2, Paris 1900, ch. 34: Des convenences, §1043, p. 24; quoted Walther ( 1976 : 96 n. 79), my trans.
(205) I render as ‘fief’ what Philippe calls baronie. In post‐Reformation France, the term baron came to designate a nobleman of quite low rank; by contrast, when Philippe wrote, the term comprised the very greatest vassals of the crown (such as dukes or counts) but not minor local seigneurs. I am not sure, however, if this distinction is relevant to the point that Philippe is here making. If his terminology probably does not include them, he might nevertheless not have denied that even minor seigneurs were 'sovereign’ within their seigneurie.
(208) On qualified sovereignty in Bodin, see Franklin ( 1973 : ch. 5). Loix royales, leges imperii: ibid. p. 70; Bodin uses those expressions in chapter 1.8 of his work (in both the French and the Latin edn.).
(210) Hughes and Larkin ( 1964 : nos. 158, 208, 275, 388, 448, 451). This edn. uses present‐day US spelling since in many cases no ‘original’ text can be established; even if, e.g., a copy of the original proclamation from the workshop of the royal printer survives, the many abbreviations typical of the period cannot be written out without arbitrary spelling decisions. Elizabeth not only, like her two predecessors, reiterates the English claim to the French throne, but reasserts English suzerainty over the kingdom of Scotland.
(211) Jean Bodin, Methodus ad facilem historiarum cognitionem (first publ. 1566), ch. 6.
(212) Cf. Bodin, De la république 1.8, where 'sovereignty’ is explicitly equated with Latin maiestas even in the French text. Like souveraineté, maiestas is derived from a comparative not a superlative (from maior ‘greater’ rather than maximus ‘greatest’).
(213) Johannes Althusius, Politica methodice digesta atque exemplis sacris et profanis illustrata, first publ. 1603, 2nd enlarged edn. 1610. I have cited the 3rd edn. of 1614, considered to be definitive. A 4th edn. appeared in 1625, and the book continued to be occasionally reprinted after Althusius' death. There is an English trans. of part of the Politica (Althusius 1965 ), which is useful as an introduction to the work, but since I have not limited myself to the excerpts included there the work is quoted here in my own trans.
(221) Althusius, Politica 2–8.
(223) Bodin, De la république 3.7.
(224) Politica est ars homines ad vitam socialem inter se constituendam, colendam et conservandam consociandi. Unde symbiôtikế [spelled with Greek letters in the original] vocatur. Proposita [? – propositum?] igitur Politicae est consociatio, qua pacto expresso, vel tacito, symbiotici inter se invicem ad communicationem mutuam eorum, quae ad vitae socialis usum et consortium sunt utilia et necessaria, se obligant. Althusius, Politica 1.1‐2 ( 1614 : 2).
(227) populus in corpus unum, consensu plurium consociationum symbioticarum, et corporum specialium, seu corporum plurium consociatorum conjunctus, et sub uno jure collectus. Althusius, Politica 9.3 ( 1614 : 167).
(230) Bodin, De la république 2.5.
(234) Althusius, Politica 19; Bodin, De la république 1.8.
(238) Hobbes, Leviathan 21 ( 1985 : 267–8; Hobbes' italics). Cf. ibid. ch. 46: ‘From Aristotles Civill Philosophy, they have learned, to call all manner of Common‐wealths but the Popular, (such as was at that time the state of Athens,) Tyranny.’ (Hobbes 1985 : 698; Hobbes' italics.)
(280) Precise information about the constitution and politics of the 17th‐ and 18th‐cent. Holy Roman Empire is still hard to come by in English and disinformation abounds. A more detailed discussion is provided in Osiander ( 2001 a. I have further explored the theme of the absence of sovereignty in the German system in Osiander ( 2003 ).
(282) IPO 11.1, 11.4.
(284) Was Minden Rawensberg tecklenburg Lingen [anlanget] sein die wassallen dum und opinatre [sic] die Ihr nicht zu viehll amplogiren [=employ‐] Könnet weiln sie zu Komode sein zu dienen aber sein nicht so schlim wie die Altemerck[ische].
(285) Die Altmerckische Vasallen sein schlimme ungehorsame leutte die dar nichts mit guhten tuhn sondern Reweche [revêche] sein und rechte leichtfertige leutte gegen Ihren Landesherren sein. Mein lieber Successor mus sie den Daum auf die augen halten und mit Ihnen nicht guht umbgehen …dieses wierdt Ihnen weißen das Ihr her sein wollen und sie wasallen sein müßen und nicht condohminaht haben müssen. Whole text in Dietrich ( 1981 : 100–24); quotations at pp. 109–11.
(287) [daß] Ich ohnmöglich das ganze Schlos zur Kammer‐Kanzeley einräumen kann. Ihr müsset nur die Papiere ordentlich nachsehen, und alles unnüze Zeug separiren und verbrennen lassen, da dann zu dem Überrest die jezige Behältniße gewis überflüssig hinlänglich seyn werden. Quoted Neugebauer ( 2000 : 110, 112).
(289) Neugebauer ( 2000 : 154). Neugebauer believes that in the 18th cent. the only function of those courts was the authentification of legal acts, of wills, damage estimates, or property inventories. I suspect that this impression results from the nature of the archival material: the sort of activity cited indispensably requires written records. It was perfectly normal for such courts not to keep written records of their ordinary proceedings. This matter seems not to have been researched for Brandenburg, but it has for Austria ob der Enns (west of the river Enns): there, in the late 18th cent. all local courts in lordships held by the church kept written records, but only 28 per cent of lordships in secular tenure (Marquardt 1999 : 167).
(292) Sreenivasan ( 2004 : 30). According to the monks' website, until 1802 the lordship of the abbey comprised twenty‐seven villages besides Ottobeuren itself (www.abtei‐ottobeuren.de/kloster/geschichte. html, last accessed October 2006).
(302) The two municipalities now have a common website, though with two addresses (www.baarle‐hertog.be and www.baarle‐nassau.nl; last accessed October 2006). This features a street plan (stratenplan) showing the various enclaves within the village.
(304) On the gabelle, see Esmein ( 1912 : 638–42); Marion ( 1923 : 247–50); Mousnier ( 1992 : 413–15); Pasquier ( 1905 ). On some aspects, those authors give contradictory information; in case of doubt I have followed Pasquier as the most detailed source.
(308) Pasquier ( 1905 : 115) cites the ‘Encyclopédie méthodique, tome Ier’ without giving a page number or the entry from which the quotation is taken. His bibliography at least leaves no doubt that he is referring to the Encyclopédie méthodique: Finances, vol. 1 (Paris 1784).
(309) Anderson (1993: 128).
(317) On the seigneuries, fiefs etc. Mousnier ( 1990 : 370–436—forms of property: passim, fiefs esp. 375–82, quint et requint 378–9, censives 382–9, franc‐alleu 371, 420–1; the seigneurs as protectors of the inhabitants of their lordships 409–10; revenue from lordly rights esp. 412–14, 422–3; local jurisdiction in general 391–409; total number of lordships with jurisdiction 401—for the number of lordships in Germany, see Marquardt ( 1999 : 507); death sentences in La Marche 405; local assemblies 428–35); on ‘bought’ nobility Mousnier ( 1990 : 105–7); on death sentences in Germany, see Marquardt ( 1999 : 142–8) (according to this, in rural local lordships there would on average be one every twenty or thirty years, almost never against local residents but against itinerant elements of the population).
(323) Constitució del Principat d'Andorra arts. 1, 43ff., 52.
(326) Engelbert of Admont, De ortu 18.
(329) Anderson (1993: 130).
(333) IPO 8.1.
(337) Historisches Lexikon der Schweiz, ‘Tagsatzung’.
(338) IPO 6.
(339) Staehelin (1991: 90).
(340) Nachdem aus der römisch Kaiserlichen Majestät unsers allergnädigsten Herrn Vollmacht und allergnädigster Belehnung des hochwürdigsten und hochgeborenen Fürsten und Herrn Abten des fürstlichen Stifts und Gotteshauses St. Gallen, unsers gnädigsten Fürsten und Herrn, Ich zu einem Vogt des heiligen Römischen Reiches gesetzt, auch …um kaiserlich Recht angerufen worden, und heutigten dato dazu allhier angesetzt hab: ob nicht Zeit und Ort dazu bequemlich, dass ich möge zu dem Schwert greifen, solches in meine Hand nehmen, mit den Urteilssprechern niedersitzen und richten, um das, so vor uns gebracht wird, nach kaiserlichen und des heiligen römischen Reichs Rechten? Quoted Marquardt ( 1999 : 144) from a source of 1801.
(342) Staehelin (1991: 65); Historisches Lexikon der Schweiz, ‘Burgrecht’.