- Medieval legacy - vital functions of state practised only for the king by quasi-autonomous local corporate institutions.
– J.H. Elliott: ‘Europe of composite monarchies’:
- Monarchs rule over territories that retain different legal and political traditions, different institutions and identities.
e.g. Spain – Union of Aragon and Castile (1469) paves way for encroachment over Catalonia, Valencia, Sicily, Naples, Portugal, the Netherlands.
- France – no single official language before 1539; 1515, only one royal official for every 4,700 inhabitants.
1500 – Holy Roman Empire divided into six ‘imperial circles’ with own parliaments; four more created in 1512.
- Since enactment of ‘Golden Bull’ constitution (1356), Holy Roman Emperor chosen by seven prince-electors.
- Princes of the empire themselves constrained by privileges of the nobility and representative institutions: duke of Bavaria swears at his accession a pledge to protect the ‘freedoms, ancient customs and respected rights’ of prelates, nobles, towns and cities’.
- Spanish cortes, French parlements, parliaments of England, Scotland and Ireland.
- Can be useful to monarchs e.g. Tudors and Reformation legislation.
- Often organised on principle of representation from different ‘estates’ of a realm e.g. peerage, church, commons.
- Dominant section of the assemblies = aristocracy: main counterweight to royal authority.
-Power of monarchs constrained at local level by reliance on unpaid public service of provincial elites e.g. England – magistrates, sheriffs; France – baillis, senenchaux.
Internal and external expansion of royal power:
2) The Church - increase of monarchical control in Catholic as much as Protestant counties.
- Act in Restraint of Appeals (England, 1533): that ‘this realm of England is an empire... governed by one supreme head and king having the dignity and royal estate of the imperial crown of the same, unto whom a body politic... be bounden and owe to bear next to God a natural and humble obedience’.
- 1516 – Concordat of Bologna – French monarch granted right of nomination of bishops.
3) Expansion of the court into centre of government.
-1561 – Permanent Spanish court fixed at Madrid – 1,200 letters signed by Philip II in May 1571 alone.
- Emergence of professional government administrators as key royal advisers from outside ranks of the aristocracy e.g. Thomas More, Thomas Cromwell under Henry VIII, Baron de Châteauneuf under Henri II.
4) Attempts at greater uniformity over provinces – make monarchies less ‘composite’.
-1536-53 – Tudor crown incorporates Wales into English system of government; imposes closer control over Ireland through English Lord Deputies, policy of ‘surrender and regrant’.
- Count of Olivares under Philip IV at Spain – aim at ‘one king, one law, one coinage’,
- 1632 – Castilian cortes stripped of control over cities; creation of the Union of Arms.
Over 1 ,000 independent polities in Europe – 1400; by 1700, only 350. Resistance to royal centralisation creates regional, provincial, aristocratic rebellions:
- 1567 – 1602 – revolt in the Netherlands against Spain leads to creation of Dutch Republic.
- Rebellions against Elizabeth I in Ireland 1569-73, 1579-83, 1594-1603.
- 1638-42 – Rebellions in Scotland and Ireland precipitate English Civil War.
- 1640-48 – Rebellions against Philip IV in Naples and Catalonia, breakaway of Portugal,
- Urban, peasant and aristocratic unrest against policies of Richelieu and French monarchy.
- 1648-53 – Fronde Rebellion creates civil war in France.
Motivations of rebellions:
- Rebels claim to stand for legal and political tradition – defence of older institutions and methods of government.
- Most explosive rebellions happen when a region possesses different religious identity to a king e.g. Protestant Netherlands vs Catholic Spain; Catholic Ireland vs Protestant England.
- Radical doctrines sparked by Reformation and Counter-Reformation justify taking up arms against a heretic prince.
- John Knox (Scottish Calvinist) - ‘whether obedience is to be rendered to a magistrate who enforces idolatry and condemns true religion’.
- James Fitzmaurice Fitzgerald (Irish rebel, 1570) – the English crown ‘not satisfied with our worldly goods, bellies and lives’ is forcing Irish ‘forsake the Catholic faith by God unto His Church given, and by the See of Rome hitherto prescribed to all Christian men’.
- Catholic fanatics assassinate William of Orange (1584) Henri III (1589), Henri IV (1610).
- James VI of Scotland attacks religious extremists who believe that ‘killing of Kinges is an acte meritorious to the purchase of the crowne of Martyrdome’.
Conclusion – gradual encroachment of royal power in Europe, but a contested process:
- Kingship by mid-C17th still rests on compromise and negotiation between monarchs, provinces and institutions.