Manuel Herrero Sanchez, ed., Repúblicas y republicanismo en la Europa moderna (siglos XVI-XVIII) 

Repúblicas y republicanismo en la Europa moderna (siglos XVI–XVIII), ed. Manuel Herrero Sanchez (Madrid: Fondo de Cultura Económica, 2017; pp.  611. €35).

The English Historical Review, cey237,

Republics and monarchies have often been regarded as sharply contrasting political models, the former supposedly embodying various more liberal political values than the latter - tolerance and so on - and representing a more obvious route to modernity, i.e. the political norms of our own day. There is increasing recognition, however, that the differences between the two forms are, or have been less clear cut and that specific republics and monarchies have diverged from any simplistic idealist model. There were many different republics in the early modern era: the Dutch republic, Genoa, Venice, Lucca, Ragusa, the Hanseatic League, the Swiss Confederation, the English republic (1649-1660). These republics did not always or in all respects conform to that positive, modern model just described, and were more like the monarchies of their day than has been traditionally allowed. Conversely, many early modern monarchies were more like republics, not least in that royal authority was less absolute - more limited and conditional - than in older analyses. This collection of essays explores these issues, emphasising the need to be more historically specific and to avoid anachronistic “presentist” distortion. A second or supplementary concern, or theme, of the collection is to challenge prevailing views of the early modern – or rather Habsburg – Spanish monarchy, as an authoritarian polity and instead to burnish its republican credentials.  

The collection proper is prefaced by a brief essay in which Giovanni Levi articulates ideas which are more fully developed in the editor’s Introduction. In that Introduction, his first of two bites at this cherry, Manuel Herrero Sanchez addresses a number of key issues. He particularly engages with John Pocock’s Machiavellian Moment, which has helped to spawn numerous republican historical studies over the last generation. Pococke, challenging the view that Lockeian ideas underpinned the American Revolution, argued instead for the influence of an Aristotelian notion of virtue as refashioned in fifteenth century Florence, whence it passed, via James Harrington and seventeenth century England, across the Atlantic. The contributors to this volume (or some of them), reacting against the supposed Whiggism of the Cambridge School and (again some of them) influenced by Xavier Gil Pujol, articulate an alternative source of republicanism, one which more fully and properly appreciates the contribution of non-Protestant southern Europe. The revision is wide-ranging. Thus Pococke’s model of agrarian based republican and civic values, and of what has been called the Atlantic republican tradition was also difficult to apply to, for example, the Dutch, where there was no tension – quite the contrary – between wealth and republican virtue. Herrero Sanchez also challenges the view that republics were peculiarly pacific. Similarly, successful commercial republics owed a great deal of their success to (privileged) corporations – one clear indication that they had similar political and social structures, and mindsets, to the supposedly antagonistic monarchies. Indeed the mercantile republics often sustained rather than undermined seigneurial society and absolute monarchy. This lack of clear blue water had various facets. Republics did not always think of or describe themselves as such, while both monarchies and republics were often less than fully sovereign). Herrero Sanchez notes the Influence of various Spanish thinkers on, for example the (Dutch) De Court brothers’ critique of the excesses of monarchy; he also challenges the view that republics pioneered modern liberal values, noting Swiss religious intolerance. Anticipating his essay on Spain, Herrero Sanchez notes that Spain (or the Spanish Monarchy) and the Holy Roman Empire both included republican cities. Throughout, Herrero Sanchez challenges perceived notions of Spanish cultural anomaly in this period.

After Herrero Sanchez’s substantial Introduction, the rest of the volume is devoted to distinctive aspects of republicanism, with inevitably some overlap. In the first section, on concepts, language and representation, Thomas Maissen analyses the changing meaning of republic and republicanism in the various parts of Europe from classical antiquity until the French Revolution. More narrowly, Saul Martinez Bermejo discusses republics and monarchies as understood in the Annals of Tacitus, while Urte Weeber considers contemporary republics in the mindset of the early Enlightenment. Domingo Centenero ponders Castilian republicanism, and the extent to which the Spanish Monarchy (or rather Castile) was in effect republican. In the second section, on the intersection of republics and monarchies, Marechaux discusses the creation of intermediate spaces between the Ottoman monarchy and the Venetian republic, Yasmina Ben Yessef Garfia a Genoese family operating between that republic and Spain, and Arthur Weststeijn, the thought of the De Court brothers in the Dutch republic in the 1660s. Manuel Herrero Sanchez, finally, again addresses Spain, or rather the Monarchy as a type of republican polity, directly confronting Pocock’s apparent dismissal of early modern Spanish thinkers in this regard. (Curiously, given the privileging of Spanish themes, this reviewer missed any discussion of the separate communities - republics – of Spaniards and native Indians  in Spanish America). The third section, War, Diplomacy and Neutrality: the Role of the republics in a Europe of Princes, includes essays on republics and the Westphalian settlement by Thomas Weller, on the English Commonwealth and the Spanish Monarchy by Angel Alloza Aparicio, on the republic of Lucca by Renzo Sabbatini, and on that of Genoa by Carlo Bitossi and Matthias Schnettger. In section four, which centres on Religion and Toleration, Felicia Rosu discusses religious pluralism and toleration in sixteenth century Transylvania, and Igor Perez Tostado the influence of Castilian thinkers on radical republicans in England in 1650. Part Five, finally, comprises four essays on the Republics as seen through the lens of the economic and financial impulses connected with early modern globalisation, and – no surprise by this point – in association with the Spanish empire.  Natalia Maillard considers the presence of Venice and Holland in the Spanish book trade, Carlo Taviani the Bank of San Giorgio (Genoa) in broader European context, Luca Lo Basso, the Genoese attempt at naval armament in the second half of the seventeenth century and Klemens Kaps the Mediterranean republics as mediators between Central Europe and the Spanish Atlantic in the second half of the eighteenth century. 

Some of the contributions are largely summaries or restatements of ideas developed elsewhere, but are none the less welcome for that; other contributions are more entirely original. The collection throws a wide net, witness the essays on Lucca and Transylvania, with rather less on traditional republican stalwarts such as Venice (possibly because it was outside the Spanish orbit?) and nothing – deliberately - on the United States or revolutionary France. Coverage of the monarchies is more patchy than that of the republics: England, Spain and France are included but few others. Indeed, in many respects, as has already been indicated, the collection might be thought of as a revisionist reinterpretation of Habsburg Spain and its multi-faceted relationship with the Genoese and Dutch republics. Given this emphasis on Spain, this reviewer will focus on a particular aspect of the argument, the frequent assertion that Spain was a monarchy of urban republics, which through a certain lens might be thought to include the two republics just mentioned. This conception of Habsburg Spain represents in large part an elaboration of John Elliott’s Spanish “composite state”, now increasingly termed a “polycentric” polity. But in developing that idea, some historians may be thought to exaggerate the extent to which Castile and indeed the entire empire or Monarchy constituted a federal structure. It certainly suggests to this reviewer the need to revisit - and perhaps rescue from a neglect which they have too long suffered in consequence of the emphasis on the polycentric nature of that polity - the central institutions of the Spanish Monarchy and the crucial role they played in articulating and co-ordinating relations with the Dutch and the Genoese as well as with other parts of the Spanish Habsburgs’ own inheritance. That said, this is an invaluable collection for all interested in early modern political systems in general and in Habsburg Spain in particular, synthesising a generation’s work on republics, republicanism and monarchy and challenging some prevailing interpretations. 


Acerca del autor:
Christopher Storrs
The English Historical Review