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Polycentric Monarchies

How did Early Modern Spain and Portugal Achieve and Maintain a Global Hegemony?

Pedro Cardim, Associate Professor, Universidade Nova de Lisboa, Portugal
Tamar Herzog, Professor of History, Stanford University, CA
José Javier Ruiz Ibáñez, Professor, Universidad de Murcia, Spain
Gaetano Sabatini, Professor, Università degli Studi Roma Tre, Italy

Having succeeded in establishing themselves in Europe, Asia, Africa and the Americas, in the early 16th century Spain and Portugal became the first imperial powers on a worldwide scale. Between 1580 and 1640, when these two entities were united, they achieved an almost global hegemony, constituting the largest political force in Europe and abroad. Although they lost their political primacy in the seventeenth century, both monarchies survived and were able to enjoy a relative success until the early 19th century. The aim of this collection is to answer the question how and why their cultural and political legacies persist to date.

Part I focuses on the construction of the monarchy, examining the ways different territories integrated in the imperial network mainly by inquiring to what extent local political elites maintained their autonomy, and to what a degree they shared power with the royal administration. Part II deals primarily with the circulation of ideas, models and people, observing them as they move in space but also as they coincide in the court, which was a veritable melting pot in which the various administrations that served the Kings and the various territories belonging to the monarchy developed their own identities, fought for recognition, and for what they considered their proper place in the global hierarchy. Part III explains the forms of dependence and symbiosis established with other European powers, such as Genoa and the United Provinces. Attempting to reorient the politics of these states, political and financial co-dependence often led to bad economic choices.

The Editors and Contributors discard the portrayal of the Iberian monarchies as the accumulation of many bilateral relations arranged in a radial pattern, arguing that these political entities were polycentric, that is to say, they allowed for the existence of many different centers which interacted and thus participated in the making of empire. The resulting political structure was complex and unstable, albeit with a general adhesion to a discourse of loyalty to King and religion.

Hardback ISBN: 978-1-84519-544-1
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Red Columnaria
Editors’ Acknowledgments

Polycentric Monarchies: How Did Early Modern Spain and Portugal Achieve and Maintain a Global Hegemony?
Pedro Cardim, Tamar Herzog, José Javier Ruiz Ibáñez and Gaetano Sabatini

Part I Spaces of Integration
1 Maritime Archipelago, Political Archipelago: The Azores under the
Habsburgs (1581–1640)
Jean-Frédéric Schau

2 Architect of the New World: Juan de Solórzano Pereyra and the Status of the Americas
Óscar Mazín Gómez

3 The Representatives of Asian and American Cities at the Cortes of Portugal
Pedro Cardim

4 Overseas Alliances: The English Marriage and the Peace with
Holland in Bahia (1661–1725)
Rodrigo Bentes Monteiro

Part II Spaces of Circulation
5 Family, Bureaucracy and the Crown: The Wedding Market as a Form of Integration among Spanish Elites in the Early Modern Period
Enrique Soria Mesa

6 From Alliance to Conflict, From Finance to Justice: A Portuguese family in Spanish Naples (1590–1660)
Gaetano Sabatini

7 Trading Money and Empire Building in Spanish Milan (1570–1640)
Giuseppe De Luca

8 Visible Signs of Belonging: The Spanish Empire and the Rise of Racial
Logics in the Early Modern Period
Jean Paul Zúñiga

9 Can You Tell a Spaniard When You See One?: “Us” and “Them” in the Early Modern Iberian Atlantic
Tamar Herzog

10 Comprehend, Discuss and Negotiate: Doing Politics in the Kingdom of Valencia in the Sixteenth Century
Juan Francisco Pardo Molero

Part III External Projections
11 Republican Monarchies, Patrimonial Republics: The Catholic Monarchy and the Mercantile Republics of Genoa and the United Provinces
Manuel Herrero Sánchez

12 “A Thing Not Seen in Paris since Its Founding”: The Spanish Garrison
of 1590 to 1594
José Javier Ruiz Ibáñez

Polycentric Monarchies: Understanding the Grand Multinational Organizations of the Early Modern Period
Alberto Marcos Martín

The Editors and Contributors

Voici un ouvrage généreux dont la démarche réflexive, explicitée de bout en bout, donne matière à penser à la communauté scientifique. L’histoire «post nationale» préconisée par les auteurs, montre comment penser ensemble dynamique locale et globale et comment repérer les éléments de convergence et de cohésion sans évacuer les spécificités territoriales. Epouser le point de vue des acteurs conjure la tentation téléologique et les anachronismes, tout en restituant le passé dans sa vivacité et sa complexité. On peut saluer ici le mérite d’un grand livre appelé à faire date.
Héloïse Hermant, Revista Complutense de Historia de América, 2013, vol. 39, 273–335

Polycentric Monarchies explores both the centripetal and centrifugal forces of empire. In twelve revealing case studies, the ways in which the Spanish and Portuguese empires held themselves together and projected power outward are illustrated in fascinating detail… Beyond examining the mechanisms and maintenance of empire, however, the editors and individual authors of this thought-provoking compilation have a larger, historiographical purpose. This a volume whose collective intent is to revise the notion of Spain and Portugal as “composite monarchies,” a now standard description thanks to the seminal work of Sir John Elliott.
Samuel Garcia, Bulletin for Spanish and Portuguese Historical Studies, Journal of the Association for Spanish and Portuguese Historical Studies, Volume 38 | Issue 1 Article 23

So how did the Iberian monarchies maintain global hegemony? If the essays here do not
offer a uniform response to this question, together they show that, rather than sources of
strain, the tensions between global and local interests manifest in discourse and practice
were signs of interplay and elongation that fortified polycentric monarchies. Finally, it is
important to note that this collection of essays was published under the auspices of “Red
Columnaria” (, a network formed to promote exchange and internationalise historiographical practice among those who study the Iberian worlds. While many of contributors here are known to scholars of these worlds, the translation of their essays into English will provide even broader access to their innovative and suggestive research.
Kirsten Schultz, Itinerario / Volume 37 / Special Issue 01 / April 2013, pp. 122–124

Reviewed in the European History Quarterly, copyright Sage (2015).

Polycentic Monarchies contains studies by twelve academics belonging to the Columnaria network, the purpose of which is ‘to overcome national and nationalistic historiographies as well as language barriers by facilitating international collaboration’ (vii). The aim of the book, clearly enunciated in the subtitle, is to explain how early modern Spain and Portugal achieved and maintained global hegemony. Unsurprisingly, the contributors argue that the key to understanding the success of both empires lies not in the separate histories of Spain, Portugal or Italy etc., nor in the ability of Madrid or Lisbon to exercise control over their far-flung dominions. Rather it resides in the symbiotic relationship between centre and periphery. Each needed the other, a fact that opened the door for the periphery’s elites to defend their particular interests, as well as to exert a measure of influence over the centre. Since the centre also relied on the periphery for goods, money and manpower, there was reason for them both to want to remain connected despite tensions resulting from their fundamental differences In fact, so apparently balanced was this relationship that the authors reject the terms ‘centre’ and ‘periphery’, preferring instead the relative equality suggested by the label ‘polycentric monarchies’.
Review in the Bulletin of Spanish Studies, by Jeremy Squires, University College Dublin

Reviewed in Itinerario, volume XXXVIII, issue 3 (2014) by Gayle K. Brunelle, California State University at Fullerton

Reviewed in E.I.A.L. (Estudios Interdisciplinarios de América Latina y el Caribe), Vol. 26, No. 1 (2015), Instituto Sverdlin de Historia y Cultura de América Latina, Tel Aviv University

Reviewed in The Journal of Early Modern History 19 (June 2015): 463–479.

The editors of Polycentric Monarchies have produced an outstanding book, which should be on the reading list of anyone who teaches about or does research on the First Global Age, 1400-
1800. They have swept away the historiographic clichés that interfere with our ability to understand topics in world history, such as the question posed in the title of the book. To foment the type of research that the editors and contributors advocate, they and others formed a scholarly network, Columnaria (, based in Murcia, Spain, to develop much needed collaboration among historians. In an epilogue, Alberto Marcos Martín provides a magisterial summary of the entire book, which not only clarifies the book’s content but also the way its chapters provide a vision of future research opportunities.
Hispania, 2015, vol. LXXV, nº. 250

This collection of essays proposes a new conceptual framework for understanding the unity of the Spanish and Portuguese empires in the early modern period. At issue is the fundamental question of the mechanisms that permitted the Iberians to maintain globe-spanning empires for several centuries, in spite of the centrifugal forces of tradition and identity. The notion that the volume proposes, most forcefully stated by Alberto Marcos Martin in his epilogue, is that the “grand multinational organizations of the early modern period” were polycentric, rather than purely hierarchical. In other words, “politics” existed in far more corners of the vast Iberian domains than just the courts of Madrid and Lisbon. In this view, the different structures that comprised the Habsburg monarchy, for instance, could exist in parallel, since they were grouped around different centers instead of being subordinate to the concerns of the Castilian court. It was therefore the degree of flexibility built into the structures of the Iberian empires that permitted them to achieve such longevity. Moreover, contemporaries were aware of this factor and actively sought to “opt-in” to a system in which their own centers of power would be maintained and new opportunities for social promotion and enrichment abounded.
Luso-Brazilian Review 52:2 (December 2015)

Reviewed in Zeitschrift für Historische Forschung 42. Band 2015 Heft 4 (June 2016)

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