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The history of Spain in the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries was to consist of a continuing, and fruitful, dialogue between periphery and centre.
The idea of a dialogue – sometimes harmonious, sometimes divisive – between the centre and periphery of the early modern European state stands at the heart of much of John Elliott's historical writing. It is the fulcrum around which his Imperial Spain revolves, and it lies at the core of his analysis of the causes of the revolt of the Catalans in 1640 against the centralizing policies of the Madrid government, directed by the charismatic but insensitive count-duke of Olivares. Elliott subsequently extended the concept of centre versus periphery beyond Spanish shores, notably in ‘Revolution and continuity in early modern Europe’, his inaugural lecture as Professor of History at King's College London, in 1968, which perceived the various revolts of mid-seventeenth-century Europe as essentially conflicts between the loyalties owed to one's patria – representing a province or a principality more often than a nation – and those owed to one's monarch. In his writings on the Americas, too, the relationship between centre and periphery plays a vital role. Elliott's Wiles Lectures of 1969 on The Old World and the New, 1492–1650, the classic statement on the intellectual interchange set in motion by Columbus' voyage, cited the perceptive memorandum of the humanist Hernán Pérez de Oliva to the city of Cordoba in 1524, drawing attention to the way in which the discovery and exploitation of America had affected the relative position of Spain, ‘because formerly we were at the end of the world, and now we are in the middle of it, with an unprecedented change in our fortunes’.
Sir John Huxtable Elliott was born in Reading, England, on 23 June 1930. After winning a scholarship to Eton, and national service, he graduated with first class honours in history from Cambridge and then earned a doctorate in history from Cambridge in 1955. He remained at Cambridge, first as a fellow of Trinity College (from 1954) and later as a university lecturer in history, until 1967 when he became Professor of Modern History at King's College, University of London. In 1973 he left King's to become professor in the School of Historical Studies at Princeton's Institute for Advanced Study where over the next seventeen years he welcomed and inspired scholars from all parts of the world. In 1990 he was named Regius Professor of Modern History at Oxford University.
A complete account of Professor Elliott's scholarly publications and a list of his awards and honours would fill many pages. To mention but a few, he has received honorary doctorates from several universities (including the Autonomous University of Madrid, the University of Genoa and the University of Barcelona). In addition, he is the recipient of Spain's Order of Isabella la Católica (1987), the Grand Cross of the Order of Alfonso the Wise (1988) and the Gold Medal of Fine Arts (1990). His prizes include the American Historical Association's Gershoy Prize for his book, Richelieu and Olivares (1985), the Wolfson Prize for his monumental biography, The count-duke of Olivares: the statesman in an age of decline (1986) and the Antonio de Nebrija prize for the Spanish edition of this same work (1993). In 1994, he was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II.
Veo con mucha simpatía este amor que sientes por Córdoba, tu patria chica, que tanto se refleja en tu última carta.
I am very sympathetic to the love that you feel for Cordoba, your home town, which is expressed so well in your last letter.
Juan Ginés de Sepúlveda to Francisco de Argote (1552)
Writing in 1789, León de Arroyal, one of the lesser-known figures of the Spanish Enlightenment, offered a somewhat unusual vision of his country at a moment when the centralizing policies of Spain's Bourbon monarchy were in full force: ‘We ought to consider Spain’, he wrote, ‘as a country composed of various confederated republics united under the government and protection of its monarchs. We should imagine each town as a miniature kingdom, and the kingdom itself as a large town.’
For all its boldness, Arroya's idea of a confederate Spain, a union of independent city-states or republics, actually belongs to a deep current in Spanish cultural and political life that John Elliott has conceived in terms of the vital and sometimes conflicting tensions between centre and periphery. Other essays in this volume examine the extent to which this enduring theme in Spanish history manifested itself both culturally and politically. This essay addresses the question of centre versus periphery from a historiographical perspective and aims to compare the history produced by the monarchy's official chroniclers – the cronistas del rey – with that written for individual cities and towns.
The idea of a dialogue - sometimes harmonious, sometimes divisive - between the centre and periphery of the early modern European state stands at the heart of much of John Elliott's historical writing. It is the fulcrum around which his Imperial Spain revolves, and it lies at the heart of his analysis of the causes of the revolt of the Catalans against the centralising policies of the Madrid government. His writings on the Americas, such as The Old World and the New, likewise stressed the relationship between centre and periphery. This collection of essays by a group of Elliott's former students examines different aspects of this important theme and develops them. Taken together with the 'personal appreciation' of Elliott (Regius Professor of Modern History at Oxford), it forms an important examination of the work of the greatest living historian of Spain as well as a major contribution to early modern European history.