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During the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, dozens of alliances asserting shared sovereignty formed in the Holy Roman Empire and the Low Countries. Many accounts of state formation struggle to explain these leagues, since they characterize state formation as a process of internal bureaucratization within individual states. This comparative study of alliances in the Holy Roman Empire and the Low Countries focuses on a formative time in European history, from the late fifteenth century until the immediate aftermath of the 1648 Peace of Westphalia, to demonstrate how the sharing of sovereignty through alliances influenced the evolution of the Empire, the Dutch Republic, and their various member states in fundamental ways. Alliances simultaneously supported and constrained central and territorial authorities, while their collaborative policy-making process empowered smaller states, helping to ensure their survival. By revealing how the interdependencies of alliance shaped states of all sizes in the Empire and the Low Countries, Christopher W. Close opens new perspectives on state formation with profound implications for understanding the development of states across Europe.
Chapter 4 focuses on the League’s resolution of conflicts involving members during its first twelve years. The League’s operation during this time reveals the challenges facing the Empire and its territories after the 1555 adoption of new peace-keeping regulations known as the Imperial Enforcement Ordinance. By offering a venue for the mediation of disputes that imperial organs of government could not or would not settle, the League of Landsberg served as a vehicle for implementing the Enforcement Ordinance in its member regions. In the process, the League’s operation simultaneously bolstered the Enforcement Ordinance’s regime while sapping jurisdiction away from imperial governmental bodies. Ultimately, the League created interdependencies between the imperial core and the Empire’s regions that set the stage for later debates over what alliances could and should do within the Empire’s structure.
Chapter 8 details the on-going importance of the politics of alliance before and after the 1648 Peace of Westphalia. In the Empire, the organization of alliances shifted in the second half of the seventeenth century, as the principles of corporate alliance migrated into princely military leagues like the 1658 Rhenish Alliance and large-scale associations among Imperial Circles. Despite their different structures, both the military alliances and Circle Associations adopted the rhetoric of earlier leagues and mirrored their goals. Related processes played out in the United Provinces, where the decades after Westphalia witnessed a running debate over what form the Dutch state should take. At the heart of this conflict sat competing ideas about the Union of Utrecht. The Union served as a focal point for all kinds of proposals about the Dutch Republic’s operation. One of the few things that each side agreed on was the Union’s centrality. Accordingly, the development of the Dutch state during this period was inseparable from struggles over the Union’s meaning. By examining Westphalia’s legacy in both the Empire and United Provinces, this chapter traces the lasting influence of the politics of alliance on northern Europe’s political systems into the late seventeenth century and beyond.
The politics of alliance that operated in the Empire and the Dutch Republic after the Peace of Westphalia persisted into the Age of Enlightenment. The Association movement in the Empire continued for years after the League of Augsburg’s creation, while the 1785 Princes League showed the willingness of Imperial Estates deep into the eighteenth century to revive the language and practice of corporate alliance when it suited their collective interests. In the United Provinces, the Union of Utrecht remained the foundation of the Dutch state, which underwent a second stadholderless period at the start of the 1700s that replayed many of the previous decades’ debates about the Union’s meaning. Throughout the eighteenth century, the Union retained its importance as a central unifying feature of the Dutch Republic. As late as the 1770s, the jurist Pieter Paulus could write a commentary on the Republic’s constitution that praised the Union as a “bulwark of freedom” that had preserved its members’ liberties for centuries.
In May 1608, several Protestant rulers in the Holy Roman Empire convened an emergency summit in the Swabian town of Auhausen. Weeks earlier, they had walked out of the Imperial Diet, the Empire’s main legislative assembly, to protest what they deemed Catholic attempts to undermine the Empire’s constitution. Speaking in one voice, those gathered in Auhausen condemned their opponents’ “hostile and violent actions” as a threat to the Empire and its members, known as Imperial Estates. If left unchecked, rogue actors would “create one disturbance after another in the beloved Fatherland, thereby wreaking havoc with the entire ancient and praiseworthy imperial constitution. The result will be nothing less than the destruction of all good order, law, and prosperity.” Only by uniting “in a loyal understanding and association” could peace-loving authorities prevent this catastrophe. Accordingly, the Estates assembled in Auhausen formed an alliance, set to last for ten years, which became known as the Protestant Union.
Chapter 2 charts how the Reformation’s spread, coupled with its vulnerability in many territories, created new religious alliances such as the Protestant Schmalkaldic League and the Catholic League of Nuremberg. Both leagues experienced internal conflicts over their operation that burst into the open in 1542 when the Schmalkaldic League’s chiefs attacked one of the League of Nuremberg’s leaders, Duke Heinrich of Braunschweig-Wolfenbüttel. Through the comparative analysis of multiple contemporaneous leagues, this chapter shows how the Reformation and its interaction with the imperial political system depended on the politics of alliance but also remade how such politics operated.
Chapter 7 examines the causes of the Thirty Years‘ War through the lens of the Protestant Union and Catholic Liga. While each alliance’s smaller Estates successfully imposed their vision on the larger Estates in the early 1610s, internal conflict in the Union and Liga resurfaced almost a decade later at the start of the Thirty Years‘ War. The Union’s inability to resolve the internal differences that first crystallized in 1610 proved decisive in its defeat and dissolution in 1621. Conversely, the Liga’s ability to balance the visions of its leading territory, Bavaria, with the alliance’s smaller ecclesiastical states explains its military success. The Liga’s capacity for serving the interests of all members underscores how it supported Bavaria’s expansion as a territorial state, maintained the integrity of its smaller member states, and influenced the development of the Empire’s political system during the war. This chapter therefore reevaluates the causes and course of the Thirty Years‘ War through the politics of alliance. It shows that the religious and constitutional impulses driving the war were in many cases inseparable for the parties involved.
Chapter 6 examines the lead up to the Thirty Years‘ War through the lens of two opposing alliances: The Protestant Union and the Catholic Liga. Founded in 1608 and 1609, respectively, both leagues positioned themselves as protectors of the imperial constitution, even as their members could not agree with each other over how best to defend the Empire’s vitality. Conflicting visions dominated the Union and Liga, as small and large Estates clashed over each league’s scope of action. Smaller Estates saw each alliance as a way to conserve existing rights and conditions, while some princely members sought to use the alliances to pursue their own innovative plans for the Empire. These divergences echoed the debate over the League of Landsberg’s failed expansion from forty years earlier. Ultimately, each alliance’s smaller Estates successfully imposed their vision on the larger Estates during a controversy over the Union’s invasion of Alsace in 1610. The patterns established in 1610 ultimately determined how each alliance reacted to the later crisis in Bohemia that began in 1618.
While many alliances existed in the Empire during the late Middle Ages, the Swabian League became the model par excellence for subsequent leagues. It achieved this standing by offering something unique to all members. It allowed small territories to secure political and military backing from their more powerful neighbors while enabling larger territories to institutionalize spheres of influence. This chapter investigates these dynamics by analyzing the advantages and disadvantages of leagues as tools for military action. The Swabian League fielded one of the most effective fighting forces the Empire had ever seen. Its 1499, 1504, 1519, 1523, and 1525 campaigns established it as a force in imperial politics. They also pushed its members and other Estates to develop in ways that produced later alliances. Ultimately, the League’s operation promoted a vision of the Empire based on collaboration between its territories and the imperial crown that broke down during the early Reformation. Despite its collapse in the early 1530s, the ideal of the Swabian League lived on as the standard to which later alliances aspired. Instead of being rendered redundant, the League’s legacy helped ensure that the politics of alliance remained an essential political strategy long after the League itself disappeared.
Chapter 5 investigates the League of Landsberg’s failed attempt to admit new Protestant and Catholic territories in the early 1570s, including the Low Countries. The League’s proposed expansion presented an opportunity to create a lasting peace in the Empire by forging new ties among competing territories. At multiple points, however, both Catholics and Protestants rejected this possibility, as neither party wished to cede primary authority in the alliance. Even as the League continued to resolve neighborly disputes, support for its exercise of shared sovereignty eroded. Related processes operated in the Low Countries during the 1570s, where civil war spawned competing alliances: the Union of Arras and the Union of Utrecht. Including members that supported a variety of religious policies, the Union of Utrecht tried to solve the problem of religious diversity by devolving authority over religion to provincial governments. Such a solution meant that much of the United Provinces’ subsequent political development depended on how different provincial authorities interpreted the meaning of the Union’s treaty of alliance. This dynamic remained at the heart of the Dutch Republic and its exercise of shared sovereignty throughout the late sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.
Chapter 3 explores the aftermath of the Braunschweig-Wolfenbüttel invasion for both the Empire and the Low Countries. The 1540s and 1550s witnessed significant upheaval that encouraged multiple plans for corporate alliance, including an effort to restructure the Empire and the Low Countries into a massive Imperial League headed by Emperor Charles V. During this era, the politics of alliance became tied to a growing conviction among Catholic and Protestant Estates that the Empire’s well-being depended on the preservation of one’s own religious confession. These developments had major implications for the Low Countries, as Charles’s failure to create the Imperial League led to a redefinition of the relationship between the Habsburg Netherlands and the Empire in the 1548 Burgundian Transaction. Ultimately, the aftermath of the Schmalkaldic League’s military defeat, coupled with the shared desire of Protestants and Catholics to use alliances to preserve peace and their respective religious faiths, created the context for the 1555 Religious Peace of Augsburg. This agreement, in turn, set the parameters for corporate leagues for decades to come.