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The Making of Polities: Europe, 1300-1500 by…

The Making of Polities: Europe, 1300-1500

by John Watts

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Here’s a great book about 14th and 15th century politics, or perhaps more appropriately about power in the 14th and 15th centuries. The author provides an in-depth look at the multifarious political units that operated in this age and narrates the gradual emergence of large ”regnal polities”, the predecessors of nation states, in the fifteenth century. One of his main points seems to be that lasting governmental organs and political ideas grew in a self-reinforcing spiral where improving administration facilitated increasingly accepted jurisdiction, authority and representation, which in turn facilitated further improvements in administration. The discussion proceeds for the most part on a general structural plane. It is in fact sometimes hard to keep track of the author’s abstract terminology.

Perhaps as a counterweight to his abstract analyses, the author has included two chapters titled ”the course of events”, which focus more on specific decisions and decision-makers. Their geographical scope is very broad, ranging from Spain to Sweden and from England to Hungary, but it’s hard to learn anything from this never-ending succession of kings, lords and dukes unless one already knows these historical personages by heart. It is, by the way, a strange tradition in English historiography that most royal names are anglicized, so that King ”Charles IV” ruled Spain, ”John III” ruled Hungary and so on. Perhaps this tradition has historical roots, but it is absolutely impossible to follow a narrative where the same names and numbers recur again and again in different countries.

In any case, I would advice the general reader the skip the chapters on the "course of events". Anyone interested in the roots of the modern nation state should read the other chapters thoroughly.
  thcson | May 3, 2016 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0521796644, Paperback)

This major survey of political life in late medieval Europe - the first for more than thirty years - provides an entirely new framework for understanding the developments that shaped this turbulent period. Rather than emphasising crisis, decline, disorder or the birth of the modern state, this account centres on the mixed results of political and governmental growth across the continent. The age of the Hundred Years War, schism and revolt was also a time of rapid growth in jurisdiction, taxation and representation, of spreading literacy and evolving political technique. This mixture of state formation and political convulsion lay at the heart of the 'making of polities'. Offering a full introduction to political events and processes from the fourteenth century to the sixteenth, this book combines a broad, comparative account with discussion of individual regions and states, including eastern and northern Europe alongside the more familiar west and south.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:24:03 -0400)

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