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9-08-2015, 15:04

Taxes, bureaucracies, and marital politics

Standing armies played a central role in the consolidation of royal power, and military expenditures generally made up the majority of state budgets. Supplying those armies depended on extracting resources from society effectively and efficiently, which in turn depended on securing the ability to claim those resources. This process began centuries before 1450, and everywhere involved the establishment of legal codes, courts of law, bureaucracies, and taxation systems; in some parts of Europe it also involved the development of representative institutions. After 1450 the size and scope of central institutions and government activities increased dramatically in many parts of Europe. Rulers issued new laws more frequently, and states in several regions gained power over churches and their personnel, taxes, and courts. Because almost all of Europe was ruled by hereditary dynasties – the Papal States and some cities being the exceptions – claiming and holding resources also involved shrewd marital strategies, for it was far cheaper to gain land by inheritance than by war. Thus, like armies and bureaucracies, royal and noble sons and daughters were important tools of state policy. The benefi ts of an advantageous marriage, particularly if the wife had no brothers and thus inherited territory, stretched across generations, a process that can be seen most dramatically with the Habsburgs. The Holy Roman Emperor Frederick III, a Habsburg who was the ruler of most of Austria, acquired only a small amount of territory – and a great deal of money – by his marriage to Princess Eleonor of Portugal. He arranged for his son Maximilian to marry Europe’s most prominent heiress, Mary of Burgundy, who inherited the Netherlands, Luxembourg, and the county of Burgundy in what is now eastern France. In his romanticized autobiography Theuerdank – the source of the woodcut that opens this chapter – Maximilian described his journey to woo Mary as a series of chivalric exploits. In reality, the marriage was a foregone conclusion arranged by their fathers. Though he may not have wanted to admit it, Maximilian learned the lesson of marital politics well, marrying his son and daughter to the children of Ferdinand and Isabella, the rulers of Spain, much of southern Italy, and eventually the Spanish New World empire. (In addition to marrying his son Philip to Joanna, as shown in fi gure 7, Maximilian married his daughter Margaret to Ferdinand and Isabella’s son John; John died only months later and the marriage produced no children.) His grandson Charles would eventually rule about half of Europe. Habsburg successes gave rise to the saying: “Let others wage wars; you, happy Austria, marry” ( Bella gerant alii, tu felix Austria nube ). The frequency with which the Habsburgs went to war, however, makes this aphorism somewhat ironic. Even popes and city leaders were often part of such marital strategies; papal nieces, nephews, and sometimes children were coveted marriage partners, as were the wealthy daughters of urban elites. Wealthy urban families, especially in Italy, also transformed themselves into hereditary dynasties through coups and alliances during this period, and cemented their position through marriages with more established ruling houses. These processes of consolidation followed a similar pattern in many states, but everywhere there were local variations and different chronologies. Fifteenth- and sixteenth-century monarchs and their offi cials built on developments that stretched back centuries, so that some discussion of the medieval period is necessary to put their actions into perspective.