Conference report: To reconcile and to reincorporate: Discourse, ceremonies & practices in the Iberian Monarchies (16th-18th centuries)
Kortrijk, 25-26 November 2016
In recent years historiography has been slowly acknowledging the potential of civil societies to restore concord after profound divisions during the Ancien Régime. It also has uncovered the pacification strategies of authorities to reconcile and reincorporate individuals and social groups after periods of revolt. Still, most aspects of these early modern pacification and reconciliation processes have been largely ignored. Hence, the international conference in Kortrijk – also the XIIth conference on the history of the Iberian monarchies – provided an important forum for both European scholars (Belgium, Spain, France, Italy and Portugal) and their American colleagues (United States, Mexico and Peru) to discuss their recent findings in this field, and above all, to compare them within a transregional and transatlantic perspective.
The main question was to better explain why the Habsburg Empire could govern so long and so resourcefully, despite the repetitive crises happening in all parts of the Empire, and to analyze whether the peace making strategies (both induced by natives or magistrates) helped in this respect. By organizing panels on the top-down as well as from a bottom-up perspective, the working hypothesis that the Habsburg dynasty engaged extensively with peace making strategies was during the conference to be validated or refuted by different regional studies. In any case, the conference also proposed to examine to which extent local actors and transregional elites fostered peace making on the ground in the different parts of the Empire.
Within this framework, the conference made some key observations:
(1) If reconciliation is often perceived as a process emanating from early modern rulers, in practice it is more often negotiated by many other actors, such as local institutions, local elites, governmental bodies, which should be included in the analysis. Only this analysis of agency in peacemaking processes will help to adjust current top-down perspectives.
Here, dr. Koldo Trapaga Monchet (Marie Curie ITN fellow, Portugal), in a presentation prepared with drs. Javier Revilla (UAM/IULCE, Madrid, Spain) showed how in the different revolts in Naples, Catalonia, Portugal and Sardinia (shaking the seventeenth-century Hispanic World) local elites presenting them as ‘faithful vassals’ helped smoothening relations between the Crown and their native region. Equally, Dra. Sophie Verreyken (KU Leuven) drew the attention to the importance of local ‘mixed’ elites, such as the Hispano-Flemish elites in Bruges in the late seventeenth century. Because of their rich stock identitaire, they could easily play on different registers to make reconciliation happen, even after profound rifts in the urban social fabric.
(2) Peace-making implied more than just signing a treaty, often a long pacification process aimed to put into effect the clauses and to spur the recently concluded reconciliation through the means of ceremonies, festivities, visual representations, which are crucial to understand pacification. Without a ‘performative’ study of reconciliation, we risk to miss to ‘whole picture’.
In these sessions, (the fresh) Dr. Bram De Ridder (KU Leuven) showed that pacification needs some time to overcome its war-bound premises. Especially solutions found during wartime often continued during armistice and peace periods. Prof. dr. Massimo Carlo Giannini (University of Teramo, Italy) drew the attention to the peculiar case of Piacenza, a city first conquered by the Habsburg dynasty, and then restituted to the local Farnese family, albeit with keeping first an garrison in the local citadel. This complex and multi-layered repertoires of pacification formed a recurring theme during the conference.
(3) The restoration of civil concord and the obedience to the ruler was shaped by different words and discourses, which on their turn, became connoted with a wide range of emotions.
Prof. dr. Tomás Mantecón Movellán (University of Cantabria, Spain) for example neatly illustrated how in settling criminal procedures not only deeds but words, wording and discourses mattered as well. Also prof. dr. Lidia Gómez García (Benemérita Universidad Autónoma de Puebla, Mexico) stressed that the various emotional reactions of indios novohispanos accounted for a great deal for their participation in the local seventeenth-century mutinies. Finally, dra. Carolina Esteves Soares (University of Lisbon) unraveled the many languages of peace in Portugal, after its break with the Spanish Habsburg dynasty.
(4) Every peacemaking processes also hinged upon the exclusion of former opponents. Still, the contemporary narratives tended to obscure these processes of discrimination, which should form part of the analysis today. As such, prof. dr. Juan Pedro Viqueria Albán (Colegio de Mexico) showed that the Chiapas region remained only partially pacified after its rebellion in 1712.
Rather than presenting reconciliation as a fact, as done by the early modern stakeholders involved, this conference defined early modern reconciliation as an open-ended process with an always uncertain and unstable outcome. If reconciliation parted on a federative discourse, it excluded formally or informally individuals, or it risked hostile reactions and vetoes from opponents. Throughout this conference, the Habsburg Empire appeared through its composite and polycentric nature to be able to accommodate local, regional and global circumstances, but equally, it was often only able the meet halfway the requirements of pacification. That is why eventually so many revolutions and revolts shook the Empire off its foundations.
The conference proceedings will appear in the newly launched series Habsburg Worlds at Brepols Publishers early 2018. It will be centered around the four axes presented above. The conference was facilitated by the Research Group Early Modern History, and the members of its subsection working around www.transregionalhistory.eu. Students from both the curricula Early Modern History (masters, Leuven) and History (bachelors, Kortrijk) attended the sessions, as well as an active local audience recruited by Post-Academische Vorming at KULAK. The organizers and the organizing committee thank the KULAK and the FWO for their support of this crucial conference.
1. J.J. Ruiz Ibáñez and G. Sabatini, ‘Monarchy as a conquest: violence, social opportunity, and political stability in the establishment of the Hispanic Monarchy’, Journal of Modern History, 81 (2009); 501-536.
2. V. Soen, ‘Reconquista and Reconciliation in the Dutch Revolt. The campaign of Governor-General Alexander Farnese (1578-1592)’, Journal of Early Modern History 16 (2012) 1-22
3. Y. Junot, ‘Réconciliation et reincorporation dans la Monarchie Hispanique: l’exemple de Dunkerkque au temps d’Alexandre Farnese’, Revue du Nord (forthcoming 2017)