By Valentina Caldari (University of Kent)
On 28 June 2014, as part of the Association for Spanish and Portuguese Historical Studies’ (ASPHS) annual meeting, the panel The Spanish Factions: fifth column or political party in the courts of the Ancien Régime? was held in Modena. It was the first public activity of ‘The Spanish Faction’ network and benefitted from IULCE sponsorship and from having Prof. Susana Truchuelo (University of Cantabria) as the panel Chair. The invited researchers analysed four different early modern courts from the perspective of internal power dynamics and the Spanish presence within them. That is, how the ‘Spanish factions’ worked in those courts, if they actually existed, and how they sought access to the decision-making process.
Following a chronological order, Rubén González Cuerva (German Historical Institute in Rome) gave a general introduction with regard to the concept of faction in early modern politics and focused on the case of the imperial court in Prague during the transition from Maximilian II to Rudolph II, c.1574 to 1585. He stated that the famous Spanish faction in the Empire began through the household and around the Castilian Empress Mary of Austria, and was subjected to a hard test once the Empress went back to Spain. Thus, the faction had to readjust in order to get under the direction of an ambassador, which implied a further clarification of the roles but also a decrease in the informal options to participate in the court’s centres of power.
Esther Jiménez Pablo (University of Granada) focused her presentation on the status of the Spanish faction at the papal court of Clement VIII (1592-1605). The changes in the Curia introduced by this Pope in order to decrease the power of the Spanish Crown were successful. This is demonstrated by the new order of the conclaves, which was intended to prevent the formation of a structured cardinals’ party in favour of Spain. The resulting situation was a change in spirituality which increasingly complicated a reconciliation of the King of Spain’s and the Pope’s interests and brought paramount obedience to papal directives.
Valentina Caldari (University of Kent) addressed the English court of the first Stuart, James I (1603-1625). Concerning his rule, the label of ‘Spanish party’ and the ubiquitous presence of the ambassador Count of Gondomar represented powerful commonplaces in traditional historiography. This contribution clearly narrowed the various stages, interests, and actors involved to demonstrate the extent to which the image of a weak James I and a powerful, homogeneous, faction is wrong. The group was much more complex and heterogeneous, and was mostly strenghtened by the hope of a dynastic marriage between the Stuarts and the Habsburgs. When this option failed, the faction entered an insoluble crisis.
At last, Luis Tercero Casado (University of Vienna) closed the presentations with an analysis of the imperial court in Vienna under Ferdinand III (1637-1657). He agreed with the findings of González Cuerva’s paper regarding the fact the success of the Spanish faction in the Empire depended on having the leadership of an empress of Spanish origins, in this case Maria Anna of Austria, sister of Philip IV. Her untimely death pushed the Spanish ambassador to take control, but in a financially more precarious and politically more complex context than that of the 1580s, which led him to play his luck in support of a powerful minister, the Count of Auersperg.
As a result of the contributions presented and the debates originated, it is expected that a digital monograph will be published. The comparison of different European courts from the point of view of the informal networks originated by the Spanish Monarchy can represent a relevant angle of analysis to better understand the functioning of early modern diplomacy and transcend more institutionalised and formalised models.