Early Modern Sovereignties

Theory and Practice of a Burgeoning Concept in the Netherlands


The essays in this volume explore the theories and practices of sovereignty in the context of state-building in the early modern Northern and Southern Low Countries. The Dutch Revolt, the secession of the northern provinces from the Spanish empire, the formation of the Dutch Republic and the reconstitution of Habsburg authority in the south, fostered tense debates among scholars and political leaders about the legitimacy, organisation and processes of law and governance. This made the Low Countries a prime battlefield for theoretical and political contestations about the nature of public authority and the relations between different layers of government in early-modern Europe. The book approaches this historical debate from three angles: (1) political theoretical, (2) legal, and (3) politico-historical.

Contributors are: Hans Blom, Bram De Ridder, Alicia Esteban Estríngana, Simon Groenveld, Gustaaf Janssens, Shavana Musa, José Javier Ruiz Ibáñez, Werner Thomas, Lies van Aelst, Gustaaf van Nifterik, and René Vermeir.

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Erik De Bom, Ph.D. (2009), KU Leuven, is Research Fellow at that university. He has published on the history of political thought in the sixteenth and seventeenth century, early-modern intellectual history and Renaissance humanism.
Randall Lesaffer is Professor of legal history at KU Leuven as well as Tilburg University. His research focuses on the historical development of the law of nations in Europa since the sixteenth century. He is general editor of Oxford Historical Treaties and The Cambridge History of International Law.
Werner Thomas is professor of Spanish and Spanish American History at KU Leuven. He publishes on the Low Countries and the Spanish monarchy, the repression of Protestantism in Spain, and the government of Archdukes Albert and Isabella in the Southern Netherlands.
List of Tables
Notes on Contributors

  Werner Thomas

The Construction of Sovereignty

1 Sovereignty in Grotius
  Hans Blom

2 Ideas on Sovereignty
Soto, Vázquez and Grotius
  Gustaaf van Nifterik

3 Conform to the Government and Acknowledge the Sovereignty
Simon Stevin and François Vranck, a Practical Approach to Contested Sovereignty
  Lies van Aelst

The Use and Limits of Sovereignty

4 Sovereignty as Argument
The Habsburg-Dutch Struggle for Territory before and after Westphalia, 1576–1664
  Bram De Ridder

5 Sovereignty and Early Modern Private Property Rights
  Shavana Musa

6 The ‘Perfect Principality’ of the Archdukes Albert and Isabella
Project and Reality of a ‘Separate Sovereignty’ of the Spanish Crown, 1529–1621
  Alicia Esteban Estríngana

Sovereigns and Sovereignty in Practice

7 ‘The King is the Real Sovereign of this Countries’
Politics of Justice and Order from the Duke of Alba in the Netherlands, 1567–1571
  Gustaaf Janssens

8 Electing a Prince
the Popular Transfer of Sovereignty at the End of the Sixteenth Century
  José Javier Ruiz Ibáñez

9 North-Netherlandish Sovereigns at Work in the First Half of the Seventeenth Century
  Simon Groenveld

10 Early Seventeenth-Century Representative Institutions and Law Making in the Habsburg Netherlands
  René Vermeir


This book is of interest to scholars and graduate students with interest in the subject of sovereignty from different academic disciplines: political and institutional historians, historians of political thought, legal historians, constitutional and international lawyers.
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