Patrick Lantschner. The Logic of Political Conflict in Medieval Cities: Italy and the Southern Low Countries, 1370-1440. Oxford Historical Monographs Series. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015. 304 pp. $105.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-19-873463-5.
Reviewed by Oskar J. Rojewski (Universitat Jaume I)
Published on H-Italy (June, 2016)
Commissioned by Brian J. Maxson (East Tennessee State University)
Patrick Lantschner’s The Logic of Political Conflict in Medieval Cities: Italy and the Southern Low Countries, 1370-1440 examines the complex problem of urban conflict at the turn of the century. The author understands conflict not only as a revolt of inhabitants against the legal power of the city but also as a disagreement between urban factions. He analyzes the history of municipal conflicts, chronicles, and late medieval philosophy in order to classify conflicts in both Italy and in the southern Low Countries. In doing so, Lantschner combines phenomena that have received scant attention from historians of the late medieval and early modern periods. The author compares these two most populated regions in Europe. It is a detailed and thorough book, even as the book remains accessible, despite its wide-ranging geographical focus and attention to complex legal arguments.
Through seven chapters, Lantschner discusses three Italian cities—Bologna, Florence, and Verona—and three from the southern Low Countries—Liege, Tournai, and Lille. The book is divided in two parts. The first one, “Conflict in a Polycentric Political Order,” contains three chapters, each of which explains and characterizes the rationality of urban conflict. In particular, the chapters investigate controversies related to legitimation strategies, models of conflict, and types of groups. Chapter 1 describes and justifies urban conflict with references to the major philosophers whose ideas influenced political transformation. The evolution of conflicts, from armed rebellion to minor disputes between the inhabitants and the authorities, is explained clearly. Chapter 2 defines three models of urban conflict: protest, which relies on the dispatch of grievances and the demands of the townspeople to a legal parent body; negotiation, which features the application of constitutional principles to disputes between two sides of a dispute; and warfare, where a legal sovereign intervenes in the conflicts between municipal factions. Chapter 3 defines group action and distinguishes between corporate shares and urban guilds, factions and legalized parties, and coalitions of multiple political units.
The second part, “Urban Systems of Conflict,” compares specific examples of the function and development of conflict across four chapters. Chapter 4 presents the actors of the conflicts and the main differences among them. The chapter groups Italian and Flemish cities based on various similarities. The specific case studies appear in the last three chapters. In chapter 5, a lack of political stability joins the examples of Bologna and Liege. Both cities were subordinated directly to an ecclesiastical superior: Bologna to the university town and Liege to the bishop principality. In both cases, limitations placed on guild involvement in governance led to conflicts after the complex governmental structures ignored guild requests for more direct political roles. Furthermore, in both cases urban conflict led directly to external control over the political system. In chapter 6, Lantschner shows that Florence and Tournai were linked by urban disagreements that led to conflicts. He argues that the constitutional systems allowed the possibility to legitimize manifestations of discontent and negotiations between the competing sides. On this point, he agrees with Machiavelli, who also contended that the political systems in these two cities guaranteed stabilization. In Florence, the system was based on the Ordinances of Justice established in 1293, while in Tournai it was based on the establishment of the urban jurisdiction and local parishes in 1187. The reason for political conflicts in both cities was the manipulation of political institutions by factions. The last chapter provides two examples to show that urban conflicts did not always lead to armed confrontations. For example, some cities developed methods for preventing conflict through the weakening of the guild or parish systems. In addition, the presence of feudal sovereignty could protect a political system from possible imbalances, as happened in Verona when dealing with the Venetians, and Lille when dealing with the Chambre de comptes of the dukes of Burgundy. The author introduces the development of political conflict in an accessible way, although readers with previous knowledge of the subject will undoubtedly gain the most from the book’s at times complicated subject matter.
According to Lantschner, urban conflict was an expressive and constructive part of political life in both Italy and in the southern Low Countries. Conflict accelerated the consolidation of political systems within European cities while actions by individual groups permitted the expansion of administrative apparatuses. Lantschner contends in his conclusion that his model could also apply to other examples of armed conflict, such as the Wars of the Roses or the Hussite uprisings in the Czech Republic. From his point of view, multiple centers of power did not necessarily lead to chaos. Rather, conflict, conceived as the expression of a specific organizational form and political manifestation, helped transform medieval urban management in cities in the modern era. Beyond this general vision of European politics, an important achievement of the author’s research is the analysis of individual examples of cities and their conflicts. The book provides a very well-constructed comparative analysis of relevant European cities where conflict was a constant aspect of the city. In conclusion, Lantschner’s study makes an extremely valuable contribution for the study of the history of urban development and municipal conflicts at the turn of late medieval to the early modern era.
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Oskar J. Rojewski. Review of Lantschner, Patrick, The Logic of Political Conflict in Medieval Cities: Italy and the Southern Low Countries, 1370-1440.
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