City-States, Princely States, and Warfare: Corporate Alliance and State Formation in the Holy Roman Empire (1540-1610)

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Abstract: Scholars often view the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries as a period of general urban decline, when territorial rulers imposed their political agendas on smaller state actors such as city-states in ever more authoritative ways. Such a view is especially prevalent in studies based in the Holy Roman Empire. It forms part of a larger approach to studying the course of state formation that focuses too much on the building of internal bureaucratic institutions and not enough on the importance of interactions between state actors. Studies that examine the relationship between warfare and state formation in particular downplay the importance of city-states, arguing that the costs of war served as a prime vehicle for princely states to marginalize city-states during the Reformation era. This article re-evaluates this paradigm of urban decline through the comparative study of corporate alliances, formal cooperative associations between princely states and city-states. Specifically, it examines the fallout surrounding two conflicts between princes and city-states within the Schmalkaldic League and the Protestant Union. Controversies over the use of alliance military forces within these leagues reveal that rather than decline in the decades leading up to the Thirty Years War, urban influence within leagues increased over time because of the dynamics of war. This conclusion challenges the narratives of territoriality and urban decline that dominate much of the political history covering the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. Ultimately, it presents a new way to understand the relationship between city-states, princely states, warfare, and the course of state formation in the Reformation-era Holy Roman Empire.

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