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Les archevêques de Mayence et la présence espagnole dans le Saint-Empire

Étienne Bourdeu



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1The object of this book is twofold. It seeks at once to examine the relations established by the Spanish monarchy with one of the major players in the Holy Roman Empire, the Archbishops of Mainz, and to escape from the historical commonplace of harmonious relations between the two branches of the Habsburg dynasty. Using the tools of social history and connected history, the author identifies three different stages, spanning a period running from the abdications of Charles V (1556) to the Treaty of Westphalia (1648).

2The book first looks at the circumstances surrounding the initiation of relations. For instance, following Charles V’s abdications and the unsuccessful attempt to have Philip II succeed him as Holy Roman Emperor, relations between the Hispanic and Germanic worlds need to be reconsidered. The Spanish needed to maintain close links with the Imperial court and the German territorial princes in order to secure their investiture in Imperial fiefs like the Duchy of Milan and to be able to levy troops. At the outset, there were excellent direct contacts with the Emperor and his entourage, and likewise with those princes whose lands bordered on the Spanish Low Countries. At this stage the Archbishops of Mainz were not partners in that scheme of things, as they were not immediate neighbours of the Spanish possessions. Moreover, as the position of Archbishop of Mainz was elective, it was uncertain who would be appointed and hence impossible to anticipate whether good relations could be established as in the case of the dynastic principalities. There was therefore a question as to the appositeness of two political players who would perhaps not necessarily have interests in common.

3There were two factors influencing the development of the situation. Firstly, the revolt of the Low Countries, starting in 1566, forced the Spanish monarchy to seek mediators to try and pacify the revolting territories. On several occasions the Spanish approached the Archbishops of Mainz, who as Imperial Arch-Chancellors had access to all the players in the Holy Roman Empire regardless of their religious denomination. Secondly, the reign of Emperor Rudolph II (1576-1612) marked a significant turnaround in Spanish relations with the Imperial court: mistrustful of his cousins in Madrid and anxious to preserve his authority, the Emperor gradually scaled back his relations and communication with the Spanish. This prompted the latter to build up mutual-interest networks in the Holy Roman Empire, no longer centred on the courts of Vienna or Prague but bringing in German territorial princes. The 1570s thus saw a qualitative change in relations between the Spanish monarchy and the Archbishops of Mainz, who became Spanish correspondents at the beginning of the 17th century.

4Finally, starting in the first decade of the 17th century, relations between the Spanish and the Archbishops of Mainz became steadily closer, particularly under of Johann Schweikard von Cronberg, Archbishop from 1604 to 1626. This rapprochement was probably due in large part to the weakening of Imperial authority. Neither Rudolph II nor Matthias (1612-1619) were able to appoint successors in their lifetimes; and in addition to the uncertainty of the succession, mounting religious tensions were threatening the cohesion of a number of institutions of the Holy Roman Empire, such as the Diet. To compensate for the weakening of Imperial power, the traditional underpinning of the ‘immediate’ knighthood of the Empire to which the Archbishops of Mainz belonged, these last turned to the Spanish, who at that time seemed best placed to preserve the institutional order of the Empire and their own position therein. In the context of the Thirty Years’ War, up until the beginning of the 1630s this rapprochement was characterised by a close cooperative relationship wherein the Archbishops became prime correspondents of the Spanish and transmitters of their policy in Imperial institutions; at the same time, the Spanish provided effective support for the prelates. This de facto alliance lasted for as long as the Spanish monarch’s men were able to provide effective support for the Archbishops, and for as long as the Imperial authority was in question. With the resurgence of that authority in the second half of the 1620s, and above all given Spain’s inability to maintain its place among the decisive players in the Empire and a military presence on several fronts, the Archbishops of Mainz gradually abandoned their role as clients of Spain and treated the Spanish as outsiders to the Empire.

5The book then proposes a new reading of a historical period that is in principle political but has a social basis. This latter approach offers a possible new perspective on the Spanish presence in the Imperial domains, avoiding the pitfalls of a purely dynastic approach. And again, the recourse to connected history avoids a one-sided approach to events and recaptures the rationales of the different actors involved in this history. The results follow in the line of recent renovative research in the history of the Spanish-speaking worlds and offer the possibility of fresh viewpoints on the interaction of two European empires which were closely related but guided by different principles.

© Casa de Velázquez, 2016

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