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Abstract

This dissertation examines the development of political institutions in fifteenth-century Bohemia. I show how the frequent political turmoil and religious disagreements of this era impacted the structure and stability of the kingdom. Each of the institutions that I examine – the monarchy, the Church, the estates, the assembly, the land court, and law codes – defined their authority and jurisdiction in relation to each other. Examining the development of institutions in fifteenth century Bohemia does not simply illuminate the details of that time and place, but allows us to better understand the mechanisms by which power structures are created, maintained, and challenged more generally. I address how concerns such as sovereignty, nationalism, regional identity, religion, and social status shaped the development of these institutions and our understanding of them. I argue that the assembly – the institution that I examine in greatest detail – created a forum for people of a variety of statuses to exert some control over the administration of the kingdom. Yet, this control was possible because the Church and the monarchy had been weakened, and because the estates meeting in the assembly made use of other institutional structures. The institutions examined here relied on the consent of the community in order to function, and were also the means by which that consent and consensus were conveyed. One of the main forums in which the community came together to legitimate authority and administer the kingdom was the assembly. These assemblies brought together the king or his representatives – when the throne was occupied – and the members of the estates in order to legitimate actions taken to promote the common good of the community. Yet, as different groups within the community defined the common good differently, the meeting of and participation within the assembly itself became a matter of debate, with different segments of the community arguing that their participation was for the good of the community. These segments of the community at times took the form of parties, and at other times focused on geographic, religious, or class unity, rights, or privileges. As the dividing lines between these parties shifted, the assembly consistently remained the forum in which solutions were determined. In the first part of this dissertation, I use a longue durée approach to examine different aspects of the institutional climate in fifteenth century Bohemia. Chapter 1 presents an overview of Bohemian political developments shorn of their typically nationalist framework, and argues that while the kingdom of Bohemia was within the Empire, by the late thirteenth century it was clearly recognized as internally autonomous. Based on this understanding, Chapter 2 traces the expansion of the groups whose consent was required for major assembly decisions, arguing that these groups – which eventually became known as the estates – represented a wide array of social strata. This leads to my analysis of one of the most important ways in which the estates, the assembly, and the monarchy interacted: the election of a new king. In Chapter 3, I argue that the assembly maintained and expanded the rights of its participants by exercising its right to submit conditions to each candidate for the throne. I show that, in contrast to how it is generally depicted, the accession of the Habsburgs to the Bohemian throne in the sixteenth century showed no immediate signs of ushering in an era or dynasty that was markedly different from those that preceded it. The second part of my dissertation, are comprised of closer analyses of specific aspects of the assemblies and legal structures. Chapter 4 examines the role of parties in the prolonged negotiations to bring a new king to the throne in the 1440s and early 1450s. I argue that through recognizing each others’ party assemblies as legitimate, and yet asserting the inviolable authority of a joint assembly to formalize the most important decisions, these parties reinforced the power of the assemblies, particularly when monarchical authority was lacking. In Chapter 5, I demonstrate how Moravia played a symbolic role in power struggles in central Europe, concluding that possession of Moravia added prestige and was a symbol of authority and status within the region. Finally, Chapter 6 examines how institutions changed in the kingdom of Bohemia in the last quarter of the fifteenth century in light of the conclusion of a lasting religious settlement and the passage of a new law code. This chapter argues that in passing these changes, the various estates sought to codify their interpretation of the transformations that had taken place over the previous three generations.

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