(image source: University of Reading)
I presented a paper with the title "Challenges to Imperial Authority: the External-Induced Horizontalisation of the 18th Century Quarrel on the Farnese and Medici Fiefs" at the 22nd British Legal History Conference. Law: Challenges to Authority and the Recognition of Rights. Magna Charta 800th Anniversary, organised by the university of Reading.
Authority relationships do not exist solely between sovereign and subject. In the construction of the Holy Roman Empire, the Emperor’s prodominium distinguished his authority from that of other members of the Empire (von Aretin/Whaley). The quarrel on the very nature of the Empire as a confederation of equals, or a federation headed by the Emperor, has filled the pages of many a volume on German Public Law (Leibniz/Spon/von Schönberg/Braun). Ideologically, either Imperial power recalled Christian unity and constituted a guaranty for peace, or it was seen as the expression of tyranny (Arcidiacono).
This discussion received a supplementary dimension regarding Imperial fiefs outside of Germany.
Notably in Italy, where the constitutional arrangements of the Peace of Westphalia did not apply (Schnettger/Steiger). Theoretically, rulers were mere vassals. The Emperor personally exercised jurisdiction over them through the Imperial Aulic Council (Reichshofrat), in a top-down, vertical relationship, whereby he could be party and judge at the same time (Hughes).
This model was challenged by the other European sovereigns’ claims on the peninsula. In case of intervention in Italian affairs, the law of nations was invoked on a horizontal basis to undermine Imperial claims of jurisdiction. My proposal concerns practical legal argumentation in the decades after the Peace of Utrecht. The Italian duchies of Parma and Piacenza were ruled by the last male descendent of the Farnese family. For the Grand Duchy of Tuscany, the extinction of the Medici rule was imminent (Quazza/Jones). According to Imperial feudal law, this entailed their Heimfall or return to direct rule from Vienna. In practice, this was reduced to an Imperial monopoly to redistribute the fief to a claimant of his preference. This clashed with claims by the Florentine Senate, insisting on the Republic’s independence (Marrara/Salerno).
On 2 August 1718, the Treaty of London (or Treaty of the Quadruple Alliance) foresaw that the descendants of Elisabeth Farnese (1692-1766), Queen of Spain, would be appointed as male successors of these Imperial fiefs. Yet, as the ambiguity was evident (a “male” fief could not be transmitted by a woman), this amounted to a de facto horizontalisation of the relationship between Charles VI (1685-1740) and his formal new vassals. Outside intervention, in a multilateral international convention, had implicitly reined in Imperial claims of domestic authority. The ensuing decades showed hot-headed legal debates between the Imperial Aulic Chancery (Hofkanzlei) and Franco-British diplomats, who imposed the legal argumentation of their inclination (Dhondt).
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