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John Watts in this new book undertakes a difficult task- to tie together the political history of Europe from 1300-1500 in roughly 4 chapters of some 450 pages. The first chapter, "Introduction" is a short discussion of some of the large scale forces that shaped the era- the rise of the state, war and disorder, generalized chaos. The chapter is notable for covering these large scale forces so clearly. A necessary prelude to what follows and often ignored in many works.
The second chapter discusses the complex political inheritance of the early Middle Ages, and especially forms of government and resistance and the role of the Church in both governing and controlling polities. Here the reader will probably want to supplement Watts account with some more specialized works dealing with Church-State issues.
The next two chapters, "The 14th Century" (chapter 3) and "The 15th Century" (chapter 4) are what one might call an alternative to straight narrative histories of the period in that they are prompted (as the author says in the introduction) by a dissatisfaction with most of the existing works on the period. So instead of a narrative of events the author discusses issues such as taxation, administration, the army, financial affairs generally, and what the political community was and how it functioned. These sections work very well and are some of the best in the book.
Watts makes his case for meaningful political change in this period, in an arc or trajectory as he calls it, that leads to the modern world and its political dynamics.
He argues that the conflicts that were so prominent in the medieval and late modern world have been difficult to capture but are fundamental to the how the modern world developed. An very good, up-to-date bibliography is included.
The Making of Polities: Europe, 1300-1500 (Cambridge Medieval Textbooks) OverviewThis major survey of political life in late medieval Europe - the first for more than thirty years - provides an entirely new framework for understanding the developments that shaped this turbulent period. Rather than emphasising crisis, decline, disorder or the birth of the modern state, this account centres on the mixed results of political and governmental growth across the continent. The age of the Hundred Years War, schism and revolt was also a time of rapid growth in jurisdiction, taxation and representation, of spreading literacy and evolving political technique. This mixture of state formation and political convulsion lay at the heart of the 'making of polities'. Offering a full introduction to political events and processes from the fourteenth century to the sixteenth, this book combines a broad, comparative account with discussion of individual regions and states, including eastern and northern Europe alongside the more familiar west and south.
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