Colloque – Good Governance in the Late Medieval City (1200-1600)

International Workshop on Good Governance in the Late Medieval City (1200-1600)

Organized by Nele De Raedt (UCLouvain) and David Napolitano (Utrecht University)

Programme :

February 1th, 2023

Utrecht University

Drift 23, Room 0.10

This interdisciplinary workshop is made possible thanks to the financial support of the Dutch Research School of Medieval Studies, the Louvain Research Institute for Landscape, Architecture and the Built Environment (LAB, UCLouvain), the Utrecht University Centre for Medieval Studies (UUCMS), and the Research Alliance CITY (Ghent University and Vrije Universiteit Brussel).


09:45-10:00 Registration

10:00-10:15 Welcome


10:15-10:35 Minne De Boodt (KU Leuven)

Debating good governance. The added value of a cross-contextual analysis for the study of late medieval political thinking

What did ‘good governance’ mean in the late medieval period? This paper argues for a cross-contextual analysis to answer this question. Although medieval political thought was originally studied from a more theoretical point of view, the research field has gained several diverse perspectives in the last years.  Historians have not only investigated the ideas of various social groups but have also done so by means of increasingly diverse sources. While some researchers have already started to combine different perspectives, most studies still limit themselves to one social group, source type, community, case study or political idea.

To study how fifteenth-century political ideas inspired negotiations on good governance, I study a wide variety of sources ranging from literary works or juridical treatises to privileges, petitions, letters and so on. Taken together my source-corpus spans the period between 1400 and 1520 and originated in social contexts such as the court of the Burgundian Dukes, courtrooms, town halls, and the houses of craft guilds. By means of this broad perspective, I argue that patterns of expectations existed in political thinking about good governance. But patterns were not carved into stone. By additionally zooming in on a local context, this paper makes clear that social groups continuously talked about patterns of expectations to achieve contemporary goals. I assert that the ‘patterns’ and ‘context-bound expressions’ of late medieval political thinking were not only inextricably connected, but also mutually reinforcing. Inspiring ideas remained inspiring because they were adaptable and expected.

10:35-10:55 Frederik Buylaert (Ghent University), Kaat Capelle (Ghent University), Klaas Van Gelder (Universiteit Brussel/State Archives in Brussels)

Comparing “good governance” in town and countryside: the evidence from Flanders, c. 1250-1550

In our contribution, we reflect on the idea of “Good Governance” in the towns of the county of Flanders in the 14th to 16th centuries, paying special attention to the question what – if anything except scale – is distinct about urban governance vis-à-vis rural governance. Empirically speaking, we proceed from a corpus of about fifty village regulations that reveal in granular detail the normative framework of village seigneuries, including regulations on, for example, public order management, waste disposal, the regulation of factor markets, moral policing, demarcating the boundaries between the public and the private sphere, and so on. We aim at a comparative discussion with recent research on urban governance. In light of fierce discussions about “urban agency”, we must chart the similarities and dissimilarities between governance in town and countryside while paying special attention to similar or dissimilar mechanisms for conflict resolution and decision-making. Theoretically speaking, we will draw on the recently developed notion of “Discursive Institutions” to conceptualize our comparative discussion.

10:55-11:15 David Napolitano (Utrecht University)

From mirrors-for-princes, over the podestà literature, to mirrors-for-magistrates: Preliminary explorations of three modern labels for medieval advice literature on rulership

The concept “mirrors-for-princes” has grown into a fixed feature of modern reference works, encyclopaedias, and historical dictionaries, although critical reflections on its existence and delineation as a genre have always accompanied its historiography. A similar discussion has opened up with respect to its lesser-known republican counterpart, the “mirrors-for-magistrates”. Focusing on the podestà literature – the traditional designation for the Italian mirrors-for-magistrates – Enrico Artifoni has, for instance, questioned whether there is such a thing as a podestà literature and whether it merits study as a particular group of texts. In my presentation I will trace the origins of the term “podestà literature”, discuss its use in existing scholarship, and argue that a continued use of the term is warranted and justified for this group of texts. Moreover, I will underline the importance of a label to denominate a group of texts and I will hold that, in order to facilitate comparisons across modern national and linguistic borders, the term “mirrors-for-magistrates” is to be preferred as a general designation.

11:15-12:15 Discussion

* Lunch


13:30-13:50 Nele De Raedt (UCLouvain)

Mirrors for magistrates on building the city

This presentation will focus on three political advice books, written over the course of the fifteenth century in Florence, Görlitz and Worms, with a specific focus on the ideas they contain on the architectural patronage and design of the late-medieval city; Matteo Palmieri’s Della vita civile (1429), Johann Frauenburg’s Anweisung, wie der Bürgermeister sich in seinem Amacht haltens soll (1476), and Johann von Soest’s Wie men woll eyn statt regiern soll (1495). Such political advice books, addressed to the urban elites, emerged from the thirteenth century onwards across a wide geographical area (from the Italian Peninsula, over the German Lands to the Low Countries). They not only instructed the magistrates on the political duties, related to their office. They also sometimes contained specific ideas on the construction and maintenance of the physical structure of the city. This presentation will discuss three examples in more detail, questioning whether they could be read as architectural theories, as well as whose voices and thoughts on architecture they represent. The presentation fits within a larger project that questions how mirrors-for-magistrates served as vehicles for architectural design theories on the city and its buildings in the late-medieval period.  

13:50-14:10 – Mats Dijkdrent (UCLouvain)

Architectural descriptions as mirrors for good governance in sixteenth-century Antwerp

Buildings that housed city governments in the late medieval period are often well studied. Much less researched, however, are the texts describing these buildings. In my presentation, I will analyze how these administrative strongholds (in particular the new city hall), and other buildings that symbolized the urban community, are described and framed in sources from 16th-century Antwerp. The descriptions of these buildings might appear quite formulaic, in part because they follow the rules of panegyric and ekphrasis. However, the texts also occasionally name values that refer specifically to ideas about good governance. I will show and analyze some examples in which the visual description of the building coincides with political theories and discourses about good governance of the city. In these texts, Magnificentia functions as a connection between the visual while alluding to virtues regarding good governance.

14:10-15:10 Discussion



15:30-15:50 Giacomo Santoro (Scuola Normale Superiore di Pisa)

Magistratus virum ostendit: a perspective on good governance in the Republic of Siena, between pedagogy and government (1428-1456)

In the first half of the fifteenth century, the Republic of Siena went through a phase of profound changes, internal tensions between citizen groups, and external pressure from foreign powers. The institutional architecture of the Republic seemed to make the exacerbation of the struggles between factions inevitable. The dynamics of elections for the city’s magistracies became increasingly fractious.

A number of factors fit into this complex and fractured context. First of all, the novelty of humanist culture, thanks to which classical authors and works (Plato, Aristotle, Cicero in primis) were not only rediscovered, but used in public discourse; the opposition between oligarchic-conservative tendencies and the extensive ambitions of those excluded from city power; the need to build a new order based on the good governance of the past and the recovery of the values of Siena of the past.

One of the most prestigious, influential and active men in those years in those dynamics was Francesco Patrizi (Siena, 1413-Gaeta, 1494). He was a fraternal friend of Enea Silvio Piccolomini, a member of the Grande Academia Senese, a master of rhetoric at the Universitas, a well-known man of letters, a true “organic intellectual” of one of the three regimental mounts, the Monte dei Nove; but also a member or head of numerous ambassadors for the Republic and several times Prior and Chancellor. Patrizi is one of the paradigmatic characters for understanding Italian and European political Humanism. His eclecticism between theory and political praxis is an example of a season of blending theoretical needs, demands for new languages, the search for legitimacy and governmental practices in fifteenth century Italy. He would go on to be the most edited political treatise writer after Machiavelli until the Baroque age with his works: De institutione rei publicae and De Regno et regis institutione.

In the home of the allegorical visual representation of Buon Governo, Patrizi elaborates his own model on how to hold a magistracy and do the good of the city. The epistolary treatise De gerendo magistratu admonitio (1446), whose critical edition I am currently editing, is not just a work of political pedagogy on the virtues needed to govern, but a veritable ideological political manifesto for the communes amicos nostros of the Monte dei Nove.

In my presentation I will show what was meant by good governance in Siena in the first half of the fifteenth century, in political theory and practice, and what dynamics are present and influence each other. My intention is to show how references to good governance in the fourteenth century in the Age of the Nine are a rhetorical device to polarise the political struggle and legitimise public debate, up to the tragic conspiracy of 1456.

15:50-16:10 Vasileios Syros (Jawaharlal Nehru University & The Medici Archive Project) 

Good governance and the city in early modern Italy and India

The purpose of this presentation is to explore the relationship between good governance and the city by looking at early modern Italian and Indian political and economic writings. More specifically, I will rely on the Italian (Giovanni Botero etc.) and Mughal (Abu’l Fazl etc.) traditions to trace affinities between diverse modes of theorizing the dual function of the city both as political and economic unit. My presentation will discuss how parallel patterns of depersonalization of political power translate into urban organization. I will also demonstrate that in both Italian and Mughal discourse, the city is depicted as the locus of economic and commercial activities that lead to the creation of the market as an autonomous sphere. Whereas these ideas are prefigured in Latin Europe and the Arabic world, the commonalities between the Italian and Mughal cases point to a novel shared understanding of how the city as the microcosm of the state operates according to its own rules and is ultimately disentangled from the persona of the sovereign.

16:10-17:00 Discussion

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