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Theories of Empire, 1450-1800.

Theories of Empire, 1450-1800, edited by David Armitage. Series: An Expanding World: The European Impact on World History, 1450-1800, Volume 20. Aldershot, England, Ashgate Variorum, 1998. xxxiv, 388 pp. $125.95 U.S.

Theories of Empire, 1450-1800 is part of a thirty-one volume series examining Europe's impact on world history from the voyages of discovery to the early nineteenth century. Each volume has two objectives: first, to cover a specific aspect of European initiative and reaction across time and space; and second, to serve as a valuable overview and reference source on European activities beyond Europe, including interactions with non-Europeans and the experiences of peoples of other continents, religions, and races in relation to Europe and Europeans. Based on these criteria, David Armitage's collection is a success. The fifteen essays included explore important issues concerning the meaning of empire in the early modern period. In addition, the chronological and geographic coverage is wide, as the articles examine ideas of empire dating from Julius Caesar's Rome to the early nineteenth century in Europe itself, and consider European actions in North and South America, the Caribbean, and Asia.

Armitage' s volume concentrates primarily on legal issues arising from empire. J.S. Richardson begins with a discussion of the expansion of the Roman meaning of empire (imperium). John Robertson, John M. Headley, Franz Bosbach, and Victor Frankl examine the legal background concerning the concept of universal monarchy, which attracted considerable attention during the reigns of Charles V, Habsburg Holy Roman Emperor and king of Spain, Philip II of Spain, and Louis XIV of France. John H. Elliott, Anthony Pagden, Nicholas P. Canny, and W.J. Eccles focus on the Europeans' legal justifications for seizing non-European lands. James Tully demonstrates the relevance of these justifications for current legal battles involving native Americans in Canada and the United States. C.H. Alexandrowicz traces the seventeenth-century legal debate between the Portuguese and Dutch concerning sovereignty in Asia that arose from the publication of Hugo Grotius's Mare Liberum.

Political, religious, and economic aspects of European expansion receive less attention. Norbert Kilian discusses the changing political meaning of empire in the new United States, while Timothy E. Anna examines the political equality of the colonies with the mother country in the early nineteenth-century Spanish empire. G.D. Winius reveals the millenarian response of Portuguese clerics in India in the face of Dutch success. Elliott and Canny also discuss the importance of religion in their examinations of Spanish, Portuguese, and English expropriations of land, though militant Christianity is only a part of their analysis. Only Jacob Viner's classic essay concerning mercantilism, "Power Versus Plenty," discusses the economic gains derived from empire. And even Viner emphasizes that political objectives ("power") were just as important as economic goals.

The concept of universal monarchy affected European politics for several hundred years. The idea of one ruler dominating Europe was the legacy of the Roman Empire and Christian theology. (The text of John 10:16 reads "there shall be one fold, and one shepherd.") Bosbach demonstrates that while this concept had existed since the Middle Ages and was generally accepted by European great powers, the concept always faced opposition, stemming from the rivalries between the Habsburgs and the kings of France. The concept remained important until it was gradually replaced by concern over the balance of power, which began in 1702 with England's entry into the War of the Spanish Succession. Headley's discussion of Mercurino de Gattinara, Charles V's chancellor, emphasizes the Habsburg-French rivalry. Gattinara greatly distrusted Valois France and urged Charles V to strengthen his position in Italy. Robertson's article concerning the union of England and Scotland in 1707 addresses several of these themes and successfully demonstrates that the British union was not an isolated political event. By discussing the concept of universal monarchy he shows that a single monarch governing disparate territories was common in Europe.

The European seizure of non-European territory has been discussed heatedly since the 1500s. Elliott and Canny demonstrate clearly the importance attached to sedentary agriculture in the dispossession of "barbarians" in Ireland and the New World. Pagden presents the arguments used by Spanish critics of the conquistadors but emphasizes that Spain's sovereignty over the Indies was never seriously at issue. Eccles also examines European claims of sovereignty in the New World and argues convincingly that France never claimed sovereignty over the Indians of New France; thus, neither the British government nor the Dominion of Canada (including provincial governments) can legally claim sovereignty over native peoples as a result of the Conquest in 1763. Tully supports Eccles's view and devotes considerable attention to the British Proclamation of 1763 and key decisions written by U.S. Chief Justice John Marshall to develop a theory of property law applicable to North America that is just to Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal North Americans.

Scholars will find much of value in these essays. The authors include leading historians of European expansion; they cover important theories associated with empire, and they discuss the major colonial powers. There are some problems, however. Legal issues receive too much emphasis. Given the importance of economic motivation in empire building, more attention should have been devoted to economic theories of empire. Mercantilism enjoyed widespread appeal in early modern European capitals, so only one article discussing this theory is puzzling. The dearth of essays concerning the political aspects of empire is another surprise. The relationship of empire to the concept of hegemony merits attention. Although the essays include discussions of cultural aspects of empire, this important topic is underdeveloped. Finally, the book's price and production values deserve some attention. Fourteen of the fifteen essays have been published previously. Indeed, the typeface and footnote style differs from chapter to chapter as the publisher has merely reproduced each from its previous venue. There are no maps, tables, or illustrations of any kind, yet Theories of Empire costs $125.95. This seems like a pretty steep price for reprinted essays.

Carl E. Swanson

East Carolina University
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Title Annotation:Review
Author:Swanson, Carl E.; Colwill, Elizabeth
Publication:Canadian Journal of History
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Apr 1, 2001
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