Government of the Passions

The Emotional Politics of Justice in the European Spanish Empire, c. 1500–1700

Stephen Cummins

Alexis de Tocqueville (1805-1859) argued that justice in the ancien régime had  a ‘rigid rule’ but a ‘soft practice’. Unspooling this insight into modern analyses has been the major accomplishment of a ‘Copernican revolution’ in the study of early modern justice in recent decades. However, many consequences of the ever-present negotiating of authority and punishment remain to be studied. The emotional and subjective consequences of the ancient régime system of justice and government are the object of this project. Focusing on the early modern Spanish Empire in Europe, I examine what sort of emotional regimes were created and how people could utilize emotional resources to navigate authority. I focus especially on the Kingdom of Naples, the Kingdom of Sicily and the Kingdom of Aragon.

The material, social and spiritual resources that people drew upon in their everyday interactions with authorities form a core topic of this project. I am particularly interested in the use of gift-giving, the invocation of certain saints (especially Saint Anthony of Padua) and the nature of sociability with officials. I explore questions of legality, semi-legality and crime in such interactions and the use of resources. For instance, I am especially interested in how bandits and other ‘criminal’ figures function as a potential resource in stratagems and dilemmas. Fundamentally, in all these questions the emotional field is of primary interest: what role did emotions play, what kind and whose, in negotiations with justice.

In terms of sources, judicial archives form the foundation for the project. However, letters and ego-documents are essential to gaining a view behind the scenes of official procedures. Similarly, the evidence of the visitas performed by the Spanish Crown form a very important source for accessing some aspects of how justice proceeded in practice, which is not always clear from the judicial archive itself.

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