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

Stephen Cummins

In the broadest terms, this project examines how emotions affected how women and men interacted with institutions of governance in the early modern European Spanish Empire. As Alexis de Tocqueville argued, justice in the ancien régime was “rigid in rule, mild in practice.” My research explores what emotional resources were needed for subjects to navigate from theoretical rigidity to practical mildness. It focuses on practices such as contact-making, pleading, bargaining, bribing, and other forms of navigating authority that are often in large part questions of emotional practice.   

This project is the overarching framework for a specific forthcoming monograph on enmity and peacemaking in the Spanish-ruled Kingdom of Naples. In this study I explore the emotional politics of hatred in local and imperial contexts. After acts of violence, legal investigations into who was enemies with whom and what this had meant for the actions that had occurred were constant. Such relations of enmity had great salience, with particular behaviors and both formal and informal rules or rituals attached to them. Enmity was an emotional, social, and legal concept. Enemies, at times, also reconciled their differences, or tried to, through informal negotiations or formal rituals or contracts of peace.

The major dialectic of the book is therefore the encounter of the subjects of the Kingdom of Naples with the agents and institutions of royal and feudal authority, which also produced the sources the project draws from. I trace the journey of hatred from a personal or group passion, its subsequent transition into institutionally recognized relations of enmity, and the tactics groups and authorities used to grapple with such hatred. It confirms how affective politics were at the heart of early modern state formation and places emotions squarely in the realm of political history, as part of the political ontologies of actors at both local and central levels. The work tackles a series of subjects that shed light on this overarching concern: enmity and reconciliation in legal culture, the practice of provincial royal justice, missionary peace-making, banditry, and the culture of feuding among the nobility.

Key References

Cummins, S. (in press). State of enmity: Hatred and reconciliation in the kingdom of Naples, 1500-1700. Manchester University Press.
Cummins, S. (2023). Memories and fantasies of regime change in Spanish Naples. In A. Lee & B. J. Maxson (Eds.), A. Lee & B. J. Maxson (Eds.), The Culture and politics of regime change in Italy, c.1494-c.1559 (pp. 29–49). London: Routledge. Retrieved from
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