‘Guelphs! Faction, Liberty and Sovereignty: Inquiries about the Quattrocento’

‘Guelphs! Faction, Liberty and Sovereignty: Inquiries about the Quattrocento’

Ferente, Serena

History of Political Thought, 38 (2007)


This paper presents medieval Guelphism as an ‘ideological constellation’, in which libertas played a prominent role, and argues that, because it was lumped together with references to the French dynasty and the Church, the ordinary concept of liberty in late medieval Italy needs to be understood within the context of partisan struggles. New studies on medieval factions in the fifteenth century support the idea that a concept of libertas derived from the Guelph tradition could fulfill surprisingly different ideological functions, particularly when mobilized in debates and struggles concerning the nature of sovereignty. Pragmatic political documents, in fact, show that a libertas-empire, such as that of the Florentine republic, was by no means the dominant concept of liberty in Quattrocento Italy.

‘Political ideology’ has been little used as a tool of analysis for the study of medieval parties (partes). Of course, historians have abundantly written about ideologies in the Middle Ages, ‘the ideology of the three orders’ or the ‘ideology of sacred monarchy’, where ‘ideology’ meant generally ‘system of representations’ that a society constructed of itself. It has proved much harder, however, to produce evidence from medieval sources in support of the existence of ‘political ideologies’ in the sense of systems of political ideas distinctive of certain partisan groups. Historians have studied medieval parties and factions as clienteles, networks or interest groups, but often remained sceptical about the possibility that medieval partisans actually shared a political ideology.

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