Representative assemblies had become a common part of the political structure in many European countries in the late medieval period. But they faced transformative change between 1500 and 1700. These assemblies, which went by names such as Parliaments, States, Estates, Diets, and Cortes varied tremendously in their organisation, customs, and functions. Yet they shared a transnational inheritance of ideas and methods that added up to a common European tradition. Intensive study has gone into individual pre-democratic representative institutions, and their political and constitutional histories have been exhaustively documented. But very little has been done to investigate them collectively, to scrutinise them as cultural phenomena in their own right, or to study them in comparative perspective.
Our project Recovering Europe’s Parliamentary Culture, 1500-1700 takes a new approach. It explores the culture of Europe’s Parliaments, States, Estates, Diets, and Cortes, asking how it was expressed in images, language, writing, and symbolic practices. It draws on examinations of literature, history, political philosophy, the reception of the classical tradition, art, and material culture to investigate the literary, political, and visual discourses and shared experiences of representative politics across early modern Europe.
With funding from the John Fell Fund we are currently conducting a pilot project that compares the period’s three most robust national assemblies – the English Parliament, the Polish Sejm, and the Dutch States-General. And we will be creating an international network of early modern scholars working on political assemblies across Europe from a variety of disciplinary angles.