Power of the Court

In recent years historians have shown a renewed interest in court history. Hardly surprising, says Philip Mansel, as courts play a central role in understanding the past and maintain a critical importance in contemporary politics.

Charles III of Spain lunching before his court, by Luis Paret y Alcazar, c.1770. Bridgeman/Prado, MadridCourts are a key to understanding European history. Defined as ruling dynasties and their households, courts transformed countries, capitals, constitutions and cultures. Great Britain and Spain, for example, both now threatened with dissolution, were originally united by dynastic marriages; between, respectively, Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabella of Castile in 1469; and between Margaret Tudor and James IV King of Scots in 1503, leading to the accession a hundred years later of their great-grandson, James I, to the throne of England. 

The House of Orange was crucial to the formation of the Netherlands, the House of Savoy to the unification of Italy, the House of Hohenzollern to that of Germany. Dynasties provided the leadership and military forces that enabled these states to expand. As Bismarck declared, while asserting the need for royal control over the Prussian army, blood and iron were more decisive than speeches and majority decisions. 

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