Political Development

On the right side of the page, a large historiated initial E frames two scenes representing a problem of credit explained in the chapter. On the upper level of a castlelike structure, the enthroned king listens to a dispute between a creditor and debtor. Below, the same figures engage in combat on horseback, watched by the king and a companion. The cross on one combatant's shield, clothing, and horse blanket identifies him as a Christian, while the crescent shape on the other's tunic suggests he is Muslim or at the very least a foreigner. The repetition of the figure of the king on both levels suggests that the battle relates to the argument above. The battle may demonstrate what would happen if there were no legal system, implying that implementation of a legal system prevents bloodshed.
Battle of San Romano (1 June 1432), fought some 30 miles outside Florence between the troops of Florence and Siena. The outcome is generally considered favourable to the Florentines, but in the Sienese chronicles it was considered a victory. As the 1430s began Florence had found itself in conflict with the rival city state of Lucca, and her allies, Siena and Milan. The Florentine deployed about 4,000 horse and 2,000 infantry. The clash, which lasted for some six or seven hours, consisted of a series of heavy cavalry fights. It was decided by the intervention of a second cavalry corps commanded by Micheletto Attendolo.
The Battle of Pavia (24 February 1525) was the decisive engagement of the Italian War of 1521–26. A Spanish-Imperial army attacked the French army under the personal command of Francis I of France in the great hunting preserve of Mirabello outside the city walls. In the four-hour battle, the French army was split and defeated in detail. The French suffered massive casualties, including many of the chief nobles of France; Francis himself, captured by the Spanish troops, was imprisoned by Charles V and forced to sign the humiliating Treaty of Madrid, surrendering significant territory to his captor. The outcome of the battle cemented Spanish Habsburg ascendancy in Italy.
Battle of Vienna (11-12 September 1683) took place after Vienna had been besieged by the Ottoman Empire for two months. It was a battle of the Holy Roman Empire in league with the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth (Holy League) versus the Muslim Ottoman Empire and chiefdoms of the Ottoman Empire, and took place at the Kahlenberg mountain near Vienna. The battle marked the beginning of the political hegemony of the Habsburg dynasty in the Holy Roman Empire and Central Europe. The battle was won by the combined forces of the Holy Roman Empire and the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth, the latter being represented only by the forces of the Crown of the Kingdom of Poland. The siege itself began on 14 July 1683, by the Ottoman Empire army. The decisive battle took place on 12 September, after the united relief army of approximately 84,000 men had arrived. The battle marked the turning-point in the Ottoman–Habsburg wars, the 300-year struggle between the Holy Roman Empire and the Ottoman Empire. However, an opposing view sees the battle only as confirming the already decaying power of the Ottoman Empire. Over the sixteen years following the battle, the Habsburgs of Austria gradually occupied and dominated southern Hungary and Transylvania, which had been largely cleared of the Ottoman forces. The battle is also notable for including the largest cavalry charge in history.
The painting shows an episode of the war against Siena, focusing on the preparation phase before the assault on Monteriggioni. Indeed, it is possible to see oxen carrying cannons, the bombardiers and the rest of the army. Monteriggioni, with its typical outline, stands out in the background.
The artist set out in 1567 to depict one of the most harrowing stories from the Bible, Herod’s massacre of all infant boys in Bethlehem. But he plainly had another purpose, too. His homeland, Flanders, suffered horribly at the hands of Spanish armies and German mercenaries in the merciless religious wars of his time – from which Britain was saved by the defeat of the Armada. By coupling the hated Spanish with the reviled Herod, Bruegel struck the only blow he could against the invader. But that invader, in the form of Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf II, was soon to come into possession of the painting. Those accused were Rudolf’s allies and relatives. It was too valuable to destroy, so instead he had it altered. The leader of the mounted soldiers– in jet-black armour, centre – originally resembled the Duke of Alva, notorious for his cruelty. His beard has been removed and the features changed. Just in front of him, a heap of dead livestock covers the gruesome pile of murdered children that the painter originally placed there. This is one of many parts of the painting where animals or birds, a swan, a boar, a calf, have been painted over depictions of dead or doomed little boys or male babies. Some have been revealed by infrared imaging (shown in insets) and we have circled others, though there are many more. The red flag carried by the knights has been overpainted to obscure the arms of Jerusalem, a coded reference to the Spanish King, Philip II, who liked to call himself King of Jerusalem. A herald in a red feathered hat, smiling blandly, sits high on a black and white horse, brushing aside the anguished pleas of the villagers. Look closely at the tabard he wears and you can just make out the Habsburg Eagle, beginning to show through the overpainting after 400 years, now that it is safe to tell the truth again.
Lille was the first major victory for Vauban’s siege techniques. Louis XIV, arguing that the Spanish dowry of his wife Maria Theresa of Austria had not been paid, began to expand French borders to the north and east, invading the Spanish Netherlands. This began a conflict with Spain that became the War of Devolution. After taking Charleroi, Tournai and Douai, French troops laid siege to Lille, at that time part of the county of Flanders under Spanish rule. Siege techniques applied by the French military engineer Vauban were instrumental in their capture. After the capture of Lille in 1304 by Philip IV the Fair, Lille, Douai and Bethune remained in the possession of Flanders, but had to pay an annual rent to France. Louis XIV was intent on the final incorporation of Lille in France. According to the agreement Aachen 1668 Lille was finally annexed to France.
A group of poor Flemish villagers waiting patiently to submit their taxes not in cash but in baskets of eggs, poultry, game and other produce. A prosperously-dressed tax-collector, assisted by a staff of half-witted clerks, is shown peering at a parchment behind a counter laden with piles of documents and money-bags. The artist mocks the wastefulness of this hive of bumbling officials by showing mountainous bundles of cancelled bills and receipts spilling carelessly across the office floor.
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