Renaissance humanists and the Holy Roman Empire haven’t mixed well in most scholarship. Humanists were supposed to be learned exponents of liberty. Often employed by Italian city-states, their civic pride and positive valuation of the ancient Roman Republic meant, it was claimed, that empire was anathema to them.
But in a lucidly written and penetrating study of the early Renaissance, Dr. Alexander Lee turns these narratives on their heads. Humanism and Empire: The Imperial Ideal in Fourteenth-Century Italy
(Oxford University Press, 2018) looks at the relationship between humanists of northern Italy and the Holy Roman Empire. It finds, for example, that humanists working for both republican and autocratic cities could fit their politics onto an imperial landscape drafted on a classicizing canvass. They debated the universality of imperial dominion, the spheres of authority between pope and emperor, and much besides. Impressively, this study is grounded in the frenetic politics of the fourteenth century, and Dr. Lee demonstrates the extent to which humanist assessments of empire responded in lockstep with the shifting sands of Italian affairs.