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Conflict Management, Cross-border relations and the Struggle for maritime Hegemony in the North Atlantic (XVIth-XVIIth centuries)

Final Report Summary - MARITIME HEGEMONY (Conflict management, cross-border relations and the struggle for maritime hegemony in the North Atlantic (XVIth-XVIIth centuries))

'The World is flat after all'. This was a widespread post-modern saying from the late 1980s. After the end of the Cold War the world seemed smaller, less hostile and more and more homogeneous thanks to internet, cell phones and economic globalisation. The very meaning of space seemed to lose its traditional significance, together with other related concepts such as 'borders' or the 'nation state'. However, the rise of nationalism in Europe and elsewhere, the aggravation of the Middle East conflict, ethnic warfare as well as banditry, and piracy, in Africa and immigration anxiety in western societies, clearly contradicted the utopia of globalisation. The walls built by Israel in Palestine, Spain in its north African enclaves, and the United States of America in the Mexican border are good examples of this fact. As it has been remarked, the world may be more flat, but is also more walled up.

In this context the study of the history of boundaries and borderland territories acquires a new relevance. The research project 'Conflict management, cross-border relations and the struggle for maritime hegemony in the north Atlantic (XVI-XVII)' intended to analyse the dynamical interplay of violence and collaboration between border communities, taking the Spanish-Basque and French-Basque borderlands during early modern times as a case study.

The dispersion and huge amount of archival material that was available compelled the researcher to reconsider the chronological length and geographical extension of the original research project without compromising its general purpose. For this reason, the researcher focussed his attention mainly on the second half of the 17th century, a period of significant changes in the way border conflicts and boundaries in general were treated and perceived by European monarchies. The turning point was marked by two major events, namely the Treaty of the Pyrenees in 1659, signed precisely over the Bidasoa River on the very border between the Spanish and the French monarchy, and the so-called personal reign of Luis XIV of France. For the first time, and during practically all the second-half of the 17th century, common border conflicts such as the one over river Bidasoa, would be treated as a matter of state by courtly diplomats and not just as a matter of public order by minor officials and local judge commissioners. In other words, Louis XIV substituted the juridical language of community stability for the one of retaliation and authority restoration. In this sense, he abandoned the traditional role of judge king in order to assume the one of warrior sovereign. This change not only had an extremely important impact in borderland communities and cross-border relations, but also constituted a significant shift in absolutist politics. At the heart of this research were the notions of sovereignty and obedience.

During the two year fellowship the researcher made an extensive use of the archival collections in Paris, including the Archives Nationales, Archives des Affaires Etrangeres and Bibliotheque Nationale de France. Moreover, he completed his research with frequent research missions to different archives and libraries in Spain, such as the Archivo Historico Nacional and Biblioteca Nacional de Españaa amongst others, and the British Library in the United Kingdom. The researcher also benefited of the interdisciplinary expertise of the members of the Groupe d' Etudes Iberiques, directed by Prof. Bernard Vincent, at the Centre de Recherches Historiques -EHESS in Paris. Their commentaries and support were critical for the implementation of this research project.