Empire, Community, Nation: The English Merchants of Livorno, Italy and the Sociability of Commerce in Early Modernity
Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
This dissertation uses the Anglophone merchant community of Livorno, Italy, known to English contemporaries as the “Leghorn merchants,” to investigate how a modern form of British empire emerged from the early modern regime that recent scholars have likened to the world of the bazaar. This study begins with the first arrival of English ships in Livorno in the late sixteenth century and concludes with the departure of the bulk of the English community in 1796, before the arrival of Napoleon. It follows the evolution of the “Leghorn merchant” society’s political, diplomatic, and commercial relationships with both English and Tuscan states through the early eighteenth century, and thereafter focuses on intra-community dynamics in such boundary of life events as birth, marriage and death, to 1796. Before the rise of empires in their modern state-system form, personal position and connection shaped relationships of power and therefore of profit. European traders abroad – in this case, the Leghorn merchants – were the intermediaries between consumers, producers, and merchants on the one hand, and on the other the wielders of power both near and far. They were thus the foremost facilitators of a kind of imperial bazaar that was taking haphazard shape in London and that was more or less paralleled in Tuscany. For the English merchants of the late sixteenth and early seventeenth century, the English state was distant and erratic and the Levant Company was an evolving institution with as-yet incoherent diplomatic and commercial policies. In this system, which has been described elsewhere as “networks” or proto-imperial “webs” of English empire, commercial actors and their personal connections exploited privileged access and in turn provided the commercial information and foreign intelligence which made merchants specialized purveyors of intelligence as well as goods. In Livorno, the Anglophone merchants acquired this intelligence through embeddedness in their host society: as paid maritime or commercial consultants for the granducal government; via intermarriage with Italian or other Europeans; and in extended (sometime generations-long) periods of residing and doing business in the Tuscan port. But with the increased centralization of European states in the mid-seventeenth century came concerted attempts to regulate and monitor the activities and investments of their subjects abroad. In the Livornese context, this meant the creeping encroachment of the state in the Leghorn merchants’ commerce, in their diplomatic dealings with the granducal regime, and in the practice of their Protestant faith. In examining the way that the Leghorn merchants, accustomed to the personalized practices of the bazaar, clashed with officials of England’s emerging bureaucratic empire over matters of international dispute settlement, consular appointments, and decisions regarding the Leghorn community’s faith, this dissertation measures the transition from the world of the bazaar to that of the imperial nation-state. The dissertation contributes as well to an understanding of Mediterranean history. As a base for collaborative Anglo-Tuscan commercial and privateering ventures as well as a font of new economic ideas about trade regulation, Livorno tempers the conquest and coopt rhetoric of Fernand Braudel’s northern invasion thesis. Braudel and other historians of the Mediterranean have argued that English and Dutch traders, equipped with better-armed, sturdier ocean-going ships than the galleys of Mediterranean states, swept into the Middle Sea in the late 16th century and gradually overtook the carrying trades from such native powers as the Venetians. Braudel saw this invasion of northern merchants from England and the Netherlands as ushering in a new nationalist age, one in which national affiliation would come to supplant religion as primary determinant of community among foreign traders and their Mediterranean host communities. This dissertation complicates that interpretation, and argues that even as Protestantism became progressively more important to the English idea of empire it continued to be a means of uniting co-religionists of diverse in national origin in the larger transnational “Protestant Society” in Livorno. The dissertation thus makes interventions and suggests revisions in the study of the evolution and expansion of the British Empire as well as in what has been called the “decline” of Italy (and more particularly, Tuscany). In so doing, the dissertation recasts the evolution of the British Empire as a distinctly transnational process, and gives due weight to developments in central Italy.
Chair and Committee
Daniel Bornstein, Alexandre Dube, Christine Johnson, Rebecca Messbarger,
Lillie, Lisa Marie, "Empire, Community, Nation: The English Merchants of Livorno, Italy and the Sociability of Commerce in Early Modernity" (2017). Arts & Sciences Electronic Theses and Dissertations. 1124.
Available for download on Saturday, May 15, 2117
Permanent URL: https://doi.org/10.7936/K76T0K29