The Power of Business
Perhaps because they had been created by businessmen, some towns seemed to be made for them. Such were the towns in the Empire where the sovereign authority of the emperor was distant and scarcely noticeable, when it was not actually rejected. Such were the towns of northern and central Italy where the imperial party—the Ghibellines—did not necessarily support the emperor, and where alliances between towns were often more significant than the periodic affirmations of imperial unity. Such were the German towns where the struggle for the imperial crown was considered an issue for princes and archbishops, and of little concern to the townspeople.
At Florence and Lübeck, at Genoa and Hamburg, the real political power lay with the people. In Italy this was sometimes the financial and merchant aristocracy, the popolo grasso, at others, the popolo minuto of the shop or workshop. In the Hanseatic towns, it was the League's council which solely represented, in theory at least, the merchant class.
Even before the emergence of the bourgeoisie in the eleventh and twelfth centuries, there were towns over which a sovereign power had asserted its authority. The new powers in the towns, businessmen and tradesmen, although initially unsure, soon associated themselves with this convenient ally—convenient because distant—against the more local powers—the count or the lord, the bishop or abbot—inherited from Carolingian times. Whether it was townspeople involved in dispute with a castellan, or the common people with a business patriciate inclined to confuse its own interests with those of the town, all appealed to the sovereign—the king of France, of England, or of Aragon. The patricians of Ypres, playing a subtle but often