The Businessman and the Prince
It was possible to be a loyal subject to one's king without renouncing one's aspirations to a place, and a role, in politics. Whether French or English, Castilian or Portuguese, businessmen knew that in their towns—unlike Genoa or Lübeck—power did not come from economic strength. The res publica sprang from different sources, and its definitions were different. For all that, business clearly could not be indifferent to the implications of fiscal policy or diplomacy.
It was well aware that it could realistically influence political economy only if it had a foothold in the various layers of political society. Although, in London or Lisbon, it was not the businessman who decided on war or peace, he could still listen to what was being said in the council and make his voice heard in financial negotiations between the sovereign power and parliament, the states general or provincial, or the Cortès. It was as important for him to determine the common stance of the town or region toward the monarchy's demands as to the competition with other economic powers.
Even in the heart of town, sovereign power greatly inhibited the activities of municipal bodies. Insofar as they were a social group, the middle classes had less and less autonomy. From England to Sicily, they saw their freedom of action restricted to the defense of their economic interests and, particularly, to the discussion of their contribution to the kingdom's financial burden. The monarchies, for their part, actively discouraged these urban leagues, the alliances that gave the Italian and German towns their strength. It was rare for relations to be established between towns; and they were