The problem of billeting distribution in Renaissance Spain: absolutism, privilege, and local oligarchies

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The ever-increasing demands of war during the Renaissance caused rulers to continuously impose new taxes and exactions. One of the most unpopular exactions was billeting – the obligation to provide shelter to the king’s troops. The fact that billeting could be enforced despite widespread hardship and discontent has been traditionally interpreted as evidence of absolutism. In contrast, opposition to billeting tends to be regarded as a form of resistance to ‘despotism’. From this perspective, the ability of the monarchy to impose its demands in this matter and others is fundamentally reduced to a question of power dynamics between king and country. Some of the most popular sociological theories about the origin of the modern system of nation-states and their respective constitutional regimes base their conclusions on this type of assumption. Within this interpretative framework, an intrinsically anachronistic retrospective projection of the present paradigms of modernity can be found. This has led to the perpetuation of a stereotyped view of a complex topic. Billeting was not only dependent on strategic and material factors, but also on the inequality, hierarchy and legal compartmentalization that characterized pre-modern societies. The objective of this study is to discuss the importance of legal culture and social values for a proper understanding of the problematic practice of billeting and, more generally, power relations in pre-modern times.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)235-254
Number of pages19
JournalSocial History
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2021


  • Civil-Military relations
  • Billeting
  • Absolutism
  • Privilege


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