“Christendom's true Paradise.” According to the writers and travelers of the late sixteenth century, Lombardy, one of the wealthiest and most densely populated regions in Europe, retained its pre-eminence as “the richest and most civilised part of Italy.” Within Lombardy, the western portion embraced by the State of Milan formed one of the key dominions in the network of the Habsburgs' “Monarquía universal,” created after the conclusion of the wars in Italy and the decline of Charles V's dream of domination. With the disturbances of the long military conflict behind it and the end of alternating subjection to the French and Spanish crowns, Milan had rebuilt itself as a center for communications and as a focus for stability within a framework which encompassed the local political bodies of the surroundings and subordinated existing institutions and power structures by calling on them to cooperate with the new demands emanating from the “center,” yet at the same time did not suppress entirely local independence, customs and privileges.
Madrid was too distant for Spain to govern with absolutist despotism and bureaucratic thoroughness. It was obliged to submit to a continual process of negotiation and adjustment, from which each of the parties involved – those who wielded sovereign power on the one hand and the mass of civil society on the other – sought to gain advantage.
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