Peter H. Wilson


On his book Heart of Europe: A History of the Holy Roman Empire

Cover Interview of November 22, 2016


Fundamentally, this book shows that no European country has a singular story, no matter what generations of nationalists and populist politicians might have said. All Europe’s countries and peoples are interlinked through historical threads, and these are especially closely woven for those parts of northern, central and southern Europe that once formed the Empire. However, the Empire’s history also indicates that these interrelationships were complex and could be antagonistic. The complexities matter, not only for understanding the stories of what are currently the various European sovereign states, but for how those states currently interact and, indeed, might do in the future through the EU or whatever may replace it. The Empire’s story is primarily one of political culture, of ideal communities and attempts to realise those. A history of purely economic or social relations would no doubt produce a different picture, but one that would equally challenge the dominance of anachronistic national political narratives.

The Empire’s history indeed suggests we should reimagine the European map. Even today, the EU and the continent as a whole are presented as a mosaic of differently-coloured sovereign states, yet the composition of those states differs enormously with central governments and citizens having considerably varying powers and allegiances. Formally, political order remains that defined by the ideal of the sovereign state, yet clearly few states fully-command their inhabitants’ actions or loyalties, nor can they control how external pressures influence their internal affairs. The Empire was characterised by fragmented sovereignty, overlapping jurisdictions, and multiple identities. Reconsidering its history might foster a better appreciation of current transnational and global problems.