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A Contractor Empire. Public Private Partnerships and Overseas Expansion in Habsburg Portugal (1580-1640)

donderdag 28 mei 2020
Rapenburg 73
2311 GJ Leiden


This dissertation looks at public-private partnerships in Portugal and its overseas empire during six decades of Habsburg rule, the period of the Iberian ‘Union of the Crowns’ (1580-1640). It clarifies why and to what extent the Portuguese Crown underwrote the much maligned government contracts to handle tasks of public utility with business firms.
This dissertation places 17th Portugal at the centre of recent debates on the relation between business groups and state formation during the early modern period. I argue that a distinctive feature of the Portuguese contractor state was the multitude of government contracts pertaining to the overseas offshoots. This strong emphasis on the colonial sphere made Portugal into, more than just a European “contractor state”, a veritable “contractor empire”. This dissertation stress how government contracts were employed for tasks that did not involve the military logistics strictly speaking. These included tax-farming and the outsourcing of royal monopolies over colonial commodities.

I concluded that public-private partnerships were a sensible solution to several problems that plagued the exploitation and defence of an empire that spanned four continents and three oceans. More than weakening the authority of the state and make a few court-bankers exceedingly rich, these contracts allowed for fiscal revenues to be collected, transferred and spent when and where they were most needed. They also made possible for the royal armies and the navy to be adequately and punctually equipped, fed, armed and paid. Moreover, these business deals secured the commitment of Portugal’s merchant class and some international business networks to the defence of the empire and their loyalty to the ruling dynasty.

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  • Prof.dr. C. Antunes
  • Prof.dr. R. Grafe (European University Institute, Florence)


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