In the medieval and early modern periods, Spain shaped a global empire from scattered territories spanning Europe, Africa, and the Americas. Historians either have studied this empire piecemeal—one territory at a time—or have focused on monarchs endeavoring to mandate the allegiance of far-flung territories to the crown. For Yuen-Gen Liang, these approaches do not adequately explain the forces that connected the territories that the Spanish empire comprised. In Family and Empire, Liang investigates the horizontal ties created by noble family networks whose members fanned out to conquer and subsequently administer key territories in Spain's Mediterranean realm.
Liang focuses on the Fernández de Córdoba family, a clan based in Andalusia that set out on mobile careers in the Spanish empire at the end of the fifteenth century. Members of the family served as military officers, viceroys, royal councilors, and clerics in Algeria, Navarre, Toledo, Granada, and at the royal court. Liang shows how, over the course of four generations, their service vitally transformed the empire as well as the family. The Fernández de Córdoba established networks of kin and clients that horizontally connected disparate imperial territories, binding together religious communities—Christians, Muslims, and Jews—and political factions—Comunero rebels and French and Ottoman sympathizers—into an incorporated imperial polity. Liang explores how at the same time dedication to service shaped the personal lives of family members as they uprooted households, realigned patronage ties, and altered identities that for centuries had been deeply rooted in local communities in order to embark on imperial careers.