views updated May 18 2018


PATRONAGE. Patronage ties and networks formed a quasi-universal system stretching across early modern Europe. Although the patronage system may have developed from feudal vassalage, patrons did not give their clients fiefs in return for service. Patron-client ties, which had appeared by the early fifteenth century, were based on more varied forms of reward than land, including money payments. Man-to-man personal ties of loyalty were still important in patronage, but there were no oaths of homage or fealty. Choice of patron was free, and obligations were not fixed. Patronage ties were more informal and their obligations less precise than those of feudal vassalage.

Great nobles at this time maintained large households of a hundred or more and sizable military retinues. Household members and military retainers were often clients, who received money payments and room and board for their service, but not land. In the 1530s the household of François La Trémoille (15021541) numbered between 90 and 100, of whom 27 were noble clients. In addition to room and board, they received substantial salaries with regular increases, gifts of cash and jewelry, annual pensions, clothing for special occasions, and money for traveling expenses. In 1507 the household of Edward Stafford, duke of Buckingham (14781521), numbered 130, of whom 100 ate prodigiously at his expense. The duke also clothed them, gave them occasional gifts, and employed their relatives, but he did not give them land.

Patronage was a system of personal ties and networks in which a patron or superior offered protection and support to an inferior or client, who owed him loyalty and service in return. Patron-client ties were voluntary, emotional bonds of loyalty between unequals who were linked vertically in mutual-assistance relationships. The type of assistance varied, but a patron had to reward the loyal service of a client if he wanted to keep it, and a client had to repay his generosity with loyal service if he wanted to receive patronage in future. The obligatory reciprocity of the patron-client relationship was its definitive characteristic. Beyond this, however, there were no exact requirements about what was exchanged or when. A kinsman became a client when he joined a patron-client network headed by a family member on whom he was dependent for advancement and to whom he owed loyal service in return. Kinship and marriage ties reinforced the loyalty of patron-client ties, and kin were often clients.

When Ferrara became part of the Papal States in 1598, Pope Clement VIII (15361605) made every effort to win the loyalty of leading families by giving them favors and benefits, particularly promotions to the cardinalate. In accepting benefits without returning them, the recipients incurred a debt that had to be repaid, and so became clients. Influential members of the Medici family frequently recommended clients to the same friend at a foreign court for the same job, which usually led to a puzzled request for clarification as to which candidate really enjoyed Medici support, and who should be appointed to satisfy the appointer's obligations as a Medici client. Fourteen of twenty-three, or approximately 60 percent, of the most trusted provincial clients of Henri II d'Orléans, duc de Longueville and governor of Normandy from 1619 to 1622, were connected to him by kinship and marriage ties.

The terminology of patronage is sometimes ambiguous, especially in English. The French patronage and the Italian patronato denote a superior's protection and support of an inferior, as does the English word patronage. In addition, the English word has a whole series of meanings that never existed in, or have disappeared from, the French and Italian. Patronage in English may also mean a kindness done with an air of superiority or condescension, the power to make appointments to office, a mode of recruitment to officeholding; that is, offices distributed on the basis of patronage, and the offices so distributed. These meanings do not exist in French or Italian. There is no separate word in English for cultural patronage, although the word in French is mécénat, in Italian mecenatismo, and in German Mäzenatentum. There is also some confusion about the meaning of the words friend and friendship used in a patronage context. Historically, the English word patronage refers to a system of personal ties and networks that was pervasive in early modern Europe. This system's effects on social mobility, cultural production, and political stability are discussed here.


Patronage was necessary for advancement within the army, church, and government, and was essential to social mobility because the hierarchical societies of early modern Europe had limited advancement opportunities. Louis II de Bourbon, prince de Condé (16211686), who was Louis XIV's cousin, maintained at his own expense two infantry regiments, two ordinance companies, one cavalry company, and one guard company. His troops were incorporated within the royal army in which Condé himself held the rank of general. As a result, he appointed both the officers of his own troops and of the other troops under his command. From 1643 to 1648 he made recommendations for the promotion of thirty-five high-ranking army officers, and more than half his recommendations were accepted. Condé's patronage assured an individual of an army commission or promotion.

Family patronage was responsible for advancement within the papal states in the sixteenth century, both inside and outside the church. The Borghese family was the most influential, although popes during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries usually promoted their kinsmen, especially those who were clerics. Patronage was essential to clerical advancement. At the beginning of his ecclesiastical career, Jean Raymond de Boisgelin (17321804) sought the patronage of the Rohans, who were his family's traditional patrons. Louis Constantin de Rohan (17341803), bishop of Strasbourg, helped him to obtain his first position as grand vicar of the archbishop of Rouen in 1755. Boisgelin then went to the royal court, where he met the comtesse de Gramont and the prince de Beauvau, and through their patronage, he was named archbishop of Aix-en-Provence, an office which he held from 1770 until 1805.

Being appointed to the office of tax farmer general in eighteenth-century France was almost always the result of a recommendation by an individual with influence at court such as royal family members, royal favorites, ministers, and great nobles. Marie-Anne de Mailly-Nesle, the duchesse de Châteauroux (17171744), obtained a promise that the first vacancy of farmer general would be given to her client, Camuset, who finally received the office in 1749, five years after her death. Jeanne-Antoinette Poisson, the marquise de Pompadour (17211764), married a tax farmer general in 1741. She later became Louis XV's mistress and controlled most of the appointments to these financial offices until her death in 1764. Jean de Guillemain was named commander of the Paris city guard in 1703 through the patronage of a royal minister, the comte de Pontchartrain. In 1714 Guillemain became a defendant in a criminal trial before the judicial high court of the Parlement of Paris on charges of bribery and police brutality. Despite this, his son inherited his office in the same year through Pontchartrain's patronage. Patronage was essential to advancement within the government.

The distribution of patronage was an important rationale for the existence of princely courts, which served as meeting places for the nobility and the king. If an individual wanted patronage, he had to go where potential patrons gathered, and this was the court. The imperial court of the Habsburgs in Vienna, for instance, offered a range of patronage and advancement opportunities unavailable elsewhere in the empire. Courts were also centers for the consumption of elite culture, and thus vital to cultural production. Artists and intellectuals went to court hoping to secure employment and financial support in the form of commissions and patronage. They might be hired by a court noble whose hobby was building and decorating great houses, and who employed architects, mural and portrait painters, tapestry and furniture makers, sculptors, and musicians. Household service was a form of cultural patronage, and men of letters were employed in great households as secretaries, tutors, librarians, chaplains, readers, and almoners. Annual pensions providing financial support were the preferred form of cultural patronage, however, because they allowed the recipients to live independently.

At the English court of James I (ruled 16031625), famous art patrons included, besides the king himself, his oldest son Prince Henry, who died in 1612, the royal favorite, the duke of Buckingham, and the earls of Arundel, Salisbury, and Pembroke, who lavishly decorated great houses. Frederick II, king of Denmark and Norway (ruled 15591588), was known for his patronage of the astronomer Tycho Brahe, for whom he built a castle-laboratory on the island of Ven. Brahe was the son of the queen's mistress of the wardrobe, and Queen Sophia visited Ven several times. At Tycho's urging, she encouraged his friend, the historian Anders Sørensen Vedel, to gather together and publish a collection of old Danish ballads, which remain an important source of early Danish folk literature.

Artists seeking patronage usually approached a potential patron directly or through an intermediary. In 1474 it was rumored in Milan that the duke intended to have a chapel decorated at Pavia, and the duke's agent complained that every painter in Milan had asked him about it. In 1488 the artist Alvise Vivarini petitioned the doge to let him paint something for the Great Council Hall in Venice, as the Bellinis were doing, and in 1515 Titian made a similar request. Besides having a preference for a particular style, patrons chose an artist because of family connections or based on the advice of others, a low bid on a project, or the results of a formal competition. Giorgio Vasari (15111574) went to work for Alessandro de' Medici because Alessandro was a distant relative of Vasari's guardian, Cardinal Silvio Passerini, while Lorenzo the Magnificent (14491492) recommended the sculptor Guiliano da Maiano to Prince Alfonso of Calabria. The duke of Milan's agent, mentioned above, chose the artist who offered to do the work for 150 rather than 200 ducats. One of the most famous competitions was for the Baptistery doors in Florence, in which Lorenzo Ghiberti (c. 13781455) defeated Filippo Brunelleschi (13771446).

The uses of cultural patronage for self-advertisement and political propaganda were widely recognized, and patrons frequently suggested the theme, subject, or style of a work. Artists and men of letters often championed their patrons in print or in some other medium, and dedicated their work to them. After university teaching, Galileo Galilei (15641642) sought a position at the Medici and Gonzaga courts. He finally secured one through the patronage of the young Cosimo de' Medici (15901621), whom he approached directly for the first time in 1605. Four years later Cosimo became duke and named Galileo court philosopher and mathematician. After Cosimo's death in 1621, Galileo went to the Roman court in search of a new patron, and secured the support of Prince Federico Cesi and Pope Urban VIII (15681644). His success, however, ended with his heresy trial in 1633. Galileo's father and older brother had been musicians at the Florentine court, and he had learned from them how to secure court patronage. He marketed his projects so that they were understandable and appealing, and emphasized that his success enhanced a patron's prestige. He flattered and complimented a patron, showed him deference, and graciously accepted his advice. At this time noble patronage of artistic and scientific projects was a popular hobby.

Italian humanists of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries tended to write civic propaganda rather than history because they were either employed in the household of a ruling prince, received a pension from him, or were employed in his government, which influenced what they had to say. Leonardo Bruni (c. 13701444) and Niccolò Machiavelli (14691527) are well-known examples. Unless they had financial means of their own, historians needed the support of patrons, and their continuing need for patronage influenced what they wrote. Jean-Baptiste Colbert (16191683) decided to encourage the writing of history that praised Louis XIV's government by asking the Parisian literary critic Jean Chapelain (15951674) to make recommendations for state-funded appointments as royal historians, and for a list of men of letters who should be awarded royal pensions for work glorifying Louis's reign. Colbert's list in 1664 contained fifty-eight names for a total of 77,500 livres. The next year there were sixty-five names for a total of 82,000 livres, and in 1666, seventy-two names for a total of 95,000 livres.


The traditional view of the patronage system emphasizes its destabilizing political effects, holding it responsible for much of the factionalism and conflict disrupting early modern courts and governments. Competition for patronage created strife and hostility, and increased corruption, favoritism, and nepotism in government. These deleterious effects caused political instability. A newer, revisionist view, however, insists upon the constructive effects of patronage because it provided early modern governments with a powerful weapon of manipulation and control. The king and his ministers used the personal bonds of loyalty created by patronage to ensure that their decisions were carried out. They created their own patron-client networks or mobilized existing networks, and used them to enforce their policies. They distributed patronage to political opponents and unruly nobles to encourage their obedience, and withheld it to punish disobedience, thus reducing political strife and conflict.

Philip II of Spain (ruled 15561598) was able to control the Spanish grandees because he had extensive patronage to distribute, including titles, lands, monopolies, annuities, and a multitude of posts in the army, government, and empire. During his reign, he gathered the flow of state patronage into his own hands, and carefully distributed it himself in contrast to his successor, Philip III (ruled 15981621), who used a favorite, the duke of Lerma, to distribute patronage to the nobility. Elizabeth I of England (ruled 15581603) had four recognized favorites, the earls of Leicester and Essex, Sir Christopher Hatton, and Sir Walter Raleigh, but she always distributed patronage herself, and she skillfully played off court and government factions so that she was always in control. By the eighteenth century, however, power had shifted from the English crown to the Parliament, so it became the battleground for patronage, which was used to control parliamentary elections. Patronage allowed the government and the opposition to influence who sat in Parliament, and thus to determine what Parliament said and did.

Cardinal Jules Mazarin (16021661) on his deathbed advised the young Louis XIV (ruled 16431715) to distribute patronage himself, so that the nobility would look to him for favors, a policy that would strengthen the government. Louis took his advice, and maintained close control over the distribution of patronage, demanding obedience from those who received it. He did not have favorites as a matter of principle, unlike his father, Louis XIII (ruled 16101643), whose celebrated ministerial favorite, Armand-Jean du Plessis, Cardinal Richelieu (15851642), had ruled France with an iron fist. Richelieu's handpicked successor was Cardinal Mazarin, who was chief minister during Louis's minority. When Mazarin died in 1661, Louis vowed to rule by himself and did so. Both Richelieu and Mazarin had governed using clients whom they placed at the highest levels of royal government, which was permeated from top to bottom by patron-client ties and networks.

The careers of Henry Howard, earl of Northampton (15401614), and Honoré d'Albert, sieur de Luynes, demonstrate the constructive uses of political patronage. For decades Howard was a would-be client without a patron, unable to attend court or seek royal favor, frequently imprisoned for his support of Mary, Queen of Scots (ruled 15421587). This punitive treatment did not make him abandon her cause, however. His fortunes changed in the 1590s, after her death, when he became a client of Robert Devereux, earl of Essex (15661601), a favorite of Elizabeth I. Able to return to court, Howard was reconciled with the queen, although he remained a Catholic. In the last years of her reign, he became a close adviser of James VI of Scotland (ruled 15671625), who appreciated Howard's support of his mother. When James became king of England in 1603, he made Howard earl of Northampton, and in this capacity Howard became one of James's most important ministers. As a privy councillor, Howard was an active supporter of administrative reform, and he used patronage and his own extensive patron-client network to accomplish it. When he died in 1614, his clients controlled the distribution of most court patronage, and he had amassed a large personal fortune. Howard used patronage as a tool to pursue both personal profit and government reform.

Honoré d'Albert de Luynes was a client of the powerful governor of Languedoc, Henri de Montmorency-Damville, who appointed him governor of the royal fortress of Pont-Saint-Esprit in the 1570s. Luynes was ambitious, so he went to court in search of further advancement. He became a client of Henry III's brother, the duc d'Anjou. But his pursuit of court advancement cost him the patronage of Damville, who severed their ties and removed him as governor of Pont-Saint-Esprit. Luynes was reinstated by the king, however. Henry III regularly used the distribution of court patronage, especially by his favorites the ducs de Joyeuse and d'Epernon, to manipulate and control the French nobility. Henry III distrusted Damville, who was known as "the uncrowned king of the south," considering him an overmighty subject and a Protestant sympathizer. So, he reversed Damville's decision and reinstated Luynes, who was a staunch Catholic. Luynes promised to raise troops to drive Damville's Protestant governor from Pont-Saint-Esprit and did so. As a reward, he received the fortress governorship from the king. When the duc d'Anjou died, however, Damville removed Luynes from office again, and this time the king did not intervene. Although Luynes went to court in search of a new patron, he did not find one, and he received no more appointments. The king and Damville had used the bestowal of patronage to encourage obedience, and its removal to punish disobedience. Early modern governments used the selective distribution of patronage to enforce their policies and discipline unruly nobles. In this way, the patronage system helped to reduce strife and increase political stability.

See also Aristocracy and Gentry ; Art: Artistic Patronage ; Court and Courtiers ; Feudalism ; Officeholding .


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Biagioli, Mario. Galileo, Courtier: The Practice of Science in the Culture of Absolutism. Chicago, 1992.

Burke, Peter. The Italian Renaissance: Culture and Society in Italy. Princeton, 1986.

Dent, Julian. "The Role of Clientèles." In French Government and Society, 15001850: Essays in Memory of Alfred Cobban. Edited by J. F. Bosher. London, 1973.

Durand, Yves, ed. Hommage à Roland Mousnier: Clientèles et fidélités en Europe a l'époque moderne. Paris, 1981.

Elliott, J. H., and L. W. B. Brockliss, eds. The World of the Favourite. New Haven, 1999.

Greengrass, Mark. "Noble Affinities in Early Modern France: The Case of Henry I de Montmorency, Constable of France." European History Quarterly 16 (1986): 275311.

Guy, John, ed. The Reign of Elizabeth I: Court and Culture in the Last Decade. Cambridge, U.K., and New York, 1995.

Haskell, Francis. Patrons and Painters: A Study in the Relations between Italian Art and Society in the Age of the Baroque. Rev. ed. New Haven, 1980.

Kent, F. W., and Patricia Simons, eds. Patronage, Art and Society in Renaissance Italy. Oxford and New York, 1987.

Kettering, Sharon. Patronage in Sixteenth- and Seventeenth-Century France. Aldershot, U.K., and Burlington, Vt., 2002.

. Patrons, Brokers, and Clients in Seventeenth-Century France. New York, 1986.

Le Roux, Nicolas. Le faveur du Roi: Mignons et courtesans au temps des derniers Valois. Paris, 2001.

Major, J. Russell. "'Bastard Feudalism' and the Kiss: Changing Social Mores in Late Medieval and Early Modern France." Journal of Interdisciplinary History 17, no. 3 (1987): 509535.

. "The Crown and the Aristocracy in Renaissance France." American Historical Review 69 (1964): 631646.

Mettam, Roger. Power and Faction in Louis XIV's France. Oxford and New York, 1988.

Mousnier, Roland. The Institutions of France under the Absolute Monarchy, 15981789. Translated by Brian Pearce. 2 vols. Chicago, 1979 and 1984.

Namier, Sir Lewis. The Structure of Politics at the Accession of George III. 2nd ed. London, 1961.

Peck, Linda Levy. Court Patronage and Corruption in Early Stuart England. Boston, 1990.

. Northampton: Patronage and Policy at the Court of James I. London, 1982.

Ranum, Orest. Artisans of Glory: Writers and Historical Thought in Seventeenth-Century France. Chapel Hill, N.C., 1980.

. Richelieu and the Councillors of Louis XIII: A Study of the Secretaries of State and Superintendents of Finance in the Ministry of Richelieu, 16351642. Oxford, 1963.

Sharon Kettering


views updated Jun 11 2018


Much of the glorious outpouring of art in the Renaissance was the result of patronage. The term traditionally refers to the support that people of wealth and influence provided to artists, scholars, and writers. Rulers, popes, and prosperous merchants hired artists to adorn their homes and public spaces, and scholars to translate ancient Greek and Roman texts. Patronage can also apply to other types of social and political ties. Many aspects of Renaissance life involved bonds of mutual support between individuals and groups.


Patrons, usually individuals or groups with power and substance, assisted their clients—those who followed or served them—in various ways. They might provide clients with jobs in the church or government or supply them with a steady income. Patrons also offered protection and helped clients if they were in trouble with the law. Clients, in turn, gave patrons their loyalty and support. The same person could be a patron (provider of assistance) in one situation and a client (someone needing assistance) in another.

The Renaissance system of patronage evolved out of ancient and medieval* traditions. The words patron and client came from the Latin terms patronus and cliens, which date back to ancient Rome. In the late 1400s, some Italians with classical* training began using these words to refer to the patron-client relationships of their day.

In many cases, client-patron relations included strong elements of friendship or even kinship. Members of the English gentry* often referred to their close associates as "cousins," while Italians spoke of their "kinsmen, friends, and neighbors." In some cases, patronage extended or made formal the ties that already existed among neighbors and relatives. Although clients and patrons usually came from different ranks of society, their relationship could include a degree of equality.

Patronage played an important role in the Italian republics* of Florence, Venice, and Genoa, where changes of government or regime* were frequent. To protect their position in these shifting societies, people attached themselves to the gran maestri, or "big shots," who dealt in political power. Patron-client relations could become the basis for stable political factions*. Ambitious party leaders and rulers used their patronage to draw power to themselves. For example, the Medici family ruled the city-state of Florence by building one-party regimes made up of their friends and clients.

Beginning in the 1460s, Italians began to use the term maestro della bottega (boss of the shop) to describe leaders, including rulers and private citizens, who were masters of the art of political patronage. As these political figures grew in power, their relationships with their clients became increasingly unequal. Clients showed greater deference toward them and spoke of them in more respectful, even fawning, terms. Nonetheless, patronage remained a two-way relationship. Great lords frequently went out of their way to "serve" quite humble friends and supporters, knowing that they needed their clients' devotion to maintain their reputations and perhaps their armed support to defend their regimes.

Women, who had little formal power in Renaissance politics, managed to exert quite a bit of influence through the informal workings of patronage. Most female patrons focused on helping other women or the poor. Noblewomen, wives and mothers of party leaders, and women who headed important convents all used the culture of patronage to their advantage.

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Patronage of the arts took place within the larger context of social and political patronage. Most patrons commissioned artworks not for the art itself, but because it contributed to the splendor of their domains. They sought works that would proclaim their wealth and rank to the world. Patronage could raise the status of the artist as well as the patron. Those who served powerful patrons often acquired prosperity and fame.

Patrons possessed considerable influence, even control, over the artists they hired. Because they were paying, they had the right to dictate the subject matter and style of a piece. Patrons often requested works in their honor. However, patrons and artists could also influence each other through shared ideas, and the works produced under such a partnership are sometimes associated with the names of both patron and artist. The politician Giorgio Trissino, for instance, introduced the architect Andrea Palladio to humanist* education and promoted his career. Similarly, artists sometimes functioned as patrons. When Michelangelo Buonarroti worked on the church of San Lorenzo in Florence, he chose boyhood friends, relatives, and neighbors to assist him in the task.

Royal and Papal Patrons. Rulers and popes were the leading patrons of the arts during the Renaissance. Not only did they have the most wealth at their disposal, but they also had the greatest need for artworks. They relied on the splendor of their courts and their possessions to display their power to their subjects and to other princes*. To demonstrate their magnificence, Renaissance rulers commissioned and built grand palaces, churches, and monuments. They also purchased costly decorative items such as jewelry, dishes, luxurious tapestries, and richly embellished armor and weapons. They adorned their clothes with pearls, gems, and embroidery, and their homes with paintings, statues, and manuscripts in lavish bindings.

Among the greatest Renaissance patrons were the dukes of Burgundy, who ruled northern France, Belgium, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands. Two of these dukes, Philip the Good (ruled 1419–1467) and Charles the Bold (ruled 1467–1477), gained fame for their magnificent courts and ceremonies. Many masters of arts and crafts served the dukes, including painter Jan Van Eyck. The dukes also collected books and assembled an exceptionally fine choir of musicians.

Several Holy Roman Emperors* of the Habsburg dynasty were noted patrons of the arts. Emperor Maximilian I (ruled 1493–1519) sought to glorify his family through art. He planned a vast monument that was to feature more than 40 life-size statues of his ancestors, including Julius Caesar, as well as 100 statues of Habsburg family saints. Maximilian also wrote literature praising his own deeds and had the works illustrated by major artists. In addition, he collected tapestries, gold work, and armor—he was probably the greatest patron of armor-makers in his day. Maximilian's grandson, Charles V, preferred science and technology. He collected globes and maps, scientific instruments, and illustrated books on astronomy and anatomy.

Popes emerged as powerful patrons of the arts in the 1500s, and the papal* court became a leading center of culture. Perhaps the most ambitious was Pope Julius II (ruled 1503–1513), who sought to restore the lost glories of ancient Rome. He hired architects and artists to turn medieval Rome into a classical city, rebuilding entire sections of town and creating broad avenues bordered with palaces. His successor, Leo X (ruled 1513–1521), was a member of the Medici family. Leo devoted great energy and resources to restoring his family's power through artistic projects. He commissioned Michelangelo to build a huge marble facade* for the church of San Lorenzo in Florence and Raphael to decorate his private dining room in the Vatican. Popes, like worldly rulers, commissioned artworks not only for personal use but also as diplomatic* gifts. Leo X sent the king of France two of Raphael's paintings.

Other noted patrons of the Renaissance included the monarchs of England, France, Naples, and Spain, the dukes of Milan, and the influential Este and Medici families. Henry VIII of England (ruled 1509–1547) spent great sums on his palaces. His 55 residences were furnished with more than 2,000 tapestries, 2,028 items plated in silver or gold, and 1,800 books. Francis I (ruled 1515–1547) of France turned an old hunting lodge into the glorious Renaissance château of Fontainebleau. He bought many Italian artworks and attracted artists, such as Leonardo da Vinci and Benvenuto Cellini, to decorate his flourishing court. Several female rulers also gained fame as patrons. The Spanish queen Isabella of Castile (ruled 1474–1504) supported architecture, art, and literature. Margaret of Austria, the daughter of Maximilian I, collected tapestries, gold work, manuscripts, and paintings by such artists as Hieronymus Bosch. Isabella d'Este of Mantua commissioned a variety of pieces, ranging from floral tapestries to musical instruments.

Other Patrons. Members of the nobility imitated the grand rulers by practicing artistic patronage on a smaller scale. They built mansions, decorated their homes with artworks, and wore expensive clothes and jewelry. They also assembled libraries and sponsored religious architecture, especially private chapels for their families.

Many merchants, bankers, and court officials rose to wealth and prominence in the service of powerful rulers and became patrons themselves. Agostino Chigi, a banker in the Italian city of Siena, provided funds to three popes and managed business for the papal court. He owned a palace in the center of Rome and a lavish suburban residence modeled on the villas* of ancient Rome. Another notable patron, Nicolas Rolin, rose from a middle-class background to enormous power in the service of the dukes of Burgundy. He commissioned an elaborately adorned hospital in the city of Beaune and Jan van Eyck's painting Virgin with Chancellor Rolin.

Even members of the middle class served as patrons of the arts on a modest scale. People with limited means bought artworks made of inexpensive materials, such as wood, pewter, clay, paper, and brass. Most such items, however, were not commissioned but produced on speculation—that is, to be sold at public markets or in the artist's workshop. As a result, the personal connection between patron and client, so important at the higher levels of artistic patronage, did not exist.

Some patrons were not individuals but groups. Local governments, guilds*, churches, and various religious groups commissioned a variety of artworks and buildings. Town officials were responsible for the construction of bell towers, town halls, fountains, and city walls. Guilds and religious organizations built meetinghouses and chapels and adorned them with artworks. Michelangelo's colossal statue David, for example, was a commission from the board of directors of the Florence cathedral. In addition, guilds and other groups ordered decorations, floats, and entertainers for public events.


A complex system of literary patronage developed in Renaissance England, where booksellers paid very small sums to the authors whose works they published. As a result, most writers who were not independently wealthy had to seek a patron to support them. The luckiest authors found positions as secretaries or librarians, either with noble patrons or with the government, which allowed them to pursue their literary efforts as part of their job. Those who could not obtain regular employment struggled along by writing poems or other works on request for the wealthy.

Some authors dedicated their literary works to prominent figures in the hope of being rewarded with money or work. English monarchs—most notably Elizabeth I and James Ioften received such dedications. This method sometimes met with success. After dedicating the first three books of his epic* The Faerie Queene to Elizabeth I, Edmund Spenser received a yearly pension of 50 pounds for life. John Donne was less fortunate. Dismissed from his patron's service because of a marriage regarded as unsuitable, Donne spent 14 years unable to find steady work. He eked out a living by writing poems to or for various patrons.

Another form of literary patronage involved the theater. Because authorities in London often took a hostile attitude toward plays and the acting profession, acting companies had to seek the aid of powerful nobles or even monarchs. Royal and noble patrons extended their protection to the actors and sometimes hired playwrights directly to provide entertainment for public occasions. The best example of this practice is the elaborate court masques* of the early 1600s.

The patronage system was one of the most important influences on literary production in Renaissance England. It affected the types of works that writers produced, causing some of them to concentrate on works most likely to flatter or please possible patrons. It also led to fierce competition among authors. Patronage not only made the profession of writing possible but also helped determine the form that profession would take.

(See alsoArchitecture; Art; Art in Italy; Books and Manuscripts; English Language and Literature; Literature; Luxury; Parades and Pageants. )

* medieval

referring to the Middle Ages, a period that began around a.d. 400 and ended around 1400 in Italy and 1500 in the rest of Europe

* classical

in the tradition of ancient Greece and Rome

* gentry

people of high birth or social status

* republic

form of Renaissance government dominated by leading merchants with limited participation by others

* regime

government in power at a particular time

* faction

party or interest group within a larger group

* humanist

referring to a Renaissance cultural movement promoting the study of the humanities (the languages, literature, and history of ancient Greece and Rome) as a guide to living

* prince

Renaissance term for the ruler of an independent state

* Holy Roman Emperor

ruler of the Holy Roman Empire, a political body in central Europe composed of several states that existed until 1806

* papal

referring to the office and authority of the pope

* facade

front of a building; outward appearance

* diplomatic

having to do with formal relations between nations

* villa

luxurious country home and the land surrounding it

Letters of Recommendation

Many letters exist from one Renaissance patron to another recommending the services of a particular client. Often clients brought such letters to potential patrons by way of introduction. Letters of this type often referred to the relationship between the patron and the client in terms of kinship, with the two calling themselves "loving brothers" or a gentlewoman describing herself as an "elder sister." Religious metaphors were also common in these letters. A powerful patron might call his or her clients "obedient lambs," while the client might promise to honor the patron as Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.

* guild

association of craft and trade owners and workers that set standards for and represented the interests of its members

* epic

long poem about the adventures of a hero

* masque

dramatic entertainment performed by masked actors, or a ball or party at which all guests wear masks or costumes


views updated May 11 2018


Political patronage has had a long tradition in parts of the United States, particularly in cities dominated by so-called "machine politics." Patronage entails government officials' exchanging government jobs or other discretionary government benefits for political support. In the first Mayor Daley's Chicago, for example, city employees were expected to work for the election of Democratic Party candidates as well as to contribute 2 percent of their salary to the party if they wanted to keep their jobs.

Beginning with a plurality opinion in the 1976 case of Elrod v. Burns, the Supreme Court has made it increasingly difficult for government officials to take party affiliation into account in making employment or contracting decisions. In Elrod, the newly elected Democratic sheriff of Cook County, Illinois sought to fire Republican employees in the Sheriff's office. Justice william j. brennan, jr. , in a three-Justice plurality opinion, held that firing a government employee based solely on the employee's party affiliation violated the employee's first amendment right of freedom of association. Two additional Justices concurred in the result that the sheriff's conduct violated the First Amendment.

The sheriff had argued that patronage practices could be justified on three grounds: (1) insuring effective government and the efficiency of public employees; (2) insuring employees' political loyalty so that employees would not block implementation of a new administration's policies; and (3) preserving the democratic process through a strong party system. Applying strict scrutiny, the Elrod plurality rejected the first and third of these interests outright. It stated that the sheriff's interest in effective and efficient government could be protected through the less restrictive means of discharging employees for cause. It also disbelieved that the elimination of patronage practices would bring about the demise of party politics.

The plurality agreed that the sheriff's second asserted ground of insuring employees' political loyalty was valid insofar as it applied to employees in "policymaking positions," but it did not serve to "validate patronage wholesale." In the 1980 case of Branti v. Finkel, a majority further explained that a government official could take party affiliation into account in firing employees only when such affiliation is "an appropriate requirement for the effective performance of the public office involved." The Branti Court held that party affiliation was not an appropriate requirement for an assistant public defender.

justice lewis f. powell, jr. , dissented in both Elrod and Branti, arguing in both cases that political patronage strengthened political parties, and that strong political parties are required for effective democratic government. He also argued in Branti that the policymaking test articulated by the majority was uncertain and ill-advised.

inRutan v. Republican Party of Illinois (1990), a 5–4 majority extended the Elrod rule to other employment decisions, including hiring, promotions, transfers, and recalls of employees after layoffs. Justice antonin scalia wrote a scathing dissent, raising and elaborating on many of the points Powell had made in his earlier dissents. Besides arguing that the Elrod line should be overturned, Scalia contended that strict scrutiny should not be applied to cases in which the government acted as an employer.

Four of the five Justices in the Rutan majority left the Court before it decided its most recent pair of patronage cases in 1996, O'Hare Truck Service v. City of NorthlakeandUmbehr v. Heiser, leading commentators to predict that the Court would use these decisions to reverse the Elrod line. In the event, Chief Justice william h. rehnquist, and Justices anthony m. kennedy and sandra day o'connor switched sides from their dissenting position in Rutan. Kennedy, writing for a 7–2 majority in O'Hare, held that the Elrod rule applied to independent contractors.

In an important development, the Court in UmbehrandO'Hare distinguished the Elrod line of cases, in which government based its employment decisions solely on the employee's party affiliation, from the Pickering v. Board of Education (1968) line of cases, in which government based its employment decisions on its employee's speech, such as employee speech criticizing the government. Elrod places the burden on the hiring authority to show that a political affiliation requirement is appropriate for the effective performance of the employee's office. In contrast, Pickering requires a balancing of the employee's rights with the government's legitimate interest as an employer in the latter.

After holding in O'Hare and Umbehr that independent contractors of the government must receive the same constitutional protection as government employees, the O'Hare Court explained that the initial question in future patronage cases must be whether the government's decision was based purely on the employee's or contractor's party affiliation or whether it also (or solely) involved the employee's or contractor's speech. Cases in the first category are governed by Elrod, but mixed cases of affiliation and speech (as well as pure speech cases) are governed by Pickering. Scalia in dissent believed this standard is unworkable, asking for example whether the statement "I am a Republican" moves a case from Elrod strict scrutiny to Pickering balancing. Most probably, the Elrod line henceforth will be reserved primarily for cases involving wholesale, nonindividualized decisions by the government to condition employment or contracting on the party affiliation of the employees or contractors.

Though the debate over the constitutionality of patronage turns in part on the Justices' varied beliefs about how coercive or unfair a party affiliation requirement is to government employees or contractors, the most contentious issue appears to be whether patronage practices support a strong democratic government. The majority in the Elrod line of cases characterizes patronage as inefficient and corrupt, and especially prone to entrenchment of one-party rule. The dissenters have a more benign view of patronage, noting its abuses but contending that states should have the right to find an optimal mix of patronage and merit that can strengthen the major political parties. Though a majority of the Court now appears to believe that the state has a strong interest in promoting the two-party system, timmons v. twin cities area new party (1997), no current majority believes that patronage practices promote the two-party system.

In part, the debate over the virtues of patronage comes too late. The replacement of party-centered, labor-intensive political campaigns with candidate-centered, capital-intensive ones has lessened politicians' demand for patronage employment. Politicians want money for media campaigns, not precinct workers. This increased demand for campaign contributions puts pressure on politicians to exchange government favors, including contracts, for such contributions. O'Hare, however, limits these exchanges, making it the patronage case most likely to have a strong effect on our political system.

Richard L. Hasen

(see also: Employee Speech Rights (Public); Freedom of Speech.)


Bowman, Cynthia Grant 1991 "We Don't Want Anybody Anybody Sent": The Death of Patronage Hiring in Chicago. Northwestern University Law Review 86:57–95.

——1996 The Law of Patronage at a Crossroads. Journal of Law and Politics 12:341–363.

Hasen, Richard L. 1993 An Enriched Economic Model of Political Patronage and Campaign Contributions: Reformulating Supreme Court Jurisprudence. Cardozo Law Review 14:1311–1341.

Johnson, Ronald N. and Libecap, Gary D. 1994 The Federal Civil Service System and the Problem of Bureaucracy: The Economics and Politics of Institutional Change. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.


views updated May 14 2018



The term patronage describes the practice of distributing public sector posts in exchange for political support. In the absence of binding civil service rules, a party boss (patron) rewards loyal partisans (clients) by providing them with public sector employment. Patronage therefore can be included among a broad range of clientelistic political practices in which parties use public resources to deliver private and club benefits to particular groups of voters in order to maximize electoral support. Different from other types of clientelistic practices, patronage provides the client with a steady source of income whose stability depends on the reelection of the patron.

To successfully develop a patronage system requires: (1) the selection of political leaders through elections, (2) mass adult suffrage, (3) a high degree of electoral competition within or between parties, and (4) weak civil service rules. The first three requirementselections, mass political participation, and party competitionlead to increasing demands on political elites by their core constituency. In the absence of civil service rules, the distribution of public sector posts becomes an appealing strategy that ties the survival of the voter (client) to the survival of the party boss (patron).

Because patrons can only sustain a limited number of clients, two crucial functions of the patronage exchange are the selection and monitoring of clients. In selecting clients, patrons seek to either maintain their vote or to expand it. For maintaining their vote, patrons target loyal voters. For expanding their vote, patrons target swing voters and invest considerable more resources in monitoring the patronage exchange. The practice of patronage is intimately connected to the rise of political machines specialized in organizing and allocating political influence by controlling the supply of public sector jobs and by monitoring the vote of large constituencies. Because the cement that binds the patron and the client is not ideological, political allegiance to the machine is based on the distribution of particularistic, material rewards over different types of political personnel.

A widespread political phenomenon, patronage is also known in the United States by the term spoils system, where the spoils of the political system go to the victor of the electoral contest. The spoils system that emerged during the Gilded Age was eventually dismantled by the enactment of the Pendleton Act in 1883 and the creation of the Civil Service Commission, which introduced meritocratic rules for the recruitment and promotion of public service employees. The introduction of these rules significantly reduced the available pool of public jobs that political machines could allocate to voters. Such reforms also weakened the political grip of party bosses, such as William M. Boss Tweed in New York, Huey P. Long Jr. in Louisiana, and Edward H. Crump in Chicago. Since the late twentieth century, as an increasing number of countries have democratized, comparative scholars have emphasized the negative consequences of patronage for the development of an independent citizenship capable of holding politicians accountable for their performance in office.

SEE ALSO Political Parties


Cox, Gary W., and Matthew D. McCubbins. 1986. Electoral Politics as a Redistributive Game. Journal of Politics 48 (May): 370389.

Fox, Jonathan. 1994. The Difficult Transition from Clientelism to Citizenship: Lessons from Mexico. World Politics 46 (January): 151184.

Scott, James C. 1969. Corruption, Machine Politics, and Political Change. American Political Science Review 63 (4): 11421158.

Ernesto F. Calvo


views updated Jun 08 2018


The practice or custom observed by a political official of filling government positions with qualified employees of his or her own choosing.

When the candidate of a political party wins an election, the newly elected official has the right to appoint a certain numbers of persons to jobs in the government. This is the essence of the patronage system, also known as the spoils system ("To the victor go the spoils"): appointing persons to government positions on the basis of political support and work rather than on merit, as measured by objective criteria. Though the patronage system exists at all levels of U.S. government, the number of positions that are available through patronage has decreased dramatically since the 1880s.

The patronage system thrived in the U.S. federal government until 1883. In 1820 Congress limited federal administrators to four-year terms, leading to constant turnover. By the 1860s and the Civil War, patronage had led to widespread inefficiency and political corruption. Where patronage had once been confined to the cabinet, department heads, and foreign ambassadorships, by the 1860s low-level government positions were subject to patronage. The loss of a presidential election by a political party signaled wholesale turnover in the federal government. When President benjamin harrison took office in 1889, 31,000 federal postmaster positions changed hands.

The assassination of President james garfield in 1881 by a disgruntled office seeker who did not receive a political appointment spurred Congress to pass the Civil Service Act, or Pendleton Act of 1883 (5 U.S.C.A. § 1101 et seq.). The act, which at the time only applied to 10 percent of the federal workforce, created a Civil Service Commission and advocated a merit system for the selection of government employees. By 1980, 90 percent of federal positions had become part of the civil service system. In addition, the passage in 1939 of the hatch act (53 Stat. 1147) curtailed or restricted most partisan political activities of federal employees.

State and local governments have employed large patronage systems. Big-city political machines in places such as New York, Boston, and Chicago thrived in the late nineteenth century. A patronage system not only rewards political supporters for past support, it also encourages future support, because persons who have a patronage job try to retain it by campaigning for the party at the next election.

Large-scale patronage systems declined steadily during the twentieth century. During the Progressive Era (1900–1920), "good government" reformers overthrew political machines and installed civil service systems. Chicago, under Mayor Richard J. Daley, remained the last bastion of patronage, existing in its purest form until the late 1970s.

Patronage has its defenders. It is a way to maintain a strong political organization by offering campaign workers rewards. More importantly, patronage puts people into government who agree with the political agenda of the victor. Cooperation, loyalty, and trust flow from this arrangement. Finally, patronage guarantees some turnover, bringing new people and new ideas into the system.

Opponents have long agreed that patronage is acceptable at the highest levels of government. Presidents, governors, and mayors are entitled to select their cabinet and department heads. However, history indicates that patronage systems extending far down the organizational chain are susceptible to inefficiency and corruption.

Congress took another look at patronage issues in the Civil Service Reform Act of 1978 (92 Stat. 1121–1131, 5 U.S.C.A. 1201–1209). Concerned that federal bureaucrats were too independent and unresponsive to elected officials, the act replaced the Civil Service Commission with the Office of Personnel Management, under closer control of the president. The act also created the Senior Executive Service, which gives the president greater discretion in reassigning top officials to departments and agencies.


Bureaucracy; Civil Service; Tammany Hall.


views updated May 29 2018


Patronage, a hierarchically structured relationship of patron and client that defines, most typically, the mutual obligations of a patron and his workers. In rural Latin America patronage is the predominant form of exchanging favors and sustaining loyalty between a patrón and the population dependent upon him. This relationship also occurs in urban factories, businesses, and even the state bureaucracy. Patronage in its original form has been in decline as Latin American society has rapidly urbanized and industrialized. It is often replaced by more formal relationships such as contracts, health insurance, social welfare systems, and open electoral processes.

Ranch hands or plantation workers constitute the patron's dependent population, whose obligations as wage laborers and tenant farmers go beyond such daily chores as attending fields of crop and herds of animals. Workers, or clients, and their families are required to labor as household servants in exchange for the right to live on the ranch and perhaps cultivate their own small plots. On occasion the patrón calls on a client to provide extrac-ontractual services such as working as a bodyguard, taking his side in family feuds, voting for the patrón's candidate—and even committing murder on behalf of the patrón and his family. In return, the patrón is expected to look after the well-being of the client and his family.

See alsoCoronel, Coronelismo; Fazenda, Fazendeiro; Hacienda.


Shepard Forman, The Brazilian Peasantry (1975).

Merilee S. Grindle, "Patrons and Clients in the Bureaucracy," in Latin American Reseach Review 12, no. 1 (1977): 37-66.

Frances Rothstein, "The Class Basis of Patron-Client Relations," in Modern Mexico: State, Economy, and Social Conflict, edited by Nora Hamilton and Timothy F. Harding (1986), pp. 300-312.

Additional Bibliography

Bieber, Judy. Power, Patronage, and Political Violence: State Building on a Brazilian Frontier, 1822–1889. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1999.

Graham, Richard. Patronage and Politics in Nineteeth-centruy Brazil. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1990.

Hagopian, Frances. Traditional Politics and Regime Change in Brazil. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1996.

Lemenha, Maria Auxiliadora. Família, tradição e poder: O(caso) dos coronéis. São Paulo: Annablume, 1996.

Needell, Jeffrey D. The Party of Order: The Conservatives, the State, and Slavery in the Brazilian Monarchy, 1831–1871. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2006.

Salinas Sánchez, Alejandro. Parroco y señor: Gamonalismo en Macate (Ancash), 1853–1893. Lima: Seminario de Historia Rural Andina, Universidad Nacional Mayor de San Marcos, 2005.

Trotta, Miguel E.V. Las metamorfosis del clientelismo político: Contribución para el análisis institucional. Buenos Aires: Espacio, 2003.

                                        Eul-Soo Pang


views updated May 18 2018

pa·tron·age / ˈpatrənij; ˈpā-/ • n. 1. the support given by a patron: the arts could no longer depend on private patronage.2. the power to control appointments to office or the right to privileges: recruits are selected on merit, not through political patronage.3. a patronizing or condescending manner: a twang of self-satisfaction—even patronage—about him.4. the regular business given to a store, restaurant, or public service by a person or group: the direct train link was ending because of poor patronage.5. (in ancient Rome) the rights and duties or the position of a patron.


views updated Jun 11 2018

493. Patronage (See also Philanthropy.)

  1. Alidoro fairy godfather to Italian Cinderella. [Ital. Opera: Rossini, Cinderella, Westerman, 120121]
  2. Alphonso, Don supports Bias in return for political favors. [Fr. Lit.: Gil Blas ]
  3. Dionysus inspired men through wine; considered a patron of the arts. [Gk. Myth.: NCE, 767]
  4. Fairy Godmother maternal fairy abets Cinderella in ball preparations. [Fr. Fairy Tale: Cinderella]


views updated May 17 2018

Patronage (nominating to a benefice): see ADVOWSON.