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The transformation of rural elites in Late Medieval Flanders : oligarchy, state formation and social change in the liberty of Bruges (ca. 1350 – ca. 1525)

Journal Contribution - Journal Article

Proceeding from an in-depth analysis of the Liberty of Bruges, an important rural district in the late medieval Low Countries, this contribution frames rural elite formation by means of two debates which are seldom used in combination, namely, the debates on state building and on the commercialisation of rural society. We challenge the thesis, inspired by modernisation theory, that socio-economic transformation engendered political change in pre-modern Europe as newly emerging rural bourgeoisies are alleged to have become an important political factor, shifting their allegiances between lords and peasants as they saw fit. The evidence discussed shows instead a trend towards oligarchy from the fifteenth century onwards, in which an increasingly exclusive social network came to combine hitherto separated forms of political power, largely at the expense of the growing number of wealthy rural bourgeois. It is argued that this transformation of the rural political elites is closely tied to changes in the established relations between the central government and the regional elites of the Low Countries.
ISSN: 0268-4160
Issue: 1
Volume: 30
Pages: 39 - 69
Publication year:2015
CSS-citation score:1
Authors from:Higher Education