Lords, land, and labour. The influence of seigneuries on economic development in the late medieval Low Countries (c. 1350 – c. 1550)

01 October 2022 → 30 September 2025
Regional and community funding: Special Research Fund
Research disciplines
  • Humanities
    • Early modern history
    • Medieval history
    • Political history
    • Regional and urban history
    • Socio-economic history
lordship economic history late medieval Low Countries
Project description

This project probes the impact of political elites on pre-modern economies. The central concept is the seigneurie, the institution that cemented the rural elite’s power over populations in the countryside. Seigneuries impacted upon the rural economy through their powers of surplus extraction that proceeded from coercion rather than market exchange. Yet, while elite rent-seeking infringed on the income of the peasantry, the macro-economic effects of seigneurial surplus extraction remain the subject of fierce debate. This question gains new urgency as recent scholarship again stresses the importance of political institutions for the development of modern economies. The current project seeks to address this issue by exploring a promising case-study, namely the Low Countries in c. 1350-1600. Using a combination of feudal registers, seigneurial accounts, and written customs pertaining to land use in seigneuries, the aim is to cross-check patterns of lordship and patterns of economic development in six Netherlandish sub-regions. The hypothesis is that premodern growth in the agrarian economy was not only possible in regions where there were few seigneuries, but also in areas where the nature of seigneurial rights deviated from non-market-oriented extraction. This will result in an important intervention in the ongoing debate on the presumed economic costs of lordship, including theoretical spill-overs for discussions on the economic impact of political institutions in general.