Explaining the great litigation decline. The impact of social-economic change on litigation patterns in Bruges and the Liberty of Bruges (1650-1800)

  • Vermeesch, Griet, (Administrative Promotor)
  • Vervaeke, Ans Annemie, (Collaborator)
  • Lambrecht, Thijs (Co-Promotor)

Project Details


Historians across Europe have identified an intriguing phenomenon in litigation patterns. In the long sixteenth century European law courts at various levels were characterised by a dramatic increase in the number of cases they heard--a so?called 'legal revolution'. However, during the seventeenth century the courts saw a marked decrease in the volume of litigation, a 'great litigation decline'. No historian has yet developed a convincing explanation for this striking decline in the demand for legal services. This project proposes a new hypothesis, notably that the gradual impoverishment that characterised broad segments of middling groups during the early modern period is central to the explanation of the great decline in litigation. In the long sixteenth century social groups from the lower middling ranks of society were to great extent responsible for the dramatic increase in lawsuits. These sections of middling groups impoverished during the early modern period, thereby affording significantly fewer occasions for litigation. The project improves our understanding of changing litigation patterns and changes in social and economic relations across Europe. The city of Bruges and its surrounding rural region during the seventeenth and eighteenth century are used as case studies, as their juridical and social-economic configuration allows for a comparative research design that is necessary for testing the proposed hypothesis.
Effective start/end date1/01/1431/12/17


  • early modern history
  • litigation
  • socio-legal history

Flemish discipline codes

  • History of law
  • Metalaw
  • History
  • Other philosophy, ethics and religious studies not elsewhere classified