Captured with malicious intent? The opportunities and limits of debt imprisonment in late medieval Bruges

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Abstract

Debt imprisonment was one of the tools a creditor had to enforce a debt. When creditors believed that their debtors were defaulting, they could imprison debtors to ensure they would not disappear and debts would be settled. As a practice, debt imprisonment was never fundamentally challenged in the Middle Ages though the way it was executed did come under scrutiny. In the city of Bruges, the city magistrate regulated the practice. As debt imprisonment was an essential part of the commercial framework in Bruges, the city tried to avoid princely interference. However, merchants could also complain to princely courts about their imprisonment. If the city hesitated to address unjust practices in the existing framework, it risked losing these cases to princely courts. As princely institutions increased their control over debt imprisonment, the city government kept the mechanism of debt imprisonment while, for example, Antwerp sought alternative tools for creditors. The adaptations that did happen in Bruges were not the result of the requests of merchants, but a means of rather safeguarding its own jurisdictions from princely courts.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)293-312
Number of pages20
JournalUrban History
Volume51
Issue number2
Early online date4 Jan 2023
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 4 May 2024

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© The Author(s), 2023. Published by Cambridge University Press.

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