Did inequality produce medieval revolt? The material position and political agency of textile workers during the Flemish Revolt of 1379-85

Wouter Ryckbosch, Jan Dumolyn, Mathijs Speecke

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Abstract

Over the past few decades there has been a tendency to focus on the political nature and cultural aspects of medieval collective action, rather than on poverty, inequality and other socio-economic causalities. Based on a detailed reinterpretation of the economic, political, social and material position of the textile workers who revolted in fourteenth-century Bruges, in the highly urbanized and economically developed county of Flanders, we propose to revaluate inequality and relative deprivation as important driving forces of political upheaval in the medieval city. After the Black Death of 1349, social tensions rose in the main industrial sectors of the urban economy in Flanders. Evidence from the confiscation records drawn up during the repression of a major series of revolts in Flemish towns during the years 1379–1385 shows that while the rebels could hardly be characterized as destitute, the material living conditions of textile workers did not match their contemporaries’ standards. Contrary to the hypothesis of the ‘golden age of labour’, and at odds with the dominant interpretation of late medieval revolt as being primarily ‘political’, we argue that the revolt was more closely tied to economic and social changes during the post-Plague period.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)372-405
Number of pages34
JournalSocial History
Volume46
Issue number4
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2021

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Copyright 2021 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.

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