Power abuse, collective action and seigneurial authority in the Land of Westerlo: The political process against Jean Philippe Eugène de Merode in 1724

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Abstract

In 1724, the prosecutor of the Grand Council of Malines, the supreme court of the Austrian Netherlands, opened a judicial investigation into the marquis of Westerlo, one of the highest aristocrats in the Low Countries. It was alleged that he had abused his power against a peasant from Herselt, one of the villages in the marquisate of Westerlo. However, the investigation was politically motivated, and spurred on by the government in Brussels. Governor general Eugene of Savoy and minister plenipotentiary Prié hoped to reduce the power of the marquis, who was an influential political opponent. The investigation ultimately led nowhere, but its records do reveal frequent and far-reaching abuses of power against the inhabitants of the marquisate. Moreover, they show that the villagers were not powerless but could organise themselves in various ways against their lord's coercive actions. Additionally, the case illustrates the gradual and growing penetration of the state apparatus into the administration of local lordships. Finally, this essay demonstrates the need for more research on the relationships between lords and villagers which remains a neglected field of inquiry although the majority of the population in the southern Netherlands lived in the countryside, large parts of which consisted of lordships.
Original languageDutch
Pages (from-to)32-56
Number of pages25
JournalPro Memorie. Bijdragen tot de Rechtsgeschiedenis der Nederlanden
Volume23
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2021

Keywords

  • history of law
  • political history
  • Brabant
  • Austrian Netherlands
  • Power Abuse
  • Great Council of Malines

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