This paper first aims to explore the changing motivations behind rural protest in eighteenth-century Flanders and Brabant – the fiscally and economically most important and most populous regions in the Austrian Netherlands. We will re-interpret the various types of ‘banditry’ that plagued the countryside during this century by looking at possible political and social-economic motives behind what is often treated as a purely criminal phenomenon. We also connect these to different episodes of fiscal and anti-seigneurial revolt by peasant communities. We argue that these revolts were increasingly political towards the end of the eighteenth century, which was – at least partly – connected to the decentralised institutional nature of the Austrian Netherlands: many insurgents criticised local abuses and hoped or expected the central authorities to remedy them. This tradition of rural revolt even led to a counterrevolutionary attempt in the southern parts of Flanders at supporting Joseph II's absolutist government against provincial and regional institutions.
Our second objective is to place these rural protests and politics into the broader ideological developments in rural Brabant and Flanders, seen from below. Since no cahiers de doléances exist for the Austrian Netherlands as they do for France, this paper proposes to use judicial sources to study shifting attitudes towards taxation, privileges, and the existing power constellations in the countryside. They reveal a society – although still very much Ancien Regime and typified as ‘aristocratic’ by the literature – in which the idea of civil equality in matters of taxation was deeply penetrated, and in which the seigneurial privileges were increasingly questioned.
Taken together, this paper is the first attempt to search for political and ideological patterns in rural revolt and protest in the Austrian Netherlands, as opposed to a long-standing tradition of studying urban revolts in this highly urbanised region. Studying these rural protests is a prerequisite to understand the revolutionary movements in different parts of the Austrian Netherlands, and the political awareness of the entirety of its inhabitants.
Periode24 jan 202425 jan 2024
Gehouden opHuygens Instituut Amsterdam, Netherlands
Mate van erkenningInternational