Shifting ground? Nobility, lordship and state formation in sixteenth-century Low Countries (case studies: Brabant and Flanders)
To date, historians assume that the Habsburg state became strong enough in the Low Countries to integrate the once autonomous nobles as docile servants into the “modern state”. Yet, recent international research for the surrounding regions has demonstrated that the development of a powerful state did not necessarily plunge the nobility into a crisis. On the contrary, the noble class created strategies to maintain its social position precisely by turning the construction of a powerful state into its advantage. The aim of this project is to reconsider the relationship between the sixteenth-century Habsburg state and the Netherlandish nobility from a social point of view. Did changes within the nobility as a social group alter its relationship vis-à-vis the princely government? To answer this question this research will focus on the management of seigniorial lordships. As the cornerstone of noble status and the basis for a nobleman’s power, the seigniory plays an important role in comprehending state building and elite formation. Evidence suggests that from the late fifteenth century onwards more and more seigniories became concentrated in the hands of an ever smaller group of lords. This project will investigate the hypothesis that this concentration process urged those excluded from the community of lords to support the princely state as an institution with the authority to allocate noble status, replacing the customary association with seigniorial lordship. By collecting data on sixteenth-century seigniorial lordships in the Low Countries, combined with data on the composition of the nobility and the participation of noblemen in the state, this project aspires to broaden our understanding of the relationship between the princely state and the nobility.