Privilege and reciprocity in early modern Belgium: Provincial elites, state power and the Franco-Belgian frontier, 1667--1794
Hadley, Erik J
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This dissertation examines one borderland province on the Franco-Belgian frontier---Tournai-Tournaisis---from the perspective of its provincial political institutions during the late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Tournai-Tournaisis was located on one of the most important crossroads in Europe: the region was contested by virtually every major power in western Europe between the fourteenth and twentieth centuries, making the province an ideal location for an analysis of borderland society. Frontier provincial institutions on both sides of the border developed and maintained reciprocal, non-confrontational accords that sought to mitigate tensions related to provincial administration of taxation, customs, mobility and justice. In addition, members of Tournaisien institutions utilized their frontier status to claim a significant level of autonomy from the central state. They found ways to control institutional membership, pay lower financial contributions, and even negotiated international treaties that impacted local concerns. By the late eighteenth century, the Tournaisien population was far less burdened financially than its cross-border neighbors or than the province as it had been under French control. The emphasis on reciprocity, combined with the high level of provincial autonomy in Tournai-Tournaisis, diminished the need for the development of national identity in a manner consistent with previous frontier studies. The tenacity of the provincial authorities and their efforts to maintain autonomy imply a regional identification that superceded national identity as the abiding form of cultural and political determination. These reciprocal agreements began to falter during the 1750s and none functioned after 1769, as their survival depended on the jurisdictional, rather than linear, character of the Franco-Belgian frontier. The 1769 and 1779 boundary treaties, which created the modern, linear boundary between the two countries, enforced territorial homogenization and reduced the interdependencies that had previously characterized the region. The Tournaisien model, with its emphasis on the importance of reciprocity, regional identity, and local societal institutions, offers a fresh understanding of the dynamics of borderland societies and national identity. The province's relative wealth, significant population, autonomous institutions and its centrality to European macropolitical struggles make the model presented in this dissertation relevant to other early modern border regions that share similar characteristics.