The Forging of a Pre-Modern Urban Elite. Political Networks and Social Change in Sixteenth-Century Ghent

Researcher: Jelten Baguet
Supervisor: Prof. Dr. Frederik Buylaert and Prof. Dr. Anne-Laure Van Bruaene

This interuniversity research project of the Vrije Universiteit Brussel and Ghent University is dedicated to elite formation in sixteenth‐century Ghent. It aspires to understand how urban elites were shaped and reshaped in light of a wide range of far‐reaching transformations within urban society, from economic trends over the dawning of religious dissent to the shifting balance of power between the Ghent community and the princely government.

Taking the political elite of Ghent as a point of departure, this research project will first and foremost focus on the definition and organization of the urban elite in relation to other social groups. Socially speaking, pre‐modern urban elites were never stable, but constantly shaped by various processes of upward and downward social mobility, which in turn are closely tied to economic and political developments. On the one hand, the Ghent urban elite will be studied in relation to the well‐documented urban middle groups organized in the Ghent craft guilds. On the other hand, this project aspires to understand how the Ghent urban elite was embedded in the regional elites of the county of Flanders (e.g. the nobility) and of the Habsburg Low Countries. Subsequently, this project aspires to understand how the various processes of inclusion and exclusion between those groups were shaped by the aspirations and strategies of individuals, families and networks in relation to broader political and socio‐economic developments. Methodologically speaking, the project would combine quantitative approaches with qualitative case-studies.

In order to understand both the functioning of this urban power elite as well as her complex relationship towards the described political actors, this research project will thus pay special attention to the socio‐economic background of the Ghent urban elite, a topic which has as yet not become the subject of in‐depth studies for the Southern Low Countries. In a later phase of this project, elite formation in sixteenth‐century Ghent will be compared with the better studied cities of the Northern Low Countries (e.g. Leiden, Amsterdam and Arnhem) as well as with that of English, French and German cities. The main goal of this project is to thus contribute to the international debates on pre‐modern urban elites within a comparative framework in which the case study of Ghent is measured against research for other late medieval and early modern cities.