Subordination or Solidarity

Rural Poor Relief during a Century of Crisis (in the Sixteenth-Century Low Countries)

solidarity-or-subordinationEline Van Onacker, University of Antwerp

In the 16th-century Low Countries, some 20% of all people were exempted from taxes due to poverty. It was a period of increasing prices – even hyperinflation – and wages not keeping up. Moreover, severe periods of subsistence crisis (due to failing harvests), such as in 1556/57, 1565/66 and the 1590’s severely impacted the population. In my research I focus on the ways local communities in different regions tried to deal with these trying circumstances, mainly by focussing on an institution that was present in all parishes: the poor table. Three types of communities were selected, located in three different regions: commercially-oriented villages (coastal Flanders), proto-industrial villages (inland Flanders), and communal villages (Campine area). I will assess how the outspoken differences in social structure, political and economic inequality, and elite structure between these different types of villages impacted the way in which relief was organised, especially during periods of subsistence crisis. To add depth to the analysis, the focus on formalised poor relief will be accompanied by an assessment of the presence of other, more ‘informal’ relief mechanisms, such as the presence and use of commons, credit and lease relations, etc. By combining these insights a nuances and encompassing image of the way different communities dealt with the challenges of crisis can be sketched.

This project is funded with a grant from the FWO.