The low countries

¡Escribe tu texto aRural economy and society in the Low Countries

The Low Countries, 1000-1750

Distinction between the southern and the northern

SOUTH: Flanders, Brabant, Limbourg, Luxembourg

NORTH: coastal area and the interior

Political division between north and south is the cause of the different developments from the middle 16th C onwards. Low Countries were influenced by market-demand, non-agrarian economic activities and nearby cities. Difference also between the coastal (more fertile) and the inland (sandy areas)à causes regional differences.

The family and demography, 1000-1750


Population development, with waves of growth and recession. Running parallel with those in the rest of the north sea area, but with distinct features. Fast growth of the urban centres caused high urbanization rate.

1400à 800.000

1750à 1900000

Population density= high, but some part are limited.


The entire population of the country was living in the countryside

Explosion of populationà new population flew in to the new urban centers, but they had strong rural foundations, accumulating non-agricultural  functions and obtaining municipal rights.

Process of urbanization stimulated by the agrarian expansion of the 11 and 12th C.


Urban textile industries

ospecialized in luxury products for rich people

ocloth of medium quality was made in small textile centers

ocountryside: produced cheaper coarse cloth, non regulatedà growing into proto-industrialization around 1300.


rural linen industry expanded (Medt., New World…)

black death: limited consequences

ono drastic declination of the population

opopulation declined in flanders, decreased between 1300-1469

èlate medieval crisis

urbanization took swiftly with an important increase of large middle-sized towns

17th– 18th

population growth rapidlyà causes: massive migration of protestants from south to north, and other parts of Europe.

Northern: double the population

Low countries were one of the most urbanized in the world. More population in the urban than in the rural. A lot of rural people go to the urban cities, urban migrants rapidly urbanized Holland


Characterized by a sharp slowdown in the growth of the total population in the northern chiefly. Cities experienced a recession of population.

èSlow de-urbanization process

18th onwards

Rural southern: increased again

High urbanization rate, but a lot of people still lived in the countryside (rural population)

17th C onwards

Mortality levels and plague epidemics declined. Mortality was dominated by other infectious diseases such as dysentery, smallpox or malaria.

oMalaria: high mortality in the coastal regions, related to the poor quality of the drinking water. Important in infant mortality, infant deaths

Fertility: resisted by late marriages. Women married on average around the age of 25 or 27, men 1 or 3 years older.

oMarriage: large variationsà some times 20, other 30

The family and its members, 1000-1750

Rising rural population of the Low Countries experienced strong tendencies towards increasing differences in the family economy of households, mainly due to diverging processes of proto-industrialization, proletarianization, specialisation and fragmentation, but also some times the concentration of the  holdings.

Rural households were depending of a farm holding for their living

Agriculture= main activity, no much exchange outside the household.

In the next centuries, the households were able to supply a surplus of agricultural and industrial products for a continuously growing urban populationà proto-industrializaton started before 1300.

Rural families were confronted  with the pull of rising towns as well as the push from the changing rural society.

oPopulation pressure was relieved with the growth of proto-industrialization creating new means of existence.

15th rural household become dependent on the combination of small-scale and non-agrarian activities

16th proto-industrialisation diminished the amount of households depending on the small-scale farming with other sources of income. Smallholders turned into landless labourers or left to the growing cities. Cause: the market-oriented, were population found their occupation in industry and services.

The family economy

Coastal and near coastal regions were strongly attached to the market.

In inland parts was uncultivated land (common) were still available turned into arable fields (disappearance of the commons)

The inland rural population consisted mainly in larger and smaller farmers or peasants accompanied by a rising group cottages. Agriculture was the basis of the family economy and households performing non-agricultural activities as their as their main livelihood were rare in rural villages, with the exception of proto-industrial regions were families were active in both, agriculture and textile.

Averages of household. The distinction between more commercially oriented and more subsistence oriented regions resulted also in differences in the size and composition of rural households, at least from the 16th C onwards

oIn the Northern Netherlands the average household size in the coastal area was smaller than in the inland region in the early modern period.

oIn the highly specialised coastal area the non-farmer households were small inasmuch limited amount of labour was needed in the households.

oIn the inland north: average of household was large (because they have land at their disposal) and there were more three-generation households: they remained quite seldom, and was only a short phase in the lifecycle of the household

Age-related lifecycle

o12-16: children lived with their parents

oOnly affluent children of rural households with land or other resources remain at home until their marriage.

èChances for children: in their parents, also larger in-proto-industrial households which had enough income-earning opportunities for them

oNumerous unmarried juveniles engaged migration to other villages in search for work and a good starting position: migration strategies could be attractive

oAfter marriage: new couples started a household of their own, some take over the household of one of the parental couples, some started to live with them for a short period, others had to establish a new household anywhere (not common)

Trends in inheritance practices and strategies

oPossible social and economic impacts of different inheritance practices on families

oIn general, egalitarian division of the inheritance between sons and daughters was the norm, excep Luxembourg where the oldest son was favoured (primogeniture)

oSons and daughters treated equally: equal portion of the state of the parents. In practice, the farmstead handed over entirely to one (impartible inheritance). The other inheriting children received cash sum or an annuity that equated their share in inheritance. However there are indicators pointing out that farmsteads were divided between the offspring resulting in fragmentation of holdings.

è16th  and 18th equal inheritances stimulated fragmentations

oIn the commercial coastal region: continuity of the lineages on the farmstead. Farmstead went to non-related people, and a minority to sons or daughters.

èThe family strategies were less directed towards preservation for the family farm for the next generation. The weak ties between the farm and the family played a role in the high social mobility. Married couples acquired different role from that of their parents, because they wanted to live in the market-oriented coastal region.

Organization in the rural household labour: importance of specialization and proto-industrialization.

èWage agricultural labour market for males and unmarried adolescents. Causes: technological and cultural reasons

èChildren and woman labour market consisted in weeding and collecting the crops during the harvest, also in linen industry (preparation and spinning of the yarn)

èProto-industrialization offered less chances for woman, males occupied this activities. Females had low share in wage labour but high share in household based labour (in the farms for the harvest-times)

The family and the income, 1000- 1750

Rural households

·Depending upon agricultural activities for their incomeà small agricultural surplus usually went to feudal landowners and to tithes.

·Rise of the cities accompanied with  rural food surpluses (11th). High urbanization, need for international imports. Farmers also produced surpluses for the urban market

·Importance penetration of the non-agricultural wage labour in the countryside. Small-farm combines with  proto-industrial wage labour.

èCAUSES: ecological problems

Ecological problems forced the Holland to develop other new activities to ensure their survival. Due to difficulties with rising water levels the productivity of agricultural labour was diminishing

This way, the occupational structure continued to diversify, stimulated to agricultural specialization. A vast part of the rural population was working outside agriculture, selling and marketing non-agricultural goods and servicesà transition to a more diversifies occupational structure

·Rising wages in the 17th made the wage-earned without a tiny farm holding a alternative in the countrysideà employed in industry and services.

èThey did not need to have a farm to survive, with the wages they could work and buy the life necessities, no need to create food to survive when they can buy the goods.

·Specialized workers like artisans earned higher daily wage than unskilled farm labourers. Due to the money wages in combination with the demand for wage work, wage income outside the coastal region still was often supplemented with small-scale farming or self-subsistence agriculture in the 17th and 18th .

èThe combination of proto-industrial wage-earning activities with subsistence agriculture secured the livelihood of families, supplying them with both, the necessary cash and sufficient food.

The importance of the coins

·Rural markets emerged everywhere, and with the high urbanization, the peasant become stimulated to engage to the market system. The emergence of markets in the 1000 resulted in a rising need for money and coincided with a rise in the number of coins, that was available for the governmentà economy become monetised.

·High velocity in coins circulation, widespread of the use of credit that became an essential part of economy to facilitate exchange and to overcome short and long term imbalances between income and expenditure. Production and consumption were financed by credit, also used in the land market. The availability of cheap credit also allowed households to participate in the land market.

·First, ecclesiastical institutions supplied rural credit, but they were slowly replaced by urban citizens. Urban credit was a source of capital.

·Personal relations. Because coins were scarce, limited, the intra-village exchange of goods and services was done on short-terms credit or payments were delayedà informal networks forged and strengthened  social relations within the village (more personal relations)

Wage workers

1. Seasonal migrants. There were distinct differences between the way wage labour that was organized in the coastal and inland provinces, although they have mutual dependency. 16th coastal regions relied increasingly in migrants labour drawn from inland regions based on the emergence of seasonal migration. So, coastal area attracted migrants for different reasons

a.In agriculture realm. The creation of large specialized farms in the coastal areas lead to a sharp increase in labour demand during specific parts of the year. These large arable farms relied increasingly on temporary immigrants drawn from the inland regions

b.Construction of dykes. 17th, construction of dykes created labour demand that drew on migrant labourers

2. Emergence of life cycle servants in husbandry. The regional and temporal differences in the incidence of servants were influenced by two factors.

a.The population decline favoured the employment of unmarried servants over day labourers, which were often married. As population expanded and labour supply increased servants were replaced by day-labourers

b.The agricultural characteristics of regions explain the character of rural employer. Regions specialised in arable agriculture resorted to male labour in part of the year. Also in pastoral agriculture.

3. Cottagers and day-labourers living in a household of their own. They worked their own holding. Day-labourers worked on the large farms and states within their own community. They had to combine work on their own small holding with proto-industrial in agricultural wage labour.

à They had become the most important source of household income

The family, the local community and the state, 1000-1750

Local institutions were not very well developed in the countryside until the late Middle Ages. But, by that time there existed a functioning legal system and community was organised in a society governing the commons.

Poor relief institutions. AIMS:

a.To paupers. Large part of the society run the risk of becoming too poor to maintain themselves, so the poor relief board functioned as a social safety net for the local people (support paupers).  The structure and organization of poor relief have important effects in the households.

1.The support was aimed to orphans and widows, helping to the kin of the paupers and their resources.

2.Poor relief was determined by the place of birth, resulting in low rates of poor households and restraining (limiting) the migration of labour between regions.

b.To recovery after devastating wars. The importance of these institutions was not mainly for poor relief, also to facilitate and speed up the process of recovery after devastating wars.

c.To rent out land at a lower price and extend their credit to local households who were unable to secure a loan from the traditional credit networks (Para alquilar tierras a un precio más bajo y extender su crédito a los hogares locales que no pudieron obtener un préstamo de las redes de crédito tradicionales)

The common land. Vast tracks of uncultivated land where regarded as common land governed by the local community: they share the common. However, to access to common land was restricted by the local community. As a result, the population growth in the period 1000-1550 remained limited in the inland regions. In the coastal, the common land disappeared at the beginning. In this process of disappearance, two important factors:

1.The quality of coastal land was high and made attractive the division and the intensive use. This land was very demanded

2.In the south, commons also disappeared. The access consisted mainly in pasture rights for cattle and the right to gather fuel (wooden)

External forces, influence of the governmentà cities extended the influence on the countryside. They wanted to control the hinterland, the periphery in order to extend the political and economic influence upon them. They wanted to enforce a taxation system upon them to ensure a regular income

èIntroduction of new taxes in the countryside

In consequence, the countryside needed to get higher surpluses to cope/confront with the taxes. The political and economic influence in the countryside resulting in commercial and industrial rural expansion.

The declination of the lord´s and church power

a)Power of local lord declinedà weakness of the feudalism. Power of lords and rural communities were usurped by regional and central institutions from the 16th onwards. The financial power of the lordship gradually declined. Slow but gradually decline during the 1000-1750, although they reclaimed the power, but no success.

b)The church also played an important role, because they initially played an important role in the village society, chiefly in the provision of poor relief, but their influence also was gradually eroded. The rights and duties of the church were wet by central government institutions.


·Basic characteristics of developed economy: economy outside the agriculture

·Increasing urbanization and specialization at a general level

·Profound impact over the income strategies pf rural households

·Proto-industrialization and fragmentation

·Large farms and the majority of smallholders living near subsistence levels. Parts of the population density was low, uncultivated land numerous,

·The rural household economy became to be dependent on large-scale farming

·The large employment opportunities as wage labourer outside agricultural loosened the tie between land and marriage. The local institutions aided to this transition to a more modern economy. Property rights was secured and protected by lawquí!