Village Elites and Social Structures in the Late Medieval Campine Region

RHN 157/2017 | Publication

Eline Van Onacker, Village Elites and Social Structures in the Late Medieval Campine Region (The Medieval Countryside 17), Turnhout: Brepols Publishers 2017.

This book reveals how specific social structures and accompanying elite characteristics guaranteed stability and continuity in a communal peasant region in the otherwise dynamic late medieval Low Countries.

The economy of the late medieval Low Countries is often portrayed in terms of dynamism and economic growth. However, several regions within this larger entity followed an alternate path of development. One example of this is the Campine (Kempen), a communal peasant region situated to the northeast of the sixteenth-century ‘metropolis’ of Antwerp. By contrast with other regions in the Low Countries, this area was characterised by a remarkable stability.

By focusing on ‘independent’ peasant elites, this study explores the social structures and the characteristics of inequality of this region, showing how these factors led to a different, more stable mode of economic development. Looking past standard societal measurements such as property distribution, this work combines a wide variety of sources to grasp the nuances of inequality in a communal society. It therefore takes into account other economic factors such as control over the commons, and market integration. It also focuses on political and social inequality, shedding light on aspects of inequality in village politics, social life, and poor relief.

Thus, in contrast to dominant depictions of pre-modern societies on the road to capitalism, this book provides a comprehensive portrayal of inequality and elite groups in a communal peasant society.