Honour Besieged? Marks of Nobility and the (Re)making of Social Order in the Habsburg Netherlands (1570-1650). 01/10/2018 - 31/05/2019

Abstract

The Dutch Revolt that afflicted the Habsburg Netherlands engendered a sense of social dislocation. From the late sixteenth century onwards, the alleged confusion of noble and bourgeois identities prompted a princely regulation of status display. These legal prescriptions imbued certain exterior signs with an exclusive 'noble' honour that confined their public appearance. Departing from a dynamic interplay between princely interventionism and social motives, this research project examines the public (mis)appropriation of such signs – ranging from flaunting titles to the inclusion of noble attributes in family memoria. It questions how these transgressions might have affected the division between nobility and commoners in unexpected ways. For the first time, this project systematically appraises noble marks' potential to enact or modify aristocratic boundaries in an urban context. Case studies on Antwerp and Ghent, both witnessing shifts in their elite composition during the Revolt, will draw on understudied sources such as epitaph collections and trial accounts. The loyalist city of Namur forms an excellent test case. Challenging a simplistic state-centered view, my approach hypothesizes that the social utility of 'marks of nobility' met insecurities about fading distinctions by providing a legal opportunity to renegotiate these very distinctions. As such, the project rethinks noble identity formation, and yields a new understanding of shifts in the social imagination.

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Restoring a Tangible Past. Antiquarian Mentalities and the Search for a New Political Culture in the Habsburg Low Countries (1570-1648). 01/10/2015 - 30/09/2018

Abstract

In the second half of the sixteenth century, erudites and amateurs became imbued with a visual sense of the past, eager to discover and accurately reproduce tangible evidence from a native 'antiquity'. In the Southern Netherlands, this paradigmatic shift coincided with the open revolt against Habsburg authority and the subsequent endeavours to restore a dynastic order acceptable to all. This research project wants to assess the practical impact of this waxing antiquarian attitude - with its emphasis on the empirical documentation and preservation of dynastic remnants - on the actual redefinition of a new political culture (1570-1648). The main issue at stake is how a selective and ambiguous uncovering of profane 'relicts' provided both a model and a means to redress a constitutional framework under the guise of a return to authenticity? Studying changes introduced in the infrastructure of rulership on the basis of tangible proof of continuity will lead us to a new understanding of the alleged 'restoration' of Habsburg power. It calls for a multi-layered view wherein antiquarianism is recognized as a possible mediator between various interest groups (court, aristocracy and civic or regional stakeholders). As such, the approach not only aspires to gain better insight in the interaction between learned developments and popular politics. It will also contribute to the study of the visual and material dimension of early modern political culture.

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Research team(s)