The ways to Success. Strategies and Trajectories of the Commercial elites in the Low Countries in the Long Sixteenth Century. 01/10/2016 - 30/09/2017


Historians have long believed that the ultimate goal for well-to-do bourgeois elites in the sixteenth century was to obtain a noble title. According to the theory, they eventually became concerned about preserving their social status and started investing in ways to become noble, like the formation of landed estates or assimilation with the Second Estate. Recently the debate about this 'treason of the bourgeoisie' has been reopened and the theory has received criticism, especially in the Low Countries. Historians have shown that the markers associated with this trajectory can be interpreted in other ways, but it still seems that the whole literature about social ascent is dominated by the 'success' of a few families that did follow the treason-trajectory. Consequently, the circular reasoning of the theory has never been revised: the "success" stories are viewed as the ideal for all the commercial elites. It is just as likely however, that social success in the Low Countries was achieved in other ways by following other strategies. This has never been thoroughly and empirically tested, however. The goal of this project is to identify the ways in which mercantile elites in the Low Countries followed trajectories towards social success or failure, without using the treason theory as an ideal-type. By studying a representative group of commercial elites, this project aims to give a better understanding of these trajectories towards social success or failure.


Research team(s)

Project type(s)

  • Research Project