During the transition of the Late Middle Ages into the Early Modern Times, the ownership structures of the European countryside underwent significant changes. On the one hand, there was a strong accumulation of landownership, on the other hand an increasing part of the rural population was confronted with dwindling farm sizes. Many of them owned little or no arable land whatsoever. Although the same general tendencies existed across Europe, the process described above showed vast regional differences, in speed as well as in impact. While the rural land market is a well established research subject in Great Britain since the nineteen-eighties (Smith 1984, Allen 1988 and Hoyle 1990), it is only since the past few years that a similar interest in the interplay between the rural land market and the structural changes mentioned above, grew in Continental Europe (Cavaciocchi 2004, van Bavel & Hoppenbrouwers 2004, van Bavel & Hoyle 2010). For Belgium in particular, there are still a lot of areas left unexplored (Thoen & Soens, 2004).
The main goal of our research will be to map the evolution in the accumulation and polarisation processes of landownership that manifested themselves during the fifteenth and sixteenth century in the Southern Netherlands and to analyse the role played by the land market in these developments. Since several regions will be analysed, particular attention will be given to how the rural land market was affected by diverging institutional and economic conditions, such as different ownership structures, various agro-systems, the vicinity of commercial centers and the availability of credit.
The main sources that will be used during our research are manorial accounts. Since one had to pay a conveyance tax when selling real estate, and those receipts were transcribed in the manorial accounts, comparative research of different regions becomes possible. When using more labour-intensive sources such as the alderman registers, a large scale research design as mentioned above would not be achievable, given the timeframe.