A Pragmatic Reality. The Performance and Codification of Collective Agency in the ‘Age of Freedom’ of Urban Communities in the Southern Low Countries and Northern France (late 11th to early 13th Centuries)

Een pragmatische realiteit. De performance en codificatie van collectief handelen tijdens de 'eeuw van de vrijheid' van stedelijke gemeenschappen in de Zuidelijke Nederlanden en Noord-Frankrijk (late 11de - vroege 13de eeuw)
Begin - Einde 
2023 - 2027 (lopend)
Vakgroep Geschiedenis
Andere instituten 
UGent Faculteit Recht en Criminologie
Vrije Universiteit Brussel



Research on the early development of urban communities in Western Europe has long been determined by a political and institutional approach of the liberties, laws and customs these communities were granted by their rulers in the form of so-called ‘borough charters’. As a result of this narrow focus, we still remain ignorant of the pragmatic context in which these laws and rights were negotiated and materialized, of the socio-economic conditions that shaped the agency of the social groups involved, and of how legal concepts reflected an underlying ‘law in minds’. 

This project proposes an interregional comparative study of a corpus of about 150 typologically varying borough charters dated pre-1200 granted to cities and communes in the southern Low Countries and northern France during the pioneering phase of their development. The methodology relies on three approaches which will examine interrelations between people, documents and contexts from an anthropological perspective: 1) a pragmatic-documentary analysis, with the aim to reconstruct the context in which law and liberties were written down during the experimental period of pragmatic literacy and record-based government; 2) a political and socio-economic analysis, aiming to untangle the ‘collectiveness’ within early-stage urban communities; 3) a legal historical analysis, with the goal to consider the charters as the consolidation of medieval expectations of law in the power struggle between rulers and subjects.





Externe medewerkers

Georges Declercq

Vrije Universiteit Brussel

Bart Lambert

Vrije Universiteit Brussel

Dirk Heirbaut

Universiteit Gent - Faculteit Rechten