Belgium: a history de Bernard Cook tiene sus buenos momentos, como este sobre el Flandes de la baja edad media, un ejemplo casi de laboratorio del proceso de formación del estado-nación.
Una zona pantanosa prospera como enclave comercial activada por la fabricación de telas, a la par de nuevos avances agrícolas y el aumento demográfico. Las mutaciones no tardan en plasmarse en una nueva forma de organización.
The rulers of the Belgian provinces engaged in long struggles against the dominance of Germany or France over their principalities. John I, the Duke of Brabant (1261– 1294) defeated and temporarily checked the Germans at Woeringen on the Rhine. The struggle against France was not as successful. Nevertheless, after the French victory over the English at Bouvines in 1214, which threatened the commercial ties between Flanders and England, the workers of the Flemish cities took up a spirited struggle for independence.11 According to Geyl, “(. . .) it was only the unexpected popular strength of the great Flemish towns, Brugge and Ghent, that defeated (. . .) [the French] attempts on Flanders, and, [succeeded] in saving the Germanic character of the most exposed region (. . .) [of Dutch culture].”
There had been urban decay after the Romans pulled back. However, Maastricht and Dinant continued as commercial centers, and Arras and Cambrai continued as administrative centers. Ghent, Kotrijk, and Bruges were originally centers of refuge and the urban impulse, which has characterized Belgian history. The number and the proximity of towns and the interaction between town and country especially characterized Flanders. Most of the towns were small. Hasselt, Saint-Omer, and Huy were all between 40 and 80 acres in area. Tongeren, Saint-Truden, Utrecht, and Rotterdam were between 80 and 200 acres. The larger towns, Bruges, Ghent, Leuven, and Brussels were in Flanders or Flemish Brabant. Despite the onslaught of the Normans in the ninth century Bruges developed as a commercial center on the site of an old Roman rural settlement. The favorable location of Flanders on the trade routes from the coast to the Rhine contributed to the early development of the region. New agricultural techniques: the shift from a two field system to a three field system, in which winter wheat and rye, summer barley and oats, were rotated yearly with one fallow field; the heavy iron plow which replaced the wooden scratch plow; the clearing of woodlands and the diking and draining of marshes and coastal tidal flats to create productive polders, all contributed to agricultural productivity, ended hunger except during periods of crop failure, and supported a growing
population. The surplus could feed growing towns, which engaged in production for developing markets.
This growth of towns produced what is known as the “twelfth-century renaissance” in Flanders. The Counts of Flanders realizing the opportunity to draw on this new source of wealth granted charters, investing cities with rights at the expense of local nobles. Citizenship was limited to those who lived within the city walls, the burg, and the wealthiest or most influential of these town dwellers, or burgers, became the elite of a new urban oligarchy. However, the merchants’ associations of the urban oligarchs were often challenged by the guilds formed by the skilled crafts to protect the interests of their members.
The new wealth of the counts enabled them to hire and to fire a new type of agent, the bailiff, who carried out their will and enforced their law. The earlier Germanic practices of trial by ordeal and oath were replaced by witnesses as the counts and their agents attempted to combat the tradition of vendetta. According to L.J.R. Milis, “these developments turned Flanders from a feudal principality into a kind of mini-state (even though the word ‘state’ is an anachronism and should be used advisedly here).”15 Milis states that when Philip of Alsace died in 1191, “Flanders was a well administered country” with an efficiency which resembled Norman England rather than the inefficiently administered France. Nevertheless, French military prowess at the Battle of Bovines in 1214 bested the Count of Flanders and his many allies, England, the Emperor, and the Dukes of Brabant and Holland. The victory of France led to the eclipse of Flanders, caught between its feudal (political) subordination to France and its economic dependence upon English wool. In this complex conflict between political and economic considerations, the relations between the counts of Flanders and the cities were very frequently strained.
However, in Brabant relations between the counts and the cities, Antwerp, Brussels, and Leuven, were more symbiotic. In Brabant the counts and cities both profited from the levying of tolls on trade between Bruges and Cologne.