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Social change and markets for urban credit: political elites as investors in urban annuities in sixteenth-century Ghent

  • Jelten Y. P. Baguet (a1)

Financial historians have devoted considerable attention to the investment behaviour of urban politicians in the market for public debt in the Low Countries. They have focused not only on how many urban officials invested in annuities, but also why they did so. On the one hand, it has been suggested that political elites often had political and economic motivations for investing in urban annuities. By contrast, historians from the institutional school defend the thesis that inclusive governance led to broader participation in the market for urban credit. A variable that has gone largely unnoticed in explaining investments by the political elite is the impact of the changing composition and social profile of the ruling elites on their investment behaviour. In this article, I examine the case of sixteenth-century Ghent to argue that changes in the city's power structure resulted in profound changes in attitudes towards public debt management. While the old political elite in the early sixteenth century prioritised selling annuities to individuals who belonged to the political networks of their time, the group of political newcomers that dominated urban politics at the end of the sixteenth century had much more of a market-oriented attitude, giving priority to non-political investors in the free market.

Corresponding author
Jelten Y. P. Baguet, HOST – Historical Research into Urban Transformation Processes, Vrije Universiteit Brussel (University of Brussels), Pleinlaan 2, 1050, Brussels; email:
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I am very grateful to two anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments on a previous draft of this text. I would like to express my gratitude to Frederik Buylaert, Heidi Deneweth, David Kusman, Bart Lambert, Christian Liddy, Catharina Lis, Hugo Soly, the members of the HOST team at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel, the participants of the ‘Financial History Workshop’ in Utrecht, the participants of the ‘Markets and Agents Workshop’ in Barcelona and the participants of the ‘ESTER-Datini Workshop’ in Prato for their valuable feedback. I am indebted to Fleur Van Bocxlaer for her constant encouragement while writing this article. All remaining errors and omissions are my responsibility.
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