Private partnerships in early modern Antwerp
PhD student: Mr P. Naaktgeboren
Promotor: Mr B. Van Hofstraeten
Duration: 1/1/2017 - 31/8/2021
his project, which is a part of the VIDI project Whats in a Name? Challenging Early Modern Ideal-Types of Private Partnerships in the Low Countries (17th-18th Centuries), focuses on private partnerships in Antwerp in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Whereas legal and economic historians have paid much attention to the rise and corporate structure of Dutch trading companies, the origins and early development of private partnerships remain understudied. In the twentieth century, French historians put forward a model consisting of several ideal-type categories of private partnerships, in which the extent of the partners external liability was one of the main distinctive features. For instance, this factor was used to differentiate general and limited partnerships. In a general partnership both partners were equally legally responsible, whereas in a limited partnership only one of the partners could be held liable. However, these ideal-types are based on French legal sources and cannot simply be translated to the Low Countries. Preliminary studies on Antwerp have demonstrated that entrepreneurs did not think in terms of liability to third parties; instead, they were more concerned with partnership-internal relationships. Additionally, it has been suggested that entrepreneurs who had set up a partnership did not entirely adhere to the relevant bylaws issued by the city government. The discrepancy between, on the one hand, the normative sources and the ideal-types, and, on the other hand, real life or how the entrepreneurs conducted trade in practice is the starting point of the VIDI project. The main goal is to challenge the ideal-type narrative for the Low Countries. In this respect, Antwerp proves to be an excellent case study because the bylaw books contain many articles related to commercial practices and because of the large number of notarial ledgers that have been preserved in the city archives. By studying these bylaws and notarized private partnership agreements, this case study strives to broaden our knowledge about early modern corporate structures in Antwerp, while at the same time aiming to establish the extent to which entrepreneurs complied with statutory legislation. One of the hypotheses is that the city government of Antwerp gave entrepreneurs contractual freedom in conducting business. In sum, we expect to be able to paint a dynamic and diverse picture of early modern society, in which many different contracts and private partnerships existed.
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