Borderland Nobility

Borderland nobility: between France and the Netherlands (1470-1660)

Researcher: Violet Soen

This research project will contribute to two ongoing debates in Early Modern history by analysing the nobility at the border between France and the Netherlands from 1470 until 1660. The first debate concerns the role of the nobility in early modern state formation; the second one hinges on the effectiveness of monarchic patronage in influencing the strategies of noble lineages. The peculiarity of nobility in the ‘Franco-Netherlandish’ borderlands, with widespread possessions and therefore relations with various sovereigns, solves the one-sided approach of most research addressing only one early modern state. The working hypothesis presumes that longer than supposed the nobility had a fair amount of autonomy towards his prince(s) and developed a strategy which not always corresponded to state borders. This hypothesis will be tested through four periods of unrest, sparked by rebellion or bilateral conflict: (1) the Franco-Burgundian rivalry between 1470 and 1492, (2) the Franco-Habsburg Wars (1521-1559), (3) the Civil and Religious Wars in France and the Netherlands (1559-1598) and (4) the Frondes (Spanish Habsburg Netherlands 1632 and France 1649-1653). The project hinges on multidisciplinary border studies and transnational history, as it addresses the multilayered identity formation of an aristocracy operating in a transnational space.

Publications related to this project:

V. Soen & L. Hollevoet, ‘Le Borromée des anciens Pays-Bas? Maximilien de Berghes, (arch)évêque de Cambrai et l’application du Concile de Trente (1564-1567)’, Revue du Nord 99 (n° 419) (2017) 41-65. Link to article.

V. Soen & A. Van de Meulebroucke, ‘Vanguard Tridentine Reform in the Habsburg Netherlands. The episcopacy of Robert de Croÿ, bishop of Cambrai (1519-56)’, in: V. Soen, D. Vanysacker and W. François (eds.), Church, Censorship and Reform in the early modern Habsburg Netherlands (Bibliothèque de la Revue d’histoire ecclésiastique 101), Turnhout, Brepols Publishers, 2017, 125-144. Link to article.

V. Soen, ‘The Council of Trent and the Preconditions of the Dutch Revolt (1563-1566)’, in W. François and V. Soen (eds.), The Council of Trent : Reform and Controversy in Europe and beyond (1540-1700), Vandenhoeck&Ruprecht, Göttingen, 2017, vol. 2, 255-278. Link to article.

V. Soen, ‘The Chièvres Legacy, the Croÿ Family and Litigation in Paris. Dynastic Identities between the Low Countries and France (1519-1559)’, in: L. Geevers and M. Marini (eds.), Dynastic Identity in Early Modern Europe: Rulers, Aristocrats and the Formation of Identities (Politics and Culture in Europe, 1650-1750), Ashgate, Farnham, 2015, 87-102. Link to article

V. Soen and H. Cools, ‘L’aristocratie transrégionale et les frontières. Les processus d’identification politique dans les maisons de Luxembourg-Saint-Pol et de Croÿ (1470-1530)’, in: V. Soen, Y. Junot en F. Mariage (eds.), L’identité au pluriel. Jeux et enjeux des appartenances autour des anciens Pays-Bas, XIVe-XVIIIe siècles / Identity and Identities. Belonging at stake in and around the Low Countries, 14th-18th centuries (Revue du Nord, Hors série, Collection Histoire 30), Villeneuve d’Ascq, 2014, 209-228.

V. Soen, ‘La Causa Croÿ et les limites du mythe bourguignon: la frontière, le lignage et la mémoire (1465-1475)’ in: J.-M. Cauchies and P. Peporte (eds.), Mémoires conflictuelles et mythes concurrents dans les pays bourguignons (ca. 1380-1580) (Publications du Centre d’études bourguignonnes XIVe-XVIe s. 52), Neuchâtel, 2012, 81-97.


The making of transregional Catholicism

The making of transregional Catholicism. Print Culture in the ecclesiastical province of Cambrai (1559-1659)

Primary Researcher: Alexander Soetaert

Promotor: V. Soen
Co-Promotor: J. Verberckmoes

In the late sixteenth and the early seventeenth century Catholic refugees from the British Isles, Ireland, France and the Dutch Republic found refuge in de archdiocese of Cambrai, on the southern border of the Habsburg Low Countries. This created a remarkable climate in which refugees along with locals battled for the Catholic religion. It is widely acknowledged that under similar conditions of exile, protestant refugees swiftly used the printing press in order to spur a transregional identity among coreligionists. This PhD-project, within a wider project funded by the Research Council KU Leuven, contends that printing was vital to any early modern confession and, therefore, will analyse how in Cambrai print culture functioned as a crucial variable in ‘the making of’ a transregional religion. The research focusses on two interrelated aspects. First, the study of the socially and regionally diverse members of the printing business will explain how immigrants and locals interacted to forge Catholicism. Second, by means of the study of a selection of martyr narratives, it should become clear which readerships these books aimed and if different exile communities also preferred other martyrs.

Publications related to this project:

A. Soetaert, ‘Printing at the frontier. The emergence of a transregional book production in the Ecclesiastical Province of Cambrai (ca. 1560-1659)’, in: De Gulden Passer: Journal for book history, 94 (2016), 137-163.

V. Soen, ‘Exile encounters and cross-border mobility in early modern borderlands: the Ecclesiastical Province of Cambrai as a transregional node (1559-1600)’, in: Belgeo : Revue Belge de Geographie / Belgisch Tijdschrift voor Geografie / Belgische Zeitschrift für Geographie = Belgian Journal of Geography, 2015, 2 (2016), 2-13. Link to article

V. Soen, ‘Exile encounters and cross-border mobility in early modern borderlands: the Ecclesiastical Province of Cambrai as a transregional node (1559-1600)’, in: Belgeo : Revue Belge de Geographie / Belgisch Tijdschrift voor Geografie / Belgische Zeitschrift für Geographie = Belgian Journal of Geography, 2015, 2 (2016), 2-13.

A. Soetaert, V. Soen, and J. Verberckmoes, ‘Verborgen meertaligheid. De katholieke drukpers in de kerkprovincie Kamerijk (1560-1600)’, in: Queeste: tijdschrift voor middeleeuwse letterkunde in de Nederlanden, 22:1 (2015), 62-81.

A. Soetaert, ‘Translating and distributing Italian religious literature in the ecclesiastical province of Cambrai (1563-1659)’, in: Incontri: Rivista Europea di Studi Italiani, 22:2 (2015), 29-40.


L’identité au pluriel (19-21/04/2012)

L’identité au pluriel. Jeux en enjeux des appartenances aux anciens Pays-Bas (14-16e siècle), 19-21 April 2012.


In April 2012, historians from the Netherlands, Belgium and France gathered at the Université de Valenciennes et du Hainaut-Cambrésis to discuss identity formation in the late medieval and early modern Low Countries. As part of the set-up of this colloquium, on of the four sessions was devoted to the study of the borderland between France and the Netherlands.

Program Second session: Identités et altérités autour de la frontière France-Pays-Bas

Présidence : Marie-Laure Legay (Université Charles-de-Gaulle – Lille 3 – IRHiS)

14h00: Passer des frontières. Les cas des familles de Croÿ et Luxembourg (1470-1520) – Hans Cools & Violet Soen(KU Leuven)

14h30: Devenir et (re)devenir sujet. La construction politique de la loyauté au roi catholique en France et aux Pays-Bas à la fin du XVIe siècle – José Javier Ruiz Ibañez (Universidad de Murcia)

14h55: L’identité civique à l’épreuve de la guerre civile : le cas des villes de Picardie (ca 1560-ca 1640) – Olivia Carpi(Université de Picardie – Amiens)

15h50: Identités de frontières : la question des appartenances au long de la frontière sud des Pays-Bas méridionaux (XVIe-XVIIe siècles) – Marie Kervyn (Université libre de Bruxelles) & Yves Junot (UVHC)

16h15: Frontière, identités et mobilités dans les Flandres de la fin de l’Ancien régime – Alexandra Petrowski(Université Charles-de-Gaulle – Lille 3 – IRHiS)

16h40 Discussions


Dr. Bram De Ridder

Bram De Ridder (°1989) is a postdoctoral researcher who studied history at the University of Leuven and international relations at the University of Cambridge. In his current project, drafted during a visiting scholarship at Harvard University, he studies the uses of history in contemporary border management. In 2016 he defended his Ph.D. titled ‘Lawful Limits. Border Management and the Formation of the Habsburg-Dutch Boundary, ca. 1590-1665’, wherein he investigated the emergence of the border between the Habsburg Netherlands and the Dutch Republic during and after the Eighty Years War. More particularly, his research focused on the different political and legal strategies by which different early modern actors shaped the territorial separations that divided them. In earlier projects he focused on the Act of Cession and the initiatives for peace at the beginning of the Archducal regime in the Habsburgs Netherlands (1598-1600), and on the connections between the Pax Hispanica (1598-1609) and the notion of International Society.


Recent publications:

B. De Ridder, The institutionalization of Habsburg-Dutch border controls during the Eighty Years War, Philostrato. Revista de historia y arte, extraordinary nr. (2018), p. 55-76. Link to article.

B. De Ridder, ‘Early Modern Peace and International Society: Using Disciplinary Hybridity to Question the Pax Hispanica (1598-1618)’, in: The International History Review, published online (2016). Link to article

B. De Ridder,‘Benchmarking the Past: Politico-Legal Connotations of Tradition, Custom and Common Practice in the Diplomacy of the Eighty Years War’, in: Dutch Crossing: Journal of Low Countries Studies, published online (2016). Link to article

B. De Ridder, ‘Sustaining the Munster Peace: The Chambre Mi-Partie as an Experiment in Transnational Border Arbitration (1648-1675)’, in: Journal of Modern European History, 14.1 (2016), 35-53. Link to article.

B. De Ridder, ‘Rusland, de Krim en het hernieuwde belang van territoriale claims’, in: Internationale Spectator: Tijdschrift voor Internationale Politiek, 68:10 (2014), 37-41.

B. De Ridder and V. Soen, ‘The Act of Cession, the 1598 and 1600 States-Generals in Brussels and the peace negotiations during the Dutch Revolt’, in R. Lesaffer (ed.), The Twelve Years Truce (1609): Peace, Truce, War and Law in the Low Countries at the Turn of the 17th Century (Studies in the History of International Law, 5), Leiden, Boston: Brill/Nijhoff, 2014, 48-68.

B. De Ridder and T. Vermeersch, ‘Grensstudies in de Zwinstreek. De studie en ontsluiting van een historisch grensland’, in: Tijd-Schrift. Heemkunde en lokaal-erfgoedpraktijk in Vlaanderen, 4.1 (2014), 60-74.

B. De Ridder, ‘Frans-Vlaanderen als grensland tussen het koninkrijk Frankrijk en het graafschap Vlaanderen’, Romaneske, 38 (2013), 2-9.

B. De Ridder, ‘De Akte van Afstand als pacificatiestrategie tijdens de Nederlandse Opstand (1597-1600)’, in: Handelingen van de Koninklijke Zuid-Nederlandse Maatschappij voor Taal-, Letterkunde en Geschiedenis, 65 (2012), 209-221.

Contact details:


Adress: KU Leuven, Onderzoeksgroep Nieuwe Tijd, Blijde Inkomststraat 21 bus 3307, B-3000 Leuven.


Dra. Zanna Van Loon

Zanna Van Loon is a PhD student in History at the University of Leuven. Her master’s thesis dealt with the international trade of Christopher Plantin with Scottish and English clients (1555-1589), concerning the distribution networks, but also the book consumption, in an age of confessionalisation. At the moment she is working on a project which deals with the European circulation of knowledge regarding the indigenous languages of the New World (16h-18th century). The research is entitled ‘Evolving views on the world’s languages in a globalizing world (1540-1840): information growth, conceptual shifts, scholarly networks in the circulation of linguistic knowledge’, and she does so under the supervision of Werner Thomas, Toon Van Hal and Lieve Behiels.