Flandria Illustrata: Flemish Identities in the Late Middle Ages and the Early Modern Period
Raingard Eßer (University of the West of England, Bristol)
This chapter discusses identity formation in early modern Flanders. It argues that policy makers and their intellectual agents transformed the perception of a province that had been divided by urban rivalries, civil war and conflicts with the Burgundian and Habsburg overlords, into a bastion of the Catholic Counter Reformation with strong ties to the Spanish King and his representatives. It then assesses the role of the province as a ‘border region’ and suggests a future research agenda to understand further the role of Flanders and its political elite in the Habsburg Empire.
On the eve of Belgium’s national holiday, 21 July 2008, a dinner party conversation in Antwerp steered, almost inevitably, towards the future of the Belgian state, which, despite the various political manoeuvres of Flemish and Walloon politicians, seemed then to be very much in the balance in its current form. The Flemish hosts, both aca- demics with international careers and anything but a parochial outlook on national and regional identity, suggested to their foreign guests to go to Brussels for the day and to watch what they deemed would be the last national parade as they knew it. The rift between the Flemish and the Walloon parts of the country seemed a painful reality which was based, so at least the argument around the dinner table, on different per- ceptions of the roles and responsibilities of the central and the regional governments. Two seemingly solid blocks of Flemish and Walloon identities were confronting each other with competing visions of financial policies and political rights. The identification of the Flemish core provinces, Flanders and Brabant, and their opposition to their French-speaking southern neighbours is undoubtedly based on developments in Belgium’s earlier history, notably during the 19th and 20th centuries, when French was the dominant language of the political and social elites and decisions were made in the then more prosperous Walloon South.