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From disaster to sustainability: floods, changing property relations and water management in the south-western Netherlands, c.1500–1800

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  18 July 2014

PIET VAN CRUYNINGEN
Affiliation:
Huygens Institute for the History of the Netherlands and Wageningen University.

Abstract

When large parts of the south-western Netherlands flooded in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries the main cause was insufficient maintenance of the sea defences. The subsequent re-embankment of the polders resulted in changes to both soil conditions and property relations in the region. The Church and the local peasants lost land and members of the urban bourgeoisie became the most important landowners. Unlike their risk-averse predecessors, these capitalist landlords were prepared to invest in drainage. They were also able to organise state support for those polders that were at risk of flooding. Tenant and yeomen farmers had an equally important role as they maintained the fertility of the soil and were prepared to invest in the upkeep of the flood defences.

Du désastre à la durabilité: inondations, évolution des relations de propriété et gestion de l'eau au sud-ouest des pays-bas, entre 1500 et 1800

Lorsque de grandes zones du sud-ouest des Pays-Bas furent inondées au cours des 15e et 16e siècles, c’était essentiellement par défaut d'entretien des digues empêchant l'inondation marine. Le renforcement ultérieur des levées de terre protégeant les polders entraîna à la fois des changements dans la nature des sols et dans les relations de propriété au sein de la région. L'Eglise et les paysans y perdirent des terres et ce furent des représentants de la bourgeoisie urbaine qui devinrent les propriétaires fonciers les plus importants. Contrairement à leurs prédécesseurs qui s'étaient montrés réticents à prendre des risques, ces nouveaux seigneurs capitalistes étaient prêts à investir dans le drainage. Ils suscitèrent même l'appui de l'Etat pour les polders qui étaient les plus exposés au risque d'inondation. Locataires et paysans propriétaires eurent un rôle d’égale importance car ils maintinrent la fertilité du sol, toujours prêts à investir dans le bon entretien des protections contre les inondations.

Von der katastrophe zur nachhaltigkeit: überflutungen, veränderte eigentumsbeziehungen und wasserwirtschaft in den südwestlichen niederlanden, ca.1500–1800

Wenn im 15. und 16. Jahrhundert große Teile der südwestlichen Niederlande überflutet wurden, so lag der Hauptgrund dafür in der unzureichenden Instandhaltung der Küstenbefestigung. Die daraufhin unternommene Wiedereindeichung der Polder zog Veränderungen sowohl der Bodenbeschaffenheit als auch der Eigentumsverhältnisse innerhalb der Region nach sich. Die Kirche und die örtlichen Bauern verloren Land, während Mitglieder der städtischen Bourgeoise die wichtigsten Landbesitzer wurden. Anders als ihre risikoscheuen Vorgänger waren diese kapitalistischen Grundherren bereit, in Trockenlegungsprojekte zu investieren, und außerdem vermochten sie für die Polder, die einem besonderen Überflutungsrisiko ausgesetzten waren, staatliche Unterstützung zu erwirken. Pächter und freie Bauern besaßen dabei eine gleichermaßen wichtige Rolle, weil sie die Fruchtbarkeit des Bodens aufrecht erhielten und bereit waren, in die Instandhaltung der Küstenbefestigungen zu investieren.

Type
Research Article
Copyright
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2014 

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Ibid

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