July 26th 2022

PA.103 | Economic Privileges as Resources (Western Europe, 16th-18th centuries)

Parallel Sessions
The purpose of this session is to present and discuss the results of a quantitative and qualitative research carried out on economic privileges (defined as the temporary grants, for individuals, of a space of activity within the economic sphere) in Western Europe in the early modern era. This project has been based on the systematic census of such acts as well as on the analysis of their contents between the 16th and 18th centuries in several European regions (France, England, German and Italian territories, each of these areas being characterized by dissimilar state and economic structures).  This database singles out by its unprecedented scope since it enables researchers to get through three centuries and four countries and track around 15.000 mentions of privileges in different kinds of acts. Moreover, the project team has chosen not only to collect acts, but to gather all the tracks of the same privilege (“ grant, renewal, cession...") in a single artefact. On the one hand, privileges were meant by many actors to last or circulate; on the other hand, they could have a very short official life, being limited by the sovereign authority or not claimed by their beneficiaries. Beyond the general chronology of grants, the database highlights the different temporalities in which privileges developed. Finally, considering all the economic individual privileges (not only manufactured products, not only inventions, not only specific sectors as fabrics and cloth, not only famous entrepreneurs) gives evidence of the broad range of activities which they could encompass. Privilege could be used to endeavor novelty or traditional activities, at different scales and on the benefit of very different kinds of people. After elaborating and exploiting the database following a common methodology, the project team is now able to present these results no longer corpus by corpus, nor area by area, but in a thematic and comparative way. Even if privilege contributes to build in each country a specific frame of action, it is possible to observe some European convergencies: irregular trends in the grants chronology, growth of the use of privileges in the 18th century, standardization of durations, the fact that a major part of privileges did not get any exclusivity (or a restricted one)... Thus, without giving evidence in itself of circulations of practices and norms, the database allows to retrieve each area from national representations of their legal and political system of regulation. It also allows to question the existence and the implementation of a common legal resource in the hands of the different sovereigns. Privileges did not erect monopolies but mostly limited spheres of action they described so as to fit them in a web of territories, communities and rights, which leads to discuss not only the practical implications of the theoretical opposition between common law and privilege but also the uses of privilege as a tool for economic regulation. The diversity of granted clauses resists any univocal thesis, and demonstrates both the diversity and flexibility of this legal instrument. Moreover, beyond the clauses it could grant to secure access to any kind of resources (markets, workers, jurisdictions, natural resources), privilege could provide beneficiaries with the necessary legal certainty to build complex associations and develop their social and financial capital. This opens the way to a whole range of questions about the privilege as a resource, as well for the sovereign power as for entrepreneurs (which are sometimes involved in the state structures that granted privileges). As a matter of fact, discussing advantages and limitations created an area of transaction between the sovereign and his subjects. Flexibility was in no means a tool of the prince's arbitrariness, since its use was both framed by the culture and criteria developed in the administration and inspired by the applicants' claims. However, even shaped by the very administration which tried to transform economic policy in the 18th century, privileges remained princely graces up to the end of the Old regime. Thus, the fact that they could be used according to rational criteria highlights the specificity of Early Modern State. Besides a global and comparative presentation of the uses of the privileges as legal resources in Early Modern economic sphere, the session would offer a general discussion, especially from a legal history perspective and in order to test these hypothesis and deliberate on the extension to give to the database and its interpretation through other projects.
H - Public Economics
Lemaigre-Gaffier Pauline - UVSQ/Université Paris-Saclay
Vincent Demont - Universite Paris Nanterre
Alain Wijffels - KU Leuven
Andrea Caracausi - University of Padua Italy
From theory to practices : economic privileges as resources in Early Modern Europe
Lemaigre-Gaffier Pauline - UVSQ/Université Paris-Saclay
Time as a resource ? Economic privileges within/through their temporalities: durations, renewals, transfers, trends of granting (Europe, 16th-18th centuries
Vincent Demont - Universite Paris Nanterre
Geography of Privileges and access to various resources (raw materials, labor, institutional facilities), Europe, 17th-18th centuries
Conchon Anne
Guillaume Garner - ENS Lyon
A discussion about economic privileges in legal history
Alain Wijffels - KU Leuven