Politics and commerce: a close marriage? The case of the Ostend Company (1722-1731)
The relationship between state power and capitalism has been at the centre of many historiographical debates since Braudel’s thesis on early modern capitalism. Especially historians studying joint-stock companies focused on the nature of this interaction between politics and capitalism. In this paper, I contribute to scholarship by exploring the way in which the political elites of the Southern Low Countries interacted with the Imperial Ostend Company (1722-1731). By looking at the company’s shareholder registers and correspondence, as well as by reconstructing various informal networks, I will argue that different types of interaction developed between the Ostend Company and the political establishment. The nature of these relations shaped the political elites’ policy vis-à-vis the Ostend Company. The urban political elites of Ostend and Antwerp held close social, financial and political connections with the Ostend Company, causing them to grant various privileges to the enterprise. However, the entanglement with the local nobility and the officials of the imperial administration was rather weak to sustain the Ostend Company’s long-term development. As such, this contribution sheds new light on the dynamics that underpinned the relations between power and capital.