Practicing La Réciprocité: Conflict, Compromise and Boundary Formation on the French-Belgian Border, 1715-1787

Erik J. Hadley


This article examines issues of mobility, taxation and provincial administration with regard to two eighteenth-century Franco-Belgian borderland provinces. The Franco-Belgian region is one of the most important crossroads in Europe, contested by every major power in Western Europe between the fourteenth and twentieth centuries; "Belgium" remains internally contested as a nation-state in the present day. During the eighteenth century, provincial governments on both sides of the border developed and maintained reciprocal accords that sought to mitigate tensions related to taxation, customs, mobility and justice. The emphasis on reciprocity, combined with the high level of provincial autonomy, diminished the impetus for national identity development and cross-border conflict in a manner consistent with previous frontier analyses. These agreements began to falter after the mid-eighteenth century, as their survival depended on the borderless, jurisdictional character of the frontier. Boundary treaties signed between France and Austria delimited the modern, linear boundary between the two countries, enforced territorial homogenization and reduced the interdependencies that had previously characterized the region. This study, with its emphasis on the importance of reciprocity, regional identity, and local societal institutions, offers a fresh understanding of the dynamics of borderland societies and identity formation and illustrates the importance of the pre-French Revolutionary period to the evolution of modern international boundaries in Western Europe.

Full Text:


All rights reserved
Print ISSN: 0886-5655
Online ISSN: 2159-1229