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Belgium: A History by Bernard A. Cook

By Bernard A. Cook

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When magistrates in Ghent re-imposed under the penalty of death or, at least, banishment, an excise tax, the workers proclaimed a general strike. When the patricians sent armed hirelings into the working class neighborhoods, the leaders of the workers called them into the streets. The workers, who had been allowed to possess arms to defend the count, were not at a disadvantage. 10,000 armed workers marched on the Friday Market. Several hundred patricians fled the advancing workers. Some were thrown into the Leie; others managed to seek refuge in Gravensteen.

At the city’s stock exchange, which opened in 1532, currency, letters of credit, and debts could be traded daily. Antwerp became a center for international finance and pioneered practices and procedures, which were copied elsewhere, especially after 1580 when Protestants fled the city and brought its advanced practices to Amsterdam. In 1520 agents of the Holy Roman Emperor were permanently stationed in the city to negotiate loans. The city’s renaissance style city hall completed in 1565 mirrored the prosperity of the city’s merchants and bankers.

Antwerp became home port to four hundred ships and by the early 1500s a thousand merchants and bankers set up operations there. Antwerp and its depot on Walcheren Island in the Scheldt estuary were visited by 2,500 ships annually, four times the activity of the port of London in the early sixteenth century. The Hanseatic League opened a house on the Corn Market in 1468 and moved its offices from Bruges to Antwerp in 1553. At the city’s stock exchange, which opened in 1532, currency, letters of credit, and debts could be traded daily.

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