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Professional Lobbying in Eighteenth-century Brussels: The Role of Agents in Petitioning the Central Government Institutions in the Habsburg Netherlands

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image of Journal of Early Modern History

Abstract Historians have underscored the crucial importance of petitions both in early modern political practice and for relations between rulers and ruled. However, little is known about how formal requests were actually presented to rulers or the role of professional lobbyists. This article describes these individuals, using materials from a well-documented case, namely the court agents who were active in recommending petitions to the central government councils in eighteenth-century Brussels. Via these officially appointed lobbyists, citizens could obtain access to central figures in the decision-making process and express their personal grievances, desires and needs. This article argues that the efforts which court agents had to exert in order to present and recommend such petitions hint at the time- and money-consuming nature of petitioning. Court agents were supposed to offer their services free of charge to poor people, but opportunities for petitioning were in all probability less open to households of modest means. On the other hand, the court agents surely broadened the opportunities for petitioning in general, as—in exchange for a fee—anyone could draw on their expertise and contacts in government circles so as to be heard. Although patronage remained highly important throughout the eighteenth century, government accessibility increased in a more egalitarian manner, due to the work of these agents.

Affiliations: 1: Vrije Universiteit Brussel


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