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Public archives of the Ancien Régime

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Archives of local authorities

Archives of fiefdoms, aldermen’s courts, feudal estate courts and municipalities (the so-called old municipal archives) form the major part of the archives of the Ancien Régime preserved by the State Archives. They contain much evidence about the period ranging from the 14th to the 18th centuries and are of key importance for historical and genealogical research. The old aldermen’s courts and municipalities were endowed with far-reaching competences. The local aldermen’s court was mainly a court of justice where penal and civil lawsuits were conducted and which supervised the legal guardians of minors (i.e. they kept a register of legal guardians, the so‑called ‘momberrekening’). It also served as a registration office for various transactions, such as the purchase and sale of real estates, mortgage recording, public sale, lease of land, etc. The written records of these legal acts formed the aldermen’s registers. The former municipalities were also in charge of preserving the interests of their population and raising taxes, thereby producing large amounts of fiscal documents.

Archives of regional and supra-regional authorities

At regional and supra-regional levels, a multitude of institutions with various competences carried out a whole range of missions. The judiciary, courts and tribunals were governed by their own statutes and dispensed justice according to the laws and regulations in force in their respective regions. Financial and political institutions also carried out very diverse duties from region to region – albeit within the same global framework of keeping order, coinage, collecting taxes, promoting economy and agriculture, fighting poverty, etc. – which is reflected in the archives preserved at the State Archives in the Provinces.

Note: Even though public bodies carry the same denomination in different regions, their competences and therefore the archives they produce may vary significantly. The ‘representation of the people’ (the ‘estates of the realm’), for instance, were a true power in some provinces and a mere empty body in others.

Archives of the central authorities

The National Archives in Brussels preserves the archives of the central authorities of the Ancien Régime: court, governor and plenipotentiary ministers, the so-called Collateral Councils, the Great Council of Mechelen, the Auditor’s Office, the dozen Juntas, commissions and committees, etc. from the Burgundian period until the reformations of Joseph II and the subsequent restoration.

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