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Family in Revolt: The Van der Meulen and Della Faille Families in the Dutch Revolt


Through an analysis of thousands of letters, account books, lawsuits, and testaments left by two prominent merchant families from Antwerp, this dissertation investigates the strategies used by kin to maintain and refashion social structures disrupted by the Dutch Revolt, early modern capitalism, and the life-cycle of families. The marriage of Daniel van der Meulen and Hester della Faille in 1584 connected two sibling groups who were divided in their political and religious allegiances. This dissertation traces the lives of the two sibling groups from the time that they entered into marriages and began careers as merchants in the 1560s until the last years of their lives in the second decade of the seventeenth century.

In the face of multiple forces pulling the siblings apart, the Van der Meulens and Della Failles constructed an ideal of a united house centered around the tight bonds of siblings and radiating out to collateral kin. The transition of power and property from the generation of the parents to a group of siblings acted as the primary test of siblings bonds. The tensions between horizontal kin and interest in the preservation of patrimony created tension in relations among siblings. For their entire lives, the Della Faille siblings struggled to administer and divide the vast capital left by their father, Jan della Faille de Oude. The Van der Meulens proved more able to live together in harmony, constructing an image of family bonds strengthened through exile. Though often divided by religious, political, and personal divisions, the siblings perceived the bonds of kinship to be eternal.

The experience of the Van der Meulen and Della Faille siblings provides an opportunity to examine the intertwined nature of private-order solutions and institutions in early modern trade. This dissertation argues that sibling groups constituted the core of the increasingly global networks of exchange at the end of the sixteenth century. However, trust among siblings did not flourish naturally. The creation of trust and friendship between siblings depended upon hierarchical family structures fortified--but also mediated--through affection and exchanges of gifts, favors, capital, and credit.

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