Dealing with drainage: state regulation of drainage projects in the Dutch Republic, France, and England during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries

Piet van Cruyningen
Published Online:
17 Oct 2014
Volume/Issue No:
Volume 68 Issue 2

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In the early modern period the viability of large‐scale drainage projects implemented by courtiers, officials, or merchants could be endangered by litigation or violent conflicts with landlords, commoners, cities, or water boards whose interests were harmed by the implementation of such projects. A comparison between the Dutch Republic, England, and France shows that the Dutch had developed institutions to deal with this efficiently. State patents for drainage granted compensation to all parties involved and precluded long drawn‐out lawsuits. When large‐scale drainage began in England and France from c. 1600 onwards, these states had no experience with drainage regulation. They had to find their way by trial and error. In England this led to lawsuits and riots by commoners that ruined several drainage schemes. The decentralized nature of the Dutch state turned out to be an advantage. Dutch politicians and entrepreneurs were used to compromises, and solutions could be adapted to local circumstances. In more centralized England and France this was more difficult to achieve. The Dutch also profited from the fact that territorial lords had already abolished common rights of usage in the coastal provinces in the late middle ages, thus removing an important source of conflict.

© Economic History Society 2014

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