‘Behaviour and Morality have Remained Irreproachable, and his Commercial Reputation is Good’

Applying for Naturalisation in Late-Nineteenth-Century Antwerp and Rotterdam


  • Christina Reimann Södertörn University




port cities, naturalisation, nationality, citizenship, local belonging, migration


In the late nineteenth century, with the expansion of their harbours and the growth of transatlantic mobility, the port cities of Antwerp and Rotterdam became home to economically important and large migrant communities. In a context marked by the often-claimed rise of the nation state, when national legislation concerning nationality and citizenship was shifting, local authorities and citizens played an important but still underestimated role when it came to enforcing the naturalisation of foreign nationals. Applications for naturalisation in both Antwerp and Rotterdam were firmly rooted in the local context, and economic performance was key to the police commissar’s support of an applicant’s case towards the national authorities. By comparatively analysing individual applications for naturalisation in Antwerp and Rotterdam, this paper argues that the close relationship between the nation-state and the mechanisms of legal inclusion and exclusion on which it rested, has to be relativised.

Aan het eind van de negentiende eeuw werden de steden Antwerpen en Rotterdam, dankzij de uitbreiding van hun havens en de groei van de trans-Atlantische mobiliteit, de thuisbasis van grote en economisch belangrijke migrantengemeenschappen. In een periode die in de historiografie vaak gekenmerkt wordt door de veronderstelde opkomst van de natiestaat en veranderende wetgeving omtrent nationaliteit en burgerschap, speelden lokale overheden en burgers een belangrijke, maar nog vaak onderschatte rol bij het bewerkstelligen van naturalisatie van mensen met een migratieachtergrond. Zowel in Antwerpen als in Rotterdam waren naturalisatieverzoeken duidelijk gesitueerd in de lokale context van de aanvrager. Zo was het economische succes van een aanvrager een doorslaggevende factor voor het verkrijgen van steun van de politiecommissaris. Deze steun vergrootte de kans van slagen van een naturalisatieaanvraag bij de nationale overheid. Aan de hand van een vergelijkend onderzoek naar individuele naturalisatieaanvragen in Antwerpen en Rotterdam, stelt dit artikel dat de hechte relatie tussen de natiestaat en de mechanismen van wettelijke in- en uitsluiting waarop die berust, moet worden gerelativeerd.

Current events paragraph

Nationality for sale?
Applications for naturalisation in late-nineteenth century Antwerp and Rotterdam

In October 2020, the Maltese legislator made it possible for non-EU citizens to purchase citizenship for 650.000 Euro. Malta is not the only EU member state having citizenship on sale: in 2013, Cyprus made its citizenship and thereby legal access to the Schengen-area available for 3 million Euro. Suspiciously observed by the European Commission, the citizenship commerce remains a controversial means to polish state budgets robbed by the 2008 financial crisis. Yet, financial and economic interests as driving forces behind the naturalisation of foreign nationals is not a recent phenomenon. It was present with similar appearance in late-nineteenth century Antwerp and Rotterdam, at a time when the nation state as an ideal, supposedly, was at its heyday. As the article by Christina Reimann in BMGN 136:3 demonstrates, local authorities had a say in the national naturalisation procedures. As local, often port-related interests – and not merely ideals of national belonging – were involved, conducting successful business in the port was a good reason to be optimistic about one’s application for naturalisation.


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Author Biography

Christina Reimann, Södertörn University

Christina Reimann is a historian specialised in modern European transnational history. Her research deals with cultural legal history, the history of migration, port cities, and urban pleasure culture. Since 2019, she is a post-doc researcher at the Universities of Stockholm and Södertörn (Stockholm) and affiliated to two collective research projects, the HERA-funded project ‘Pleasurescapes. Port cities’ transnational forces of integration’ and the project ‘Baltic Hospitality. Receiving and rejecting strangers on the Baltic rim (1000-1900)’ funded by the Swedish Foundation for Baltic and East European Studies. Recent key publications are Christina Reimann and Martin Öhman (eds.), Migrants and the Making of the Urban-Maritime World: Agency and Mobility in Port Cities, c. 1570- 1940. Routledge Advances in Urban History (New York 2020), and ‘People on Lists in Port Cities: Administrative Migration Control in Antwerp and Rotterdam (c. 1880-1914)’, Journal of Migration History 6:2 (2020) 182-208. doi: https://doi.org/10.1163/23519924- 00602002. E-mail: christina.reimann@sh.se.




How to Cite

Reimann, C. (2021). ‘Behaviour and Morality have Remained Irreproachable, and his Commercial Reputation is Good’: Applying for Naturalisation in Late-Nineteenth-Century Antwerp and Rotterdam. BMGN - Low Countries Historical Review, 136(3), 3–30. https://doi.org/10.51769/bmgn-lchr.6999