The company archive of the textile firm Bethune & Fils in Kortrijk, ca. 1750-1800

The BETHUNE database is based on the archive of the trading company Bethune & Fils and contains data on the company's accounting as well as the almost complete bilateral correspondence of the company during the growth phase in the Ancien Regime and the crisis years after the French Revolution, in particular the period 1750-1800.


Title: The company archive of the textile firm Bethune & Fils

Author: Dr. Annik Adriaenssens

Population/Subject: Textile trade

Region: Europe

Period: 1750-1800

Number of units: 25 000

Number of variables: 1 300

Format: CSV, XLS, PDF

Accessibility: No restrictions on top of the general terms and conditions of use of the Quetelet Center.

Context of the database

The BETHUNE database was compiled by Annik Adriaenssens as part of her doctoral research “Van laken tot linnen: de textielhandel Bethune & Fils, tweede helft achttiende eeuw. Een analyse op basis van het bedrijfsarchief” (“From cloth to linen: the textile firm Bethune & Fils, second half of the eighteenth century. An analysis based on the company archive”, supervisor Professor Dr. Isabelle Devos).

The Bethune & Fils archive – although a rarity in Western Europe – had never been thoroughly analysed before. Adriaenssens’ research proved to be particularly informative in numerous areas because the company sold all kinds of fabrics to a local clientele when it started up as a retailer, but then switched to the exclusive wholesale of linen to foreign traders around 1768.

The BETHUNE database therefore provides insight into many different aspects relating to the trade in textile goods in the 18th century. The database contains information about purchases and sales, local and international suppliers and customers, the annual turnover, debt, and further background information.

The database is useful for researchers who want to study the textile trade and industry in the second half of the 18th century in a broader socio-economic context. The database also contains a wealth of practical and technical information on the textile trade at the time. Moreover, it provides information about how merchant capitalists became modern entrepreneurs and the challenges they had to overcome in the process. What were their motives? How did they actually work? And how did they manage to build up a successful trade despite the limitations that were specific to their time?

What information can you find in this database?

The BETHUNE database is based on the archive of Bethune & Fils. Since the firm initially sold a wide range of fabrics, the database is full of data on woollen cloth and mixed fabrics, some obtained domestically but mainly imported from abroad.

The preserved accounts contain purchase and sales registers, daily transaction books, journals and ledgers, which provide insight into the types of fabric that were obtained, as well as the quantities that were sold by type. The database lists the prices of the fabrics and contains information about what it cost to import items and to transport them by land or sea to Kortrijk from the different suppliers. The overview of the suppliers and customers gives a picture of the company profile, including the debt that was associated with a local retail public.

The database contains even more extensive data relating to the linen trade, since this was a regional product which was purchased from hundreds of producers on the various linen markets in West Flanders and East Flanders. The purchase registers are so detailed that we know the lengths and widths of the woven toiles, how much they cost and what customers paid for bleaching, finishing and packaging.

The purchase registers and the sales records, the latter preserved in their entirety, tell us how many pieces of linen were sold each year. Coupled with the background information from the correspondence, it is also possible to estimate how many pieces of linen the firm smuggled into France.

The database contains overviews of the linen customers, who mainly came from France and Spain, by company, by city and by period. As a result, the evolution of the Bethune & Fils customer base clearly emerges.

A complete overview of the database, which consists of two components, has been included as an Appendix in Adriaenssens, Annik. “Van laken tot linnen.” (“From cloth to linen.”) Unpublished doctoral dissertation, Ghent University, 2016, pp. 1293-1294.

1. The first component relates to the accounting records from the various registers. They are divided into two parts according to the two business sectors and therefore concern the trade in woollen goods on the one hand and the linen trade on the other.

Trade in woollen goods

This part of the database contains summaries of:

  • Purchases in general

  • Purchases per year

  • Purchases by correspondent

  • Purchases by type of fabric

  • Turnover realised based on purchases

  • Known sales, purchase prices and transport costs
Customers of woollen goods, with a listing of the payment plans that they followed

Linen trade

For the linen trade, there are summaries of

  • Purchases of linen

  • Suppliers by municipality

  • The type of bleaching that was performed
The sale of linen, with summaries per year and by region

  • The length of the pieces

  • Linen prices

  • Prices for bleaching

  • Turnover realised for linen

  • An estimate of the number of pieces smuggled into France

  • Linen customers listed chronologically

  • Linen customers listed alphabetically

  • Linen customers by city

  • Linen customers by period

  • Linen customers by company

  • Female linen customers

With regard to transport, the database gives the known transport agents and drivers who worked for Bethune.

Finally, the balance sheet of the mountain of debt that the company faced after the outbreak of the French Revolution has also been drawn up.

2. The second component contains descriptive lists of documents, known as calendars, of the tens of thousands of letters in the trading records. Both the incoming and outgoing letters are compiled thematically by correspondent.

How can you consult data from the database?

The BETHUNE database is managed by the Quetelet Center. Those who are interested in using information from this database should submit a reasoned request to the Quetelet Center (

Publications based on BETHUNE

  • Adriaenssens, Annik. “Van laken tot linnen: de textielhandel Bethune & Fils, tweede helft achttiende eeuw. Een analyse op basis van het bedrijfsarchief” (“From cloth to linen: the textile firm Bethune & Fils, second half of the eighteenth century. An analysis based on the company archive”). Doctoral dissertation, Ghent University, 2016.
  • Coessens, Ine, and Wim Heirman, “Statistische steekproefmethodes: Een handleiding tot statistisch verantwoorde selectie”. In Handboek Archiefbeheer in de praktijk (“Statistical sampling methods: A guide to statistically sound selection”. In Handbook for Archive Management in Practice) 102 (Dec. 2017): 1-44.