Although unlimited maritime access was advantageous, medieval seaports and port cities were often incorporated into serving a capital city’s economy by providing merchants with a transport system. Consequently, these outports had a subaltern relationship with that city, as well as tenuous relations of competition and cooperation with neighbouring outports. This article focuses on the hierarchical relations underpinning the subaltern status of Hoeke, one of the smallest cities in the medieval County of Flanders and a minor hub in the portuarysystem in the Zwin. This city is used as a case study through which to explore the paradox of maritime access and development. The research indicates that arguments of geography are insufficient to explain the development of these portuary systems, utilizing new insights fromrecent historical research and other academic disciplines. I will demonstrate that Hoeke’s retreat from the waterfront put an end to the paradox of maritime access, resulting in the transformation of the hierarchy in its relations with the capital city.