Frisian freedom

Friese freedom or freedom of the Frisians (West Frisian Fryske frijheid; Dutch: Friese Vrijheid) was the absence of feudalism and serfdom in Frisia, the area that was originally inhabited by the Frisians. Historical Frisia included the modern provinces of Friesland and Groningen, and the area of West Friesland, in the Netherlands, and East Friesland in Germany. During the period of Frisian freedom the area did not have a sovereign lord who owned and administered the land. The freedom of the Frisians developed in the context of ongoing disputes over the rights of local nobility.

Friesische Seelande um 1300
Frisian lands


When, around 800, the Scandinavian Vikings first attacked Frisia, which was still under Carolingian rule, the Frisians were released from military service on foreign territory in order to be able to defend themselves against the heathen Vikings. With their victory in the Battle of Norditi in 884 they were able to drive the Vikings permanently out of East Frisia, although it remained under constant threat. Over the centuries, whilst feudal lords reigned in the rest of Europe, no aristocratic structures emerged in Frisia. This 'freedom' was represented abroad by redjeven who were elected from among the wealthier farmers or from elected representatives of the autonomous rural municipalities. Originally the redjeven were all judges, so-called Asega, who were appointed by the territorial lords.[1]

The killing of Arnulf, Count of Holland in 993 is the first sign of the Frisian freedom. This Frisian count was killed in a rebel attempt to compel obedience from his subjects. The murder of another Count Henri de Gras in 1101 is regarded as the de facto beginning of the Frisian freedom. This freedom was recognized by the Holy Roman Emperor William II on November 3, 1248. He did this after the Frisians aided in the siege of the city of Aachen. Later, Emperor Louis IV repealed these rights and granted Friesland to the Count of Holland. In 1417 the status of the Frisians was reaffirmed by Emperor Sigismund.

An alternative interpretation of the origins of the freedom states that it was granted in the Karelsprivilege by Charlemagne to Magnus Forteman, as a reward for the conquest of Rome. Various sources have reported the existence of the Karelsprivilege or Magnuskerren. The original has been lost, although according to some it was inscribed on a wall of a church, which could be either at Almenum, Ferwâld or Aldeboarn. In 1319, more than five hundred years after the death of Charlemagne, a copy was entered in the register of William III of Holland. Some historians consider the Karelsprivilege an invention from subsequent times and believe that all copies that have been found are forgeries.

Regardless of the origins of the Frisian freedom, from the tenth century to the beginning of the sixteenth century Frisia went through a unique period of development, almost entirely lacking the feudal structure introduced by Charlemagne.


The absence of a manorial authority meant that there existed no central administration. It also lacked any central legal or judicial system. In order to provide a systematic legal system, local leaders attempted to agree and apply rules to the entire region of Frisia. Legal and political delegates from various regions came to meetings at the Opstalboom in Aurich. Later those meetings were also held in Groningen.

In addition to the arrangements of the Opstalboom an attempt was tried to resort to the old law as it was recorded in the 17 and 24 Landrechten Keuren (landrights bylaws) Lex Frisionum. Even after a uniform legal system had been agreed on, the region's lack of central administration meant that there was no way to clarify the content of the law, and the enforcement of the law was left up to individual communities.

Grotepier TN
Statue of Pier Gerlofs Donia, a famous Frisian folk hero and freedom fighter under whom Frisian freedom quickly (and shortly) revived

Friesland had no Knighthood or Ridderschap. In Friesland, the feudal idea of nobility, which gave the right of control in the country, was deemed incompatible with the "Frisian freedom". The region also had no forced labour. Some "nobles" still had a major influence in the region due to their great land ownership. The right to vote in local matters was based on the ownership of land, in which a person owning one unit of land received the right to have one vote. This meant that men owning large areas of land could cast more votes. Voting men used their influence to choose a mayor from one of the thirty municipalities, who in turn represented all of Friesland. Each city had eleven votes.


Duke Albrecht III of Saxony

The conflicts between the Schieringers and Vetkopers contributed in a significant way to the end of the Frisian Freedom. The absence of an effective authority also contributed to the emergence of disputes.

The arguments made it attractive for outsiders to interfere in their dealing with Friesland, sometimes with an appeal to old rights. At the same time triggered by the lawlessness which resulted from this battle, was the call for a lord. At the time in Friesland the Schieringer Potestaat Juw Dekama called upon the help of Albert, Duke of Saxony. This period is described by Petrus Thaborita.

The Frisian freedom disappeared in the other Frisian areas at different times. In West Friesland the freedom ended earlier with the conquest by the counts of Holland.

In the Frisian region in Groningen, the power vacuum in the course of the 14th and 15th centuries was filled by the city of Groningen. The city agreed various treaties with its environs, which was for the establishment of a court which had jurisdiction to rule and to take appeals. By the power of the city it was also able to fulfill these statements to monitor. The city was also presented as a strongly Frisian town, and as a champion of the Frisian Freedom.

After seeing the power of Albert of Saxony in Friesland, the city was forced to seek aid from a foreign noble. After a short period in which Charles, Duke of Guelders was finally adopted as Lord, Charles V annexed the city and its region to his empire. Charles appealed to the old rights of the bishop of Utrecht.

In East Friesland the Frisian Freedom ended in the mid-fifteenth century with the rise of the house of Cirksena.

See also


  1. ^ Heinrich Schmidt: Politische Geschichte Ostfrieslands. 1975, p. 22 ff.


  • O. Vries, Het Heilige Roomse Rijk en de Friese Vrijheid (The Holy Roman Empire and the Frisian Freedom) (Leeuwarden 1986)
  • MP van Buijtenen, De grondslag van de Friese vrijheid (The basis of the Frisian freedom) (Assen 1953).
Balthasar Oomkens von Esens

Balthasar Oomkens von Esens (died 1540) was an East Frisian nobleman who died during the siege of his castle in Esens by the Bremen army. He was described by his partisans as the last true Frisian freedom fighter, although some decried his seemingly insatiable appetite for violence.

Batavian Revolution

The Batavian Revolution (Dutch: De Bataafse Revolutie) was a time of political, social and cultural turmoil at the end of the 18th century that marked the end of the Dutch Republic and saw the proclamation of the Batavian Republic. The period of Dutch history that followed the revolution is referred to as the "Batavian-French era" (1795–1813) even though the time spanned was only 20 years, of which three were under French occupation.


The Brokmerbrief or Law of Brokmerland is the early 13th-century law code of the brocmanni, the inhabitants of Brokmerland, west of Aurich in East Frisia. The area had been placed under cultivation and settled by the end of the 12th century. It survives in two manuscripts. The work is sometimes referred to as the Brookmerbrief, using the modern spelling of "Brookmerland".

The Brokmerbrief is the most complete source on Frisian law. It describes the polity and judicial system of a country whose law was based on the will of the assembled people (the 'Frisian freedom'): political and judicial power was in the hands of functionaries selected annually from the ranks of the farmers, who were known as redjeven (consuls, counsellors); their power in turn was regulated by the Brokmerbrief.

The period of independent rural self-rule came to an end by about the mid-14th century. However, unlike for example Emsigerland, Brokmerland remained a discrete unit, since the Brokmerbrief forbids the erection of fortified stone residences and castles and this had prevented the establishment of such starting points for localised rule. Thus feudalism, otherwise widespread throughout Europe at this time, remained unknown in East Frisia.

However, Emsig Law eventually prevailed in the area, probably as a result of the emergence of the tom Brok dynasty, but certainly by the time of Cirksena hegemony. In the early 16th century, Edzard I then based his East Frisian Law (German: Ostfriesisches Landrecht) on the Emsig Law.

The Brokmerbrief is unique among the documents of Old Frisian law in consisting of a code of law in the strict sense, rather than a compilation. It is preserved in two manuscripts, one of which is in the State Archives of Lower Saxony in Oldenburg and the other in the Lower Saxony State Library in Hanover.

The middle section of the text strongly resembles the Emsig law on fines, indicating a common source.The text is a valuable source of localised and dateable information on Old Frisian.

Burgundian Circle

The Burgundian Circle (German: Burgundischer Kreis, Dutch: Bourgondische Kreits, French: Cercle de Bourgogne) was an Imperial Circle of the Holy Roman Empire created in 1512 and significantly enlarged in 1548. In addition to the Free County of Burgundy (present-day administrative region of Franche-Comté), the Burgundian Circle roughly covered the Low Countries, i.e., the areas now known as the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg and adjacent parts in the French administrative region of Nord-Pas-de-Calais.

The circle's territorial scope was reduced considerably in the 17th century with the secession of the Seven United Provinces in 1581 (recognized 1648) and the annexation of the Free County of Burgundy by France in 1678. The occupation and subsequent annexation of Imperial territory to the west of the Rhine river by Revolutionary France in the 1790s effectively brought an end to the circle's existence.

Codex Roorda

The Codex Roorda is a Frisian manuscript dating from the Middle Ages.The Codex Roorda is a medieval manuscript with Latin and Old Frisian legal texts. There are different views on dating. This varies from 1480 to 1504. The Codex Roorda is important because it describes the medieval Frisian law that applied to the establishment of the central authority in Friesland. In addition, it is linguistically important because it is partly set up in Old Frisian. The Codex Roorda is owned by and is kept at Tresoar in Leeuwarden.

The origin of Codex Roorda is not clear. Probably they started making the book in 1480. Briquet dated the book on the basis of watermarks on 1495. [1] Renewed paper research has now led to a date around 1504. [2] Who has put the book together is unclear. The first owner was Karel van Roorda, mid-17th century grietman van Idaarderadeel and (also) member of the Provincial Executive. Because of his membership of a noble Frisian mainstream family, it is possible, but not certain, that the code was already family ownership for a century and a half.

Karel van Roorda († 1670) has given (or sold) the codex to Simon Abbes Gabbema (1628 - 1688), Landshistorial writer of the province of Friesland. After the establishment of the central authority by Duke Albrecht of Saxony in 1498, the centuries of Frisian Freedom had come to an end, a period in which the Frisians did not recognize any authority, liege or countryman except the emperor. Until that time they were free to organize their own jurisprudence and based this on age-old starting points. It should be clear that a historian like Gabbema had more in the 17th century than a grietman like Van Roorda.

There is a gap in the history of the Codex Roorda from the moment Gabbema held it until the next owner, Petrus Wierdsma (1729-1811). It is possible that Rev. Johannes van der Waeijen, the successor of Gabbema, has taken over the book as part of Gabbema's professional legacy. According to the Leeuwarden city historian Wopke Eekhoff in a lecture for the Frisian Society in 1854, it is unlikely that Petrus Wierdsma inherited the book: his father was a doctor and Peter was a notary / lawyer. [3] Eekhoff also knows that Peter Wierdsma has taken books and codices from the legacy of Werumeus, Halsema, Heringa and others, but whether the Codex Roorda was in between is not known.

Petrus Wierdsma studied and published about the old Frisian laws, and it is certain that he used the Codex Roorda, which he translated and compared with the legal texts from the codices Dousa and Emmius. [4]

After his death, the widow and son of Wierdsma sold the most important part of his library in an auction. They still kept manuscripts, such as the Codex Roorda. In 1858 these were also sold. The Codex Roorda came into the possession of the German Germanist, lawyer and professor Karl Freiherr von Richthofen

Eala Frya Fresena

Eala Frya Fresena is the motto for the coat of arms of East Frisia in northern Germany. The motto is often mistranslated as "Hail, free Frisians!", but it was the reversal of the feudal prostration and is better translated as "Stand up, free Frisians!". According to 16th century sources, it was spoken at the Upstalsboom in Aurich where Frisian judges meet on Pentecost and it is traditionally answered with Lever dood as Slaav, or in English, rather dead than slaves.

The motto refers to the legendary "Frisian freedom," a right to accept no rule besides the Holy Roman Emperor and the Christian God. The right was in the Middle Ages supposed to have been granted by Charlemagne for Frisian support of Pope Leo IV (who was not contemporary with Charlemagne). It was said to have been renewed by Charles the Fat in 885 for saving him from Normans. The Frisian freedom basically meant a claim of freedom from tax and fief, to defend themselves against the Normans, Vikings and the northern sea. Friesland offered unclaimed land for everyone, however the unclaimed land of the country was under water half of the day. The daily fight against the northern sea ensured equality of the people who were living on warfs during this time. Tax and fief was therefore replaced by the duty to build dikes.

East Frisian chieftains

The East Frisian chieftains (German: Häuptlinge, Low German: hovetlinge / hovedlinge) assumed positions of power in East Frisia during the course of the 14th century, after the force of the old, egalitarian constitution from the time of Frisian Freedom had markedly waned.

Focko Ukena

Focko Ukena (Neermoor, 1360 or 1370 – 1435) was an East Frisian chieftain (hovetling) who played an important part in the struggle between the Vetkopers and Schieringers in the provinces of Groningen and Friesland. Aside from this he was one of the leading figures in the resistance against the forts of stately authority in East-Frisia of the tom Brok family.


Friesland (Dutch pronunciation: [ˈfrislɑnt] (listen); official, West Frisian: Fryslân [ˈfrislɔːn] (listen)), also historically known as Frisia, is a province of the Netherlands located in the northern part of the country. It is situated west of Groningen, northwest of Drenthe and Overijssel, north of Flevoland, northeast of North Holland, and south of the Wadden Sea. In 2015, the province had a population of 646,092 and a total area of 5,100 km2 (2,000 sq mi).

The capital and seat of the provincial government is the city of Leeuwarden (West Frisian: Ljouwert), a city with 91,817 inhabitants. Since 2017, Arno Brok is the King's Commissioner in the province. A coalition of the Labour Party, the Christian Democratic Appeal, and the Frisian National Party forms the executive branch. The province is divided into 18 municipalities. The area of the province was once part of the ancient, larger region of Frisia. The official languages of Friesland are West Frisian and Dutch.


Frisia (West Frisian: Fryslân, Dutch and German: Friesland) is a coastal region along the southeastern corner of the North Sea in what today is mostly a large part of the Netherlands, including modern Friesland and smaller parts of northern Germany. Frisia is the traditional homeland of the Frisians, a Germanic people that speaks Frisian languages, which together with English and Scots form the Anglo-Frisian language group.

Great Frisian War

The Great Frisian War was an armed conflict in the 15th century. For nine years, between 1413 and 1422, there was war in the Seven Friesian countries (Friesland between Vlie and Weser). The war began in East Frisia due to a runaway feud between two major nobles Keno II tom Brok and Hisko Abdena. All major parties in Friesland chose a side and a civil war arose. The war was a mixed success for all parties involved. With the exception of the van Bronckhorsts in the city of Groningen, no party achieved lasting benefits. At the end of the war end of Frisian freedom almost happened as the result of a foreign ruler, John of Bavaria who was asked for help, after power himself to conquer Friesland. However, his Dutch troops were driven out again after a short time. On February 1, 1422 all parties came to Groningen to make peace. Frisian freedom finally ended in 1498.


Karelsprivilege is a legendary privilege that Charlemagne allegedly paid to the Frisians led by Magnus Forteman to thank them for the support that was given to his attack on Rome. Since the 13th century, the Frisians regularly mentioned Karelsprivilege in legal and historical works. The authenticity of the privilege has been heavily contested, especially after the Middle Ages. The privilege formed the basis of the so-called Frisian freedom. It was recognized as genuine by a number of Holy Roman emperors. An affirmation and recognition of the privilege was given by Emperor Conrad II in 1039.

The original has been lost. According to tradition it was inscribed on the wall of a church, which could be the church of Almenum, Ferwoude or Oldeboorn. Copies were made and circulated during the Middle Ages. Some or all of these copies were likely forgeries.

In the Middle Ages, only the original, and undamaged sealing wax impressions, were accepted as valid. Forged documents were common, and a well-organized archive of treaty documents that could serve as a reference did not exist. Medieval literature mentioned a link between the Frisian eagle as a heraldic charge in coats of arms and the Karelsprivilege. This is unclear because in the time of Charlemagne there were no family or regional coat of arms existing, but it could have been used as a banner in that period.

Other names used for this charter are: Magnuskerren, Friezenprivilege, Vrijheidsprivilege, Libertas Frisonica or Previlegii Frisiorum Caroli Magni.

List of Frisian battles

This is a list of battles and wars of Frisia or Friesland.

The historical context is as follows:

600-734 Frisian Dukes

734-1156 Frankish rule

1156-1498 time of Frisian freedom

1498-1744 rule by dukes and Stadtholders.

Lordship of Frisia

The Lordship of Frisia or Lordship of Friesland (West Frisian: Hearlikheid Fryslân, Dutch: Heerlijkheid Friesland) was a feudal dominion in the Netherlands. It was formed in 1524 when Emperor Charles V finally conquered Frisia.

Lower Lorraine

The Duchy of Lower Lorraine, or Lower Lotharingia (also referred to as Lothier or Lottier in titles), was a stem duchy established in 959, of the medieval Kingdom of Germany, which encompassed almost all of the modern Netherlands (including Friesland), central and eastern Belgium, Luxemburg, the northern part of the German Rhineland province and the eastern parts of France's Nord-Pas de Calais region.

Petrus Thaborita

Petrus Jacobi Thaborita (Latinised name form of Peter Jacobusz van Bolsward) (Bolsward, 1450–1527) was a Frisian monk, historian and writer. He is best known for his writings on the Frisian freedom fighter Pier Gerlofs Donia, and for writing down Donia's last words. In the extended works by Thaborita van Bolsward is found information on the Frisian chieftains warlords Jancko Douwama and Haring Harinxma (the Donia ancestor).

Dutch writer Conrad Busken Huet used many of Thaborita's descriptions of historical figures in later books. He also translated the description of Donia. Thaborita joined the monastery at an advanced age, as a widower with two sons. Petrus also dedicated a chapter in one of his books to Donia:About the death of Greate Pier, Pier Gerlofs Donia:

"In dat selue iaer van 20 soe is ghestoruen groet Pyer, op Sinte Lucas nacht. Van deese Pier was grote spraeck in Hollant, in Brabant ende in ander landen, van sin grote stercheit ende gruwelicheit, ende van sin grote oghen; ende sy maectent groter dant was; mer noch tans wasset een groet, swaert, man mit grote oghen, grote schouwer ende een groten baert, ende gruweliken van aensyen, sonderlingh als hy toernich was; ende hy was grof ende plompt van spraeck ende wesen; want hy en conste nyet bequam spreken voert recht ofte voer heeren; mer mit sin groue Fryesche slaghen quaem hy mede vort, ende dat ghyngh hem alsoe plomp of, dat alle menschen, die daer by stonden, worden beweghen tot lachgen; ende hy was froem ende fel op die vianden, mer hy was redelyk van herten als een Kersten man."

English translation:

"In the very same year of 1520, on Saint Lucas night, Grutte Pier died. Of this Pier in Holland, in Brabant and other countries tales went around about his strength and his brutality and about his large eyes. And they made it bigger than it was. Yet he was a big, heavy man, with big eyes, broad shoulders and a big beard and terrible of appearance especially when he was angry. And he was rude and unarticulated of speech and manners. Because he wasn't able to speak properly in court or in front of lords. He often made jokes, so that all the people standing around, were made to laugh. He had killed many enemies, but he had a rather good character, as if he were a good Christian."

Anton Reinhard Falck was the owner of the original documents, he lent these to the researchers Visser and Amersfoordt.

Province of Brabant

The Province of Brabant was a province in Belgium from 1830 to 1995. It was created in 1815 as South Brabant, part of the United Kingdom of the Netherlands. In 1995, it was split into the Dutch-speaking Flemish Brabant, the French-speaking Walloon Brabant and the bilingual Brussels-Capital Region.

Vetkopers and Schieringers

The Vetkopers and Schieringers were two opposing Frisian factional parties from the medieval period. They were responsible for a bloody civil war that lasted for over a century (1350–1498) and which eventually led to the end of the highly praised "Frisian freedom".

These factional parties arose because of an economic downturn that began in Friesland in the mid-14th century. Accompanied by a decline in monasteries and other communal institutions, social discord led to the emergence of untitled nobles called haadlingen ("headmen"), wealthy landowners possessing large tracts of land and fortified homes. The haadlingen derived their nobility not from having lands and titles conferred on them by King or Emperor but assumed power after the demise of the Hollandic counts before them.The haadlingen took over the role of the judiciary as well offering protection to their local inhabitants. Internal struggles between regional leaders resulted in bloody conflicts and the alignment of regions along two opposing parties: the Skieringers and the Fetkeaper.

Worp van Thabor attributed the cause to a dispute between lay brothers of the Cistercian and Norbertine (Premonstratensian) orders.

A contemporary, Frisian freedom fighter Jancko Douwama (1482–1533), wrote in his memoirs, titled the Boeck der Partijen ("Book of the Parties") about the origins of the discord between the warring parties in Friesland and his definition of the terms Skieringers and Fetkeapers. According to Jancko the Fetkopers ("fat-buyers", pronounced [fɛtkɔpərs]) were so called because they had much and could buy fat products. The poor adopted the name Skieringers ("speakers", pronounced [skiːrɪŋərs]) because they had tried firstly discussion rather than violence.In the second half of the fifteenth century the Fetkeaper town of Groningen, which had become the dominating force in Frisia, tried to interfere in Mid-Frisian affairs. The meddling met strong opposition in Skieringer held Westergo and ended in a call for foreign help.

On 21 March 1498, a small group of Skieringers from Westergo secretly met with the stadholder-general of the Netherlands, Albert, Duke of Saxony in Medemblik requesting his help. Albrecht, who had gained a reputation as a formidable military commander, accepted and soon conquered all Friesland. Emperor Maximilian of Habsburg appointed Albrecht hereditary potestate and gubernator of Friesland in 1499.Within a short time, occupation by the Duke and his Landsknecht military force became unacceptable to many Frisians of both factions and with the support of the Duke of Gelderland, they unsuccessfully attempted to regain their old freedoms and put an end to the de-Friesing of Friesland.

Saxon subjugation ended Frisian municipal independence. Although still spoken at the time, the Frisian language did not have any official status. Frisian would disappear from the official written record; the last official document recorded in Frisian was in 1573.

Frisian was replaced by Dutch and would not return until about 1800.

Zutphen County

The County of Zutphen, located in modern-day Gelderland, a province of the Netherlands, was formed in the eleventh century as a fief of the Bishop of Utrecht. It was ruled by the Counts of Zutphen between 1018 and 1182, and then formed a personal union with Guelders. Later, it became one of the 4 quarters of Guelders. The name Graafschap (county) is still used for the Achterhoek, the region east of Zutphen, and for the football club De Graafschap from this region.

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