A heerlijkheid (a Dutch word; pl. heerlijkheden; also called heerschap; Latin: Dominium) was a landed estate that served as the lowest administrative and judicial unit in rural areas in the Dutch-speaking Low Countries before 1800. It originated as a unit of lordship under the feudal system during the Middle Ages. The English equivalents are manor, seigniory, and lordship. The heerlijkheid system was the Dutch version of manorialism that prevailed in the Low Countries and was the precursor to the modern municipality system in the Netherlands and Flemish Belgium.
A typical heerlijkheid manor consisted of a village and the surrounding lands extending out for a kilometre or so. Taking 18th-century Wassenaar as an example of a large hoge heerlijkheid, it was 3,612 morgens in size and had 297 houses. Nearby Voorschoten was 1,538 morgens in size and had 201 houses. Nootdorp was an ambachtsheerlijkheid of 196 morgens and 58 houses. There were 517 heerlijkheden in the province of Holland in the 18th century. All fell into the last three categories in the list below (except for a few for which this information is unknown).
Not all heerlijkheden were the same. They differed in size and composition. Also, a heerlijkheid should not be confused with a larger territory, like a county (graafschap) or viscounty (burggraafschap), nor with administrative regions on par with an English shire, Dutch gouw, German Gau, or Roman or Carolingian pagus. A Flemish castellany (kasselrij or burggraafschap) was larger and different from a heerlijkheid, but they were similar in some ways.
There were different kinds of heerlijkheid:
The central figure was the lord of the heerlijkheid and effectively its owner—the manorial lord or lady. In Dutch, the lord was called heer and the lady vrouw(e). The lord was also referred to by the Latin word dominus. A rarer English alternative is seigneur. There were different kinds of lord and lady:
Under the feudal system, a manorial lord typically was himself the vassal of a higher-ranking tenant-in-chief, usually a highborn noble, who was in turn the crown vassal of the king or emperor. However, sometimes there was no mesne tenancy (tussenliggende heerschappij), as was the case with knight's fees held in capite (rijksonmiddellijke heerlijkheid). The heerlijkheid was ruled directly by a count (graaf), a viscount (burggraaf) or a baron (baron). Also, it was not uncommon for the lord to be ecclesiastical, e.g. a prince-bishop (prins-bisschop) or prince-abbot (vorst-abt).
Originally, heerlijkheden were held exclusively by the nobility. However, starting around the 16th century, lordship over a heerlijkheid was not synonymous with nobility. A heerlijkheid could be bought and sold. Many ended up in the hands of wealthy merchants and a political class known as the regents.
In addition, many were bought by boroughs (burghs). In the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries, it was not unusual for a borough to purchase the heerlijkheden around it in order to gain control and ownership of the surrounding land and the resulting economic advantages. Boroughs were themselves not part of the manorial system: the countryside and villages were governed by lords, whereas boroughs were self-governing.
The heerlijkheden came into being as a result of the feudal system, in particular the sovereign's delegated judicial prerogative. The crown, as lord paramount, granted the right to govern and to exercise judicial authority to a crown vassal, often a confidante or as a reward for military service or political support. The crown vassal—e.g. a count (graaf) or duke (hertog)—thus exercised all or part of the sovereign's royal authority. In turn the crown vassal granted rights to the mesne lords of the heerlijkheden.
Because a fief (leen) originated out of a bond between vassal and lord for military service, vassalage (Dutch manschap) was personal not heritable. With the advent of professional armies, the vassalage bond fell into disuse or was replaced by scutage; however, vassalage remained personal. One of the consequences of this was that, on the death of the vassal (leenman or vazal), the fief escheated to the lord (leenheer). The vassal's heir was able to retain the heerlijkheid through the commendation ceremony (leenhulde), the process of paying homage and swearing fealty officiated at the head manor court (souveraine leenhof or leenkammer). The new vassal made a symbolic payment (leenverhef) to his lord. The same ceremony was held when a heerlijkheid manor was sold. If there was no direct descendant, other blood relatives could exercise their right of laudatio parentum (Du naderschap), which grants them a right of first refusal and explains how heerlijkheden were able to be kept in the same families for centuries.
The tenancy of a heerlijkheid is not to be confused with land ownership. It was an estate in land, not land per se. Although lords of the manor generally owned property within a heerlijkheid (often substantial amounts), it was possible for a lord not to own any property at all within his own heerlijkheid. Also, when agricultural land was held by a lord in the Low Countries, the amount held was smaller in comparison to other countries.
Lordship conferred a set of manorial rights. The word heerlijkheid denotes an estate in which these limited rights were held and could be exercised. The rights exercised varied widely, and were more extensive and survived longer in the eastern provinces. A manorial lord was able to function as a minor potentate within "his" heerlijkheid. However, his manorial rights were limited and subject to numerous restrictions. The lord was required to conduct himself in accordance with local customary law.
A lord was entitled to receive feudal incidents in the form of rents, levies, and other payments from various financial and property rights associated with a heerlijkheid:
Originally heerlijkheden were in the hands of the nobility. Much of the wealth of a noble family came from their ownership. Many members of the nobiilty were heavily dependent on this source of power, income and status. Because the surnames of noble families were often derived from a heerlijkheid (e.g. "van Wassenaer"), it was important for the prestige of the family to maintain ownership over it. However, the economic benefits of a heerlijkheid were not always certain, finances were not always well arranged, and some nobles were poor.
In the province of Holland, possession of a heerlijkheid was a prerequisite for admission to the ridderschap (literally, the "knighthood"), the college of nobles that represented rural areas in the States of Holland. A seat in the ridderschap provided access to various financially interesting honorary positions and offices.
It was not unusual for a noble to amass a number of heerlijkheden. Queen Beatrix is a modern-day example of a noblewoman who holds the titles to many heerlijkheden. In addition to her primary titles, she is the Erfvrouwe and Vrijvrouwe of Ameland and the Vrouwe of Baarn, Besançon, Borculo, Bredevoort, Bütgenbach, Daasburg, Geertruidenberg, Heiloo, Upper and Lower Zwaluwe, Klundert, Lichtenvoorde, Loo, Montfort, Naaldwijk, Niervaart, Polanen, Steenbergen, Sint Maartensdijk, Sint Vith, Soest, Ter Eem, Turnhout, Willemstad and Zevenbergen.
Starting around 1500, nobles began selling the rights to heerlijkheden to non-nobles; however, losing a heerlijkheid did not result in loss of noble status. The nobility were recognised by all as having a special status not attached to wealth or ownership of a heerlijkheid.
In the southern provinces (modern-day Belgium) the financial character of a heerlijkheid was accentuated by the Royal Edict of 8 May 1664. From then on, a noble title was granted only if the following minimum payment was obtained from the income of the feudal estate.
In the southern provinces, this edict ensured the financial stability of the most prominent heerlijkheden and resulted in the rise of a new nobility based on wealth.
Starting around the 16th century, lordship over a heerlijkheid was not synonymous with nobility. A heerlijkheid could be bought and sold. Many ended up in the hands of wealthy merchants and a small and exclusive political class known as the regents. In all the provinces the military obligations associated with a fief gradually died out so that by the 16th and 17th centuries the heerlijkheid was increasingly seen by non-nobles as a status symbol.
Successful merchants and regents from the large towns saw the heerlijkheid as a country residence and a means of giving the appearance of noble status. It often came with large tracts of land and a castle or manor house. In noble fashion, they then added the name of their heerlijkheid to their own surname, resulting in surnames like Deutz van Assendelft, Six van Oterleek, Pompe van Meerdervoort and Beelaerts van Blokland). (The word "van" in the surname meant "of". However, very few Dutch surnames with "van" have their origins in the ownership of a heerlijkheid.) They became what J.L. Price refers to as a "quasi-nobility". A heerlijkheid was also a source of income and an investment, but they were usually acquired for other reasons.
In the Netherlands, acquiring the rights to heerlijkheden did not confer noble status. The regent families who purchased heerlijkheden were not a true nobility, but by the early 19th century the ranks of the nobility had become so depleted that the Dutch king elevated certain members of the former regent class to noble status.)
In the southern provinces (modern-day Belgium) heerlijkheden and the associated rights were abolished after the French invasion of 1795. In the northern provinces (modern-day Netherlands) they were declared abolished around the same time as part of the inauguration of the Batavian Republic. This was formalised in the 1798 Batavian Constitution (Bataafsche Staatsregeling). A distinction was made between the feudal rights of appointment and patronage, which were completely abolished, and the income-related rights, which were more complicated. Some of these were feudal in nature and abolished. Others were similar to contractual or property rights and therefore their loss was compensable. Lordly claims for reparations flooded in. Some heerlijkheid rights were maintained or later restored as property rights and still exist today.
The overwhelming majority of the remaining rights disappeared in Belgium on the introduction of the 1830 constitution and in the Netherlands with the 1848 constitutional amendments. Most of the administrative functions of a heerlijkheid were transferred to the municipality and fell under the new Municipality Act (Gemeentewet). Responsibility for the manor courts and judicial system were taken over by the national government.
After this, the use of the title "Lord of..." is based on the ownership of the remaining non-abolished rights. To this day there are people in the Netherlands who use the title "Lord of...". Unlike in the U.K., there is no trade today in ‘lord of the manor’ titles.
What remains of the heerlijkheid system are many of the manors and castles. Most of them are now parts of estates, museums, parks, hotels, etc. Since the last heerlijkheid was seen over 200 years ago, many of the manor houses and castles have been rebuilt, or have been fully or partially demolished.
A sign erected at the remaining parts of the Slot Heemstede (now in a park) describes what happened to this particular manor. The history and fate of this manor are typical:
Achthoven is a hamlet in the Dutch province of Utrecht. It is a part of the municipality of Vijfheerenlanden, and lies about 7 km south of IJsselstein.
The hamlet is located in the Polder Achthoven, on the dike of the river Lek. The statistical area "Achthoven", which includes the entire polder, has a population of around 260.Achthoven used to be a separate "heerlijkheid" (manor). Until 2019 it was a part of the province of South Holland.Achttienhoven, Utrecht
Achttienhoven is a former hamlet in the municipality of De Bilt, in the Netherlands. It is now considered to be part of the village of Westbroek.
Achttienhoven used to be a heerlijkheid (manor), until it became part of Westbroek in 1812. From 1818 to 1954, Achttienhoven was a separate municipality again. It then merged with Westbroek, which in its turn was annexed by Maartensdijk in 1957.According to the 19th-century historian A.J. van der Aa, the village used to be called "Everckesdorp". The name "Achttienhoven" means "Eighteen Farms".Bleskensgraaf
Bleskensgraaf is a town in the Dutch province of South Holland. It is a part of the municipality of Molenwaard, and lies about 10 km northeast of Dordrecht. It has an area of 1272 hectares. On 1 January 2009 Bleskensgraaf and Hofwegen had 2797 inhabitants in 936 residences.Until 1855, Bleskensgraaf was a separate municipality. In 1855 the heerlijkheid or seigniory Bleskensgraaf and the heerlijkheid or seigniory 'Hofwegen' merged into one municipality named 'Bleskensgraaf and Hofwegen'. In 1986 it became the new municipality Graafstroom together with 6 adjacent towns. The town hall of Graafstroom was located in Bleskensgraaf. Since 2013 Graafstroom has been part of Molenwaard.
The town got its name because of the landlord (count) "Willem van Blassekijn". Over the years the name Blassekijnsgraeve changed into Bleskensgraaf.
On letters it often says "Bleskensgraaf CA". CA stands for the Latin phrase 'cum annexis' which means 'with surroundings'.
The centre of Bleskensgraaf is made up out of new buildings. The old centre was bombarded during the Second World War at 06:25 on 12 May 1940. Seven people died and forty houses were destroyed. The town hall was leveled and the church sustained irreparable damage. The reconstruction was fast and took a couple of years. In September 1948 the new church officially opened and the new town hall opened on 12 May 1955.
Old buildings that remain are a couple of windmills: the flour mill 'Molen de Vriendschap' (Friendship Mill) built in 1890 and two Hollow post mills, named the 'Hofwegense Molen' and the 'Wingerdse Molen' built in 1513, and many old farmhouses.Boekel
Boekel (pronunciation ) is a municipality and a town in the southern Netherlands.De Hooge Heerlijkheid
De Hooge Heerlijkheid is a restaurant in Middelharnis, Netherlands. It was a fine dining restaurant that was awarded one Michelin star in the periods 1975-1992 and 1995-1996.Owner and then head chef John Kern was one of the founders of Les Patrons Cuisiniers.John and Wieke Kern founded the restaurant in 1969. They developed the restaurant from a pancake-restaurant to a Michelin starred restaurant. Later his son Mark Kern took over the restaurant. In 2011, Mark Kern handed over the kitchen of De Hooge Heerlijkheid to Maurice Montero Lowes and started a fish shop and wholesale under the name "Poisson & Cuisine". The restaurant is now only open to groups.De Lek
De Lek was a heerlijkheid (manor) and municipality in the Netherlands, located in the province South-Holland. It is named after the Lek River.Fief of Purmerend, Purmerland and Ilpendam
The Free and high Fief of Purmerend, Purmerland and Ilpendam (Dutch: "vrije en hoge heerlijkheid") was a type of local jurisdiction with many rights.Free and high fief of Zuid-Polsbroek
The Free and high Fief of Zuid-Polsbroek (Dutch: "vrije en hoge heerlijkheid") was a semi-sovereign or 'free and high' fief, now part of Polsbroek in the Dutch province of Utrecht.Grobbendonk
Grobbendonk (Dutch pronunciation: [ˈɣrɔbə(n)dɔŋk]) is a municipality located in the Belgian province of Antwerp (Dutch: Antwerpen). The municipality comprises the towns of Bouwel and Grobbendonk proper. On January 1, 2006, Grobbendonk had a total population of 10,747. The total area is 28.36 km² which gives a population density of 379 inhabitants per km².
The official flag of Grobbendonk was adopted in 1989. In terms of heraldry, the flag is quartered, I and IV argent, three hills vert, a bird sable (specifically a raven), II and III gules three fleur-de-lis argent.Lordship of Baarsdorp
The Lordship of Baarsdorp is a (former) Dutch Lordship situated in the province of Zeeland, in the Netherlands.Lordship of Groningen
The Lordship of Groningen (Dutch: Heerlijkheid Groningen) was a lordship under the rule of the House of Habsburg between 1536 and 1594, which is the present-day province of Groningen.Lordship of Mechelen
The Lordship of Mechelen was until 1795 a small independent Lordship in the Low Countries, consisting of the city of Mechelen and some surrounding villages.
In the early Middle Ages, it was part of the Prince-Bishopric of Liège, which was confirmed in 910. In practice, the area was ruled by the local Berthout family, against the will of the Prince-Bishops of Liège. The Duchy of Brabant tried to annex the Lordship, but as a reaction, Liège gave the area in 1333 to the County of Flanders. The Flemish also didn't gain complete and permanent control.
Mechelen was therefore later considered as one of the Seventeen Provinces and then as a province of the Southern Netherlands. The Dukes of Burgundy and later the Habsburg Emperors and Kings were personally Lords of Mechelen and for a while turned the city more or less into the capital of the Netherlands. They established here the highest jurisdictional court of the Seventeen Provinces, called the Great Council of Mechelen. Governess Margaret of Austria also held her Court at Mechelen. Later, the capital moved primarily to Brussels.
In 1795 the Lordship was abolished by the French revolutionaries and it became part of the French département of the Deux-Nèthes.
Today it is part of the Belgian province of Antwerp.Oud-Wulven
Oud-Wulven (52°03′N 5°09′E) is a hamlet in the Dutch province of Utrecht. It is located just north of the village of Houten, and is part of that municipality.
Oud-Wulven was originally a heerlijkheid (fiefdom). In 1545 it was combined with the neighbouring heerlijkheid Waaijen. "Oud-Wulven en Waaijen" remained a separate entity until 1811, when it merged into Houten. This didn't last long: in 1818 they were combined with the heerlijkheden Wulven, Heemstede, Grote Koppel, Kleine Koppel, Maarschalkerweerd, and Slagmaat to a single municipality called "Oud-Wulven.The municipality Oud-Wulven had an area of about 10.7 km2, and more than 250 inhabitants in the middle of the 19th century. The municipality was merged back with Houten on September 8, 1857.Nowadays, the hamlet of Oud-Wulven has approximately 170 inhabitants.Johannes Rothe was Lord of Oud-Wulven and Wayen in the Netherlands (1658–1671). He was a prophetic preacher and Fifth Monarchist. He married in 1660 in Goring House.Ravenstein, Netherlands
Ravenstein (population: 8,466) is a city and a former municipality in the south of the Netherlands, in the province of North Brabant. The former municipality covered an area of 42.68 km² (of which 0.96 km² water). In 2003 it was incorporated into the city of Oss.
Ravenstein also included the following towns, villages and townships: Demen, Dennenburg, Deursen, Dieden, Herpen, Huisseling, Keent, Koolwijk, Neerlangel, Neerloon, Overlangel. There is also a primary school called 'Ravenstein', in Flushing (Dutch: Vlissingen).
Ravenstein received city rights in 1380.
Dieden, Demen en Langel was a separate municipality until 1923, when it was merged with Ravenstein.Schonauwen
Schonauwen is a former castle in the Dutch province of Utrecht. It is located on the southern outskirts of the town of Houten, surrounded by new buildings.
Until the end of the 18th century, Schonauwen was a separate heerlijkheid (fiefdom). When the country was divided into municipalities by the French, Schonauwen was added to the municipality of Houten, but it became a separate municipality in 1818. In 1857 it was merged back into Houten.The heerlijkheid and municipality covered an area of about 6.8 km2, and had about 240 inhabitants in the middle of the 19th century.Vosselare
Vosselare is a submunicipality and parish of the community of Nevele, Belgium.Vrijhoef en Kalverbroek
Vrijhoef en Kalverbroek is a former heerlijkheid (manor) and municipality in the Dutch province of South Holland. It was located about 3 km east of the city of Gouda, in the current municipality of Reeuwijk. The area of the former municipality is now almost completely covered by the lakes of the Reeuwijksche Plassen.
According to the 19th-century historian A.J. van der Aa, the hamlets of Vrijhoef and Kalverbroek (or Kalverenbroek) originally were two separate small manors, but they were merged into one. The manor was property of the nearby city of Gouda between 1438 and 1848.Between 1811 and 1817, the heerlijkheid became part of the municipality of Stein; after that, it was a separate municipality until January 1, 1827, when it again was merged with Stein. In 1822, the municipality had 47 inhabitants; around the middle of the 19th century, this had fallen to 24 inhabitants (7 of which in Kalverbroek), in an area of 0.52 km2.Nowadays, most of the area is covered by two lakes: lake "Vrijhoef" and lake "Kalverbroek". Both lakes are much larger than the heerlijkheid they are named after.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.
Designations for types of administrative territorial entities
1 Used by ten or more countries or having derived terms. Historical derivations in italics.