Category Archives: Landscapes

A wood in the polder

When I visited Delft this summer it was years ago I bicycled to the nearby tiny village ‘t Woudt, which means literally “The Wood”. However, ‘t Woudt is situated in the polders to the west of Delft, and you will not detect any wood in my pictures.

't Woudt near Delft

In fact I would have dearly liked to take more photographs on one of the few sunny afternoons of this summer, but the battery of my camera got empty. The tiny village, a hamlet is a more apt word, is dominated by the imposing medieval church. The buildings in ‘t Woudt are rightly classified as monuments.

The church of 't Woudt

The church looks rather formidable because its tower has been inclosed by the extended side-aisles. I added on purpose the detail that I took a bicycle to reach ‘t Woudt, because the road to Wateringen behind the church is not open to cars. The N223 road from Delft to De Lier and other villages has an exit for ‘t Woudt, but you can drive only the few hundred meters to this lovely spot, within two kilometers of the A4 highway connecting The Hague to Delft.

Stories to tell

For weeks I have been thinking what kind of story is behind ‘t Woudt. The first story is partially a story of onomastics, the auxiliary discipline that deals with the etymology of names. Toponymy is the study of place names. ‘t Woudt is now a part of the municipality Midden-Delfland. Originally it belonged to the manor Hof van Delft, literally “Garden of Delft” or “Court of Delft”, for the most part now a neighbourhood of Delft itself.

To the south-west of Delft is another place name with a wood in its name, Abtswoude. Toponymical studies have shown this name was formed by an act of popular etymology. The medieval name was Popta’s Woude, “The Wood of Popta”. In the nineteenth century this name had been transformed to Papswouw. People thought this place name meant “the wood of a priest”. In a funny way they decided to upgrade the place name to Abtswoude, “Abbot’s Wood”, because of the popular belief in the existence of a monastery on this spot in medieval times.

Now it is very difficult to imagine actual woods in a classic Dutch polder. In this fen country a wood can hardly exist. Perhaps to add to the confusion about Abtswoude, and to create a new chapter in Dutch landscape planning, a land art project near Abtswoude was started in the late twentieth century in the form of a wood surrounding a hill of only five meters. The wood is called the Abtswoudse Bos, and the core of the project is even called Moeder Aarde, “Mother Earth”. The whole area of just 190 hectare is situated on the outskirts of Delft.

The A4 and the Raad van State

The A4 road reaches from The Hague Delft only to stop in the midst of the polder. After decades of discussions, protests and several juridical procedures at the judiciary branch of the Raad van State, the highest advisory council of the Dutch government, on July 6, 2011, it was finally decided to build the missing six kilometers of this highway to Rotterdam. The new part of the A4 will run at a distance just 1500 meters from the Abtswoudse Bos.

The Raad van State has also the role of a court of appeal in cases concerning administration. Lately the double role of the Raad van State, founded in 1531 by Charles V, becomes more subject to criticism because it is a clear example of a situation – governed by the special law for the Raad van State (1962) – in which the governing power has to be separated from the judiciary. The court branch has to judge cases which have been discussed in or which were advised upon by the council itself. In October the Raad van State opened its renovated building. Surely the external renovation with a better use of its palace in The Hague at the Kneuterdijk was needed and successful, but an internal renovation, too, is needed to survive and function properly in this century. The Dutch queen is formally the head of the Raad van State, but the vice-president leads in daily practice the council. Due to their position the vice-presidents have got nicknamed viceroy of the Netherlands. These months the nomination of a new vice-president is another point of debate. Instead of being aloof to party politics the vice-president’s function might get more politicized.

Old and new landscapes

Having brought together a medieval hamlet, a romantic belief in the existence of a medieval monastery, a newly planned wood and land art project, and the completion of the final trajectory of the A4 I do not know whether to smile or to shake my head in disbelief. The Dutch polders can show you a rich variety of different landscapes. It seems most practically to keep in mind Dutch landscapes have been shaped and are being shaped by man. One could almost suggest the neologism manscape… Between The Hague and Leiden you will find the artificial lakes of the Vlietlanden directly next to the A4. The high-speed railway between Amsterdam Airport and Rotterdam was custom-built with a number of tunnels to protect the scenery of the classical Dutch polder as much as possible. Interestingly a separate institution has been founded to deal with complaints about damages caused by this railway. In daily life you have to picture the densely populated province of South Holland as an amazing mix of villages and towns surrounded by the remains of polders and more graphically by railways and highways, with to the east the largest more or less intact polder zone, the archetypical Groene Hart, the Green Heart of the Netherlands.

As for medieval monasteries around Delft, to the north-east of Delft is Sion, now part of Rijswijk – the Ryswick of the 1697 peace treaty -, the spot of a monastery of Austin Canons, founded in 1345 and demolished in 1572. The canons found around 1490 a Roman milestone near Monster in the Westland region. A part of the grounds survived as an estate long owned by the Van Hogendorp family. Gijsbert Karel van Hogendorp (1762-1834) helped in 1813 decisively in creating the Kingdom of the Netherlands, sketching a draft for the new constitution – subsequent versions of the Dutch constitution can be found here – and getting the family of Orange-Nassau on the new Dutch throne. I had hoped to find more information on individual monasteries in the lavishly illustrated volume De middeleeuwse kloostergeschiedenis van de Nederlanden [The medieval monastic history of the Low Countries], edited by Paulina de Nijs and Hans Kroeze (Zwolle-Ter Apel 2008), but this is not the case. Characteristically romantic phantasy lacked geographical precision. I suppose I will hardly succeed in cycling around Delft in one day to visit all places mentioned in this post. Hopefully there is enough here for reflection on the facts and stories presented.

Monasteries in medieval Holland: a postscript

I would like to help those searching for medieval monasteries in the Low Countries by pointing to the Signum network for the social-economic, institutional and juridical history of medieval ecclesiastical institutions in the Low Countries. The scholars in this network do research on such institutions both in present day Belgium and the Netherlands. The website of Signum has been recently refurbished. Among the reviews of recent publications is a review of the book edited by De Nijs and Kroeze. At this moment (early December 2011) the useful links section is not present anymore. One of the links mentioned was the so called kloosterlijst maintained at the Free University Amsterdam, a database with concise information on some seven hundred medieval monasteries within the modern Dutch borders. For Delft only you will find thirteen convents…

Water control, a legal matter

Water is a matter of life and death. For a country like the Netherlands with the ground level for more than fifty percent below sea level water control has got for centuries several additional dimensions. Water control can mean controlling the quality of water for drinking, irrigation and other purposes, it can also mean getting water out of a district to ensure a good water level for farming, it can mean protecting such districts against flooding by the sea and rivers. Major parts of the Netherlands lie within the estuaries of the Rhine, Meuse and Escaut (Schelde).

To the best of my knowledge the Western Waters Digital Library (WWDL) is one of the largest cooperative digital libraries. Some twenty institutions from several states contribute to this project on the history of water control in the United States, mainly participants of the Greater Western Library Alliance. The WWDL presents a great variety of documents and images on many subjects, and also finding aids for collections. You will not only find information about irrigation projects, but also on the great dams and their impact on the quantity and quality of water, and in particular information from and about people involved with many projects concerning water.

The peculiar legal nature of Dutch institutions for water control in the broadest sense of the word is their independent origin and – at least to a considerable extent – still independent status. A Dutch waterschap or hoogheemraadschap is not a municipal, provincial or national institution. Some of the waterschappen occupied themselves only with a part of a region, but since a major reorganization in the nineties of the past century only a small number of large water control boards exist, six hoogheemraadschappen and some twenty waterschappen. The modern provinces Friesland and Limburg have now each only one waterschap. A waterschap had and has its own governing body, organizes its own elections for representatives and its board, collects itself special annual taxes, creates its own regulations (keuren), including penalties to be inflicted. In history some waterschappen could even threaten to impose the death penalty for major infractions against its bylaws, for example not complying to orders to repair dikes or not helping against the imminent threat of a flood.

Windmill near Oud-Zuylen

A windmill near Oud-Zuylen, to the north of Utrecht, now in the care of the hoogheemraadschap Amstel, Gooi en Vecht

The history of waterschappen has not been neglected by Dutch legal historians. One of the great pioneers was Sijbrandus Johannes Fockema Andreae (1904-1968, grandchild of another legal historian with the same name (1844-1921), the latter mainly remembered for his useful overview of sources for Dutch legal history – the Overzicht van oud-nederlandsche rechtsbronnen, A.S. de Blécourt and A.M. van Tuyll van Serooskerken (eds.) (2nd ed., Haarlem 1923; reprint Alphen aan den Rijn 1981) – and his 1910 facsimile edition of the first edition from 1631 of Hugo GrotiusInleidinge tot de Hollandsche rechts-geleerdheid. Fockema Andreae junior defended in 1934 a thesis on the history of the hoogheemraadschap of Rijnland, the region around Leiden. Some of the works of a slighty earlier scholar, Anton Albert Beekman, have a rather special form: his study Het dijk- en waterschapsrecht in Nederland vóór 1795 (2 vol., The Hague 1905-1907) is a glossary of old Dutch law, and he contributed also a similar volume to the Middelnederlandsch Woordenboek, the dictionary of Middle Dutch. Let’s mention in passing also his major contribution to the eight volumes of the Geschiedkundige Atlas van Nederland (The Hague 1915-1932), a historical atlas of the Netherlands for which he drew all maps.

I could cite many more recent studies. Many touch not only water control but also the reclaiming of land in the fen regions of Holland, the creation of the archetypical Dutch polders. Landmark studies are Hendrik van der Linden’s De cope (Assen 1956; reprint Alphen aan den Rijn 1980) which focuses on the classic medieval reclaiming campaigns, J.L. van der Gouw’s De ring van Putten (s.l. 1967) and perhaps Martina van Vliet, Het Hoogheemraadschap van de Lekdijk Bovendams (Assen 1961). Using the online bibliography for Dutch history you can easily search for more relevant titles.

A pumping engine from 1918

A pumping engine building from 1918, built for the former waterschap of Achttienhoven, near Utrecht

In the second part of this post I would like to focus on one institution. Leiden is situated on a minor branch of the Rijn, the Leidse Rijn. This river gives its name to the hoogheemraadschap Rijnland. Fockema Andreae worked for many years for this institution. On the website of Rijnland – and also on the website of Delfland – you can find instructive texts in English about the present day working of these water control boards. Rijnland has to deal with both inland water and the sea. By the way, these institutions do occupy themselves with water quality control, too, but drinking water in my country is generally provided by special companies. Some cities founded their own drinking water company. It is needless to say that conflicts of interest can develop between these companies and the water control boards, between farmers wanting a certain water level for their herds or crops and biologists preferring another level for rare plants and animals.

Rijnland has been often the subject of studies and source editions. The oldest surviving registers have been published for the Society for the Study of Old Dutch Law, De oudste bestuursregisters van het hoogheemraadschap van Rijnland (1444-1520). Regesten van de handelingen van dijkgraaf en hoogheemraden, J.H.M. Sloof (ed.) (Leiden 1999). A section of the Rijnland website is devoted to its heritage, with an image database in which you can find also old documents, artefacts, online finding aids and a treasure gallery. One can find further materials for the history of this heemraadschap at the Regionaal Archief Leiden. This archival centre, too, has an online searchable image database. You will find for example building construction drawings submitted to the hoogheemraadschap.

Sometimes the struggle against water has been lost. In the Westerschelde the socalled Verdronken Land van Saeftinge, “The Lost Land of Saeftinge”, is a silent witness to the power of floods and the consequences of insufficient action to keep water out. It is one of history’s splendid ironies that the Hertogin Hedwigepolder from 1904, the last reclaimed land area in the Westerschelde, lies directly next to an area lost definitively after 1570. A sixteenth-century treatise on dike building, the Tractaet of dyckagie by Andries Vierlingh (circa 1507-1579), gives detailed information on the building and maintenance of dikes. Vierlingh sharply criticized those people who fail to fulfill their duties. The 1920 edition by J. de Hullu and A.G. Verhoeven has been digitized by the Instituut voor Nederlandse Geschiedenis, The Hague. The Dutch government has conceded in principle to the Belgian government to give the Hertogin Hedwigepolder back to the river in order to guarantee safe sailing for large modern vessels on the Westerschelde on their way from or to Antwerp. This decision has yet to be enforced, and protests against it in the province of Zeeland are vehement. Dutch readers can meet both very different landscapes in an intriguing chapter of a wonderful book by Kester Freriks, Verborgen wildernis. Ruige natuur & kaarten in Nederland (“Hidden wilderness. Rough nature and maps in the Netherlands”; Amsterdam 2010).

Did you spot anywhere in this post the Dutch National Water Management Agency, Rijkswaterstaat? Did I mention the plans to add the waterschappen to the provinces? You can figure out yourself that when you add national and provincial institutions to my sketch of Dutch water control at a meso and micro level things are still complicated. In my opinion creating or having independent institutions for water control is not only a phenomenon for institutional historians but a subject worth of further investigation. This century will witness the growing importance of natural resources, will perhaps even see battles and wars for water, and you are invited to contemplate the example of a region with in this respect a special balance of powers.

Disaster and digital heritage in New Zealand

One of the unforgettable scenes in The Bone People, Keri Hulme’s famous novel, brings the reader to the remains of a boat built by the Maori ancestors of Joe, which comes only to the surface after a minor earthquake. This week New Zealand has been forcefully hit by a major earthquake. People have been killed by it, many more people got injuries, houses and other buildings have become ruins or are severely damaged. How to rebuild lives and houses? How can one heal the wounds? What has become of all kind of things that form ties with the past, with New Zealand’s cultural heritage?

On my website for legal history the page with digital libraries is on the brink of becoming a separate section. One of its shortcomings is its organization along national borders, for frontiers have changed over the centuries. Colonial history has often destroyed older borders and memories of them. Luckily some digital libraries are the fruit of international cooperation. Looking at my list today I can at least see quickly which collections are important for New Zealand. The libraries I list for New Zealand happen to be not just important for legal history but for the history and heritage of this country at large. Australia, too, will show up in this post because of the historical connections within the former British Empire.

The Digital NZ – Á-Tihi Aotearoa of the National Library of New Zealand is a portal to digitized sources at several cultural institutions. Matapihi is a more general portal of New Zealand’s national library  to find digitized materials. The New Zealand Electronic Text Centre at Victoria University of Wellington has among its projects for example He Pātaka Kupu Ture – The Legal Maori Archive, with sources on Maori legal history. Early New Zealand Books, a digital library of the University of Auckland Library, presents online a number of digitized early editions printed in New Zealand. Sources pertaining more strictly to legal history are present in the digital collection for Colonial Case Law of the Macquarie Law School in Sydney. In fact it is a portal to several sites on historical cases, with a very useful links collection, also for New Zealand. It mentons for instance the New Zealand’s Lost Cases at the Victoria University of Wellington. The Oceania Digital Library is an international digital portal created by the University of Auckland Library, the University of California at San Diego Libraries and the University of Hawai’i Library for the cultural heritage of Melanesia, Polynesia en Micronesia.

One of the most remarkable initiatives for digital libraries I have seen is the New Zealand Digital Library at the University of Waikato. Behind this modest title you find in fact a portal to several digital libraries, not only for New Zealand but for other countries as well. The Greenstone digital library software is used in particular for a number of development initiatives and humanitarian services worldwide. Among the so-called “user contributed collections” is the website “Alive in Truth: The New Orleans Disaster Oral History and Memory Project” concerning the hurricane Katrina that hit New Orleans in 2005. At first it might seem wry to find among the projects also the Virtual Disaster Library of the Pan-American Health Organization and the WHO Health Library for Disasters. However, it shows also the outward bound mentality of New Zealand, and these efforts to help worldwide deserve respect and support. I could mention many more links. The website of the Christchurch City Libraries has a well-organized links section, with a special page for links on earthquakes.

Christchurch City Libraries also present a very useful set of legal links. You can follow their tweets for the latest news from Christchurch. For modern law cases the New Zealand Legal Information Institute is the first site to visit; the databases with cases on intellectual property go back to the late fifties and sixties. The Victoria University of Wellington houses an exhaustive website on Indigenous Peoples and the Law which reminds you that continents and subcontinents have a very distinct history before modern nations came into existence. The University of Canterbury in Christchurch gives on its library website an extensive guide to online resources for modern law in New Zealand. To round off for today, let us not forget the legal historians of Australia and New Zealand, united in one society. New Zealanders and Australians try to bridge gaps between a continent and an archipelago. Perhaps we can do something for them, starting with showing our sympathy with the people of Christchurch.

Redeeming the woods of The Hague

When you leave the central railway station of The Hague you will see the Malieveld, a part of the Haagse Bos, the wood of The Hague. The Malieveld is one of the main Dutch places for major demonstrations. The connection with demonstrations on large squares readily explains my interest in the Malieveld. In fact the story goes back to 2006 when the burgomaster of The Hague suggested the Malieveld as the building location for a new Dutch national museum. Five years ago historians showed evidence of an act from 1576 issued by William of Orange forbidding the sale of the Malieveld and the adjacent wood with the objective to cut down its trees. The website of VPRO television´s history channel has a very useful notice on this princely act, with links to the original text and a modern transcription of it, and this forms the starting point of my post.

The Malieveld in The Hague

A part of the Malieveld in The Hague

On February 21, 2011 the Dutch newspaper Trouw brought this again to the attentions of its readers. The article was accompanied by a photograph showing a horsed man dressed as William of Orange addressing people at the Malieveld before a debate on natural conservation in the province of South Holland. The debate on February 19 was organized by the Dutch Society for Natural Monuments, the National Forest Service which owns the Haagse Bos, and the Foundation for the Landscapes of South Holland. I will not touch upon this debate concerning the possibilities for new policies that cuts in the budgets might bring.

Jaap Buis started his majestic study Historia forestis. Nederlandse bosgeschiedenis (2 vol., Wageningen-Utrecht 1985) – available online at the E-depot of Wageningen University – with a short history of Dutch woods and forests. The woods around The Hague were not mentioned as woods in the late Middle Ages, but still as wilderness. The Haagse Bos was created in the fifteenth century. Its maintenance and use as a hunting ground costed lots of money. In 1574, during the early phase of the Dutch Revolt, The Hague was briefly captured by Spanish forces. William of Orange, himself one of the richest aristocrats of the Low Countries, needed money for the continuation of his struggle against the king of Spain, and he proposed the States of Holland to sell the Haagse Bos. Protests by the citizens of The Hague lead on April 16, 1576 to the signing of the Acte van redemptie.

The Institute for Dutch History has created an online database with the correspondance of William of Orange. The Dutch pater patriae got his nickname, William the Silent, not because of his abundant correspondence – some thirteen thousand letters have been tracked down! – but because of his skill in saying almost nothing with much words. In this act the prince of Orange made the citizens of The Hague promise to pay 1500 guilders from the sale of melted down church bells, and 1000 guilders from waiving the right to get back this sum which they had loaned to the prince. William promised in return that the bosch ende warande, the woods and park, would be forever geredimeert ende affecteert, reclaimed and looked after, and that these grounds will never be sold or put to sale for the purpose of cutting down its trees. All this would have to be maintained in full accordance with the old uses and servitudes known to the auditor and bailiff of North Holland.

A point initially missed by journalists and politicians was the fact that this act does not forbid any sale of the woods, but only a sale aiming to get rid of the woods, supposedly to sell the tress as timber and rent out the grounds as building parcels. Buis notes that in 1795 the National Convention was close to selling the Haagse Bos, but the proposal did not get a majority vote (see Buis, I, 14-15 and 328-333).

The Institute for Dutch History shows on its website only the text in a register of the Court of Holland (Hof van Holland, 44, fol. 112r-113v). The original letter has not been traced. The municipal archives of The Hague present the story on their website with a photograph of a copy from 1593 and a translation in modern Dutch. The year 1593 is no coincidence because Maurice of Orange issued in 1593 a new ordinance for the Haagse Bos. William’s act from 1579, the ordinance from 1593 and subsequent relevant documents can be found in the Groot placaet-boek (..) Staten Generael (9 vol., The Hague 1658-1796), the major collection of the acts and statutes issued by the Dutch General Estates, starting in the eight volume, page 654. The set can be consulted online in the section with old printed sources for Dutch history in the Digital Special Collections of Utrecht University Library. Using the website Archieven, an online database for searching in many Dutch archival collections, I found another item at the municipal archives in The Hague, a dossier of the municipal council from the period 1947 to 1953 concerning building plans on the Malieveld and the Koekamp (Gemeentebestuur 1953-1990, no. 5348) which mentions the 1576 Acte van redemptie. Nil novi sub sole! Among the digitized materials in these archives is the Jaarboek “Die Haghe“, the yearbook of the Society for The Hague’s history, and thus you can also check online the 1905 edition of the act from 1576.

The word redemptie sounds very much like the religious word redemption, and indeed its meaning is not far from the religious concept. In legal texts redemption means buying off or reclaiming something. I could check the meaning of the Dutch legal term in a reprint of a small legal dictionary from the eighteenth century, Franciscus Lievens Kersteman’s Practisyns woordenboekje of verzameling van meest alle de woorden in de rechtskunde gebruikelijk (Dordrecht: Blussé, 1785; reprint Groningen 1988), edited with an introduction by J.E. Ennik and Paul Brood. This “Practicioner’s Dictionary or Collection of Almost All Words Used in Jurisprudence” is really useful for understanding older Dutch legal texts. The Institute for Dutch Lexicography in Leiden makes available online not only the Woordenboek der Nederlandse Taal but also dictionaries for Middle Dutch and Early Middle Dutch, and even a dictionary of yiddish words in Dutch. The Woordenboek der Nederlandse Taal confirms and expands the meaning given by Kersteman.

The old name of The Hague, Den Haag, is actually an abbreviated form of ‘s-Gravenhage, literally “the hedge of the count”. In the thirteenth century count Floris (Florence) IV of Holland had bought grounds near the village Van der Hage. The counts clearly liked this spot next to a lake, nowadays the Hofvijver. Count Floris V built a large hall, now the Ridderzaal of the Dutch parliament. Since the fifteenth century the county tribunal, too, resided at The Hague. The main pastime of the counts was hunting on the grounds around The Hague. When the dukes of Bavaria came to reign over Holland in 1358 and decided to stay in The Hague all signs were positive for creating a real court like surrounding in which the old sport of hunting was not forgotten.  The court was both hunting lodge and a place to hold court, including attention to literature as shown by Frits van Oostrom in his acclaimed study Court and culture: Dutch literature, 1350-1450 (Berkeley, Ca., etc., 1992).

Living near a princely hunting ground was not easy for the citizens of The Hague. Today the Malieveld and the Haagse Bos form a much-needed green area in the city which houses the Dutch parliament and government and a number of international institutions. The Hague is the residence, too, of Queen Beatrix. As long as the 1576 act is not contested in court the fields and woods near the centre of The Hague are ready to receive people for a demonstration or just for a walk to muse over the amazingly long impact of William’s act.

An old boundary

What happened to the walking historian? Lately I did not often go for a walk. During springtime I made several long walks, and I promised to keep a story about one of these walks in stock.

In February Janjaap Luijt published a short note ‘De leeuwenpaal: grensconflicten tussen Utrecht en Holland’ (The lion’s post: boundary conflicts between Utrecht and Holland) in the journal Oud-Utrecht 81 (2010) 10-11, the first of a series of short articles on boundary-posts in this journal of the historical society for Utrecht Oud-Utrecht. On the cover of this issue two men pose in historical costumes in front of one of the old boundary-post discussed by Luijt.

An old boundar-post along the Hollandsche Rading

An old boundary-post along the Hollandsche Rading

I would like to add some information to Luijt’s article which clearly was meant to introduce the subject and to point to the present situation of these objects. Luijt sketches their history. The sixteenth-century posts were renewed in 1719, and eight of them again in 1925. Luijt mentions the 1531 peace treaty on the boundary between Utrecht and Holland. The Great Council of Malines also had to give judgment about the exact boundary. J.M.I. Koster-van Dijk published Gooilanders voor de Grote Raad 1470-1572 (Amsterdam 1979) in which she dealt with all cases brought before this court concerning the Gooiland, the most eastern part of the medieval county of Holland. Many historians have written about Gooiland.  On May 21, 1541 the Great Council pronounced an important verdict on the disputed boundary between Utrecht and Holland.

The boundary-post on the picture I took in early spring is situated at the Hollandsche Rading, a field name which literally means “The boundary of Holland”, a straight line in the landscape, nowadays part of the border between the provinces of Utrecht and North-Holland. The forest in the background is called Einde Gooi, “The End of Gooi”.

A team lead by Thom de Smidt and the late Jan van Rompaey published six volumes with calendars of the verdicts given by the Great Council of Malines between 1465 and 1581. In the fourth volume of the Chronologische lijsten van de geëxtendeerde sententiën (…) Grote Raad van Mechelen (Brussels 1985) it is indicated at no. 11 that several dossiers of one of the highest courts of the Low Countries refer to the 1541 case. The Werkgroep Grote Raad van Mechelen, the team of legal historians that has done so much to enlarge knowledge about the Great Council of Malines, published several books on cities, regions and even one on a country and their cases decided at Malines, for Haarlem, Amsterdam, Leiden, Gooiland, Delfland – the region around Delft – and Portugal. Checking the inventories of archival collections at Het Utrechts Archief made it clear that one could harvest also a nice number of cases concerning the city and diocese of Utrecht. Due to the renovation of the main Utrecht archive building it will not be easy to do research on the history of Utrecht in the near future. As always, some sensible planning and patience will help more than complaining about this situation. For this posting on boundary-posts it is clear how the presence of these historical objects can make one curious to know more about the history to which they refer.

Law, land and art

Law and the humanities, a subject likely to show up on my blog. However, this post has not as its first objective praising seminars on Law and Humanities, nor is it my goal to push anybody to start reading Martha Nussbaum’s Not for Profit: Why Democracy Needs the Humanities, though this is certainly a good idea. I hesitated myself when art came into my view for a post on legal history, but in fact a work of art was already a central element of my latest post.

This time I want to write about art objects with legal power. Kings and emperors had their sceptres, often beautifully crafted, and now often on display in museums around the world. However, the art objects to be discussed here empower people. They express their claim to lands that in times beyond written memory belonged to them.

The Aboriginal Art Museum Utrecht

The Aboriginal Art Museum Utrecht at the Oudegracht

In 2001 the Aboriginal Art Museum Utrecht (AAMU) was founded, the only museum in Europe which specializes in works of aboriginal art. Apart from its own collection the AAMU houses an art gallery. The AAMU held in 2005 an exhibition titled Law and Land. Art of the Spinifex People, which until then had been on tour through Australia. The Spinifex People who live in the Great Victoria Desert in Western Australia decided in the nineties of the last century to put forward a land claim. To support it they created in 1998 two Native Title Paintings, interestingly one by men and one by women. In 2001 the Western Australian Government accepted under the Spinifex Land Agreement the claim of the Spinifex People as decided by the Federal Court of Australia (FCA 1717; November 28, 2000).

Exhibition catalogue "Law and Land"

A fragment of The Women's Native Title Painting

The area of land to which the Spinifex Land Agreement applies covers 55,000 square kilometers, almost twice the size of The Netherlands. The concept behind the native title paintings is well-known thanks to Bruce Chatwin’s novel The Songlines (1987), a masterful evocation of the Australian landscape, Aboriginal culture and its struggle to survive in modern Australia. The Aboriginal people described in songs kept secret to outsiders in sometimes minute detail the landscape of their country. Perhaps one should think of the title paintings more as evocations than of straightforward representations of geographical elements. The Spinifex Native Title Paintings lead in 2001 to the start of the Spinifex Foundation which promotes the arts.

The Spinifex people had to leave the northern part of their land in the fifties because of British nuclear testing. This made it difficult for them to show continuous habitation following normal procedures for land claims. The 2000 agreement does not apply to the natural resources found in the region during the twentieth century, and thus for instance the rights of mining companies are not touched by it.

The Spinifex Native Title Paintings form a landmark in Australia’s legal history equal to the first admission of aboriginal documents in 1963, the Yirkalla bark petitions. In the late eighteenth century the view came into existence that Australia was terra nullius, land belonging to nobody, and this doctrine held sway for over two centuries. Only in 1992 the Mabo Case put an end to this doctrine (HCA 23; 175 CRL 1 (June 3, 1992)) in which verdict the concept of native title was recognized.

Much more can be said about the rights of the Aboriginal people and other indigenous Australian people. When I added some Australian addresses to my link collection of digital libraries it dawned upon me that some Australian things just happen to be in Utrecht, near at hand. The AAMU is worth a visit, although I could not help remembering immediately Chatwin’s description of Australian artists because of the presence of an art gallery. While musing about Chatwin’s view it would do more justice to say that people can be as versatile as the Australian Spinifex plant (Triodia pungens) which can be used in several ways. In order to survive in a desert, and more specific in the Nullarbor region, you simply have to be able to cope with different situations in different ways. Making traditional culture and land survive can call for unorthodox methods. Using art as an argument in law calls for fresh thinking, and this post is only meant as a glimpse of more. Anyway, today I liked to think about the desert on a particular rainy and stormy day.

The world of history

Yesterday the 21st International Congress of Historical Sciences (ICHS) started in Amsterdam. One of its central themes is water, and this is surely worth the attention of historians, too. Today Amsterdam certainly offered lots of water when in a few hours over 40 mm rain came down, a small quantity compared to the ongoing rains that afflict the people of Pakistan and China. Other nations and people suffer daily from the lack of any water. History on the grand scale will inevitably miss the details which matter most for ordinary people. What about the connection between water and law? Law is by no means a neglectable detail, not for ordinary people nor for historians retracing their footsteps. Let’s have a look at the programme of the ICHS organized jointly by the Dutch Royal Historical Society, the University of Amsterdam, the Dutch Royal Library (The Hague) and the International Institute for Social History.

On Tuesday August 24, a session will be held on “Ethics, History and Law”. At stake here is in particular the grasp of politics on historical research. The four papers in this session touch widely different subjects. Antonis Liakos will discuss the abuses of history by politics and the influence of history in politics. Pierre Nora will present a paper on the French legislation about history and remembrance of the past between 1990 and 2008. Paolo Pezzino dives into a classic juridical matter, the role of historians as experts in court. Jörn Rüsen will reflect on the role of history and remembering the major traumatic experiences of the past century.

In the main programme there are three sessions focusing in law.  There will be also sessions on history and human rights, and on slavery. Another session combines Scottish networks on the Atlantic and the history of legal attitudes to piracy. In other sessions some papers touch law and legal history at least in their titles. Billy K.L. So speaks about company law reforms and business modernization in China and Japan in the early 20th century, Anne Redgate discusses liturgy, law and self-representation in medieval Armenia and England. Ana Sofia Ribeiro will focus on sexual violence in 18th century Portugal, and Marianna Muravyeva will talk about legal attitudes to sexual violence in modern Russia. Torsten Feys’s subject is shipping interests and American immigration laws, and Joanna Woydon brings Polish schoolbooks on the 1981 martial law to our attention. Maria Cmierzak tackles the attitudes of the lawyers who reformed the Polish constitution during the last century, and Ditlev Tamm will speak about the transmigration of legal scholarship.

The ISCH hosts also separate programmes. The largest programme is organized by the International Federation for Research in Women’s History. I feel a bit disappointed that only three out of eighteen sessions deal substantially with law: there will be sessions on nationalism, imperialism and women’s rights, on the global struggle for women’s citizenship, and on women’s freedom and civil rights in the African diaspora. The Commission Internationale de Diplomatique represented by Theo Kölzer has organized a session on charters. Papers will concern documents concerning the judiciary in medieval Sicily, medieval Italian merchants and their documents, a notary from medieval Lucca, testaments in Portugal and Spain, and public documentation on devotional practices in medieval Zaragoza. The Commission Internationale de Démographie Historique will held eleven sessions at the International Institute for Social History. Three sessions focus on inheritance law from a comparative perspective. Two other sessions deal with the question whether family systems are only beneficial to land-owning families. With respect to legal history this program looks promising. In fact it makes up for any apparent or real absence of subjects concerning law and history.

It is definitely too early yet to say anything about the success of this major international congress which is convened every five years. It is indeed a question whether more legal history would benefit the ICHS, or that legal historians would win by giving attention to this congress series. It is up to legal historians to be present themselves at such congresses or to opt for other ways of exchanging results from ongoing research, to look at their own research from a comparatist’s view or simply to meet other researchers which deal with the same period, country, region, people or whatever phenomenon or historical event.

The Dutch VPRO television reports daily about the Amsterdam ICHS on its own history website (only in Dutch). At the opening session the Canadian historian Jean-Claude Robert, secretary of the ICHS,  gave a lecture on the history of water management in Canada, a subject which is prominent in Dutch history, too. Reading about the very different appreciations of water depending on its role and impact I could not help thinking of the website about wetlands in Pakistan and the communications network on Pakistan wetlands. What will happen to these wetlands now one has to face another, more terrible impact of water? How can historians help reconstructing life and landscapes in devastated regions? The disasters caused by water in this and other regions are not just a regional problem but a challenge to the global community.

Terschelling revisited

Two weeks ago I left my blog for a holiday on Terschelling, one of the five Dutch Waddeneilanden, the Frisian Islands. It is time to come back to my post about these islands. Reading it again it clearly needs some additions and clarification. Thanks to my recent visit I can really complete a line of thought which loomed at first rather dim and hesitant.

The Staatsbosbeheer camping for groups at Swartduin

The Staatsbosbeheer group camping at Swartduin

At the heart of my post on Terschelling was the struggle between the protection of natural beauty, represented by Staatsbosbeheer, the Dutch National Forest Service, and the interests of tourism, the core of the economy on these islands, represented by both the municipalities and the citizens of the Wadden Islands. The Dutch National Forest Service wants to increase the long lease rents due to them drastically. It is easy to see that the conflict here is also about the power of a public body in the role of a private land owner with a position tantamount to a monopoly. Whatever the outcome of this clash which implicates the boundaries between public and private law it is bound to be of interest to legal historians.

My search for legal documents about Terschelling has still barely started, but I could have pointed already to the very useful collection of sources presented at the website Regelgeving in de Nederlanden (Legal administration in the Low Countries). Alas you will not find here any sources which pertain only to the Frisian Islands, but among the sources for Frisian law you can find the main law texts, for instance the Lex Frisionum. The Dutch national website on jurisdiction, Rechtspraak, offers on the page of the Leeuwarden court a short general history of the Frisian courts.

The air touches the earth on the west beach of Terschelling

“…where you doubt whether it is a part of the sea or of the earth.”

I owe you the exact reference to the words of Pliny the Elder about the Wadden region: it is in Naturalis Historia, 16.1.2. The striking thing is of course the nearly seamless transition between land, air and sea. Walking on the Groene Strand, the Green Beach, makes you wonder why this particular area is not a national park. Now only the area around a number of dunes where artic terns (Sterna paradisaea) have their nests is marked as a bird reserve. In fact it has long been pleaded to make the Dutch Waddenzee into a National Park. Nature is such a scarce commodity in the densely populated Low Countries. Why should one hesitate to take action?

The Frisian Islands came into existence in the late thirteenth century when a former wall of dunes was finally broken by the power of the sea, thus creating the Waddenzee. I mentioned in my July post on Terschelling the fact that the Boschplaat has been added to the island since the second half of the nineteenth century when the former strait of the Koggendiep silted up. Geologists see a long-term development in which the Frisian Islands slowly move to the east. The Dutch National Forest Service invites groups of volunteers to help removing firs from the dunes. Dune areas should not become woods any more. One can certainly distinguish areas of outstanding natural beauty on Terschelling and the other Dutch Frisian Islands, but the question is exactly whether these islands have a distinct and definitive natural form. To my eyes nature here is in an eternal flow. Islands will move. The tides reshape their form not just twice daily, but also in the long run. Creating screens and dikes on sand plates and fostering dunes is an act of man making nature obey to some measure to his wishes. In the end, however, the forces at work here escape man’s grasp. The great paradox of natural beauty is indeed that is most often only recognized by making it a part of a landscape park, almost the Enlightenment version of the Garden of Eden. The very word landscape was first used in English to describe Dutch paintings representing outdoor scenes situated in a landschap, a man-made environment.

It is not my objective to dispute the ecological wealth of the Waddenzee or to doubt the need for protection. My question is not just which natural environment is most outstanding, but what does the concept of nature mean when it is so clearly fluent? Can one point to the original state of the Waddenzee? How can one use nature as a juridical concept when you have to acknowledge the fact that nature does not equate automatically with a stable order nor with utter chaos? In this light natural law most definitely emerges as a man-made argument par excellence.

The original idea of a vacation period was to free one self from daily doings and squalid affairs. Theologians wrote about vacare Deo, free one self for God. Hopefully your own holidays help you to look freshly again at anything and everything.

To finish things let me point to the Tractatus Tiberiadis from 1355 by Bartolo de Sassoferrato, the first treatise on legal geography as Osvaldo Cavallar wrote in his article ‘River of Law: Bartolus’s Tiberiadis (De alluvione)’, in: A Renaissance of Conflicts. Visions and Revisions of Law and Society in Italy and Spain, John A. Marino and Thomas Kuehn (edd.) (Toronto 2004) 31-129, with an edition of Bartolo’s treatise. You can read online the version of the text in a Lyonnese edition from 1555 of Bartolo’s consila and treatises in the digital library for legal history at Milan, starting at fol. 139 verso (page 278). See for more information and images also this post on the blog of the Fonds Anciens at the Bibliothèque Interuniversitaire de Lyon.

I would also like to mention the Tractaet of dyckagie by Andries Vierlingh (circa 1507-1579), a treatise on dike building. The 1920 edition by J. de Hullu and A.G. Verhoeven has been digitized by the Instituut voor Nederlandse Geschiedenis, The Hague. More information in English about the history of Terschelling and other Dutch islands is presented by Ruud Bijlsma at his Islas website. Old maps of Terschelling are discussed and presented in a study by Marijke Donkersloot-de Vrij, Scellinge.Vijf eeuwen kartografie van Terschelling (Utrecht 2002). The Royal Dutch Academy of Sciences has started a Waddencademie.

A postscript

Somewhat belatedly I noticed Terschelling is home to seven duck decoys. A recent study has been devoted to them by Piet Lautenbach, Eendenkooien. De laatste heiligdommen van Terschelling [Duck decoys, the last sanctuaries of Terschelling] (Assen, 2011).  The National Forestry Service pointed at its Terschelling blog in 2011 to the fact that some of these duck decoys have one owner, but others have multiple owners, and indicated also differences in the maintenance of them.

The theme of alluvial growth of land in Frisia and its impact on legal history is pursuited in a recent article by Kees Kuiken, ‘Opstrek of aanwas? Bezits- en rechtsverhoudingen in en om Het Bildt in Friesland tot 1506′ [Increase or alluvion? Properties and legal relation in and around Het Bildt in Frisia until 1506], Pro Memorie 14 (2012) 31-54.

Summer holiday on a Frisian island

It is summertime, and the living is easy! Time to leave my home town, and to spend a few weeks without e-mail or internet, even without any major library, archive or museum within train, biking or walking distance. The Frisian island of Terschelling is my holiday destination for the third successive year. Legal history will not be on my mind, but a couple of days ago I realized there is a connection between Terschelling and legal history which I have mentioned several times on my blog. Is there no escape possible from Staatsbosbeheer, the Dutch National Forest Service?! You can check my March posts on the fortifications around Utrecht and the Breukeleveen duck decoy for it. Looking at the history of Terschelling yields some interesting facts on legal history, and the National Forest Service, founded in 1899 and since 1998 an independent service formerly part of the Ministry for Agriculture, is just a new element in it.

Arriving at Terschelling

The Frisian islands form a part of the fifty islands in the North Sea from the Dutch navy port of Den Helder up to Denmark. Nowadays five islands belong to the Dutch Waddeneilanden, Texel, Vlieland, Terschelling, Ameland and Schiermonnikoog. At some moments in history several Dutch islands have been abandoned because they changed into sand plates. The most eastern Dutch island in the Wadden Sea, Rottumeroog near the estuary of the river Ems, was the last abandoned island, now reserved for bird life.

Until the Saint Hubert Flood of 1287 Terschelling was not an island at all: one could reach it on foot from Frisia. Soon the island became important for the Hanseatic fleets. For centuries the city of Zwolle was in charge of keeping the sea route of the Koggediep. In 1322 count William III of Holland gave Terschelling as a fief, including the low and high jurisdiction, to Klaas Popma, a scion from a mighty Frisian family. From 1322 to 1615 Terschelling remained a fief of Holland; its archive is kept at the Dutch National Archives in The Hague. An inventory of it was made in 1976 by C.E. Schabbing, now available also online. Terschelling was ruled as a grietenij, a Frisian district. In 1482 Rienck Popma concluded a commercial treaty with the English king Edward IV. The Popma family was not the only claimant to the jurisdiction of Terschelling: the provost of the Saint Donatus at Brugge and Cornelis van Bergen competed with them in the early sixteenth century. The final possessor at the end of the sixteenth century, Charles of Aremberg, discovered he owned an impoverished island. In 1499 troops of a Frisian warlord had plundered the island, and in 1569 the castle of the Arembergs had been burnt down. In 1615 he sold it to the States of Holland. In 1666 English troops devastated Terschelling during Holmes’ Bonfire. They left only the Brandaris light house undamaged and captured a Dutch commercial fleet. For this the Dutch took their vengeance with the Raid on the Medway, the famous 1667 raid on the Thames. In the eighteenth century whaling helped the islanders to gain some prosperity.

In 1612 Terschelling had been divided into two separate municipalities. During the reign of the Dutch Patriot government, in 1805, Terschelling – Skylge in Frisian – became again a Frisian island, but in 1814 it was added to the new province North-Holland, and the island was united into one municipality. The archive of the two nedergerechten is kept at Tresoar -Frisian for treasury-, the Frisian provincial archive and library in Leeuwarden. In 1942, during the German occupation of the Netherlands, it was decided to add Terschelling again to the province of Friesland, a decision confirmed by Dutch law in 1951.

In 2009 UNESCO added the Dutch and German part of the Wadden Sea to the World Heritage List, thus acknowledging the natural beauty and ecological quality of this natural area. This surely crowns the efforts of the Dutch Waddenvereniging, the society for the protection of the Wadden Sea. Schiermonnikoog is even owned by Natuurmonumenten, the Dutch Society for Natural Monuments. Lots of tourists visit the islands to enjoy all this, and this puts a serious threat to nature. The Dutch National Forest Service takes the main responsibility to protect the rich variety of landscapes, not just the dunes, beaches, moors, woods and polders, but also the shallows, the archetypical Wadden, a wetland environment altering eternally with the tides. Pliny the Elder wrote you cannot decide what belongs here to the sea and what is definitely land. The Boschplaat, formerly a sand plate, became from 1866 onwards factually part of Terschelling, formally confirmed by the building of a nine kilometer dike between 1931 and 1937. It is now the largest natural reserve, a third part of the island.

On Texel, Vlieland and Terschelling the Dutch Forest Service leases most houses and plots (in long lease); in fact even the use of dunes for water supply is leased this way by Staatsbosbeheer. Last year they announced a very substantial increase for the rents due to them which had not been changed in fifteen years. This enormous increase threats the local economy which centers around tourism. No wonder the inhabitants and municipalities of these isles protest vehemently against this proposal. Next year the Dutch Forest Service which runs also a number of camping sites, will raise its prices there drastically, too. Complaints have been expressed in the Dutch Parliament and even at the level of the European Commission, also about the alleged policy of forcing house owners to raise the official tax value of their properties.

Ameland dimly visible from the beach of Terschelling

Terschelling is not the only Frisian island with an interesting legal history. Schiermonnikoog – literally “Island of the Grey Monks” – belonged to the Cistercian abbey of Klaarkamp near Rinsumageest. After 1580 the States of Friesland held this island as confiscated ecclesiastical property, but between 1638 and 1945 it was a privately owned island. The lords of Ameland claimed from 1424 even the status of an independent principality, a status preserved by the Frisian States in 1704 when they became the lords. Only in 1814 Ameland became fully integrated in the Dutch administration. On Amelands legal history F.A.J. van der Ven has published  ‘”It takes three generations to make a gentleman”, oftewel enige opmerkingen en mededelingen over de rechtsgeschiedenis van Ameland’, Groninger Opmerkingen en Mededelingen 25 (2008) 51-74.

I have skipped the period in which Jacoba of Bavaria – to English readers better known as Jacqueline, countess of Hainaut – held Terschelling as a fief, but I would like to mention the fine new biography on her by Antheun Janse, Een pion voor een dame. Jacoba van Beieren (1401-1436) (Amsterdam, 2009). I could have pointed to the longevity of the particular Terschelling form of customary rights, the nabuurschap, of which some forms still exist. The variety of small museums on Terschelling can give you a vivid image of this and much more. Archival records concerning Terschelling are present not only in The Hague and Leeuwarden. The municipal archive from 1811 on is in West-Terschelling. Thanks to the Dutch archival search portal, a website with a multilingual interface, one can search at home for many records. Medieval charters from Frisia published in the Groot placaat en charter-boek…van Friesland (5 vol., Leeuwarden 1768-1793) and also the Ostfriesisches Urkundenbuch (2 vol., Emden 1878-1881) can be found at the website Cartago. Tresoar, the Frisian archive at Leeuwarden, has its own digital treasury, with for example an incunable of the Freeska Landriucht, and you can use the Digitale Historische Bibliotheek Friesland. More Frisian archives are present on Fries Archiefnet. Enough is enough for now! I am sure I will enjoy Terschelling even more than before, and I am happy that during the coming weeks I will not escape completely from legal history. I hope you have enjoyed this long post, but much more can be said about Frisia and legal history.

A walk to a duck decoy

The past two weeks have been busy, and after a few sunny days with enough time for a long stroll things to do returned, as always, with really no time to write a posting. Add to this a bit of illness, and forgetting about the walks would be natural. However, these walks were truly uplifting. They have inspired me to look beyond the landscapes and the impressions they gave me. Today’s post might have a sequel, especially because I guess that more can be said about this topic.

Duck decoys can be carved wooden models of a duck or another kind of fowl, but there is another meaning of this word. Duck decoys, structures to lure fowl into a trap, are a phenomenon that seems to stem from the Netherlands where the earliest mentioning of them dates from the mid-sixteenth century. The Dutch word eendenkooi, “duck cage”,  clearly explains a part of the etymology of the English word decoy. Duck decoys were used also in England, Germany and Denmark. They consist of a number of curving ditches with screens on both sides leading to a net on a pond in which ducks and other birds can be trapped.

Eendenkooi Breukeleveen

The Breukelenveen duck decoy in winter

A duck decoy is often situated in a small wood. I walked to the duck decoy of Breukeleveen -indeed in the fen country near the village of Breukelen, northwest of Utrecht- which is situated in such a place. In order to take pictures of a curved ditch and the screens I simply had to wait until winter, because otherwise you cannot see them.

Around the Breukeleveen duck decoy

The sign for the area around the Breukeleveen duck decoy

Legal history’s interest here is of course the right to use a duck decoy. In fact, several rights can go with the possession of a duck decoy. The most visible one is called recht van afpaling, “right to fence off”. From the heart of the duck decoy a distance of either 735 or 1130 meter is delineated in which no building is allowed nor any hunting by other people. The sign reads “753 meter”, which is remarkable, to say the least. This duck decoy dates from 1811. Since 1955 it is owned by the society Natuurmonumenten. The surrounding wetlands are protected by Staatsbosbeheer, the Dutch National Forest Service. The bicycle path on the picture is some fifteen years old. The classic study on still existing old Dutch rights is by the world renowned archivist Eric Ketelaar, Oude zakelijke rechten, vroeger, nu en in de toekomst (Leiden-Zwolle 1978). The law for hunting around a duck decoy is further governed according to the Dutch Flora- en Faunawet of 1998 (changed in 2002) and other regulations. Duck decoys figure in recent Dutch jurisprudence, too. Ketelaar commented the important 1981 verdict by the Hoge Raad, the Dutch Supreme Court, on duck decoys.

More on duck decoys in the Netherlands can be found on this website. Thanks to the services of Utrecht University Library you can read a number of back issues of the journals of societies for the history of Utrecht online on SABINE, the bibliography for the history of Utrecht. It helped me to find quickly two useful articles on duck decoys from 1979 by Désiré Karelse. The walking historian can shake hands with the armchair historian… Anyone interested in the history of English duck decoys should enjoy reading The Book of Duck Decoys: Their Construction, Management and History (1886) by Sir Ralph Payne-Gallwey. And why not mention that my halting place during this walk, a pub at Tienhoven, was very fittingly Het Olde Regthuys (The Old Court Inn)?

A postscript

Amazingly I somehow missed the duck decoys on the Frisian island Terschelling which features in two posts – here and here – on my blog. Lately I found a book by Piet Lautenbach, Eendenkooien. De laatste heiligdommen van Terschelling [Duck decoys, the last sanctuaries of Terschelling] (Assen, 2011).