Sometimes you cannot imagine how you come back to a subject after many years. Fifteen years ago I contributed to the opening chapter of a book on castles in the province of Utrecht (Kastelen en ridderhofsteden in Utrecht, Ben Olde Meierink et alii (eds.) (Utrecht 1995)). In these years I lived not far from the remains of Huis Voorn, one of the ridderhofsteden, the houses whose owners were entitled since the early sixteenth century to a seat of the gentry in the States of Utrecht. Jan Huiting wrote a fine article on Huis Voorn in the 1995 volume. Of the seventeenth century building of Huis Voorn little is left now, only two dovecotes surrounded by the castle moat situated in an English landscape style park. Nowadays the triangular formed estate is situated between the Leidse Rijn river, the A2-E35, and an area with office buildings and a sport center.
The former Huis Voorn was demolished in 1851, but the dovecotes remained. Archaeological investigations in 1952-1953 have shown the dimensions of the former house. At the entrance of the estate stands a nineteenth century house in eclectic style, now hidden behind scaffolding during restoration. The two dovecotes are scheduled for restoration in 2011. Doves no longer live in them. Egyptian geese (Aiopochen aegyptiacus) have ousted the doves. Huis Voorn used to be on the outskirts of Utrecht, but the area to the west of the city of Utrecht has become one of the largest building sites in the Netherlands. The presence of the dovecotes, the beauty of the small park, and perhaps also the presence of a veterinarian practice, have thus far protected this corner from being ruthlessly eliminated.
One of the books I read recently is the biography Alexis de Tocqueville. A Life by Hugh Brogan (New Haven-London 2006). During summer Alexis de Tocqueville (1805-1856) often stayed at the château of Tocqueville in Normandy which needed restoration after decades of neglect. A running story in Tocqueville’s life are the seemingly endless building campaigns which often kept him from concentrated study and writing. However, one of the buildings on the grounds was not going to be restored: rebuilding the dovecote would wake suspicions of wanting to restore seigniorial rights, and therefore it was considered best to leave it alone. This exact opposition to the situation at Huis Voorn rekindled my memory.
Living memory of seignorial rights has long vanished, but buildings such as dovecotes bear witness to them. In the nineteenth century some people even built dovecotes as a folly. Around Utrecht you can find several examples of them (at Sterkenburg near Driebergen, and both Arenburg and Sandwijck in De Bilt).
You might want to look at the digitized items from the personal papers, records concerning his official functions, manuscripts of his publications and much more of De Tocqueville held at the Archives départementales de la Manche at Saint-Lô.