Tag Archives: Water control

Opening a book: Simon van Leeuwen and Dutch history

Portrait of Simon van Leeuwen by P. Philippe, 1662 - Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum

Portrait of Simon van Leeuwen by P. Philippe, 1662 – engraving, Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum

In the galaxy of lawyers in the seventeenth-century Dutch Republic Hugo Grotius is at the very center. Other lawyers are judged according to their contributions to legal doctrine. In this view Simon van Leeuwen (1626-1682) would figure near the outer rim, because he was more a compiler and commentator. Nevertheless, he shared with Grotius among other things an interest in Dutch history. In this post I would like to look at Van Leeuwen’s books, and in particular his posthumously published work on Dutch history. This year I could benefit time and again from its information while researching the lives of some people living in the Golden Age of the Dutch Republic. My curiosity to find out more about his works prompted me to write here in my series Opening a book. Van Leeuwen translated for example also a work in the field of world history. My search brought me back to the repertory of Dutch Early Modern historians, Repertorium van geschiedschrijvers in Nederland 1500-1800 by E.O.G. Haitsma Mulier and G. van der Lem (The Hague 1990).

A prolific writer

If you check for Simon van Leeuwen in the Short Title Catalogue Netherlands you will get nearly ninety hits, and the earliest book shown is his edition in 1651 of a work by Quintyn Weytsen, Een tractaet van avarien, a work about general average, cases in maritime law about unavoidable damage to ships, a matter dealt with here three years ago. In 1652 van Leeuwen published his first own book, Paratitula juris novissimi dat is Een kort begrip van het Rooms-Hollandts-reght (Leiden 1652), with in the subtitle the term that made him famous, the Rooms-Hollands recht, the Roman-Dutch Law. I had expected the exhibit of the Robbins Collections of Berkely’s School of Law would at last resurface on its redesigned website, but as for now you can only view the starting page of The Roman-Dutch Legal Tradition. Notaries are the subject of his following book, Notarius publicus, dat is, De practycke ende oeffeninge der notarissen (first edition, Dordrecht 1657), but actually it had already been printed a year earlier as an additional part of the second edition of the Paratitula (Leiden 1656). In this book he offers also a dictionary of Dutch law terms, including the neologims coined by Grotius in his Inleidinge tot de Hollandsche regtsgeleerdheid (1631).

Cover öf the "cesnura foresnsis", 1662 - source: STCN

Cover of the first edition of Van Leeuwen’s “Censura forensis” (Leiden 1662) – copy Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam; image: STCN

Van Leeuwen’s practice as a lawyer explains to some extent his choice of subjects, He was born in Leiden where he studied literature and law at. After receiving his law degree in 1646 he started as a barrister in The Hague at the Hof van Holland and the Supreme Council,and later in Leiden. In 1681 he goes again to the Dutch Supreme Council, de Hoge Raad van Holland em Zeeland. In 1659 appeared his first work on Dutch history, Redeningh over den oorspronck, reght, ende onderscheyt der edelen, ende wel-borenen in Hollandt, literally translated “an argument about the origin, law and distinction of noblemen and gentry in Holland”, a subject which should indeed interest people in a country that aspired to be a real republic of equal citizens. In 1659 appeared also his translation of a book by Petrus Peckius (1529-1589), De iure sistendi, with the Dutch title Verhandelinghe van handt-opleggen ende besetten: dat is, Arrest op persoon ende goederen (Leiden 1659), a book about the way one could arrest people and legally seize goods. His following book is in Latin, which no doubt helped to get noticed by lawyers all over Europe, Censura forensis, theoretico-practica id est Totius juris civilis, Romani […] methodica collatio (Lugduni Batavorum 1662).

A year later appeared an even more ambitious work, an enlarged version of the edition by Denis Godefroy and Antonius Anselmus of the Corpus Iuris Civilis (Amsterdam-Leiden 1663). A few years later Van Leeuwen chose a more restricted subject, court procedure, in his Manier van procederen in civile en criminele saaken (Leiden 1666). In 1667 appeared his translation of a work in Latin on Persian history by Johannes de Laet (1593-1649), Voyagien, naa, en door het groot en magtige koninkryk van Persia (Amsterdam 1667) [Persia seu Regni Persici status variaque itinera in atque per Persiam]. De Laet (latinized Laetius), a student at Leiden of Scaliger, was a pioneer of comparative linguistics and world geography, and also a governor of the Dutch West India Company. Van Leeuwen commands our respect for his wide interest and his personal combination of global and more local matters.

In 1667 Van Leeuwen published also two new works, the Handvesten ende privilegien van den lande van Rijnland, met den gevolge van dien and Costumen, keuren, ende ordonnantien, van het baljuschap ende lande van Rijnland, editions of sources, in particular ordinances and privileges, of Rijnland, the area around Leiden which in one particular respect, water government, formed a unity. We shall see below how he used these sources in the work published only after his death. in 1671 appeared a work on the history of Roman law he wrote together with Arnoldus Vinnius (1588-1657), De origine & progressu juris civilis Romani authores & fragmenta veterum juris consultorum, to which he contributed two chapters.

The last independent work published during his life was a book on the history of Leiden, Korte besgryving van het Lugdunum Batavorum nu Leyden (Leiden 1672). The collection of legal consultations Bellum juridicum: ofte Den oorlogh der advocaten (Amsterdam 1683) is ascribed to him, but there is reasonable doubt about his authorship. One of the reasons for this doubt is that we know Van Leeuwen helped Cornelis Cau in publishing the third volume of the massive collections of ordinances issued by the General Estates and the States of Holland, the Groot placaet-boeck, vervattende de placaten […] van de […] Staten Generael […] ende van de […] Staten van Hollandt ende West-Vrieslandt (third volume, The Hague 1683).

Holland’s history brought to higher levels

Frontispice of Batavia Illustrata, 1685

Frontispice of Van Leeuwen’s “Batavia Illustrata” (1685) – copy Royal Library, The Hague – image STCN

With Van Leeuwen we encounter a writer interested in several subjects: Dutch law, Dutch history, Roman law and even world history. In my view he clearly aspired to have a part in major projects both within Holland and on an European scale. Only by considering this context you can arrive at an explanation for the title of his posthumously published massive work Batavia illustrata, ofte Verhandelinge vanden oorspronk, voortgank, zeden, eere, staat en godtsdienst van Oud Batavien (…) (1 vol. in 2 parts, The Hague 1685), “Illustrious Holland, or a treatise on the origin, progress, traditions, state and religion of Old Batavia. Van Leeuwen presents here materials around an enlarged edition of a work by Wouter van Goudhoeven (1577-1628), D’oude chronijcke ende historien van Holland (first edition 1620), in itself a continuation of the so-called Divisiekroniek which was first printed in the early sixteenth century. Van Leeuwen does not only follow the foot steps of Dutch historians, but chooses a title, Batavia Illustrata which in a way sounds as a conscious imitation of the title of a famous work on the history of Italy, Italia illustrata by Flavio Biondo. The frontispiece of Van Leeuwen’s opus ultimum shows in front of the two angels with the title at the left an allegory of the Dutch virgin with a staff bearing the hat of library and a hand caressing the Dutch lion, and at the same time telling Clio, the muse of history, the stories of Holland’s glory which she jots down in the book on her knees. If you read the complete title on the title page you cannot miss the double approach of this work, a continuation and improvement on earlier histories and a work based on research in oude schriften ende authenticque stukken, “old manuscripts and original records”.

The gentry, too, appears in Van Leeuwen’s long title. An overview of genteel families in Holland is a major feature of his book, with lots of genealogical detail. It reads almost as a who is who of Dutch Early Modern history. Inevitably this work has been digitized by the Great Global Search Firm, but only in black-and-white. You had better use the version in the Digitale Sammlungen of the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, Munich (vol. 1, vol. 2). The last part of the second volume contains several lists of all kind of Dutch officials, including the board members of three major hoogheemraadschappen, the independent boards responsible for water control and protection against the sea, Rijnland, Delfland (around Delft) and Schieland (near Rotterdam). Here you will find out why the museum Boymans-van Beuningen in Rotterdam is situated at a lane called Matenesserlaan, not only because of a field name, but also in recognition of the role of a powerful family. During my research on members of the Van Matenesse’s I found often more in Van Leeuwen’s book than in modern Dutch biographical works conveniently accessible online at the Biografisch Portaal. Of course I could also spot at some turns information which clearly not correct, but in general this work is reliable.

For me the point in writing here about Van Leeuwen is the fact he was not just a second-rank writer about Dutch law, however right this judgment surely is. Van Leeuwen did efforts to republish or translate the work of others, and he succeeded in collaborating on important publications of other Dutch authors. He did not only publish source editions, but used them also for his own historical works. Through his manuals on Dutch law, legal procedure and notarial law his influence on Dutch practitioners of the law was substantial. Both the original and the English translation of his work on the Roman-Dutch law influenced law in South Africa.

A postscript

On May 19, 2017 the fifth and final volume the series “Bibliografie van de Nederlandse Rechtswetenschap tot 1811  Bibliography of jurists of the Northern Netherlands active outside the Dutch universities to the year 1811, edited by the late Robert Feenstra and Douglas Osler (Amsterdam 2017), will be officially presented at the Peace Palace in The Hague. No doubt Van Leeuwen, too, figures in this volume, and the multitude of the reprints and re-editions of his works will come much more into view.

A safe investment almost 400 years on

The bond issued in 1648

This week news came out about the upcoming payment of interest to Yale University on a perpetual bond issued in 1648 by a Dutch water authority, the Hoogheemraadschap van de Lekdijk Bovendams. Next week its legal successor, the Hoogheemraadschap Stichtse Rijnlanden, will pay the sum of € 136,20 ($ 154), the interest over twelve years. Yale’s Beinecke Library bought the bond in 2003 as a cultural artefact. Not only Bloomberg brings this news item which attracted quickly attention at Twitter, but elsewhere, too, this news has been noticed, for example at the Indrosphere blog by Indrajit Roy Choudhury. On my blog I have devoted some space both to the history of water authorities and the history of shares and stocks, and thus it is logical to write here also about this particular story.

Logo Stichtse Rijnlanden

At the website of the Stichtse Rijnlanden it becomes soon clear how this modern water authority is responsible for a much larger area than only the lands adjacent to the Lek, a branch of the Rhine in The Netherlands, for which the old hoogheemraadschap had been founded. The website of the Regionaal Historisch Centrum Rjnstreek en Lopikerwaard, the regional archive at Woerden, offers a concise history of this institution. In 1285 a dam had been placed in the Hollandse IJssel to prevent the water of this river to stream into the Lek near the village of Vreeswijk, now a part of Nieuwegein. After floodings in this region of the diocese Utrecht due to neglect of this dam bishop Jan van Diest published in 1323 an ordinance for its maintenance. The schouwbrief of 1323 was followed by more instructions, in particular by ordinances published on behalf of Charles V in 1537. “Bovendams” means “ahead of the dam”, in this case up to Amerongen, to the east, 33 kilometers. From the dam westwards another water authority came into existence dealing with the Lekdijk Benedendams up to the town of Schoonhoven.

The article in Dutch points to a number of modern studies concerning this water authority. Pride of place should go to an older study by legal historian Marina van Vliet, Het Hoogheemraadschap van de Lekdijk Bovendams: een onderzoek naar de beginselen van het dijkrecht in het Hoogheemraadschap, voornamelijk in de periode 1537-1795 (Assen, 1961). Its long title mentions not only the hoogheemraadschap, but also the term dijkrecht, dyking law. Marijke Donkersloot-de Vrij, a specialist in the field of historical cartography, edited the volume of essays De Stichtse Rijnlanden: geschiedenis van de zuidelijke Utrechtse waterschappen (Utrecht, 1993). The most recent major study, Ad van Bemmel’s De Lekdijk van Amerongen naar Vreeswijk: negen eeuwen bescherming van Utrecht en Holland (Hilversum, 2009) stands out for its colourful photography.

Getting money for major investments

In the media the news about the payment to Yale University was received with some smiles. Does this institution really need this small sum? The Beinecke Library is this year closed for a major renovation and will open only in Fall 2016. Nowadays it is not easy to work on a building site and stay firmly within your budget, and thus even this Dutch payment can be most welcome. Incidentally when you check the collections website of the Beinecke Library it becomes clear that this record (Gen. Mss. File 565) was a gift from the International Center for Finance at the Yale School of Management in 2009, a statement which seems to contradict the assertion at Bloomberg about Yale paying $ 24,000 in 2003 to acquire this bond.

Map of the Lekdijk near Honswijk, 1751

Map of the Lek and the dykes near Honswijk, 1751 – Woerden, RHC Rijnstreek en Lopikerwaard, Lekdijk Bovendams, inv. no. 1154-H

The bilingual website Beursgeschiedenis/Exchange History has a short article showing the 1648 bond is not the oldest surviving one from this hoogheemraadschap, but one from 1624, since 1938 in the possession of the New York Stock Exchange, thus one of the oldest surviving shares worldwide. The 2,5 percent interest yields even today 15 euros. The bonds of 1648 were issued specifically to build a krib, a pier in the Lek near the hamlet of Honswijk, now situated within the municipality Houten. Maintaining such piers and fighting against piers and other structures at the other side of the river kept the hoogheemraadschap busy for centuries. You can download the archival inventory from the website of the RHC Rijnstreek en Lopikerwaard (PDF, 74 MB). Like other Dutch water authorities the hoogheemraadschap was an independent authority which could proceed in court against for instance the counts of Culemborg or the States of Guelders. The website for the history of stock exchange does call to attention the fact that even the counts of Holland and the bishops of Utrecht, in medieval times often deadly enemies, both invested money in the maintenance plans of water authorities.

Light on some details

Some elements in this week’s story need elaboration. You can shake your head in disbelief about a rich university welcoming a payment of just over one hundred dollars, but you might also marvel at the fact of the longevity of institutions vital for the protection of areas threatened by the powers of mighty rivers or seas. Issuing perpetual bonds or rents was not an invention of the Dutch Republic. Medieval rents issued by cities are documented for regions such as Tuscany and Flanders since the thirteenth century. Water authorities could levy taxes to get money, but these taxes were meant to cover the costs of normal maintenance.

Banner Utrechts Archiefnet

To my surprise I found the archival collections of both the water authorities for the Lekdijk Bovendams and Lekdijk Benedendams in the regional archives at Woerden. The archival inventory (finding aid) for the Lekdijk Bovendams had been created in 1980 at the former provincial archive in Utrecht, but a few years ago it was decided to bring a large number of archival collections kept at Het Utrechts Archief to regional archives in the province of Utrecht, and thus you can find currently materials much closer to their origins at Amersfoort, Breukelen, Wijk bij Duurstede and Woerden. Luckily there is a nifty search site for archives in the modern province Utrecht, the Utrechts Archiefnet, but precisely archival records kept at Woerden can only be searched online at its own website. Interestingly the banner of the Utrechts Archiefnet shows a map with at the bottom the Hollandse IJssel and the Lek.

Banner Discover Yale Digital Content

At its collections website the Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library shows for the 1648 bond not an image of the original bond but only the modern talon, the leaflet with notes about payments of interest. The Beinecke’s inventory record gives only the immediate provenance of this bond; information about its earlier provenance is absent. The portal Discover Yale Digital Content does list the bond, but precisely for the original document at first no image seemed available. It took me some time to realize that Stichtse Rijnlanden provides with the news item on its website a direct link to the image at the Beinecke Library. It appears a second record (!) for the original bond has been filed as “Lekdijk Bovendams [water board bond]“, with as signature “Uncat. MS Vault File”.

What shall I say here about the double records for the twin items? I suppose we witness the archivists and librarians at work. It is instructive to see at one hand a very detailed indication of subjects using LC Subject Headings, and in the other record just “Business records” and “Certificates”. The more general description gives you the precise dimensions of both items, and the other one has already been included in Yale’s Orbis general library catalog with a cautious remark “In process-material”. It will be a challenge to merge both descriptions into one record. It will be necessary to look at the back of the bond to decipher ownership indications and to confirm the information of the talon: the verso has a note that in 1944 an allonge was issued. The names of former owners are faded or crossed out, and I cannot decipher them quickly, too. “J.J, de Milly” is clear, as is a note about the States of Utrecht from 1652. Dealing with such dorsal notations is one of the goals for which the historical auxiliary sciences have been developed. In fact Yale might consider bringing these items to the Rare Books Room of the Lillian Goldman Law Library, a fitting place for a document with clearly not only a cultural value but also connections to legal, economic and financial history.

No easy answers

Logo RHC Rijnstreek en Lopikerwaard

How shall we sum up the results of this post? This week’s news item can easily be expanded. At PrefBlog I read a nice rejoinder pointing to a sale in 2000 at Christie’s in New York of yet another payable bond issued by the Lekdijk Bovendams in 1634 which was sold for $ 47,000, twice as much as Yale paid in 2003 for their bond. A genealogist tracing the history of the Van Blanckendael family also came across the 1634 bond and asked the regional archives in Woerden about the perpetual bonds. The RHC Rijnstreek en Lopikerwaard responded in 2011 drily that the archive of the hoogheemraadschap Lekdijk Bovendams contains several obligations from 1624 and 1638, and even from 1595. However, these obligations are not payable anymore, with two cuts in the document they have been cancelled. Not only national governments, cities and commercial companies issued rentebrieven, perpetual bonds, but other authorities, too, benefited in the past from the capital market.

Safeguarding the densely populated Netherlands is still the business of the Dutch waterschappen and hoogheemraadschappen. The one for the Lekdijk is remarkable because it dealt only with the dykes along the Lek and Nederrijn, not with the polders inside Utrecht. It literally pays to have institutions created only for this purpose. Regions afflicted in recent years by river floodings in other countries can tell you about the disastrous impact of neglected dykes. A few years ago the village of Wilnis in my own province Utrecht was hit unexpectedly by a flood caused by a dyke that imploded during hot summer weeks without any rain. The etymology of Wilnis, “wildernis”, wilderness, might wryly serve as a warning of what can become of areas struck by the forces of water running freely.

Last but not least there is the matter of describing, conserving and storing archival records stemming from abroad in orderly fashion. The libraries at Yale University contain an astonishing wealth of materials from all over the world, and most often one can only admire the sheer skills in making them useful and accessible for the scholarly community at large. Last week the Findit search website was launched for sarching digital images at Yale University Library, with a clear notice that seven other digital collections at Yale are to be searched separately. Perhaps the double efforts for the rare still active Dutch bond are a blessing in disguise, even if it shows uncoordinated work. Maybe it is a case of not getting in touch immediately with scholars at Yale who could have saved the librarians and archivists from this situation. Years ago librarians at Munich taught me the fifteen minutes rule for cataloguing: when you cannot figure it out within a quarter of an hour, stop and get help. Getting things right is a hard thing to do. In this case scholars at Yale Law School and its marvellous library would have been most happy and willing to assist, and when necessary they would not hesitate to ask for help from all over the world, in order to bring light and truth true to Yale’s motto Lux et Veritas.

A postscript

David Schorr commented at the blog Environment, Law and History on September 21, 2015, my statements about the unique independent character of Dutch water institutions. In particular irrigation districts, too, tend to be independent institutions. I should have been alarmed by my own use of the notorious word unique! The next thing to question is the way such institutions carried out their jurisdiction. Some Dutch waterschappen had in principle the right to inflict the death penalty for not complying with their ordinances. The blog of David Schorr, Adam Wolkoff and Sarah Mikov is well worth following.

Yale Insights published in 2007 an interview ‘What is a long life worth?’ with William N. Goetzmann and K. Geert Rouwenhorst confirming the purchase of the bond at an auction in 2003. They tell something about other loans and perpetuities. Goetzmann edited the essay volume The origins of value. The financial innovations that created modern capital markets (Oxford, etc., 2005) covering the history of loans from Babylon to modern times, where you can find an article by Goetzmann and Rouwenhorst, ‘Perpetuities in the Stream of History. A Paying Instrument from the Golden Age of Dutch Finance’ (pp. 177-187) dealing in detail with the 1648 bond. The Yale School of Management has created an online exhibit on the history of securities, Origins of Value. You can consult online an interesting bachelor thesis by Mark Hup, Life annuities as a resource of public finance in Holland, 1648-1713. Demand- or supply-driven? (B.A. thesis Economics, University of Utrecht, 2011) (PDF).

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.