Van Turnhoutervoorde tot Strienemonde.
Ontginnings- en nederzettingsgeschiedenis van het noordwesten van het Maas - Schelde - Demergebied.
400 - 1350.
Een poging tot synthese.

K.A.H.W. Leenders

ISBN = 90-6011-970-3


Concordance with Oorkondenboek Noord-Brabant

This book (680 pp, over 100 b/w-figures) is published by the Walburg Press, Zutphen, The Netherlands. It is sold out.

This book concerns the occupation- and settlement history in the early en full middle-ages of the region between Antwerp, Turnhout, Geertruidenberg, Westmaas and Bergen op Zoom. This region includes the northwestern part of the former duchy of Brabant and the southern rim of the ancient county of Holland. 37 Procent of the studied area belongs now to the Belgian province of Antwerp and the rest to the Dutch provinces North-Brabant (55%), South-Holland and Zeeland.

This region was not dealt with in the regional historical studies of Dekker (Zeeland), Henderikx (Holland), Van Ermen (Brabant) and Steurs (northeastern part of Brabant). In the thesis of Theuws (Maas, Scheldt, Demer-area) this region is referenced to only marginally [Dekker, 1971; Van Ermen, 1989; Henderikx, 1987; Steurs 1993 en Theuws, 1988.]. This book fills this hiatus.

We give for this region the first comprehensive account of the transformation of near emptyness around 400 AD to a quite densely inhabitated and complexly structured region around 1350. This transformation includes the process of settlement and turning waste land to agricultural use; the interaction between man and nature; the creation of a number of social, economical, juridical and spatial structures within the region and the building up of connections with the greater political and economical world outside.

This study is of interest to anyone who wants to have an overall picture of the settlement- and occupation history of the Netherlands as a whole regarding the interaction between man and nature. This study is also important for those who want to explore the medieval history of other regions using the research methods developed in this thesis. Our work gives a framework in which to place the results of the often haphazard crisis archeological research. Futhermore the protection of certain elements in the landscape may be furthered by the description of their function and cohesion given here. And naturally the book is interesting for everyone who is interested in the broader history of his of her own town, village and region.

The research

We have tried to get a glimpse of the development of the region during the period 400 - 1350 AD along five lines: archeology, toponymy, allodia, parish-filiation and the possesions and tenures of the influential "lords". The use of results from archeological and toponymical research and the analysis of the large properties is nowadays more or less standard in this kind of study. The reconstruction of the mother-daughter relations between parishes has also been used earlier. New is the attention paid here to the allodia: free own goods that were not connected feudally. By way of this allodia it was possible to perceive some of the events especially in the eleventh and twelfth centuries. This approach could also shine more light on the history of the bailiwich of Bois-le-Duc in the same period.

A great amount of data was collected to make it possible to follow our five research lines. The results of the toponymical research are published separately [Buiks en Leenders, 1994.]. The results of the inventarisation of the 14th century fiefs and tributary goods of the duke of Brabant, the count of Holland, the lords of Breda and Bergen op Zoom and some other large landowners are summed up in Appendix 8.2 of this thesis. This appendix is a supplement to the inventarisation of the dukal domain made by Van Ermen [Van Ermen, 1989.]. As no all-embracing publication of charters exists about the studied region, we collected from a great number of publications more than 2000 texts of charters. In doing so, we co-operated with the editors of the future Part II of the Oorkondenboek van Noord-Brabant (Charterbook of North-Brabant).

On the basis of the observed developments in our study region, three themes are worked out at the end of this thesis. First we describe the use and evolution of the waste land outside the intensively cultivated lands. Secondly we tested and supplemented the settlement-development model that has been proposed by the archeological researchers of the Kempenproject. Finally the occupation process in the north-west corner of the Meuse - Demer - Scheldt region is placed against the background of the developments elsewhere in the Netherlands and compared with Verhulst's phases in the expansion of the cultivated and inhabitated area in the Southern Netherlands [Verhulst, 1995.].

The results

It took eight centuries to develop from an empty semi-natural landscape to a quite densely inhabitated region in which only a small area remained unchanged. The development went slowly at first, with here and there a pioneering pin-prick. But before long the rims of the study region became part of the neighbouring expanding settlement regions: Antwerp, the Kempen, eastern Zeeland. See map. An agrarian landscape was created within a wooded environment, which later caused the destruction of this same environment. However primitive and limited medieval people may have acted, the ideal of a "sustainable development" was then also by no means realised. So one accomodated oneself, changed the agricultural methods and settlement pattern. Soil productivity was increased so that more people could be fed within the borders of the village.

In this way a second spurt became possible, necessitated by a growing population from outside, a demand for products from the region itself, especially from the new towns, and the want for money of the lords of Breda. As a result the until now avoided bogs and moors became interesting. Also that last corner, where nothing ever happened, became a hive of activity. In the north a Holland-type agrarian peat-landscape was created. In the zone south of it a Flemish peat-colony was established, where the initiative went into Brabant hands from 1300 onwards. Further south a zone was situated with mostly agrarian reclaimations on sand or peat, where sometimes the surveying techniques of the world of peat were used. The rim of the great Holland-peat district came into agrarian use from the neighbouring sandy soils, not as arable farmland, but as a huge meadowland. In time this made it possible to reclaim nearly every spot in a broad first zone of the sandy soils. Further south this was impossible, because the narrow brook valleys provided insufficient meadowland. The extensive use of the waste land as supplementary or even main pasture remained indispensable there.

And again things went wrong. All grubbing in the bogs and moors, were it for agriculture, peat or salt production, in the end resulted in a lowering of the level of the land. In the low lying north and west this gave the always greedy sea the opportunity to burst in upon the lands for a long period to take them as a running out area for the tides. The Antwerp Polders and Strijen were the first hit regions, the northwest corner of North-Brabant followed somewhat later. Eventually the sea would thurst through right up to the towns of Gorinchem and Heusden ! But the floods brought also clay and salt. So, after some time, if no deep erosion had occurred, the flooded areas became interesting again.

In this way the landscape of the studied region was already transformed totally in the second half of the middle-ages. Map of open fields and enclosed fields. In the midst of a rising population and a broadening economical basis, some towns developed. May be the first originated out of the need of the regional powers to get some grip on the newly acquired territories, but later commerce and industry became important activities. Commerce and industry were from the beginning the main basis for the small towns that began to prosper in the low lying areas in the 14th century.

As empty as the region was in the beginning, so undefined and vague was the political inbedding of it in the system of the Merovingian and Karolingian kingdoms. As soon as the population rose, these relations became clearer. But the study region became, with a great region east of it, like a pond fished for power by a number of princes. Ultimately three anglers had a bite. From the rim of the pond the duke of Brabant and the count of Holland got a part of it. From the inside the lord of Breda could secure for himself a very comfortable position within the duchy of Brabant. In later years he would sorely need that position, as an ill-juged last will and a too expensive marriage tested his fortunes. As lord of Breda he could sell off the waste lands for reclaimation, peat cutting or salt production on the basis of his right to the waste lands. By selling them he could save himself. So he strongly stimulated the development of the reigon, forced by his own need for money and responding to the needs for space and fuel in Flanders.

The much heard idea that in western North-Brabant and neighbouring areas nothing happened in the early middle-ages, proved false. That picture is oversimplified. It was evoked mainly by a lack of good archeological and toponymical research. It is true that - as far as we can see - the south-eastern half of our study region was, compared to other regions further south or east, during quite a long period less populated, while the bogs and moors in the northwest remained mainly unpopulated. So, during the middle-ages the the occupation of the study region lagged behind in comparision with the developments in the whole of the Netherlands and especially with Flanders.

These shortfall caused the region in the middle of the 13th century to become a natural overspill area for the ongoing demographical growth that no longer found room in Flanders itself. The fast growth in the study region only ended when that demographical pressure eased off as a result of the mid-14th century epidemics. Apart from the changes as a result of further inundations and rediking in the north and some new villages as a result of the peat cutting activities, the region by 1350 had the institutional structure that would persist till the Eighty Years War.

Literature mentioned before:

Buiks, C.J.M. en K.A.H.W.Leenders. Nederzettingsnamen in het gebied tussen Antwerpen, Turnhout, Geertruidenberg en Willemstad. Den Haag, 1994. (6 delen).

Dekker, C.. Zuid Beveland. De historische geografie en de instellingen van een Zeeuws eiland in de middeleeuwen. Assen, 1971.

Ermen, E. van. Feodaal-heerlijke verhoudingen en territoriale patronen in het middeleeuwse patronen in het middeleeuwse hertogdom Brabant (12de - 14de eeuw) met bijzondere aandacht voor de regio Leuven. Leuven, 1989 (diss. KUL).

Henderikx, P.A.. De beneden-delta van Rijn en Maas. Landschap en bewoning van de romeinse tijd tot ca.1000. Hilversum, 1987.

Steurs, W.. Naissance d'une région. Aux origines de la Mairie de Bois-le-duc. Recherches sur le Brabant septentrional aux 12e et 13e siècles. Brussel, 1993. Kon. Ak. van België, Klasse der Letteren, octo, 3e serie, deel III.

Theuws, F.C.W.J.. De archeologie van de periferie; studies naar de ontwikkeling van bewoning en samenleving in het Maas - Demer - Scheldegebied in de vroege middeleeuwen. Amsterdam,1988 (diss. UvA, not published!)

Version June 7th, 2005

© Copyright : K.A.H.W. Leenders