K.A.H.W. Leenders

Published in: Sereno, P., M.L. Sturani (eds.). Rural landscape between state and local communities in Europe. Past and present. Proceedings of the 16th session of the Standing European conference for the study of the rural landscape (Torino, 12-16 September 1994). Turin, 1998, 131 - 140. (321 pp, ill., ISBN=88-7694-285-8)


In an attempt to augment tax-returns from a so called timber-tax, farmers in the eastern part of the province North-Brabant in the Netherlands were, during the 18th century, obliged to plant trees. Although directed at 40 villages, only in 27 did an increase in timber-tax payment occur during that century. In a small number of villages a completely new landscape developed: the poplar-landscape. This was accompanied by the birth of a new export-industry: clogmaking. So the question arises : why is the reaction on the uniform tree-planting-task so non-uniform.

The "Regulations"

In the Middle Ages the duchy of Brabant was situated in the middle of the seventeen provinces of the Netherlands. Parts of it now form the Belgian provinces Antwerpen, Vlaams-Brabant and Brabant-Wallon; as well as three quarters of the Dutch province Noord-Brabant. In the 16th century Brussels was the main capital of Brabant, while Leuven (Louvain), Antwerpen (Antwerp) and 's-Hertogenbosch (Bois-le-Duc, the duke's wood) were secondary capitals. During the Eighty-Year-War (1568 - 1648) the northern part of the duchy of Brabant was occupied by the Dutch Republic. After 1648 its status remained more or less unchanged. This part of Brabant was then called "State-Brabant". The authority of the Duke of Brabant in State-Brabant was now exercised by the State Council of the Dutch Republic in The Hague. The old ducal income from this region was diverted to the State-Council. A part of it was formed by the so called timber-tax: a mediaeval tax on felled trees.

In an attempt to raise more money from the occupied territories, The Hague introduced new taxes and tried to get more out of the old taxes. So it was reasoned that, if more trees were grown, the timber-tax income would rise, be it only after a number of years. So in 1696 the "Regulations on the planting of the Bailiwick of Bois le Duc" were published (Ordre, 1697.). According to these Regulations each year before April 30 every farmer with land to plough had to dig on the commons along the perimeter of his lands a row of plant-holes. These holes had to be 3 to 4 feet deep and 8 tot 9 feet wide. The distance between the plant-holes had to be 19 to 20 feet. During the summer this work had to be inspected. In the first week of November trees, preferably oak or beech, had to be planted in these holes. On very moist soils it was allowed to plant the next summer. The young trees had to be provided from local nurseries that each village had to lay out on the commons. The whole system had to be in place after ten years. Villages that had not yet the right to plant trees on the commons, now got that right too. Or rather: every village was obliged to plant trees on the commons ! Further it was advised to plant trees along the roads while remodeling the roadsurface "round like a barrel". Some villages had already improved their roads in that way. They were cited as examples for the others. In 1714 and 1749 these Regulations were published again(Reglement, 1714. RANB, Kwartier van Oirschot, nr. 85.).

How realistic were the expectations ?

A number of remarks should be made about this fine plan.

In the first place these regulations had power only in the villages where the timber-tax had formerly been paid to the Duke of Brabant. In quite a number of villages this tax was paid to a local lord. Perhaps they gave their villagers the same order, perhaps not. As far as our research is concerned it is important to know that only the ducal tax-returns were studied, not that of the local lords.

Secondly, not everyone obeyed the regulations. As late as 1756, sixty years after the first publication of the Regulations, the village-administrators of Oost-, West- en Middelbeers inspected the results of the tree-planting action. They reported that in many places trees had been planted, but that there were no trees at all in many other places. The farmers claimed that they still wanted to test the idea with a few trees, because they were not sure that treeplanting would succeed(RANB, RG 343.). This is remarkable, because in sixty years you can grow quite a big oak-tree, or even three generations of poplar ! So we must conclude that we see here a typical case of not doing what The Hague demanded should be done. As Holland was seen as an occupier who brought new taxes, foreign administra- tors and moreover tried to subdue Roman-Catholicism in favor of Protestantism, such an attitude of disobedience and deception was widespread(Kappelhof, 1986, 138ev.).

Thirdly, the State-Council in The Hague was composed of important people from the county of Holland, who did not have much sympathy for the possibilities and problems of the sandy soils in State-Brabant. While they asked for oak and beech, it seems that mostly poplar was planted. Sometimes it seems from their regulations that they had only heard of oak and that they saw every tree as an oak. As far as oak was planted, it was mostly used to build new hedges. Every six years the new growth was cut and big oaktrees didn't develop. Beeches are seldom found outside parks and big gardens(Valk, 1994.).

Fourthly, the soil of State-Brabant was mainly sand: fine sand and coarse sand. Farmers had invested much hard work in creating permanent tillable fields by heavy manuring. This manure was mainly produced by their cattle and sheep and was mixed with sods and plants taken from the common heathlands. By this process the soil-structure and drainage of the heath had deteriorated. Planting of trees in the heathlands without deep digging and other measures would be quite impossible. The big expanses of heathlands had partly developed during the Middle Ages by overgrazing of former woodland(De Ploey, 1961; De Bont, 1993, 72.), and according to some archeological views partly out of areas that were impoverished by prehistorical shifting cultivation(Edelman and Edelman - Vlam, 1960, 29 - 50.). The landscape on the sandy soils had in the 18th century very few woods. It combined the very open landscape of big heathlands with a very closed landscape of the cultivated lands which were full of hedges(Map of the Bailiwick of Bois le Duc by H. Verhees, reproduced in Crijns and Kriellaars, 1987. Topographical maps 1:25.000 ca. 1840; most of the woods shown there were planted after 1750.). Only in a few regions where the soil was very loamy or possessed an shallow loamy layer, could trees and woods survive into and even through the Later Middle Ages. These were the places were the new treeplanting could succeed.

So we have four limiting factors for a succes of the "Regulations on the planting of the Bailiwick of Bois le Duc" of 1696.

What was the effect of the Regulations on the tax-returns ?

In the case of State-Brabant there are no ancient maps that allow us to analyse the effects of this regulation on the landscape. The first real topographical maps date from the end of the 18th century and we need 17th century-maps for a comparison to be possible. But in the archives of the steward of the ducal domains lists of returns on the timber-taxes were saved(RANB, RG 338.). They give the returns of each village for a great number of years, in the 17th and through the 18th century. By studying these documents we can see exactly how far the tax-returns increased following the publication of the "Regulations". With some more difficulty it will be possible to derive insights into changes in the landscape.

The levying of taxes was organised in Brabant on the basis of "villages" as taxable units. Taxes for the central government in The Hague had to be paid by every village. Payments due to feudal lords were paid a sub-local lord, the lord of the village or to the ducal domains if the village had no "own" lord: a so called "ducal village". When a ducal village was sold to a local lord, the stream of taxes to the ducal domain stopped. All this results in 39 villages that give usable data. They are concentrated in the eastern part of State- Brabant, south of the capital Bois le Duc. The collection of the timber-tax was farmed out for periods of three years to the real taxcollectors. It is the payment made by these collectors that we can find in the archives.

In the 39 villages the total timber tax amounted to about 1100 Dutch guilders per year in the period 1663 - 1687. This period will be used as reference-period, because the returns are - apart of the war-year 1672 - quite stable and date from before the publication of the Regulations in 1696. Secondly we can observe a short period around 1720. Timber tax returns were then about 2300 guilders a year: double that of the reference-period. Complete data exist for the period 1743 - 1800. At first we see a quite stable period till 1760, with a tax return of around 1700 guilders. Thereafter the total timber tax returns rise fastly to around 4000 guilders a year. From this picture we learn that the timber tax doubled in the first 20 years, stayed at that level until 1760 and then doubled again in the next 20 years.

Of course big differences occurred between the 39 villages. In 11 villages the timber tax even declined. Between these villages were places that came in the middle category in the 17th century, but also many "small" taxpayers. The biggest timber tax payer of the 17th century doubled its payment: from 106 to 217 gulders. The biggest increases were in Udenhout (75 > 608 = x 8); Schijndel (55 > 834 = x 15), Veghel (29 > 282 = x 10) and a group of three small villages that gave 3,3 guilders in de reference period and increased to the still small amount of 42 gulders around 1785 (x 12). The third biggest timber tax payer of the 17th century, St.-Oedenrode, rose from 75 to 400 guilders (x 5). Half the big increase in timbertax-returns between 1760 and 1780 was located in just four villages: Schijndel, Udenhout, Veghel, St. Oedenrode.

Interpretation of the differences in tax - rise

The map of the timber tax-increase shows two regions with a big increase: around Udenhout and around Schijndel. Further south are three villages with big increases, but they originate from very low taxes in the 17th century. The regions of Udenhout and Schijndel were already in the top bracket of the timber-tax and stayed there. Nevertheless, no major geographical shift occurred in the areas with the highest timber tax returns during the 18th century. The highest returns came from a horse-shoe area around Bois le Duc.

When we compare this with a map of the loamy soils in the eastern part of North- Brabant(Extracted from Van Diepen, 1968. Production of such a map from the automated map-system at the Staring Institute in Wageningen proved prohibitive costly.), some similarity becomes apparent. In the region Udenhout loamy soils dominate on the surface. In a large region including Oirschot-Schijndel a l�ss-loam-layer occurs within 120 cm of the surface. The biggest timber-tax-payers of the late 18th century all lay within these two regions ! But there are also loamy soils further south and there the timbertaxreturns even tumbled down ! We come to this problem later on.

In both Udenhout and the Oirschot-Schijndel-region big woods existed till quite late in the Middle Ages, say 1300(Leenders, 1991, 29.). In the centuries there after these villages kept up a certain timber production. So they were among the highest timber-tax payers of the 17th century. In the 18th century treegrowing increased greatly in these regions. In most of the other places the woods of the early Middle Ages disappeared long before 1300 and treegrowing was seldom a recognisable business. The tree-planting action of the 18th century found in these villages only a very small response. Therefore we connect this distinction between treegrowing and tree-less villages with the presence or absence of loamy soils.

What was the effect of the Regulations on the landscape ?

In the Schijndel-region the planting of trees, especially poplars, along the roads and the perimeter of the commons, was followed by planting along the boundaries of the individual fields. Then the farmers went further and even divided the fields into narrow strips, usually of 125 by 25 meters. This doubled the length of the field-boundaries and also the room for planting trees. The narrow fields were mostly kept as grazing land, but some were tilled even then. Charitable institutions in Bois le Duc possessed some fields in Schijndel where treegrowing and agriculture alternated in time and even in space. It is as if treegrowing functioned as a long fallow period(Leenders, 1991, 30.). All this resulted in the so-called poplar-landscape. This poplar-landscape became only really clearly visible in the early 20th century as many hedges were cleared away(Leenders, 1991, 59.). Then the cultivated area outside the poplar-landscape became a very open landscape with wide horizons. Within de poplar-landscape the low hedges disappeared too, but the high poplars remained and since then have dominated the view in every direction. It is only in the most recent decennia that also the rows of poplar are becoming more scarce. Slowly the poplarlandscape is desintegrating. It exisisted from about 1750 to 2000 AD.

Economic significance of the poplar-landscape

Farmers do not plant trees in great numbers just because some regulations from a distant city demand it. So there must have been some benefits in this quite massive treeplantingaction. These benefits were realised by the development of a rural industry: clog-making(The history of clog-making in the Netherlands is described in : Van Puijenbroek, 1969.). The first mention of clogs in this region dates from Liempde in 1619(Heesters, 1987.). Till about 1750 such references seem to be only occasional. But in 1767 a transport of 20 wagonloads of "wood for clogs" was captured : the timber-tax had not been paid ! In 1773 the village-administrators of Oirschot suspected that a big fraud with wood for clogs was going on. The Oirschot clog-makers bought, so was suspected, wood in other villages for which the timber-tax was already paid. But then they mixed it with a lot of Oirschot trees, on which they had not paid the timber tax. From all this wood they produced a considerable quantity of clogs that was exported to other regions without the clogmakers paying any extra timber-tax, pretending that the tax had already been paid in other villages(RANB, RG 343.).

At the end of the 18th century export of clogs, especially to the county of Holland, was mentioned for the villages of Nuenen, St. Oedenrode, Son, St.Michielsgestel and Oss. Other lists from around 1800 allways give the names of the villages Schijndel, St. Oedenrode, Best, Oirschot, Boxtel, Liempde and some other places(Van Puijenbroek, 1969, 71ev, Heesters, 1984, 241ev.). These are the villages of the poplar-landscape. It seems that the export of clogs was very much eased by the removal of the duties that till 1796 had to be paid on export to Holland(Vernooij, 1985, 40.). The then abolished Dutch Republic had for economic reasons treated occupied State-Brabant as a foreign country.

Around 1800 clog-making was mainly a winter activity. The clog-makers had a primary income as bricklayers or agricultural labourers. For the owners of the fields, often the farmers themselves, the trees gave an extra income too. The value of the trees could add as much as one quarter to the value of the land. A poplar tree is only mature after 20 years. But by organising a shifting cultivation of trees on the perimeter of his fields a farmer could have the extra income of felling and selling some trees every year. On a corner of his field he had a small nursery for growing up young shoots. Some of the smaller farmers later even specialised in these nurseries. In the middle of the 19th century clog-making gave about one third of the population of the villages in the poplar-landscape a main or extra income.

At first clog-making was nomadic: the clog-maker went to the felled tree and produced about 60 pairs of clogs out of every full grown poplar. Later in the 19th century the tools of the craft became more numerous and more advanced. The trees were then transported to the shop of the clog-maker: the industry became sedentary. Succesful mechanisation followed in 1912 and later. The manufactured clogs were transported over sand-roads by horse-drawn carts to Bois le Duc. From there they were shipped to Holland and elsewhere. The greater distance to Bois le Duc of the loamy soils further South must have hindered the development of local clogmaking and also the early creation of a poplarlandscape in that area.

In the 20th century the market for clogs diminished, slowly at first and faster later on. The population of the Netherlands in 1912 used 1« pair of wooden shoes per head; but only 0.6 in 1938 and 0.23 in 1968 and even much lower now. Clogs even no longer appear in modern statistics. They are now counted in the group "safety-shoes with hard noses". The growth of the population couldn't compensate this decline in the use of clogs. The first escape from this crisis in the market for poplartrees was from around 1900 found in factories that produced matches. Even a factory for the manufacture of trainwagons functioned in Schijndel during the interbellum. The price of poplar has stagnated since 1960 and intensification of land use is hindered by the presence of trees. Both factors now contribute to the disappearence of a landscape that, in the periode 1750 - 1950, was formed by men and brought him new opportunities. Conclusion

In the eastern part of the Dutch province North-Brabant treegrowing was since the Middle Ages already a tradition in the few areas with a loamy soil or a shallow loamy layer in the soil. In other places woods and trees had mostly disappeared during the great reclaimation period of the later Middle Ages.

The 1696 "Regulations on the planting of the Bailiwick of Bois le Duc" were meant to augment tax-returns from a mediaeval tax on felled trees. In the ducal villages south of Bois le Duc the farmers had to plant trees, especially oak and beech on the perimeter of the commons and on the roads. Every village had to have a nursery to provide them with young trees.

In fact these regulations were only a success in the areas where treegrowing had been continous since the Middle Ages. Not oak and beech was planted, but poplar. On the basis of the greater availability of poplarwood a rural industry of clogmaking developed. The manufactured wooden shoes were transported to Bois le Duc and from there mainly exported to the cities of the province of Holland. Specialised poplar nurseries and small farmers' nurseries provided the young shoots that were needed to replace the felled trees. The poplar-based activities provided an extra income for quite a large part of the popula- tion of the region, farmers as well as other people.

Treeplanting was intensified. The Regulations demanded planting along roads and the perimeter of the commons. But in the loamy region trees were also planted along the borders of cultivated fields and later even in rows dividing these fields into small strips of about 25 by 125 meters. So a poplar-landscape was formed, that became only clearly visible after the clearing away of the hedges from the cultivated parts of the landscape in the early 20th century. The poplar-landscape formed a strong contrast to the now very open arable fields of the other villages. Due to economic and agricultural developments the poplar-landscape is now slowly disappearing.

The poplar-landscape of the eastern part of the Dutch province of North-Brabant illustrates that uniform measures, thrown up by a centralised organ of an otherwise very decentralised Dutch Republic, gave a very diverse result because of soil-charisteristics and local traditions based on the possibilities of the soil. In this case the result was a poplar- landscape that during its existence from 1750 to 2000 contrasted with the landscape of the surrounding villages.

An interesting question arises when we compare our conclusions about the Bailiwick of Bois le Duc with the situation in the Land van Waas in Belgium, 10 to 20 kilometer west of Antwerpen. On a sandy soil with an undeep substrate of old clay, since the middle of the 18th century also a poplar-landscape developed. In 1819 the Land van Waas was the most important clogs-producing region of the then united kingdom that comprised nowadays Belgium and the Netherlands. Under the Ancient Regime the Land van Waas was, as a part of the county of Flanders, a part of the Austrian Southern Netherlands. It was completely outside the grip of "The Hague". So the "Regulations" of 1696 did not reach the Land van Waas. Nevertheless there also a poplar landscape with clog-making developed in the same period as it did in the Schijndel and Udenhout regions. Unless the Austrian government in the Southern Netherlands published regulations like those of 1696, we must conclude that the rise of poplarlandscapes with clog-making in both Brabant and Flanders was not an effect of state-influence, but of an other influence that both regions had in common. Perhaps an general intensifying of agriculture ?(With many thanks to Jeanet de Quartel-Moon for correcting the english text.)


RANB       Rijksarchief in Noord-Brabant, 's-Hertogenbosch.

RG Archief Rentmeester Generaal van de hertogelijke domeinen in Staats-Brabant.


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2 augustus 2023

© Copyright : K.A.H.W. Leenders