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Representation and Governance

Representation and Governance. A program of the Institute of Netherlands History by Eef Dijkhof and Jan Burgers


Representation and Governance in the Netherlands ca. 1250–1983

Research into the history of politics in the Netherlands has passed through a revival in the last few years. As a result, under the all-encompassing term of ‘political culture’, attention has turned to questions such as:

·         Who is entitled to take part in politics?

·         What subjects does politics deal with?

·         How do political concepts evolve?

·         What form can, and should, political conflict take?

The 'Representation and Governance in the Netherlands’-programme fits in with this new perspective on political history. It will explore the historic development of political institutions and bureaucratic procedures through the ages.

Sources will be recorded and made accessible in projects that link up the Middle Ages with the 20th century, from the administrative organisation of the counties of Holland and Zeeland during the first half of the 14th century up to and including the establishment and evolution of the constitutional state in the 19th and 20th centuries. Upon their publication, these sources will enable future researchers to study not only the history of the governing bodies, but also the role that subjects played or wished to play when participating in the state. These projects deal with the relationship between subjects and the government and the culture of governance, as these are reflected in the rise and development of institutions, offices and officeholders.

The research programme spans seven centuries, during the course of which the interaction between society and government is a recurrent theme. All the projects aim at editing sources that provide an insight into one or more of the following subjects:

  • The development and organisational structure of a pivotal institution.  

  • The growth of bureaucracy and how it operates at the local and higher levels.

  • The extent and manner in which subjects, i.e. citizens, participated in politics and governance.

The following four projects will be realized:


Edition containing the registers of the county of Holland, 1299-1345

The National Archives of the Netherlands in The Hague keeps registers that were compiled during the first half of the 14th century in the chancery of the counts of Holland and Zeeland. Charters issued by the counts are recorded in these registers, along with other important documents such as the charters of third parties and lists of fiefs. The registers are sorted according to their geographical area: every register covers a certain region (for example, Kennemerland) or the lands of a foreign sovereign (for example, Gelre). The texts in the registers intended for ‘internal’ consumption are mostly in Middle Dutch, while those meant for ‘foreigners’ are mainly in Old French or Latin.

The goal of the project is to disclose all the surviving registers, namely 22 volumes; in total, almost 2, pages. All the documents, approximately 3,400 items, will be published together with a full transcript; in instances where a text has been handed down twice – some registers are copies of other ones – the oldest version will be used and the alternative phrasing of the more recent version will appear in the notes. Unabridged, full-text versions of the registers may also be featured. The search option can be used to search both the transcripts and the different categories, such as the author and the destinataris (the person who received the charter), the place where the charter was issued, and other names and subjects referred to in the text.

Through this edition, researchers will be able to access a large portion of the county’s charters from this period. This has been a long-coveted wish as charters are still our most important source of knowledge. In these items we find a wealth of information about how the counties of Holland and Zeeland were governed and the activities of officials employed by the count, such as the bailiffs and stewards as well as members of the Council, alongside a treasure trove of information at the local level.

The edition is associated with the VNC project entitled ‘The charters and chancery of the counts of Holland and Hainault, 1299-1345’ which is carried out jointly by the University of Gent and the University of Amsterdam.


Compendium of officeholders and civil servants in the Middle Ages

For some time now, there has been a renewed interest in the political elite among historians focusing on the history of the Netherlands. This is also the case with the study of mediaeval history. Recently, a number of studies have appeared about the nobility, the urban elite, and civil servants and office holders. Research into both the functioning of the princely courts of this period as well as the officers who worked there, are of relevance to this subject area.

This project will include facts about the appointments of the princely civil servants and office holders of Holland and Zeeland, possibly at a later stage complemented with those of Gelre and Zutphen, for the period c. 1250 to 1588. Civil servants and office holders who exercised real power at the local or regional level will be included, such as stewards, dike-reeves, bailiffs, captains, masters of the mint, foresters, governors, treasurers and sheriffs. Data will be collected that relate specifically to those civil servants and office holders who were most visible to the public as representatives of the administration and who, as a result of their contacts at the local and regional level, were important for the communications between the ruler and his subjects.

The Compendium aims to provide insights and facilitate research into offices, civil servants and office holders and the institutions to which they were affiliated, such as the Court of Holland. An explosive increase in the number of offices and the institutions to which they were attached can be observed during the late Middle Ages. This applied to every level of government. This compendium will provide future users with easy access to the many different people who, throughout the ages, served the rulers of Holland and Zeeland as well as those of Zutphen and Gelre on many different levels. In this way, it is a practical tool that can be used by all those researching the Middle Ages and the early modern period to help them track down any princely office holder from these regions. The database will also provide insights into the origins and development of the offices and how they were staffed as well as into the origins and progress of related institutions. Furthermore, the compendium also offers possibilities for carrying out research into the staffing policy of these institutions and the careers of the officials. In this way, the information that has been collected offers new opportunities for both institutional and socio-historical research. Moreover, the compendium can contribute to research into the political elite of the Netherlands.


The National Assembly, 1795-1801

This project wants to facilitate the study of the Batavian Republic, the first Dutch democracy,  by editing a representative selection of texts from its political press and political pamphlet literature. The downfall of the Dutch Republic and its political institutions in 1795 led to an era of intense political debate and experimentation with representative democracy. The National Assembly, which replaced the States-General of the ancien regime, became the new parliament in The Hague and the country’s national political centre. In the making of this modern Dutch parliamentary democracy, the political press played a vital role. Pamphlets and journals discussed crucial concepts like citizenship, representation, democracy and nation. During the early years of the Batavian Republic, the political process was critically followed by journalists who by their publications tried to influence both the representatives in the National Assembly and public opinion. The project aims to select and critically edit political texts that reflect the topics and concepts considered to be most important in parliament itself, in order to trace the connection between public and parliamentary discussions.

The project will closely cooperate with a new research program at the University of Amsterdam, focusing on the enormous importance of the Batavian Republic for the formation of modern Dutch democracy.


Disclosure and publication of documents concerning Dutch constitutional committees, 1883-1983

The Dutch constitution is not only one of the most important sources of Dutch constitutional law, it also expresses the key principles on which the Netherlands is founded as a nation. The oldest version, from 1798, was designed for the revolutionary Batavian Republic. In 1814, the year that saw the emergence of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, the first non-republican constitution took form.This constitution has been revised on a number of occasions during the last two hundred years. Changing the constitution is a complex and exhausting process, because of the many safeguards laid down in the constitution itself. For a government that wants to propose constitutional reforms it is standard practice to set up an advisory (state) committee, consisting of politicians and experts. These constitutional committees put forward suggestions for constitutional changes in their official reports. The assignments of the committees, their composition, their actual functioning and the final outcome of their work provide insights into the political context of the revision process.

The goal of the Dutch Constitutional Committees Project is to disclose archival material associated with the activities of a number of constitutional committees between 1883 and 1983. Not only the archives of the committees are included, but also those records concerning the preliminary stages and the prospective legislative trajectory that results from their advises, as well as personal collections and archives of other actors involved.

In total, sixteen constitutional committees are studied between 1883 and 1983. The result shows how the constitutional debate was conducted 'behind the scenes' over the course of a century. Because of its content, the project's results are of great value for historians, lawyers and all those interested in politics in practice. It enables the researcher to trace the evolution of ideas relating to different issues over the course of an extensive period of time.

The project consists of three components:

·         An online guide to the archives. The guide discloses archive material relating to the establishment and operation of the constitutional committees and the implementation of their proposals.

·         A digital access to a comprehensive series of core documents. These documents, in particular the minutes and reports of the committees, will be scanned and made accessible as images.

·         A printed documentary edition. In this publication some of the several longstanding themes in the debate about the constitution will be documented in more detail through a selection of archival material.

The project is being carried out by the ING in cooperation with the Radboud University Nijmegen. Alongside the three ING components, a PhD study is being carried out on the political culture of constitutional committees in the period 1945 until 1983.



Eef Dijkhof and Jan Burgers