2.3

The Low Countries in ca. 1000 AD

The Low Countries in ca. 1000 AD

The question arises as to what motivated him to do this. He could have given the land in fealty to vassals, who would then rule over a group of serf peasants. That arrangement would have spared the Count the chagrin of the old aristocracy. But he had to take the West Frisians into consideration.

Traditionally, the inhabitants of the coastal area between Schelde Rhine and Weser had been known as Frisians. It was only in the eleventh century that those who lived in the western part of this region began to call themselves Hollanders and a special non-Frisian ethnic consciousness came into being. A plausible explanation for the emergence of this Holland identity is that too many immigrants took part in the cultivation of the area for it to continue to be referred to as a Frisian region.

Other places in the land of the Frisians, east of the Vlie, had developed differently. There, small republics run by in which the peasants had the last word, had come into being. Later it would be ascertained that Charlemagne had guaranteed the freedom of these Frisians in reward for heroic deeds which they had performed. This fictional story shows that the people themselves did not remember that counts had once ruled in what we now call the provinces of Friesland, Groningen and the German Ostfriesland.

The Count of Holland was in name the ruler of all the Frisian regions to the west of the Vlie, but, as we have seen, he had great difficulty exercising his authority beyond the coastal area. Further to the east, the peasants had organized themselves into republics and these republics had succeeded in remaining independent of the Count’s sphere of influence. In order to distinguish themselves from their more powerful western neighbor, and to emphasize that they were just as independent as their countrymen to the east of the Vlie, the inhabitants of these peasant republics continued to call themselves West Frisians.

The economic development there did not take a different course from that in Holland. The West Frisians also cultivated the wild bogs. There was no ‘iron curtain’ between the two regions: travelers who went from one region to the other were not stopped at the border. Consequently, the Hollanders who wanted to settle in a free village on reclaimed land could always go to West Friesland. If the Count of Holland wanted to attract colonists, then he had to guarantee the immigrants comparable rights, and that meant freedom.

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