A peasant (York Psalter)

A peasant (Hunterian Psalter)

Holland was not the only reclaimed area. Europe as a whole had taken advantage of the economic expansion after the year 1000 and everywhere wild primeval countryside was reclaimed and developed. The province on the North Sea, however, differed in two ways from this general pattern. At a moment in time, the Count of Holland had taken the initiative of reclaiming the bog lands and, after the Frisian peasants had acknowledged his authority, he did not object to them living in the area under his jurisdiction, even if he had to allow them the freedom they were used to. It would be a little simplistic to claim that the Dutch consultation culture came into being in the reclaimed areas. However, when the Count of Holland decided to respect the freedom of the colonists, a necessary condition for the emergence of the consultation culture had been fulfilled.

At that time, the word freedom only meant that someone held the judicial status of free man and the Count had no problem with the concept. However, it was the germ of a wider interpretation of the term which included freedom of conscience and when, in the sixteenth century, Holland fell under the rule of a foreign monarch, the King of Spain, problems did arise. A grant of freedom such as that given in Holland was most unusual in eleventh-century Europe. When the Bishop of Utrecht gave orders to reclaim some bogs around Mijdrecht and Vinkeveen, he held back from granting general freedom to his peasants. The inhabitants of the villages in the land he had had reclaimed were certainly not serfs, but he did not allow them complete freedom either.

Time has proven the bishop wrong. The form of cooperation in Holland between peasant and count – by which the peasant recognized the authority of the count, and the count respected the freedom of the peasant – would slowly spread like an oil slick across Europe from the fourteenth century onwards. That meant the end of serfdom and feudal structures. Looked at like that, world history was written in the wilderness between Rijnsaterwoude and Kudelstaart.

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