3.5

A hunter returning with two rabbits. These animals were always dangerous because their holes damaged the dykes and dunes. This gablestone, which dates from the eighteenth century and can be found in the Zeedijk in Amsterdam, illustrates an almost perennial problem.

A hunter returning with two rabbits. These animals were always dangerous because their holes damaged the dykes and dunes. This gablestone, which dates from the eighteenth century and can be found in the Zeedijk in Amsterdam, illustrates an almost perennial problem.

Thus, the struggle against the water stimulated all manner of consultations. Inhabitants of the river villages discussed the maintenance of the dykes with inhabitants of the inland villages. Villages situated upstream discussed flooding with those lying downstream. In the regional water boards consultations took place at regional level. The Count continued to work as harmoniously as possible with his subjects. He seems to have considered his principal task to be one of coordination; seeing to it that everyone was informed of any important innovations. Only very seldom did the Count issue mandatory orders. One example was the order to kill rabbits because they were undermining the dykes with their warrens.

The Count had accepted the end of serfdom and his subjects had, in turn, waived their right to direct participation in the water control boards. These major concessions brought major rewards: cooperation strengthened the Count’s authority and gave the peasants a measure of freedom. Without the dykes, all the land which had been drained would have been at the mercy of the sea and the Wadden Sea would have lapped at the walls of Bruges. In the places spared by the sea, local lords would have asserted their authority, going their own way and ignoring the authority of the Count of Holland while reducing the peasants again to the level of serfs.

Instead of this scenario, the inhabitants together succeeded in keeping the land dry enough to be able to go on growing crops of rye, flax, and barley. The population grew steadily and undertook new drainage schemes. It is true that the northern Low Countries remained a backward area without towns, but rescuing the land from the water had been little more than a miracle. Elsewhere in Europe it was said that God had created the world and the Hollanders had added an extra piece for themselves, unaware that it was the inhabitants of Holland themselves who had been responsible for the flood disasters in the first place.

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