The abbey of Middelburg

The abbey of Middelburg

The appointment of councilors was a second and even more radical innovation. Up to then, giving advice had traditionally been the task of the Count’s vassals, the nobles: as free men they had the right to give their opinion on important matters. The rise of a group of professional advisors now created bad feeling with them, as they felt they had been passed over. It was even more painful for them that some of these professionals did not come from noble families but from towns. Here, once again, we see at work the tacit alliance which the Count had forged with his subjects against the nobility.

And it did not end there. When the Count reformed jurisprudence – the third important innovation – the nobles once again lost ground to specialists; the bailiffs. These travelling judges presided over the courts in an administrative district. The function was reserved for lawyers who had studied in Paris or Bologna. Only very prosperous people could pay for this expensive university study and that usually meant the aristocracy. Initially, therefore, the post of bailiff went to one of the nobles. However, it was certainly possible that at some time the post could be filled by a member of another class, further side-lining the nobles. With great pride the new professional lawyers answered to the title that we often see on tombstones in old Dutch churches: Master in Both Laws or Juris Utriusque Doctor, i.e. schooled in both Canon and Roman law. These men were not only employed as bailiffs but also as town ‘pensionaries’ or administrators.

It was not necessary for councilors, bailiffs, chancellors and clerks to be recompensed with a fiefdom, as was the case with princely vassals. The new magistrates and civil servants received their salaries in hard cash. (This also applied to the dyke wardens.) This form of payment had the advantage that it was easier to remove officials if they failed in their duties. It was much more difficult to dismiss a vassal for neglect of duty as he retained knights whom he could muster to fight the lord in the event of his dismissal.

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