For us native English speakers, there can be some cultural familiarity with the historical English system of governance and titles: sheriff, baron, lord, and parliament. Understanding the sociopolitical terms from a different language and culture can be difficult to understand quickly. That's why I've put together this collection of Dutch/Low Countries terms from the late 16th century for government, political offices, and other societal institutions here to reference.

Havezate (pl. havezaten): manorial home from which a Heerlijkheid was ruled, although the term may also apply to older inhabited castles or fortified farmhouses (in addition to iconic, stately manorial homes) depending on the quality of the land and the wealth of its owners.

Heerlijkheid (pl. heerlijkheden): the Dutch equivalent of the manorial system, heerlijkheden were the lowest administrative and judicial unit in the rural areas of the Low Countries. Composed of the castle or havezate (manorial home), a villages, and surrounding countryside, they were ruled over by a heer who had administrative, judicial, and fiscal authority over the land.

Klaring: the regional supreme court, convened by the stadthoulder and comprised of representatives of the nobles and burgers from the Estates.

Kwartier (pl. kwartieren): a term (de facto, but not it appears de jure) for the regions composing a province. In Overijssel, the three kwartieren were Vollenhove to the northwest along the Zuiderzee, the central region of Salland, and Twente to the east.

Ridderschap (pl. ridderschappen): a region’s collective of nobility into a formal, political body. In Overijssel’s case, each of the three kwartieren had their own, individual ridderschappen. Membership was restricted to noble families of that area and often additional required additional qualifications such as minimum income levels and the size of landholdings.

Schepen: administrative and judicial body appointed across a rural heerlijkheid, functioning in ways similar to a town council or aldermen.

Schout: administrative position appointed by the heer of a heerlijkheid to act as her day-to-day representative across his holdings, particularly in regards to law enforcement and prosecutorial duties. Similar in some ways to the English baliff. The phrase schout en schepenen appears in many legal documents, particularly in marriage contracts.

Stadhouder: the highest office in a province, appointed by the feudal lord (in the case of the Low Countries during this time period, it would have been Charles V or Phillip II directly) to oversee the administration in the absence of his direct involvement. This office would often go to the highest-ranking and/or most politically powerful provincial nobleman, but this would not always be the case, especially further into the Dutch Revolt when the Princes of Orange would be voted in as stadhouder of multiple provinces. Also of note is the complicated existence of dueling stadhouders within individual provinces during the Revolt: one nobleman appointed by the States General of the rebelling provinces, while another nobleman would be appointed by the Spanish governors.

Filed under Dutch Revolt & Early Modern Low Countries