The ridderschap (knighthood) in the Netherlands

In the Low Countries the ridderschap (knighthood) has always been the most prominent form of organization of the nobility; it dates back to the Middle Ages. According to the usual pattern in feudal Europe the ruling lords of the Dutch provinces would gather a group of warriors and advisors around them and as generations went by they formed the (provincial) ridderschap. This already hints at the fact that nobility and hence the ridderschap were (and are) hereditary, and also closely connected to a sovereign house.

During the (1579) 1648-1795 timeframe the Netherlands were a republic (the Republic of United Provinces); nevertheless the nobility continued to play an important role. Each province had its own government, the Provincial Estates, which usually was composed of representatives of the cities and members of the nobility and the landed gentry. Those members of the nobility were elected from the whole of the provincial ridderschap and mostly represented rural areas. It must be noted that the nobles of the provinces of Zeeland and Friesland weren’t organized in a ridderschap. The central government issued from those provincial governments and was accountable to them. In 1795 the United Provinces were conquered by the French and the nobility was abrogated according to the ideas and ideals of the French Revolution.

When the Kingdom of the Netherlands was instituted in 1815 the rights of the nobility were again recognized and it received an official position in matters of State. First it was stated in the Constitution that “the King grants nobility”; later on the methods of granting nobility were established in the Sovereign Decision (Soeverein Besluit) Nr. 60 of 13 February 1815. During the first few years of the Kingdom being nominated in a ridderschap also counted among those methods, but after that initial period, and even today, a person is created a nobleman by means of either recognition, annexation or elevation. Recognition refers to ancient, i.e. pre-1795, Dutch nobility, annexation refers to nobility of foreign origin, whereas elevation is the creation of new nobility. One could argue that nomination in a ridderschap is a kind of elevation. Though every nobleman had the right to be admitted to the ridderschap of his province, as per the Constitution, article 43, this didn’t always happen. The reason mostly was lack of personal wealth.

Contrary to the situation in the United Provinces, within the Kingdom the central government, composed of the King and the First and Second Chambers, predominated over the provinces. Members of both Chambers would now be chosen by electoral colleges, and especially those of the First Chamber were to be elected by the Provincial Estates, of which members of the ridderschap would be part. Following the days of the French occupation King Willem I instituted the Supreme Council of Nobility in 1814, when he still was Sovereign Ruler (Soeverein Vorst); this advisory council assisted at the re-establishment of the nobility both legally and numerically.

On 30 March 1815 the ridderschappen, having organized themselves during the preceding months, met for the first time. Immediately after this meeting the noblemen of Zeeland asked permission to also form a ridderschap. The Ridderschap van Zeeland was established by Royal Decree Nr. 70 of 25 June 1816. Friesland followed suit in 1825.

The estates society was finally abrogated in 1850 and the Constitution changed accordingly. The role of the nobility within the government had been finished; the only privilege that remained was the right to bear a noble title or, lacking that, the predicate jonkheer. The ridderschappen lost their political role as well and some were discontinued, but those of Overijssel, Gelderland, Noord-Brabant and Utrecht (resp. 95, 185, 41 and 190 male members as of today) continued to exist, mainly as charitative societies.

Recently the ridderschappen of Friesland (“Fryslân” in the Friesian language; 69 male members) and Zeeland (61) have been re‑established.

Legal protection for titles, names and coats of arms of noble families exists in the Netherlands under the Wet op de adeldom (Nobility Law) of 10 May 1994 (Staatsblad 360). In the publication Nederland’s Adelsboek (1988-present) are found all families and persons belonging to the nobility of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. The pieces of evidence (certificates) are inscribed in the Filiatieregister van de Nederlandse adel at the Hoge Raad van Adel (Supreme Council of Nobility) in The Hague. This advisory body was established in 1814 (Besluit van de Soevereine Vorst, 24 June 1814, no. 10).

Membership of the Nederlandse Adelsvereniging (NAV) is open to adult members of the Dutch nobility, under article 5 of the articles of association.

History of the Nederlandse Adelvereniging (NAV)

NAV was founded april,18th, 1899

The reason of its foundation was the desire to take as nobles a broad and national initiative to help resolving poorness due to the unemployment at the end of the 19th century in the Netherlands.

Only later on did it become a foundation for the supply of financial support to primarily female nobles.

3-activities: financial support,-see above-member Cilane/ organiser congress, defend, in court, of the legally obligatory use of titles in official documents and registers,ahead: national familyday for all nobles,edit a yearly newsletter,organise yearly regional meeting between Dutch, Belgian and German nobles,organise and visit regional meetings throughout the country, support members to join initiatives abroad organised by their respective nobles associations, such as ART ( Adel Auf dem Radel, euregiobiketour), yearly Kastelentocht(tour along castles) (Belgium), balls etc.

It had few members, today it has approx. 1300 members out of 7700 nobles (all ages) residing in the Netherlands

It became member of CILANE in 1994

History of the VJAN

The Youth Nobility Association of the Netherlands (Vereniging voor Jongeren van Adel in Nederland –VJAN–, was founded 11 october 1991. The foundation took place after young Dutch nobility had participated in several International Weekends (IWE) of the CILANE in different places in Europe. They were asked to organize an IWE in the Netherlands, the first IWE took place in ’s-Hertogenbosch, which they did several times before the VJAN was founded.

Our organisation is an independent youth association, although VJAN has strong ties with the Nobility Association of the Netherlands (Nederlandse Adelsvereniging –NAV–, which became a member to CILANE several years later. During the first 10 years, activities such as International Weekends, excursions, sailing and several cultural events were organised for the 250 members.

The VJAN today

Today 425 members of VJAN are united and enjoying activities such as summer and winter activities, such as sailing, clay pigeon shooting, car rally’s, drinks and cultural events in the Netherlands and abroad, participating in International Weekends, following dancing lessons and participating at other national activities organized by the Nederlandse Adelsvereniging and the Ridderschappen. Now for nearly twenty years the VJAN organizes the Dutch IWE as their central activity which each time takes place in a different city and location in the Netherlands. Events have taken place in Leiden, Delft, The Hague, Utrecht, Rotterdam and Amsterdam. The VJAN organizes a still growing number of activities such as, shortly will be added, giving handicapped people a nice day out. This will be done with the aid of the Stichting Maljoh Fonds, Jongeren van de Johanniter en Maltzer Orde in Nederland which foundation now resides under the responsibility of the VJAN and will organize participation of the VJAN members in charity work in and outside the Netherlands