Sources - Commons - The Netherlands

Description of sources


The commoners usually regulated themselves by having regular meetings during which agreements were made about the use of the land. The agreements made at these meetings were written down and read out loud at every consecutive meeting to assure everyone was familiar with the rules, regulations, resolutions and bylaws of the common. This information could be written down in various separate documents, usually referred to as by(e) or in Dutch as keuren, willekeuren, markecedules, or resolutieboeken, or all together in a markeboek. Usually an initial set of rules was made, to which several alterations were made over the course of the centuries. To enforce the rules several persons were appointed to perform a police function, and sanctions were set upon breaking an agreement. This information can also be found in regulations.

Rules are available for a long period; however, the moment a common decided to write down the rules varies. Rules exist from as early as 1300, but for several commons no rules are available before the seventeenth century or even later. There are several types of information which can be gathered and researched on the basis of this data. The variety of data presents opportunities for both qualitative and quantitative research. It is, for instance, possible to research the types of regulations and how these regulations were enforced. Another possibility would be to analyse how these rules developed under external or internal changes; for instance rising land prices, rising population, or changes in amount of land available due to reclamation. One could also analyse the development of enforcing rules due to population increase; for instance when the number of inspectors increases, does the severity of penalties increase, does a graduated penalty system develop, etc. These are but several examples of potential research, many possibilities remain.


In the Netherlands, regulation of the common could often be found in a markeboek, but it often also included other types of information. The markeboek was usually made and kept by the markerichter who wrote down (or had written down for him) the important information about the common, this often included the set of rules, minutes taken at a meeting during which rules could be altered and financial information was scrutinized, financial administration, decisions from court cases, conflicts about borders, lists of property transferred, lists of members, etc. Markeboeken were often assembled or copied in the sixteenth or seventeenth centuries, probably due to damage to the original documents. The minutes from previous meetings which had been recorded in the markeboek were usually read out loud during the next meeting. Markeboeken are an invaluable source for research in almost all of the topics suggested below.

Member lists

Several types of member lists exist. There are lists to determine who has user rights to the common and to what extent they have user rights, such as hoofdboeken (Flanders) or waartallijsten (The Netherlands). Lists are also made to convoke the members for a meeting; these lists are entered in the administration field in the database. This type of list is known in the Netherlands as a convocatielijst. Lists of the members are also found in sources such as markeboeken (NL) to indicate who had rights in the common, and after a meeting members sometimes signed their names underneath the report of the meeting in agreement with the decisions. At final division lists were made stating exactly which member would receive how much land or money (more about divisions can be found below).

Member lists have been found from approximately 1300 onwards. The lists such as hoofdboeken and waartallijsten only contain the names of members with full access rights. It was, however, not uncommon for non-members to have limited use rights to the common. These persons were also invited to the meeting. They can be found on the convocation lists. Several types of quantitative analyses could be made with this data. The transfer of shares can be detected. Developments of access restrictions to the common can be discerned. In addition, member lists are a good indicator for the level of population pressure on the commons.


Maps from a common may supply very interesting information. They can delineate the borders of the common, indicate the use of land, tell us which plots in an area are private land and which plots are used in common. Furthermore they give an idea about the size of the common. Maps from commons have been found from the late sixteenth century, though earlier maps may exist. Not many maps have been made or have survived for commons.

One should always be careful when using old maps. Exact land measurements were usually unknown so the map may only be used to indicate the size of the map. The quality may vary as well: sometimes common land surrounded private land, and plots of land belonging to one common could be surrounded by lands from another common. Borders were not always clear, and what borders there were may not be properly indicated on the maps.

Maps may be very useful for research, even considering their shortcomings. For instance, comparing maps from different years can indicate the decrease in size of a common over a longer period. Furthermore, an indication may be given about the use of the common and approximately what percentage of the common is used as common pasture, common waste, common meadow, common arable, or common woodland.


This category may contain a number of interesting sources for the study of the commons. Documents have been placed in this category in the database due to the quality of description in the inventory. Often this section includes publications made by the common.


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