Sources - Commons - The Netherlands

Research fields sources can be used for 

Property and property transfer

Plots of land on the common, access rights and use rights for the common were regularly sold, rented out, inherited or given to other persons or institutions such as the Church. The documents that remain are deeds and charters recording this transfer of property. Markeboeken sometimes contain references to property transfer as well. Documents pertaining to property transfers appear regularly from the fourteenth century onward. Earlier references may also be found if the Latin term marca is interpreted to mean marke, thus a common, however this term could also be interpreted to mean area, thus not a common. The term marca has not been included for the results in the database.

It is unlikely that all archival documents on sales still exist today, since not all archival funds have been careful with their documents, and accidents happen. Furthermore, it was not common practice during the Middle Ages to keep written documents of agreements, as verbal agreements were considered to be binding. Therefore, these documents can only supply a partial picture, but may still serve as a strong indicator of certain developments.


Common land institutions would usually divide or sell all land when the institution was dissolved. Sometimes they would also divide a part of the common land to be used in private, whilst the use of other plots would remain in common. Most archival documents pertaining to division are from the nineteenth century, but they may be found as early as the fourteenth century.

Documents concerning divisions are often very extensive, frequently including descriptions of and minutes from the meetings regarding division; proposals for the method of division; a final decision; charters made by a notary; approval from the government; etc. A list will often be included stating exactly who would receive which plots of land or what amount of money. Research into division in the nineteenth century could be done fairly easily due to a wealth of sources. Possible topics of research include the influence on division by the government; enlightened physiocrats, who promoted new agricultural ideas; or specific types of members who voted in favour or against division.


Common land institutions sometimes fulfilled a social role in the area. The members could decide to fund the building of schools and churches, or appoint firefighters, teachers, clerics, etc., and pay for their salaries. Archival documents pertaining to social practices of the common are mainly available for the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries Either few documents were created or few survive concerning this function of common land institutions. More information can sometimes be found in a markeboek. Qualitative descriptions could be made about the social role of the commons and analysed how this contributed to society.

Border and border conflict

The use of land in common often took place on wastes neighboring the settlement. Determining the border of this waste could be tricky and lead to conflicts between commons that both made claims for the same land. These conflicts sometimes even led to legal disputes. Agreements were set up between the commons describing the border in-between. Conflicts could date back to the fourteenth century, though most documents remain about the seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Qualitative studies could, for instance, investigate the terms under which agreements regarding borders were set up. It was important for a common to know its borders, as it had to set limitations of use based on the carrying capacity of the land.


General administration of a common contains several categories of sources. Convocation lists have been described above. The most important sources for general administration are minutes from meetings and lists of animals kept on the common. Minutes from meetings contain topics discussed and decisions made during a meeting. These sources are regularly available from the seventeenth century onwards. Minutes from the last meeting were often read out loud at the following meeting. Minutes may be used in research to gather insight into the daily management of a common. The alterations made in the regulations of the common which had been decided at the meeting can be used to study the evolution of the regulation.

Lists containing the number and type of animal every member kept on the common were sometimes drawn up by the management to establish the carrying capacity of the common. Information provided by these lists is interesting for research. The lists may offer quantitative information, for instance, about the amount of use every member made of the common; whether they stocked their stint completely; how much it cost to keep a specific type of animal on the common; and the carrying capacity of the common.

Financial administration

The financial administration of commons was often written down in markeboeken, cash registries, lists for taxes, etc. While sources exist from the fifteenth century onwards, most information pertains to the seventeenth through nineteenth centuries A possible area of research would be looking into the financial administration of a common to determine how successful/profitable it was, and exploring how these profits were divided among the members. Furthermore, these sources can show how many penalties were paid yearly, which may serve as an indicator for the effectiveness of enforcing regulation.

Legal conflicts

Legal conflicts could arise for several reasons in a common. They were often related to violations of user-rights, duties owed to the common, or squabbles between neighbors about a share or plot of land on the common. Archival documents such as letters between both parties, letters from the court, court proceedings, and decisions made by the court, give further insight into the enforcement of rules in the common. Sources date back to the eleventh century, but most remain from the fifteenth to nineteenth centuries. Legal conflicts provide very interesting sources for a qualitative analysis about how effective a common was in enforcing its regulations.


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