Case Studies - Commons - Belgium

Case study: Gemene en Loweiden, Assebroek and Oedelem, Belgium


Type of institution for collective action

Common (Gemene gronden)

Name/description institution  

Gemene en Loweiden




Flanders, Province of West-Vlaanderen

Name of city or specified area 

Assebroek and Oedelem

Further specification location (e.g. borough, street etc.)

Pieces of common land, located between the villages of Assebroek and Oedelem, east of Bruges. According to the oldest body of regulations still preserved, the common land (gemene weide) of Assebroek was situated 'near Bruges within the parish of Assebroek, adjacent to [the land of] Fernane Couteberch at one side, at the other side bordered by the Brugse Leie, running between the church of Assebroek and the Cloister of Saint Trudo, all belonging to the seigniory of Sijsele' (transcription in De Moor and Debbaut 2002, 11).


Photo by D. DeClerck, 2005. For more info, click on image


Picture of the Gemeene Weidebeek at Assebroek. Source: Wikimedia.

Surface area and boundaries

Approximately 80 hectares. It consisted out of a collection of meadows and hayfields. For boundaries: see further specification location above.

Foundation/start of institution, date or year

(before?) 14th century

Foundation year: is this year the confirmed year of founding or is this the year this institution is first mentioned?

First mentioning of the Gemene en Loweiden in official deeds. The origin of the institution lies, as it was said, in 'immemorable times' ('immemoriale tijden'). The oldest regulations regarding the Gemene and Loweiden still preserved date back from June 23, 1514: 'Costumen ende Ordonnantien vande Ghemeene weede van Assebrouck'.

Foundation act present?

No, see above.

Description of Act of foundation


Year of termination of institution

Still existing today.

Year of termination: estimated or confirmed?


Act regarding termination present?



Description Act of termination


Reason for termination?


Recognized by local government?

Yes. Although the land was formally owned by the Lord of Sijsele, having the 'final ownership' (altum dominium), an assembly of men was elected to take care of the every-day management (hoofdmannen), and was entitled to take care of most of the executive tasks, with the obligation of reporting regularly to the local government. In case of any legal disputes, these cases were brought before the local bailiff. Until the end of the eighteenth century, the person who was in charge of receiving the fines and taxes of the Gemene Weide, also had to present a triannual account to the Lord of Sijsele.

Concise history of institution

The Gemene Weide of Assebroek is already mentioned in charters dating from the fourteenth century. It is assumed however that the institution existed even long before the first mentioning in charters; tradition has it that the history of this common dates back to 'immemorable times' ('immemoriale tijden'). This assumption is supported by the fact that the oldest registration of the rights, privileges and ordinances of the common, dating from June 23, 1514, states that this registration contained 'the old customs, ordinances, statutes, liberties, preeminences and rights of the common land of Assebrouck... as well as the old letters of privilege and confirmation, issued by the formidable Count of Flanders, already having been read out loud and declared at the meeting of the members of the common' ('oude costumen, ordonnantien, statuijten, vrijhede, preheminentien ende rechten vande vrijheden van(de) ghemeene weide van assenbrouck... alzoo d'oude letteren van privilegeien ende confirmatien ons gheduchts heeren den Grave van Vlaenderen daerof breeder verclaers twelcke al ghelesen ende verclaerst waeren ter vergaderijn(ge) vanden Amborteghe [another term for the members, equivalent to the term aanborger]') (transcription in De Moor and Debbaut 2002, 11).


The right of use for this common was exclusively for the members (aanborgers), although some exceptions have been found in eighteenth-century accounts. The status of aanborger could only be obtained by birth: only the children of existing aanborgers could obtain this status. By maarying to a descendant of an entitled family, husbands of aanborgers enjoyed the right of use during the period of marriage, because of the status of their spouse, but once the wife died, the widower immediately lost his rights of use on the common. The management of the common was and is carried out by management officials (hoofdmannen), elected triannually by the general assembly of the commoners.


The most important change during the first half of the nineteenth century was introduced by the commoners themselves in the 1840s, as they replaced the system of paying a fee for each horse or cow grazed ('schatgeld') by a system of land lease. The common hence became de facto privatized, but remained de jure still a common, owned and governed by the commoners. 


In the long run, however, things did change for many other commons. Since the commoners had little or no say anymore on the sale of land (due to the transfer of property rights to the municipal governments, as demanded through the Reclamation Law of 1847), a great deal of the common land was eventually sold by the local governments, in many cases subsequently followed by the final and total privatization of the former commons. Although the local governments also attempted to take over the control of the Gemeene and Loweiden of Assebroek and Oedelem, in this case the government did not succeed. Thanks to the resistance of the commoners, supported by the local canon J.O. Andries, after a lengthy trial, the management powers, that were administered by a sequestrator during the litigations (1868-82), were returned to the managing officials (hoofdmannen) of the common in 1882. 


Click on image for more info on source 

Canon Joseph-Olivier Andries (1796 - 1886).

Litho by Charles Baugniet, 1836. Source: Wikimedia.


Nowadays, the institution of the Gemene en Loweiden of Assebroek and Oedelem still exists: new aanborgers are still entered into the Hoofdboeken, current aanborgers still enjoy the use rights and receive part of the revenues of the common, and every third year new hoofdmannen are being elected at the general assembly of all aanborgers. The cultural importance of the common as such has diminished, the common itself however is still cherished as an important cultural heritage.

Special events? Highs and lows? Specific problems or problematic periods?

  • 14th century: First mentioning of the Gemene weide of Assebroek in charters.
  • June 23, 1514: Reconfirmation of rights, privileges and ordinances of common (oldest source preserved).
  • 1840: Aanborgers themselves moved from the system of 'schatgeld' (paying a fee per cow or horse grazed) to a system of land lease. De facto privatized, de jure still a common.
  • 1868 - 1882: Legal disputes between national and local governments at one hand, the members of the common (aanborgers) at the other, resulting in a temporary devolution of the management powers to a sequestrator.
  • 1882: Legal dispute settled in favor of aanborgers, management powers were returned to management officials (hoofdmannen) of the common.


Numbers of members (specified)

The number of members has been registered systematically from 1622 on, see table beneath. The oldest Hoofdboek also states the number of members for 1515 (37) and 1525 (250). Due to the fact that these numbers actually have been written down in 1622 (as a transcription of the older sources), it remains however uncertain whether these figures either actually concern all the members of the common in the respective years and/or refer to the number of members newly entered in the Hoofdboek



Source: De Moor and Debbaut 2002, 12.



Membership attainable for every one, regardless of social class or family background?

The status of aanborger could (and can) only be obtained by birth: only the descendants of a registered aanborger could become aanborgers themselves. In case the descendance of a supposed aanborger was doubted, the aanborger had to show proof of his descendance by the testimony (within 40 days) of at least 3 registered aanborgers, who could state under oath to the hoofdman that the aanborger concerned actually was the descendant of a registered aanborger. Although some women were recorded as being an aanborger (in most cases this concerned widows, in a few cases however it also referred to younger women), due to the legal status of women at that time (not being entitled to perform legal acts), the aanborgerschap was mainly meant for the male descendants.


A temporary status as aanborger could be obtained by marriage. The partner who had no rights of aanborgerschap based on descendance, nonetheless enjoyed the privileges of the aanborgerschap for as long as the wife lived, if she was a descendant of an aanborger herself. Once the wife  died, the widower immediately lost his or her privileges of aanborger. In some cases, the remaining widower however was entitled to use the common for a certain period. The children born out of a marriage between a descendant of an aanborger and a non-descendant could claim membership, form birth onwards.

Specific conditions for obtaining membership? (Entrance fee, special tests etc.)

Next to the condition of descendance (see above), the aanborgers had to pay a small registration fee to the keeper of the Hoofdboeken (first kept by the priest of Assebroek, later on by the hoofdmannen).

Specific reasons regarding banning members from the institution?

Since the status of aanborger was based on descendance, banning members was hardly the case. In case the behavior of managing officials harmed the interests of the common and the commoners, the managing official (hoofdman) could be excluded from the common (e.g. De Moor and Debbaut 2002, 14).

Advantages of membership?

Every member of the common had the right to use the resources of the common and also received a part of the revenues of the common.

Obligations of members? 

All members had to comply to the ordinances, drawn up at the general assembly of the commoners. This regulations concerned the use of resources, the time of year cattle could be grazed, et cetera.

Literature on case study

  • Andries, J.O. 1879. 'Recueil de documents tendant à resoudre la questioon de propriété des gemeene et looweiden situées à Assebrouck et Oedelem les Bruges', in: Annales de la Société d'Emulation des Bruges 5-10, pp. 141-86.
  • Andries, J.O. 1881-2. 'Procès et jugement du tribunal civil de Bruges concernant les Gemeene- en Looweiden, situées à Assebroeck et à Oedelem les Bruges', in: Annales de la Société d'Emulation des Bruges 4-9, pp. 317-57.
  • Andries, J.O. 1878. Lettres des confirmation, par le comte de Flandre en 1475, des coutumes et privilèges en faveur des usagers des terres communales, situées à Assebrouck-les-Bruges, et environs. Bruges : De Zuttere.
  • Andries, J.O. and Rotsaert, R. 1987. 'Verzameling van documenten in verband met het eigendomsrecht van de Gemene en Loweiden'. Arsbroek (4), pp. 34-69.
  • Bruyneel, G. 1994. 'Dispuut om een gevelde lindeboom bij de herberg De Lelie'. Arsbroek 11, pp. 55-63.
  • Bruyneel, G. 1996. 'Het ontstaan van herberg De Lelie'. Arsbroek 13, pp. 93-100.
  • Cafmeyer, M. 1952. 'De Gemene Weiden op het 'Sijseelsche''. Biekorf, pp. 27-33.
  • Cafmeyer, M. 1980. 'De Gemene Weidestraat op het Sijseelse vanaf de vroege Middeleeuwen', in: Annales de la Société d'Emulation des Bruges CXVII, pp. 77-103.
  • D'Hondt, J. 1995. 'Felix Dujardin, een negentiende eeuwse Brugse bankier en zijn onroerend bezit in Assebroek'. Arsbroek 12, pp. 89-98.
  • D'Hondt, W. 1987. 'De Gemeene Weede. De aanborghers te Assebroek van 1515 tot 1730'. Arsbroek 4, pp. 78-87.
  • De Clerck, G. 1992. 'Het aamborgerschap van de Gemene weide'. Arsbroek 9, pp. 42-4.
  • De Clerck, G. 1990. 'Fragment uit de geschiedenis van de Gemene Weide - Assebroek'. Arsbroek 7, pp. 66-7.
  • De Moor, M. and Debbaut, R. 2002. Aanborgers van de Gemene en Loweiden in Assebroek & Oedelem (1515 - 1965). Brugge : Uitgeverij Van de Wiele.
  • De Moor, T. 2010. 'Participating is more important than winning: the impact of socio-economic change on commoners' particpation in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Flanders'. Continuity and Change 25 (3), pp. 405-33.
  • De Moor, T. 2009. 'Avoiding tragedies: a Flemish common and its commoners under the pressure of social and economic change during the eighteenth century'. Economic History Review 62 (1), pp. 1-22.
  • Debbaut, R. 1994. 'Carel Huys en de pacht van de Mattemeers'. Arsbroek 11, pp. 49-54.
  • Degrande, V. 1987. 'Laatste episode in het proces van de gemene en Loweiden: oorzaak van spanningen tussen Oedelem en Assebroek (1888)'. Arsbroek 4, pp. 69-77.
  • Dombrecht, A. 1987. 'De Gemene en loweiden, een geschiedkundige schets'. Arsbroek 4, pp. 56-68.
  • Geldhof, P. 1981. De ghemeene en de loode Weede, Assebroek, Oedelem, Sint Andries Brugge.
  • Geldhof, P. 1981. 'Landschapsbeeld en landschappelijke waarde van de Gemene Weide'. Brugs Ommeland 21, pp. 227-34.
  • Rolly, A. 1981. 'Het "handtbouck" of hoofdboek van de aanborgers'. Brugs Ommeland 21, pp. 219-22.
  • Rolly, A. 1981. 'Grasduinend in de rekeningen van de Gemene en Loweiden'. Brugs Ommeland 21, pp. 223-6.
  • Rolly, A. 1982. 'De gemeene ende loode weede Assebroek-Oedelem'. Volkskundig Jaarboek 't Beertje 4, pp. 251-3.
  • Stalpaert, H. 1981. 'De Gemene en Loweiden te Assebroek-Oedelem'. Brugs Ommeland 21, pp. 206-14.


More general information on Belgian commons is to be found in:


  • Behets, J. 1975. 'Het gebruik van de gemene weiden en de andere gemene gronden in de wijsdommen van het graafschap Loon'. Bulletin de la commission royale pour la publication des anciennes lois de Belgique XXVI, pp. 147-92.
  • Errera, P. 1891. Les masuïrs, rechreches historiques et juridiques sur quelques vestiges des formes anciennes de la propriété en Belgique. Brussels.
  • Godding, P. 1987. Le droit privé dans les Pays-Bas méridionaux du 12e au 18e siècle. Brussels.
  • Lindemans, P. 1994. Geschiedenis van de landbouw in België. Antwerpen-Borgerhout.
  • Recht, P. 1950. Les biens communaux du namurois et leur partage sur la fin du XVIIIe siècle. Contribution sur l'étude de l'histoire agraire et du droit rural de la Belgique accompagnée d'une description des classes rurales à la fin de l'Ancien Régime. Brussels.

Sources on case study

  • Municipal archive at Bruges (Stadsarchief Brugge)
    • Gemene en Loweiden Archief
      • Costumen ende Ordonnantien van de Ghemeene weede van Assebrouck, June 23, 1514
      • Hoofdboek, 1718-67 (in copy)
      • Hoofdboek, 1767-1889
      • Hoofdboek, 1890-196
  • State archive at Bruges (Rijksarchief Brugge),
    • Archief heerlijkheid Sijsele
      • 225: Costumen ende Ordonnantien van de Ghemeene weede van Assebrouck, June 23, 1514 (copy of the record kept at the municipal archive of Bruges).
    • Fonds aanwinsten:
      • 720 (oud nr. 1984): Hoofdboek, 1515-25; 1622-1703.


  • A full transcription of the hoofdboeken is to be found in: M. De Moor and R. Debbaut, Aanborgers van de Gemene en Loweiden in Assebroek & Oedelem, 1515-1965 (Assebroek, 2002, pp. 24-148)

Links to further information on case study:


Case study composed by

Tine De Moor, Utrecht University