Case studies - Commons - The Netherlands

Exel, The Netherlands


Type of institution for collective action


Name/description institution  

Mark Exel


The Netherlands


Province of Gelderland

Name of city or specified area 

The former hamlet of Exel, in 1852 incorporated into the larger community of Laren, which in its own turn was incorporated by the community of Lochem in 1971.

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

The original hamlet of Exel (als known in 1392 as Eghesloe) was situated slightly west of the current village centre of Exel and consisted of about ten farms surrounding an area of common land, known as the Ekselse or Exelse Enk.


For location on Google Maps, click here.

Surface area and boundaries

An investigation of historical maps of that area show that, although some parts were not fit for any use (the so-called ‘onland’), the geographical limits of the hamlet were quite sharp due to the clearly set boundaries of the surrounding estates: to the southeast the Ampsen estate, to the northwest the estate of Verwolde was situated, while the possessions of the smaller estate of the Nijenhuis set the boundaries of the hamlet at the most western side. Although the boundaries at the eastern side of Exel were – as it seems – less clearly demarcated, the boundary was, as it were, marked out by natural difference: while the Exelse Enk consisted mainly of (pieces of) land suitable for agricultural use, the adjacent area on the eastern boundary consisted of mainly heathland of very poor agricultural quality. 

Foundation/start of institution, date or year

Probably May 2nd, 1616.

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

The earliest preserved regulation of the mark Exel dates back to May 2nd, 1616. Based on the content of this regulation (a.o. a description of the division of shares, the numbers of animals several groups of users were allowed to keep, and indications where not to dig any resources) one may assume this date forms also the foundation date of the mark.

Foundation act present?

No, see also above.

Description of Act of foundation

N/a, see also above.

Year of termination of institution


Year of termination: estimated or confirmed?


Act regarding termination present?

The notes and resolutions of the assembly of the mark contain several remarks and decisions regarding the need to sell several peasant farms of the mark, in order to solve the debts owed by the mark. In 1852, finally, the last remaining pieces of land were divided and the mark Exel ceased to exist. The area of Exel was then added to the larger community of Laren (Gelderland).

Description Act of termination

The archive of the estate of Ampsen contains an Act of the division of the parts of the mark of Exel that were not yet divided by then, dating from the year 1852.

Reason for termination?

Just like the other marks, the mark of Exel was subject to the legislation of 1810 that sought to divide the uncultivated lands.  From that year on, the tax burden on the mark increased year after year. In 1852, when several plots of land already had been sold to solve the debts of the mark, the remaining parts of the mark not yet divided were also sold. Later on, the village and former common land of Exel was incorporated into the larger community of Laren.  

Recognized by local government?


Concise history of institution

The hamlet of Exel was first mentioned in 1356; in 1392 it was known as Eghesloe. The original hamlet was situated slightly west of the current village centre of Exel and consisted of about ten farms surrounding an area of common land, known as the Ekselse or Exelse Enk. Earlier forms of informal co-operation may have existed before the foundation of the mark of Exel in 1616: not only was the collection of farms surrounding the Exelse Enk already mentioned as hamlet in 1356, 1392, and 1494, but also the content of the first regulation does seem to indicate that this regulation was meant to record in writing pre-existing agreements concernign the use of the common land.


Although the archival sources do not mention an explicit reason for the creation of the markenboek in 1616, it is likely that external events may have been the incentive.  Spanish army a few years earlier, destroying a.o. the old buildings of the Ampsen estate (Harenberg 1999). In the years to follow this ransacking, the lord of Ampsen, Joost Nagell tot Ampsen, restored the estate of Ampsen. An other, even more likely incentive may have been the large town fire at Lochem 0f 1615, in which fire the church of Lochem was destroyed. To collect enough money for rebuilding this church, it was required that the surrounding marks and villages would also contribute; the contribution to be made by the mark of Exel is one of the very first items that were recorded in the markenboek of 1616 (Beuzel 1990, 13-4.). These events may have convicted the members of the mark of Exel not to rely solely on 'the wisdom and the memory of its inheritors' (Beuzel 1990, 18) anymore, but (also) to record these regulation and rules in writing, thus creating lasting evidence of the agreements made at the meetings of the inheritors.


The family Nagell tot Ampsen, belonging to the old noble families, maintained in more than one way close relations to the mark of Exel and its commoners. Not only was the lord of Ampsen owner of the estate and lands adjacent to the mark of Exel, the respective lords of the estate were also more than once elected as chairman of the assembly of the mark (‘markenrichter'). This was already the case at the presumably first meeting in May 1616.


The size of the hamlet of Exel, and subsequently of the common land of Exel, remained quite small throughout the centuries: from the original ten farms surrounding the Exelse Enk, the number of inhabitants rose to 280 registered inhabitants, living in 38 houses, in 1840, just 12 years before the formal dissolution of the mark Exel. Nowadays, the village of Exel is still rather small and mainly agricultural: of its current 700 inhabitants (living in 300 houses), only 150 are living in the town centre, situated just a small distance east of the former mark Exel. The other 550 inhabitants are living in the rural area around the village centre of Exel, comprising a surface of 6.5 by 1.5 kilometers.


Click on map for larger version

Detail of map, drawn by Beekman (1920). The map shows the mark of Exel at the east (ellips added by composer case study), covering a considerable surface area. The content of the markenboek however mainly concerns the western and central parts of the area indicated by Beekman; the boundaries therefore may have been less far stretching to the east.

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

  • 1616: earliest preserved regulation of the mark Exelin. Possibly this was also the moment the mark of Exel was formally founded.
  • 1810: Royal Decree seeks to divide uncultivated lands.
  • 1810-1852: increasing tax burdens and subsequently, increasing number of land sales to cover the increasing debts of the mark.
  • 1852: sale of remaining uncultivated land, final dissolution of the mark, area added to the larger community of Laren.
  • 1971: community of Laren incorporated by the larger community of Lochem.


Numbers of members (specified)

The markenboek of Exel contains, at least for the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries no lists of gewaarde erven just as such. Indications about the number of gewaarde erven can be derived from, e.g. a tax recording of 1707 (mentioning about 40 users of the area of Exel, of which at least some 20 seem to have been gewaarde erven), or the list of invited attendants to the meeting of June 18, 1810, mentioning the names of 15 gewaarde erven.


What we can derive from these lists and the content of the regulation, is that the size of the hamlet of Exel, and subsequently of the common land of Exel, remained quite small. From the original ten farms surrounding the Exelse Enk, the number of inhabitants rose to 280 registered inhabitants, living in 38 houses, in 1840, just 12 years before the formal dissolution of the mark Exel.

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

The membership was directly linked to the ownership of one of the estates surrounding the Exelse Enk, the so-called gewaarde erven.

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

See also above. The regulation states that new owners of gewaarde erven (either purchased or inherited) were obliged to make of a donation of a barrel of beer at the forthcoming meeting of the assembly. Since these gewaarde erven sometimes were sold in parts, it was decided that:

  • the ownership of the estate and subsequently the user rights on the common land directly connected to that ownership would belong to the owner of that part of the estate the main house of the estate was built on;
  • that in case of a shared purchase, all of the new owners were obliged to donate a barrel of beer at the next meeting.

Specific reasons regarding banning members from the institution?

The regulation of the mark Exel does not state any revoking of rights.

Advantages of membership?

The main advantage for all entitled users was the right to use the natural resources of the mark (within the prescribed limits).

Obligations of members? 

All members had to comply with the regulation, recorded in the markenboek, which regulation prescribed:

  • proper maintenance of dikes and waterways;
  • the amount of animals allowed to be kept and the way in which these animals should be kept (regarding location and timeframe, but also containing prescriptions about how animals ought to be kept: members were obliged to brand their horses and to ring the noses of their pigs, before they were allowed to graze them on the common);
  • the penning in of animals gone astray or animals that were put on the common illegally;
  • the obligation to accept the function one was appointed to and to fulfil the tasks belonging to this function properly, and so on.


In the mark of Exel, particular attention was paid to the amount of peat that users were allowed to dig peat; the specifications of the amounts of peat, the ways in which to dig, as well as the time limits within which users were allowed to dig, became more and more specified throughout the years.


Literature on case study

  • Beekman, A.A., 1920. Geschiedkundige Atlas van Nederland, III, Kaarten, VI, De marken van Drente, Groningen, Overijsel en Gelderland. 's-Gravenhage: Martinus Nijhoff.
  • Beuzel, Gerrit Jan, 1990. De Erfgenamen van Exel. Het verhaal van een Marke. S.l.: Belangenvereniging Exel en Omstreken.
  • Beuzel, Gerrit Jan, 1988. Markeboek van de marke Exel (1616-1837). S.l.: s.n..
  • Harenberg, Jan, 1999. Eens bolwerk van de adel: kastelen en landhuizen in de Achterhoek en Liemers. S.l.: Canaletto / Repro-Holland.
  • Martens van Sevenhoven, A.H. 1925. Marken in Gelderland. Geschiedkundige Atlas van Nederland, IV-VI.3. 's-Gravenhage: Martinus Nijhoff.f

Sources on case study

  • Gelders Archief
    • Archief Marken en Maalschappen (nr. 0366), 54: Markeboek, 1616-1837
    • Archief Huis Ampsen 1 (nr. 0373), 248: documents regarding the mark of Exel, 1602-1836
  • Transcribed sources
    • Beuzel, Gerrit Jan, 1988.  Markeboek van de marke Exel (1616-1837). S.l.: s.n.. 

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Case study composed by

René van Weeren.