Case Studies - Commons - The Netherlands

Wijkerzand, Wijk en Aalborg, The Netherlands


Type of institution for collective action


Name/description institution  



The Netherlands


Land van Heusden, prov. Noord-Brabant

Name of city or specified area 

Wijk & Aalburg

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

The size and location is currently still the same as it was in 1442 ):

'Eenen uyterweert groot ende alsoe cleyn gelege is in den Banne van Wyck, buyten dycks, geheeten, Wijckerzant tusschen die dyckeaulinge ende Roekweert aen d'een zijde, en de die Maze aen d'andere zijde, streckende van Nieuwen Weert ende van de Koren Zande totter Wyckser Molen toe'

[Transl.: 'A piece of washland, called Wijckerzant, as it is situated outside the dikes within the jurisdiction of Wijk, boardered at one side by  the foot of the dike and Roekweert, at the other side by the Maas river, stretching from the Nieuwen Weert and the Koren Zande up until the mill of Wijck']

 (Wijkerzand 2011)


For location on Google Maps, click here.

Surface area and boundaries

Surface is about 70 hectares (Hoppenbrouwer 2002, 108). For boundaries: see above.

Foundation/start of institution, date or year

Between c. 1440-1443. After becoming private property of the landlord in 1459 (see underneath), it appears that by the year 1724 the actual and subsequently the formal property of this piece of land once again had befallen to the commoners of Wijk.

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

The starting period can be determined with great accuracy, as Hoppenbrouwers (1993) has demonstrated, based upon known historical events and circumstances. It is known that around 1440, the owner of the Wijkerzand, lord Dirk van der Merwede, due to his financial problems, had to mortgage the Wijkerzand to some well-to-do neighbors of Wijck. Since Dirk van der Merwede is mentioned in the preserved documents as acting only on his own behalf (and not on behalf of his subjects, one may assume he already transferred / sold his rights to this property to the common neighbors of Wijk before his death in 1443.  An extensive analysis regarding the early history of this common is to be found in the work of Hoppenbrouwers (1993).

Foundation act present?

See also above. There is no document preserved stating the actual foundation of this piece of land as common property.

Description of Act of foundation

See above.

Year of termination of institution

Although the formal use of this piece of land as common ended on March 14, 1459, the land has in practice always remained to be used as common land (see for more detailed information underneath). The formal reinstatement as a common dates from June 3, 1817 (see underneath). From the year 1724 on, however, it appears that the de facto status as common land had been reached much earlier already.

Year of termination: estimated or confirmed?

N/a, see above.

Act regarding termination present?


Yes, regarding the formal ending in 1459.

Description Act of termination

Deed of March 14, 1459, containing:

  • The formal decision to transfer the ownership from the neighbors of Wijk to the landlord (the duke of Burgundy)
  • The 'three liberties' of the neighbors of Wijk
  • The ruling on the letting out of stints / shares

For more detailed, see underneath (Advantages of Membership)

Reason for termination?

The deed of 1459 does not mention the explicit reason for the tranfer of this property. The conditions of the sale as well as the practical use of this piece of land after the formal transfer fof ownership to the landlord, seem to implicate that this transfer of ownership has been very much to the advantage of the neigbors of Wijk. However, it may not be excluded that by buying this piece of land (amongst other pieces of land located along the river Maas), the landlord of Holland tried to make very clear to the rulers of Guelders who was in charge of the riverbanks along the border river (Hoppenbrouwers 1993, 53-4). A third reason might have been the fact that the neighbors did not want to be involved anymore in the legal struggles related to the ownership of the land (see underneath). 

Recognized by local government?


Concise history of institution

The history of the Wijkerzand has been extensively described by Hoppenbrouwers (1993; 2002; 2007). The existence of the Wijkerzand dates back until at least the 1390s: in 1392 and 1396, the 'sant mit aenworpe' [the alluvial sands along the river Meuse] was sold in two parts to Hugeman van Strijen, lord of Zevenbergen and Heesbeen. The fact that the former owners, Bertout Louwe Pietrs zoon and Klaas Spierink Jans zoon van Aalburg (the latter one being the bailiff [drost] of Heusden) held this land on a long lease, seems to imply the history of this washland dates back even further than the 1390s.


During the second quarter of the fifteenth century, several parties claimed to be entitled to the property of the Wijkerzand, like this piece of alluvial land was called from 1442 on. These claims led to several legal battles. Around 1440-1443 (see also above), Dirk van der Merwede, the viscount of Heusden, had to mortgage this part of his property to some of the well-to-do neigbors of Wijck, represented by Jan Spierink van Well Dirks zoon. Since he only partially succeeded in paying off his debts, these neighbors - succesfully - executed the mortgage and claimed the possession of the mortgaged property.


After the death of the former owner Dirk van der Merwede in 1443, the legal battles regarding the possession and use of the Wijkerzand continued, the parties involved being on the one hand the former creditors of Dirk van der Merwede (among whom some neighbors of Wijk) and on the other hand the inheritants of Dirk van der Merwede. The legal battle culminated in 1453 in the assassination of Willem Spierink van Well, son of the aformentioned Jan Spierink and the legal representative of the assemblee of neighbors from Wijk, for which crime the inheritants of Dirk van der Merwede were apprehended and punished. In 1458, the neighbors of Wijk decided to sell the Wijkerzand, which transaction was completed in Brussels on March 14, 1459. At this sale, the neigbors of Wijk obtained their '3 liberties', mentioned underneath.


Little is known about the use and ownership of the Wijkerzand for the period 1553 - 1724. Around 1724, the government of the Dutch Republic decided to sell the property rights of numerous titles, rights, and goods, aquired by the government during The Eighty Years' War, among which the shire [ambachtsheerlijkheid] of Wijk.


Although the Wijkerzand in 1724 was private property in the formal sense, documents from the eighteenth century indicate that the level of self-governance of the actual users of the Wijkerzand was remarkably high. The deed of transfer from 1724 indicates that the shire of Wijk had 3 mayors, 7 aldermen [schepenen], 4 officials in charge of registrating the shares [schaarmeesters], 4 officials in charge of penning in animals [zetters], 3 officials in charge of counting the animals [telders] and 2 vergers. The involvement of the de jure proprietors was limited to the formal appointment of officials and the reception of the collected payments. So, although the Wijkerzand was de jure private property, de facto it was treated as common land. It is tempting to think this situation was the cause for the remarkable preservation of the ancient property rights during the French régime in stead of these rights being usurpated by the local of national government.


In 1816, the government [Gedeputeerde Staten] of the province of Noord-Brabant, however, decided that the Wijkerzand should be regarded as municipal property, by argueing that the rights to this property had always belonged to all inhabitants of Wijk and therefore the municipal government, as being the legal representative of its community of inhabitants, should be regarded as the legal proprietor of the Wijkerzand from then on. Although the mayor of Wijk initially protested gainst this decision, this ruling was implemented in May 1816, causing many small farmers, but also non-farmers, letting out their shares, to lose part of all of their sources of income. After legal proceedings, the local justice of the peace dedides on June 3, 1817, that the property rights of the Wijkerzand belong to all finhabitants of Wijk, based upon their de facto ownership in years past.


After vain attempts by some inhabitants of Wijk to gain legal possession of the Wijkerzand, around 1850 malfunctioning of the officials responsible for registrating the rights of grazing [schaarmeesters]  once again threaten the survival of the Wijkerzand as a common. Under the guidance of mayor Pullen of Wijk, in 1852 a new regulation for the use of the Wijkerzand has been drawn up, which regulation still applies for a great deal in the current situation (click here for the actual text of the regulation (in Dutch).


Nowadays, the shares for the use of the Wijkerzand are still being let out. The revenues of letting out these shares are distributed among all heads of households living inf Wijk, who own a chimney, still in accordance with the regulation from 1852.

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

  • 1390s: First (unnamed) mentioning of this area in deeds.
  • 1442: Wijkerzand first mentioned by this name in deed regarding transfer of property.
  • c. 1440-1443: Property rights befall to (a.o.) some neighbors of Wijk, rights however are contested by the inheritants of former owner Dirk van der Merwede.
  • 1453: legal battles on the property rights of Wijkerzand lead to assassination of legal representative of the neigbors of Wijk by the inheritants of Dirk van der Merwede.
  • 1459: Sale of property rights by neighbors of Wijk to the landlord of Holland and Zealand (duke of Burgundy); neighbors remain in possession of some liberties.
  • 16th/17th century: Government of Dutch Republic gains possession of shire [ambachtsheerlijkheid] of Wijk
  • 1724: Sale of shire [ambachtsheerlijkheid] of Wijk to Maarten Vlaardingerwout.
  • 1724-1816: Increasing self-governance of the neighbors of Wijk regarding the Wijkerzand; de facto functioning as a common.
  • 1816: Provincial government declares the Wijkerzand to be property of the municipality of Wijk, annihilating almost all existing rights of the actual users.
  • 1817, June 3: Justice of the peace decides that, based upon the de facto use of the Wijkerzand by the neighbors of Wijk, the previous rights of ownership should be re-instated for the inhabitants of Wijk and that those affected by the municipal annexation of land of 1816 should receive compensation for their losses.
  • c. 1850: Malfunctioning of the officials in charge of administring the shares regarding the Wijkerzand poses a serious threat to the survival of the Wijkerzand as a common.
  • 1852: A new regulation (nowadays still in effect) is drawn up.


Numbers of members (specified)

From the literature and sources consulted we can only deduct historical figures for the year 1852, in which year 52 owners of shares signed the new regulation for the use of the Wijkerzand. Further research of literature and / or archival source should most probably enable us to retrieve more data on the number of members throughout time.


In 2002, the total number of heads of households, entitled to use the common Wijkerzand, was about 560 (Hoppenbrouwers 2002, 108).

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

In the first period of being a common de jure (c. 1440 - 1459), it appears that the lease and use of parts of the common was reserved to the local élite: members of local noble families and some well-to-do citizens of Wijk and surrounding towns.


The regulation from 1852 describes in detail who are and who are not entitled to participate in the division of shares (see underneath).

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

There is no information available on the admission criteria for the fifteenth century. The regulation from 1852, however, describes in detail who are and who are not entitled to participate in the division of shares:

  • The shares will be divided among only the heads of households who were born in Wijk or migrated from elsewehere to Wijk . The number of households per house is irrelevant (Art. 12).
  • Orphans of minor age are entitled to the share of their deceased parents, as long as they stay within the household. Leaving the household means losing the right to the share they commonly owed with the other children of the household (Art. 14).
  • Heads of households living in Wijk, though not born there, will be entitled to participate in the annual division of shares on the condition that they will effectively live within Wijk before May 4th of each year and will have notified this to the officials in charge of administering teh shares [schaarmeesters] before April 16th of each year (Art. 15).
  • Widows or widowers who have acquired the right to participate in tyhe annual division of shares through marriage (i.e. not having been born in Wijk themselves) will remain to be entitled to participate in this division. Remarrying to someone from outside of Wijk will terminate their right to participate (Art. 12).
  • In case somebody leaves Wijk temporarily during the period for which he will have been granted a share, will be obliged to hand in his share immediately, this share to be divided among the other commoners. In case they return to Wijk and want their right to a share to be reinstated, they will have to request this explicitly from the officials in charge of administering teh shares [schaarfmeesters] before April 16th of the year concerned, on the additional condition they will effectively have returned before May 4th of that year. Failing to do so will result in losing their right to a share (Art. 11).
  • In case there will be ten persons or more who are euqally entitled to a share, but not enough shares for all of them, the available shares will be assigned by lot (Art.18).


The full text (in Dutch) of the regulation of 1852 can be found here.

Specific reasons regarding banning members from the institution?

Although there are no explicit articles regarding banning members, art. 17 of the regulation of 1852 implicitly refers to the possibility of revoking the rights of members, by stating that every native inhabitant of Wijk will have perpetual rights and claims on the division of shares, just as long as he follows the regulation completely.

Advantages of membership?

Although the composition of the group of fifteenth-century users of the Wijkerzand differs significantly from the group of users since 1816, the benefits for both groups are very much alike. In fact, there are two main ways both goups benefitted (and still benefit!) from the Wijkerzand:

  • the right of grazing animals on the Wijkerzand;
  • the revenues of letting out the right to graze animals on the Wijkerzand.


The fifteenth-century owners however enjoyed additional benefits, resulting from the conditions set at the property transfer to the landlord (the duke of Burgundy) in 1459. These benefits are also known as 'the three benefits of Wijk' (Hoppenbrouwers 1993):

  1. The exemption from paying toll on transports of products from Wijk at all toll locations in Holland and Zeeland;
  2. The perpetual exemption of tax for the inhabitants of Wijk (see remark underneath);
  3. The promise by the landlord never to use the Wijkerzand as arable land, nor to graze more than 180 shares of animals on the Wijkerzand; in addition, the shares related to the Wijkerzand were to be sold first and foremost to the inhabitants of Wijk at a fixed (relatively) low prize; only after the 15th of April of each year, the remaining shares could be sold to other candidates.


The perpetual exemption from taxes (the second benefit) sounds more lucrative than it really was: it appeared that letting out and leasing land offered the landlord far more and more structural income than incidental taxes would ever do (Hoppenbrouwer 1993, 55-8).

Obligations of members? 

The regulation of 1852 contains rules about:

  • The kind of animals that should be kept (Art. 16; 19), how they should be kept as well as the maximum number of horses that are allowed to be kept (Art. 8). Remarkably, neither in the Regulation of 1852, nor in previous documents the exact size of a share has been mentioned. Probably this size was known by heart by those living in Wijk (see also Hoppenbrouwer 1993, 44).
  • Prohibitions preventing outsiders to benefit from the use of the Wijkerzand (Art. 9; 10).
  • Obligation to comply with the orders of the administrators of the shares [schaarmeesters] (Art. 6; 7).

Literature on case study

Sources on case study

  • National Archives, The Hague:
    • Archief van de Graven van Holland
      • 226, fo. 323v
      • 228, fo. 53v; 227v
      • 238, fo. 151v-152; 183v-184;
    • Archief van de Rekenkamer van Holland
      • Registers, no. 3, fo. 20v; no. 6, fo. 46-57; no. 152, fo. 98v-100; no. 153, fo. 227v; no 155, fo. 49v-51; no. 156, fo. 43v-45; no. 156, fo. 287v-290
      • Rekeningen, no. 163, fo. 4v; no. 490, fo. 64; no. 575, fo. 39; no. 575, fo. 50 v; no. 575, fo. 576; no. 2708; no. 2732, fo. 17; no. 4848
    • Archief van het Hof van Holland
      • Memorialen, no. 1, fo. 141-142; no. 1, 198v; no. 2, fo. 13; no.20, fo. 53-54; no. 20, 120-126; no. 20, fo. 127
      • Sententiën en Appoinctementen, no. 464, fo. 228v-229; no. 465, fo. 147-149; no. 483, nrs. 131-135


N.B. The sources mentioned are the ones mentioned in the article of Hoppenbrouwers (1993).

Links to further information on case study:

Case study composed by

René van Weeren, mainly based upon the article of Hoppenbrouwers (1993).