SHORT SUMMARY OF THE HISTORY OF THE AMT FIEFDOM OF “OUD EN NIEUW VOSSEMEER EN VRIJBERGHE“

n amt fiefdom is what was formerly known as a fief given out to others by the landlord, king or count for stewardship and government. The word “amt” signifies the judicial power in the appointed area; metaphorically, the word “amt fiefdom” is also used to denote its topographical area. In most cases, especially in Zeeland, this area had to be reclaimed from the sea or at least be made secure, when it had already been freed from the water. The ground that was available or that was about to be reclaimed was bought by vassals, granting them fiefdom after installation of the dikes. In exchange for certain obligations, such as being in charge of the government and bringing in the taxes for the count of Holland, they enjoyed privileges and income.

Rentmeester

Amt lords' decree on hunting, 1681.

The civil municipality was governed by a steward and seven aldermen, who formed the administrative government of the municipality and carried out jurisdiction. These and other functionaries were appointed by the lords. Vossemeer was a high fiefdom, which means that its aldermen were able to administer justice on hanging-matters, and were thus allowed to impose corporal punishment and pass death sentences, with the exception of some heavy crimes, the judgement of which was restricted to the count of Holland. This government was supervised by the lords

As most lords of Vossemeer did not live in or near Vossemeer, they appointed stewards, who lived in Vossemeer of Tholen, to run their affairs. Their privileges and income were called feudal rights. Around 20 of these rights are known, such as the land excises or interests, ground lease, ferry services, fishing, bird hunting, hunting, mills, tithes, planting rights, dikes and roads. In exchange for a fee, the lords would give private persons permission to use these feudal rights. This formed a part of their annual income; another part came from the management of communal goods.

The fiefdom as such was negated by the Revolution in 1795; amt fiefdom lost its public statute in that year. The two villages of Oud and Nieuw Vossemeer (Old and New Vossemeer) became two separate municipalities, which were no longer governed by amt lords, but by direct provincial government. Some properties and rights remained in existence or were restored by king William I in 1814. At the present, amt fiefdom occurs in the remaining properties and rights.

AREA

he first granting of Vossemeer occurred in the year 1410, and consisted of the area that corresponds with the Oud Vossemeerse Polder (the polder of Old Vossemeer). In 1415, duke William of Bavaria, as a count of Holland and Zeeland, added a larger area to this, which consisted of the former municipality of Oud Vossemeer on Tholen and Nieuw Vossemeer in North Brabant. At that time, the border between Brabant and Zeeland did not converge with the Eendracht river; Nieuw Vossemeer was located in Zeeland until 1809.

After the second granting, the lords diked in the Kerkpolder; after this they successively diked in all other polders of Oud and Nieuw Vossemeer. The village of Oud Vossemeer was probably not founded until after 1430. The name “Oud” (“Old”) was added halfway into the 16th century, when Nieuw Vossemeer (“New Vossemeer”) had come into existence on what now falls under the area of Brabant. On the east side, Nieuw Kijkuit was first diked in in 1488.

Deel kaar Zeeland 1666

Part of a map of Zeeland from 1666

Around 1565, the great embankment of Nieuw Vossemeer had commenced, in the area where the village had been founded in 1567. All this was destroyed in 1583; the polders of Nieuw Vossemeer were lost for a long time. The re-embankment took place in 1609, with the village founded again at a different site.

The name of Vossemeer derives from the Vosvliet, a broad creek that ran from east to west through the reclaimed area, after the Oud Vossemeerse Polder had been first diked in. Further to the east lay a body of water called the Mare; this word went on to form the second part of the name of the fiefdom.

VRIJBERGHE used to be a separate amt fiefdom, located north of Oud Vossemeer, which also rose in the early 15th century. This smaller area did not develop as prosperously, mainly because of its dangerous location at the seaside and its risky embankments. After several early attempts, it was not permanently reclaimed until the 18th century. In the late 18th century, the lords of Vossemeer purchased two thirds of Vrijberghe, and halfway through the 19th century they bought the remaining share. Since then, the remaining rights and properties of the amt fiefdom were added to those of Vossemeer. Vrijberghe formed its own municipality wit hits own bench of aldermen, but a village never came into existence.


LORDS and SHARES

hen the first granting of Vossemeer took place, it was divided among six noblemen, friends of duke William of Bavaria. By heritage, sales, partitions etc. the original parts, later to be named portions or shares, were divided into several smaller fractions. At the moment, the N.V. (joint stock company) consists of 181 shares. This amount derives from the number of shares that was distinguished halfway through the 19th century. One individual could, and still can, possess several shares. The shares and any transition to heirs used to be governed by the rules of feudal law of Holland.

The lords would gather once a year around the feast of St. Jan (John the Baptist, 24 June), the patron saint of Oud Vossemeer. There, the matters of the fiefdom and of the government of the villages were dealt with. The lords were obliged to be present; those who did not show up were fined; the sum fined was to be spent on food and drinks by those present. Voting rights required a share of at least 1/24. The assemblies usually lasted a few days. One of the foremost agenda items was reading and defining the annual domain account. In the old days, any indebted sums were paid at the end of the assembly.


HOUSE OF THE AMTLORDS

In the late 15th century, the lords already possessed their own residence, which was mainly used to house the municipality government and the sessions of the aldermen and was usually called “rechtshuis” (courthouse). The name “herenkamer” (chamber of lords) was also used. The first house of the amt lords was located in Oud Vossemeer on the other side of the Ring next to the church.

ambachtsherenhuis

Photo Ad Vermeeren 1968

The still-standing building (in Oud Vossemeer) was constructed in 1767, as testified by the first stone in the hallway. However, the contractors had done such a bad job that straight after completion, radical renovations were needed. The year 1771 can be read on the front outside, the year in which the new estate was finally completed. After 1809, when the municipalities had been separated from the fiefdom, for a long time, the house served as the Oud Vossemeer town hall. After World War II, the local authorities wanted to expropriate it and have it demolished to make place for a new road, but this was prohibited by higher authorities. In 1953, the house was renovated. It still serves to house the annual meetings of the council of administration and shareholders, the session days of the steward, and storage of the archive, which was organised in 1965. A book detailing the extensive history of the amt fiefdom was published in 1969.