County of Holland

County of Holland
County of Holland
Graafschap Holland
11th century–1795 Nl-batr.gif

Coat of arms

the County of Holland around 1350
Capital The Hague
Language(s) Old Dutch, Old Frisian, Diets, Dutch
Religion Catholic Church Protestantism
Government County
Historical era Middle Ages
 - Established 11th century
 - joins the Dutch Revolt 1579
 - last count, Philip II deposed 1581
 - Disestablished 1795

The County of Holland was a county in the Holy Roman Empire and from 1482 part of the Habsburg Netherlands in what is now the Netherlands. It covered an area roughly corresponding to the current Dutch provinces of North-Holland and South-Holland, as well as the islands of Terschelling, Vlieland, Urk and Schokland, though it did not include the South-Holland islands.



Around 800, under Charlemagne, the Frankish Empire covered a great deal of Europe. In much of this empire an important unit of regional administration, corresponding roughly to a shire or county in England, was the gau (Frankish), or pagus (Latin). A comes or Count ruled over one or more gaue. Because of the low trade, the negative trade balance with the Byzantine Empire and the Muslim states, and the disappearance of currency, the economy was more or less reduced to bartering. The king's vassals could only be rewarded by giving them land (beneficium, from the tenth century on feodum) and usufruct. From this the system of Feudalism developed. The vassals, who were generally appointed by the king, strove for a system of inheritance. This become more and more the rule, and in 877 it was legalised in the Capitulary of Quierzy.

Upon the death of a king, the Frankish kingdom was frequently divided among his heirs. This partible inheritance often caused internal struggle which made centralized government problematic. The Viking Raids further undermined centralized government.

The Treaty of Ribemont in 880 added the Kingdom of Lotharingia - of which the Low Countries were part - to East Francia, which attempted to integrate it. However, there were no connections like there were between the four Stem Duchies of east Francia: the Duchy of Franconia, the Duchy of Saxony, the Duchy of Bavaria and the Duchy of Swabia. Lotharingia took a separate position with a large amount of self-determination. This became clear when Louis the Child, the last Carolingian of East Francia, died in 911. While the Stem Duchies flocked to Conrad I, Duke of Franconia, Lotharingia chose for the Carolingian Charles the Simple, king of West Francia.

Charles the Simple was driven out of Lotharingia in 922 by Henry the Fowler, after which the Lotharingian nobles finally accepted Henry in 925. However, Henry's power was limited by his vassal Gilbert, the Duke of Lotharingia, whose power in turn was limited to his own counties.


At the end of the reign of Louis the Pious, the royal power had weakened because of the flood of 838, but also because of infighting between the king's sons. After Louis died, his son Lothair I rewarded the Danish brothers Rorik and Harald with Frisia - current day Friesland and Holland - in an attempt to resist the attacks of the Vikings. Because of this, the Counts saw their power reduced. They started cooperating with the Danish, but in 885 the Danish rule came to an end with the murder of Godfrid, Duke of Frisia. One of the people involved in the murder was Gerolf, comes Fresonum (count of Frisia). As a reward Gerulf was given lands in full ownership on August 4, 889, from the East Francian king Arnulf of Carinthia. The lands in question included an area outside of Gerulf's county, in Teisterbant, including Tiel, Aalburg and Asch. It also involved an area inside the county. This last possession consisted of a forest and a field somewhere between the mouth of the Old Rhine and presumably Bennebroek, Suithardeshaga.

In 922, King Charles the Simple granted the church of Egmond and all its possessions to Dirk I, Count of Holland, as thanks for his support against a rebellion of his vassals. Egmond was located just north of the possessions he had received from Gerulf, and was thus a good match. Shortly after this he founded Egmond Abbey, the oldest monastery in Holland.

Feudal period

The rising status of the House of Holland was shown when in 938, Dirk II married at the age of 8 with Hildegard of Flanders, daughter of Arnulf I, Count of Flanders. The count of holland was in this period more of a military commander who had to resist Viking raids, and subject to the authority of the Bishopric of Utrecht.

In 985, King Otto III, at the request of his mother Theophanu, granted the ownership (proprium) of a number lands to count Dirk II. These lands had already been given in loan (beneficium). This was the area between the rivers Loira (lier) and hisla (IJssel) - a Gau called Masaland -, villa Sunnimeri, the area between the rivers Medemelaka and Chinnelosara gemerchi - Kinheim - and Texla, another Gau.

In 993, count Arnulf of Gent was killed in a battle near Winkel in an attempt to quell the rebellious Frisians. This is seen as the first sign of the libertas of the Frisians, but at that time the regions of West-Friesland and Kennemerland were still connected. Arnulf's son, count Dirk III of Holland was too young to rule, so his mother Lutgardis of Luxemburg acted as regent. In 1005 Dirk was old enough to take over the rulership himself, but he still made thankful use of the good connections that his mother had made. According to Thietmar of Merseburg a reconciliation with the Frisians was arranged with help from his uncle in-law, king Henry II, who travelled with an army from Utrecht to quell the frisian revolt.

As a result of a promise he had made during the frisian rebellion, Dirk III went on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. When he returned, the northern side of his county had become unsafe, so he travelled south and started loaning lands around present day Vlaardingen in order to cultivate it. He also built a castle at Silva Meriwido, the future Vlaardingen. From this castle he forced merchants that travelled per ship from Tiel to England to pay toll. The Merchants complained at the Reichstag of Nijmegen in 1018, where it was decided to act against Dirk III. An army led by Godfrey II Duke of Lower Lorraine, consisting of a fleet with soldiers from the Bishopric of Utrecht, Cologne and the Prince-Bishopric of Liège was surprisingly defeated by Dirk III in the Battle of Vlaardingen.

So as not to weaken the protection the county of Holland offered against the Viking raids, king Henry II decided to let the matter rest, though he did strengthen the position of the Bishop of Utrecht, the nominal feudal lord of the counts of Holland. Nonetheless Dirk managed to expand his territory to the east at the cost of the Bishopric of Utrecht. After the death of Heny II in 1024, Dirk III supported the candidature of Conrad II in an attempt to reconcile with the imperial authorities, so as to keep the lands he had acquired, or expand them even further.

Emperor Conrad II died during a stay in Utrecht in 1039 during the rule of bishop Bernold, after which his organs were interred in the Cathedral of Utrecht. His son and successor, Henry III, granted numerous favors to the bishopric of Utrecht. In this way, the Oversticht was assigned to the bishopric in 1040. Though the count of Holland had been reconciled with the emperor, Henry III still decided to punish the count. In 1046 the emperor forced Dirk IV to relinquish the lands he had conquered. However, the emperor was not able to maintain himself in the area and was forced to retreat, after which Dirk IV started to raid and plunder the bishoprics of Utrecht and Liege. Moreover, Dirk signed treaties with Godfrey the Bearded, duke of Lower Lorraine, as well as the counts of Flanders and Hainaut. The Emperor responded with a second punitive expedition in which Vlaardingen and the castle at Rijnsburg were taken from Dirk IV. The castle was completely destroyed. However, the emperor suffered heavy losses during his retreat, upon which Dirk's allies openly revolted against the emperor. In 1049 Dirk IV was lured into a trap and killed by the bishops of Metz, Liege and Utrecht. Dirk died young, unmarried and childless. He was succeeded by his brother Floris I.

Floris I managed to expand his territory with a small area within the Rijnland Gau, an area called Holtland ("Woodland"), or Holland. It is most likely that this name soon became synonymous with Floris' whole territory. In 1061 a war broke out, in which it is not clear whether it was against Brabant, Utrecht or Liege. During this war Floris was ambushed and killed. His son Dirk V was still a minor, so his mother Gertrude of Saxony became regent. Gertrude remarried in 1063 with Robert I, who also acted as regent for Dirk V.

In 1064, Emperor Henry IV donated lands belonging to the county of Holland, 'west of the Vlie and around the banks of the Rhine' (the Gau of Westflinge), to William, Bishop of Utrecht, on whose support the Emperor could count. Dirk V was only allowed to keep the Gau of Masaland. Through battles in 1071 and 1072, William of Utrecht, with support from Duke Godfrey IV of Lower Lorraine, managed to gain actual control over the lands in questions. After both William and Godfrey died in 1076, Robert I and his stepson Dirk V besieged IJsselmonde and managed to capture the new bishop Conrad of Swabia, who was forced to return the lands to Dirk V's control.

Land reclamation

In the early Middle Ages, large parts of the area covered by the present day Netherlands were covered by peat bogs. These bogs limited the size of arable land in the Netherlands, but also proved to be a good source of fuel. Around 950, small scale reclamation was started on the enormous bogs in Holland and Utrecht, probably set in motion by the minor nobility. In the 11th century the Great Reclamation started, under the control of the counts of Holland and the bishops of Utrecht. Until the 13th century, large amounts of land was reclaimed between the IJ in the north, the dunes in the west, the Lek and Waal rivers in the south and the Old Rhine in the east.

Before the Great reclamation, the borders between the county of Holland and the bishopric of Utrecht were unclear, and there existed a literal no-man's land. However, during the reclamation the counts of Holland managed to expand their influence at the cost of Utrecht.


The oldest sources refer to the not clearly defined county as Frisia, west of the Vlie. Before 1101, sources talk about Frisian counts, but in this year Floris II, Count of Holland is mentioned as Florentius comes de Hollant (Floris, Count of Holland). The counts generally kept to this single title until 1291, when Floris V, Count of Holland decided to call himself Count of Holland and Zeeland, lord of Friesland. This title was also used after Holland was united with Hainault, Bavaria-Straubing, and the Duchy of Burgundy. The titles eventually lost their importance, and the last count, Philip II of Spain, only mentioned them halfway through his long list of titles.

Later usage

During the Eighty years war, the county of Holland played an important part in the resistance against the Spaniards. After the Union of Utrecht, the county of Holland became the leading province of the new Republic of the Seven United Netherlands, being dominant over all other provinces. Nominally, Holland was still a county, but it had deposed its last count in the Act of Abjuration in 1581, and from then on essentially functioned as a province and not as a county. The County of Holland formally came to an end in 1795, when the Batavian Revolution ended the republic and reformed it as the Batavian Republic.

See also


  • Block, Dick (1977-1983). Algemene Geschiedenis der Nederlanden. Haarlem: Fibula-Van Dishoeck. ISBN 9022838005. 
  • Lamberts, J.C.H. (2006). Geschiedenis van de Nederlanden. Baarn: HBuitgevers. ISBN 90-5574-474-3. 
  • Graaf, A.C.F. (1970). Oorlog om Holland 1000-1375. Hilversum. ISBN 9065508074. 
  • Koch, A.C.F. (1970). Oorkondenboek van Holland en Zeeland tot 1299, Deel I - einde 7e eeuw tot 1222. Den Haag: Nijhoff. ISBN 9024704030. 
  • Beukers, T. de (2002). Geschiedenis van Holland tot 1572. Hilversum. ISBN 9065506829. 

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