Hamaland, Bishopric (Sticht) Utrecht incl. Oversticht (Drente, Overijssel)


In pre-historic times large parts of the northern part of the Low Countries was inhabited by the Frisians. Towards the east – during Roman times – the Germanic tribe of the Tubanten started the first farming communities.

In the early Middle Ages one of the most important pagi in this region was Hamaland, it basically was the lands on both side of the river IJssel.

Political troubles in Hamaland were a good opportunity for the  Holy Roman Emperors to increase its power in the north-eastern part of the Low Countries and during the 11th century most of the pagi  here were given in fief to the Bishop of Utrecht, his lands were known as the  ‘Sticht’ and the newly added  areas were called ‘Oversticht’. The area of the Tubanten remained a separate regional entity (Twente) within Oversticht.

Overall control of the area remained weak with the Bishop having relative little control over most parts of Groningen and none over Friesland. Furthermore ongoing campaigns from Holland further destabilised the region.

With the incorporation of Sticht Utrecht in 1528 in the Burgundian Empire, separate political entities emerged such as Overijssel and Drenthe (as well as Friesland and Groningen). While Overijssel became a proper province, ‘backwards’ Drenthe with perhaps not more than 20,000 inhabitants became a county (Landschap Drenthe) directly under the jurisdiction of the States of the United Dutch Provinces, a situation that remained until 1815.


County of Hamaland

Hamaland roughly covers the old tribal lands of the German tribe of the Chamaven – who invaded the area in the 5th century and gave it its name – later the pagus is known as Islo/Hisloa/IJsselgouw, referring to a key feature of the region, the river IJssel. The centre of the pagus was Deventer.

It was part of a larger gouw (shire) known as Hattuarië, possibly a continuation and extension of the old Roman district of Xanten, the area between the rivers Maas and Rhine southeast of Nijmegen from Grave to Blerick.  This possibly also included two smaller gouws:  Hettergouw, Duffelgouw – east of Nijmegen – and Betuwe gouw.

When the Salli and Ripuarian Franks united their territories Hettergouw became part of Ripuaria (Ripuarian Franks) which grew into the Merovingian east Frankish country of Austrasia. It became part of the Carolingian Empire and after the Treaty of Verdun in 843 a part of the Middle Kingdom and later Lower Lotharingia. During the high Middle Ages it became Gelre and currently it is the province of Gelderland.

However, throughout all of these political changes some of the leading families within these areas maintained their semi-independence, they became the counts and dukes and military prefects of the kings and emperors of East Francia/Holy Roman Empire. Key families include the Ezzonen, Rcfrieds, Balderiks and Meginhards.

In 794, Wrachari (son of Brunhari)  is mentioned , he came from the Meginhard family, a leading noble family in the former pagus.  Wrachari as mentioned as being the count in 800, his son was Meginhard I. The county itself  started to show up for the first time in the 9th century, after it was combined with another pagus: Leomericke. It was wedged between the bishoprics of Utrecht and Munster, which borders were drown in the 8th century and the county therefore has a rather odd shape.

Wachari was a property owner near Wichmond and this most probably is also the earliest centre of the Counts of Hamaland. The ringwalburcht (hill fortress) in Elten was the stronghold in the southern part of Hamaland.

In 797 the manors  (hoven) of Mander and Hezinge (both near Ootmarsum) are mentioned in an official Charter from Oodhelm whereby he donated the manors to the Church of Wichmond near Zutphen.

In the 9th century the Monastery of Werden had 45 properties in Twente they included: De Lutte (Monninkhof and Elfterheurne), Denekamp, Beuningen, Zenderen, Mander, Rossum, Lemselo, Lonneker, Albergen, Neuenhaus and Nordhorn. The properties were all approx 10 kilometers apart and connected with good roads.

A ‘hof’ was a well defined property in the capitulare issued during Carolingian times,  it  had a farm on it also often had a wooden or stone tower that functioned as the living quarters and a range of farming and trade buildings and depending on the geography sometimes  also a watermill.  The tower and main building resembles the set up of the court of the tribal chiefs.  The Frankish hof also had a list of plants that needed to be grown here that would be exploited by the lord of the manor. This also a rather revolutionary effect on the way agriculture was conducted. A few of the ‘hofs’  also grow into proper courts.

In 855 Billinger Wichmondis mentioned as count and after him Meginhard II, who had died before 881. The Billingers came from Saxony. More is known about his eldest son Everhard Saxo, who built the hill fortress (ringwalburcht) of Zutphen in 882. He became Count of Friesland in that same year but was killed by Count Waldger of Teisterband the son of Gerulf the ancestor of the Counts of Holland.

Everhad’s brother follows as Meginhard III and after his death Everhard’s son as Megingard IV.   By that time the territory of the Counts of Hamaland had significantly increased and included: Salland, Veluwe, Drenthe, Husingo and Fivelgo.

Meginhard felt strong enough  to revolt against  Emperor Otto I he lost the challenge and his title was taken away from him. However in 944, his son Wichman IV was reinstated as count of Hamaland (including the Veluwe and ‘t Gooi), his other son Everhard received the rest of the above mentioned properties. Everhard’s daughter Averarda married Godfrey I of Verdun.

Wichman IV married around 947 Liutgard the daughter of Arnulf I Count of Flanders. It was his grandfather Badlwin I who eloped with Judith the daughter of the the West Francia king Charles the Bald.  Liutgard died in 962. There are three known offspring: Adela of Hamaland, Liutgard of Elten and Wichman, the later died young.

Adela – born most likely before 950 – would have been one of the most powerful women of her time. She was named after her grandmother Adela of Vermandois, who was married to Arnulf the Great of Flanders.  Adela married, after 964,  Immed he was of Saxon origin and claimed his heritage from the famous Saxon warrior Widekund. There are indications that he perhaps came from Tiel. Within the Bishopric of Utrecht Immed was in charge of a county/pagus Radincheim (perhaps from the castle Duno (Heveadorp-Oosterbeek). Together with Immed, Adela had probably 5 children: sons Diederik (Count of the Betuwe/Teisterband -also known as the count of Kleve) and Meinwerk (bisschop of  Paderborn) and sisters: Azela (canoness at Elton), Emma (Married to the Billinger Count  Liudger) and Glismod married to Adalbert of Austria.

After the death of Adela’s brother Wichman  in 965/966, his father rebuilt the castle in Elten into a monastery, he donated a third of his income  to it and  made his daughter Liutgard Abbess of the stift (monastery). Later on Wichman donated also his own  third of his inheritance  to the monastery in Elten. Adela heavily protested against this split, but Wichman received imperial confirmation for this donation in 973.

After the death of  Adela’s husband Immed (983?), their approx 13 year old   Diederick became the official heir, but it looks like his mother became regent for his son. Diederick was most probably married to the daughter of Count Unroach of Teisterband.

Diederick’s eldest daughter Addila married Godfrey II of Verdun (Duke of Lower Lotharingia), who became the next count of Hamaland, followed by Gozelo II and Godfrey II with the beard.

The youngest daughter  of Diederick, Bava, married Gerard van Antoing/Flamenses. Their son Gerhard II became- around 1042 – the first count of Gelre). His brother Diederick became the first Count of Kleve.

All throughout this period it looks like the effective power of the County of Hamaland lay with Adela. There are even coins from Countess Adela – dating from before 1002 and probably minted in Deventer –  this is rather unique as there are very few women anywhere in Europe that had their own coins minted. Also at this time it was very unusual for women to be granted to carry a title on their own.

Soon after the death of their father in 974, the sisters Adela and Liutgard went to war with each other over the inheritance conflict.  Adela argued that the one third/two third split was unlawful. Liutgard received the support of two family members Godizo van Aspel and Balderik of Duffelgouw and they burned down the castle of Adela.  Around this time Liutgard dies under suspected circumstances.

Interesting soon after this Adela marries her former enemy Balderik – who had properties in Drenthe and Salland but didn’t seem to have a title. He was first mentioned as Count of Hamaland in 1003.

Now as Adela’s husband,  Balderik took the castle of Elten for her and this brought the Emperor Otto III into the conflict. However at the Reichstag in Nijmegen in 996 Otto rectified the inheritance conflict and brought the property and income split to 50/50.

There are indications that Balderik was also related the Godfried the (old) prefect of Hattuarië (see above). After the death of Godfried in 1012, Adela prompted Balderik to claim the title of his uncle, as the son of the prefect also called Godfried was deemed to be unfit for this position. and who was totally depending on his brother in law  Wichman van Vreden (his – German – territory bordered Hamaland on the western side, with the city of Vreden as his power base). Balderik had already once relieved his uncle position during an invasion of the vikings in Tiel in 1006 and prompted by Adela he now put a claim in for that title of prefect.


A prefect was a title provided by the emperor, that placed this person just above the counts, he was in charge of the border protection of the empire in his prefecture.  This position was in particular rather prevalent during the period of the Viking invasions. It is unclear what the title exactly entailed it was partly administrative and had certainly to do with military affairs. But there are also indication that there were possibly also juridical functions or privileges attached to it. It looks rather similar to the title of landgrave – also an imperial title – with similar functions attached –  a focus on boarder protection in relation to the Empire (as different from the protection of the boarders of counties and duchies).  These titles largely disappear after the 11th century.

When Wichman of Vreden went on a pilgrimage to Rome, Balderik seized the opportunity and was able  to persuade Emperor Henry II to appoint him as the new prefect. This turned into another ugly war between the two parties, which mainly took place in the Maas-Rhine region south of Nijmegen (the old Huttuarië), in places such as Boxmeer, Gennep, Aspel (near Rees) and Munna (Kalkar) . However, in 1012 also a punitive expedition – supported by Wichman – against Balderik’s  ally Lambert of Leuven took place.

Balderik was taken prisoner by one of his vassals who had switched camps and now supported Wichman. Mediation of Bishop Ansfried of Utrecht and a ransom paid by Adela saw Balderik being released.

Despite their reconciliation. Adela and Balderik had Wichman murdered after a dinner at their castle in Uplade  (Montferland/’s-Heerenberg). This  brought them in conflict with Emperor Henry II  and the Bishop Adelbold II of Utrecht. Balderik had in the meantime escaped to Cologne and Adela defended the castle with’ her women’ but in the end negotiated a safe conduct.  In 1018, the castle Ulpade (Monterberg) was consequently destroyed and bunt down.

Balderik was able to convince the emperor of his innocence and most likely was able to blame the murder on Adela. According to her son Meinwerk his mother died in poverty in Cologne.

For the above information I have also extensively used the publication ‘Monterland’ en de consequenties – De vroege burchten bij Alpertus van Metz – by B. Aarts, 2006.

During the 11th century the Holy Roman Empire started to provide bishops with secular powers in order the break the power of the counts and dukes. As a bishop did not have hereditary rights the Emperor could much better maintain his control.  The troubles in Hamaland was a perfect opportunity to permanently break the power of this county.  In 1024 Bishop Adelbord was promised  the County of Drenthe (the old pagus Thriente, comitatus Thrente) from Emperor Henry II. At that stage this remained a promise as the land was in the hands of the Counts of Lower Lotharingia. Internal troubles finally allowed Emperor Henry III, after the death of the mentally ill Count Gothelo II to take full control over Lower Lotharinghia and in 1046 Hamaland (as well as Drenthe) became a part of the Bishopric of Utrecht.

The Counts of Hamaland played a key role in the regional power plays. A few examples that are further detailed elsewhere include:

  • Dirk II of Holland was possibly married to Gerberga van Hamaland. Their (possible) son became Wichmann IV of Gent, one of the first nobles in what later would  become Brabant. (mid 10th century)
  • Godfrey I of Verdun was married to Averada of Zutphen (died in 961) the daughter of Everhard Saxo Meginharden of Hamaland. She was her first wife. Everhard was a stepbrother of Wichmond.
Interesting shortly after the collapse of Hamaland, Zutphen emerged as a power center mainly because of its trading position it would become a Hanse city. Everhard Saxo had already  built a strong earthen citadel after the city was sacked by the Vikings. He also established a palatine with castle and church. However, following the collapse of Hamaland, what would become the Counts of Zutphen were able to take more and  more power away from the Bishop of Utrecht. The first count is Otto the Rich who died in 1113. The county became. through marriage arrangement, connected with the County of Gelre and in 1339 properly merged with Gelre.  The County of Zutphen had is Golden Age in the 14th century, during the heydays of the Hanse.
However, by that time the main power in  Overijssel had moved to Deventer, Kampen and Zwolle and very similar to Holland by the 16th century , it were the cities and no longer the nobility who were the dominant political force. But once Charles V started to take control of Overijssel he used his power to reduce the power of the cities as much as possible, not just in this province but throughout his Burgundian lands,
County of Zuthpen Map by Blaeu 1645
County of Zuthpen Map by Blaeu 1645

County of Twente

County of Twente

During Roman times Twente was part of (independent) Frisia. The local people the Tubanti formed a separate tribe within this larger tribal structure. After the Frankish conquest it became a pagi of this new empire and as the current region of Twente it is most probably still very similar to that original tribal area.

After the Frisii were defeated by Charles Martel in 719 part of  this region became part of the Carolingian Empire and after the Treaty of Verdun in 843 part of the Middle Kingdom and later Lower Lotharingia.

However,  the Tubanti on the eastern border of the emerging Carolingian empire remained largely independent. They now became incorporated in the supra tribe of the Saxons. These Tubanti  lived in an area north of modern Twente, now Germany, known as Niedergrafschaft Bentheim. The full Grafschaft (County) of Bentheim also includes Nordhorn and Wietmarschen. Culturally the Grafschaft is closely linked to the Netherlands. The Budde family still being present  on both sides of the border. With Wietmarschen the earliest know town where the family originated from – around 1600.

It was not until Charlemagne conquered the Saxons during the 8th and 9th century that the region became a more permanent part of the Empire. During this period missionaries (such as: Lebuinus, Marchelm and Plechelmus) were sometimes able to convert people and built wooden churches just to see them destroyed again as soon as the Frankish soldiers had left. However, there are indications that the Frankish influence in Twente was established earlier and more firmly than in the Saxon region north of the river Eems.

Several place names in Twente indicate Frankish influence such as Oldenzaal (sale), De Lutte , Ootmarsheim, Deninchem (Denekamp) , Rothem (Rossum).

There are indications that the hillfort (ringburgwal) the Hunenborg at Weerselo near Ootmarsum dates from the Carolingian period (8th century), but certainly not later than the 9th century. It was probably established by the Bishop of Utrecht as a defense against the at that stage still free Saxons who lived further to the east. This makes it one of the oldest in the Low Countries.

After the death in 828 of Rixfridus the 7th prince bishop of Utrecht – also the Count of Twente and Kleve – Twente gets divided in three regions.

  • The eastern part, under Wolfgang, later became the County of Bentheim (the castle of Bentheim was first mentioned in 1116),
  • His brother Balderik receives the middle part with the capital Oldenzaal.
  • The remainder (Goor and Almelo) remained under direct control of Utrecht. From 1054 Goor became the official seat of the Count of Twente. He was one of the key vassals of the Bishop. In 1248 Goor was officially donated by the Duke of Goor to the bishop, or the Bishop purchased Goor in that year.

Separately there were at least initially a few small counties that could stay independent:

  • Almelo,
  • Diepenheim, sold to the Bishop in 1331,
  • Blankenburg (Haaksbergen), sold to the Bishop between 1449 and 1452
  • Enschede sold to the Bishop in 1331 and
  • Lage 1346 sold – by Herman van Lage – to Bishop Jan van Arkel.

Around 1250 the bishop had 6 mansions (hoven) six in Ootmarsum (the main mansion), Oldenzaal, Borne, Delden, Wiene and Goor. Later on Kagelink in Diepenheim and Lintelo in Haaksbergen were added to it.

Bishop Hof of Ootmarsum

Unlike in other parts of the Low Countries the parishes in Twente were founded by the bishop and not by missionaries or monasteries working with the local communities.The parish of Ootmarsum  was the largest in Twente.  During excavations in the church two graves from the 8th or 9th century were discovered, indicating that Christian worship already took place here perhaps as early as the 8th century.

In the 11th century, under the Bishopric of Utrecht,  Twente had 9 juridical regions (richterambt/hofmeier – a title specific to Twente, similar to that of a bailiff): Ootmarsum (main court), Oldenzaal, Enschede, Borne, Delden, Diepenheim, Haaksbergen, Kedingen and Almelo.

Bishops issued the rights of baptism and burial to the parishes as well as rights of income from certain agriculture and pastoral properties in order to be able to manage and maintain the parish. There is frequent dealing and wheeling taking place of these rights between the various clerical and secular powers within the region, mostly to the detriment of the serfs and the system was therefore widely hated. While the court (Hof) of Ootmarsum looked after the bishop’s property in this jurisdiction it was also the main court of Twente and  held certain forms of jurisdiction over the other courts in Twente. especially in cases of dispute.

This represented one of the largest serfdom systems operating in the Low Countries. The system was  taken over by the Dutch Republic and only abandoned in between 1795 and 1833 2.

Oldenzaal was the most important parish in Twente. It most likely received his name from Aldensele (named in documents from the Prüm Abby in 893) and refers to Alde Sala (Old domain) dating back to the 4th century. It had an immunity along those established in Merovingian and Carolingian times, perhaps it was part of the properties that Pippin III donated to the monastery in 762. If that is the case it most probably had a manor as well as  a small wooden church. Oldenzaal became the central court for the administration of the Prüm properties in this region, which greatly assisted the development of the city that started to form around the immunity.   The monastery enjoyed toll freedom throught the Empire and that assisted Oldenzaal in obtaining an important market function.

Bishop Balderik rebuild the immunity in 954 and  also added  a deanery and a charter to it. He also organised the relics of Plechelmus to be brought to Oldenzaal. The patron name of the parish changed from St Silvester (closely linked to Prüm) to Plechelmus, perhaps also indicating the emerging power of the bishopric and the reduced influence of Prüm; this was part of a northwest-European development, where the official church structure started to replace the mainly monastery based structures that had existed over the past 300 years. Perhaps as early as 970 but certainly before 1049 Prüm handed over its immunity in Oldenzaal to the bishop of Utrecht. However, the central market  function that the city had obtained during the previous period remained as slowly the Hanse trade started to become important for the city (see below).

As a result of the increased secular powers  received from the Holy Roman Emperors during the 12th century, the bishop extended its military fortress near Weerselo,  that became known as ‘Walstad’ (walled city) and later called  Hunenborg. Ootmarsum (and also Oldenzaal) were strategically situated at the border of his territory, on the important overland Hanse trading route between Antwerp – Bruges- Ghent – Brussels – Utrecht– and Bremen – Hamburg – Lübeck – Prussia.

There were in all 68 annual markets in Twente, the largest was Ootmarsum with 17 annual markets followed by Oldenzaal with 13.  In the mid 15th century toll records kept by the castle of Waardenburg (Holten) indicate that annually between 3.500 and 8.900 carts and wagons passed this point on this road, this surely would have included some of the large Hessenwagons, the long haul transport innovation of the Late Middle Ages. This was partly stimulated by looking for alternative transport when the Gulik and Jülich Rhine tolls became outrageously expensive during the 15th century. A shipper sailing from Köln to Dordrecht faced at least ten tolls apart from that many cities had the right to inspect the ships, which of course created delays and further increased costs.

The importance of the road was also the reason that the Commandery of the Teutonic Order also established a castle in Ootmarsum just outside the city. They were the crusaders fighting the pagans in Prussia and the Baltics. So many crusader armies from Flanders, Brabant and Holland would have traveled over this same road. Originally this castle hosted the ministeriales and the knights of the bishop. The Counts of Bentheim were amongst the first the commanders of the Order in Ootmarsum and as such wielded significant interests in Ootmarsum, they stimulated the trade of the famous Bentheimer sandstones. 1 In 1420 the control of the commandery was moved the to the Prince-Bishop of Münster. Seperatey from the Bishop Hof of Ootmarsum and the Drost of Ootmarsum also the Commandery had its own judicial system with its own serfs, its own court and own rules and regulations.

The centre of secular power in Twente was Goor and increasingly the powers of the bishop were challenged by the Lords of Goor, who wanted to increase their own power and wealth in the region. They evolved from the ministeriales nobilities – the early wardens of the bishop throughout his realm. After Rudolf van Goor revolted against the Bishop in 1248 the vassalage of Twente was downgraded. For the purpose of land administration, Twente received a drost (bailiff) this was a non hereditary function, however these officials were able to generate a good income and were rather well off and as such stood on-par with the nobility. While they resided in Goor they also had properties elsewhere. In Ootmarsum his residence is still one of the most important historic monuments. Diepenheim was another centre of secular power. This is than the third court next to the above mentioned ones of the Bishop and the Commandery.

We also see similar developments in Drenthe (The Lords of Coevorden) and in Holland for example with the Lords van Amstel. Other important secular rulers (ministeriales) were: Grimberg (Almelo, Rijssen), Weleveld (Zenderen), Herinckhave (Tubbergen), van Steinfurt (e.g. Fleringen), van  Bentheim, Saterslo (Saarselo), ten Thye (Goor), van Dahl (Diepenheim), van der Mark and  and van Heijden ( Commandary Ootmarsum).

Apart from Ootmarsum there were two other regions that had their own Bailiff Offices; Salland and the Land of Vollenhove. The influence of these  Bailiffs , at least during the Middel Ages, was rather limited; that situation only started to change after Overijssel became part of the Dutch Republic.

Wigbold Rights

Ootmarsum as well as Oldenzaal and also other towns in Overijssel, Gelderland and Westphalia received so called Wigbolds Rights. The Frankish name Wig or Wik (Wic, wijk) means domain – an area (farm) surrounded by a wicker fence and most probably is related to the Manor system and pre dates City Privileges. Place names and surnames ending with -ig, -igger, -ik often can be traced back to such places. These ‘manor rights’ were similar in nature to city rights provided elsewhere, to towns that had not developed from a manor that developed under clerical systems. The law of the land didn’t apply within the markers by so called Wigbold stones.  Such stones have also been excavated in Oldenzaal.   These right didn’t necessarily include the right of defence systems such as  city walls, they would have to be provided by separate privileges.

Wigbold rights mainly developed in the eastern part of the Low Countries to deep into Germany. Initially at least, wigbold rights did not apply to the area of the original immunity, in case there was such an area, as in Oldenzaal. Civil buildings such as a town house or Guild house were always situated outside the area of the immunity, which made the layout of the centre of these town different from other cities.

Officially Ootmarsum already had these rights before 1314, when they were confirmed by its landlord, Bishop of Utrecht Guido van Henegouwen. The wigbold rights of Oldenzaal date from before 1296 (perhaps from around 1220). However, it is likely that some of these rights at least in practice had been around for several centuries. In exchange for these privileges the city had to provide knights in harness and with horses, citizens were also obliged to provide town watch services per district , the city was divided in  four quarters (véérlns) and these in 12 rotten  (districts) and the civil defence service was known as the men of St Martin. Key to these rights was the freedom of the citizens as they were not  subject tot he obligations under the serf system.

The city council consisted of six schepenen or burgomasters (aldermen) and four councillors. The véérlns played a key role in the formation of the council and the rotmasters were the key people used by the townsfolk to communicate with the council

In 1397 Ootmarsum received the rights to establish fortifications with three walls, two moats and two city gates.

This system of governance ended during the French Period in 1811.

After the Middel Ages, the smaller cities started to see some of their privileges taken away from them by the regional nobility (hunting and fishing rights, some commercial rights regarding measurements and it was the Bailiff (Drost) who became in charge of the administration and jurisdiction of these ‘city’ rights.

Twente also suffered from the Gelre Wars but not as bad as in Oss. Already in 1336 Overijssel had be provided in fief to the Duke of Gelre and for the next 200 years there would be more or less a permanent war between the Bishops of Utrecht and the Dukes of Gelre. Often so called robber knights, joined Gelre and used this situation for hit and run attacks on the various castles, towns and villages. They operated from so called robber castles: Eerde, Schuilenberg (Almelo), Azoelen, Saterslo and Lage.

Amongst the most notorious were the rebellious knights of Saterslo (near Saasveld, not far from Ootmarsum).

At other times (1365) the region was attacked by Westphalians such as the Knights of Velen and Broeckhuysen. Again in 1349 it were knights from Münster and Steinfurt who created havoc. Other attacks continued with more serious ones in 1391 and 1394, this time in relations to disputes between the bishop and the Lords of Coevorden. In such dispute complex alliances through marriage and otherwise were drawn into the conflict, which created a much larger theater of war than just in and around the disputed area.

In 1418 Ootmarsum gets ransacked by the Duke of Bentheim  Everwyn van Guterswick. It looks like the city got caught up in a dispute Everwyn had with the Bishop still in relation to Coevorden. The following year the Bishop fights back and defeats him. Dinkelrode and the township of Uelsen had to put in pawn to repay for retribution and damages. Ootmarsum receives 2000 guilders to repair its damage.

The Bishops tried to get the upper hand of the ongoing wars and attacks by taking over some of the independent counties that still existed in Twente (see list above).

The region again suffered badly after Albrecht of Saxony (see Friesland) abandoned his troops known as the Grote Garde. In 1498 they pilferaged throughout Twente and ransacked Goor.

Charles, Duke of Gelre attacked the region in 1504 and 1510, in that last year Ootmarsum was able to prevent plunder by paying a high ransom. The conflict regarding the payment of this ransom still continued in a court case which took place in 1532.

In 1514 the people of Ootmarsum brought goods to Nordhorn in order to protect them from yet another assault from Gelre. A court case in 1531 shows that these goods ‘disappeared’ and finally Nordhorn was forced to pay 70 guilders (half of the claim) to Ootmarsum.

Duke Charles of Gelre regularly returns plundering the region between 1517 and 1527.

In 1513 troops from Twente united to defend themselves against Rudolf van Munster.

In 1528 Oversticht (incl. Overijssel) was finally (permanently) conquered by the Holy Roman Empire Charles V. However, peace didn’t last all that long; less than half a century later the 80 year war started, which later on coincided with the devastating 30 year war in the German states.

The slow decline of the Hanse also had its effect on the hinterland. New north-south trading routes developed between central and South German and north Italy. The emerging economies of Poland and Hungary started to leave the sluggish systems in Prussia and north Germany behind and this also led to a decline of the Ijssel cities and places such as Ootmarsum and Oldenzaal.

Bishopric (Sticht) Utrecht

The Roman fortress Trajectum was built when the Romans established the Limes along the Rhine, where  the Vecht branched of river Rhine. The ever changing river system saw subsequent generation creating a a series of canals of which the current Oudegracht was a part of. The Oudegracht and the streets and the warehouse along side is still the heart of the city.

Bishopric Utrecht (including Oversticht)
Bishopric Utrecht (including Oversticht)

The Franks were able to take several of the Roman fortresses from the Frisian and in the 7th century the Merovingian King Dagobert established the first church with the confines of the Roman fortress Trajectum on the spot were later the cathedral (Dom) would be built.

After Charles Martel finally, in 719, had defeated the Frisians in Utrecht, it became possible for Willibrord to establish the Bishopric of Utrecht. Under the Carolingians church property  increased and with it the importance of Utrecht. Originally also  part of Frisia its major town however,  was Dorestad, one of the most important European trading cities of the early Middle Ages.

After he had conquered the Saxons, Charlemagne in 796 reorganised the management of the church. Cologne became the archbishopric; this town had already since 313 a bishop. The Bishopric of Utrecht was subordinate to the Archbishop of Cologne.

Already during the reign of Charlemagne the Vikings started to appear in the Low Countries. They started to ravage churches, monatries and settlements. The Saint Martin’s church in Utrecht was a regular target. Under Bishop Hunger (+866) the bishop’s see was moved to Sint Odiliënberg. His successor Odilbold (+899) moved the see to Deventer, also Radboud (below) operated from from here.

Bishop Radboud

Between 900 and 917 Radboud was the 14th bishop of Utrecht and from his mothers side he was a descendant of the old Frisian Royal Family. When on one of their many trip the Vikings raised Utrecht again Radboud fled to Deventer. During a visitation trip though Drente he fell ill and asked to be transported to Ootmarsum, where he died on November 29th .

During the reign of Bishop Balderik (918-977) Emperor Otto I provided him – for services rendered – with some secular powers over the Bishopric, which was gradually extended during the following two centuries.

In 995 Ansfrid II of Huy (Lower Lotharigia) was appointed as bishop. He also held properties around Leuven which later became the core of the County of Leuven. These Counts started to unify the region that would become known as Brabant.

Between 800 and 1000 the Vikings  regularly raided Frisia and Utrecht (along the coast and rivers).  It was only under Bishop Balderic that the the Vikings were finally totally defeated and only from that time onward was it possible to rebuild the religious centre of Utrecht.

During the 11th century – after the Diploma Ottonianum –  the Holy Roman Empires started to provide bishops with secular powers in order the break the power of the counts and dukes. As a bishop did not have  hereditary rights the Emperor could much better maintain his control.  This drew fierce opposition from the Counts of Holland, Brabant and Gelre and led to ongoing conflicts between the Emperor and the Bishop on one sides and the counts either individual or combined on the other side.

In 1024 Bishop Adelbord was promised  the County of Drenthe (the old pagus Thriente, comitatus Thrente) from Emperor Henry II. At that stage this remained a promise as the land was in the hands of the Counts of Lower Lotharingia. Internal troubles finally allowed Emperor Henry III, after the death of the mentally ill Count Gothelo II to take full control over Lower Lotharinghia and he was now able to provide Bishop Bernold with the secular powers over Drenthe.  In the end the Bishopric had required the following territories [1.De Middeleeuwse veenontginningen in Noordwest-Overijssel en Zuid Friesland datering and fasering, J.A.Mol – Jaarboek voor middeleeuwse geschiedenis, 2011, p60]:

  • Teisterband 1026
  • Salland (Salahe) 1040
  • Drenthe 1046
  • Hamaland 1046
  • Westflinge and Rijnland 1064
  • Staveren/Zuidergo 1077
  • Ijsselgo 1086
  • Oostergo  1086
  •  Westergo 1089

With all of these new territories and privileges Utrecht started to grow fast. It was during this 11th century that Utrecht became together with Tiel the trading heart of the river system. This was the time that the first warehouses along the Oudegracht started to appear. It received its city privileges in 1122. From this moment onward the bishop is no longer actively involved in the governance of the city, instead he concentrates on the broader political developments of his time. A large part of the both the ecclesiatis and secular adminstrations was done by the five chapter houses that were linked to the five collegiate churches in town:  Saint Martin (Dom), Saint Salvator (Oudmunster), Saint John, Saint Peter and Maria.

The Bishops (as secular rukers) now owned the lands known as Nedersticht, more or less the current Province of Utrecht as well as Oversticht most of what is currently Drente, Overijssel and disputed parts of Groningen. Some smaller parts  belonged to the Bishops of Münster and Osnabrück.

After the city of Utrecht, Deventer was the most important city of the Bishopric and rapidly built up the reputation of one of the best education centres of the Northern Netherlands. In the early 13th century Utrecht had become the most important port city in the Rhine delta, by 1244 it already had a crane function. However, Dordrecht (in Holland) would soon take over the leading river port position.

The Bishopric was for a long time the only rather cohesive entity in the north of the Low Countries and  the main landholders. However, the lack of a strong hereditary dynastic system opened the opportunity for the lay lords to increase their powers and undermine the unity of the Bishopric.

Initially the Counts of Frisia was the main opposing power. A branch of the Frisians became powerful in Kennemerland and from here (West Frisia) Holland started to emerge. Other regional powers important in the formation of the Low Countries were Flanders, Brabant and Gelre.

The conflicts that resulted from this,  are known as the Holland -Stichtse (Bishopric) wars. They started in 1018 and would last for over 300 years.  It started when Dirk of  Holland migrated Frisians to his newly established and rather remote and isolated fortress of Vlaardingen. Here he used his men to levy tolls on passing ships to the towns of Utrecht and Tiel. However, through his vassals the Bishop of Utrecht claimed the sole rights for such tolls.  In 1018 the Emperor ordered his Dirk (who was his nephew) to stop this practice, he refused.  He then send an army under the command of Godfrey II (The Peacemaker), Duke of Lower Lotharingia to Vlaardingen in order to capture the lands  Dirk had promised to hand over to Bishop Adelbold of Utrecht. However, the mighty army was defeated by Dirk in the boggy environment of Maasland (Battle of the Merwede). This very significantly boosted the power of Holland.

In order to run the Bishopric the bishop appointed ministerialis, feudal bureaucrats in charge of the administration of property and feudal rights on behalf of the Bishop. These functions rapidly became hereditary and many of these families were able to become the new nobility. As an example the Bishop of Utrecht was the overlord of the Ministerialis van Amstel family, later on this family had their own links with for example the Count of Holland and the Lord of Kuyc , a vassal of the Duke of Brabant. They could have fishing rights from one lord and judiciary rights from another and so on, this could happen even within the same place. The van Amstels eventuality became knights in their own right. In the case of this family serious problems started to occur when the Bishop and the Count of Holland came in conflict with each other and they got squeezed in the middle. Without the strength of family support and heirs, the position of a bishopric was always weaker than that of a duchy or county and Utrecht suffered because of this for many centuries.

Another important event that further undermined the power of the bishop was  that in 1076, Bishop Willem took the side of  the Emperor and against the Pope in the Investitures Controversy (See also: The battle between religion and state).

The outcome was that after the Concordat of Worms in 1122 the Bishop of Utrecht would from now on be elected by the Dom Chapter. As a result however – between 1200 and 1500  – whenever the next bishop was elected, the Counts of Holland and the Dukes of Gelre together with their armed mobs would made sure they were present to intimidate the process and get their nominee supported. This got often further complicated with the meddling of other ecclesiastic powers led by the pope and other bishops such as those in Münster, Köln and Liege. This frequently resulted in double-bishops.

Bishops often had to fled the city and the example of Zweder van Zuylen is one such example. In order to escape the ongoing political unrest he fled to what once had been the old city of Dorestad and built a motte (Durestede) there and built a little town on the remnants of what once was down town Dorestad. He called this wik (from vicus), so this became Wijk bij Duurstede. I walked around this defense tower in 2013. The tower was either built by Zweder or his father Gijsbrecht II of Zuylen van Abcoude around 1270. Zweder also is a key player in the drama that evolved around the kidnapping and murder of Floris V which also involved the above mentioned van Amstel family, again all part of the same political battles.

The motte of the caste of Durestede - Wijk bij Duurstede
The motte of the caste of Durestede – Wijk bij Duurstede

From 1423 till 1433 the Bishopric had two competing Bishops (Schism of Utrecht). Utrecht appointed Rudolf van Diepholt, while the pope appointed Zweder van Kuilenburg.  Churches, monasteries and other institutions were forced to accept Rudolf. Those who supported the pope’s candidate had to flee Utrecht and seek refuge elsewhere. The Pope put an interdict on Oversticht. All church services were banned, including proper burials. Silent services were permitted. In the end Rudolf was also accepted by the Pope. Within the context of the Middle Ages this situation combined with the interdict was devastating for the local population.


As mentioned, in 1024 Emperor Henry II promised Drenthe in fief to Bishop Bernulf of Utrecht. Coevorden (see also video clip) was the main town in Drenthe  positioned at the cross roads of two important trading routes at a passable place (voorde/fort) through  the largely impregnable morasses. It might have had an early motte-and-bailey castle and an early settlement started to evolve at the foot of it.  The first recorded  Lord is Fredericus of Coevorden, mentioned in 1141, most likely he was the landlord of the bishop.

In the following century, the increasing powers of the bishops  led to serious contests especially between him and the emerging new nobility in Groningen and Drenthe.

After a conflict with Lord Floris van Vorenborch who was married to the widow of previous landlord Rudolf van Coevorden, Count Otto of Bentheim conquered the castle in 1187.  There were consecutive attempts by the sons of Rudolf, Rudolf II and Volker to recapture the castle, they were assisted by of Count Otto I of Gelre, who in this instance was happy to undermine the powers of the Bishop. During these campaign both the Veluwe and Twente were ravaged.

In 1195/1196 the Drenths were asked by Otto van Gelre to support him during the siege of Deventer, during the following rampage of his troops burnt down the church in Ootmarsum, after which date the current church was built.  The Duke of Brabant negotiated a truce. After the campaign the County of Bentheim received Coevorden in fief, for another nine years, after which Rudolf was finally able to reinstate his family as the Lords of Coevorden.

The rather independent Drenths and Frisians in Oversticht revolted on many occasions against the Bishop and for very long periods these people were able to more and less rule their own region. However, at regular intervals the Bishop would send in the army to either punish the people in particular when they stared to encroach in areas that were under closer control or when he tried through campaigns into their lands to bring these unruly people under his power. One of the most famous battles that included many counts and dukes from all over the Low Countries battled in Ane. [2. Geschiedenis van het kasteel te Coevorden, Gerrit Klets, 2005]

The battle of Ane 5 August 1227

This most serious conflict erupted in 1227 when after his vassal Rudolf II van Coevorden, supported by a large peasant army from Drenthe had revolted against  Bishop Otto van Lippe who than decided to send a large military expedition to this region.

The bishop was supported by among others his counterparts the Bishops of Münster and Cologne, Count Gerard III of Gelre, Count Rudolf van Goor, Count Diederick van Kleve, Count Baldewijn van Bentheim and Lord Gijsbrecht II van Amstel.

Near Ane (Hardenberg, Overijssel) they faced a large group of the rather unorganised peasants from Drente (who refused to pay the tithes to the Bishop), the well equipped armies with their heavy armoury got stuck in the morasses and the battle was over before it had started. Those stuck in the swamps were merciless killed by the peasants, also the Bishop became their victim. Under the many victims was also Ludeken van Ootmarsum and Florens and Florijn van Bentheim. Gijsbrecht van Amstel and Gerard van Gelre were made prisoners.

There are a lot of similarities between the battle of Ane and the Battle of the Gulden Spurs which took place in 1302 in Flanders.

His successor Bishop Wilbrand van Oldenburg was able to reconquer his lands in 1229. Count Boudewijn van Bentheim is among his allies. Eylard Van Bentheim becomes the new count of Coevorden, however this only lasted for a year. During that year he strengthen the castles and fortifications along the boarders (Steenwijk, Vollenhove, Ommen, Uelsen).

Rudolf II was murdered by allies of the bishop Wilbrand,  in Hardenberg in 1232, through the husband of his daughter Hendrik van Borculo, this house became the new Lords of Coevorden. Despite regular conflicts with the bishop, the Lords of  Coevorden were able to largely maintain their independence. Because of the need for money in 1371 the bishop even handed all the rights of Drenthe over to the van Coevordens. They now called themselves Lord of Coevorden and Drenthe.

It wasn’t until 1393 when the powerful bishop Frederik van Blankenstein arrived that the territory was firmly put  back under the control of the bishop. He harnessed the support of some of the neighboring Hanse cities – who all had become worried about the rising power of Coevorden – as well as many of the disgruntled citizens a siege of the castle started in 1395. Lord Reinoud IV had asked for the assistance of the Duke of Gelre but when that didn’t arrive he surrendered. However, it was not until 1402 that  Reinoud fully relinquished control, after that the bishop appointed a bureaucrat in the form of a bailiff to the post. The city received its privileges in 1408.

Another conflict which devastated Oversticht was the election of a new bishop in 1524. Duke Charles of Gelre didn’t agree with the choice and plundered the region. He occupied Coevorden and this  finally meant the end of the secular powers of the bishop, a year later Emperor Charles V was accepted as the  new ruler of Frisia.  Groningen accepted him in 1536 and this also meant the end of the powers of Gelre, they finally were conquered by Charles in 1543.

Back to The Sticht

Floris V conquered parts of Utrecht in 1270 and when the Bishop with the assistance of amongst others Jan van Amstel and Jan van Kuyc in 1300 tried to recoup his land, he was killed in battle. During that time Drente was temporarily conquered by Gelre. The Bishop also lost several of their vassals who changed allegiance to the Dukes of Gelre and the Count of Holland. In the early parts of the 1290s Floris also played a key role in the ongoing feuds between the Schieringers and the Vetkopers .

Amstelland including the emerging settlement of Amsterdam were finally lost to the Bishop in 1317. In 1331 the counts of Holland and Gelre came to an agreement to carve up The Sticht between them. Between 1345 and 1348 several attempts were made to make that happen. However, thanks to firm action from Bishop Jan van Arkel, the bishopric was able to stop this from happening.

Landbrief – proto constitution

Bishop Arnold (of Arnoud) II van Horne (1339-1389) was the son of Willem V van Horne and Elisabeth van Kleef. As mentioned Utrecht was wedged between the Duchies of Gelre and Brabant and the County of Holland, they were expansionists and Utrecht was therefore often under pressure.

When the succession wars in Gelre started (See: Gelre and Kleve) Arnold used the opportunity to became involved. He also fought against Holland in 1373-1375. In which also the van Aemstels were involved (See: Lords van Amstel). These wars did cost him a lot of money while it didn’t deliver any positive outcome to the Bishopric.

In order to maintain the support of his citizens he had to give them certain privileges, similar to the Charter of Kortenberg that the Dukes of Brabant had to provide to its citizens. The charter of the bishop is known as the Landbrief from 1375, this confirmed the rights of the people as well as the limitations put upon the bishop (another early form of a proto-constitution).

Some of the members of the nobility covered in our publication are also signatories to the Landbrief.

The Burgundian Duke Philips the Good was the first one who was able to gain control over the prince-bishopric of Utrecht. During yet another succession conflict that lasted from 1423 to 1431 he successfully got his illegitimate son David appointed by the Pope as the bishop of Utrecht.

In 1483 Maximilian of Austria besieged the city and was able to annex the Sticht with in Burgundian lands.

The secular independence finally ended when Charles V in 1528 annexed the Sticht.  The first thing Charles did was to reduce the power of the city as well as of the ecclesiastic chapters. He rapidly appointed an elite of regents and nobles hand-picked by him.

After, in 1559,  the reorganisation of the bishoprics in the Burgundian Kreis, under the Spanish King Philip II, Utrecht became an Archbishopric in its own right, but after the Dutch Revolt – in 1580- it became forbidden to practice the catholic faith.

The History of Northwestern Europe (TOC)