Two fascinating books show what the nobility still means ★★★★ ☆


Statue Martyn F. Overweel

The nobility is a remnant of old, good or bad times. A charming anachronism. Certainly in the Netherlands, where already during the republic he ceased to be a significant power factor. Descendants of noble families have therefore become adept at putting themselves in perspective. As a rule, they pronounce their last name at random, or omit part of it – if it is a double last name. If their origin is mentioned anyway, they shrug their shoulders. Perhaps it is often a pose for the scene, and the nobility feels quite comfortable in the privacy of its own environment. But outwardly, modesty is displayed – often in connection with service to society.

In the Netherlands, the nobility – 325 families with 10 to 11 thousand members – make up only a fraction of the population. The Quote 500 is not their domain. And the nobility has long since stopped setting standards – a development that is increasingly regretted because the once denounced ‘old boys’ network’, in contrast to today’s crypto-penoze, was also a community of values. In 2002, experts Yvo van Regteren wrote Altena and Binnert de Beaufort, accompanied by the then QuoteEditor-in-Chief Jort Kelder: ‘Old money represents a culture that has nothing directly to do with money, or often nothing at all. It’s a lifestyle that is dominated by the convention. ‘

To survive

This quote is included in good names, the historian Kees Bruin’s book on nobility and patriciat in post-war Holland. Even more than in the 1960s and 1970s, when the article of faith ‘leveling’ became modern, their place in society has changed under the influence of the new (money) elite, which no longer aims to ‘lead with a good example’. . Nevertheless, the ‘remarkable elite’ has managed to maintain itself reasonably well in Zuidas’ meritocracy, and the process of extermination, which for a long time was thought to eventually kill the nobility, has been halted.

It’s not even the result of a sophisticated survival strategy. At the time of the revision of the Nobility Act, which entered into force in 1994, only three future scenarios had been taken into account: abolish, do nothing or modernize – which e.g. could mean that noble titles could also be passed on to posterity. through the female line. The legislature chose the second option. This means that the nobility can only be refreshed by recognizing old families who previously did not want to make their status visible (‘did not need’), or by incorporating families bearing a title of nobility abroad.

In total, in the last eighty years, 39 requests to be entered in the nobility register have been granted. Not enough to be able to talk about great social mobility, but enough to keep the size of the nobility in Holland stable.

Stagnant water

‘One can say’, writes Kees Bruin: ‘In Holland the nobility is standing water, which is nevertheless reasonably clear.’ In other words: it is clear who does and who does not belong to this small minority. The situation is different with the Dutch patrician, the other branch of the remarkable elite, to which families of some social significance may seek affiliation. A claim for a place in the so-called blue book – a variation of the red book of noble families – has actually been tested and weighed, but the criteria are so arbitrary and fleeting that, according to Bruin ‘, patricity flows more (than the nobility, red.) but is more cloudy ‘. Where nobility and patriciat were still closely intertwined in the 19th and early 20th centuries, patriciat has proved less valuable.

For both branches of the remarkable elite, the family crest has traditionally been the most important feature of the first name. A so-called motto has been added to more than 400 Dutch coats of arms: a concise wisdom, an admonition, an allusion to the family name or the coat of arms itself. The reference book Coat of arms of Dutch families contains a ‘reasoned overview’ of used coats of arms (also of families that have since become extinct), their origin and significance. For example, the authors spoke 310 coats of arms in Latin – not always flawlessly. Of the Roman writers quoted, Horace, Virgil, Cicero, and Ovid are the most beloved. Frequently used Latin words are virtus (virtue or bravery), labor (hard work), fides (trust) and pietas (duty or piety). After Latin, French is the most widely used language in the coat of arms, followed by Dutch, English / Scottish, German, Frisian and other languages.

At one point, agreements were confirmed with the lacquer print of a family crest. Eventually, the family’s coat of arms – adorned with helmets, feathers and resilient animals – expressed family pride, historical awareness or vulgar splendor. In this regard, the authors of Coat of arms of Dutch families to the third edition of Hildebrands Obscure camera (1851) where the ‘bourgeois man’ (and former planter) Kegge is considering the purchase of a carriage, where ‘the great Hanseatic and noble gentlemen (may) take a point. I would like to have a coat of arms painted on it with a gold wedge on a silver field and a large planter’s crown of sugar cane and coffee beans on top. ‘

Kees Bruin: Good names – Nobility and patricians in post-war Holland. W Books; 271 pages; € 24.95.

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Picture W books

Christoph EG ten Houte de Lange, Alle Diderik de Jonge, Jan Spoelder: Enchantments of Dutch Generations. W Books; 211 pages; € 29.95.

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Picture W books

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