Frisian freedom

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Frisian lands

Friese freedom or freedom of the Frisians (Frisian: Fryske frijheid, Dutch: Friese Vrijheid) is the absence of feudalism and serfdom in Frisia, the area that was originally inhabited by the Frisians, in particular the current provinces of Friesland and Groningen and the area west Friesland in the Netherlands and East Friesland in Germany. In particular, it refers to the absence of a sovereign lord, at least in the absence of a lord who owned the land. The main reason for the emergence of the so-called freedom of the Frisians however, given the openness towards lords moving around at the end of the 11th century developed as a result of the ongoing disputes over the count's rights.


The killing of Arnulf, Count of Holland in 993 is the first sign of the Frisian freedom. This Frisian count was killed in a rebel attempt to compel obedience from the subjects. The murder of another Count Henri de Gras in 1101 is regarded as the de facto beginning of the Frisian freedom. This freedom was in any event recognized by the Roman-King William II on November 3, 1248. He did this after the Frisians aided in the siege of the city of Aachen. In 1417, this was reaffirmed by Emperor Sigismund, Friesland said to the empire representative. By contrast, other emperors such as Louis IV gave Friesland over to the Count of Holland, rather than granting freedom.

According to subsequent writers, the freedom was granted in the Karelsprivilege by Charlemagne to Magnus Forteman, as a reward for the conquest of Rome. Various sources have reported the existence of the Karelsprivilege or Magnuskerren. The original has been lost, although according to some it was inscribed on a wall of a church, which could be either at Almenum, Ferwoude or Oldeboorn. Others consider the Karelsprivilege as an invention from subsequent times and the copies that have been made, as forgeries. In 1319, more than five hundred years after the death of Charlemagne, a copy was entered in the register of William III of Holland.

Nevertheless, it can be established that the Frisian region including the Ommelanden around Groningen, from the tenth century to the beginning of the sixteenth century went through a unique development stage, almost entirely lacking the feudal structure introduced by Charlemagne.


The absence of a manorial authority meant that there existed no central administration. In particular there was no administration for law and justice, which in the Middle Ages still did not clearly separate spheres of sovereignty. That was a serious shortcoming. To fill this gap attempts were made to apply rules to the entire region of Frisia. From the various regions delegates came to meetings at the Opstalboom in Aurich. Later those meetings were also held in Groningen.

In addition to the arrangements of the Opstalboom an attempt was tried to resort to the old law as it was recorded in the 17 and 24 Landrechten Keuren (landrights bylaws) Lex Frisionum. A great problem remained, however, that there was no choice but to clarify the content of the law, and that the enforcement of that law encountered major practical problems. If a mighty man was not ruling, there were no resources to enforce the law.

Statue of Pier Gerlofs Donia, a famous Frisian folk hero and freedom fighter under whom Frisian freedom quickly (and shortly) revived

Friesland had no Knighthood or Ridderschap like the one in Drenthe and other areas over the Middle Ages . In Friesland, the feudal idea of nobility, which gave the right of control in the country, was deemed incompatible with the "Friesche freedom". The region also had no forced labour. The fact that the nobles who all belonged to the Uradel still had a major influence on the board, they had to thank their landownership. The right to vote was based on land and on that basis each got one vote for each piece of land. So the nobles could cast many votes. They showed their influence by choosing a Grietman from one of the thirty grietenijs, who in turn represented the municipalities of Friesland. The cities had eleven votes.


Duke Albrecht III of Saxony[edit]

The conflicts between the Schieringers and Vetkopers contributed in a significant way to the end of the Frisian Freedom. The absence of an effective authority also contributed to the emergence of disputes.

The arguments made it attractive for outsiders to interfere in their dealing with Friesland, sometimes with an appeal to old rights. At the same time triggered by the lawlessness which resulted from this battle, was the call for a lord. At the time in Friesland the Schieringer Potestaat Juw Dekama called upon the help of Albert, Duke of Saxony. This period is described by Petrus Thaborita.

The Frisian freedom disappeared in the other Frisian areas at different times. In West Friesland the freedom ended earlier with the conquest by the counts of Holland.

In the Frisian region in Groningen, the power vacuum in the course of the 14th and 15th centuries was filled by the city of Groningen. The city agreed various treaties with its environs, which was for the establishment of a court which had jurisdiction to rule and to take appeals. By the power of the city it was also able to fulfill these statements to monitor. The city was also presented as a strongly Frisian town, and as a champion of the Frisian Freedom.

After seeing the power of Albert of Saxony in Friesland, the city was forced to seek aid from a foreign noble. After a short period in which Charles, Duke of Guelders was finally adopted as Lord, Charles V anexed the city and its region to his empire, Charles has appealed to the old rights of the bishop of Utrecht.

In East Friesland the Frisian Freedom ended in the mid-fifteenth century with the rise of the house of Cirksena.

See also[edit]


  • O. Vries, Het Heilige Roomse Rijk en de Friese Vrijheid (The Holy Roman Empire and the Frisian Freedom) (Leeuwarden 1986)
  • MP van Buijtenen, De grondslag van de Friese vrijheid (The basis of the Frisian freedom) (Assen 1953).