The Dutch nobility are a legally recognised group of people who belong to a historically privileged social stratum. With the constitutional reform of 1848, these individuals lost their constitutional role with regards to selecting members for the States-Provincial. Thereafter, the only privileges currently enjoyed by the nobility are the carrying of titles and the grant of coats of arms by royal decree.
The nobility are currently regulated by the Nobility Act, passed into law on 1 August 1994, and is overseen by the High Council of Nobility, an official state institution of the Kingdom of the Netherlands which also maintains the official nobility register.
During the period between 1581 and 1795, when the Netherlands was a republic (Republic of the Seven United Netherlands), the native nobility kept their constitutional significance. In each province, the nobility was organised in knighthoods, which maintained representation in the States-Provincial. In 1795, after the Batavian Revolution, the positions and thus the nobility were abolished.
With the establishment of the Sovereign Principality of the United Netherlands in 1813, the rights of the nobility were restored, and the peerage regained official status. The Constitution established that nobility would be granted by the King, and the ways in which this could happen were clarified by Sovereign Decree no. 60, signed on 13 February 1815. Initially this was by appointment into the re-established knighthoods, but after several years exclusively through acknowledgement, incorporation or elevation. These terms refer to the acknowledgement of indigenous titles of nobility existing before 1795, the incorporation of originally foreign titles of nobility, and elevation where an entirely new title is created. The electoral colleges for the (indirect) elections of the Senate and the House of Representatives of the States General consisted of the knighthoods, amongst others. In 1814, William I established the High Council of Nobility which, as his advisory body, would help him re-establish a strong nobility. From then on, new members of the knighthoods would also be recruited from regent families. The Council started maintaining a register of the nobility, the filiatieregister.
In the constitutional amendment of 1848, the feudal society was abolished, and the constitutional role of the nobility again came to an end. The only legal privilege the nobility retained was the right to hold a predicate or a title. In 1994, the constitutional article was replaced by a separate Nobility Act which codified the existing practice. According to this law, nobility can still be granted in the three aforementioned ways, although the possibilities are significantly reduced. Elevation, which had not taken place since 1939 and was practically abolished by the council of ministers in 1953, has been reduced to the Royal House. Government policy has since focussed on rewarding personal merit through royal decorations. The last elevation into the Dutch nobility concerns Princess Máxima, in a Royal Decree of 25 January 2002 (Government Gazette 41), due to the fact of her marriage to the Prince of Orange.
Someone belongs to the Dutch nobility when either they have been granted nobility by Royal Decree, or when their father belonged to the nobility. Nobility is inherited exclusively through male lineage, which means that while daughters belong to the nobility as well, they are unable to pass it to their children. Someone can be granted nobility through acknowledgement of indigenous titles of nobility existing before 1795, through incorporation of foreign titles of nobility, or through elevation, in which a new title of nobility is created. There are seven titles of nobility. In order of precedence, these are Prince, Duke, Marquis, Count, Viscount, Baron and Knight. People in the nobility who have not been granted a title carry the predicate Jonkheer.
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