Wednesday, 6 January 2016

The 'klaarbank' of the Engelander Holt

Last year, Bram and I were asked by the 'Geldersch Landschap en Kasteelen (Gelders Castles and Countryside Foundation) to help with a part of their Engelander Holt project. The Engelander Holt is an estate near Apeldoorn, the Netherlands, managed by the Foundation. The project consisted of nature inventories as well as some historical investigations, mostly done by volunteers. One of the historic sites on the estate is the Herenhul, a small hill with the so-called 'gerechtssteen', a megalitic stone that marked the place of a 'klaarbank', a kind of open air courthouse. The Herenhul has a long history as a place of justice. It could even have been one of the first court places in the Netherlands (the Engelander Holt is already mentioned in 801), and perhaps the place was already in use as a Germanic Althing. During the 13th century to the 17th century the Ducal Supreme Court of the Veluwe Quarter resided here. This court or 'klaarbank' dealt with death penalty cases in the court of Gelre, and many of the case files of the 'klaarbank' have been preserved (and - from 1423 onwards - can be found in the Provincial Archive in Arnhem). The site was also used for the inauguration of a new duke, for meetings of the Hanseatic League, etc.

The 'gerechtssteen' on the Engelanderholt estate.

For instance in 1368, when representatives of Deventer, Zutphen, Harderwijk and Elburg held counsel here on the war between the Hanseatic League and Denmark. At least once a year the Ducal Supreme Court took place at this site with the Duke of Guelders and all the lesser nobility of the Veluwe Quarter (approximately 40 knights), as well as the representatives (the 'peinders') of the five cities of the Veluwe (Arnhem, Wageningen, Harderwijk, Hattem and Elburg) attending.

The accounts tell us that in 1432 Wijnant Leiermoell receives payment for painting a 'Airn' on a blue shield 'voir die herberch tot Engelanderholt' [for the inn at Engelanderholt] where the delegates resided. A bill of the city ​​of Arnhem mentions that on October 12, 1461 the mayor of Arnhem, Steven van Delden, with seven other delegates, is 'gereden en gevaren tot Engelanderholt ter clarynge mit tween wagenen' [went to the court at Engelanderholt with two carts]. They took their food with them, among others the following: 6 'molder' oats, some eggs, a Hamel, 28 pounds beef, 34 pounds hams and shoulders, five sizes of butter, a portion of salt, 3 pairs of chickens, a pot of mustard, bread and necessary 'spysekruyt' [spices], one bottle of old wine. And this all for a few days.

Bringing many delegates and defendants under one roof will also have caused housing problems. Delegates from Arnhem stayed at the 'Red Deer' inn during court, representatives of the smaller cities would have to find shelter in another nearby inn, such as 'The Golden Lion' or the 'Aap' [Monkey] in Beekbergen. The latter inn, also served as a prison for the suspects; and the Dutch proverb 'in de aap gelogeerd' ['stayed at the Monkey', or in other words: you are in serious trouble] originates from these times. Much of the Veluwe knighthood is likely to have camped in campaign tents. During a session of the Supreme Court also a large market was held and merchants set up their stalls in the neighbourhood to sell their wares to the public.

Portrait of Claes Heynenzoon, the Herald Guelders. Dated 1395.
M.S. 15652-56 Armorial Gelre, folio 122r, Bibliothèque Royale de Belgique, Brussels, Belgium.

But things were to change for the 'uncomfortable' klaarbank at Herenhul: in the morning of 22 in September 1573 the Court was opened at the Engelander Holt, but afterwards the delegates went directly to Arnhem to continue the meeting there in a more comfortable environment. Having made all their decisions, they returned back to the Engelander Holt to pronounce them in the required order. After 1620 no more courts were held at the Engelander Holt.

The klaarbank of 1563

In the archives of the province Gelderland in Arnhem, some documents were found dealing with the construction of a new klaarbank in 1563. Also two parchment sheets with sketches of the klaarbank, made by the executive carpenter Master Aelbert, were found, as well as some drawings from 1875 based on these sketches (Caerte van de bancke van Engellanderholt; inv No. 592).

The overview sketch of the klaarbank of 1563 and the surrounding walls. Gelders Archief, No. 592-0002.

Besides these drawings, a few bills and orders given to the sheriffs of the municipalities of Apeldoorn, Ede and Velp to take actions serving the construction of the klaarbank were found as an appendix to the accounts of the Land Steward in 1563 (Gelders Archief, inv Nos 1729 and 1743). These accounts do not provide any measurements of sizes of the klaarbank, only that the klaarbank was made of poplar (Populus spp.) and spruce (Picea abies). The trees were likely hewn in the Arnhem area (both Ede and Velp had to arrange carts for transport). In addition to the trees, 26 boards that were already in the 'Bushuis' (the arsenal) were also used for the construction. The preparatory work (squaring and planing) was done by Master Aelbert in Arnhem, who assembled the klaarbank later with his servant at the Herenhul. The 'busmaker' [the cannon smith] of Arnhem supplied hinges for the doors as well as a new lock with a staple to close the principal door of the klaarbank. 

The klaarbank had a closed rear wall at which a 'sauvegarde' [asylum or safe conduct] was attached. The latter, however, was done by an artist, called Johan Houten. Finally, there is bill of a payment to a nailer for 1000 'lasnagels' and 5100 'zoldernagels' [two types of nails] for the klaarbank. As the ordered nails are not necessary for the construction of the furniture (the benches and chairs), they therefore were likely used for carpentry of the walls and floors. The klaarbank was made August 1563, assembled in early September 1563, and demolished after the trial and stored in the Bushuis at Arnhem.

The lay-out sketch of the klaarbank of 1563 with the sizes given in the text. Note that the benches on the sides have been shortened in comparison with the previous sketch. Gelders Archief, No. 592-0001.

The set-up of the klaarbank

So, what we were asked to do for the Engelander Holt project was to give an insight in what kind of furniture was used at the klaarbank. How did it look like and how was it constructed. But before we did, we first looked at the set-up of the court.

Roughly, the klaarbank consisted of a simple building (possibly only three walls) with a roof (the latter could even have been of canvas), some benches places at different heights for the knighthood, councillors and peinders, well as a chair for the sheriff and a high chair for the Duke. On the grounds, there was a bench and a table for the registrar and a scribe. The whole was surrounded by a wooden fence.The councilors reached their seats through side stairs, for which an opening is indicated in the side wall on the sketch of the construction. The set-up such that the Duke can only reach his high chair via the stairs at the banks of the councilors.

 Our model of the klaarbank, with doors at the sides for the counsilors.

Some measurements are given in the text scribbled on the sketches of 1563. The finished bank is made up of three layers, with each successive layer 1.5 foot higher than the previous one. The height and width of the banks was similar to the distance between two banks: 1.5 feet. Duke's chair was at the highest level, 4.5 feet above the ground. One foot measured at that time between 23 and 32 cm, depending on the place and country. For example, a Rhenish feet was 0.314 meters and an Amsterdam feet 0.283 meters. 1.5 Feet is also the height of a bench, and translates to approximately 45 cm, which is now also a common height for a seating. On the basis of the sketch of the cross-sections and the text, we deduced the arrangement as shown in our 3D model of the klaarbank. A next post will deal with the furniture involved at the klaarbank.

A 17th century Lit de Justice

 The raised dais for the chairs of the ruler and his cousillors of the Lit de Justice in Chateaudun castle.

Call it coincidence or luck; when we were on holiday in France last year we visited Castle Châteaudun at the foot of the river Loir and the city with the same name as the castle. In the basement of the castle we found that an (almost) complete 17th century court (Lit de Justice) has survived. There are several similarities but also differences with the klaarbank of the Engelander Holt. The court of Châteaudun is small and square and almost fills an entire room. In a corner against the wall is a raised platform for the ruler with a coat of arms above it, as well as a place for the councilors next to it. The knighthood (on the right side) and the representatives (on the left side) sat facing the ruler in two rows separated by a wooden partition. The court has no seating now, but there were probably benches; the space between the wooden partition is almost one meter; enough space for a bench. The crowned L (Louis) on the walls indicates that it was originally royal or princely court.

 The view from the dais towards the entrance of the court.

(Left) The two rows of seating for the layman (without benches). These would be situated on the left side of the ruler; on the right side the nobility would be seated. (Right) The rear seating row of the laymen is on a small wooden platform. Both seating rows are divided by a wooden partition. 

There are also a few images in late medieval and later manuscripts depicting a Lit de Justice in a royal setting. The most famous one is that by Jean Fouquet in 1450. What can be seen is that all show the square arrangement of the court with the ruler on a dais in the corner.

(Left) The Lit de Justice of Charles V in  Le Livre des propriétés des choses by Barthélémy l'Anglais.
Bibliotheque National de France, Paris, France, Ms. Français 22532, folio 9. (Right) Lit de Justice of Charles VII at the parliament of Paris of 1450.  Des cas des nobles hommes et femmes, illumination by Jean Fouquet, dated between 1458 and 1465. Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, Munich, Germany, Cod. Gall. 6, folio 2v.

(Left) The Lit de Justice of Louis XIII held after the death of his father (1610). Archives Nationales de France AE-II-3890. (Right) Copper engraving showing a court case against an animal, a practice that was also common during medieval times.


  1. A very interesting and fun project, I am sure you will enjoy working on this. Thank you for sharing your detective work, and history lesson, It is interesting to get little snippets of evidence that in all corners of the world things were going on that were of importance to those who lived in in that region. I would guess that the Dukes chair would be a finished piece of fine furniture brought to the court and not something knocked together by the carpenters, as would have been the case with the other seating. Also, note from the paneling in the French example, that this is not crudely fabricated planks, although it too, would have been constructed by carpenters.

    1. We had the same logic for the dukes chair. This chair needs to make an impression on the people attending the court and was likely highly carved. Not a project for a carpenter to finish in a few weeks time, but rather the fine woodwork of a joiner.
      For the klaarbank a few centuries earlier, the sella curulis would be ideal for the Duke.