The van Egmonds, Claes Vijgh & The Aldenhaag Golden Fleece

IIIa. The van Egmonds & the Aldenhaag Fleece

In our search to find the historical connections of this Golden Fleece one thing was clear — Golden Fleeces did not wander about by themselves. Where it was found had to relate to a member of the order and where he would be. As seen in Part II, Thedinghsweert and Aldenhaag lie in a region called Buren, and Buren was the domain of the cadet branch of the van Egmond family, long strong supporters of the Burgundians, and several members of the family were members of the Order. This certainly looked like a promising avenue of investigation and our research is reported below. We also then list some important research by the Drents Museum on Claes Vijgh, who had a castle at Zoelen-Aldenhaag only 2.5 km. away from Thedinghsweert and was also associated with the Order from 1559. As his ruined castle was where the students often strolled around, he is an even more likely owner of the Aldenhaag fleece. Since Claes Vijgh was married to an Egmond heiress, from whom he acquired Zoelen and Aldenhaag, it remains reasonably clear that this was an Egmond family fleece, whichever of the three Egmond members it belonged to. Brief stories follow of Floris, Maximillian and Claes and their connection to the Golden Fleece.

THE van Egmonds were, from the Middle Ages, a noted and powerful family in Holland. Originally from the Hoorn of Holland, where the town of Egmond still stands, they spread their power over the central Netherlands in the fifteenth century by linking their star to the Dukes of Burgundy, and later the Habsburgs, who were their nominal overlords. Originally only called lords of their lands (Heer), the family was promoted to Count (Graaf) in the early fifteenth century. In mid century the family split into the senior branch as Counts of Egmond, and the cadet branch as Counts of Ijsselstein and Buren. The Counts of Buren controlled a broad reach of country across the middle of Holland whose fortifications and towns blocked invaders from the south. The power base of the Counts of Buren was originally at Ijsselstein in the west of the region, and to consolidate their territory it took some military campaigning. In the early 16th century the leader of the Ijsselstein branch of the family was Florus van Egmond, later Count of Buren himself in 1521.

Floris van Egmond (seen at left in a portrait from the British National Gallery that we identified) was a well connected and wealthy ally of the Habsburgs. Born in 1469 in Den Haag, he died in 1539 at Buren. The Dutch seem to love nicknames, and Floris was known as Fleurkin Dunbier, although I doubt anyone would have called him that to his face. He was a chamberlain to Phillip the Fair and later on the court council of Margaret of Habsburg, at the time the governor of the Netherlands. For his family’s loyal support Floris was made a knight of the Golden Fleece in 1505 (knight no. 124), making him one of the longer serving members at 34 years. He continued to serve the Habsburgs in many important roles, including Stadtholder of Guelders in 1507-1511, Stadtholder of Frisia in 1515-1518, stadtholder of Holland, Zeeland and West-Friesland in 1518, and a military commander, where he was commander of the Dutch troops for an invasion of France in 1523 and Captain-General of the Habsburg army in the northern Netherlands in 1536.

One of Floris’ main duties was to keep unrest under control in the Netherlands and to help ensure the flow of the considerable tax revenues that supported Hapsburg ambitions. As such he was a well chosen administrator since he was pragmatic and cautious, even if lacking in decision and drive, and his core interests seemed to be what was best for the Dutch rather than the Spanish. In order to further his control he made numerous side agreements with various lords and towns to respect their freedom in exchange for their support or neutrality. He also acquired some areas by purchase as with Acquoy, on the Linge near Thedinghsweert, in 1513 and so avoided complications. He may have also acquired control of Thedinghsweert at this time, but certainly so by the1528 siege of Tiel.

In 1528 Floris was forced into a rare military action when, with official Habsburg support, he had to besiege the town of Tiel to force it to accept his authority as Count of Buren. Floris and the Habsburgs were joined to the Cod Fish faction of towns and new nobles, and evidently Tiel supported the Hooks, the old nobility. The siege was not aggressively pursued, and so dragged on for some time. Since Thedinghsweert was a fortified dwelling and was only a kilometer from Tiel it had to be occupied by the forces of Floris, and likely was a most useful fortified choke point by bridge and river during the siege. From this time Floris spent more time in Buren consolidating his rule and running his personal affairs. Thedinghsweert may have been one of his country fortified manor houses although records are hard to find. The place was later sold in the late 17th century when our ownership records begin.

Even the rich and powerful of ancient times had, by our profligate standards, relatively few possessions, and few of the storage choices we now have. Clothes, jewelry and fine things were usually locked in metal-bound heavy wooden or leather chests which were kept locked in the lords own personal quarters. When they were away such things were locked in the keep, the original tall tower that was the great stronghold of every castle. The fortification at Thedinghsweert likely had such a keep (perhaps like the imaginary reconstruction seen at right). When a man was made a knight of the Golden Fleece, in the early days of the order, he was loaned a collar from the treasury for a life (seen on Floris, to the left), returnable on his death, and in those earliest days only the collar was worn on all occasions, as awkward as this sometimes was.

With the arrival of the young Charles V and his brother such collars were indeed difficult, since these boys were made knights as infants and collars are large and heavy. Thus, in 1516 Charles issued a decree that in ordinary situations and use members could wear only the fleece, hanging from a red ribbon. We know that the usage had begun earlier for Charles, as there is a portrait of him in Edinburgh dating to1510 where he wears the fleece on a red ribbon. Ironically, from this practical simplification the modern, multi piece bijou developed as fashion slowly added back the elements of the collar, one by one, and then larger larger ones and then jeweled ostentation.

This was a fashion the knights readily adopted, and so there were soon a number of privately made fleeces of this kind, the Aldenhaag fleece being one of them. We know Floris wore the fleece so, as seen in the contemporary portrait of 1522 (seen below, left in a portrait at Den Haag). We also know, since Floris had a surprisingly large number of portraits survive, that he had a variety of golden fleeces of various forms and shapes. In summary, we know that Floris had multiple fleeces, wore them on a red ribbon by 1522 and may possibly have stored one in a fortification in the region of Tiel, Thedinghsweert and Aldenhaag. Floris died at Buren, only a few kilometers away.

His son Maximillian (1509-1548) was also a member of the Golden Fleece (knight no. 190) from 1531 and the Aldenhaag fleece could have been made for him as well. Maximillian was even more active in the growing Habsburg administration and, unlike his father, he died as a governor in Bruselles and not at home in Buren. Unfortunately for the Egmonds their titles were feudal, and required a male heir to perpetuate them. Maximillian had only a daughter, Anna of Buren (seen at right). In 1551 she made a brilliant match with William (the Silent) Prince of Orange (also a member of the Golden Fleece no. 226 and Stadtholder of Holland), who then acquired the lands and titles of the Counts of Buren. (In later years the Kings and Queens of the Netherlands would travel incognito as the Count of Buren.) Anna had two children who lived and one stillborn, and then she died in 1559; William died in 1584.

Shortly after Anna’s death the Dutch revolted against Spanish rule, and the Spanish held on to the Buren region to restrain the Dutch. In 1572 William the Silent seized the area and many of its towns and fortresses. This, along with the many difficult waterways, effectively blocked Spanish access to Holland and the revolt. In 1574-75 the Duke of Alba (also a member of the Golden Fleece) attacked the cities in Buren, and burned and harried the lands all about. The Dutch were able to reinforce Buren and held the Spanish off, but lesser places were sacked and burned before the Spanish withdrew. Any places connected to the rebel Prince of Orange, and by extension his relatives the Egmonds, were especially chosen for punishment. When Maximillian died his goods would, temporarily, pass to his daughter Anna, and she would have no use for a Golden Fleece and so would have left it safely locked up. Similarly, when William, Prince of Orange, assumed control of Anna’s lands he might have held an inventory, and perhaps removed some things for his use, but mostly little treasures were left locked in place where they were. (I know of some German castles where even in recent times they found jewelry locked up unseen for centuries in a back room.) Certainly by this time all Dutch members of the Golden Fleece were uncertain about displaying their membership and loyalty to the Habsburgs in the face of growing hostility of the population, and many might have left off wearing the order too publicly and put it in storage. This would be compounded by the arbitrary execution of the Counts of Hoorn and Egmond, despite being members of the order, and the relentless campaign against the Prince of Orange.

Anna and William had one son Philips-Willem (seen at left), and the Spanish took out their anger on him, kidnapping him in 1568 and taking him to Spain to be raised a good catholic and loyal Spanish supporter. His mother was already dead, and he never saw his father again. After the St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre in 1572 in France, Orange, as Philips-Willem was known then, became a Calvinist and later returned to the Low Countries. There he restored a lesser patrimony from that of his parents, where ever his former subjects would accept him. Yet none of this kept him from being made a knight of the Golden Fleece in 1599 as the Spanish attempted to retain some control of the region. On his death without issue the Orange line passed to his cousin Maurice, from who the modern royal family descends.

The Aldenhaag fleece is of the proper period for Floris, his son Maximillian and a few other Netherlands members, including Claes Vijgh, It is assumed to have been found by the ruins of a castle in a region under Egmond control. It seems it most likely was lost when the Spanish burned the region’s castles in 1574-75, being buried in debris and rubble after the castle collapsed or buried nearby for safety, but preserved from serious injury by being in a locked strongbox. Over the centuries, with rebuilding, moving of earth for projects, rot and weathering the little gold fleece worked its way to the surface, to be found by accident in 1969, dirty but preserved from corrosion by its gold. And, as apples seldom fall far from the tree, so does this golden fleece seem to have stayed right at home where it always had been.

IIIb. Claes Vijgh & the Aldenhaag Fleece

Claes Vijgh was born in 1505 into a burger family in Nijmegen on the eastern edge of the Betuwe region, and early in life relocated 10 miles downstream to Tiel where he became a powerful and respected official until his death in 1581. In 1530 he married Anna van Egmond, an illegitimate daughter of Charles Egmond, Duke of Gelders, and from her inheritance became known as Lord of Soelen and Alden Haag. His family must have been quite wealthy since he reportedly spent 6,000 gold guilders to buy his amptman and judge position in Tiel, although he also had to mortgage Soelen and Alden Haag to do so. Like many of the progressive nobility in the Low Countries, Vijgh linked his fortunes to the new Habsburg rulers and served in their administration. At the same time, like most of the Dutch, Vijgh was a pragmatic man with strong local sympathies. When Spanish financial demands or heretic searches became too oppressive he avoided compliance while doing what he could to satisfy the crown. (At the left are the Vijgh family coat of arms.)

Under the Emperor Charles V this sort of pragmatic policy was permissible, especially as Charles himself was a native of the region and was unsure of the proper policy that mixed firmness with compassion. As Charles aged and the Reformation grew in strength a harsher approach was begun, and with the reign of the purely Spanish Philip II the full rigors of Spanish intolerance was unleashed on the Low Countries. In 1559 the last chapter of the knights of the Golden Fleece was held at Ghent; Philip’s first and last such exercise that showed any limits to his absolute authority. After 1559 all knights in the order were appointed by the sovereign alone and no further chapters were held. This was Philip’s last visit to the Low Countries, and his intention was to organize the region to suit his needs and put in place a firm administration to carry out his will. All vacant positions in the order of the Golden Fleece were filled, and the knights now included Lamoral, Count of Egmond and William of Orange. As a generation earlier with the appointment of Floris Egmond and his cousin the Count of Egmond to the Order, Philip sought to ensure loyal supporters in a critical region. But this time these two appointments left the crucial central sector of the Betuwe from Buren to Tiel unsecured.

All the important nobles of the land had been summoned to a meeting where Philip told them his will and orders, and looked for supporters to attach to his cause. Claes Vijgh was there and was a good catholic and respected official with ties to the important regional families, especially the van Egmonds. Although the 50 positions in the Order of the Golden Fleece were now filled Philip could, by his new reorganization of the order, appoint whomever he wished and at any time. Evidently Claes Vijgh was the first of the personal appointments to the order in 1559, immediately after the chapter meeting. It can be seen as a nomination pending an opening in the official ranks, and there are many cases thereafter of nominations never fulfilled. This would represent the peak of the career of 54 year old Claes Vijgh, since in the following years events would overtake this appointment and make full membership in the order impossible. Within weeks Philip had sailed for Spain and left the Low Countries to the heavy hands of his officials.

As early as 1559 Claes Vijgh was feeling the effects of old age and illness, and he had passed many of his positions on to his favorite son Diederik (or Dirck), a good Catholic and Habsburg supporter. Nevertheless, as events would show, he also was a pragmatic man and fiercely protective of family privilege. Another of Claes Vijgh’s sons, Adriaan Vijgh, was openly a Calvinist and so brought home the constant balancing act between Dutch freedom of thought and the Inquisition of the ruling Spanish government. Claes was frequently accused of protecting Protestants and permitting their activities. Tension increased after the arrival of the Duke of Alba and his extra juridical execution of Egmond and Hoorn, both knights of the Golden Fleece. Shortly thereafter Alba began summoning other knights of the Fleece and important officials to his headquarters. Vijgh and most others refused to go and, like William of Orange, were then proscribed and removed from office, some to a lesser degree and some completely so. For his openly rebellious acts William of Orange was removed from the official members list of the Golden Fleece as a rebel against his sovereign, precipitated by William’s return of his insignia to the order in June, 1581 after the break with Spain was beyond retrieval. Perhaps this refusal to Alba by Claes Vijgh is what ended his Golden Fleece process. Interestingly Vijgh could not be removed from office because he purchased it for such a high price, and by law had to be reimbursed, which the Spanish could not afford! (At left is an old engraving of the official Amptsman House in Tiel where Claes lived.)

The personal manor house of the Vijgh family, first of Claes and thereafter of his son Diederik, was at Aldenhaag and then, from 1569, Soelen. They kept a major town house in Tiel as well due to their official amptman position (shown above). In 1574 during the savage campaigns of the Duke of Alba, there was an outcry that Vijgh was hiding two dangerous Calvinists at his house at Soelen, or perhaps at Alden Haag. This says that despite the fact that the original tower at Alden Haag had been destroyed in the late 14th century, there was some structure there again in the late 16th century that was used by Claes Vijgh. The Spanish governor in Tiel sent out a Sergeant, a Corporal and 50 men to Soelen to arrest the culprits. In that time this was a large and overbearing force. Claes put them off at Soelen while he helped the two Calvinists escape to Buren, a nearby Protestant town. As a result the Spanish burned Soelen and Alden Haag and all the buildings there. Only the stone and brick shells remained. Diederik Vijgh was much angered and, say the local records, he forcibly reoccupied the site on 6 May 1577 and rebuilt the Soelen house, but it likely from this date that the Alden Haag site was clear of structures. Diederick must have been very sure of his power and position to do this in the face of a Spanish garrison in Tiel that had already injured him once, but since he was later known as “The King of Tiel” his position was indeed secure.

It is the careful opinion of the archaeological staff at the Drents Museum, the students who were there when the fleece was found, and of myself after review, that the fleece was found near the ancient Alden Haag castle motte. This clearly places the Aldenhaag Fleece as almost certainly the property of Claes Vijgh, who both had authority to have and wear it and owned the place where it was lost in a violent siege, and found again 400 years later. At the right is a photograph of the old Alden Haag site, now with the small tomb of an early 19th century owner on top.

Much of this information comes from: J. Kuys, L. de Leeuw, V. Pacquay & R. van Schaïk, De Tielse Kroniek - Een geschiedenis van de Lage Landen van de Volksverhuizingen tot het midden van de vijftiende eeuw, met een vervolg over de jaren 1552-1556 [The Chronicle from Tiel - A history of the Low Countries from the Migrations up to the middle of the fifteenth century, with an addition for the years 1552-1566], Amsterdam 1983. Pages 179 and 181 mention Claes Vijgh as a member of the Golden Fleece from 1559, most importantly saying “Nicolaas Vyghe, ambtman of the Nederbetuwe and judge of the town of Tiel, who a year before in Gent was dubbed a knight in the Order of the Golden Fleece by his majesty Philip, king of Spain and Duke of Gelre.”

IIIc. How Did Claes Vijgh Obtain The Aldenhaag Fleece?

The style of the fleece is purely of Low Country origins, is mostly found in the first half of the fifteenth century but in places until 1580 or so, and was intimately associated with Charles V. When Charles V moved to Spain the form appears there, and it disappears there within a generation of his death. This form would more likely be from the first half of the century than so late as 1559 or even later, although the later date is possible. But we do need to ask how this particular fleece came to Claes Vijgh. Claes may have been nominated to the Golden Fleece, but there were only collars for the 51 authorized members, and these were only given on confirmation. There was a growing private manufacture of fleeces, such as the Aldenhaag Fleece for daily wear on ribbons or chains, and already some extra elements from the collar were being added, but this was a very controlled trade open only to the greatest and wealthiest in the land. Even Claes Vijgh would never be able to order and wear a Golden Fleece if he was not known as a member. To do so without right was a capital offence. Is there perhaps a missing document from Philip II appointing and authorizing Claes Vijgh as a member? Of course the burning of Claes’ house at Soelen in 1574 with everything in it must have destroyed most or all documents. One of the rights of membership in the Golden Fleece was the right to read all official documents in their area, and to take part in discussions and decisions on policy. This is too powerful an appointment to not be confirmed by the king in some manner lest it open the doors to outside access to most sensitive documents. At the left is a 1522 sculpture of the young Charles V wearing a seeming duplicate of the Aldenhaag Fleece.

When Philip II would have nominated Claes it would have been in a private or semi-private audience, where the appointment was intended to impress and attach Claes to the Spanish administration of the Low Countries. Certainly to make the nomination useful Philip would have to do more than send Claes Vijgh away with a good word and handshake, and there had to be a sign of Claes’ new position. Public recognition of rewards and positions was an essential part of their successful use. One of the reasons for Philip to go to the Low Countries at this time was to collect all the family wealth and heirlooms stored there for generations and ship them to Spain — tapestries, carpets, furniture, jewelry, pottery and more. In the event it was a fatal folly since Philip and his goods went home at the start of Autumn and the stormy season, and although Philip arrived safely in Spain most of the ships bearing goods were lost in storms. While in the Netherlands Philip certainly would have worn some of the ancestral jewelry and insignia of the family, much as visiting sovereigns wear the orders and awards of the host country on visits. It is thus quite possible he was wearing an early 16th century fleece on a ribbon, as was his wont, and that he placed it on Claes Vijgh as a sign of his new position. At the least he gave Claes an old fleece from the Habsburg archives to enable his appointment. Any other explanation of the origin of the Aldenhaag Fleece of the Egmonds has even more difficulties to reconcile with the known facts and the political realities of 1559. The gift to Vijgh of a Habsburg heirloom, of both Charles V and then Philip II, seems required by the manner of nomination, and also explains the use of an antique piece already 50 years on when given. If someone was appointed to the Golden Fleece in Chapter and confirmed they were given a collar; in this first personal appointment Philip II could hardly avoid the gift of some insignia as was always the case hitherto. That said, a careful examination of the Aldenhaag Fleece by the staff of Morton and Eden shows that this badge was most likely a locally made copy in Tiel for Vijgh to wear every day and so keep the official badge safe.

The photo of Charles V above certainly appears to show the origin of the Aldenhaag fleece and its earlier place in the Habsburg treasury. Certainly this kind of brevet appointment to orders has a long history, as does the giving of a sovereign’s own badge to the recipient for increased effect. Alexander of Russia did this several times in the 1813-1814 campaign, and some of those were never confirmed by the chancery of the orders as with Vijgh. But whatever its manner of giving, the Aldenhaag Fleece was made in the Low Countries during the lifetime of Claes Vijgh and was worn by a member of the Golden Fleece there.

Introduction To The Aldenhaag Fleece

I. The Aldenhaag Fleece

II. The Hamlets of Thedinghsweert & Zoelen-Aldenhaag

IV. The Standing Ram Fleece & Charles V

V. Documentation & Photos

     VB. Documentation & Photos II

Appendix 1. The Standing Ram Fleece As Seen in the Insignie Orden Book & Other Catalogs

Appendix 2. Other Scholars Look At the Aldenhaag Fleece

Appendix 3. Greek & Roman Mythology of the Golden Fleece

     3B. Classical Texts That Mention the Golden Fleece

May 2010 Meeting on the Aldenhaag Fleece 1. The Places

May 2010 Meeting on the Aldenhaag Fleece 2. The Fleece


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