This article documents the chance finding of a Renaissance badge of the Order of the Golden Fleece in the Netherlands over 40 years ago, and the recovery of its story by a number of scholars on two continents sharing their information. It is also an attempt to demonstrate both an effective use of the Internet for publication of a research article and the ability of careful scholars to recover much information on items not found in controlled excavations. In this case we have found the identity of its original owner, how it was likely lost and also discovered a previously little known member of the Golden Fleece. The combination of printed works, Internet data and personal interviews has given material for a comprehensive account, and in the process we have discovered a distinctive style of fleece and published its story and place in history as well. This style of fleece, the “standing ram” form, is intimately associated with the Habsburgs, and especially Charles V, and its spread follows the route of Charles and of his brother Ferdinand as they governed their empire and disappears shortly thereafter.
In summary, the story is as follows. In 1559 at the conclusion of the last Chapter of the Order of the Golden Fleece in Ghent, Philip II seems to have given a golden fleece, that almost certainly also belonged to his father Charles V, to Nicolaas Vijgh as part of Philip’s first personal appointment to the Order. This fleece was likely returnable to the order, as were the collars, and so Vijgh also seems to have had a copy localy made for daily wearing that is this badge. Vijgh returned home to Tiel and acted in Philip’s behalf for some years, but the rising troubles in the Netherlands between the militantly catholic Spanish with their Inquisition and the increasingly protestant Dutch led to Claus Vijgh being dropped from confirmation in the order. As the fleece possibly was found near his country home of Aldenhaag it must have been stored there when no longer worn. At some time in the later 16th century, and most likely when the Spanish burned Vijgh’s estate in 1574, the fleece was lost in the ground and not recovered for 400 years. In 1969 some bio dynamic agriculture students were walking in the area and one found the fleece almost entirely buried in the ground near Aldenhaag. After the death of the finder, his brother cleaned it from its very dirty, encrusted state and sought an identification from the Confrérie Amicale. This led to the Thedingsweert portion of this article and attracted the attention of Vincent van Vilsteren, Archaeological Curator at the Drents Museum, who made more detailed local enquiries and enlisted the help of several scholars in the field there. The result was most satisfying and the details are in the following chapters. We especially would like to note our gratitude to J. Kuys, L. de Leeuw, V. Pacquay & R. van Schaïk for their publication of the essential primary work De Tielse Kronijck, without which publication this article would not have been nearly so satisfactory.
In May, 2010 some scholars working on the history of the Aldenhaag Fleece held a meeting in the Netherlands. They examined the places involved in the known history of the fleece and discussed the known evidence Except for the impossibility of knowing the original owner with 100% certainty, the work presented in this article was confirmed, most importantly that it is indeed a 16th century artifact that was found by students at or near Aldenhaag.
The Aldenhaag Fleece is now on permanent display at the Tiel Museum in Tiel in the Netherlands where Nicolaas Vijgh lived and was Amptsman. His home still exists just a few blocks from the museum and a visit to Tiel would be a chance to see both a Renaissance Golden Fleece and the world it existed in.
Seattle, May, 2015.
III. The van Egmonds, Claes Vijgh & The Golden Fleece
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
This article is copyright 2009. 2010 by Stephen Herold. All rights reserved. No part of this article may be copied in any manner, physical or electronic, without the written permission of the copyright holder, except for brief portions used in a review or personal use for study. Some of the illustrations are in the public domain, and others are used under the fair use convention. We can not, and will not be able top grant any useage rights for those items.
Last revised 19 November, 2010.
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