It is a sign of important historical work that it creates a wide range of discussion and opinion as scholars look at and weigh the evidence and assumptions used in telling the story. That is now true here as well. The Aldenhaag Fleece is not just the story of a lovely gold badge of an ancient order, but it also is deeply entangled in the social, political and economic structures of its time. This fleece exists as part of the Hapsburg plans to control and profit from the Low Countries, countered by the growing protestant sympathies of the Dutch people and their resistance to foreign domination that led to independence and, ultimately, the Dutch maritime empire. These are the key issues of Netherlands history and the origin of the modern states of Belgium and the Netherlands.
¶ Dr. Theo Broersen, who has written a history of the village of Thedinghsweert with the support of the Van Beuningen family of Thedinghsweert, is doing a follow-up to that work which led him to this article. Although agreeing with us in the basic story he feels, and argues with some precision, that the evidence more nearly supports Floris van Egmond as the original owner and Thedinghsweert as the find location. As that was my first, preliminary conclusion I fully understand its attractions. Below is a summary of Dr. Broersen’s arguments as he supplied them to me.
“Just after its publication two years ago I came across your site on the Thedinghsweert Golden Fleece. Now I noticed that you have changed its name to Aldenhaag Golden Fleece, apparently because it has been found near the former Aldenhaag Castle. This time however you seems less sure that it has indeed been found over there than before when you thought it has been found at Thedinghsweert and also the ownership of Vijgh seems less convincing that that of Floris van Egmond. At this moment I am doing research for a follow-up of the Thedinghsweert book and I am curious as to what made you switch from Thedinghsweert and Floris to Aldenhaag and Vijgh?
“To begin with,it not only seems to me, but it is as a matter of fact impossible that Claes Vijgh was the recipient of a Golden Fleece. In the first place, he is not mentioned in the list of knights of the Golden Fleece, also not in 1559 as the Tielse Kroniek would have it. His absence is rather logical because in political and social life he was of a very minor standing. He was an amptman and schout of Tiel. An amptman you can compare with a mayor of a small region, in this case the Lower Betuwe. Tiel was at that time a small town of no importance at all, not in itself nor as to its surroundings which was a desolate area. It was a very isolated place, difficult to reach from every side. That he had been married to a bastard daughter of the count of Gelre (her second marriage) hardly elevated his position. I personally think it was an easy way to be taken care of her somewhere in the middle of nowhere. It is a telltale sign of his position that in all the histories of Gelre or the Low Countries that I know of, Claes is never even mentioned (except for his marriage). As to that position, I think that you don't have an adequate idea of being a knight in the quarter of Nijmegen at that time, as he was. Everybody with enough wealth, and a fortified house with a moat,could become a knight. So, my conclusion is that there was no reason at all for Philip to confer on Claes the knighthood of the Golden Fleece. Moreover, a knighthood for a minor figure like Claes would certainly look like a depreciation of the status of the order, even an insult to the other knights who are listed in the official list.
“Of the spot where the Fleece was found, I understand that there is no certainty. So I can only guess. And my guess is that it has been found around Thedinghsweert. After Thedinghsweert was given to the Warmonderhof by Itty van Beuningen, it was completely reconstructed with a lot of moving of earth, old buildings demolished, new buildings erected, an reordering of the gardens around the buildings. And the students had from 1971 on, as part of their education, to till the earth. Now, in these circumstances it is much easier to imagine that something very old came to the surface than near the former castle of Aldenhaag, where nothing like that had been going on in recent years. And I have my doubts too that students of Thedinghsweert went there. If Willem van Duijn mentioned Aldenhaag at all — and I understand that even that is not certain - than maybe he did it so that he did not have to surrender the fleece to the director of the school.
“Now, as to the real owner of the fleece, I would stake my bets on Floris, as you yourself did on your earlier site. He certainly could have lost it at Thedinghsweert in 1528 when he tried to attack Tiel. The surroundings of Tiel were inundated, which means that at the north and west side they were inundated as far as the river Linge. Thedinghsweert is just at the other — dry — side of the river and, more important, of all places the nearest place to Tiel, suitable for a official knight of the Golden Floris to reside more or less comfortably awaiting the surrender of Tiel amidst a very dissatisfied rebellious lot of mercenaries. In my view it would be wise to transfer the fleece to Floris again (which makes it also more valuable!) and leave the finding place in suspense if Thedinghsweert is not convincing to you.
“Anna van Egmond was probably born in 1490, Claes Vijgh in 1505 or 1510.
They married in 1530 after Anna's first husband died in 1527. So, Anna was 40
years old and Claes somewhere between 20 and 25. Claes didn't get Aldenhaag
from Duke Karel. He became amptman in de Lower Betuwe only after the death of
Duke Karel in 1538, and then he bought Aldenhaagh from Elisabeth van Buren (apparently
a sister of Anna's first husband). So, Claes couldn't have been Lord of Aldenhaagh
during the lifetime of Duke Karel. Claes was permitted to buy the amptmanship
by the successor of Duke Karel, Willem van Cleve. Anyway, being a Lord of the
Aldenhaagh or any estate means being the owner of vassals and doesn't imply
belonging to the nobility. As a matter of fact I read that after he became amptman
Claes bought as much land as possible in order advance himself as much as possible
into the milieu of the nobility. In 1543 Gelre became a part of the Holy Roman
Empire under Charles V. In the dissertation of Martinus J.M. Hageman, Het
kwade exempel van Gelre i.e. The bad example of Gelre the author
focuses extensively on the relationship between the knights of Gelre and the
Court in Bruxelles, a relationship which grew worse from 1550 onwards. From
1555 on the knights promised each other mutual support in their negotiations
with Bruxelles, and in that respect the knights of the quarter of Nijmegen are
specifically mentioned. Because they were dissatisfied with the results, they
decided in 1560 to found a union of knights and cities in order to protect the
rights and privileges of Gelre against Bruxelles. Although Vijgh is not mentioned
in this context, I take it for granted that he was one of those knights and
belonged to that union. Also in 1559, because of his bad health Claes Vijgh
delegated part of his public responsibilities to his son Dirck. And a last point
before my final question: Of the wife of Claes it is well known that she was
a supporter of William of Orange and her sons too. Of Claes himself it is not
very clear on which side he stood, during the period of Duke Willem van Cleve
until 1543 he probably adhered to the policy of tolerance as against the intolerance
of the Habsburgs, but after 1566 he gave in to the Calvinists and his son Dirck
forced the Catholic clerics to go over the the Calvinists or shut up.
Now my question, which I suppose you were waiting for: How is it possible that a man that married a daughter of Karel van Gelre, the arch-enemy of the Habsburgs, who belonged until Karel's death to the camp of that arch-enemy, whose family was well known to be anti-Habsburg, who himself had, as member of the knights of Gelre and especially of Nijmegen, a very problematic relationship with the Court in Bruxelles, who was only a knight of the lowest rank, whose influence didn't stretch much further than a few kilometers around Tiel, a city of small importance, whose health was such that his son Dirck had already probably more influence in Tiel itself than his father, who had not promoted the interests of the Habsburgs by one inch, how is it possible that this man was honored to become in 1559 a knight of the Golden Fleece ?
“I close with some comments. It is a misunderstanding that "Lord of Soelen and the Aldenhaag" means anything like being raised to a nobleman. It means nothing more nor less than being the owner or vassal of those two estates. In the case of Claes Vijgh it was something in between owner and vassal. It was given to him indeed at his marriage, but for his authority in and around Tiel he remained dependent on the Duke. As to the few things that can be read about Claes, the people of Tiel didn't have an high opinion of him, being put there by the Duke as an eighteen year old youth having had to marry an older widow. This in stark contrast to his son Dirck, who was indeed known as the king of Tiel. I suppose Dirck had more of the character of his mother, a man not to be trifled with and possessed with an authority of his own. As to the 6000 gold guilders that you mentioned Claes had to pay for becoming the amptman of Tiel, he of course could not pay it himself. It came from the family. Although his father was mayor of Nijmegen, he had married upwards to his wife from the family Pieck and, though I am not sure, probably there came the money from. Like nowadays in poor and corrupt countries, buying into such a position as amptman was an investment which paid itself back with a considerable return.”
After I posted a note about the Roman bronze Golden Fleece mount on the Charles V page I received a note from Ted Loker, who has studied this style of fleece for some time while researching British tokens that display the fleece from the Renaissance on. He noted that he had found no Medieval or ancient use of the fleece on coins or tokens, wondering about the continuity of the transmission from Rome, and reminding me of the importance of determining certain Roman origin for the ram. Although the fleece is not seen on Greco-Roman coins a ram and ram’s heads are seen frequently on Celtic and Romano-Celtic coins, and this is the region in which the wool trade later used the Golden Fleece as their symbol. The Celtic love of rams could well have led to interest in the story of the Golden Fleece and its use in trade as a symbol.
The Tamworth bronze ram comes from a large dealer in coins and metal detector finds in Britain, almost all of which are Roman, it has a rich and deep patina of the same type I have seen on countless Roman antiquities from Britain and the style seems Roman. The patina in particular is seemingly ancient and in three layers; a rich overall olive patina, then areas of green copper corrosion and on top of all a persistent and firmly bonded soil coating. The antiquities dealer is listed at Tamworth, just NE of Birmingham, and this would be a good place to find Roman artifacts and especially those of sheep. Watling Street runs through Tamworth, Ryknild Street is only a dozen of kilometers to the west with the Roman town of Letocetum at the junction. Some 15 kilometers to the east was the important Roman town of Ratae, now Leicester, where Foss Way runs, and between Tamworth and Leicester are the two little towns of Sheepy Magna and Sheepy Parva — this is sheep country from ancient times.
De Gelderlander, 17 April 2010.
I. The Aldenhaag Fleece
II. The Hamlets of Thedinghsweert & Zoelen-Aldenhaag
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
Return to Society of the Golden Fleece
Return to the Golden Fleece Insignia Page
Antiques AtoZ Home Page
Medals, Orders & Decorations