Thedinghsweert & the Aldenhaag Golden Fleece 1509–1559

Thedingsweert, seen below in this aerial photograph, was where the students who found the Aldenhaag fleece had their dormitory, and the place where their walks began and ended. We first discuss Thedingsweert and its history in section IIa, then Zoelen and the old castle mound at Aldenhaag where the fleece seems to have been found in section IIb.


IIa. The Hamlet of Thedinghsweert

A smaller, less likely place for a Golden Fleece would be hard to imagine. Today the town has 16 dwellings and some 54 inhabitants, and historically it could not have been much larger. The aerial photo above (from GoogleEarth) shows Thedinghsweert’s built-up area in the center, and a corner of Tiel at the top. The river seen winding past Thedinghsweert is the Linge, a side stream that drains the local land into the Rhine by the east side of Tiel. This view also explains the importance of Thedinghsweert, since it covers the bridge crossing the Linge and protects the backside of Tiel. The ancient fortification was at the river end (East) of Thedinghsweert by the bridge. Faint outlines of ancient buildings and constructions can be seen in the fields by the shadow of their foundations. Early settlement was along the waterways, and most early towns were built in a row along the water. Only in later years were towns consolidated and walled in the more usual style.

This regional aerial view shows Buren, the district capital, in the upper left, Tiel in he center and Thedinghsweert at the tip of the arrow, You can see how settlement and farming followed the twisting waterways of the sodden, but rich, land.

Thedinghsweert is located at 5152'53.05" N, 524'8.65"E and at an elevation of only 2 meters, although it is halfway across the Netherlands in the Buren district. The earliest mention of Thedinghsweert is in 1329 when it was owned by the Abby of Thorn, a nearby foundation in Brabant some 50 miles to the south, when it was known as Tetinxweert. Thereafter it became a feudal property and had a fortified structure built on the land. In the early 16th century the area became part of the domain of the van Egmonds, Counts of Buren, and Thedinghsweert may have passed into the personal hands of the van Egmond rulers. At left is one artist’s imaginary idea of the Thedingsweert castle in the 18th century based on other Dutch small castles, although we have no certain information about the style and appearance of the castle, or even at what date it vanished.

The 16th century was a violent and difficult time for the Netherlands, with civil wars between the Hooks and Cods, the Gelders Wars, dynastic wars as the ruling family of Holland declined, and then the Habsburg and the religious wars. Ruled by the counts of Buren, who still had to besiege Tiel in 1528 to control it, the region remained in Habsburg catholic control as the revolt of Holland began. It was seized by the Protestants under the Prince of Orange in 1572, and harried and burned all about by the Spanish army under the Duke of Alba in 1575. Thedinghsweert itself seems to have been burned and then rebuilt at this time, but afterwards the region settled down to a quiet life as a rural Dutch manor. The Counts of Buren died out and the land passed to the Prince of Orange, later the Dutch royal family. In the late 1600s it was sold to Willem Frederik van Brakell, and it seemed to have remained in his family for a long while.

In 1795, during the French Revolution and its war in the Netherlands, there may still have been a fortification there, but certainly a manor house. We have a first hand account of the burning of Thedingsweert by English soldiers in 1795, so after that date no castle would remain. By late in the 19th century it was seemingly in ruins or worse, and in 1905 the wealthy van Beuningen family purchased the estate and built a stylish country home there (seen below left in a 1925 photo) next to where the old castle was located. They were patrons of the arts and built up a major painting collection later donated to a museum. They also created a Monet-like pond and bridge from the Linge (seen below right).

Today, although the Biologisch Dynamische School, Warmonderhof has left for one of the new Zuider Zee polders, Thedinghsweert is still home to a gluten-free organic bakery, some biologisch dynamische farmers on 55 hectares, and a school to help the handicapped, as well as 56 inhabitants. One of the most positive and amazing things about Europe is that urban areas end very suddenly, and farms can be across the street from the town. Avoiding urban sprawl is such a saving of good land.

Thedinghsweert Links:

Thedinghsweert Association

Zorgboerderij-bakkerij Thedinghsweert


IIb. The Hamlet of Zoelen-Aldenhaag

Only some 2.5 km. north of Thedingsweert lies the even older village and castle at Zoelen, also on the Linge. The map above shows the relationship of Thedingsweert, Zoelen and Tiel. In the 16th century Tiel was only the tiny area on the river that encloses its name, and Zoelen was a half hour walk away. First mentioned in 1263, when the area was known as Avezaath, it was divided into Aldenhaag and Zoelen around 1300. Aldenhaag included the old motte and bailey fort and its surroundings, and Zoelen was a manor house 500 meters away. Before the modern period Aldenhaag was called the Esschenterp, literally "mound in between the arable lands". It may be noted that Thedingsweert, Zoelen and Tiel all lie on the north bank of defensible rivers since the threat in that period came from the Counts of Flanders, who were attempting to seize the region, much as the Spanish would try 300 years later. The area was devastated by the Count of Flanders between 1290 and 1296, so the fears were well founded. By 1362 the original castle on the motte had disappeared and the property of Aldenhaag was divided from the newer castle land at Soelen. Originally in the hands of the van Benthem family, by 1506 Soelen belonged to the van Rossums and then by marriage with Heilwich van Rossum it came to Dirck Vijgh, the son of Claes Vijgh, in 1569, reuniting the two estates. Claes Vijgh (1505-1581) was a member of the new burger aristocracy and was an active supporter of the Habsburg policies. With Claes Vijgh’s 1530 marriage to an illegitimate daughter of Charles, Duke of Gelderland the Aldenhaag property was part of her dowry, and was raised to a noble fief ennobling Claes, who was thereafter known as Lord of Soelen and Alden Haag. Below is an aerial photo of the site, with the old, tree covered motte of Alden Haag in the white box, and the modern house of Soelen at the lower right corner of the box.

From Claes Vijgh it passed to his son Diederick and so down the generations until Karel Vijgh died without heirs in 1682. It then came into the hands of the van Renesse family and in 1702 to Karel Pieck. On 22 June 1775 the property was purchased by Johan Verstolk, a wealthy Rotterdam shipper and remained in his family until 1845. When Verstolk acquired the lands it was described as a castle on the Linge, having gardens, an orangerie, a barn with stalls and room for carriages, farm buildings and was solidly built of stone and wood. The picture to the left of Soelen in 1728 gives a good idea of what it looked like then. The Verstolks were made noble as barons for their service to the state, and the last of them, Baron J.G. Verstolk, was buried in 1845 in a small tomb on the raised motte of the ancient castle. Baron Verstolk was both a Provincial Minister and Minister of State and negotiated the independence of Belgium from the Netherlands. Thereafter the property ran down and by 1900 was a restaurant and guest house and was in poor condition and much changed for its new purpose. In recent years it has been restored.

The property lies on the Linge River (or stream) and is moated for defense, being accessed by a gatehouse over the Linge as seen at the right in a 1728 print. The old castle site of Alden Haag is also moated and not easy of access. Even after the destruction of the first castle some manner of strong room was likely built there to safely store valuables. One had to not only penetrate the first moat and the castle of Soelen, but then go 500 meters through the woods to a second moated location.This is possibly why the Vijgh Aldenhaag fleece was found in the area of the motte, having been lost during the Spanish destruction of 1574, but the actual reason for the fleece being there is unlikely to be known beyond reasonable conjecture. Below are photos of the motte at Aldenhaag with Verstolk’s tomb, of the Zoelen castle today and a plan of Zoelen in 1728.

Introduction To The Aldenhaag Fleece

I. The Aldenhaag Fleece

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


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