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Friesland's society had been predominantly agrarian and relatively flat since the late Middle Ages. Nevertheless, there were some indications of social stratification, as reflected in the Lex Frisionum, a legal text dating back to the late 700s. The text outlines legal classes for the Frisian population for the purpose of administering fines, and it designates the Frisian nobility as "nobiles."[1] The Lex Frisionum's classification system comprises four classes: nobilis (nobleman), liber (free man), litus (serf), and servus (slave).[1]

Between approximately 1300 and 1500, the Frisian nobility were known as "hoofdelingen," (in German, the word häuptlinge means chieftains or principals).[2] However, after 1500, they were referred to as "heerschappen," meaning "lords." Friesland never had a feudal system, and the hoofdelingen were were instead farmers who achieved wealth and status by acquiring farmland and by holding important local administrative and judicial positions (such as the positions of grietman, assessor, and rechter).[2]

A typical Frisian hoofdeling was a prosperous landowner who owned multiple farms (several tenanted), employed men-at-arms, and had a fortified stone residence surrounded by a moat along with an accompanying estate, known as a "stins en state." They were also well-armed and able to raise a militia when necessary.[2] In 1552 and 1558, the armaments of different regions were tabulated and published in Monsterlijsten (muster lists)[3] The stinsen were important landmarks and accurately drawn on maps.

In an effort to set themselves apart from the common people, the hoofdelingen would often marry within their own social class to secure and expand their wealth and authority through inheritance.[2] As early as the 1400s, they enjoyed certain legal privileges that set them apart from other free men. For example, they had a higher wergeld, which was the amount of compensation paid for injury or death, and the right to be tried only by and among their peers.[2]

The less rich hoofdelingen (who were not poor by any means), possessed only a few tenanted farm properties in addition to their main property, encountered challenges in maintaining their social status and had to also find spouses within the community of richer, common freehold farmers or among the wealthy tenants of the abbeys.[2] These minor hoofdelingen lived in smaller villages, tending toward the clay-on-peat areas in south Friesland.[2]

During the 1480s and 1490s in west Friesland, there were frequent instances of extensive violence carried out by the richer, prominent hoofdelingen, with the aim of strengthening and expanding their influence and control over their central areas and surroundings.[2] To achieve this, the hoofdelingen formed alliances with each other, leading to the emergence of two rival groups or factions known as Schieringers and Vetkopers. The Schieringer party was led by major hoofdelingen such as the traditional families Harinxma, Sjaerda, Martena, Camstra and Camminga.[2] The Schieringers sought alliances with monarchs such as the Maximilian I of Austria, and his general Albrecht III, Duke of Saxony.[2] The Vetkoper party consisted of a large number of minor hoofdelingen, who were supported by common freehold farmers from the peat areas. The Vetkopers supported self government.[2]


  1. 1.0 1.1 Algra, Nikolaas E. (2000). "The Lex Frisionum, The Genesis of a Legalized Life". The Law's Beginnings (1st ed.). Netherlands: Brill | Nijhoff. pp. 77–92. ISBN 9789004481602. Search this book on
  2. 2.00 2.01 2.02 2.03 2.04 2.05 2.06 2.07 2.08 2.09 2.10 Mol, Hans (26 September 2022). The Frisian Popular Militias between 1480 and 1560. Amsterdam University Press. ISBN 978-94-6372-367-1. OCLC 1366294100. Search this book on
  3. van der Meer, Peter L.G.; Mol, Johannes A. (2017). "De Monsterlijsten van Friesland 1552 en Ameland 1558". De Friese volkslegers tussen 1480 en 1560 (in Dutch) (1st ed.). Netherlands. pp. 176–338. ISBN 9789087046859.CS1 maint: Unrecognized language (link) Search this book on

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