Elite and government in medieval Leiden

Elite and government in medieval Leiden

F.J.W. van Kan

Journal of Medieval History, 21 (1995) 51-75 


This paper is a study of the urban eliteof medieval Leiden from its first appearance at the end of the thirteenth century up to 1420, and is based on extensive prosopographical research. The urban elite of Leiden was not merely a political elite, it comprised also the economic, the ecclesiastic and part of the count’s administrative elite. To the Leiden elite belonged more than 200 families; these families cannot be called clans, because they did not have the size and influence to justify this. Leiden developed on grounds belonging to the count of Holland. Nevertheless, the oldest elite did not originate in ministeriales of the count; nor did it have its origins in the nobility, although the Leiden elite included an important noble element. The oldest elite consisted first and foremost of families that obtained their wealth in trade and industry; landed property and a career in the service of the count came in second place.

The study of elites in medieval cities has a long international tradition; German historians especially have pursued the subject on a large scale. In The Netherlands this aspect of urban history has so far been investigated mainly in relation to the modem era, particularly in the Dutch Republic, while very littleresearch focusing on the elites of individual cities in the medieval period has been carried out. De Boer wrote an article about the political elite of Leiden at the end of the fifteenth century, Blockmans published two limited studies comparing the elites of several Dutch cities and Flemish Ghent, and recently Verkerk described the political elite of Arnhem. The reason for this study of the urban elite of Leiden is not only because of the position of this city as one of the administrative centres of the County of Holland, but also because of the wealth of source material that has been preserved in its archive.

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