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Jurisdiction of puzzle on Dutch-Belgian border settled after centuries

Complex feudal ownership claims

Tags: Excerpts from the Windmill

BAARLE- Trying to make sense of the borderline between the Netherlands and Belgium requires a great deal of knowledge about a thousand years of history when looking at the municipalities of Baarle-Hertog and Baarle-Nassau. The borderline between the two entities resembles a one hundred piece puzzle. Additionally, players must first determine if the puzzle’s pieces were cut according to specifications of a text written in an antiquated dialect and a hard to read letter style. Confused? The following shows you are not alone.

The municipality of Baarle-Hertog (a spread of 748 hectares) belongs to Belgium and is part of the village of Zondereigen. In quilt-like fashion it claims 22 enclaves in Dutch territory. The much larger municipality of Baarle-Nassau (it consists of 7638 hectares) is Dutch to which the village Baarle-Nassau belongs along with 7 exclaves in the centre (enclaves within the Belgian enclaves), one enclave in Zondereigen and the villages of Castelré and Ulicoten.

The name Baarle dates from the year 922 when it was first mentioned in a document. In the 12th century the area was under the control of Godfried van Schoten, Lord of Breda. Dirk VII, Duke of Holland, disputed the rights of Count Hendrik I of Brabant to the land south of Breda. In 1198 Godfried van Schoten deeded this area to Count Hendrik I of Brabant, who ‘loaned’ it immediately to him. The gesture was political in nature. By it Godfried acknowledged the Count as his superior while warding off a war with Duke Dirk VII of Holland. In addition, Godfried received a vast amount of land as a reward but kept Baarle with its taxable properties: hence Baarle of the Count or Baarle-Hertog.

In 1404 Engelbert I van Nassau became Lord of Breda and so Baarle became Baarle-Nassau. After the peace treaty of Münster in 1648, Breda and therefore also Baarle-Nassau became part of the northern Netherlands. Baarle-Hertog, being a part of the Barony of Turnhout, was joined to the southern part of the Netherlands which remained under control of its Spanish masters. (If the story of the Baarle’s is viewed as being complex, the one about the origin of the name the Netherlands has similar characteristics!)

More treaties

In 1843, the borderline between the Netherlands and Belgium was revisited and settled in the Treaty of Maastricht. However, the 50 kilometre long line between border markers 214 and 215 could not be settled due to its complexity. Instead, a side agreement was made which identified the nationality of 5,732 properties.

One hundred and thirty one years later, in 1974, Belgium and the Netherlands signed the Turnhout agreement detailing the actual course of the official border between border markers 214 and 215. All fine and well, but soon afterwards it was discovered that one field (south of the village of Ulicoten) had not been assigned to either Belgium or the Netherlands. It took another 21 years, in 1995, when the legality of the concluding piece of the puzzle was properly assigned to Belgium, as the 22nd enclave of Baarle-Hertog, and with it the municipal borders were declared to be the official national boundaries as well.

So now you know the rest of the story, as broadcaster Paul Harvey exclaimed numerous times after unraveling an intriguing bit of history. To properly acknowledge how the Belgians and their Dutch counterparts cut through this Gordian knot, a border marker was placed in the centre of Baarle-Nassau to commemorate the 1974 agreement. Very aptly, the marker features, just inches apart, marker numbers of 214 and 215, covering the long unsettled line, along with year "anno 1198" (the starting date of unclarity) and the Dutch and Belgian lions who, without a border war, peaceably agreed to a still confusing solution.