National Delegates


What was special about the Dutch Republic?

Europe had seen other republics, going back to Rome, and other city states, going back even further to Greece. The Dutch Republic was the first nation state. Not only was it composed of self-governing cities, but it was the Republiek der Zeven Verenigde Nederlanden (Republic of the Seven United Netherlands). The cities were organized into seven provinces, one arrow each on the Republic's shield (right):

Holland, Groningen, Friesland, Overijssel, Gelderland, Utrecht, and Zeeland.

They had grown out of the jurisdictions of the counts during the time when the faraway Habsburgs were administering the Holy Roman Empire. In the Dutch Republic, each province had a voice in the national government, often referred to as the Unie (Union). They also had a share of the national budget, although Holland contributed a disproportionate share as the most populous and richest.

In addition, these provinces had an even older governing tradition. The people had learned to negotiate and cooperate to solve their major problem: keeping their feet dry. About the time that Delft got its first city rights, Count Willem II formalized the local councils, the water boards (waterschappen) that had been controlling the water levels. That evident success taught trust in the process, which was easily applied to the cities and centuries later to the formation of the world's first nation state.

One of Delft's powers was naming its own delegates to the various councils that governed the country. Boitet's lists of delegates include Delft's most distinguished regent families: van Bleiswijck, van der Dussen, van der Goes, Meerman, and van Santen.

  • Council of Delegates of the State of Holland and West Friesland. Boitet lists 34 different men (gecommitteered raden or delegated representatives) appointed 43 times between 1590 and 1723. After 1625, they became three-year terms. Leeuwenhoek's relative Maerten Pieters Hogenhouck served from 1702 to 1705. Maerten's great-aunt Neeltje was Leeuwenhoek's great-grandmother.
  • Meeting of the States-General of the United Nederlands. Boitet lists twelve men appointed between 1600 and 1718, half of them from either the van der Dussen or van Bleiswyck families. After 1628, they became nine-year terms.
  • Council of State of the United Nederlands. The dates of appointment 1601, 1608, 1629, 1650, 1671, 1692, and 1713 indicate terms of 21 years. Boitet lists ten men appointed between 1601 and 1713. Three had to leave early, two to death within months of their appointments in 1713 and 1714.
  • Heeren Adjuncten ten Dagvaart, deputies at the meetings of the States of Holland. In the late 1500's, during the formation of the Republic, Holland, the richest province, repelled the Spanish armies, who did not return for the duration of the war that finally ended in 1648. These deputies from each city, always jockeying for local advantage, controlled the war budgets and thus the war agenda. By Leeuwenhoek's time, they did not have that influence any longer.

    Boitet has a list of the two deputies who were appointed every year from 1620 through 1725, for a total of 225 appointments. Their purpose is unclear, perhaps water management?

Two other series of appointments involve supervision of the Republic's finances. So few were appointed that the task must have rotated among all the cities.

  • Generaliteits Rekenkamer (Generality Accounts Office - national budget auditors). Only six were appointed between 1615 and 1725.
  • Gemeene Lands Rekeningen van Holland (national tax auditors). Only eleven were appointed between 1592 and 1721.


Established during the war of independence against Spain by the States-General for the protection of trade, i.e., the Admiralty had five branches for equipping warships, protecting trade routes on both oceans and rivers, collecting taxes, setting prices, and dividing stolen or recovered goods.

Branches: Amsterdam, Friesland (Dokkem, then Harlingen), Noorderkwartier (Hoorn), Rotterdam (the oldest, aka de Maze), Zeeland (Middleburgh).

Delft's Admiralty in Zeeland. Appointments for life. Boitet lists 8 between 1656 and 1723.

Admiralty at de Maze (Rotterdam). Appointments to 3-year terms. Boitet lists 39 from 1621 to 1723.

The admiralty in Rotteram was established in 1574 for equipping warships that would protect overseas trade and well as ships that would patrol traffic on the sea and rivers, collecting taxes and confiscated property (aka loot). In 1644, the Admiralty moved to the north-west corner of Haringvliet (right; click to enlarge), a site demolished in the 1800's.

East India Company

Delft also had one of the 12 offices of the East India Company (Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie - VOC), the engine for so much of the Republic's prosperity. It was the world's first international corporation. It also had its own navy and army and conducted the Republic's foreign policy in the East Indies.

Each of the local offices was its own autonomous investment group. In Delft, there were a dozen directors or governors (bewindhebbers). The first set was chosen in 1602. After that, 35 more men served as director up to Boitet's publication in 1729.

Boitet also lists six bookkeepers from 1602 to 1712, special bookkeepers in 1679 and 1702, and a cashier, also in 1702.

Of Leeuwenhoek's relatives, only two were a director of the VOC. His great-uncle Pieter Sebastiaans van den Berch was married to Neeltje van Adrichem, whose brother Joost was a director from 1618 to 1639. On the other side of his mother's family, Leeuwenhoek was related to Maarten Pieters Hogenhouck, who was a director from 1699 to 1720. Leeuwenhoek and Maarten shared a great-grandmother, Neeltje Jans Hogenhouck.

The image below (click to enlarge) is a 1682 painting by Coenraet Decker, who did some of the illustrations for the Kaart Figuratief. This one, originally published in the Atlas van der Hagen shows the capture of Kochi and victory of the VOC over the Portuguese in 1656, on the coast of Mallabar.