Charter of Kortenberg

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On September 27, 1312, the Duke of Brabant signed a charter that should better be referred to as a constitution. It was valid for the entire duchy. From this charter originated a kind of "Parliament of Cortenbergh" or a "Council of Cortenberg" or what was called an assembly of "The Lords of Cortenbergh". With this Charter the Duchy of Brabant was the first state in the Low Countries or perhaps even the first state of Europe to give the estates the right for participation. Actually one of the first democratic decisions in feudal Europe.

This control organ, a precursor of the later "Estate assembly" (namely, the first estate was the clergy, the second estate was the nobility, and the third estate was the municipalities) gathered in the Abbey of Kortenberg and elsewhere with ups and downs until 1375.

From 1332 on the council was extended by two more members, so that there were 16 Lords; Antwerp got a second member and the Brabant Walloon town of Nivelles also got a member. In 1340 documents were sealed with a special seal on which a tree was planted on a little hill (the "short" or "sharp"?). The seal bore the words "SIGILUM COMMUNE : CONSILII DE CORTENBERGHE" (the common or usual seal of the Council of Kortenberg).

Modern version of the charter of Kortenberg

We duke John II of Brabant, agree

1: That no other demands or taxes be levied than those which are known as the three feudal cases:

  • at the knighthood of my son
  • the wedding of my daughter
  • and if I should be taken captive

The taxes will be reasonable (fiscal prerogative).

2: An honourable jurisdiction for rich and poor. (judicial prerogative).

3: To recognise the freedom of our good towns. (municipal prerogative).

4: To establish a council which shall be comprised (sic) of :

5: This council be allowed to meet at Kortenberg in the Abbey. It will meet every 3 weeks to monitor whether the financial, judicial and municipal prerogatives are observed.

6: That in the future improvements are introduced to the administration of the land by the council.

7: That upon the death of members of the Council of Kortenberg, new members be designated.

8: That the members of the Council take an oath on the Holy Gospel that they will pursue the best interests of the public.

9: That the people have the right to resist should the Duke or his descendants refuse to observe the Charter of Kortenberg.

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