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Schutterij refers to a voluntary city guard
City guard
City guard, city watch, town guard or town watch was a law enforcement formation found in some countries and historical periods, usually subordinate to the local municipal government...

 or citizen militia
The term militia is commonly used today to refer to a military force composed of ordinary citizens to provide defense, emergency law enforcement, or paramilitary service, in times of emergency without being paid a regular salary or committed to a fixed term of service. It is a polyseme with...

 in the medieval and early modern Netherlands
The Netherlands is a constituent country of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, located mainly in North-West Europe and with several islands in the Caribbean. Mainland Netherlands borders the North Sea to the north and west, Belgium to the south, and Germany to the east, and shares maritime borders...

, intended to protect the town or city from attack and act in case of revolt or fire. Their training grounds were often on open spaces within the city, near the city walls, but, when the weather did not allow, inside a church. They are mostly grouped according to their district and to the weapon that they used: bow
Bow (weapon)
The bow and arrow is a projectile weapon system that predates recorded history and is common to most cultures.-Description:A bow is a flexible arc that shoots aerodynamic projectiles by means of elastic energy. Essentially, the bow is a form of spring powered by a string or cord...

, crossbow
A crossbow is a weapon consisting of a bow mounted on a stock that shoots projectiles, often called bolts or quarrels. The medieval crossbow was called by many names, most of which derived from the word ballista, a torsion engine resembling a crossbow in appearance.Historically, crossbows played a...

 or gun
A musket is a muzzle-loaded, smooth bore long gun, fired from the shoulder. Muskets were designed for use by infantry. A soldier armed with a musket had the designation musketman or musketeer....

. Together, its members are called a Schuttersgilde
A guild is an association of craftsmen in a particular trade. The earliest types of guild were formed as confraternities of workers. They were organized in a manner something between a trade union, a cartel, and a secret society...

. It is now a title applied to ceremonial shooting clubs and to the country's Olympic rifle team.


The schutterij, civic guard, or town watch, was a defensive military support system for the local civic authority. Its officers were wealthy citizens of the town, appointed by the city magistrates. In the Northern Netherlands, after the formal changeover in civic authority after Beeldenstorm
Beeldenstorm in Dutch, roughly translatable to "statue storm", or Bildersturm in German , also the Iconoclastic Fury, is a term used for outbreaks of destruction of religious images that occurred in Europe in the 16th century...

, which depending on the town, was sometime between 1566 and 1580, the officers had to be a member of the Dutch Reformed Church
Dutch Reformed Church
The Dutch Reformed Church was a Reformed Christian denomination in the Netherlands. It existed from the 1570s to 2004, the year it merged with the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in the Kingdom of the Netherlands to form the Protestant Church in the...

. Its captain was usually a wealthy inhabitant of the district, and the group's ensign
Ensign (rank)
Ensign is a junior rank of a commissioned officer in the armed forces of some countries, normally in the infantry or navy. As the junior officer in an infantry regiment was traditionally the carrier of the ensign flag, the rank itself acquired the name....

 was a wealthy young bachelor (often recognizable in group portraits of Schutterijen by his particularly fine clothes and the flag he is carrying). Joining as an officer for a couple of years was often a stepping-stone to other important posts within the city council. The members were expected to buy their own equipment: this entailed the purchase of a weapon and uniform. Each night two men guarded their district in two shifts, from ten till two, and from two till six, closing and opening the gates of the city. At a set time each month, the schutters would parade under the command of an officer.

The ideal was that, for every hundred inhabitants, three would belong to the schutterij. The Dutch Mennonite
The Mennonites are a group of Christian Anabaptist denominations named after the Frisian Menno Simons , who, through his writings, articulated and thereby formalized the teachings of earlier Swiss founders...

s were excluded from a position in the schutterij in the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries and paid a double tax in lieu of service. Roman Catholics were permitted in the lower regions. Persons in the service of the city (such as the minister, the city-physician, the teacher, the sexton
Sexton (office)
A sexton is a church, congregation or synagogue officer charged with the maintenance of its buildings and/or the surrounding graveyard. In smaller places of worship, this office is often combined with that of verger...

, the beer-bearers and peat bearers), and the city's Jews, did not need to serve. The beer and peat bearers had to serve as the town's firefighters instead.

Training grounds

The schutters (traditionally archers) or cloveniers (musket bearers) met at target practice grounds called Doelen (targets). These fields were generally adjoining a large building where they met indoors for gymnastic exercises and held their meetings. It was in these great halls where the large group portraits hung for centuries, and many paintings suffered dramatically from enthousiastic gymnasts over the years. These locations were not the only place the schutters met each other. These guilds also kept altars in local churches, where they met for religious reasons. Most schutterij guilds had as patron saints Saint Sebastian, Saint Anthony
Order of Saint Anthony (Bavaria)
The Order of Saint Anthony was a Bavarian military order founded in 1382 by Duke Albert of Bavaria.Albert, who had publicly resolved to war against the Turks, re-established this French order to aid in fulfillment of his oath....

, Saint George
Saint George
Saint George was, according to tradition, a Roman soldier from Syria Palaestina and a priest in the Guard of Diocletian, who is venerated as a Christian martyr. In hagiography Saint George is one of the most venerated saints in the Catholic , Anglican, Eastern Orthodox, and the Oriental Orthodox...

 (St. Joris in Dutch), or Adrian of Nicomedia
Adrian of Nicomedia
Saint Adrian or Adrian of Nicomedia was a Herculian Guard of the Roman Emperor Galerius Maximian. After becoming a convert to Christianity with his wife Natalia, Adrian was martyred at Nicomedia on March 4, 306.-Martyrdom:...

 (St. Adriaen in Dutch). These religious duties were a significant part of the guild membership, since that is also where they paid their dues. After the Protestant Reformation
Protestant Reformation
The Protestant Reformation was a 16th-century split within Western Christianity initiated by Martin Luther, John Calvin and other early Protestants. The efforts of the self-described "reformers", who objected to the doctrines, rituals and ecclesiastical structure of the Roman Catholic Church, led...

, all the altars were disbanded in the Dutch Reformed churches in the Northern Netherlands, and membership dues were no longer paid in church, but at the city hall. In Amsterdam, the guilds were no longer allowed to make rules or spend money on their own, but in Haarlem there were two guilds who kept their original rules (St. Adriaen and St. Joris), such as holding banquets and collecting for sick members or widows. Though they moved premises several times, some of the old Haarlem Doelen halls still stand where the schutters met and where their group paintings hung, though now these paintings are all preserved carefully now in the Frans Hals museum
Frans Hals Museum
The Frans Hals Museum is a hofje and municipal museum in Haarlem, Netherlands. The museum was founded in 1862 in the newly renovated former cloister located in the back of the Haarlem city hall known as the Prinsenhof...


Schuttersstuk (Dutch Civic Guard group-portraits)

After 1581, the schutterij were officially prohibited from influencing city politics, but since the ruling regency were all members of these guilds, that was quite hard to do. Once a year they held a banquet, with beer and a roasted ox. Whenever a changeover of the leading officers occurred, a local painter was invited to paint the members, and the scene most popularly chosen for these group portraits was the banquet scene. Though occasionally they were shown outside in active duty, the members were usually portrayed for posterity dressed in their Sunday best, rather than their guard dress.

A similar commemorative group painting tradition (the regentenstuk) was true for other Dutch guild
A guild is an association of craftsmen in a particular trade. The earliest types of guild were formed as confraternities of workers. They were organized in a manner something between a trade union, a cartel, and a secret society...

s and institutions as well, such as orphanages, hospitals, and hofje
A hofje is a Dutch word for a courtyard with almshouses around it. They have existed since the Middle Ages.A hofje provided housing for elderly people . They were privately funded, and served as a form of social security...

s. In the case of the schutterijen, these paintings were called schuttersstukken. After the schutters agreed how they wanted to be depicted together in paint, for such paintings each member paid and posed separately so that each individual portrait within the group was as accurate as possible, and the artist's fee could be paid. An example of just such a schuttersstuk is Rembrandt's Night Watch
Night Watch (painting)
Night Watch or The Night Watch or The Shooting Company of Frans Banning Cocq is the common name of one of the most famous works by Dutch painter Rembrandt van Rijn....

. This painting is particularly famous for its drama and use of a completely different setting than the traditional banquet, though the reason for that was probably that banquets for guilds had been banned in Amsterdam since 1522. Every member of the schutterij who wanted to be in the group portrait, paid the painter, depending on his position in the painting. According to local legend, the schutterij was unhappy with the result in the Nightwatch case: instead of a group of proud and orderly men, they alleged Rembrandt had not painted what he saw. Ernst van de Wetering
Ernst Van De Wetering
Ernst van de Wetering, PhD is a Dutch art historian, considered the world's foremost expert on Rembrandt and his work.-Background:...

 declared in 2006 that the Night Watch "... in a certain sense fails ... Rembrandt wanted to paint the chaos of figures walking through each other, yet also aim for an organised composition."

Winning a commission for a schutterstuk was a highly competitive task, with young portrait painters competing with each other to impress members of the schutterij. Often it helped if the painter became a member of the schuttersgilde, and Frans Hals
Frans Hals
Frans Hals was a Dutch Golden Age painter. He is notable for his loose painterly brushwork, and helped introduce this lively style of painting into Dutch art. Hals was also instrumental in the evolution of 17th century group portraiture.-Biography:Hals was born in 1580 or 1581, in Antwerp...

, Hendrik Gerritsz Pot
Hendrik Gerritsz Pot
Hendrik Gerritsz Pot, was a Dutch painter. He lived and painted in Haarlem, where he was an officer of the militia, or schutterij. Dutch artist Frans Hals painted Pot in militia sash in Hals' The Banquet of the Officers of the St George Militia Company ...

, and Caesar van Everdingen
Caesar van Everdingen
Cesar Pietersz, or Cesar Boetius van Everdingen , older brother of Allart van Everdingen and Jan van Everdingen, was a Dutch Golden Age portrait and history painter.-Biography:...

 were all members of schuttersgildes who won such commissions. The commission itself was a guaranteed income for a year, but often the painter would win additional commissions to do the rest of the sitter's family, or make a separate copy of the sitter's portrait for private use. The tricky part of fishing for a schutterstuk commission, was that it was never known when a schuttersstuk would be commissioned, since this only happened when one of the leading officers died, retired, or moved away.

An example of a young painter who successfully launched his career in this way is Bartholomeus van der Helst
Bartholomeus van der Helst
Bartholomeus van der Helst was a Dutch portrait painter.-Biography:Born in Haarlem, the son of a Haarlem innkeeper, Van der Helst moved to Amsterdam some time before 1636, for he was married there in that year...

. His selfportrait is in the very painting that was his first schutterstuk commission in 1639 and resulted in a lucrative contract with the Amsterdam Bicker family.


In 1748 the Doelisten demanded that stadholder William IV
William IV, Prince of Orange
William IV, Prince of Orange-Nassau , born Willem Karel Hendrik Friso, was the first hereditary stadtholder of the Netherlands.-Early life:...

 allow the bourgeoisie
Middle class
The middle class is any class of people in the middle of a societal hierarchy. In Weberian socio-economic terms, the middle class is the broad group of people in contemporary society who fall socio-economically between the working class and upper class....

 to appoint the militia's officers, but William refused, since in some towns the bourgeois could not even be considered as candidates for these offices. By the second half of the 18th century the schutterij were inactive (sometimes only exercising once a year and with the ill or rich buying their way out of service) and only of importance to Orangists
Orangism (Netherlands)
Orangism is a monarchist political support for the House of Orange-Nassau as monarchy of the Netherlands. It played a significant role in the political history of the Netherlands since the Dutch revolt...

. This brought them much criticism. Translations of the books by Andrew Fletcher and Richard Price
Richard Price
Richard Price was a British moral philosopher and preacher in the tradition of English Dissenters, and a political pamphleteer, active in radical, republican, and liberal causes such as the American Revolution. He fostered connections between a large number of people, including writers of the...

 became very popular. Patriots
Patriots (faction)
The Patriots were a political faction in the Dutch Republic in the second half of the 18th century. They were led by Joan van der Capellen tot den Pol, gaining power from November 1782....

 tried to breathe new life into the schutterij in 1783 or to create an alternative - in many cities, exercitiegenootschap
An exercitiegenootschap or militia was a military organisation in the 18th century Netherlands, in the form of an armed private organization with a democratically chosen administration, aiming to train the citizens and the lower bourgeoisie in use of muskets...

pen (military-exercise societies), vrijcorpsen (free corps) or voluntary schutterijen arose which anybody could join and with officers chosen democratically. The Orangists poked fun at the ministers, like Francis Adrian Vanderkemp propagating the system from the pulpit
Pulpit is a speakers' stand in a church. In many Christian churches, there are two speakers' stands at the front of the church. Typically, the one on the left is called the pulpit...

, and shopkeepers joining the new militia.

The system of schutterijen no longer worked after five hundred years, but survived the French occupation
Kingdom of Holland
The Kingdom of Holland 1806–1810 was set up by Napoleon Bonaparte as a puppet kingdom for his third brother, Louis Bonaparte, in order to better control the Netherlands. The name of the leading province, Holland, was now taken for the whole country...

 until finally king William I
William I of the Netherlands
William I Frederick, born Willem Frederik Prins van Oranje-Nassau , was a Prince of Orange and the first King of the Netherlands and Grand Duke of Luxembourg....

 set up professional police forces. In 1901, the schutterijen were abolished.


There are still historical reenactment
Historical reenactment
Historical reenactment is an educational activity in which participants attempt torecreate some aspects of a historical event or period. This may be as narrow as a specific moment from a battle, such as the reenactment of Pickett's Charge at the Great Reunion of 1913, or as broad as an entire...

 schutterijen in the Netherlands who honour the old traditions, for instance the schutterij of Geertruidenberg
Geertruidenberg is a city and municipality in the province North Brabant in the south of the Netherlands. The city, named after Saint Gertrude of Nivelles, received city rights in 1213 from the count of Holland. The fortified city prospered until the 15th century.Today, the municipality of...

, made up of people who meet regularly to dress in traditional costume and demonstrate how cannons were used in strongholds. Likewise, the Oud Limburgs Schuttersfeest
Oud Limburgs Schuttersfeest
The Oud Limburgs Schuttersfeest is an annual shooting tournament during which shooting associations from across the region of Limburg, nowadays split in a Dutch and Belgian part, compete against each other...

, or the "Old Limburgs Schutter Festival" (OLS) is an annual event in which more than 160 schutterijen (Limburgish: sjötterie) from Belgian and Dutch Limburg
Limburg (Netherlands)
Limburg is the southernmost of the twelve provinces of the Netherlands. It is located in the southeastern part of the country and bordered by the province of Gelderland to the north, Germany to the east, Belgium to the south and part of the west, andthe Dutch province of North Brabant partly to...

compete against each other. The winner organizes the event the following year and takes home "De Um", the highest prize for a schutter.