The self-appointed group of wealthy people called regents began getting city rights from the Counts of Holland in the 1200's. The most important of these rights developed commerce and self-government. The regents were wealthy because of their efforts, not because they inherited it. They were very interested in reducing their risks. Self-government was the key. With the right to make all the important decisions, they nurtured the conditions by which they maintained and grew their prosperity.

These families took responsibility for ensuring the peace and safety of the City and protection of its assets. They had the most to lose and because they were already rich, the least motive to steal. They paid most of the taxes, kept the financial records, and received most of the benefits, including direct cash payments.

A stable City government was essential. By Leeuwenhoek's time, the City's offices and functions had stabilized and proved resilient.

  • The city council members, mayors, magistrates, treasurers, and sheriff were the core officers.
  • The city council also appointed delegates to the various committees that governed the Republic.
  • They collected taxes and supervised the cadre of civil servants who maintained order and the City's assets.
  • Finally, they supervised the strong safety net that kept anyone in Delft from being without food, shelter, and work.

Taken together, the regents of the 18 cities of the Dutch Republic ruled the country for over two hundred years beginning in the late 1500's. Througout the Middle Ages, the counts and dukes traded continuing financial support from the provinces for increasing legal and economic autonomy. The provinces in turm relied on the cities. Holland, as the most populated, prosperous province contributed the most. Of Holland's cities, Delft, Leiden, and, increasingly, Amsterdam, contributed the largest share. The gradual granting of city rights had put them in a position of autonomy for determining how that contribution (repartitie) was raised. By the 1580's, when the Dutch revolted against the Spanish Habsburg central goverment, the political and financial structure of the provinces in the new Dutch Republic were in place.

In short, the regent families came to rule, politically and economically, in Delft and the other cities, until around 1800.

In the sense that the regent families were responsible for the city's welfare, they were referred to as the vroedschap, city fathers. Forty of them, according to the city's constitution, met several times per year. This Council of Forty, the Veertigraad, supervised the city's managers, also from regent families, who supervised the minor officials, or paid bureaucrats, usually not from regent families. In Leeuwenhoek's time, the city budget was almost half a million guilders per year. The kept meticulous records, many of which have survived.

The city archivists in Delft have organized these records into inventories, almost a thousand of them, stretching over eight hundred years. Unfortunately, only a handful contain documents from the time that Leeuwenhoek and his ancestors lived. See the Sources and Related pages below.

Other than the archival records, the best source for information about Delft in Leeuwenhoek's time is Beschryving der Stadt Delft, Description of the City of Delft. In chapter III, Boitet descibes the Stadhuis, city hall, in detail, room by roon, followed by almost a hundred pages of lists of people who held public appointments. Prior to the mid-1500's, the lists are incomplete because of records lost or burned in the fires of 1536 and 1618. The Stadhuis he describes was built in 1620.

These lists have over 6,500 names, many repeated due to re-appointment. They fall into three groups.

  • the City's council and officers
  • the delegates to various committees governing the Republic
  • the officers and managers of the city's social welfare institutions

With rare exceptions, all of these functions were filled by members of regent families.

Regents among Leeuwenhoek's ancestors

Leeuwenhoek's mother's family, the van den Berchs and the Hogenhoucks, were regents. Hogenhouck men married women from the van der Dussen family. On the right (click to enlarge) is the family of Michiel Cornelis van der Dussen (1600-1681) en Wilhelmina van Setten (1605-1683), painted by Hendrick Cornelis van Vliet in 1640, the year Leeuwenhoek's mother re-married and he began school in Warmond. Michiel's aunt Margriete Sasbouts van der Dussen married Maerten Jans Hogenhouck, the brother of Leeuwenhoek's great-grandmother Neeltje. Michiel and his family were neighbors of Leeuwenhoek after 1654 when he began living along the Nieuwe Delft gracht on the Hippolytusbuurt, just south of where they lived on the Voorstraat.