Locals asked to foot bill for castle upkeep
IN AN extraordinary sign of the economic times, the aristocratic owners of one of the Netherlands’ best-known medieval castles have revived a centuries-old tax on local villagers and small farmers to pay for extensive renovations.
More than 30 families in the picturesque village of Kamerik, near Utrecht, have received final demands for the tax, known as the dertiende penning (13th penny) – which has lain dormant since the 14th century, when it was paid by indentured tenants to their feudal lord.
Local farmers’ union representative Joop Verheul said the bills issued so far by the family trust which runs Renswoude Castle and its elaborate gardens modelled on Versailles totalled more than €1 million.
There had been no advance discussion, he said, and a residents’ committee had already been set up to oppose the levy – by legal means if necessary.
Parts of the castle date from 1350-1375. It was extensively rebuilt in the Dutch classic style in 1654, and its best-known inhabitant of modern times was Baron Taets van Amerongen, who died in 2009, aged 76. He was responsible for its restoration after a fire in November 1985.
Villagers were invited at the time to pay their respects following the baron’s interment in the castle crypt. In the normal course of events, relations are distant. Now they have turned distinctly frosty.
The Taets van Amerongen family trust has been condemned by Mr Verheul for its “arrogance” and unwillingness to communicate with the people whose money it is demanding.
“They are impossible to get hold of. They refuse to talk to anyone. And they send out bills they know that nobody will be able to meet – especially in the current economic climate. It’s really hard to believe this is 2012.”
Nico Weiesjes (67), who retired two years ago, agrees. He’s just been presented with a bill for €18,500.
“That’s what they expect me to cough up living on a pension. Well, I am not in a position to pay and I have no plans to pay.”
However, a spokesman for the trust could not understand why the medieval tax demands had come as a surprise.
“People who are liable to pay should know all about it. If you buy property or land in the vicinity of the castle, the notary is obliged to tell you about the tax and what it means long before the purchase is completed. So, now we need to raise money to renovate the castle . . .”
However, it wasn’t as simple as that, countered Joke Birnage of the anti-tax committee. “Yes, people may be told that the tax exists, but they are also told that it has not been levied for years, maybe centuries. Nobody can remember the last time. So now people are being wrong-footed. This is outside the bounds of decency.”
As it happens, the feudal right to levy taxes will be abolished in the Utrecht area in 2015, after a long campaign by local protesters.