It was during the feudal system that the name Holland came into use. Whether the word be contracted from hol (hollow) land, or from hout (wood) land is uncertain. Look on the map and note where the two rivers, the Maas and the Waal, the former rising in France, come together at Gorcum. They flow as one stream to Dordrecht, where the Maas, now double-branched, resumes its name.
This stretch of water, called the Merwede, is one of the deepest and widest, and one of the most important in all Nederland. It commands the Rhine and the commerce into Germany. It is no wonder, then, that at Gorcum and other points the river banks are well fortified. It is here that the great "new river," cut from Amsterdam and finished in 1892, taps the Rhine.
The Merwede is one of Holland's most important inland water. To the region of land along the Merwede the name of Holland was given in 1015 by the Count of Friesland, Dirck III. Of these counts, ruling from 922 to 1299, seven were named Dirck, and five were named Floris.
Like the typical robber baron of the Middle Ages, and, as happens in feudalism all over the world, when strong armed men claim the possession of God's gifts of air, land, and water, Dirck IIL took advantage of his position to fill his purse. He levied a heavy toll on all ships passing through the Merwede, as all the ships must pass to go to or from Germany. This he had no right to do, since the Rhine was one of the waterways of the Germanic empire.
In 1064, or earlier, the Count of Holland built a tower, or thure, at the trecht, or crossing, at the east end of the Merwede, The name thurtrecht or the tower-ferry, was in time shortened to what it is now, Dordrecht. Many Dutchmen condense the name still further and call it Dort. As the count's power increased, the name Holland was given to the region and seacoast north and east, until it covered the whole of the area included in the two modern provinces of North Holland and South Holland. This is the richest part of Nederland, having the most fertile soil, largest cities, greatest seaports, widest fame in art, literature, and all that goes to make up civilization.
Later, in the Dutch Republic, Holland paid nearly one half of the national taxes, the other six states together paying but a little over one half. Hence Holland has been so important that most English-speaking people, when they say "Holland," mean the whole country of Nederland with its twelve provinces.
The Counts of Holland had their favorite residence first at Haarlem; later, at a delightful place in the midst of the great forests, and only three miles from the sea, they built a castle, and surrounded their estate with a heg, or hedge. The place became known as the Count's Hedge, or 's Graven Hage, as the Dutchmen still call it. Foreigners also still say the Hague. Very properly the chief city of the rulers, and later the capital of the homeland of the turn or town-hedge, was called the Hedge.
Another Dutch name for tower, fort, castle, or fortification is burg. There were hundreds of these burgs in Nederland during the feudal system. They are now mostly leveled, and the few remaining ones are kept as curious relics of a by-gone age. The memory of them is preserved in titles, and in the names of places and persons.
In Leyden, the burg on the hill in the centre of the town goes back to possibly Roman, certainly to Saxon days. Middelburg in Zeeland, Den Burg on Texel Island, Voorburg, Veenenburg are a few of many examples of villages which once consisted of people who gathered for shelter and burg-vried or castlepeace around the walls and tower of the baron.
The burgomaster, once lord of the castle, is now a mayor. Family names, such as Vosburg, Van de Burg, or in a dozen other forms with burg are common. The burgher from being a castle-tenant, soldier, servant, or freed serf has become a citizen.