Journal of Archaeology in the Low Countries 2-2 (November 2010)Lucas Meurkens: The late medieval/Early Modern reuse of prehistoric barrows as execution sites in the southern part of the Netherlands
4 Prehistoric barrows reused as gallows hills: four sites in the southern part of the Netherlands

4.3 Rijsbergen, municipality of Zundert (province of Noord-Brabant)

In the early 19th century several urns containing burnt bone were found near Rijsbergen during the construction of a new road that was to connect the nearby city of Breda to Antwerp. The urns have since disappeared and it is only thanks to a few brief reports that we know about them. From those reports it can be inferred that the urns must have dated from the Late Bronze Age to the end of the Iron Age and that they were found near the Fort Oranje campsite north of Rijsbergen. It is reasonable to assume that a prehistoric cemetery was disturbed at this site, which in the old reports is described as ‘an elevation on the moor’ (Verhagen 1994).

The area where the urns were found a point of contention in a 17th century boundary dispute between the villages of Rijsbergen and Hage (what is now Princenhage, municipality of Breda). The rulers of Hage asked the surveyor J.F. Herrebertus from Antwerp to draw a map to lend force to their claim. The map was duly published in 1690 under the heading of “Caerte figuratief van de limiete tussche De Haegh en Rijsberghen” (Figurative map of the boundary between Hage and Rijsbergen). It shows four mounds near the boundary between the two villages. Three of them are fairly low, probably natural elevations in a coversand ridge. The fourth mound, which Herrebertus refers to as ‘Stoffelenberg’, is higher and steeper than the other three. It lies along the ‘Oude Baan’, the old road from Breda to Antwerp that lay a little to the east of the new road, near the present-day Fort Oranje campsite. This makes it likely that this ‘Stoffelenberg’ is the site where, or near which, the prehistoric urns were found during the construction of the new road (Verhagen 1994).

The name ‘Stoffelenberg’ is based on an event that took place here long before the boundary dispute. In the 16th century a man named Stoffel, who had committed a crime in Rijsbergen, was beheaded on the mound. His corpse was then been displayed on a wheel at this site. The execution is illustrated on Herrebertus’s map (fig. 8).

On present evidence, it is not possible to determine whether Stoffelenberg was a prehistoric barrow. It is indeed possible, as Herrebertus drew a mound with relatively steep slopes, which are rare in the case of natural hills in this area. Furthermore, the urns imply that there was a prehistoric cemetery at this site and it is quite likely that such a cemetery would have contained one or more prehistoric barrows.

As far as its location in the medieval and later landscape is concerned, the same conclusions can be drawn for Stoffelenberg as listed above in relation to the Zevenbergen cemetery near Berghem. It is very likely that the Stoffelenberg execution site lay in a prehistoric cemetery far away from the village centres of Rijsbergen and Princenhage. The site lay along a thoroughfare at the boundary of two jurisdictions.


Figure 8 Stoffel’s beheading on Stoffelenberg near the scheydinghe (boundary) between Rijsbergen and Hage as illustrated on the 17th-century Caerte figuratief by the Antwerp surveyor Herrebertus (after Verhagen 1994).