Bentheim County from the Beginning to the Present : In 1810, Bentheim county is absorbed into the French Empire 

With the authority of the victor, Napoleon disregarded customs and old ties and introduced the French way of governing. Bentheim county, which he had attached to the Ems departement, was broken up, and by 1808, three Cantons were established, of which the Bentheim Canton was integrated into the Coesfeld Arrondissement, and the Nordhorn and Emlignkamp Cantons into the Lingen Arrondissement. At the same time, municipal charters with the establishment of Prefectures and sub prefectures were integrated into Départements and Arrondissements and later the Town Halls into the Cantons. The High Court was initially transfered to Coesfeld and abolished soon after.

Around 1810, with the borders of the effective implementation of Napoleon's Continental blockade newly drawn, and the Grafschaft annexed to the hitherto French Imperial Ems department, it was again absurdly divided between the Dutch Départements Ijsselmündung and West-Ems. This territorial grouping was also not to last, already in April 1811, the entire Grafschaft became a part of the Lippe-Départements as the Arrondissement Neuenhaus. The seat of a sub prefecture was established in Neuenhaus,to which the Bentheim, Nordhorn and Neuenhaus cantons were subordinate. At the same time, Neuenhaus received a Tribune of the first Instance, added to which Justices of the Peace were appointed in Bentheim, Nordhorn and Emlichheim.
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Bentheim County from the Beginning to the Present : In 1804 Napoleon Bonaparte initially gives the county back its independence, but then incorporates it into the Great Duchy of Berg in 1806. 

During the Seven Year's War (1756 - 1763) under the protection of French troops, Count Karl succeeded in temporarily regaining possession of his lands.

Hannover thereupon stopped its payments to the county debt redemption and at the end of the war did not initially resume them. Instead, the counts' king granted them a loan. The king wrote to his finance minister about it : "The more indebted the count is to us, the less he can hope to make his county free again."

Against this backdrop it is not surprising that in the following decade all efforts by the Bentheim counts to redeem the mortgage fell through. Hannover interpreted the provisions of the mortgage contract unilaterally to its own advantage. The king managed to discourage, through political pressure and as a result of the contractually guaranteed option to purchase of potential lenders to the counts, with whose help the mortgage redemption amount would have had to be raised.

In May 1803, the French/English war suspended the mortgage with the invasion of French troops in Bentheim. The military phases of the conflict soon gripped all of Europe. Due to a convention of 1804, the house of Bentheim-Steinfurt under count Ludwig obtained possession of the county again for a period of two years.

But Napoleon Bonaparte again deprived the count of his rights in 1806 and incorporated the county into the Great Duchy of Berg. The Grand Duchy of Berg Provincial administration of Bentheim and Steinfurt governed the land. In the inner organization of the county lands innovations now occurred that would have far reaching consequences.


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Bentheim County from the Beginning to the Present : The Hanoverian Pledge 1752 and 1753 

When count Friedrich Karl came into his inheritance in 1746, the finances of the land were hopelessly in shambles; he decided to mortgage his territory. Negotiations with Prussia and the Dutch Republic, who as neighbors were interested in acquiring the county, disintegrated. In 1752, the count pledged his county to the king of England in whose capacity as Elector of Braunschweig-Lüneburg against the transfer of debts and a yearly amount in cash for 30 years with all sovereign and usage rights, except for the trade in stone. The Bentheim county, which up until then had been subordinate only to the Emperor, lost its independence.

The mortgage contract of May 22 1752 handed the county over to King George of Hannover "with all of its accessories ...". At the same time, the king pledged not to change anything in the makeup of the Bentheimer country - neither in religious nor in political aspects - but to keep everything in "status quo and according to local customs".

With the county, the king took over a political territory with an "estate constitution", whose statutes were the "Concordat" of 1680 between the respective counts and his status. The "Laudum Regium" of 1701 confirmed and completed this.

The king's proclamation of the acquisition of the county followed on May 24, 1753. For Hannover, this step meant a significant expansion of it's influence toward the west - across Osnabrück, Münster and Prussian territory to the Dutch border.

The "Royal British and Electoral Brunswick-Lüneburg government" began its administration of the mortgaged Bentheim county.
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Bentheim County from the Beginning to the Present by Hubert Titz and Heinrich Voort : Prehistory, Medieval, and early Modernity 

Grave artifacts lead one to conclude that a settlement existed at Vechteufer already three thousand years before Christ. In appointing the first Counts of Bentheim at the end of the 8th century, Charlemagne is considered the forefather of Bentheim county.

In the course of Christianization two dioceses controlled the region, Münster and Uetrecht. The region is documented as the dominion of the Bentheim counts since the 11th century. The earliest was a "Curtis" in Schüttorf, of the "Olde Hof". Bentheim has been a county since 1328, being previously a territory, and since 1486 through a feudal order of the Emperor, a free Imperial county.

In the year 1544, the Bentheim county was Evangelical Lutheran and became Evangelical Reformed in 1588. The religion of the reigning counts was also that of the county's inhabitants. During his reign, count Ernst Wilhelm converted back to the Catholic faith in 1668 because he became subjected to Bishop of Münster, Christoph Bernhard von Galen, from whom he could never free himself.

A Münster occupation of the noble castle residence meant that the county became entangled in the dispute between Münster and the Dutch provinces.

For decades, dynastic disputes followed between the sons born out of the morganatic marriage of count Ernst Wilhelm with the Dutch Gertrud van Zelst and the Steinfurt faction, thumping on the stipulations of the inheritance union of 1487. Not before 1701 and the signing of the Treaty of the Hague was the conflict able to be resolved.

The adherence to the so called "Laudum Regium" guaranteed the king of England, in his capacity as the "Stadtholder" of the Netherlands and the king of Prussia, to whom belonged the town of Lingen. The treaty insured the sons of count Ernst Wilhelms the right of succession and safeguarded the free practice of religion both to the Reformed as well as - with certain local limitations - to the Catholics.

In the year 1704, Bentheim county came under a custodianship, then in 1723 due to the inability of the counts to rule, an administration ordered by the emperor followed.
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Dedication 

During the seven hundred year reign of the counts of Bentheim and during this long period of independence, the inhabitants of the county developed a high level of self confidence.

The Bentheim counts were not only protectors, but also role models for the people in their region, who in fact were of German nationality, but who spoke Dutch. They wanted neither to be Dutch, nor to be German. Although the people under the French emperor Napoleon had to perform military service and later under the king of Hannover, the German emperor and the dictator Hitler, they didn't care anything about these rulers. On the contrary, they wanted to be part of an independent county.

This trait showed itself again in 1838, when some of the Reformed Churches broke away, which in 1847 finally led to the immigration.

When the reformed heritage of the European settlers was threatened, this characteristic independence was also shown in the North American colonies. Ten years after settling in the forest of Michigan, almost the entire German settlement of the Graafschap and Polton (today Coopersville) Michigan villages together with two other communities established a new religious denomination in the USA : the Christian Reformed Church.

In 1995, many descendants of the immigrants from the county established the Messiah Independent Reformed Church of Overisel.

About 28% of the population of West Michigan today have, through their ancestry, a connection to Grafschaft Bentheim in Germany.

We would liked to thank all the dear people on each side of the ocean, for their stories and help with this book.

Loren Lemmen and Swenna Harger.


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