How the van der Bijls got their name

How the van der Bijls got their name

Second cousin Johann van der Bijl and Elsa

What a fascinating history behind our family name, van der Bijl. I credit my second cousin, Johannes van der Bijl (our fathers were cousins) for unlocking the tale for me. I thank my good friend, Lionel Smith, for taking me to Heiloo to meet Johann and his wife, Louise, who generously showed us the historic sites in Egmond, North Holland.

Coat of arms Van der Bijl


In the early 1200s, a permanent surname was very unusual, but limited old Dutch registers in the counties of Holland and Zeeland mention Van der Bijl. The genealogist, Tineke Spanjers-van der Bijl established how the van der Bijls got their name through extensive research.


A certain Graaf (Count) Wouter van Egmond always argued with the other counts about land issues, earning him the nickname ‘Kwade’ (Evil) Wouter. In particular, Graaf Wouter was at odds with his neighbor, the Graaf van Holland. After another conflict with the abbot of Count Holland, Graaf Wouter raided the abbey on Christmas night in 1204. Unfortunately, this resulted in Count Holland’s neighboring stables catching fire. The Count responded by capturing and locking up Graaf Wouter in the dungeon of the Heemskerk Castle on New Year’s Eve.

On January 14, 1206 (St Pontiaensnacht,) four brave young brothers, loyal to Graaf Wouter, bravely stormed the Castle. Armed with ‘knodse’ (clubs), ‘bijlen’ (axes), and 'kloppers’ (hammers,) they fought off the guards, freeing Graaf Wouter and bringing him back to Egmond. Graaf Wouter, in turn, rewarded the four brothers for their bravery in saving him from execution by making them noblemen. 

Crests of brothers who rescued Graaf Wouter

Each one received a name and a title with a crest: Jacob first jumped into the room where Lord Wouter was, became Jacob Van der Kamer (of the Room); Jan who had used the ax the most, he called Jan Bijl (Axe); Cornelis who hit hard with the hammer, he named Cornelis Klopper (Hammer); and Pieter who swung a ‘knodse,’ he called Pieter Codde (Club). Subsequently, I found out that Jan Bijl was the games keeper for Graaf Wouter.

Ruins of Castle Graaf Wouter van Egmond

We visited the ruins of Graaf Wouter van Egmond’s castle, also known as Slot op den Hoef, walking along the moat, across the impressive swinging bridge, connecting bridges and foundations of the once majestic structure.

Ruins of Castle Edmond aan den Hoef, Noord-Holland

Built at the beginning of the 13th century, it had a high tower with very thick walls (so-called donjon) where people could retreat in the event of an attack. So, it served a military function. Fire destroyed the castle and chapel during the 80-year war.

Reproduction of Castle of Egmond, Egmon aan den Hoef, Noord-Holland

The little Information Center opposite the site was open, so I bought a colorful print of the reproduction of Graaf Egmond’s castle where my ancestor received our name. 


Proeflokaal, Brouwerij Edmond, Edmond aan den Hoef, Noord-Holland

Johann and Louise treated us to a celebratory lunch at the Proeflokaal, Brouwerij Egmond. We had delicious freshly baked bread rolls filled with either salmon or brie. Of course, I had to taste the Scottish Ale Kwade Wouter.

Castle Edmond Chapel, Edmond aan den Hoef, Noord-Holland

On the way to our parked car, we visited the Castle Chapel. Built in 1229, it was destroyed and rebuilt in its present form in 1431.

Coat of Arms Castle Chapel, Egmond aan den Hoef, Noord-Holland

Presently, a restoration process is in process. We admired the coat of arms on the outside, the original brickwork over the entrance, the lovely organ, and the stained-glass windows. In the garden,

Rene Descartes, Egmond aan den Hoef, Noord-Holland



A statue of the philosopher Rene Descartes, famous for his immortal words, 'cogito ergo sum' stands on the grave of his mistress, Helena, with whom he had one daughter.








Author Johannes W.H. van der Bijl books

On the way back to Heiloo, we turned off to Egmond Binnen to look at the Count of Holland’s beautiful abbey. What a glorious day we had. I feel blessed to have made two new friends. Johann, an author and missionary, gave me copies of two of his published books. Then, it was time to head to Amsterdam for an overnight before my flight to London. Thank you, Lionel and Tania Smith, for your generosity and hospitality, and Lionel, for driving me all over the Netherlands in your lovely new car! 


@brouwerijegmond #brouwerijegmont

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