Seneschal Resident magistrate Cape Colony

Landdrost was the title of various officials with local jurisdiction in the Netherlands and a number of former territories in the Dutch Empire. The term is a Dutch compound, with land meaning “region” and drost, from Middle Dutch drossāte (droes-state, bloke-castle, state-holder) which originally referred to a lord’s chief retainer (who later became the medieval seneschal or steward), equivalent to:

Feudal era

Originally, a drost in the Low Countries – where various titles were in use for similar offices – was essentially a steward or seneschal under the local lord, exercising various functions depending on the endlessly varied local customary law, e.g. tax collection, policing, prosecution, and carrying out sentences.

In many Lower Rhenish and Westphalian and Lower Saxon estates of the Holy Roman Empire the term Landdrost or Drost(e) described the chief executive official of a military, jurisdictional and/or police ambit, representing his lord-paramount of the territory, therefore often appearing with the affix 'land-'. Among the many territories using the term were the Prince-Archbishopric of Bremen, the Prince-Bishopric of Hildesheim, the County of Mark, and the Duchy of Mecklenburg.

South Africa

The office was also introduced in the Dutch colony established at the Cape of Good Hope. The first was appointed in Stellenbosch, and further landdrosts were appointed as new districts were proclaimed: Drakenstein (Paarl), Swartland (Malmesbury), Tulbagh, Swellendam, Graaff-Reinet and Uitenhage.

Under the British, new districts were created at George and Grahamstown (Albany district), while Lord Charles Somerset moved the seat of the Tulbagh district to the new town of Worcester.

It came to more gubernatorial significance in some of the Boer polities that seceded after the British took over the colony, notably:

A similar gubernatorial role in other Boer polities was played by officials styled Kaptyn ('captain', in the original sense of Headman).

Civil Commissioners, magistrates

In the Cape Colony, an ordinance passed in 1827 abolished the old Dutch “landdrost” and courts of heemraden, instead substituting British-type resident magistrates, who would act only in English. Most of the Cape’s magistrates were also civil commissioners, in charge of civil divisions – the Cape Peninsula was a single division (the Cape division) with three magisterial districts: Cape Town, Wynberg and Simon’s Town.

In the Boer republics, each proclaimed district had a landdrost. With the annexation of the South African Republic and the Orange Free State during the Boer War, the office fell away, the landdrosts being replaced by British-style magistrates.

Since 1958, “landdros” has been used as the Afrikaans term for a magistrate.

Netherlands under Napoleonic rule

In 19th century Hanover

In 1823 the Kingdom of Hanover, then in personal union with the UK, adopted the term for its administrative subdivisions called Landdrostei[en] (sg.[pl.]), each presided over by a Landdrost, with those terms then translated into English as High-Bailiwick and High-Bailiff.[1] On 1 April 1885 the terms were replaced in Hanover by the terms Regierungsbezirk (governorate) and Regierungspräsident (gubernator).

Post-World War II Dutch-occupied Germany

After World War II, the old landdrost title was re-used for two extraordinary jurisdictions within the Dutch Occupation Zone in Germany. On 22 March 1949, the Allies agreed to let the Netherlands occupy and annex some German border territories. These included the municipalities of Havert, Hillensberg, Millen, Süsterseel, Tüddern (Dutch: Tudderen), Wehr, parts of Höngen, Gangelt, Schumm, Saeffelen as well as Elten and Hoch-Elten.

The Dutch annexation effectively started on 23 April that year, with the following two jurisdictions declared:

This situation lasted until 11 August 1963, when all territories were returned except for minor frontier adjustments, following German agreement to pay war compensation.

Openbaar Lichaam Zuidelijke IJsselmeerpolders

After the creation of the Zuidelijke IJsselmeerpolders, now part of the province of Flevoland, the newly claimed area was governed by the landdrost of the Openbaar Lichaam Zuidelijke IJsselmeerpolders (Public Body of the Southern IJsselmeer Polders) until it was partitioned into municipalities.


  1. ^ Cf. Jakob Heinrich Kaltschmidt, A new and complete Dictionary of the English and German Languages with two Sketches of Grammar/Neues vollständiges Wörterbuch der englischen und deutschen Sprache nebst einem kurzen Abrisse der englischen und der deutschen Sprachlehre, 6th, rev. and enriched ed., Leipsic: Otto Holtze, 1875, p. 283. No ISBN