DRENTE, a province of Holland, bounded N. and N.E. by Groningen, S.E. by the Prussian province of Hanover, S. and S.W. by Overysel, and N.W. by Friesland; area, 1128 sq. m.; pop. (1900) 149,551. The province of Drente is a sandy plateau forming the kernel of the surrounding provinces. The soil consists almost entirely of sand and gravel, and is covered with bleak moorland, patches of wood, and fen. This is only varied by the strip of fertile clay and grass-land which is found along the banks of the rivers, and by the areas of high fen in the south-eastern corner and on the western borders near Assen. The surface of the province is a gentle slope from the south-west towards the north-east, where it terminates in the long ridge of hills known as the Hondsrug (Dog's Back) extending along the eastern border into Groningen. The watershed of the province runs from east to west across the middle of the province, along the line of the Orange canal. The southern streams are all collected at two points on the southern borders, namely, at Meppel and Koevorden, whence they communicate with the Zwarte Water and the Vecht respectively by means of the Meppeler Diep and the Koevorden canal. The Steenwyker Aa, however, enters the Zuider Zee independently. The northern rivers all flow into Groningen. The piles of granite rocks somewhat in the shape of cromlechs which are found scattered about this province, and especially along the western edge of the Hondsrug, have long been named Hunebedden, from a popular superstition that they were "Huns' beds." Possibly the word originally meant "beds of the dead," or tombs.
Two industries have for centuries been associated with the barren heaths and sodden fens so usually found together on the sand-grounds, namely, the cultivation of buckwheat and peat-digging. The work is conducted on a regular system of fen colonization, the first operation being directed towards the drainage of the country. This is effected by means of drainage canals cut at regular intervals and connected by means of cross ditches. These draining ditches all have their issue in a main drainage canal, along which the transport of the peat and peat-litter takes place and the houses of the colonists are built. The heathlands when sufficiently drained are prepared for cultivation by being cut into sods and burnt. This system appears to have been practised already at the end of the 17th century. After eight years, however, the soil becomes exhausted, and twenty to thirty years are required for its refertilization. The cultivation of buckwheat on these grounds has decreased, and large areas which were formerly thus treated now lie waste. Potatoes, rye, oats, beans and peas are also largely cultivated. In connexion with the cultivation of potatoes, factories are established for making spirits, treacle, potato-meal, and straw-paper. Furthermore, agriculture is everywhere accompanied on the sand-grounds by the rearing of sheep and cattle, which assist in fertilizing the soil. Owing to the meagreness of their food these animals are usually thin and small, but are quickly restored when placed on richer grounds. The breeding of pigs is also widely practised on the sand-grounds, as well as forest culture. Of the fen-colonies in Drente the best known are those of Frederiksoord and Veenhuizen.
Owing to the general condition of poverty which prevailed after the French evacuation in the second decade of the 19th century, attention was turned to the means of industry offered by the unreclaimed heath-lands in the eastern provinces, and in 1818 the Society of Charity (Maatschappij van Weldadigheid) was formed with Count van den Bosch at its head. This society began by establishing the free agricultural colony of Frederiksoord, about 10 m. N. of Meppel, named after Prince Frederick, son of William I., king of the Netherlands. An industrious colonist could purchase a small farm on the estate and make himself independent in two years. In addition to this, various industries were set on foot for the benefit of those who were not capable of field work, such as mat and rope making, and jute and cotton weaving. In later times forest culture was added, and the Gerard Adriaan van Swieten schools of forestry, agriculture and horticulture were established by Major van Swieten in memory of his son. A Reformed and a Roman Catholic church are also attached to the colony. To this colony the Society of Charity later added the adjoining colonies of Willemsoord and Kolonie VII. in Overysel, and Wilhelminasoord partly in Friesland. The colony of Veenhuizen lies about 7 m. N.W. of Assen, and was founded by the same society in 1823. In 1859, however, the Veenhuizen estates were sold to the government for the purpose of a penal establishment for drunkards and beggars.
Owing to its geographical isolation, the development of Drente has remained behind that of every other province in the Netherlands, and there are few centres of any importance, either agricultural or industrial. Hence the character and customs of the people have remained peculiarly conservative. Assen is the chief town. In the south Meppel and Koevorden absorb the largest amount of trade. Hoogeveen, situated between these two, owes its origin to the fen reclamation which was begun here in 1625 by Baron van Echten. In the following year it was erected into a barony which lasted till 1795. The original industry has long since moved onwards to other parts, but the town remains a prosperous market centre, and has a considerable industrial activity. Extensive fir woods have been laid out in the neighbourhood. Zuidlaren is a picturesque village at the northern end of the Hondsrug, with an important market. The railway from Amsterdam to Groningen traverses Drente; branch lines connect Meppel with Leeuwarden and Assen with Delfzÿl.
History. - The early history of Drente is obscure. That it was inhabited at a remote date is proved by the prehistoric sepulchral mounds, the Hunebedden already mentioned. In the 5th and 6th centuries the country was overrun by Saxon tribes, and later on was governed by counts under the Frankish and German kings. Of these only three are recorded, Eberhard (943-944), Balderic (1006) and Temmo (1025). In 1046 the emperor Henry III. gave the countship to the bishop and chapter of Utrecht, who governed it through the burgrave, or châtelain, of Koevorden, a dignity which became hereditary after 1143 in the family of Ludolf or Roelof, brother of Heribert of Bierum, bishop of Utrecht (1138-1150). This family became extinct in the male line about 1232, and was succeeded by Henry I. of Borculo (1232-1261), who had married the heiress of Roelof III. of Koevorden. In 1395 Reinald IV. (d. 1410) of Borculo-Koevorden was deposed by Bishop Frederick of Utrecht, and the country was henceforth administered by an episcopal official (amptman), who was, however, generally a native. With its popularly elected assembly of twenty-four Etten (jurati) Drente remained practically independent. This state of things continued till 1522, when it was conquered by Duke Charles of Gelderland, from whom it was taken by the emperor Charles V. in 1536, and became part of the Habsburg dominions.
Drente took part in the revolt of the Netherlands, and being a district covered by waste heath and moor was, on account of its poverty and sparse population, not admitted into the union as a separate province, and it had no voice in the assembly of the states-general. It was subdued by the Spaniards in 1580, but reconquered by Maurice of Nassau in 1594. During the years that followed, Drente, though unrepresented in the states-general, retained its local independence and had its own stadtholder. William Louis of Nassau-Siegen (d. 1620) held that office, and it was held later by Maurice, Frederick Henry, William II. and William III., princes of Orange. At the general assembly of 1651 Drente put forward its claim to admission as a province, but was not admitted. After the deaths of William II. (1650) and of William III. (1702) Drente remained for a term of years without a stadtholder, but in 1722 William Charles Henry of the house of Nassau-Siegen, who, through the extinction of the elder line, had become prince of Orange, was elected stadtholder. His descendants held that office, which was declared hereditary, until the French conquest in 1795. In the following year Drente at length obtained the privilege, which it had long sought, of being reckoned as an eighth province with representation in the states-general. Between 1806 and 1813 Drente, with the rest of the Netherlands, was incorporated in the French empire, and, with part of Groningen, formed the department of Ems Occidental. With the accession of William I. as king of the Netherlands it was restored to its old position as a province of the new kingdom.
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)