The text below describes the constitutional arrangements that existed within the former county of Holland in the period between the Twelve Year Truce of 1609 and the French Conquest of 1795. Extracted from the entry for the County of Holland in the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica, the text of which lies within the public domain.
The full title of the states of Holland in the 17th and 18th centuries was 'de Edele Groot Mogende Heeren Staaten van Holland en Westfriesland'. After 1608 this assembly consisted of nineteen members, one representing the nobility (ridderschap), and eighteen, the towns. The member for the nobles had precedence and voted first. The interests of the country districts (het platte land) were the peculiar charges of the member for the nobles. The nobles also retained the right of appointing representatives to sit in the College of Deputed Councillors, in certain colleges of the admiralty, and upon the board of directors of the East India Company, and to various public offices.
The following eighteen towns sent representatives: South Quarter: (1) Dordrecht, (2) Haarlem, (3) Delft, (4) Leiden, (5) Amsterdam, (6) Gouda, (7) Rotterdam, (8) Gorinchem, (9) Schiedam, (10) Schoonhoven, (11) Brill; North Quarter: (12) Alkmaar, (13) Hoorn, (14) Enkhuizen, (15) Edam, (16) Monnikendam, (17) Medemblik, (18) Purmerend. Each town (as did also the nobles) sent as many representatives as they pleased, but the nineteen members had only one vote each. Each towns deputation was headed by its pensionary, who was the spokesman on behalf of the representatives. Certain questions such as peace and war, voting of subsidies, imposition of taxation, changes in the mode of government, etc, required unanimity of votes.
The grand pensionary (Raad-Pensionaris) was at once the president and chief administrative officer of the states. He presided over all meetings, conducted the business, kept the minutes, and was charged with the maintenance of the rights of the states, with the execution of their resolutions and with the entire correspondence. Nor were his functions only provincial. He was the head and the spokesman of the deputation of the states to the States General of the union; and in the stadholderless period the influence of such grand pensionaries of Holland as John de Witt and Anthony Heinsius enabled the complicated and intricate machinery of government in a confederacy of many sovereign and semi-sovereign authorities without any recognized head of the state, to work with comparative smoothness and a remarkable unity of policy. This was secured by the indisputable predominance in the union of the province of Holland. The policy of the states of Holland swayed the policy of the generality, and historical circumstances decreed that the policy of the states of Holland during long and critical periods should be controlled by a succession of remarkable men filling the office of grand pensionary.
The states of Holland sat at the Hague in the months of March, July, September and November. During the periods of prorogation the continuous oversight of the business and interests of the province was, however, never neglected. This duty was confided to a body called the College of Deputed Councillors (het Koliegie der Gekommitteerde Deputed Raden), which was itself divided into two sections, one for the south quarter, another for the north quarter. The more important was that for the south quarter which consisted of ten members, (1) the senior member of the nobility, who sat for life, (2) representatives (for periods of three years) of the eight towns: Dordrecht, Haarlem, Delft, Leiden, Amsterdam, Gouda, Rotterdam and Gorinchem, with a tenth member (usually elected biennially) for the towns of Schiedam, Schoonhoven and Brill conjointly.
The grand pensionary presided over the meetings of the college, which had the general charge of the whole provincial administration, especially of finance, the carrying out of the resolutions of the states, the maintenance of defences, and the upholding of the privileges and liberties of the land. With particular regard to this last-named duty the college deputed two of its members to attend all meetings of the States-General, to watch the proceedings and report at once any proposals which they held to be contrary to the interests or to infringe upon the rights of the province of Holland. The institution of the College of Deputed Councillors might thus be described as a vigilance committee of the states in perpetual session. The existence of the college, with its many weighty and important functions, must never be lost sight of by students who desire to have a clear understanding of the remarkable part played by the province of Holland in the history of the United Netherlands.