The Vorstenlanden[1] (Dutch for 'princely lands' or 'princely states') were four native, princely states on the island of Java in the colonial Dutch East Indies. They were nominally self-governing vassals under suzerainty of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. Their political autonomy however became increasingly constrained by severe treaties and settlements. Two of these continues to exist as a princely territory within the current independent republic of Indonesia.

The Vorstenlanden in 1830.

The four Javanese princely states were:

  • Surakarta, a sunanate to the north
  • Yogyakarta, the sultanate to the south
  • Mangkunegaran, a principality to the east
  • Pakualaman, a small principality largely enclosed within the area of the Sultanate of Yogyakarta

These princely territories were successor states to the Mataram Sultanate and originated in civil wars and wars of succession within the Javanese nobility. The susuhunan of Surakarta represented the direct line of succession; the other three rulers represented cadet branches.

In 1755, during the Third Javanese War of Succession, the Sultanate of Mataram split into the Surakarta Sunanate and the Yogyakarta Sultanate (contemporaneous Dutch spelling: Djokjakarta); Mankunegoro split from Surakarta in 1757. Lastly, Paku Alam split off from Yogyakarta in 1812 after the Invasion of Java (1811).[1]

The native rulers were formally considered 'autocrats' by the colonial authorities and all land in their territories was considered their property. Yet they did not have jurisdiction over Europeans and 'non-indigenous Orientals' and most native law courts were eventually replaced by Dutch colonial ones. The colonial government also assumed authority in other areas; the princely territories did not have their own postal services, for instance. Dutch colonial administrators assumed the role of 'older brother' to the native princes, a relationship which was ritually symbolised by native princes taking the right arm of Dutch residents and governors during public ceremonies. The native rulers were styled as Princely Highness by the Dutch authorities. Like the particuliere landerijen [private domains], the princely states were not directly controlled by the colonial government, and so were not subjected to the notorious Cultivation System, introduced by Governor-General Johannes van den Bosch in 1830.[2]

The Sultanate of Yogyakarta is the only princely land which retains a special status within the current Republic of Indonesia, namely as daerah istimewa (special region).[1] The former princely land of Pakualaman is administered as part of current Yogyakarta.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b c Encarta-encyclopedie Winkler Prins (1993–2002) s.v. "Vorstenlanden". Microsoft Corporation/Het Spectrum.
  2. ^ Goh, Taro (1998). Communal Land Tenure in Nineteenth-century Java: The Formation of Western Images of the Eastern Village Community. Department of Anthropology, Research School of Pacific and Asian Studies, Australian National University. ISBN 978-0-7315-3200-1. Retrieved 17 July 2020.