Cultures of Northumbria: Zeelanders

In this series of articles, Michael Garcia shares various custom rules and handouts related to his worldbuilding for his ongoing Northumbria campaign. 

The Zeelanders hail from lands to the northeast, across the great sea. Centuries ago, Zeelanders (called Frislanders in older texts) established several coastal city-states. A few centuries ago, one city crowned a king and conquered the rest. However, the cities soon revolted against the king’s designs on power. After a few years of war, they agreed to retain a king, whose power was limited.

The king at the time realized that his only chance of maintaining his throne was to channel his people’s energies outward. He therefore initiated a wave of seaborne exploration and expansion. This brought the Zeelanders into fierce competition with their distant kinsmen and neighbors in the powerful Kingdom of Frangia. The Zeelanders maintained the upper hand at sea and grew rich through trade, keeping pace with their Frangian rivals. However, the discovery of the new world changed the balance of power. The Frangii quickly established many settlements in a fertile coastal region that they dubbed Southumbria. Despite frequent frontier wars, Frangian power continued to grow there. When the Frangian Crown turned its attention to the vast region that lies north of Southumbria, a region called Northumbria, the Zeelanders resolved to deny it to them.

Current Zeelander policy is to establish trading posts throughout Northumbria, to seal exclusive trade deals with native Northumbrians, and to extract as many resources as possible using local labor. Tensions run hot and cold with the Frangii, and frontier wars erupt every few years. Yet this struggle is mainly between the respective rulers and nobles, not common folk. Zeelanders and Frangians that have no interest in politics tend to get along well enough. The two cultures have as many shared values as differing ones. Intermingling is common.

Zeelanders in Northumbria

In Northumbria, Zeelanders tend to be explorers, traders, and craftsmen. They typically work as soldiers, merchants, shipwrights, navigators, pilots, trappers, furriers, and fishermen.

Typical Appearance

Zeelanders are generally tall and muscular people, with close-cropped, straight, blonde or dirty-blonde hair. Eye color tends to be blue, though green and brown are not uncommon. Most men wear trimmed and pointed goatees.

Concerning fashion, Zeelanders favor simple heraldic displays, bright colors, checkered patterns (often of a diamond variety), and horizontal stripes. They favor tight-fitting hosen or breeches, but the bottoms tend to flare or they wear knee-high boots with the tops folded down. Wide shoes and boots are currently the fashion for men. Their cloaks are usually short.


Traditional Zeelander food includes pea soup (pottage), vegetable stew, rye bread, bean stew, herring, mussels, eels, oysters, cheese, butter, beef sausage, and beef-and-onion pastries. Zeelanders tend to favor home-brewed pale ales and hard mulled ciders.


Currently, most Zeelanders primarily speak Zeelander, which is an early offshoot of Old Frangian. Yet, most Zeelanders also understand Frangian.

Cultural Achievements

Zeelander culture is one of innovation, whether it is in technology—usually related to trade—or in the fine arts. Zeelanders currently produce the finest maps and sea charts, the most accurate navigational equipment, and the latest ship designs. They have produced new plows, new horse harnesses, new irrigation equipment, new printing presses, the most accurate star charts, new medical equipment, and new designs for levies and dikes. They also invented new styles of bookkeeping, new methods for minting coins, and the first codified laws for maritime trade. In the fine arts, Zeelanders have developed new styles of realistic painting, while their musicians produce the greatest pieces of string music.

Cultural Beliefs

All men have the right to live free and to seek wealth.  All Zeelanders are free to enrich themselves as individuals and to enrich their kingdom, mainly by sea trade and by building trading posts.

The King must sometimes restrict individual rights for the good of all. Yet, his power is limited too, and he should remain but a figurehead of the elders (oligarchs).

Behavioral Norms

Men should make a name for themselves. Laziness is disgraceful. Transgressors are rude and tasteless, and they should be shown the error of their ways. If they repeat the behavior thereafter, they are to be shunned.

Do not steal. Transgressors are a threat to society and must be killed or driven out of society.

Do not lie with another man’s wife. Transgressors are a threat to society and must be killed or driven out of society.

Never give your word lightly or fail to honor it. Transgressors are rude and tasteless by conservatives in society, but most people do not mind.

Live and let live. Never draw blood over insults or differences in beliefs or customs. Draw blood only when your life is threatened. Those that manage to obey this old custom are seen as noble.

The good of the Kingdom must always come before that of the individual or family. Thus, never profit—politically, militarily, economically, or spiritually—at the expense of the Kingdom. Transgressors are to be beaten upon the first offense and killed thereafter.


At dawn each day, rub together two coppers for good fortune (and throw them into the sea for added effect).

When faced with a more powerful foe or when giving a warning, they often say, “Even the king answers to the kingmakers.”

Common Male Names

Adriaan Alwin Andreas Anton Arend Arjan Bernhard Bram Brecht Broos Casper Cobus Daan Damiaan Diederik Dirk Edwin Elian Emerens Ernst Erwin Faas Geert Gerd Gerhard Gerlach Godfried Gustaaf Hans Harm Hendrik Huub Jaak Jakob Jochem Johan Joord Jozef Jurriaan Karel Kaspar Kees Klaas Kobe Koen Lambert Lammert Lars Leopold Ludolf Maarten Maas Marcel Piet Raf Reinier Rien Rutger Sebastiaan Staas Stefan Tygo

Common Female Names

Angela Anika Anja Annabel Carolien Dora Drika Elian Fenna Franka Gerda Hanna Heleen Ilse Janna Johanna Jozefien Katrien Lien Liese Lysanne Magda Marja Marleen Miranda Neske Ria Rini Sabien Sofie

Perspectives on Other Cultures

View of the Frangians:  Power-hungry minions of an overambitious king, but strong in battle nonetheless
View of the Varangians:  Brave warriors and free spirits, but childlike in their temperament
View of the Kenienka: Fierce and uncivilized foes, unwise in their choice of allies
View of the Wendat: Loyal allies of strong spirit, they can be very useful if civilized
View of the Picts:  Mindless purveyors of blood, death, and filth
View of the Dwarves:  Craftsmen of the first order that drive a hard bargain
View of the Elves:  Elegant craftsmen and noble souls, they are kindred spirits
View of the Gnomes:  Though reclusive, they are useful wilderness guides
View of the Goblyns:  Monstrous creatures spawned by some ancient and wicked god

Predominant Deities

Pholtus of the Blinding Light is the most common deity in the Kingdom of Zeeland, and most Zeelanders honor him alone. However, the Crown’s religious policy is lenient to facilitate trade. Pholtus’ inflexibility and the Crown’s leniency seem contradictory to outsiders. The result is that Zeelanders like to argue, but they seldom take offense. Centuries ago, Zeeland acquired the worship of Pholtus from several tribes that the Frangii had driven from the borders of the ancient Aquilonian Empire. Believers say that Pholtus is the one and only god, all others being fictional or monstrous. He is the patron of light, resolution, law, order, inflexibility, and the heavenly bodies. Rigid and unforgiving, he is the creator and bringer of order (the one true path), by which all creatures can improve their quality of life.

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