Three famous societies once stood at the Vrijthof. The oldest is La Grande Société de Maestricht. The Groote Sociëteit was also called Officer Society or Dutch Society, because chief officers of the garrison were members of it and most members were orange-minded. The Groote Sociëteit is located in the north-western corner of the Vrijthof, opposite the former main post office. The Society has been in the building since 1762. The coat of arms of the Society can still be seen in the room on the ground floor. Above the mirrors in the wall is on one side of the room the city coat of arms of Maastricht and on the other side that of the Society; the initials G and S are intertwined. In the Middle Ages, the former Maasland-style building served as an inn and was called & #8216; Den Gulden Ri (j) nck & #8217 ;. The bakery of the Sint-Servaas chapter was also located in this building.
La Société de Maestricht was founded on October 1, 1760 by fifty-two prominent people from Maastricht. The initiator was Hobbe, Baron van Aylva. He was the first president of the Society. Baron Aylva was supreme master at the time of the governor of William IV.
The baron was held in high regard by his (important) profession as commander of the fortress of Maastricht and Governor of the city. The society members were all important citizens, by the way. Among the names on the list of members were the names of canons of St. Servatius, magistrates, castle lords, high-ranking officials and lords of high military rank. Only men could become members of the Groote Sociëteit. Only since 1992 have women been welcome. It was a private association: you had to be a member to participate. Members were allowed to bring guests, but they also had to be male. In the society building, the members gathered to drink, play cards, play billiards, read or gossip. In a short time, the membership grew to two hundred people.
The Sociëteit took a leading position in the cultural life of Maastricht. This is evident, among other things, from the fact that the majority of the shareholders of the Stadsschouwburg to be established in the former Jesuit church after 1780 were members of the Groote Sociëteit. The officers regularly visited the theater, which was only called the Bonbonnière in the 19th century. In addition to the visit to the theater, the famous reading table that the Society possessed shows that the urban elite had good taste. They read the best newspapers and magazines from all over Europe. In addition, the Society purchased the first in 1774 Encyclopedia to, written by Diderot and d & #8217; Alembert. The Encyclopédie ou Dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers, as the work is called in full, is widely regarded as the most important work in the French Enlightenment, with contributions from prominent Enlightenment thinkers such as Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Voltaire and Baron d & #8217; Holbach.
But the complaint book shows that the elite was not only concerned with & #8216; important issues & #8217 ;. For example, the canon writes that the officers were not allowed to bring any ladies for entertainment or to curse. Others complained about a canon of the Saint Servatius, because he would cheat when playing cards.
The Groote Sociëteit was a flourishing association. In April of the year 1838 an outdoor society was opened on the outdoor property Slavante. The garden of the former monastery of the Observants (on Slavante) was a popular place for a Sunday stroll outside the city walls. Open-air concerts were held on this estate during the nineteenth century. The Society had the still existing chapel of the former convent restored and had the now existing Casino, a design by Kraft, built. In 1906, the Sociëteit sold Slavante to the municipality of Maastricht.
A year later the Groote Sociëteit merged with the more science-oriented Society of Emulation. The Emulation had its clubhouse next to the Spanish Government, on the south side of the Vrijthof. Since then, the association has been called Groote Sociëteit en Emulation. In 1985, the Sociëteit merged with the Sociëteit D & #8217; Eglantier. The official name of the association today is Groote Sociëteit and D & #8217; Eglantier.
In the long existence of the Society, the association was honored a number of times by high visitors. On 16 June 1841, King William II visited the Slavante country retreat. Later, King William III and his wife Sophie also visited the outdoor society. Prince Hendrik visited the Society in 1910. In 1903, Queen Emma and her daughter Princess Wilhelmina worshiped the Slavante outdoor society with a visit. The Groote Sociëteit offered on this occasion & #8216; Her Majesties a concert by the Harmony Orchestra of the Municipal Music School & #8217 ;, witness the announcement.
The building was seriously damaged during the Second World War. The large library with old books, magazines, newspapers and paintings was robbed by the German occupier. During the liberation, a fire even broke out in the building. After the war, the Groote Sociëteit grew again. The association has since democratized. Nowadays one can join via the co-optation system: at least two members nominate someone and the candidate is then budgeted by the board.