Dutch Folklore: King Kyrië and the Kabouters

Dutch Folklore: King Kyrië and the Kabouters

The Netherlands has a deep and rich cultural history. One important part of Dutch culture, which has permeated into contemporary art, television and books, is folklore. The Dutch have numerous tales of mystical creatures, hidden treasures, legendary kings and the like. So, in order to try and boost our readers' understanding of Dutch culture, I thought it might be a good idea to write a series of articles on Dutch folklore.

What are Kabouters?

In Dutch, a Kabouter is a gnome or a leprechaun and is often likened to the Tomte’s from Scandinavia, Scotland’s Brownies and the Klabauter or kobold from Germany. Throughout the Netherlands and Flanders, they have come to be known by different local names, like alvermannekes or auwelkes.

Kabouters are often depicted as your typical garden gnomes, characterised by long beards and pointed hats. They live underground and are particularly fond of hills, although in modern times they are often depicted living in mushrooms. As with most other, small sprites and spirits, Kabouters are generally quite shy and have been known to punish humans for spying on them.

Although cautious, Kabouters do sometimes interact with humans. In the Dutch story The Legend of the Wooden Shoes, a Kabouter teaches a carpenter named Van Eyck how to make wooden shoes as a reward for his concern and efforts to save the nearby forest, where the little gnomes had made their home.

Gnome King Kyrië

One particularly well-known Kabouter was the Gnome King Kyrië. According to local legend, Kyrië was the leader of the gnomes who lived in the Campine region of North Brabant in the Netherlands. The gnomes lived around the village of Hoogeloon and often made journeys to the neighbouring lands.

The Campine gnomes would help farmers and households all over the Netherlands, albeit only at night as they did not wish to be seen by people. As previously mentioned, the gnomes would punish those they caught spying on them and one farmer was left blind in one eye after observing them.

According to legend, Gnome King Kyrië lived in a barrow known as Kabouterberg (Gnome Mountain) or Duivelsberg (Devil Mountain), in Koebosch forest, found to the northeast of Hoogeloon.

The gnomes of the Campine region were never seen again after the death of King Kyrië. He was shot by a hunter near Riethoven in the winter (most sources agree between 1951-1953). Kyrië managed to get back to the Kabouterberg before he died.

The news of his death spread quickly across the gnome settlements and, after Kyrië was buried, supposedly somewhere near Hoogeloon, the gnomes withdrew from the outside world, never to be seen again.

Kabouters in pop culture

Kabouters and their like have enjoyed huge popularity in pop culture, even today you can find gnomes protecting the gardens of families all over the world. Their likeness has been used in children’s TV shows such as The Smurfs, David de Kabouter and the Belgian Kabouter Plop, which proved so popular that a theme park based on the show was built.

Rien Poortvliet, a 20th-century Dutch illustrator, is credited with cultivating and popularising modern Kabouter folklore with several famous publications, along with his writing partner Wil Huygen. The two published Leven en werken van de kabouter (published as Gnomes in English) in 1976, which details the lives of the gnomes, including how and where they lived. The book is written in the style of a biology textbook, complete with illustrations and notes.

The two went on to collaborate on De oproep der Kabouters (Secrets of the Gnomes), which explained secrets like how gnome houses were built and what gnomes kept in their first aid kit. They went on to write several of their own publications on the mysterious little creatures. Their works have been credited with popularising the garden gnome image, with them being the basis of several TV shows (including David de Kabouter) and films, like the 1980 film, Gnomes.

Dutch Folklore

Well, I hope you folks have enjoyed this little insight into Dutch folklore. Not only are these fun for me to write but I hope they give you a better understanding of Dutch folklore and how they have influenced culture in the Netherlands today. Maybe this could even help you find some common ground with your Dutch neighbours or colleagues! Anyway, I hope you will return next week when we look at the Netherlands very own spirit women known as the Witte Wieven.

William Nehra


William Nehra

William studied a masters in Classics at the University of Amsterdam. He is a big fan of Ancient History and football, particularly his beloved Watford FC.

Read more



Leave a comment