Category Archives: Buildings

Weighing the witches at Oudewater

Heksenwaag, Oudewater

The Heksenwaag, Oudewater – image Geschiedkundige Vereniging Oudewater, http://www.geschiedkundigeverenigingoudewater.nl/

This month the walking historian marches again! In July I visited the tiny town of Oudewater, a city in the southwest corner of the province Utrecht. In the beautiful old city of Oudewater the historic Heksenwaag, the Witches Weigh-House is not to be missed. However, in fact I did almost overlook it due to the fact that in my memory the building was much larger. As a kid I had visited the Heksenwaag, and I even received the certificate stating my weight was normal. Coming back to this town things seemed different, but the degree of change was really surprisingly low. Afterwards I could not help questioning what I had seen and doubting my assumptions and conclusions. Moreover, the Heksenwaag is not just a building which any tourist has to visit, but it is a veritable Dutch lieu de mémoire. It links directly to the history of European witchcraft and the ways law and justice dealt with this phenomenon. The results are interesting enough to include in this post which has as its second focus the perception of Oudewater’s history.

Hard facts and shallow assumptions

The scales in the Heksenwaag, Oudewater

In De canon van Nederland, “The canon of Dutch history”, the Heksenwaag at Oudewater is connected to emperor Charles V. He is said to have granted Oudewater in 1545 a privilege to weigh persons suspected of witchcraft and to issue certificates of normal weight. The vogue for historic canons in the Netherland has led to several regional canons. In the canon for the southwest corner of Utrecht the story of the Heksenwaag is strongly qualified. Legend had preserved a tale of Charles V doubting in 1545 a witch trial at Polsbroek where a woman had been weighed and found too light. He ordered a second weighing at Oudewater, showing her to have a weight of 100 pounds, which saved her, As a sign of gratitude for the correctness of the staff at the weigh-house he granted the privilege. However, there was no weigh-house at all in the village of Polsbroek. The scene of the false weighing could have been the town of IJsselstein. There is no trace of any privilege from 1545 for Oudewater.

Where do we find sources on the medieval and Early Modern history of Oudewater? This very question does bring you quickly to sources touching upon legal history. Joost Cox published in 2005 for the Foundation for the History of Old Dutch Law a repertory of Dutch medieval city charters with grants of specific rights, bylaws and ordinances, the Repertorium van de stadsrechten in Nederland (The Hague 2005). At the accompanying website you will find only lists of cities and dates. With some caution Cox traces such a charter for Oudewater said to be given in 1257 by Hendrik I of Vianden, bishop of Utrecht from 1249 to 1267 (Cox, p. 190). The Institute for Dutch History has recently digitized the major modern editions of medieval charters for the county of Holland and the diocese of Utrecht. The Oorkondenboek van het Sticht Utrecht tot 1301, S.Muller Fz. et alii (eds.) (5 vol., Utrecht 1920-‘s-Gravenhage 1959) does contain an item for this charter (OSU III, 1428) which shows a short reference in a chronicle as the ultimate source of all later information. The chronicle places the gift of a city charter in 1257. Some later authors misread the chronicle and placed it in the year 1265. Nevertheless the city of Oudewater prepares the celebration of 750 years Oudewater in 2015. A celebration in 2007 would have been equally justifiable…

Map of Oudewater by Jacob van Deventer, around 1557

Map of Oudewater by Jacob van Deventer, around 1557

The remarkable insistence on some presumed historical facts in the history of Oudewater comes in a different perspective when looking at a number of events that most certainly determined its history. During a war between the bishop of Utrecht and the count of Holland Oudewater was severely damaged during a siege in 1349 (see for example the Divisiekroniek of Cornelius Aurelius (Leiden 1517) fol. 212 recto). Oudewater held a strategic position a the junction of the rivers Linschoten and Hollandse IJssel. In 1281 the bishop of Utrecht pledged Oudewater and some other possessions for 6000 livres tournois to the counts of Holland (OHZ IV, 1938 (1281 January 24)). The bishops of Utrecht never were able to repay this sum, and thus Oudewater remained until 1970 a town in Holland. On June 19, 1572, Oudewater was captured by Adriaen van Zwieten, and it became one of the earliest cities in Holland to side with William of Orange. On July 19, 1572 Oudewater participated with sixteen other cities in the first independent session of the States of Holland at Dordrecht, a landmark in the long struggle of the Low Countries with Spain, the Eighty Years War that lasted until the Westphalian Peace (1648).

Oudewater 1575

Engraving by Frans Hogenberg of the atrocities in Oudewater, 1575 – Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum, collectie Historieplaten Frederik Muller – see http://www.geheugenvannederland.nl/

The change of sides in June 1572 and the presence of Oudewater at the historic session in Dordrecht a month later had undoubtedly been noted by the Spanish authorities in the Low Countries. The locations of Dutch cities had been chartered quite recently by Jacob van Deventer, the cartographer charged by the Spanish king Philipp II with a large-scale cartographical project. The surviving maps have been digitized in the Biblioteca Digital Hispánica. When Spanish forces approached Oudewater in August 1575, an ultimatum was sent urging the city council to surrender. By sheer misfortune this ultimatum was not properly understood. On August 7, 1575 the city was set to fire and many citizens were ruthlessly murdered. Only the church of St. Michael’s and a monastery did escape the devastations. These events clearly affected also the survival of historical records. With much support from nearby cities such as Gouda Oudewater was quickly rebuilt. The results of this building campaign are still visible in the center of the city which looks indeed rather unified if you look closely enough. The destruction of the original buildings, and presumably also of many historic records, explains the tendency to stick to some acclaimed stories and events. Archival records concerning Oudewater can in particular be found at the Regionaal Historisch Centrum Rijnstreek in Woerden and at Het Utrechts Archief in Utrecht. The survival of written records plays a role, too, in the project of Sophie Oosterwijk and Charlotte Dikken on the floor slabs of St. Michael’s at Oudewater.

Of witches, historians and tourists…

Perhaps I had start here better with stating my relative unfamiliarity with the history of witchcraft. As a historian I have kept this subject on purpose on a safe distance, but in the end there is no escape from it, in particular because the subject of persecution and trials is not far away from the main territories of legal historians.

Debunking some part of history is nothing special, nor is it my aim to expose any mystification. Others have done this thoroughly for the Witches Weigh-House. Under the pseudonym Casimir K. Visser the exiled German journalist and historian Kurt Baschwitz (1886-1968) published the study Van de heksenwaag te Oudewater en andere te weinig bekende zaken (Lochem, [1941]; online at the Dutch Royal Library). Baschwitz pointed to an inspection in 1547 of the weights used at the weigh-house, a fact adduced by earlier historians, but actually a normal procedure which says nothing about any special use. He notes the careful avoidance in the certificates of any reference to a belief in witches, witchcraft, sorcery and similar things. Baschwitz referred to Johannes Wier (around 1515-1588), the famous Dutch physician who fought against superstitions, Wier did not mention Oudewater at all in his 1563 treatise De praestigiis daemonum nor in his De lamiis (1577). Both books were often reprinted and appeared in translations. Balthasar Bekker (1634-1698), too, did not credit Oudewater with any special role in his famous book De betoverde weereld (1691). Baschwitz published in 1963 his great study Hexen und Hexenprozesse. Die Geschichte eines Massenwahns und seiner Bekämpfung (Munich 1963)Hans de Waardt reviewed the historiography concerning Oudewater and witches in his article ‘Oudewater. Ein Hexenwaage wird gewogen – oder: Die Zerstörung einer historischen Mythe’, Westfälische Zeitschrift 144 (1994) 249-263. De Waardt wrote his Ph.D. thesis on sorcery and society in the province of Holland, Toverij en samenleving in Holland, 1500-1800 (diss. Rotterdam; The Hague 1991).

For the study of Johannes Wier Dutch readers can benefit from the marvellous recent study by Vera Hoorens, Een ketterse arts voor de heksen : Jan Wier (1515-1588) [A heretic physician for the witches, Jan Wier (1515-1588)] (Amsterdam 2011). On Balthasar Bekker Johanna Maria Nooijen published in 2009 “Unserm grossen Bekker ein Denkmal”? : Balthasar Bekkers ‘Betoverde Weereld’ in den deutschen Landen zwischen Orthodoxie und Aufklärung (Münster 2009).

It might be useful to mention the special website of the main Dutch historical journal Bijdragen en Mededelingen betreffende de Geschiedenis der Nederlanden / Low Countries Historical Review where you can search online in the issues from 1970 to 2012. As for searching literature for European history you will no doubt gain information and insights at the portal European Historical Bibliographies maintained by the Berlin-Brandenburgische Akademie der Wissenschaften. A number of current historical bibliographies presented at this portal can be consulted online. For the history of the city and province of Utrecht you can use the online bibliography at SABINE which in a number of cases provides also links to digital versions of articles and books.

Researching the history of witchcraft

When it comes to studying the history of witches and witchcraft I must confess to start at almost zero. It is years ago that I read a monographic study on witchcraft, and this particular study, Lène Dresen-Coenders, Het verbond van heks en duivel : een waandenkbeeld aan het begin van de moderne tijd als symptoom van een veranderende situatie van de vrouw en als middel tot hervorming der zeden [The pact of witch and devil: an Early Modern fallacy as a symptom of a changing situation for women and as a means to reform morals] (diss. Nijmegen; Baarn 1983) did not convince me at all. Perhaps I was simply wrong in choosing to read this book with its overlong title and its hypotheses which still seem to me farfetched. In fact I kept away from a whole group of Dutch historians doing maatschappijgeschiedenis, “history of society” who favored studies of minorities to detect changes in mentality. Any exclusive focus still makes me frown, but the history of mentalities and cultural history in general is of course fascinating and most valuable.

If I was to start nowadays doing research on this theme I would look first at such fine guides as the section on Hexenforschung at the German history portal Historicum.net. Klaus Graf is the moderator of a useful mailing list on witchcraft research. You can also point to a succinct thematic bibliography provided in Dresden, the Dresdener Auswahlbibliographie zum Hexenforschung, which unfortunately has not been updated since 2004. In Tübingen the Arbeitskreis interdisziplinärer Hexenforschung sets an example of bringing several disciplines together. Unfortunately Jonathan Durrants’ online Witchcraft Bibliography was not available when writing this post. Older literature up to the end of the twentieth century can be found for example in a bibliography preserved at a website of the University of Texas. For Flanders Jos Monballyu (Kortrijk) has created a fine online bibliography and a selection of relevant sources concerning witch trials. He has written many studies about witches and traced many criminal sentences concerning them in Flemish archives. The Cornell University Witchcraft Collection is most useful with its bibliography and digital library.

In American history the Salem Witch Trials (1692) offer a fascinating window on early American society. You can find many documents online, in particular at the Salem Witch Trials Documentary Archive and Transcription Project (University of Virginia), at Douglas Linder’s Famous Trials website and at a portal dedicated to the events in 1692 with a digital collection of books and archival records. The perceptions of behavior and the attempts at dealing with such behavior in courts of justice, not to forget the changing perceptions of justice, are among the elements which make the persecution of witches, witchcraft and sorcery interesting for legal historians.

Of course these examples can be multiplied, but this would far exceed the boundaries of a blog post. Here I have sketched only the outlines of things worth exploring further. I called Oudewater a Dutch lieu de mémoire. In the book series Plaatsen van herinnering sofar five volumes have appeared since 2005 which follow for my country – albeit somewhat belated – the example of Pierre Nora’s seminal Les lieux de mémoire (3 vol., Paris 1984-1992). This interest in historical places and the ways events are remembered at particular places help us to remember history and legal history, too, happened to people in particular times and places, and not just somewhere as a part of a supposed or real historical process. Even a small building in a dreamlike preserved old town can relate to larger events. The scenic old streets of Oudewater was the scene of some very real events, but they are the background, too, for a very stubborn tradition of perceived history. The living memory and the construction or even invention of (parts of) history related to a particular place tell us the fascinating history of the uses of history, changes in perceptions and the construction of identity in time and space.

One of the things that make me uneasy in writing about witchcraft is the sheer proliferation of literature on this subject. Many scientific disciplines occupy themselves with sorcery and witchcraft and its history. It is very easy to miss a whole range of interpretations stemming from a particular corner or country. The road of using bibliographies is long. Sometimes it seems attractive to take a shortcut which in the long run does not bring you much further. Legal history should pay due attention to colored perceptions and distortions of historical facts and events in order to keep an open eye for its own pitfalls, shortcomings and blind corners.

A temple of peace: 100 years Peace Palace in The Hague

The Peace Palace in The Hague - image Tha Hague Academic Coalition, http://www.haguecoalition.org/

The Peace Palace in The Hague – image The Hague Academic Coalition, http://www.haguecoalition.org/

In several posts on this blog you can find information from or about the Peace Palace Library. The Peace Palace in The Hague opened its doors on August 28, 1913, yet another anniversary calling this year for attention. Its role and place in the history of international law are surely interesting. On a special website you can find more on the activities around this centenary. One of these activities is a congress on The Art of Peace Making where the tercentenary of the Peace of Utrecht (1713), too, will be commemorated, a theme that figured here earlier this year.

The Peace Palace is home to the International Court of Justice (ICJ), since 1945 the highest judicial organ of the United Nations. On its website the second name, Cour Internationale de Justice, reminds you of the fact that French was and still is an important language in international affairs. You can consult the website of the Peace Palace in Dutch, English or French. The Permanent Court of Arbitration, too, was founded in 1899 with a French name, Cour Permanente d’Arbitrage. Since 1923 the The Hague Academy for International Law has its premises also at the Peace Palace.

At the blog of the Peace Palace Library R. Steenhard wrote in April a fine post on the founding of the Peace Palace. In The Hague two peace conferences had been held in 1899 and 1907. Among the most substantial results in 1907 were the Laws and Customs of War on Land. At Yale’s Avalon portal you can quickly find other laws of war, where the two Hague Conventions hold a substantial place. The contacts of lawyers with Andrew Carnegie proved in the end invaluable to get this philanthropic millionaire to donate a very substantial sum for the new building from his Carnegie Foundation. Among the special collections of the Peace Palace Library is a major collection on the peace movement between 1900 and 1940. Many items in it have been digitized, but they have no yet been published online as a digital collection. The variety of subjects on which the Peace Palace Library collects books is reflected in a great series of some fifty (!) nutshell research guides. They guide you not only to the courts at the Peace Palace, but to international law in a very wide sense, including guides on legal history, comparative law, Islamic law, international watercourses, and for example the League of Nations. The collection of works on and by Hugo Grotius at the Peace Palace Library has often been noted here.

The building itself of the Peace Palace is a marvel. Its architecture is remarkable for the combination of influences from many countries and periods. In my opinion the tower and the main building remind you foremost of a large European medieval town hall. The tower looks like the belfry of a Dutch or Flemish town hall. Inside the building you will find elements from all over the world. Many countries contributed gifts to enhance the building. Margriet van Eikema Hommes studied the four large-scale paintings by Ferdinand Bol (1616-1680) in Art and Allegiance in the Dutch Golden Age. The Ambitions of a Wealthy Widow in a Painted Chamber by Ferdinand Bol (Amsterdam 2012).

No doubt the presence of the Peace Palace helped the city of The Hague to become a capital of international law. At the The Hague Justice Portal you could find until January 2013 the courts at the Peace Palace, the International Criminal Court and other UN special courts, but this website is no longer updated. The website of the The Hague Academic Coalition guides you to academic institutions in the field of international law in the city which is the residence of the Dutch king. The links section helps you to find quickly the most important international courts in The Hague. By the way, the Hoge Raad der Nederlanden, the modern Dutch Supreme Court, is also at home in The Hague.

Today I read by chance on Iurisdictio-Lex Malacitana, the blog of José Calvo González (Malaga), a notice about the yearly international itinerant seminar on the architecture of justice organized by the Institut des Hautes Études sur la Justice in Paris. This year’s seminar focuses on courts in two cities, Montreal and New York. The international courts in The Hague and their very different buildings would be an excellent subject for another edition of this program.

Art at the service of justice: the old townhall of Kampen

Map of Kampen by Jacob van Deventer (around 1500-1575)

Map of Kampen by Jacob van Deventer (Kampen, around 1500-Cologne, 1575) – from database NRCD/KB, The Hague

Along the river IJssel in the east of the Netherlands a number of towns still have a more or less medieval inner city, with both civil and ecclesiastical buildings. Cities such as Kampen, Zwolle, Deventer and Zutphen are not completely unfamiliar to historians thanks to their place in the history of the fourteenth-century reform movement in the Catholic Church, the Devotio Moderna. They played a subordinate but not neglectable role, too, within the Hanseatic league. The famous series of maps of cities in the Low Countries by Jacob van Deventer, a cartographer from Kampen, came into existence thanks to a request in 1558 by the Spanish king Philipp II. The surviving maps have been digitized in the Biblioteca Digital Hispánica of the Biblioteca Nacional de España in Madrid.

The townhall at Kampen, exterior

Kampen is the city closest to the end of the IJssel river. Five medieval city gates have survived the centuries. The town-hall from 1350 was hit by a fire in 1543. The courtroom had to be completely refurbished, and this was done in an indeed lavish way. Its rare unharmed survival makes this rather small building more important than you would guess from the outside. Until 2001 it was used by the city, and now it is part of the Stedelijk Museum Kampen. The way justice and city power are represented in the main room at the first floor, which was both court room and council room, is exemplary. A visit to this space amounts to a kind of pilgrimage for legal iconography. Within the space of a short post I can only focus on a few aspects of a building that deserves close inspection and study.

Sculptures at the outside of Kampen Town Hall

From the outside one can immediately notice the double function of the building. Barred windows give the building an austere image. On one side six sculptures kept a watch. Alas the figures of Charlemagne and Alexander the Great and allegoric personifications of Justice, Charity, Temperance and Fidelity had to be replaced by modern sculptures; the remains of the original sculptures can be seen at the Koornmarktspoort, one of the city gates. Wim van Anrooij, a reknown medievalist and specialist on the history of the Nine Best, doubted the identification of Charlemagne in ‘Beeldvorming in taal en steen ten stadhuize: Alexander en Karel de Grote (of Julius Caesar?) in Kampen’, Kamper Almanak (2002) 50-65.

Inside the town-hall much more is to be seen than I will present here. In a room adjacent to the Main Room you will find a fine exhibition of numerous objects from the history of Kampen as a proud city which could keep its independence until 1795.

The mantelpiece at Kampen Town Hall by Colijn de Nole, 1545

The Main Room of Kampen’s town-hall is rather dark, and perhaps thus the white mantelpiece created in 1545 by Colijn de Nole from Cambrai attracts even more attention than it does already on its own. To the left an elaborate wooden structure with a painting of the Last Judgment is almost insignificant. I will point out its beautiful elements later on.

The centre of the mantelpiece

Central to the superb mantelpiece are a number of allegorical figures. In the midst you can see from the left to the right the figures of Spes, Caritas and Fides, hope, charity and fidelity, the three central virtues of faith. The Latin text below the central statue states that kingdoms fall due to luxury, cities prosper because of their virtues, the public interest grows by peace, and perishes by folly. Between the top part and the main part a scroll with another text in Latin focuses on justice, “The violence of Mars cedes before the sword of justice”. Four smaller statues represent Justice, Peace, Prudence and Temperance, four cardinal virtues. The eagle, symbol of the Holy Roman Empire and their Habsburgian rulers, crowns the very top of the mantelpiece in splendid Renaissance style.

The judgment of Solomon by Colijn de NoleThe freezes show both scenes from Roman history and from the Bible. The left freeze pictures the Judgment of king Solomon (1 Kings 3,16-28). By now it should be clear that by focusing on the main elements I skip the very details which make this object so stunning. The putti, the two lions with the city blazons, the smaller heads, the use of perspective in the niches, the way persons are dressed, and the smaller reliefs all deserve, nay, need attention if you want to interpret the iconographic program of this showpiece convincingly.

To mention just one element that has to be considered, you cannot understand this mantelpiece properly without acknowledging the fact that specifically in the city of Utrecht late medieval mantelpieces used to be adorned by elaborate freezes. Colijn de Nole had connections with Utrecht. The medieval diocese of Utrecht covered large parts of the Netherlands, including the cities on the IJssel. The recent exhibition Ontsnapt aan de beeldenstorm [Escaped from the Iconoclastic Tempest] at Museum Catharijneconvent in Utrecht showed a surprising number of mantelpiece freezes, many of them from the Centraal Museum in Utrecht, see the exhibition catalogue Middeleeuwse beeldhouwkunst uit Utrecht 1430-1528 [Medieval sculptural art from Utrecht 1430-1528] (Utrecht: Museum Catharijneconvent; Antwerp 2012). Some of De Nole’s work is charted in Medieval Memoria Online, a new database at Utrecht University on medieval memorial and funeral art in the Netherlands.

A double room

However, apart from an exhaustive inspection of all details, it is necessary to look at the other objects, and to view the mantelpiece as a part of a room with a double function, both court room and council room.

Painting of the Last Judgment

The wooden structure – in fact it is the seat of the judges – with at its top a painting of the Last Judgment by Ernst Maler can boast some fine carpentry by Meester Frederik, but it is not up to the standards set by Colijn de Nole. Its dimensions are really small compared to the mantelpiece. In fact the wooden edifice prevents you to have a good look at the right side of the mantelpiece, where you can only guess that the statue must represent Temperance.

Allegory of Justice, Kampen Town Hall

Another detail of the woodwork is also relatively small, a finely detailed relief with an allegory of Justice. I could point out its position below a canopy or the way Renaissance style does influence even a lesser artist, but all these things can speak only when you bring them into a coherent view of all objects in this room. The most recent monograph on Kampen town-hall was published almost 25 years ago, A.J. Gevers and J. ten Hove, Raadhuis van Kampen (Zwolle 1988). At least one art historian has looked recently in close detail at the materials De Nole used for the mantelpiece [Trudy Brink, 'Spiegel voor stadsbestuur nader onderzocht : over de schouw van Colijn de Nole in Kampen', Bulletin KNOB 108 (2009) 183-193, 222-223 (with a summary in English)]. The title of this article states the mantelpiece formed a kind of mirror for the city council. I was not able to find more recent studies on it in the database of the former Dutch center for legal iconography at the Royal Library in The Hague. You can find some eighty images concerning Kampen from this collection at The Memory of The Netherlands, the portal to more than hundred Dutch digital collections.

kampen-courtroom1

Let’s turn to the other half of the room. Spectators were allowed to watch the proceedings of a trial from this part of the room. Along the walls you find a mass of spears, a graphic reminder of the city’s power. The door in the center opens to the Tower of the Échevins (Schepentoren), the oldest part of the building.

The wooden screen in the courtroom

The wooden screen has large openings for viewing the proceedings in the other half of the room. In a way it is a reminder of the choir screens in medieval churches. Here by lending forms from Classical Antiquity it suggests powerfully that justice is being administered in a classic and therefore just way. The sixteenth-century city council of Kampen was clearly aware that their power had to be framed, to borrow an anachronistic term…

“Looking at legal history”

In 2014 the Dutch legal history journal Pro Memorie, published by the Foundation for the History of Old Dutch Law will publish as a special issue a volume on legal iconography with the title Rechtsgeschiedenis in beeld, “looking at legal history”. In the call for papers legal historians are invited to write contributions on legal iconography from the widest possible perspectives, be it artists’ contracts, the use of colors or forbidden art. Every year Pro Memorie has space for some contributions from the field of legal iconography. I look forward to the volume that will be published in 2014 for the fifteenth anniversary of this journal. No doubt Dutch and Flemish town-halls and their interiors, too, will figure in the new book. Kampen with its rich municipal archive would be a wonderful example to marvel at and to study again.

Utrecht Law Library on the move

Sometimes I try here to transcend borders in time and space, sometimes I discuss or present themes with a Dutch view. This month I realize even more how much filtered my view sometimes can be. After thirty years Utrecht Law Library will move to a new address in the old city of Utrecht. The removal will take place between June 29 and July 23, 2012. The law library travels only a few hundred meters, from the Janskerkhof to the Drift where it will be housed in the University Library City Centre, the second largest location of Utrecht University Library. Time to return books on loan and to take some pictures of the interior and exterior. The law faculty will continue using the building at the Janskerkhof, but for the new offices a renovation is necessary.

Utrecht Law Library, Janskerkhof

The law library with the former entrance to the hall of the States of Utrecht

In 1246 the Franciscans built a convent in Utrecht. When the Reformation came to Utrecht in 1579, the friars had to leave. The States of Utrecht confiscated the building, and it became their residence until the French occupation of The Netherland. Between 1809 and 1811 a tribunal was housed in this building. In the nineteenth century Utrecht University bought the buildings and turned it into a laboratory for the faculty of medicine. The anatomical theatre in the backyard makes it difficult to take good photographs of the medieval parts of the main building. In the late seventies the medical faculty went to the new campus site De Uithof to the east of Utrecht. After drastic renovations the law faculty became the new user. The law library, one of the largest of its kind in the Netherlands, occupied the largest part of the building. With the remains of the old cloisters, the intricate stairs and the many wings the building looks at first as a kind of labyrinth, with even two entrances.

The new premises at the Drift have their own history. The Law Library will use the spaces of a nineteenth-century building which was until 1968 home to the Utrecht City Archives. In the seventies Utrecht University used it for the department of art history, and later as the library of the faculty of humanities. Recently the University Library has come back to the adjacent buildings which had already been its home since the early nineteenth century. The former palace of king Louis Napoleon with its fine ball room has been restored. For me it will be interesting to find the books of the law faculty at the spot where I used to search for books on history and art history. The photo album at Facebook on the renovation of the Drift buildings shows radically altered rooms…

The Law Library at the Janskerkhof

A historic doorway

A wooden ceiling

Inside the building historical details are in particular visible near the main entrance

A corridor on the first floor

The New Journals Room with gothic windows

The room with current issues of legal journals in a wing of the former cloisters still has Gothic windows

Some new issues of legal journals

A sixteenth-century portrait of a friar

On the stairs a painting with a friar looks at you

The loan desk room

The room with the loan desk

Some books on Utrecht and legal history

Some books on Utrecht and legal history!

Empty cabinets

Already no more books in the beautiful cabinets…

The former back entrance of the States of Utrecht Hall

The former back entrance of the main building, with the blazon of the States of Utrecht

From an orphanage to a house for children

The former Weeshuis in LeidenAfter a long absence on my blog the walking historian has returned! Lately I visited Leiden, in particular for making pictures of several buildings in the old city. This post is about a very particular building, the former Weeshuis (orphanage) at the Hooglandse Kerkgracht. In this house orphans lived for many centuries. After extensive restoration between 2007 and 2010 this large building has not lost the historic connection with children. Law is the link between the old and the new use of the premises. Later this year I will write more about Leiden.

Protecting orphans

In 1403 the Our Lady’s Hospital in Leiden was founded. After the coming of the Reformation this hospital became in 1583 an orphanage, the Heilige Geestweeshuis [Holy Spirit Orphanage]. The buildings of the orphanage occupied a quite large spot in the heart of the city. In 1961 the last orphans left. Afterwards the Museum for Natural History, now Naturalis, found its home here until 1990. In that year a period of insecurity started. A number of plans was launched, but none of them was adopted by the city council. The orphanage had been owned by the national government. For the removal of the Naturalis it had been exchanged with the city for another building. In 2007 a foundation could buy the buildings for just € 13,000,- under the condition of starting large-scale restoration which costed 14 million. It is interesting to note the regents of the former orphanage still exist and even hold the keys to the lavishly decorated board room.

The foundation buying the buildings in 2007 was the Stichting Utopa, a chartered foundation funded by a number of transport packaging companies. The name Utopa deliberately evokes Thomas More and his Utopia (1516). The foundation supports a number of cultural and social initiatives in the Netherlands. For the former orphanage it was decided to create space both for the archeological center of the city of Leiden, which actually had already used part of the buildings between 1990 and 2007, and for an initiative linked with children, the Kinderrechtenhuis [Children's Rights House].

Children’s rights in a historical perspective

Do the rights of children find indeed a home in modern society? In 1989 the general assembly of the United Nations adopted the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). This UN treaty stands out among modern international treaties for a number of reasons. Its preamble states that one should recognize “that the child, for the full and harmonious development of his or her personality, should grow up in a family environment, in an atmosphere of happiness, love and understanding”. Probably no other treaty in vigor mentions love. The CRC was preceded by the Minimum Age Convention from 1973 in which member states are called upon to protect children from work, and followed by two optional protocols, on child traffic and abuse, and on child soldiers and the position of children during armed conflicts. In 1999 the general assembly voted for the Worst Forms of Labor Convention. A third optional protocol enabling children to file complaints with the UN Committee for the Rights of Children was adopted by the United Nations in December 2011, and ratified by twenty countries in Geneva on February 28, 2012.

The CRC has been signed by more than 190 countries. No other UN treaty has been ratified so many countries, even when a number of them has done this with restrictions and interpretations.On totally different grounds two countries have not adopted the CRC. The United States of America has signed, but not ratified the CRC. Several explanations have been offered for this fact, among them a tradition of cautiousness in ratifying international treaties, but also the possibility in a number of U.S. states – at least until 2005 – to condemn youths to the death penalty. Somalia simply cannot yet ratify the treaty because of the lack of state institutions. A third country that has not yet signed or ratified the CRC is probably South Sudan.

Countries ratifying the CRC have to report regularly to the United Nations about the protection of children’s rights. Nongovernmental institutions accredited at new York or Geneva and civil society organizations, too, publish reports about the compliance of countries with the CRC.

The entrance to the former orphanage in Leiden

Civil society and children

When contemplating the former orphanage at Leiden and thinking about modern protection of children it struck me that in this context the word institution has very much changed in meaning. In Western Europe hospitals and orphanages were often already founded during the Middle Ages. Both city councils and religious institutions founded and governed them. In the field of medieval canon law one can point in particular to studies by Gisela Drossbach, her monograph Christliche caritas als Rechtsinstitut: Hospital und Orden von Santo Spirito in Sassia (1198-1378) (Paderborn 2005) and a volume of essays edited by her, Hospitäler in Mittelalter und Früher Neuzeit. Frankreich, Deutschland und Italien. Eine vergleichende Geschichte (Munich 2007). She prepares an edition of a number of statutes of medieval hospitals. The care for orphans in these institutions was institutional care which could vary very much depending on the persons actually charged with daily care for them. The facade of the Leiden orphanage show a relief with children looking up to a dove, the symbol of the Holy Spirit. Among the texts at the top of the facade are words from the Bible, “God is der weesen helper” [Thou art the helper of the fatherless] (Ps. 10,14) .

In the field of children’s history the role of law has not always received due attention. Among studies which take into account the differences between England and continental Europe, between cities and rural surroundings, and do take notice of the impact of law are the fine books by Barbara Hanawalt,The Ties that Bound. Peasant Families in Medieval England (Oxford, etc., 1986) and Growing Up in Medieval London. The Experience of Childhood in History (Oxford, etc, 1993). For The Ties that Bound Hanawalt used medieval coroner’s inquests as a major source. In her book on children in London she is well aware of the typical situation of this city. Hanawalt does not close her eyes for example for abuses of guardianship. She dispels the myth that ordinary medieval people did not care for children. Institutional care for children does not get much space in these studies, because in medieval England orphanages were exceptional.

Let’s return briefly to the Leiden orphanage. Its archive is kept at the Regional Archives Leiden. Two years ago a book about the history of the orphanage appeared, Dit kint hiet Willem : de Heilige Geest in Leiden, 700 jaar vondelingen, wezen en jeugdzorg [This child is called Willem: the Holy Spirit in Leiden, 700 years foundlings, orphans and youth care], edited by Kees van der Wiel and others (Leiden 2010). Antoinette Frijns has published a series of articles in several historical journals, which can be tracked using the online bibliography for Dutch history.

Applying children’s rights

The presence of a Children’s Rights House in the Netherlands might cause some amazement. After all this country is already blessed with a plethora of organizations for the protection of children, such as Defence for Children, now also located at the Kinderrechtenhuis, and the Kinderrechtencollectief [Children's Rights Collective], not to mention the host of supporting organizations behind this collective. Alas it is common knowledge that for instance for children who need to be protected against their parents the very large number of institutions, agencies and ministries involved with child care can cause much delay in deciding and applying the right solution, in particular since it is not clear which institution, not even the judge deciding a case at court, is responsible for creating and holding an overview of all necessary actions and steps. The central role of the Bureau Jeugdzorg (Youth Work) can be a blessing, but also a bane when this office fails to do proper research and to take real responsibility for the welfare of children. Instead of ensuring institutional care this situation is first and foremost a bureaucracy, the main obstacle to the purpose for which it is meant to work.

More fundamental at the level of the rule of law is the question in the Netherlands and elsewhere about the desirability of the superior position of international treaties to national law. Some politicians see this as an infringement upon sovereignty. One has to take into account here the possibility of judicial review in the sense of comparison with a constitution. Under Dutch law this not possible (article 120 of the Dutch constitution). Since 2002 a proposal accepted by the Dutch parliament for making some exceptions to this rule awaits the long route necessary for any change of the Dutch constitution. In a situation of economic crisis in which countries are affected by forces coming from beyond their borders a tendency to close off from external pressure might seem natural, yet the same economic forces are working to unify economic life and the organization of society. Reports on the actual appliance of and compliance of the CRC, the earlier treaties and the optional protocols will continue to show that these rights do not descend automatically from a heaven of law and justice upon those most entitled to it. When you pass the entrance of the former Leiden orphanage you can read an inscription with a text by Janusz Korczak (1872-1942): “Children are not the humanity of the future, but today’s people”.

Bridging the gap between lofty aspirations of law, be it international or national law, and day-to-day reality will remain a perennial task, a duty and a challenge. Even when not actually actively supporting this aim historians can at the very least ask the right questions about law, its blessings and pitfalls, and document its manifold history. Surely this post does not more than just bring together some matters from past and present. A blog might be just the place to offer a look on the long road between some more or less casual observations and a more substantial treatment of issues and questions. No doubt others can tell you more about the history of orphanages and the history of children’s rights, and I hope to have made at least some of my readers more curious about these themes.

Gouda and the visual power of a town hall

This weekend I visited Gouda. When you are going from Utrecht to Rotterdam or The Hague you have to pass Gouda, but I have only seldom visited this town which belongs to the group of classic Dutch towns in the medieval county Holland. It was difficult to take pictures of the Sint Janskerk in Gouda and its magnificent sixteenth-century stained glass windows. It was a rainy day, the church is enclosed by other buildings, and photographing church windows is an art in itself, and thus I will not present here any picture of this church. After a fire in 1552 the Sint Janskerk was rebuilt very quickly. New stained glass windows were donated by cities like Haarlem and Amsterdam, by collegiate chapters such as the Oudmunster chapter in Utrecht and other institutions. William of Orange founded a window, as did even the Spanish king Philip II. The original drawings for most of the 72 windows have largely been preserved, and they will be put on display at MuseumGouda from November 22, 2011 onwards after restoration of the paper of these life size drawings.

The gothic town hall of Gouda

Apart from the Sint Janskerk, one of the largest churches in The Netherlands, the gothic town hall at the market place of Gouda is the town’s chief attraction. It takes pride of place on the websites devoted to the history of Gouda. The archives of Gouda are now kept by the archival consortium Groene Hart Archieven with centers in Gouda and Alphen aan den Rhijn. On its website the building story of the town hall is told in some detail. A fire in 1438 had damaged the old town hall. At last between 1448 and 1450 the work began for a new town hall designed by Steven van Afflighem. Gouda became prosperous because of its central position at the Gouwe river on which in medieval and early modern times freight from all Holland had to pass. The route using the Gouwe was the quickest way for merchants between Amsterdam and cities like Haarlem in the north, and Dordrecht and Rotterdam in the south. Add to this the proverbial Gouda cheese from the rich meadows surrounding this small town, calculate a loss of importance during the Golden Age of the Dutch Republic, and thus a medieval town hall can survive.

The medieval facade and the renaissance steps of Gouda Town Hall

The new town hall has not survived completely in its late medieval form. The flight of steps in Renaissance style dates from 1603. You might think this post offers you until now only regional history, but at the long side of the town hall you can detect a pillory, a pedestal on which offenders could be mocked and denounced by the people. The town hall served also as a court building. At the back of the building is a scaffold from 1697. It was on this scaffold that in 1860 the death penalty was executed for the last time in The Netherlands.

The entrance of Gouda Town Hall

At the entrance of Gouda Town Hall is written Audite et alteram partem, “Hear also the other side”, a well-known juridical maxim, an indispensable element of fair justice and the concept of due process. I was surprised by the plural Audite instead of the singular Audi. No doubt the gold lettering is rather modern, and the letter forms suggest a date in the seventeenth century, but these words might have been written here earlier on, too.

The gate at the MuseumGouda

On my way to the Sint Janskerk I passed inevitably the former Catharina Gasthuis, an old hospital, now the premises of MuseumGouda, the municipal museum, with a beautifully restored Dutch Renaissance gateway, dated 1609. Somehow I was in particular intrigued by the relief above the entrance. Inside the museum you can find a historical collection, instruments of torture from the town hall, paintings from Gouda and temporary exhibitions. A part of the collection is shown in the former chapel of the hospital. Above one of the doors I saw a statue representing Justice as a woman with a sword and a balance. Interestingly her eyes are not blindfolded.

A relief with Lazarus

However, the relief at the gateway called plainly stronger for my attention. The story depicted and the use of polychromy are to be blamed! The main scene shows the table of the rich man from the story about Lazarus in the gospel of Luke (16,19-31). The scene illustrates verse 21 (King James Bible):

And desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table; moreover the dogs came and licked his sore.

In the scene Lazarus looks up to the rich man, but at the same time Lazarus seems already to see the vision of himself in Abraham’s bosom depicted in the niche above the scene in the dining room. The story of Lazarus and the anonymous rich man is a story of justice and mercy, two elements which cannot be taken from any form of effective law and justice without taking away the very heart of what laws, judicial institutions and the actual working of the rule of law are meant to be. The contemporary clothing of the people in this relief followed the tradition of Dutch art to present biblical stories in present day surroundings. Alas it is very easy to imagine a scene of tremendous richness and appalling poverty side by side in our times, too.

Dirck Coornhert, philosopher and social reformer

Social conditions can form the starting point for a moral appeal. In sixteenth-century Haarlem lived Dirck Volckertszoon Coornhert (1522-1590), an independent thinker and prolific writer. For some years Coornhert served as a secretary to the States of Holland. He suffered from persecution, and had even to leave the Netherlands for some ten years. When he returned he went to Delft, only to face again opposition. In 1588 he came to Gouda, where he was buried in the Sint Janskerk. In 1587 Coornhert wrote a proposal for disciplining ruffians, Boeventucht; a modern edition (1985) of this text has been digitized in the Digital Library for Dutch Literature. Coornhert had a view of criminals working during their stay in prison. During the seventeenth century his ideas were adopted by a number of Dutch cities. A large number of old editions of Coornhert’s writings has been digitized by Amsterdam University Library, in particular the opera omnia edition “Werken van D.V. Coornhert” published by Jaspar Tournay in Gouda between 1610 and 1612. The edition of sources for his life edited in 1925 by Bruno Becker has been digitized at the Institute for Dutch History.

For legal historians not only Coornhert’s proposal for a new prison regime is of interest. The Coornhert Liga, a Dutch society for the reform of criminal law, is named after Coornhert. He quarreled with Justus Lipsius about the repression of heretics. Vrijheid van conscientie, freedom of conscience, was the motto devised by Coornhert for the city of Gouda. This motto is also prominent in the glass window in the Sint Janskerk offered to Gouda by the States of Holland. Some of the windows show images that are relevant for legal iconography, too, and therefore they have been included together with other images from Gouda in the database of the former Dutch Center for Legal Iconography and Documentation (NCRD). Earlier this year the Royal Library confirmed the release into the public domain of this subscribers-only database, but until this day this has not yet been realized. In the first post of this month I have said enough about restricted access. I will just add that the former NCRD was an institution financed by all Dutch universities.

Gouda and Dutch legal history

Gouda is proud of its history. It has even developed its own historic canon in the wake of the current Dutch vogue for historic canons. In the Goudse Canon you can read about the town hall, the Sint Janskerk and Coornhert, three of the forty subjects, and also about Erasmus. Gouda has a claim on Erasmus because his mother came from Gouda. Erasmus went to school nearby Gouda. In Latin this Gouda claim has been concisely put: Goudæ conceptus, Roterodami natus, begotten in Gouda, born in Rotterdam. The canon of Gouda’s history does include the Waag, the weigh-house from 1670 at the Markt, the place where the cheese commerce in Gouda cheese took place before industrial production took over from the commerce on and near the market place. Gouda cheese comes from the area surrounding town, not from Gouda. The name Gouda cheese is not protected, and thus production of it is possible anywhere.

The Gouda Canon website shows apart from the well researched topics an excellent choice of illustrations and connects you to the AquaBrowser catalogue for associative searches in the city library’s GoudaNet. The website of the GroeneHart Archieven includes an image database which will help you to get more pictures about Gouda and the surrounding region. It is definitely a city with a history bringing enough assets for legal historians, even when it is of course rather grim to see at one side instruments of torture and the historical pillory and scaffold, and at the other side room for a pioneer of legal reform. It can do no harm to realize that the dark and sunlit sides of history are part of one history with many tales, a history in which justice and law have not always succeeded to reach their original aims.

A reproduction of Redon's "Fallen angel" outside MuseumGouda

Is it merely a coincidence to find a reproduction of the Fallen angel by Odilon Redon (1840-1916) next to the entrance of MuseumGouda with the Lazarus relief?

A postscript

The question at the end of this post is indeed not rhetorical. MuseumGouda had in June 2011 the painting The Schoolboys by Marlene Dumas auctioned at Christie’s without prior consultation with other Dutch museums which might have been interested to have this painting in their holdings. MuseumGouda got some € 950,000 from the auction, but ran into severe criticism from the Dutch Museum Society which had advised that MuseumGouda doing thus would act inappropriately and against clear guidelines of this society. The Dutch Museum Society even considered to cast MuseumGouda from the society. By the way, the Fallen angel is a painting in the holdings of the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam.

Lady Justice’s square

In an earlier post on legal iconography I expressed the view that past images of justice do influence our imagination of justice. Reflecting again on this subject made it clear to me that there is no harm presenting modern images of justice on my legal history blog. When preparing this post I became more and more aware that I want to restrict myself here to sculptures, but buildings and even open space matter as well. Although I focus on modern sculptures in Utrecht you will also see pictures of buildings.

Buildings and objects in Utrecht have been the objects of earlier posts here. It seemed feasible to expand the series of photos I already presented with new ones. What triggered me to fulfill this wish was a very simple fact. The modern Court of Justice in Utrecht has its main entrance at the Vrouwe Justitiaplein, “Lady Justice’s Square”.

Lady Justice

A scuplture of Justice

 

At the entrance of the modern Court of Justice is a bronze sculpture of Justice created by Elselien van der Graaf in 2000. Before you want to judge this representation of justice as rather traditional I would like to look at a second sculpture at the same square.

Between good and evil - sculpture

Between Good and Evil, the Justice Column

Between Good and Evil, the Justice Column is the title of this sculpture in reinforced concrete by Nicholas Pope placed in 2000. This column looks rather like a leg with a large foot. At the top the words Vrowue Justitia is inscribed in yellow letters. The full text becomes only visible when you look at all sides of this sculpture. At Rechtspraak, the Dutch central website for jurisdiction, you can find more information about these objects and other art objects in and around the building. I should note that in Dutch court rooms you will find copies of a very modern styled painting of the Dutch queen, and this, too, adds to the image of justice.

This post is to some extent a kind of round-up. The legal world and legal systems are not only made visible in images of justice, but also in buildings and the actual forms of justice, law and legal imagination and representation. At the corner of the Lange Nieuwstraat and the Hamburgerstraat in Utrecht is the old court of justice with the entrance shown in the banner of my blog. It came to my attention that the angel like figure is not an allegory of justice. The sculptor Joannes Rijnboutt completed in 1838 a design by city architect and draughtsman Christiaan Kramm aiming to represent The Genius of Legislation.

The Dutch blazon at the former kantongerecht

The Dutch blazon at the entrance of the former kantongerecht

In a corner of this square is also an early 20th century building which has housed the kantongerecht, the lower court in the Dutch judicial system. With the faces of the lions turned threateningly to possible visitors the sculpture with the Dutch blazon and the motto Je maintiendrai (I will maintain) is more pregnant than usual versions.

The old back entrance of the court or justice

At the back of the old court of justice on the premises of the Benedictine Saint Paul’s Abbey you can still see a seventeenth century entrance along the Nieuwegracht in typical Dutch Renaissance fashion. Apart from the blazon of the province of Utrecht this gate could have been present in any Dutch city.

A sculpture of righteousness

A lantern console with a sculpture representing righteousness

The column at Lady Justice’s square was rather large. The sculpture below street level at the Kromme Nieuwegracht at a lantern console is really small, perhaps some forty by thirty centimeters. More than 300 lanterns along the medieval canals of Utrecht have been enriched since 1953 with such sculptures as Rechtvaardigheid (Righteousness) by Jeanot Bürgi. Two children fight over an object, and the woman raises her left hand to stop their fight. When discussing justice, you cannot leave out righteousness and equity. I had to search for this particular sculpture created around 1980, because my copy of the first edition of Reliëfs in blauw (Relief in blue) by A. Graafhuis and C.A. Baart de la Faille (Utrecht-Antwerpen 1974) obviously does not mention it.

Willem Molengraaff

Willem Molengraaff (1858-1931), law professor at Utrecht University

During my round-up I spotted even more interesting consoles. Graafhuis and Baart de la Faille show at the Nieuwegracht 3 a console by Bürgi representing the law faculty with an image of a Roman lictor, but this example will have to do. For your consolation, and because I think it fits into this post, I will end here with a sculpture showing one of Utrecht’s law professors. This bas-relief designed by Jeroen Hermkens and made by Amiran Djanashvili was placed in 2004 outside the Institute for Private Law. Since 1958 this institute is named the Molengraaff Instituut in honor of Willem Molengraaff (1858-1931). The text placed below this sculpture mentions for instance his work for the Dutch bankruptcy law of 1893. Molengraaff worked not only in the field of commercial law, in particular maritime law, but he advocated also international law and pleaded very early for extensive interpretation of the concept of unlawful action.

Some of Molengraaff’s famous early articles have been digitized for the Igitur Archief, the digital repository of Utrecht University Library, and four of his books are present in the digitized special collections of the same library. Studies on and works by Molengraaff can be easily found using library catalogues. The online Bibliography for Dutch History does not mention the essay on Molengraaff by Ter Horst and Korthals Altes in the volume Rechtsgeleerd Utrecht, edited by three legal historians, the late Govaert van den Bergh, Job Spruit and Marijke van de Vrugt (Zuphen-Linschoten 1986).