Category Archives: Buildings

Legacies in brick

The main building of the Bruntenhof, Utrecht

Somehow the walking historian has not appeared at all here this year, but I did certainly walk in 2015 at various locations. One of my recent tours led me to a subject fit for a new contribution. In the old inner city of Utrecht you can spot among the nearly one thousand historic buildings at least three buildings with a clear connection to lawyers from the sixteenth and seventeenth century. Two of them still have a function connected with the aim of their founders. In this post I would like to introduce you to the three buildings, their background and to the lawyers who founded them.

The Bruntenhof

The first foundation I would like to show you is the Bruntenhof, a charitable foundation created in 1621 by Frederik Brunt. Its buildings have been lovingly restored between 1979 and 1983. For some reason the very sign at the entrance “ANNO 1621” has not yet been renewed after recent painting work. You can find a lot of information about old buildings in Utrecht in the Utrechts Documentatiesyteem (UDS), with maps, old and modern photographs, research notes and scans of relevant publications about historic buildings. At present the Bruntenhof is a property of the Utrechts Monumentenfonds, a foundation which owns more than one hundred historic buildings. Their website gives a good succinct overview of the history of the Bruntenhof. Frederik Brunt used the garden of his own home Klein Lepelenburg as the space for his foundation with fifteen small houses called cameren, “chambers”, houses with just one room. Brunt also made provisions for fuel, food and other means of livings, and this made his foundation uncommon. His heirs did something which Brunt must have intended but had not dictated. As a Roman Catholic living in a protestant country he wisely did not say anything about religion in the foundation charters, but he wanted poor Roman Catholic widows to live in the Bruntenhof.

I tried to find more information about Frederik Brunt, but apart from genealogical information nothing did surface immediately. Interestingly, I did find online the registration of his death (“Mr. Frederick Brunt, licentiaet”) on March 30, 1622 in a transcribed register for the tolling of bells of Utrecht Cathedral (register van overluiden) between 1614 and 1651 [P.A.N.S. van Meurs, Overluidingen te Utrecht 1614-1651]. This register mentions often the occupations and academic degrees of the deceased, and thus you might use it also to find quickly other lawyers in Utrecht during the first half of the seventeenth century. It was surprising to find this register among other digitized resources for the history of Utrecht at GeneaKnowHow in its section for digitized sources. There is a much more reliable modern transcription of a similar register for the years 1562 to 1614 which shows the sums paid for tolling the bells. For quick information about persons not included in biographical dictionaries such registers can be quite useful. The time the bells tolled and the amount of money often show the status of the deceased. J.W.C. van Campen, for many decades head of the municipal archive of Utrecht, made many notes about the area around the Bruntenhof and the Brunt family [Utrecht, Het Utrechts Archief (HUA), Verzameling historisch werkmateriaal, no. 666].

The Gronsveltcameren

The Gronsveltcameren

Smaller than Brunt’s foundation are the six cameren, one-room buildings erected in 1652 to fulfill the will of Johan van Gronsvelt who had stipulated this should happen when his wife died. A stone in the building indicated he was a barrister at the Court of Utrecht. The register mentioned above puts his death at August 5, 1642. These houses stand originally in the Agnietenstraat, but they had to move in the eighteenth century for another foundation, a combination of orphanage and surveyors school, the Fundatie van Renswoude (1754). In 1756 the houses were rebuilt in the Nicolaasdwarsstraat near the Nicolaaskerk (St. Nicholas). An inscription with a chronogram in it to show the year to those people who know this kind of riddle. The second half of this inscription merits attention, Uit liifde puur gesticht door loutre charitaat / Tot Bystand van de lien om Godswil anders niit, “Founded from pure love by charity alone / As a support of people for Gods will and nothing else”. A second inscription below it tells us about the removal in 1756.

When walking here in November an acquaintance pointed to the difference in the model of the rain gutters which according to her had to do with the religious background of the people living in a particular house. In fact there had been a fight over the management of this foundation and after a split-up maintenance was done differently ever since. Nos. 1, 2, 5 and 6 were maintained since 1719 by the Roman Catholic almshouse, the other two by the original foundation. In 1746 the almshouse itself was split into an “Old Catholic” office responsible for the houses 5 and 6, and a Roman Catholic office for nos. 1 and 2. After the removal of 1756 different ways of maintenance continued. A housing corporation currently owns the Gronsveltcameren.

Of course I have looked at the inventory of the archive of the provincial court of Utrecht kept at Het Utrechts Archief, but there is no separate register of advocates and barristers. However, with the third lawyer we will look at a person whose legal practice, too, will come into view.

Evert van de Poll, a veritable founder

The workhouse founded by Evert van de Poll

At the other side of the Nicolaasdwarsstraat is a much older building, a former monastery, the location of one of the foundations created by Evert van de Poll. Den VIIIen Septembris mr. Evert van de Poll, raet ende advocaet van de edele heeren Staten sLants van Utrecht, II uren met Salvator, XII gl. reads the notice in the account for the tolling of bells in 1602. The fine history of Utrecht University Library published in 1986 did tell the story of the books which entered in 1602 the municipal library, the core of the university’s library founded in 1636, but the exact date of Van de Poll’s death was not known thirty years ago.1 The books from Van de Poll’s legacy were inscribed with a note “Ex dono Ev. Pollionis”. However, the authors duly noted a notice from 1609 about his foundation of a workhouse for the poor. His explicit aim was to help and educate poor children in order to prevent them becoming vagabonds and people without work whose live would end badly.

This text echoes the very inscription found above the entrance of the workhouse, “(…) hating all idleness (…) erected for those who prefer to win a living with work above empty begging (…)”. The archive of this foundation at Het Utrechts Archief is not very large, and thus it is well worth pointing here to a resolutieboek, a register with decisions of the board of directors for the period 1634 to 1751 kept in the Dutch National Archives in The Hague as part of the archival collection of the Calkoen family [NA, Familiearchief Calkoen, inv. no. 1687]. In the eighteenth century the workhouse did not function properly anymore, and the main purpose became providing poor people with some money (preuve), paid with the rents coming from four apartments created in the former workhouse. Van de Poll founded a second workhouse at Amersfoort, and a small archival collection survives at the Nationaal Archief.

The inscription above the entrance of the workhouse founded by Evert van de Poll

Let’s look here somewhat longer at Evert van de Poll. He was probably born around 1560. His father had been the city secretary of Utrecht, and his mother was the sister of Floris Thin, the advocate of the Dutch Republic. In 1580 he started studying law in Leiden, and in 1587 he matriculated at Heidelberg. In 1597 he had become the advocate of the States of Utrecht. Recently John Tholen wrote in the year book of the historical society Oud-Utrecht about the humanistic interests of Van de Poll who exchanged letters with Justus Lipsius, and had even lived two years in his house.2 In Utrecht van de Poll lived in a large house on the spot of the present-day building at Drift 21, one of the houses formerly belonging to the canons of the collegiate chapter of St. John’s.3

Again at the Janskerkhof

Header Huizen aan het Janskerkhof

The banner image of Huizen aan het Janskerkhof

The website Huizen aan het Janskerkhof of Caroline Pelser gives a nice overview of the consecutive possessors of Van de Poll’s house near the Janskerkhof. Interestingly Van de Poll inherited the house in 1580 from Floris Thin. Nowadays Drift 21 is part of the inner city location of Utrecht University Library. Van de Poll’s printed books and manuscripts are at the modern building of this library on the campus east of the old city, where they are kept within the Special Collections. At her website Caroline Pelser has created a most useful index of important online finding aids at Het Utrechts Archief concerning law and justice in Utrecht, with also links to digitzed printed accounts of some cases heard and verdicts given at Utrecht in the seventeenth and eighteenth century, and last nut not least digitized printed ordinances for court procedure, both for the municipal court and the provincial court.

We have looked here at three lawyers and their contribution to Dutch society after their death, and surely more can be said about them and about their colleagues, but for now we have come to the end of this walk. The Janskerkhof has figured at my blog already several times, in particular in some seasonal postings. This year winter seems far away. In December the weather at Utrecht has even broken all records since 1901 for high temperatures. Anyway it is fitting indeed to end this year’s contributions again at and near the Janskerkhof. The States of Utrecht convened since 1579 in a former Franciscan convent at the Janskerkhof, in the twentieth century for thirty years home to the law library of Utrecht University. Between 1597 and 1602 Evert van de Poll must have visited this building often. A part of the Janskerk was since 1584 home to the city library and from 1634 onwards until 1820 for the university library. Next year I would like to look somewhat longer at Van de Poll, his books and his activity as a lawyer. I hope you liked this tour of Utrecht, and welcome here again in 2016!

Notes
1. D. Grosheide, A.D.A. Monna and P.G.N. Pesch (eds.), Vier eeuwen Universiteitsbibliotheek Utrecht, I: De eerste drie eeuwen (Utrecht 1986) 37-40.
2. John Tholen, ‘Zonder pracht of pomp : Evert van de Poll en zijn verlangen naar de muzen’, Jaarboek Oud-Utrecht 2012, 69-90.
3. Marceline Dolfin, E.M. Kylstra and Jean Penders, Utrecht. De huizen binnen de singels. Beschrijving (The Hague 1989) 330-335.

Images, words and the law

However seducing texts are as sources to gain new knowledge, images do rightfully claim our attention, too, nay stronger, they are even more seducing and intoxicating than texts. Legal iconography is the auxiliary science to history and law which studies the uses and abuses of imagery in law and justice. A few months ago I was attracted to a building with both images and texts in an intriguing combination. Very close to it is a statue of a man who has been responsible as few others before him for introducing images as an educational tool. Here I would like to share with you a few thoughts about this building and about the role of images in teaching and research.

The town hall at Naarden

Map of Naarden by Jacob van DeventerThis summer I visited the town of Naarden, some twenty kilometers to the south-east of Amsterdam. Jacob van Deventer’s map of Naarden, part of the cartographic project for the Spanish king Philip II, shows a town with medieval city walls, no match for the modern weapons of the sixteenth century. During the Dutch Revolt Spanish armed forces attacked Naarden in 1572 with brutal force. The soldiers murdered the inhabitants and destroyed the city almost completely. The Grote of St. Vituskerk with its famous painted wooden vaults survived. Afterwards Naarden became a fortified town, even an archetype of the Dutch fortification system, as you can see when visiting the Vestingmuseum.

The town hall at Naarden

Among the buildings rebuilt in Naarden after 1572 is the town hall in Dutch Renaissance style, completed in 1601, almost thirty years after the tragic events. Whatever form the medieval town hall might have had, its new incarnation still looks splendid. On the facade not just blazons and statues all convey their particular visual message, Three texts have been added to bring yet another message.

naarden-facade

On closer inspection two of these texts are really two versions of the same message. The Latin text to the left has been superbly condensed into Early Modern Dutch. The Latin reads: Quidquid erit superanda / omnis fortuna ferendo est, “whatever the event may be, every turn of fortune has to be subdued by bearing it”, a quote from Vergil’s Aeneid (V,710). Surprisingly the Dutch is much more condensed, but succeeds in adding also a significant twist: Ist lyden ist vreucht / Draeght soo’t God vuegt, “be it suffering or joy, bear it when God brings it”. Here classical Antiquity is invoked at the service of the civil authorities, but at the same time subtly christianised.

The pious overtones are much clearer in the inscription below the tympanum above the entrance, Godt regiert al anno 1601, “God governs everything, in the year 1601”. The tympanum is crowned by allegorical statues representing Faith, Hope and Justice, the latter in the middle portrayed in the familiar way of a blindfolded woman with a balance and a sword. On the top of the left part of the facade is an allegorical statue of Love, the right part is crowned by the Dutch lion. The blazons below the first floor windows are those of the county of Holland (a lion rampant), of prince Maurice of Oranje, and West-Friesland. In the tympanum you can see the blazon of the Habsburg emperors, the Austrian Doppeladler, the double eagle, which is also the blazon of the city of Naarden.

Emblems: combining images and text

Combining texts and images is of course not something new, but in a way it is here at least a bit unexpected. At first the brief Latin proverb and its wonderful crisp and concise Dutch rendering led me to speculate about a very particular influence. Justus Lipsius (1547-1606), the great Flemish political theoretician who taught some years at Leiden was also known as an editor of Tacitus. He influenced Pieter Cornelisz. Hooft (1581-1647), a prolific author and for forty years bailiff of Muiden Castle near Naarden. He wrote his Nederlandsche Historiën, a history of the Low Countries in difficult prose, clearly modelled on Tacitus’ works. Hooft published in 1611 Emblemata amatoria, a volume of emblems, symbolic images with a motto and didactic verses. However, we must rule out this argument as a possible source of influence for the decoration of the town hall in Naarden, simply because Hooft was much too young in 1601 to exercise any influence. I was genuinely surprised, too, to find Vergil as the author of the quote, not Tacitus. Instead one could perhaps better look at the early works of Hugo de Groot (1583-1645). A search for possible direct influences at Naarden can be quite long. A quick search for Dutch literature citing Vergil’s words in the Digitale Bibliotheek voor de Nederlandse Letteren (DBNL) brought me to Jacob Andriesz. Boelens (1554-1621), a burgomaster of Amsterdam often active on special missions in the early seventeenth century whose motto was Superanda omnis fortuna ferendo. It is a tantalizing hint which needs further corroboration.

The literary genre of emblematic literature was launched by one of the most famous humanist lawyers, Andrea Alciato (1592-1550) with his volume Emblemata (first edition Augsburg: Steyner, 1531). In 1529 he had already published Selecta epigrammata Graeca Latine versa (..) (Basel: Bebel, 1529; online in Göttingen). It is intriguing to look for an emblem which might have influenced the choice of a text at Naarden. Access to early editions of emblem books is much helped by four major online projects, at Glasgow for Italian and French books, at Utrecht for Dutch books, mainly from the seventeenth century, the project Emblematica Online of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and the Herzog-August-Bibliothek Wolfenbüttel, and the Biblioteca Digital de Emblemática Hispánica of the Universidade da Coruña.

Emblem no. 34 from Alciato's Emblemata in the edition 1546

Et toleranda homini tristis fortuna ferendo est, Et nimium felix saepe timenda fuit. Sustine (Epictetus dicebat) et abstine. Oportet Multa pati, illicitis absque tenere manus. Sic ducis imperium vinctus fert poplite taurus In dextro: sic se continet a gravidis.

The online collections at Glasgow has a separate section for Alciato. In his emblem collection the first line Et toleranda homini tristis fortuna ferendo est of an emblem appearing in the section Fortitudo comes closest to the quote from Vergil. In the edition Venice 1546 you will find this as no. 34, the emblem Anechou kai apechou / Sustine et abstine, at fol. 29v. In later editions this emblem has either no number or it appears with a different number, and thus it is really necessary to indicate exactly which edition you happen to use. For our emblem you would find it for example in the Paris 1550 edition on page 41. The image shows a farmer who keeps bulls away from cows. The Glasgow project has a useful list of the mottos and their occurrences in the main editions of Alciato’s text, and the Alciato website by William Barker is also most helpful in tracking emblems, mottos and verses; you can even find an English version of this emblem. However, this is only a possible indirect source or inspiration behind the choice for a verse with an admittedly more pointed and direct meaning, The emblems in the section Fortuna might be the first spur for searching a text, in particular the emblem Semper praesto esse infortunia.

Teaching by images

Statue of Comenius in Naarden

Why do I refer here at length to Alciato’s work and the role of images in connection with the town hall in Naarden? Across the street with the town hall of Naarden is the Grote or St. Vituskerk, and between the church and the town hall is a statue commemorating the Czech theologian, philosopher and pedagogue Jan Amos Comenius (1592-1670). From 1656 onwards he had found a refuge at Amsterdam. Comenius had contacts in Naarden, and he was buried in a church at Naarden. The Comeniusmuseum keeps his memory alive. Among his works are books such as the Ianua linguarum reserata [The open port of languages] (1631) which developed a new model for teaching Latin and other languages, and the Didactica magna (1633-1638), his opus magnum with a new comprehensive view of children’s education. The possible connection between Comenius and legal iconography is offered in particular by his Orbis sensualium pictus [The world of senses in images] (1658), the first book recommending and exemplifying the systematic educational use of images. In this work he uses for example pictures to help children learning the alphabet. In the space of this posting I can at least point you to the Bibliothek für Bildungsgeschichtliche Forschung in Berlin. Its digital library contains among other things early illustrations from pedagogical works.

More than a century before Comenius Alciato and others had introduced first a learned public and later also a wider public to a very successful combination of images and texts. The taste for this genre was at least sometimes mirrored by architecture. Alciato brought to the new emblematic literature his own legal background which made it a potential useful resource for anyone looking for outspoken combinations of images, concise proverbial sayings and often exquisite poetry. Somehow the presence of this literary genre makes it far more conceivable that lines from classical poetry can embellish buildings. As for which specific emblems collection provided Dutch people the clue for their choice I suppose you will need to look at many different collections, not just the Latin collections, but also those in Dutch and French, and even collections published in Spain.

Promises of more…

Sofar we have only looked at the facade of the town hall in Naarden. It would be really interesting to look also inside the town hall at the interior where you can find for example two seventeenth-century paintings in the city court room. I am sure you cannot separate them completely from the intriguing facade. The digital portal Memory of the Netherlands offers you a very quick entrance to images of both inside and outside the stadhuis at Naarden. Some photographs are already a bit older and reflect to some extent earlier scholarly approaches. For further research you will no doubt benefit from the resources at the municipal and regional archives in the Gooi- en Vechtstreek, located in Naarden and Hilversum.

This week I saw the 2013 online exhibition The Nomos of Images. Manifestations of the law in picture atlases and photo archives created by the Photothek of the Kunsthistorisches Institut in Florence. Some images in this virtual exhibition come from the Sammlung Karl Frölich at the Max-Plank-Institut für europäische Rechtsgeschichte in Frankfurt am Main, a collection with photographs taken between 1930 and 1950 which eventually will be digitized. In my view it can be most helpful to use both older resources and new materials to help research in the field of legal iconography. This post gives only some indications of directions you might choose for further investigations, but hopefully it helps you to get a taste of them.

A postscript

At the blog Interfaces/Livres anciens de l’Université de Lyon appeared on November 24, 2014 a very interesting contribution about Comenius, ‘Comenius, un pédagogue de l’avant-garde’. This year the digitization of the Sammlung Karl Frölich has been completed.

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 (online (PDF) at the Internet Portal Westfälische Geschichte). 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 can find the courts at the Peace Palace, the International Criminal Court and other UN special courts. 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 by 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. Often 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.