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A History of the So-Called Jansenist Church of Holland;
with a Sketch of Its Earlier Annals,
And some Account of the Brothers of the Common Life.

By the Rev. J.M. Neale, M.A.

Oxford: John Henry and James Parker, 1858.



1. We have already seen that the vast extent of the diocese of Utrecht and the adjacent bishoprics had been a subject of scandal for centuries. In vain it was attempted to supply the want of episcopal superintendence by that network of collegiate churches which ramified throughout the country. The magnificent buildings and lordly establishments of Haarlem, Deventer, Oldenzaal, Gouda, Leeuwarden, Groningen, and other places, had produced, as we have seen, a set of ecclesiastics who, by their luxury, want of learning, and too often dissolute lives, promised but a feeble defence against the wave of the Reformation, as it rolled onwards from Germany. The third generation of the Brothers of the Common Life had passed away, and Geert Groote’s prophecy was in part fulfilled. They and their disciples maintained, at all events, their reputation for learning. But learning alone, without devotion, was but a feeble barrier against the now inevitable assault.

2. Philip the Second, on assuming the crowns of Spain and Germany, lost no time in soliciting from the Papal See an increase of bishoprics. Many of the most populous cities in the Low Countries were important enough to demand the separate supervision of a bishop. If none of them were fully equal to Ghent, which at that time was the most populous town in Europe, at all events Rotterdam, Bruges, [104] Louvain, Antwerp, and others, stood in the very first class. Paul IV., who at that time filled the chair of S. Peter, saw the necessity of the work, and carried it out in his Bull Super Universas, (May 12th, 1559,) with less delay than the court of Rome was accustomed to interpose. Annulling in so far as was necessary the metropolitical jurisdiction of Rheims and Cologne, and the territorial extent of Münster, Osnaburg, Paderborn, and other dioceses, he erected fourteen new sees, and re-constituted others in the following manner: — Utrecht and Cambray, then bishoprics, he raised to archiepiscopal rank; the noble church of S. Rumbold at Mechlin, then merely collegiate, he raised not only to archiepiscopal, but to metropolitical dignity. To Utrecht he assigned the following suffragans, all of them new sees: — Haarlem, Deventer, Groningen, Leeuwarden, and Middelburg. To Cambray — Arras and Tournay, old sees; and Namur and S. Omer, new ones. To Mechlin — Antwerp, Ghent, Bruges, Ypres, Bois-le-Duc, and Roermond, all new. Thus the reticulation of these important provinces by an episcopate was complete; but, unhappily, in the then juncture of political circumstances, a measure which, if taken fifty years sooner, would probably have saved the Church of Holland, now only hastened its downfall.

3. For difficulties ensued; the imperial treasury was found too poor to furnish a due maintenance to the new prelates, and in a disastrous hour, Granvelle, the Prime Minister of the Netherlands, a worldly and ambitious man, proposed their dotation out of the revenues of some of the largest abbeys. The measure was long and vehemently opposed; the opinions of universities and doctors were demanded as to the legitimacy of such secularization: Paul IV. was against it; [105] Pius V. declared his private opinion opposed to it; but worldly policy carried the day. The religious movement had already broken out; armies of Gueux were already ravaging Flanders; Paul IV. issued a Bull for the suppression or union of the abbeys in question; Granvelle was triumphant. He had his reward; he became Abbat of Afflighem, Archbishop of Mechlin, Primate of Belgium; and he ruined the Catholic cause in the Low Countries. The free abbeys were great national institutions; they were crushed, at a religious crisis, by the very power that ought to have upheld them; their prestige did not pass to the new bishops, and all was lost[1].

4. The magistrates of the several cities raised to the episcopal dignity, already leavened with the reformed doctrines, saw in the new prelates a royal device to supply the court of Spain with government officials and dignified spies. “By a wily system of bribery,” writes an historian of the event, “the subserviency of the abbeys was also aimed at. The new prelates, on a pretended principle of economy, were endowed with the title of abbats of the chief monasteries of their respective dioceses[2]. Thus, not only would they enjoy the immense wealth of these establishments, but the political rights of the abbats whom they were to succeed.”

5. Frederick Schenk, Baron of Tautenberg, was raised to the see of Utrecht. He is by some reckoned its second, by others its third, archbishop; the former computation excluding, the latter including, S. Boniface. In the following pages, as by Van Heussen, he will be reckoned as second. He was a man of somewhat [106] stern perhaps slightly overbearing character; now in the 59th year of his age, and not forgetful of his patrician rank. He had been the non-resident rector of the rich parochial church of Rhynsberg, dependent on the celebrated convent of that name: by a document bearing date Sept. 1543, he agrees to leave to the abbess the nomination of his curate. He was also Dean of the collegiate church of Oldenzaal, and of that of S. Peter at Utrecht. His father had rendered essential service to Charles V. in his expedition into Friesland, and the archiepiscopal dignity of his son was no doubt his reward. At the same time the new prelate had borne a high character for worth, and was, for the time, a hard-working dignitary.

6. The see of Haarlem was filled by Nicolas Nieulant, formerly Dean of S. Mary’s at Utrecht, but then Bishop of Hebron in partibus, and coadjutor to George of Egmont, Bishop of Utrecht; a pleasant-looking, somewhat easily-living man, — but destined to meet with troubles from the first. The abbey of Egmont, one of the first in Holland, was assigned for his income; the monks rose against the arrangement, and it needed a strong letter from the Regent Margaret to overcome their obstinacy. A graphic account of the Bishop’s reception at Haarlem is given by Cornelius Musius, afterwards a martyr, in a letter to a friend[3]: how forty horsemen and six carriages came to meet him; how the senate and clergy received him; how the boys of the city school sang before him a parody on a sequence composed for the occasion; how the “trumpets sounded, not with that terrific and bellicose taratantara, but with the joyous and gratulatory euge of peace;” and how the prelate chose as [107] his motto — Nemo expers hostis; the initials representing those of his names, Nicolas Episcopus Harlemensis. He began by a diligent inspection of his large diocese, which contained the whole of North Holland; and, besides Amsterdam, such towns as Horn, Alkmaar, and Enkhuizen. A diocesan council in 1564 attested the industry of the Bishop. It evinces a fearfully corrupted state of things in the Church; while the mockery of sinners, and the anathemas pronounced against the profaners or blasphemers of Sacraments, shew the progress of Calvinism, both threatening and opposed. The Utrecht breviary and missal are enjoined, but a correction of some of the older legends of the former is promised. Of the fifty-two festivals of obligation, one is singular, — the Feast of S. David, King and Prophet[4]. But the troubles of the Reformation soon began. One Arnoldsen, a basket-maker, preached the first Calvinistic sermon on the sand-hills at Overveen, near Haarlem, on a Sunday in the summer of 1566. The Bishop’s authority was insecure and unconfirmed; the Catholics were indifferent or opposed; he himself was incapacitated by the gout; and after a stormy, but not useless, episcopate of eight years, he resigned his see.

7. In Overyssel, the opposition to the erection of the new see was excessively vehement. John Mahusius, a Franciscan, was appointed to the see of Deventer, an excellent man and a first-rate preacher. But, unhappily, he was afflicted with the dropsy, and shortly found it his duty to resign his newly acquired dignity. At Leeuwarden, the first bishop was Remigius Dirutius; he had been Provost of S. Mary at [108] Bruges, and was an able man; but, tempted by the quieter and more dignified episcopate of his native city, he resigned that of Friesland before consecration. Groningen was more fortunate in its first bishop, John Knyff, whose urbanity and gentleness causes him to be mentioned even by Calvinistic writers in terms of the highest praise; and who laboured by word and example for ten long and eventful years in his Church. Nicolas a Castro, Professor of the College of the Falcon at Louvain, was first Bishop of Middelburg; he died of dysentery in its siege by the Prince of Orange, and thus probably escaped being called to a cruel martyrdom.

8. Archbishop Schenk, as soon as circumstances permitted, resolved on convoking a provincial council at Utrecht. The first session was held in that city on Oct. 12, 1565. The first suffragans of Utrecht, some of them not yet consecrated, were present; so was also Lindanus, Bishop of Roermonde, not as a suffragan, but as holding the deanery of the Hague. In this session matters of business only were transacted, procurations shewn, and letters patent exhibited. In the next, it was agreed that the Canons of the Council of Trent should be formally received, and read on the following days, in both Latin and the vernacular language, in the choir of the cathedral. The next sessions were occupied in this public reading; but in the meantime a list of gravamina, arising from the pure and simple acceptation of the Tridentine decrees, were presented by the archdeacons, dignitaries, and canons of the Five Chapters, and a demand made for certain explanations and interpretations. In the seventh session (Oct. 22), the prelates refused any “alteration, interpretation, or moderation” of the Canons in question, and demanded their simple acceptation. [109] Van den Vecht, the Dean, speaking in the name of the Chapters, declared their readiness to receive those decrees of the council which concerned either the faith or the reformation of manners; but there were other decrees which were concerned in the matter, and which affected their capitular rights. They insisted on a vote for the members of the second order in such a matter; especially as the Bishops of Leeuwarden and Deventer, not yet consecrated, sat and voted among the prelates. A compromise was subsequently effected, the Archbishop engaging to preserve intact such rights of the Chapters, if they existed, and the canons solemnly accepting the decrees of the council, salvis their own liberties and immunities. This concordat was completed in the 11th and last session (Oct. 10), when the synodal statutes were all read and approved. They contain little that is remarkable, though one or two of them shew the fearful laxity which had crept into the religious houses[5].

9. With the establishment of the Inquisition in 1565, the Revolution may be said to have really commenced. On the 10th of February in the following year, the first confederation for the defence of the liberties and rights of the States was signed at Brussels; a confederation no further religious than in so far as its main aim was to put down the Inquisition. It is not my purpose to relate the history of that fearful revolution; characterised by cruelty on both sides scarcely elsewhere to be found in the annals of the human race. It is probable that the palm of barbarity — it is certain that that of duplicity — must [110] be awarded to the Protestants; and yet thousands have heard of the atrocities committed by Alva and Vargas, who know nothing of the still greater cruelties exercised by a Lumey or a Maris Brand.

10. It may be necessary to remind the reader of the leading facts of the war that occurred during the episcopacy of Schenk. The declarations of the council of Margaret of Pavia, Governante of the Low Countries, that she had nothing to fear from such a band of beggars (Gueux), suggested the name, the wooden bowl, and the wallet which the confederacy adopted as its mark. The Reformers exerted themselves. Field-preaching (alas! how different from that of Geert Groote and his fellows!) spread through the country. By degrees, the most infamous excesses were perpetrated by bands of prowling ruffians, instigated, however, secretly, by William of Orange, Louis of Nassau, and Henry de Brederode, the Calvinist leaders. The cathedrals of Antwerp, Ghent, Mechlin, and Tournay were utterly gutted; four hundred other churches suffered in a greater or less degree; it seemed as if a host of demons had been let loose over the country. The lords of the Confederation fell upon their too zealous followers, and hanged or beheaded many of them; and for a brief space tranquillity was restored. The Confederacy was dissolved. William of Orange, with the prudent consideration for his own safety which ever distinguished him, retired into Germany. The Duke of Alva began his terrible march. The Council of Blood was instituted; Counts Egmont and Hoorn perished by its decree; and their execution was the signal for a final effort of the Calvinist party. The Prince of Orange raised an army in Germany, reinforced by our own Elizabeth and French Huguenots. The battle of Heiligerlee declared for the insurgents; [111] that of Jemminghem more than compensated to the Royalists; and for two or three years Alva enjoyed an almost uninterrupted triumph. But in 1573, through the ferocity of the infamous De la Marck, who captured Briel by surprise, the war broke out again. He and Maris Brand sent the nineteen martyrs of Gorcum to their reward. William of Orange entered Brabant at the head of 20,000 men; and Haarlem — of the inhabitants of which a Protestant historian writes, that they fought, not for Protestantism, but for their pockets — rose as one man. Then followed the terrible siege of Haarlem, its capitulation, the dreadful vengeance taken on its inhabitants, the capture of the Hague, and the repulse of the Spaniards from Alkmaar. Alva was replaced by Requesens. The victory of Mookerheyde again gave courage to the Royalists; but their repulse from Leyden rendered Philip willing to enter into negotiations. These proved fruitless; and the death of Requesens and the pacification of Ghent, which bound the revolted provinces more closely to each other, rendered more vigorous measures needful. Don John of Austria, the victor of Lepanto, was appointed governor; and after his death — it is supposed by poison  — the Prince, afterwards the Duke, of Parma, succeeded. An attempt was made to mediate between the two parties by the Emperor Rodolph II. and Pope Gregory XIII.; after a year’s negotiations, it was fruitless. Finally, in the eventful year 1580, the States General renounced for ever the authority of Spain, and proclaimed the Seven United Provinces free and independent.

11. I have said that, while the palm of superior cruelty may fairly be divided between the two parties, that of duplicity must rest with the Protestants. At [112] the commencement of the Revolution, the Prince of Orange had declared to the Governante of the Low Countries, that the only design of the nobility was to preserve the Catholic religion in its purity. When Utrecht, in the year 1566, entered the Union, the edict of the Prince declared that the churches, monasteries, and hospitals of the ancient religion should be sacred; the pretended reformed being only allowed to preach or to hold assemblies in two places, granted to them for that purpose, without the city. The case was the same in 1572 at Dort. In the same year, the Prince of Orange, in the camp before Roermonde, issued a placard which expressly forbad any violence against the professors of the Roman Catholic faith. In the declaration of Ghent, (1576,) the United Provinces proclaimed liberty of religion; the Prince of Orange swore to that declaration; yet in the same year he only obtained the support of the ministers assembled at Dort, by promising to persecute to the uttermost all Roman Catholics. And this is the man whom Protestant historians hold up as a perfect model of virtue to mankind! In the next year (Jan. 9), the Union of Brussels declares that it is made “for the preservation of our holy faith and the Catholic, Apostolic, and Roman religion, — for the expulsion of the Spaniards, — for the maintenance of our rights.” Yet the same year, at Haarlem, on the 29th of May, the Feast of Corpus Christi, while the vast congregation was assembled at nones, a band of Protestants fell in upon them, massacring all those who did not save themselves by flight. When so much is said of the Massacre of S. Bartholomew, are we never to remember the Nones of Haarlem ? It is true, the Prince of Orange disavowed this atrocity; yet in the same year he advised the inhabitants of Briel, in spite [113] of all his oaths, to proscribe the exercises of the Catholic religion. About the same period he married Catherine of Bourbon, ex-abbess of Jouarre; her miserable life was a fit recompense for her double apostacy. In the next year he only obtained possession of Overyssel and Guelderland by swearing to maintain all the rights and privileges of the Catholics inviolate; the case was the same at Amsterdam; and in the Union of Utrecht, (June 15, 1579,) the Protestants were permitted the free exercise of their religion in four churches of that city; but in all other places, whether secretly or openly, they were forbidden to exercise it.

12. Yet on the 14th of June in the following year the magistrates published a placard by which the exercise of the Catholic religion was entirely interdicted. This was too much for the not over-scrupulous conscience of William of Orange. “Let this be the last of the perjuries,” he said, “which you have committed to the offence of God and the dishonour of your religion.”

13. A curious coincidence in a passage of the Maccabees had induced certain divines to foresee the commencement of these troubles at Utrecht in 1566:


and now it was in vain that the Canons of the Five Churches publicly protested against the violation of all former stipulations. From that time the health of Schenk, now an old man, declined. The words of Mattathias were in his mouth, — “Woe is me! wherefore was I born to see this misery of my people, and of the holy city, and to dwell there, when it was delivered [114] into the hand of the enemy, and the sanctuary into the hand of strangers?” He departed this life on the 25th of August, 1580, and was buried by the door of the sacristy in his own cathedral, where his tomb may still be seen.

14. It is necessary to say one word with respect to the other sees. At Haarlem, on the resignation of Nicolas Nieulant, Godfrey de Mierlo had been appointed his successor. He governed his flock with great zeal for about eight years; then, on the capture of Haarlem by the Calvinists, he retired to Bonn, where he died in 1587. He had no successor, till (as we shall see in the course of this history) after the lapse of 164 years. At Deventer, John Mahusius was succeeded by Giles de Monte, who died in his own diocese in 1577. The Chapter continued to nominate Grand-vicars, after having removed to Oldenzaal, till 1665, when Lewis Brunesius, its last Dean departed this life. At Leeuwarden, Remigius Dirutius, whom I have already mentioned, was succeeded by Cunerus Petersen[6]; he exercised considerable authority in his diocese, convoked a diocesan synod, and created a Chapter. After the religious revolution he was thrown into prison, and finally died at Cologne in 1580. At Groningen, after the death of John Knyff, and the nomination of John Bruhezen, (of whom more in the sequel,) Arnold Nylen, a Dominican, was consecrated to the vacant see. He remained in his city till its capture by the Calvinists in 1594, when he retired to Brussels, where he died. At Middelburg, John Van Stryen succeeded, in 1581. At the capture of that place by the Prince of Orange [115] he retired first to Cologne, then to Roermonde, then to Louvain, and from the latter place he governed the remains of the afflicted Church of Holland, and, as the only survivor of its six Bishops, ordained priests for its persecuted dioceses, till his death in 1594.

We are now at liberty to follow the fortunes of the Church of Utrecht.



[1] In relating these events, D. Pitra gives another example that Ultramontanes can denounce Papal acts as freely as Gallicans can, when they disapprove them.  —  Hollande Catholique, p. 213.

[2] Grattan, Hist., p. 92.

[3] Hist. Episcop. F. B.: Haarlem, p. 19.

[4] These statutes were printed at the time, and are reprinted in the Bat. Sacr., pp. 294 — 310.

[5] e.g. Interdicimus et prohibemus, ne juniores ex clero et nobilitate, sine justâ et urgenti causâ ad monialium cameras vel triclinia accedant, nec interdiu seu noctu potando aut alias vanitates exercendo conversentur, sed moniales sinant pensum servitutis suae in choro persolvere, ac in omnibus regularis ordinariis disciplinam servare.

[6] This was Cunerus Petersen de Brouwershaven, a prelate who had distinguished himself by his writings in the life and death struggle of the Church of Holland. See a list of them in H. E. II., Leo 40.


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