2. The witness of Calvinist martyrs: Arnoud Diericx, Carolus de Koninck, Gillis and Antoon Verdickt, Adriaan [Coreman] de Schilder, Hendrik [Snoelacke] van Boekholt, 1557-1559

Explanatory Comment : These extracts are taken from De Geschiedenisse ende den doodt der vromer Martelaren [History and Death of Pious Martyrs] compiled by Adriaen van Haemstede, who served as the Reformed minister at Antwerp from 1556-59. His ministry was highly controversial because he insisted that he had a duty to preach the ‘gospel’ to all comers, not just to the small dedicated band of believers. His rash conduct provoked heated debate and precipitated a persecution which obliged him to flee Antwerp in 1559.
His martyrology, the first of its kind in Dutch, was printed shortly shortly after his flight at Emden in 1559. Religious persecution reached a new peak of ferocity around this time in England and France as well as the Low Countries which partly explains the clutch of martyrologies published at this time. Within the space of ten years John Foxe (1553 and 1563), the German Lutheran Rabus (1554), Jean Crespin (1554), van Haemstede (1559) and an anonymous Dutch Anabaptist (1562) produced accounts of the sufferings endured and ‘testimonies’ from those put to death.

Martyrologies constitute a distinctive genre of writing. Though their authors took considerable pains to obtain accurate information and often included copies of original documents, they were not dryasdust scholars. Their accounts were intended to offer inspiration and consolation. In addition their record of interrogations gave the faithful the means to outwit the wiles of the inquisitors. Certain stock themes or topoi recur with a regularity which seems implausible, so the persecutors frequently die miserably, and the unlearned invariably put their academic interrogators to shame.

In these passages you will note the central significance of Emden and Antwerp in the dissemination of Protestantism in the southern Netherlands. The testimonies of both Gillis and Antoon Verdickt bear witness to Van Haemstede’s reputation as preacher and significantly support his policy of preaching in the open.

Arnoud Diericx 1

Arnoud Diericx, a god-fearing and simple man from West Flanders, who made a living on the land, left his fatherland in order to hear the word of God in the congregation of the Lord, and to live by its precepts. Accordingly he travelled to the faithful in East Friesland, where for a time he showed himself to be most industrious and diligent, in order to learn the will of God through the preaching of the Gospel.

After this he returned to Flanders once more to visit his friends, as he had already done many times before. While he was on his return journey, it so happened that the justices of Bruges were searching for a church thief. (The papists adorn their churches with gold and silver, thinking that God, who is spirit alone and will be served spiritually, can be honoured with such outward things. Meanwhile their precious idols often fall prey to robbers.) The officers took lodgings where Arnoud was also spending that night, took him prisoner, and thought that they had found their thief.

After he was taken prisoner, they opened his pack and found there letters written by certain of the brethren in Flanders to their friends in Emden. They realised from this chance that he was not the thief for whom they were searching, but they accused him of being a heretic and proceeded to question him about his beliefs. Arnoud requested that they should postpone this until the next day, when he would tell whatever they wished to know. He spent that same night in fervent prayer to God. He prayed that God would send upon him, as he had promised, his Holy Spirit, who would speak through him so as to witness to the truth of the Gospel. At daybreak four monks came to him in his prison at Bruges and questioned him on his faith, which he professed with great boldness, while from Scripture he refuted the false doctrines, the invented sacraments and ceremonies of the papists. It was moving to hear how simply, graciously and aptly he cited the holy Scripture for each article, so that everyone who heard marvelled at it.

They saw that he was a countryman, who had never studied at a university, nevertheless monks who were esteemed as learned men could not withstand him; indeed he confounded them and put them to shame from Scripture. Among other things, they said, ‘He must be possessed by the devil; how else could he know the Scriptures so well?’ After the clergy had often spoken with him, above all concerning the article whether the saints were also our advocates, intercessors, or mediators with God and since Arnoud ascribed to Christ that fitting honour, which is given to no creature, because Christ alone was our mediator, advocate and intercessor with the Father, he was condemned to be burned alive, a fate to which he submitted with wonderful fortitude. Thus through his death he witnessed to the honour of the son of God, and passed over to the Lord in the year of Our Lord 22 March 1557 [1558], at Monnikerede in Flanders, where he was first arrested and imprisoned.

Carolus de Koninck

Carolus de Koninck was a former Carmelite monk from Ghent in Flanders. When through God’s grace he received the knowledge of the evangelical truth, he bade the life of a monk farewell, and followed the congregation of Christ to England, where he found employment as a translator of books (namely the Apocalypse,2 and the terrible life and death of Francesco Spiera, who had renounced the true faith, [both of] which he translated into Dutch.)

When the congregation of the Lord was driven out of England through the tyranny of the cruel Jezebel, namely Mary, Queen of England, he went with the brethren to Emden in East Friesland. After this he desired to visit the dispersed brethren in Brabant and Flanders, and in 1556 he journeyed there. As he was taking ship in Emden, he felt a sensation as if he were going into a fire, a feeling which came over him again in Groningen, at the house of the godly doctor Hieronymus.3 When he told his host of this experience, the doctor appealed to him not to go into the papist lands, where the Christians were so cruelly murdered. But he said, ‘I must make this journey, but then no more.’

After spending some time in the congregation of the Lord at Antwerp, where Gaspar van der Heyden was minister, he travelled to Ghent, where he taught and exhorted the brethren. And seeing that a severe persecution had broken out, which also cooled the love of many, he earnestly exhorted them unfeignedly to serve Christ, and to shun the popish superstition as poison; and he told them that the Lord could not abide those who inclined to both sides, and were neither hot nor cold. After this he travelled to Bruges, where immediately there gathered around him all those who loved the Lord, and, as a result of hearing his Word, hungered after the righteousness of God. He exhorted them to a right Christian belief and a godly life. But Satan, a murderer from the beginning, saw that his kingdom would fall through the shining forth of the Gospel, and stirred up his servants the priests, who by trickery discovered where the Christian congregation met. When Carolus left the meeting at the house in the Ezelstraat they took him prisoner, and threw him in prison. When his brother in Ghent heard of it, he asked two Carmelites to go with him, hoping that in this way, and because Carolus was under a vow of obedience to the superior of his monastery, that he might save him. So he came to his brother and exhorted him to return to his obedience and put on again his monk’s habit. Carolus answered him very frankly, that he had renounced the habit and the sign of the beast; that through Christ he had received his freedom, and that he had no wish to be a slave of any man. And he asked his brother to spare himself any further expense and trouble, for it would be in vain.

The monks and priests disputed with him long and hard, but they were not able to withstand the truth of Holy Scripture. He refused to speak with them except in the presence of the authorities, because he knew how they were accustomed to make good their proceedings with lies and obscure the truth. His opponents repeatedly cited the Church Fathers in order to justify their masses, purgatory and intercession to Saints. But he cited other Fathers who rejected all this, and based his beliefs above all on the Holy Scripture, which they could not. Thus he rebuked the monks in the presence of the authorities, saying that they were dumb asses who gathered out of the Fathers nothing but thistles and thorns, and that they did not touch upon what in these books was Christian and good and agreed with Scripture. The authorities and the Council saw that he possessed an invincible foundation in the Holy Scripture, and some were persuaded in their consciences that he spoke the truth. Nevertheless, out of fear and awe of the bloodthirsty clergy, they spoke very differently when the priests were present than when they were alone with Carolus. When a certain Heer N. saw such a clear understanding and knowledge of the scripture in Carolus, so that none of the priests or monks could withstand him but rather withdrew chastened, he promised to help him if he did not remain stubborn, and would ask permission of the Pope to give up the religious life which he so abhorred, and above all that he would provide him with a well-paid position. Carolus answered, ‘My Lord, I thank you for your good favour, but you do not know what you are proposing. Why do you wish to give me a well-paid post, so that I can live in peace and tranquillity? But you know well that no riches can bring peace to the heart, when the conscience is burdened. Now you are doing your best to make me deny the truth of the Gospel and affirm lies. That would cause me great disquiet and be like a worm always gnawing in my heart, and what use would riches be then? It is better for me to suffer death for the truth in the Lord, than deny him and die a living death.’

When the priests saw that they could do nothing with him he was condemned as a heretic, and after that, on 22 April degraded from the popish priesthood. Then the bishop delivered him into the hands of the secular judges, just as Christ was given over to the heathen by the priests and the scribes. The authorities condemned him to be burned alive, for which he thanked them, and called upon the Lord to forgive all of them who had through ignorance persecuted him to his death. And then he was led very meekly like a lamb to the slaughter. When he was bound to the stake, he cast up his eyes to the heavens and called upon the Lord. As the wood caught alight he bore the pain so patiently that they all marvelled at it, and thus be passed to the Lord. A few days after his death the Lord smote one of those, who was the cause of his arrest, so sorely in his conscience that he paid for with his life. God is a just judge of the wicked. Thus Carolus de Koninck was offered up to the Lord in the fire on 27 April 1557.4

Gillis Verdickt

Gillis Verdickt from Elversele in Flanders was brought by his brother Antoon to the knowledge of the truth, after which he went to the congregation where the word of God was purely preached, and the sacraments dispensed and administered according to the Lord’s ordinance. He travelled to Emden and to Norden, where he studied with Micronius, and attended Gualter Delenus’s Greek lessons. Finally he journeyed to Zurich in Switzerland, where his knowledge of Greek greatly increased. After this he returned to Antwerp, where he served the congregation of believers. When, on 18 June [1558], the Lord’s Supper was dispensed at night, he was also among those who broke bread with the brethren. After this the devil entered the heart of a traitress, who delivered some of the brethren over to the Margrave. First the house where the minister Gaspar van der Heyden lodged was raided, but he was providentially delivered, and the owner of the house was taken. There they found the book of the congregation, in which were written the names of the elders and deacons, among them Anthony the brother of Gillis Verdickt. The Margrave sent his men to the house of Pieter Vermaarts expecting to find Anthony there, and they seized Gillis thinking he was his brother. But when they discovered their mistake they let him go.

About three weeks later he returned to his fatherland, where his brother-in-law had just died. When the burial took place he did not wish to attend, but remained with his sister at home. After the funeral priests and monks and many others came to his sister’s house to eat. During the meal Gillis and the monks fell into discussion about masses for the soul and purgatory. Gillis reproached them with having invented these things to fill their bellies, saying they could find no proof in Scripture to justify these [practices], and that all their cowls and shorn beads would suffer the fate of all plants that God had not planted. After that be went outside and exhorted the other people that they should not pray for the souls of the dead but call on to God alone, that he would grant them grace so to live that they could die in faith, and that the soul had now received its reward and that men prayed for it in vain. After this he returned to the monks who were exceedingly angry with him, and threatened that they would get even with him, as indeed they later did. For, when he carted his sister’s corn to the barn, mounted men came to arrest him. But as they entered at the front of the house, Gillis fled out the back, ran through the field and made his escape. When the chief inquisitor, the dean of Ronse, heard that the bird had flown, he took up his pen and summoned Gillis by written proclamation to appear before the ecclesiastical court. After he had summoned him three times, he excommunicated him. When Gillis saw what the dean intended, he too posted bills on the church door, in which he called upon the dean and all those who like him championed the papist blasphemies to desist, and likewise not to rob the Christians of their life and property, or he would otherwise be throw out, driven forth and banished henceforth and for eternity from the Kingdom of the Son of God. He also appealed against the dean, who in the matter of religion was partisan, to the supreme Judge Jesus Christ, whom he desired to pronounce judgement of the dispute. This was read by many who came to church as well as by the priest.

About this time the congregation in Brussels desired a preacher who could lead them in the ministry of the Word and the administration of the sacraments. A hypocritical and ambitious man offered himself for the task, and took the office upon himself. When this was made known to the ministers in Antwerp, they thought it best to intervene, in order that the brothers should not be deceived and the congregation fall into disrepute, and so they asked Gillis whether he would put the gifts which God had given him at the disposal of the congregation. When he refused, saying that he preferred to learn a trade, they reproved him sharply, saying that he should not bury in the ground that talent which the Lord had given him, or the Lord would take it away, and chastise him as a useless servant. Finally he agreed to put his gifts to the test, and journeyed there with Adriaan van Haemstede, who was to dispute with an Anabaptist. Adriaan exhorted the congregation to discharge the other minister, and to take Gillis for a time on probation to see whether he would suit them.

At this point the hypocrisy of the other was fully revealed. He declared himself wholly opposed to the congregation, and sought not only to lead the weaker brethren astray, but also treated the Lord’s ordinances as if they were marionettes. Thus he prophesied to some brethren that before three days were gone by, several of them would meet their deaths, as indeed happened. Within three days the officer appeared in the house where Gillis was staying and arrested the owner of the house, his wife and Gillis and put them in the Steenpoort [prison] under a strong guard.

Shortly afterwards the officer came to Gillis and began to question him about his ministry, teaching and beliefs. Gillis answered very courageously and skilfully that he had been invited to come in order to edify the brethren with the word of God; that he taught no other doctrine than that of the apostles and prophets; and that his beliefs were grounded on this teaching. He questioned him on the sacrament of the altar, to which Gillis replied that he recognised no such sacrament. ‘So’, said the officer, ‘you are a profaner of the sacraments.’ ‘No, My Lord,’ replied Gillis, ‘it is your priests and monks who profane the sacraments, who have kept us and our forefathers in blindness and error, and led us to mute idols and almost to damnation in Hell.’ When the officer wished to speak further about the sacraments, Gillis said to him, ‘Bring your teachers and priests here, and I shall prove to you how shamefully they have deceived you.’ One of the council members said, ‘You have said, I think, that we will all be damned.’ Gillis replied, ‘No My Lord, you can repent and live.’ The officer asked him how long it was since he had received the Holy Sacrament. He answered, ‘I received the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper less than six months past in the congregation of the Lord in Antwerp.’ Then the officer asked, ‘Is it not true that some of your people sometimes come here from Antwerp to bear your preaching?’ Gillis answered, ‘My preaching is not to compare with that which takes place in Antwerp. If you wish to hear preaching you must go there; there it is done in the open, so that everyone may judge what is taught. I am sent by them.’ The officer asked who preached there. He replied, ‘Adrianus Haemstedius.’5 He questioned him further about who belonged to the congregation here. He replied, `I do not yet know them, since I have only just arrived.’ When the official left, he said, ‘Prepare yourself, I will send learned men to you.’ Gillis answered, ‘If I had my books, I would rejoice to debate with all the teachers of Louvain openly in the market place!’ The officer said, ‘You will have the books that you desire’, and left.

After that the priest of St Goedele came to him, and later many other priests and monks with whom he conversed at length, especially over the sacrifice of the mass, whereby they set at nought the unique sacrifice of Jesus Christ. He showed them that Christ cannot be offered up again for our sins or he must shed his blood again, for without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins. He also proved that Christ was sacrificed once only, through which he brought an eternal deliverance, as is clearly set forth in the epistle letter to the Hebrews. He questioned them for two days, bringing them into great confusion. He asked them first, by what command of scripture they had the power to make oblations for the living and the dead. At this they fell silent and knew not what to say, at which many of those present marvelled. His other question was, what scriptural justification they had for withholding the cup from the people in the communion. Here they advanced many pretexts which were all without foundation, and could not stand against Christ’s express command: ‘Drink this, all of you.’

Meanwhile the rumour had now spread all over Brussels that a learned young man, only 24 years old, had been taken prisoner on account of his beliefs, and silenced all the priests and monks. This greatly offended the priests, and they therefore preached in all the churches against Gillis and these heretics and seducers, as they called the Christians, and spread scandalous lies about them. For since they could not maintain their kingdom by means of God’s word and the truth, they had to oppress the faithful with lies and executions, as is Satan’s practice.

Since the officer saw that Gillis only affirmed God’s word, and that the priests could not withstand him, he asked Gillis to submit a confession of his faith in writing. This he did, supporting all his articles with the authority of the ancient teachers …. The officer’s most serious charge was that he had taken part in secret gatherings, which was against the King’s command. Gillis said, ‘My Lord, am I not permitted to speak of God’s word? To call the people to repentance?’ The officer answered, ‘Preaching should take place in the church, other sorts of meetings cause disorder.’ To which Gillis replied that what was good to preach in the church could not be evil out of doors, and he could not believe that it was the King’s intention to forbid God’s word, but only sedition, of which there was no suggestion in the congregations, which went about with Bibles and Testaments than rather with weapons and swords….

While he was in prison and very closely guarded, his brother Antoon came to him to see to his needs, for in the cold winter he barely had straw to sleep on, and his food was extremely meagre. Eventually the officer also arrested Antoon as we shall shortly hear. This grieved Gillis deeply, not least on account of his aged father, whom he feared might die now that both his sons were in prison. As for himself he found consolation in the Lord, and bade him order all things according to his customary mercy, and to grant his brother perseverance.

When he had been in prison for about six or seven weeks, and had suffered a great deal, he was brought before the tribunal on 22 December and condemned to be burned as a heretic. And because he was a quiet and composed man, endowed with great intelligence, he spoke up in a very courteous and skilful manner, thanking them for their judgement, and praying that God would forgive them what they did out of ignorance. And he said, ‘My Lords, do you truly imagine that you will stamp out these faithful Christians, whom you call heretics, with torture and executions? Oh, how you deceive yourselves! Believe rather, that the ashes of my body shall be scattered through the town, and from it many Christians will spring up, for the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the faithful.’ Then he was led back to prison. On the way he boldly exhorted the people, and instructed them with God’s word so that they might turn from the popish idolatry. The people, who had gathered there in great numbers, were greatly moved by his exhortation, and many remembered Gillis Tielemans, who had been tortured and burnt earlier for the same reasons.6

On the following day, when Gillis should have been put to death, the obsequies of the Emperor Charles V, the father of King Philip, who was then in Brussels. So as not to interfere with the splendid ceremonies, the execution was postponed to Christmas Eve, 24 December 1558. After the King had performed the obsequies Gillis was brought out to die, and he continued to exhort the people throughout the route he had to take to the stake. He was not at all afraid and his countenance was unaltered, and he showed such cheerfulness and courage that everyone marvelled that such a young man showed no fear in the face of death, and championed the truth with such perseverance.

When he was tied to the stake he called fervently upon the name of the Lord. The executioner put the rope around his neck and strangled him; then he lit the wood and his corpse was consumed. I truly believe that the monks imagined that the blood of this martyr would comfort the Emperor’s soul in purgatory. In the same way the heathens were accustomed to offer sacrifices and perform executions at the funerals of famous princes; through which they demonstrated that those who were bloodthirsty in their lives, must go with bloody sacrifices to Hell.

Antoon Verdickt.

Antoon Verdickt, from Elversele, the brother of the aforementioned Gillis, was a maker of coarse cloth, aged 29. He was a deacon or overseer of the poor in the congregation of the Lord in Antwerp. He performed his duties with such zeal and diligence that he neglected his work in order to assist and to help the prisoners and those in need. He was frequently in danger of his life as he went around the streets; he comforted the prisoners and brought them food and drink. The zeal that he displayed in the Lord’s service cannot be described. When he journeyed from home, be it on foot, by cart or by ship, he spoke ceaselessly, teaching the ignorant, reproving the stubborn and exhorting the weak. In everything concerning the service of God he was frank and fearless. He had placed his trust in the Lord with such assurance that he treated with contempt the threats of those tyrants who sought to oppress God’s word. He was so filled with the love of God, that when he spoke of God’s providence and of his love for us, his words sparkled like fire.

On 18 June 1558 the congregation of Antwerp celebrated the Lord’s Supper which resulted in a severe persecution. When a search for Antoon too was made by the margrave’s officers in the house where he lodged, he stayed very patiently for a time with the dispersed brethren on the St Willebrordsveld outside Antwerp7, and then accompanied and greatly assisted a group of the brethren who were forced to flee, wandering far off with their wives and children on account of the tyranny which the Christians had to endure. How often he sighed to the Lord, and brought before him the needs of the wretched people. How sweetly he comforted them with the Lord’s word, those who had been forced to abandon their homes and livelihoods for the truth. He was especially fervent in his prayers and his fervency aroused others, moving them to sighs and tears.

After this flight he plucked up courage to return to the brethren in Antwerp, determined never more to be parted from them, but to stand by and help them in all their necessities, ‘For,’ he said, ‘Antwerp is like a world on its own; you can remain concealed without having to fly hence.’ And he went very boldly about the streets, visiting and caring for the poor and sick; he devoted himself so completely to these duties that he rid himself of his other affairs. When no house could be found where the congregation could meet, because everyone was afraid of the persecution and the violence done to the Christians, Antoon ensured that they met in the fields to hear God’s word preached. He rejoiced especially when he saw that even the country people poured in great numbers from the surrounding villages to hear God’s word, and he encouraged the minister to preach fearlessly, so that the ignorant might be instructed and come to know the Lord and to fear him. He also often travelled to Flanders, his fatherland, and did everything in his power to plant the gospel there, and bring forth fruit well-pleasing to the Lord. On board ships he openly exhorted the people to abandon the superstition and idolatry of the papists; and often he conversed both with those who were indifferent and with the clergy. When the dean of Ronse heard this, he summoned Antoon on three occasions to appear before the ecclesiastical court, on payment of a fine, which was the priest’s chief concern. When he did not appear on the appointed day, he [dean of Ronse] excommunicated him. But Antoon paid this scant regard, for he was convinced that to be excommunicated and cursed by the papists was a blessing from God. He exerted himself at all times to bring his countrymen to the truth, so that some of them also came from there to Antwerp to hear the preaching of God’s Word.

He also frequently debated with Anabaptists, whose misguided belief he frequently deplored. ‘They thirst for righteousness,’ he said, ‘but not with understanding.’ In all their disputes he argued that they should only cite Holy Scripture, and not advance far-fetched arguments … He said that both the papists and the Anabaptists gave too much credence to outward signs, namely baptism by water, although they did so in different ways. The priests condemned everyone who died unbaptised, whereas the Anabaptists condemned all who had their children baptised, believing that this was blasphemy.

When Antoon’s brother was a prisoner in Brussels for his beliefs, Antoon travelled there to see to his brother’s bodily needs; and since he was not permitted to speak with him, he sent him a refreshing letter of comfort. Then he returned to Antwerp, and gave himself diligently to his appointed work.

When he was about to go for a second time, the Lord gave him certain signs, from which one could make out the dangers awaiting him. He informed Adriaan van Haemstede and Jan de Weert; but no one understood the hidden Judgement of God until they were later discovered and revealed.

When he arrived in Brussels, he wrote another letter to his brother. When Gillis wrote back to him, he was betrayed by the wardress and denounced to the officer, who arrested him the same evening and cast him in a different prison from that where his brother was held. During that first night and throughout the following day he was mortally afraid, for he seemed to be utterly deprived of the comfort and strength of the Lord.

[Antoon was examined, first by the officer, then by priests and theologians. His courage returning, he wrote a confession of his faith, which he presented to them.]

After Antoon had presented this confession of his faith, his brother Gillis Verdickt was put to death, praising the Lord and singing the 79th Psalm, ‘The heathen, O Lord, are come into thy inheritance, they have come into thy temple.’

His father and his other brothers came to visit him in prison, which greatly depressed his spirits, especially when he saw the melancholy and sadness of the old man, who was in this way to be robbed of both his children. Antoon comforted him as best he could, and said that he should be glad that the almighty God should call his children to such a high honour as to be witnesses to his truth.

When the enemies of the Gospel at Brussels saw Antoon’s invincible confidence, and heard of the zeal he had demonstrated in his fatherland and in the congregation in Antwerp, they hastened finally to take their revenge. He was condemned to be strangled and burned on the market place. On 12 January 1559 they brought him to the place of execution, strangled him at the stake and burnt his body. He endured this with such a fearless heart that all who saw it marvelled. Thus was this god-fearing martyr deprived of his life in order that he might bear witness to the truth; he rests now in the Lord.

They had planned to execute him secretly in the early morning, but God hindered this for the executioner was not ready. And so it took place around eight or nine o’clock. The bells were not rung for they had seen the blessed effect of Gillis’ death on the congregation. After he had been strangled they left his body to be eaten by the birds, but Gillis’ body was burned to ash. It was spread abroad among the people that Gillis’ ashes had entered into the hearts of the people, and for this reason Antoon was not burned to ash.

Adriaan Coreman, painter, and Hendrik Snoelacke van Boekholt, tailor.

When the gospel was openly preached in Antwerp, at which all the godly rejoiced, the monks and priests were wild with fury. They went to the royal court to make their complaint, blaming the magistrates of Antwerp, whom they said refrained from putting the unbelievers to death. The margrave, Jan van Immerzeel, advised the magistrates to issue an ordinance by which the unbelievers were made to be brought to light and he published this on 12 December 15588. When he saw, however, that the people went as zealously as ever outside the city to bear the word of God preached, he offered a certain reward for the apprehension of certain godly Christians who led and watched over the congregation of the Lord Jesus Christ. The minister was reckoned to be worth 300 carolus guilders and the other leaders 50 guilders. Since some leaders were already in prison, he did his best to bring them to their deaths. His cruelty and bloodthirsty spirit were often aroused by the complaints of the Franciscans, although the town council tried on many occasions to intervene and to prevent violence. Eventually he laid his hands on two pious men, Adriaan [Coreman] de Schilder [painter] and Hendrik [Snoelacke van] Boekholt, a tailor who for some time had been in prison for the sake of the Gospel with 14 or 15 of the brethren, some of whom belonged to the Walloon and others to the Dutch congregation.

Adriaan de Schilder was initially imprisoned after he had been betrayed by his father, thus demonstrating the truth of Christ’s words, that brother would deliver brother to death, and the father his child. For when Adriaan’s wife was delivered of a baby he would not permit it to be baptised by the priests, because they polluted baptism with their abominations and magic, to which indeed they added great blasphemy by setting at nought the suffering and death of Jesus Christ. Therefore he had his child baptised in the Christian congregation. When his father heard of this he abused him roundly, and made such a row that word spread everywhere. He [also] took the child from his son and had him baptised again by the priests. Shortly afterwards Adriaan was arrested.

Hendrik Boekholt, a tailor and an elder in the congregation of the Lord, exerted himself particularly to avert disputes in the congregation, particularly about doctrine. He was very zealous for the little flock entrusted to his care, instructing them in the fundamentals of the faith or the catechism. And when a number of confused and disputatious spirits showed themselves, he confuted them valiantly with the Scripture, which contributed not a little to his reputation in the neighbourhood, so that he was eventually taken prisoner and cruelly tortured. Although the margrave handled him most cruelly, he nevertheless bore it patiently and neither harmed nor endangered anyone, no matter how persistently they also questioned him about his brethren.

Since the priests and monks now raged so furiously on account of the spread of the Gospel, the margrave caused both these godly brethren to be brought before the court to have these put to death on behalf of the bloodthirsty clergy, and he gave orders to his subordinate officer accordingly. Because this man, however, knew the piety of the god-fearing martyrs, he was reluctant to do this. Also some members of the Council, who shared this reluctance, preferred not to judge them. I surmise they had in mind what almighty God, the supreme Judge, had a few days previously done with one of their fellow officers, Gaspar de Renialbe. Having condemned the innocent to death, he half despaired of the death sentence he had received [consequently] from God in that court. Led back to his house, he exclaimed and lamented that he had shed innocent blood and shortly afterwards he died. The officers had this example very much in mind; nevertheless, in order not to be suspected at the royal court, they had both these god-fearing men brought before them and, after these had borne pious witness to the truth, they were condemned to be strangled at the stake and burned on the market place in front of the town hall. Thereupon Hendrik thanked their Lordships for their verdict, saying ‘This is the moment for which we have longed. We gladly suffer such a death for God’s word and for the truth; but it will count sorely against you, my Lords; may God forgive you.’ The judges looked away, and made no reply. Then Adriaan was moved and he exhorted them that they should open their eyes and see what they did, ‘for,’ he said, ‘God will avenge the blood of his chosen ones, which you have shed so wretchedly.’

The following evening the brothers of the congregation went to visit them in prison and to share with them a farewell supper. They comforted them with God’s sweet and glorious promises, and with a heartfelt embrace commended them to the Lord.

Next day a large crowd gathered in the market place, to witness the perseverance of these martyrs to the death. They were brought out, showing no fear at all, and declared to everyone that they died not as criminals, heretics, or rioters, but only to witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. When the officers whom the margrave charged to conduct them to the place of execution heard this they made a great din, so that the people could not hear them. Then they were bound to the stake.

While the executioner was tying them to the stake, Almighty God caused such a disturbance among the people that they cried out as if with one voice, ‘Strike them dead! Strike them dead!’ The crowd trampled each other, houses and shops were shut up; the executioner cast his instruments away and left the martyrs tied to the stake. The margrave sat on his horse, not knowing where he could flee, for he was surrounded by people and could not get away. So he sat there in great trepidation; his servants lowered their weapons and trembled with fear. Another officer sprang from his horse and ran to the church; and as he made his way home some people tried to calm him, saying that the disturbance was caused by a thief that had stolen someone’s pouch. ‘Oh,’ he said, trembling and shivering, ‘I told them earlier this would happen. This did not occur because of some thief, but all such uproars must have a cause.’ God accordingly scattered these bloodthirsty men, and showed how little they could do against Him. He threatens them, as he did Paul, and shows them that they will find it hard to kick against the pricks. But, alas, they are so hardened and will refuse to recognise the miracles of the Lord….

When things were a little calmer the executioner’s servant returned and strangled these god-fearing witnesses of Jesus Christ, who had already stood there for some time bound to the stake, while they continually called on the name of the Lord. After that the wood was set alight and their bodies burned. Thus they were sacrificed to our only Saviour, Jesus Christ, on 19 January 1559.

Even now the margrave was not satisfied, for next Sunday he forced his way into houses, arrested some more of the god-fearing brethren and delivered them to prison. But after these had been some time in prison, they were wonderfully released by our merciful Father.

Source : [A. van Haemstede], Geschiedenis der martelaren (Arnhem, 1868), pp. 543-44; 546-48; 648-52; 669-81.

1 Probably one and the same as Regnault Diericx from Reningelst, who fled to Emden in 1557. While visiting friends near Bruges, he was arrested and burnt at Monnikerede near Bruges on 22 March 1558, J. Decavele, De dageraad van de reformatie in Vlaanderen (Brussels, 1975), p. 394. n. 396.
2 A translation of John Bale’s Commentary on Revelation, The Image of Both Churches (1545). De Koninck’s Dutch ed.: Emden, Gellius Ctematius, 1553.
3 Hieronymus Frederici, rentmeester of Groningen, and a noted evangelical.
4 In fact he was put to death on 26 March 1557.
5 During 1558 Adriaen van Haemstede had preached publicly in Antwerp to the dismay and indignation of many Reformed Protestants there.
6 When Gillis Tielemans was put to death in Brussels on 27 January 1544 the authorities feared that rioting would occur at the execution for he enjoyed considerable popularity.
7 Fields outside the city, although within the liberty of Antwerp.
8 This ordinance was in fact a repetition of one issued on 1 March 1558. This had strictly forbidden conventicles and offered rewards to those who reported such meetings to the authorities.