5. Calvinist activity in the Flemish Westkwartier: the testimony of Pieter Hueseuck, ca. 1563

Explanatory Comment : The interrogations of Pieter Hueseuck provide a vivid insight into the character of the Calvinist movement in West Flanders and the role of the refugee churches in England, in this case Sandwich, in spreading Reformed Protestantism in the southern Netherlands. Indeed the existence of these refugees communities in England and Germany ensured the survival of the Protestant cause in the Low Countries when the government there appeared in the 1540s to have all but suppressed religious dissent in the country.

Using particular routes and ‘safe-houses’ in Nieuwpoort the Calvinists from Sandwich regularly crossed the Channel in order to deal with their personal affairs, buy yarn and to plan the release of co-religionists awaiting trial. But not all Calvinists, especially those in the consistories, believed that acts of provocation or violence were justifiable or politic. Huesueck’s interrogators learned of a serious division of opinion on the matter of using force to deliver prisoners. In Antwerp in the late 1550s the Protestants had been divided about wisdom of preaching in public and some ministers bitterly opposed any act of resistance to the authorities, including the breaking of images.

Text :

Pieter Hueseuck, aged 26, shearman from Nieuwkerke, says on oath that having been led astray by Hans Broiteur and other Calvinists, he withdrew together with his wife to England. While there he was banished by the commissioners in charge at Belle. In Flanders and in England he has known Godefroy Stomins [Godfried van Winghen?] from upper Holland; Jan Utenhove; Jacobus [de Buysere], an apostate from the Augustinians at Ieper; heer Willem Damman, schoolmaster; Gheleyn Damman, who had to be kept against his will in England by the brethren, for he always wanted to come to preach in Flanders, being called for this purpose by the Holy Spirit. [1] Over a year ago he had worked for three months as a mason’s labourer at Grevelingen.

Pieter Hazaert who is known in England on account of the vehemence of his sermons as Drayliert [2] is not greatly respected among the brethren in England.

Jan de Meldere, who lives in Flanders, came more than a year ago to the house of the aforesaid Jacobus, where the consistory of elders and priests (sic) was held. A discussion was held as to whether it was permissible to deliver their prisoners by force. He [de Meldere] argued in favour and several other elders opposed. For this reason the aforesaid Pieter [Hazaert] left England in high dudgeon. [3]

He then says that for the past three years an apostate priest from Veurneambacht known as Den Grooten Joannes, [4] who lived most recklessly and brazenly defied the authorities, had accompanied the aforesaid Pieter as his permanent assistant. He was present [at the meeting of the consistory] and according to hearsay he assisted at the sermons of Pieter Hazaert: they had come to England together more than a year ago. He says that the aforesaid Pieter had great difficulties with the aforesaid Joannes, who was very impudent. He [the deponent] added that the aforesaid Joannes must surely know where the aforesaid Pieter [Hazaert] usually resided, for he had travelled about with him through the country for a long time. He did not know whether the same Joannes had ever been the subject of legal proceedings, though he was summoned along with the aforesaid Pieter.

Questioned whether or not he knows who might be guilty of the break out of Jehan Hacke, he says he know nothing for certain, but [the following are] greatly suspected, having been specially invited by Jehan Hacke to the meal to celebrate his arrival in England: Joos Leupe, died in London, Franois de Raedt, draper, living in Sandwich, Jacob de Schilt, woolcomber and several tavern-keepers. [5]

It was also rumoured in England that Olivier Moenins from Dranouter, Dierick Bette from Belle, Mahieu Marrel alias Scerp vander Beke, Jan Beaugrandt from Poperinge and Jacob Masselis had delivered heer Willem Damman. It was noted that when these left England they had beards and that when they returned shortly afterwards to England with heer Willem, after his break out, on which account there was great rejoicing among the brethren, they were all clean-shaven.

A certain Gerard Matte from Ieper had wanted to persuade the brethren in England to drive the procureur generaal and his men out of Hondschoote. His brother called Sebastiaen Matte usually worked in the area around Armentières: the same Sebastiaen, being a preacher and leader, about 30 years old, has a small black beard and is short and stout of stature.

Likewise, several others who have been banished and who have fled out of Flanders often come back, especially to the market at Hazebrouck, where they have bought linen cloth worth 600 rijksdaalders . The aforesaid Franois de Raedt had been in person early this summer before the baljuw and magistrates of Belle to enter in the orphans’ register the maternal estate of the children of Catharina de Raedt of Nieuwkerke, the wife of the aforesaid Jacobus, the minister. The estate is worth some 200 rijksdaalders and the same orphans now live with Willem Godschalck from Nieuwkerke.

He says Pieter Hazaert is about 40 years old; he usually wears a tall silk hat: is very well-built with a cloak and a long say tabard, with blue loose-fitting gaiters which are also commonly worn by the other brethren.

He says that the fugitives in England usually make their way to Flanders via Calais, thence to Grevelingen over the bridge, and then, skirting the town of Bourbourg, they make their way to Hondschoote, where several of the same fugitives now reside with their families. Among such are Joris Boye, who is a short man: he had been a deacon in England, from where he had suddenly departed; Karel van de Brugghe, who has refused to have any more dealings with the sectaries; Adriaan Obry, a cobbler and say-weaver, a very obstinate heretic.

Says that he knows Clais vander Scaert has entered England; staying with Jan vander Scaert, his brother. Rumour has it that he brings more than 100 rijksdaalders for his brother on each occasion.

Says that the aforesaid fugitives usually lodge in Nieuwpoort at the Ste. Godelieve and De Wilde Zee ; to be still better prepared some of them have stayed for eight to ten days in the house of Jan Willaert, a shipmaster, who takes the same across in his boat; among these are the aforesaid Broiteur, a preacher, and several young women, conducted thither by Pieter Marquet alias De Roo, the apprentice of David Cambier, who had been banished at Belle; he acted as a courier, going about the country with a scuttle like a cobbler, as these [women] have told the deponent, who has also seen the aforesaid Pieter [Hazaert] lodging there. Some others have lodged at Jan Hassele’s house, who, is likewise a shipmaster at Nieuwpoort.

Says that during the fair at Hondschoote Hansken Mieus and his wife, who had broken out at Nieuwpoort, appeared; they now live in Antwerp.

Says that Betken Buens, Pieter vanden Broucke’s wife, now lives in the country and, he believes, at her husband’s house.

Says that Cools Boye, woolcomber, lives in London in England, often coming across to buy woollen yarn in Tournai. His brother whose name is Jan Boye, and Anabaptist, lives in Friesland, where he acts as the factor for those who make narrow cloth. He often delivers 200 narrow cloths to Antwerp.

Says further that Mahieu Mabezuene of Nieuwkerke, who weaves narrow cloth, has held conventicles for three years in the town of Armentières, and still does, the deponent having himself witnessed it.

Says that heer Karel Wicke, who had been chaplain in Nieuwkerke and had married his servant Catelyne Baels in England now wanted to return to the country and to leave the brethren.

Says that Christiaan de Vriendt, having married in England, has returned to Flanders, and lives with his wife Janneken Baelde, the daughter of Andries Baelde of Nieuwkerke, whom he married in London.

Says that Péronne Godschalck, who has been banished from Belle, died in London two months ago. She was a very rich young woman after her mother’s death. Her father Willem Godschalck has fetched her clothes.

Says that Franois Bolle from Menen brought some 800 rijksdaalders to England: he often visits Menen.

Says that Franois Hughebaert from Nieuwkerke has bought much linen cloth in the market at Hazebrouck, though he has been banished.

Says that Jan Weyns, having lost his wife at Sandwich, has gone to live in Hondschoote, having escaped from the galleys more than a year ago.

Says that Franois and Gillis Ente have both fled to England; the aforesaid Franois has been banished and accused of [complicity] in the break out of Jehan Hacke and Gillis, despite the sentence of this court, went to England. Around Christmas they returned to the country after the death of their father, whose property they have divided. The aforesaid Franois was recently seen in Armentières buying yarn.

Says that Gillis de Queeckere and his wife Martine Salome have left England and have been living in Hondschoote for the past eight months, the aforesaid Martine, who had escaped from Hondschoote, being pregnant.

Says that Jan van den Berghe, otherwise under suspicion as a result of investigations at Hondschoote, often travels to England to sell yarn.

Says that Joris Boye from Hondschoote, having been for a while in England at Sandwich, has returned to live at Hondschoote; he is a say weaver.

Says that Jan de Egre is well off; he lives at Sandwich as does his son-in-law Jan de Bavelare.

Says that when Joris Vrambout the preacher and other sectaries from around Steenvoorde come from England, they travel together as far as Watou, from where each makes his own way to Steenvoorde, Eecke and the surrounding region; this happens daily.

Says that Jan Soynt, Anabaptist from Nieuwkerke, lives in Friesland.

Says that Jacob de Brune from Nieuwkerke, who was very rich, lives in Sandwich.

Says that Jan Juemaere, who lives in Sandwich, attended the most recent fair in Hazebrouck.

Says that Hansken…, a glover from Mesen, has gone to live in England.

Says that Mayken de Schildere, the sister of Willem, lives at Sandwich and has married Jan de Bels of Dranouter.

Says that Mahieu Steculorum often comes from Sandwich to Tourcoing to purchase yarn.

Says that Pieter Carpentier, from Mesen, aged about 24, who is tall and clean-shaven, and knows Latin, has been sent from Sandwich to Antwerp about a year ago to preach, despite being banished.

Says that Pieter Wyckaert from Meteren often comes across from England; he is a cloth-weaver.

Says that Sanders de Hane, charged as a result of the investigations held at Hondschoote, with having attended the Lord’s Supper [administered] by Willem Damman, fled for a time to England, but is once more living in Hondschoote; he is a say weaver.

Source and Literature : Troubles religieux de XVIe siècle dans la Flandre Maritime 1560-1570 ed. E. de Coussemaker I (Bruges, 1876) 346-54. The major study on the Reformation in Flanders is J. Decavele, De dageraad van de reformatie in Vlaanderen (1520-1565) , I, esp. pp. 388-434. In a well-known article A.A. van Schelven, ‘Het begin van het gewapend verzet tegen Spanje in de 16e eeuwsche Nederlanden’, Handelingen en levensberichten van de Maatschappij der Nederlandsche Letterkunde te Leiden , (1914-15), pp. 126-56 claimed that these organised break-out and public Calvinist preachings represented the ‘start of the armed resistance against Spain’.

[1] The brothers Willem and Gheleyn Damman were active as Calvinist ministers in West Flanders. Willem was sprung from the prison of the church court at leper by co-religionists on 12 May 1562. His brother Gheleyn preached the first public Calvinist service in Flanders in the churchyard at Boeschepe on 12 July 1562.

[2] ie the Dawdler.

[3] For this debate in Calvinist circles read A. Pettegree, Foreign Protestant Communities in Sixteenth-Century London (Oxford, 1986), pp. 238-42.

[4] Jan Hendrickz., a former chaplain.

[5] Jehan Hacke was sprung from prison on 6 November 1561 by an armed band of between 50 and 200 persons, who attacked the monastery in Mesen, where he was held prisoner.