44. The Unreformed State of the Countryside: the Experiences of a Calvinist Minister at Zoetermeer, 6 July 1586

To the Honourable, Pious and Learned Arent Cornelisz.

Grace and peace through Christ. Honourable, most wise and best-beloved brother!

In order to lend weight to your remonstrance concerning the profanation of the Sabbath and other abuses,1 I must in conscience tell you that on the fast-day appointed for 18 June last, an officer of my lord, the baljuw of Rijnland, was here and the same entered the house of a smith, one Master Jacob from Brabant, who gives instructions to many peasants how to sell and how to sharpen their farming implements (as he does too every Sunday). To the best of my knowledge nothing much was done because the aforesaid summoner is a very papist (the aforesaid smith is likewise also very papistical and an enemy of the truth), who on 4 July last read out an offensive ditty against our superior magistrates while sitting on board a barge. Besides the aforesaid officer freely takes bribes, or so it is said here. The minister at Hazerswoude has also complained to me about that on the said most recent fast-day the secretary, on his way to oversee the partition of some estate, rode through the village of Hazerswoude in a waggon with some others, in the presence of many peasants, at the same time as the bell to announce the sermon was rung for the third time. Nor can I conceal from you that during the administration of the Lord’s Supper on 22 June last somebody fired a gun or hackbut in the yard of an innkeeper or tapster, which lies two or three houses away from the churchyard and the same thing has happened on two or three occasions. I do not know what they intend by this, but drunkards and other frivolous persons, along with all the tavern keepers or tapsters, congregate in large numbers during the Sunday sermon.

And I can scarcely find words to describe the superstitious practices used by the papists when they bury their dead. They have so many strange fancies about making the shroud, placing the body in this way or that in the charnel house, going to the grave-side or to the church to pray, assisting or kissing the bier and making many unprofitable pilgrimages for the benefit of the deceased and, after the funeral, throwing a slap-up feast …. Nor can I refrain from telling you that for several days past here, and especially yesterday, the papists on the barges which carry goods to the market … have behaved very menacingly and insolently. They say that the ministers and others will assuredly pay because the pilgrims going to Wilsveen had been arrested. They also spoke scornfully to the effect that the procureur generaal dare not release these now and that they had taken measures so that it would be some while before pilgrims were again arrested. In short, unless the papists are curbed, they will eventually do as they please, if nothing is done to improve matters.

May the Lord keep you and the whole synod by his Holy Spirit and may He fill the higher authorities with the same spirit that one day all the excesses may be removed. Amen. Written on 6 July 1586 by your servant, Winandus Beeck Gerardi, prepared as ever.

Source : L. Knappert, ‘Stukken uit den stichtingstijd der Nederlandsche Hervormde Kerk: Eene plattelandsgemeente anno 1582’, Nederlandsch Archief voor Kerkgeschiedenis 7 (1910) 259-60.

1 The National Synod of The Hague, meeting in June 1586, addressed a remonstrance to Leicester concerning those matters on which the Reformed Church wanted the civil powers to act. These included the profanation of Sunday and the suppression of superstitious practices.