Dirck Volckertsz Coornhert was a fanatic fighter for free speech and the freedom of conscience. If he felt these freedoms were in jeopardy, he couldn’t keep quiet. With the pen, but also in debates, he challenged his opponents. He exposed their intolerance and tried to make them realize that they were wrong.
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Narrated: Paul Abels
Someone who so openly seeks confrontation can expect backlashes and even threats. Even in the sixteenth century. Coornhert was not deterred or silenced by this. Rather than give in or acquiesce, he continued to spout his criticism. And when there was a threat to his life, he took refuge abroad.
Fleeing from the Spanish authorities and from the beggars
Three times in his life, Coornhert had to flee. He did this the first time after his escape from the prison gate in The Hague in 1567. He was imprisoned there by the Spanish authorities on suspicion of contacts with the rebels of William of Orange. With the capture of Den Briel in 1572, the coast seemed safe for him and he returned to his hometown of Haarlem. The free States of Holland appointed him as their secretary. He was the first to investigate excessive force by the beggars. He did so with such zeal that beggar leader Lumey was afraid of the consequences. He then made an appeal to kill him. Coornhert again fled abroad.
Whenever Coornhert had to flee, he sought refuge in neighboring German areas (East Friesland and the Lower Rhine), where other Dutch religious refugees also stayed. In order not to be dependent on the dispensation, he earned his money in those periods as an engraver and etcher. As a result, he remained independent. In 1576 he was able to return to the Netherlands, on the basis of a treaty (the Pacification of Ghent) that was concluded with the Spaniards. Immediately he picked up the pen again to warn against bigotry. This time, several prominent Reformed ministers in Delft were the target. He debated them three times amid great public interest. These debates were eventually broken off by the States of Holland, who feared unrest.
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Gouda: freedom and security
Coornhert was now afraid that the Reformed would want to have an attack on him and so he fled for the third time. In exile he came to the realization that he could do nothing for freedom there and so he soon returned. He sought confrontation even more directly by settling in Delft, where his greatest opponents lived and worked. They got it done that Coornhert was thrown out of town by the sheriff. At that time, there was only one city within the country’s borders where he could go and where he would have all the freedom to say and write whatever he wanted: Gouda.
Freedom of Conscience
In Gouda, Coornhert eventually found the place where he could work in peace and safety, until he died here on October 29, 1590. He was given a grave in St. John’s Church. The city council had taken its Freedom of Conscience (conscience) as the principle of its policy. In this city many persecuted and cross-thinkers would seek a safe haven for years. Their ideas could also be placed on the printing press in Gouda unhindered. This special situation came to an end in 1618, when Stadtholder Prince Maurits replaced the liberal city council with more orthodox and orthodox regents under threat of violence. Several cross-thinkers then had to leave Gouda and again some sought refuge in German areas.
This story was told during the walk for hospitality and tolerance that Libertum organized on Ascension Day 2022.
Gouda Stories is an initiative of the Chocolate Factory to pass on Gouda in stories. Stories of well-known and unknown residents of Gouwen, young and old, but also of people who have since moved, work here or have a day out. They tell about important events and small things in the city. About the present, the past and the future. All those funny, critical, moving, beautiful and sad stories are collected. In 2022, when Gouda celebrates 750 years of city rights, that treasure of stories will be donated to the city and preserved for at least 50 years. This is how we pass on Gouda together. Read, share and participate! Send in your Gouda Story: goudse stories.nl.nl/vertel-jouw-story or [email protected].