Though the Dutch were tolerant against foreigners (Portuguese Jews, for example, were warmly welcomed in Amsterdam), they expected of their countrymen to convert to Calvinism after the Reformation. Catholics were not allowed to conduct their worship in public. The catholic minority built clandestine churches (Dutch: schuilkerken): hidden churches that were not recognizable as such from the street.
One of those is “Our Lord in the Attic”, a secret church placed in the loft of a canal house at the Oudezijds Voorburgwal, in the current red light district, in Amsterdam. It was opened in 1661 and has been in use for catholic services for over 200 years, until the Basilica of St. Nicholas was opened. From 1888 on, the attic church has been a museum. However, since recently, the catholic mass is occasionally being celebrated again. Prayers next to moans - only in Amsterdam ;-)
Young Hugo Grotius (1583-1645) was a little genius; he entered the University of Leiden aged eleven, and published his first book when he was sixteen. He became the most important legal advisor of Johan van Oldenbarneveldt, Grand Pensionary of the most important province in the Netherlands: Holland.
In the early 17th century, The Netherlands was still at war with Spain, whom were surpressing the little Republic for years. On top of the war with Spain, a great theological controversy broke out between moderate Jacobus Arminius, a theology professor at Leiden, and his followers (who are called Arminians or Remonstrants) and the strongly Calvinist theologian, Franciscus Gomarus (whose supporters are called Gomarists or Counter-Remonstrants).
Grotius was a moderate believer and plead for tolerance between religions, and supported the Remonstrants. When Spain and the Netherlands agreed to an armistice in 1609, the Remonstrants aimed for permanent peace. Dutch Prince Maurits, however, who was the military commander, needed the war to keep up his power. Even if he had no clue about religion, he supported the Counter-Remonstrants, since they were pro-war. In 1618, Maurits couped.
This had bad consequences for Van Oldenbarneveldt and Grotius: they were accused of high treason. Van Oldenbarneveldt was beheaded publicly in 1619, a day after his conviction. Grotius was convicted to lifelong prison in Loevestein Castle, a state prison at that time.
He wasn't planning on staying there until his death, though. He lived there with his wife Maria and their maid, Elselina. Grotius was allowed to study in his prison cell, and he regularly received a large chest of books to this aim, which was later returned to the sender in Gorinchem, a city across the river. This eventually brought Maria to an idea: Grotius should hide in the book's chest and escape. She let him practice for days, in order for him to stay in the chest without making any sound. The escape succeeded on March 22, 1621. He fled to Antwerp and then Paris, where he met his wife again.
… they thought, and so Willem Barentsz and his 16-headed crew set off in order to find a Northeast Passage to the Indies in May 1596. They discovered Bear Island in June, but icebergs and floes in the Arctic Ocean made it impossible for them to continue their journey. The explorers were forced to spend almost a year on Nova Zembla, where they built a shelter with their ship’s lumber. One of the men kept a diary in which he wrote about dealing with extreme cold and their experiences, including hunting foxes and even fighting with polar bears for their survival.
After almost a year they could finally free their ships from the ice and began their return journey. Only twelve crewmen returned to Amsterdam – Willem Barentsz died at sea only seven days after starting out.
Though unsuccessful in finding a northern route, at least he has a sea named after him – and he still is a celebrated hero in Dutch history.
Being a pirate was not only men’s business. There were quite some ladies infesting the seas, more than we could probably guess. Two of them are very well known for their ruthlessness, however, and their names were Anne Bonny and Mary Read.
Anne Bonny (1700) was born an illegitimate child of an Irish lawyer and his house maid. Her father was too ashamed of misstep to show himself openly with his daughter, but had grown fond of the girl. Therefore, he dressed her as a boy and told people she was the son of a relative he was taking care of. When Anne grew older, the family moved to South Carolina. What was the reason for their move is not known, it may very well be that the little secret was unveiled and the family wanted to escape rumors.
When Anne was about 18, she fell in love with a poor sailor named James Bonny, whom she married. The couple moved to New Providence in the Bahamas, where they lived in a pirates' lair. Anne enjoyed her life in between of seamen and was said to have an affair with pirate captain John Rackham, also known as “Calico Jack”. In 1718, Bahamas governor Rogers offered the Kings pardon to any pirate, and James turned informant. Anne was disgusted by this cowardly move and sailed off with her lover, Jack Rackham.
The beginning of the 17th century still was a period of religious unrest in France. The Wars of Religion had come to an end with the Edict of Nantes, which was issued by King Henry IV in 1598, but the relationship between Catholics and Huguenots remained to be tense. But while people sought to find the right way to worship God, there were plenty who were curious for his antithesis. This curiosity could go so far that it lurked Parisians into the depths of the city - into the caverns of hell.
Their curiosity could be cured indeed. A charlatan, or maybe he was just a clever businessman, only known by the name César, offered people to have an encounter with the devil himself. In the south of Paris there were many quarries, and one of the entrances was placed in the Rue D'Enfer: Hell's road. When someone wished to see the devil, César would demand 40 to 50 gold coins (pistoles) and a promise of secrecy. The customer had to pledge not to utter any religous phrases nor to invoke God at any moment while being underground.
César took the visitor down while singing magic phrases and gesturing cerimoniously. Infernal sounds slowly reached the ears of the visitor and his guide. A red glow of burning thorches lighted the passage, and the sound of rattling chains drew closer. At this point, César asked if the visitor feared to go further. If the tourist answered yes, César would escort him to the surface, but of course keep his payment since he, as he argued, cured the visitor from his curiosity. If the visitor still wanted to continue, they would resume their descend. Césars exclamations grew more and more outrageous as they draw closer - until they entered a cavern, lighted by raging fire. Terrifying screams and grunts were produced by Césars accomplishes, who wildy rattled chains, howling frightfully. In the middle of the cave, a furious bull stood pounding and snorting furiously. The bull, was held by numerous chains were painted so they seemed to be red-hot. This bull, César said gravely, was Satan itself. The visitor, who was most likely to be petrified by fear, was then beaten half dead by Césars accomplicies, so that César had to carry a lifeless back onto the surface, and teached him that the wish to see the devil is dangerous temptation. Indeed, none of the visitors would ever come back a second time.
Although César required secrecy of his customers, his dark business was revealed one day. He was arrested and incarcerated in the Bastille prison. During his imprisonment, he would write about his business. Therefore it is possible that he maybe he did even kill his visitors to ensure that they would keep their mouths shut, and that he only passed down a weakened version of the events. Whatever might be the truth, the story goes that the devil himself came to visit César in his cell and enstrangled him on the 11th of March, 1615. Playing with the devil always is a dangerous game...
Well, that is not exactly true, of course there were carriages as well. But as The Netherlands is a water country, goods and passengers moved over the water by means of a trekschuit. This means of travel was faster than by foot (about 7 km an hour), and more comfortable than by coach - if this was at all an alternative. A typical trekschuit could carry about 30 passengers, and was drawn by a horse which stepped on a narrow towpath next to the canal.
The first trekschuit operated between Haarlem and Amsterdam in 1632. The canal it sailed in, called trekvaart, was dug especially for this use. It was an immediate success. The service was extended to Leiden, and an evening service was opened as well.
By the turn of the century, all the important cities in the west provinces of the Netherlands were connected with canals and a trekschuit service. When railway traffic became common in the mid-19th century, the trekschuit traffic became less popular, though it still remained a cheap alternative to the fast train connection for a couple of decades. I remember a movie from the 1940s where my grandmother's family transported their harvest by the means of a trekschuit.
Windmills, wooden shoes and tulips: those are the most popular Dutch trademarks. But tulips don't even grow in the Netherlands originally: they were brought to the country in the late 16th century from the Ottoman Empire (roughly the area that is now Turkey). It was discovered that they could grow in the Low Countries very well, even despite the harsh climate. In the first half of the 17th century, they grew immensely popular because of their intensely colored petals, incomparable to any other plant growing in the Netherlands.
The popularity of tulip bulbs soon turned into a frenzy. Traders were willing to pay prices that exceeded the value of the most expensive canal house in Amsterdam for a single bulb (about 10.000 guilders). To compare: the average income of a Dutchman was about 150 guilders.
The tulip bubble reached her height in the winter of 1636-1637 and collapsed in February 1637, when a trader suddenly could not sell his goods. In the days that followed, the prices descended drastically: the tulip mania was over.
In the beginning of the 17th century, Amsterdam was a fast growing town. Even if we know the Dutch capital as a city full of water today, it was surrounded by even more water back then. Amsterdam is built on moorland; the country around it naturally is full of peat bogs, lakes and little streams. But as the town was expanding, more land was necessary to provide food for all its inhabitants. And so a couple of Amsterdam merchants decided on draining a lake called De Beemster and creating more fertile soil. This comprehensive project - building a 38 kilometer long dike around the lake, digging a canal on the outside of that dike and erecting windmills that would pump the water from the lake – created lots of work places and thus was extremely lucrative for the city.
It took no more than five years until the lake was drained: a polder was created. Ditches were dug, roads were built – with the drainage of De Beemster, the creation of the typical Dutch polder scenery had begun.
When you think about it for a moment, it shall not be surprising that the submarine has been invented by a Dutchman - after all the Dutch the masters of water. The first navigable submarine we know of was built in 1620 by the Dutch innovater Cornelis Drebbel, who was working for the English Royal Navy in that time. The submarine was made of wood covered with leather. Between 1620 and 1624, Drebbel built two more models, of which the last one was the largest with a capacity of 16 men and 6 oars on each side. The third model was demonstrated to King James I and thousands of London spectators. Drebbels boat travelled beneath the Thames for three subsequent hours and swam from Westminster to Greenwich and back at 4-5 meters depth.
Drebbel even took the King on a test dive - making James the first monarch to travel underwater!