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Sources of information on the life and work of D.V. Coornhert 1541-1590

Compiled by Bruno Becker

This publication documents the life and work of Dirck Volkertszoon Coornhert during the first few years of the Dutch Revolt. He spent a large part of his life living in Haarlem where people knew him as an etcher and engraver, printer, lawyer and secretary to the town council. However, he is better known as a poet and writer, advocate of religious freedom, and architect of a new, more humane penal system.

At the end of 1567, Coornhert was arrested by the Spanish and interrogated about his political and religious beliefs. He managed to escape a few months later and spent the next ten years living in exile in Germany, interrupted briefly by a short spell as Secretary of the States of Holland in 1572. In 1576, Coornhert returned to Holland permanently where he became involved in various discussions on controversial points of religion.

The documentary edition consists of three parts. The first part contains 164 documents (three quarters of which come from the municipal archive in Haarlem), is very diverse, and consists of legal acts and details of the different journeys that Coornhert made. It forms the foundation of a biography. The second part deals with Coornhert’s trial which took place in 1567-1568. These documents (from the National Archive in Brussels) are not unknown and have been used before, however Becker maintains that the quality of the publications left a lot to be desired and with this justifies publishing the items again. The third part contains the text of 63 of Coornhert’s letters; a selection from a copy of a letter book dating from the beginning of the 17th century.