Navigate Up
Sign In
Leiden University

16. A Calvinist from Utrecht denies having any part in the Image-Breaking in that Town, 25-27 August 1566

Explanatory Note: The correspondent Dirck Cater was a leading Calvinist in Utrecht and he played a prominent role during 1566-67 and he arranged the first hedge-service at Utrecht on 15 August. When in Utrecht Cater lodged at the house of Elizabeth van den Kercke, to whose niece he was married. On learning that the Antwerp pensionary Jacob van Wesembeke was writing an account of events in the Low Countries in 1566-67,1 Cater wrote to the pensionary from Cologne on 22 March 1570 partly in order to clear his name with regard to the accusations about his role in the image-breaking at Utrecht. Despite his expostulations, his part in those disturbances was greater than he let on for reliable witnesses reported that he had paid some of the image-breakers for their work. Indeed he had been condemned on 19 June 1567 in absentia to perpetual banishment with confiscation of his property. 

Text: ... First, it is true that on Sunday, that is 25 August 1566, I arrived [in Utrecht] early in the morning from The Hague, from where I had fetched a minister or preacher called Jan Arentsz., who was a basket-maker and a very god-fearing and gifted man, and I took him to my house. Later I went out of the town with him again at about eight o'clock to outside the Tolsteegpoort, where he preached. Then I brought him back into the town to my house for our midday meal. Whilst sitting at table, unaware of anything, I received word that some burghers intended to break into the Buurkerk and to smash the statues and altars there. I was amazed to hear this since I had been away from Utrecht for six days. I got up at once and took a commonplace rapier [een snit rait] with me, in the hope that I could prevent the same for I was strongly opposed to it. A minister exhorted me to rebuke the burghers: it [the removal of images] was not up to them, it was the responsibility of the magistrates. My wife and her grandmother begged me to stay at home: as they [the image-breakers] had begun without me, they should end it in the same way. Nevertheless I finally set off. I had not gone halfway when I was told that they had broken into the Buurkerk. When I got there, I found the church for the most part wrecked, as if they had spent three days there. I immediately ran on to the organ and protected it so that it was not damaged.

I then went into the sacristy where I found a small chest with money. Since it was open, I handed it to the magistrates, who would only accept the same with an inventory, to which I said that I had received it without an inventory and that I wanted to hand it over in my turn without an inventory. I protested that everything which had happened had been done against my will and that I deplored it. I had averted as much as possible, indeed but for my admonitions and rebukes, they would have continued all night so that not a single church would have been spared. I rose early while it was still dark and prevented them from breaking into the Domkerk [cathedral], exhorting them to recall the clemency of the chapters, which had refused to contribute to the arrest and expulsion of the preachers, as Madame [Margaret, Duchess of Parma] had wanted them to do. Having heard many other things, which they wanted to chew over, they did not know whether to continue, so they left it alone.

Next day [Monday], 26 [August], some of the commonalty gathered again in the churchyard of St. Marie, intending to continue [the destruction]. I therefore went with Heer Gerrit van Renesse, a member of the nobility and councillor, to the magistrate to inform them that the people were again gathering. The magistrates asked the Heer van Renesse and me to go to the inhabitants and burghers in order to pacify them. They gave us a commission [to the effect] that they would permit them to purge another two parish churches, namely the Geertekerk and St. Nicolaaskerk. If these would be satisfied with this, they would make an agreement on the following day. We went there and made these things know, promising them great things. As a result they were appeased and we, that is Heer Gerrit van Renesse, the Heer van Wilp, Adriaen de Wael, Cornelis van Nijenrode and I, let in some of the burghers to the two churches to cast everything down, which they proceeded to do. On the following day, that is 27 [August], I was summoned by a councillor who desired me to attend them [magistrates]. On arriving there, I found the Plaats packed with burghers, though they carried no weapons. I joined them in the vestry, where the three estates were assembled. I asked what they wanted of me. They desired to make an agreement with me. I replied by asking why they wanted to make an agreement with me: I was not a burgher, only an inhabitant; they should find someone else. On my way to the council chamber [Raadhuis], I met Jacob Cosijnsz., to whom I said: 'Come friend with me. You are an established and reputable burgher; the magistrates would apparently like to conclude an agreement with the Reformed. You could perform a useful service here.' Later those bloodhounds hanged this good man though he were innocent. It was I who, with God's help, introduced the preaching. I am enclosing a copy [of the agreement] for you.

On the first article,2 to wit, that what had already [occurred] in certain churches, had taken place at the behest of Jacob Cosijnsz. and Dirck Cater, they falsely make us out to be a bunch of villains. I had never seen Jacob Cosijnsz. before, I believe, the [previous] Sunday. I had been vehemently opposed [to accepting the text of the agreement] unless they read out the agreement to us before publication. I would rather have died than not to have had it read out to us. God is my witness and He along with hundreds and hundreds of witnesses shall testify that I had opposed the image-breaking. I can truthfully say, without boasting, that but for me all the churches and monasteries would, I think, have had their statues smashed. Certainly all the religious houses strove to be the first to satisfy the people, promising them wine and beer.

As the first article was a lie, Jacob Cosijnsz. and I demanded, when some of the three estates were gathered two days later, at the house of Vecht, the cathedral dean, that the first article should be abrogated, for it had been wrongly copied and published. They alleged that the clerk was at fault for they well knew that we, or least I, had been [opposed to the image-breaking]. They immediately offered to give us an official act. This did not satisfy us; we wanted and demanded it to be published, as we were later promised in the presence of Heer Gerrit van Renesse and others. They were to summon the States again to make the publication, but this was later left undone. This is all true: may God be my witness...

Your humble servant, Dirck Cater

[Postscript] Statues were cast down in only four parish churches, namely the Buurkerk, St. Jacobs, St. Geertekerk and St. Nicolaaskerk and in the churches of the Friars Minor and the Dominicans, though no damage was done to any vestments, altar linen or silver, all of which was removed from the churches.

Source: Archives ou correspondance inédite de la maison d'Orange-Nassau Supplement. La correspondance du prince Guillaume d'Orange avec Jacques de Wesembeke, ed. J.F. van Someren (Utrecht, 1896) 4-8.

1 In 1569 Van Wesenbeke published his La description de l'estat succès et occurrences advenues au Pais-Bas au faict de la religion.

2 Article 1 of this agreement stated that the churches had been invaded 'on the orders of the aforesaid Jacob Cosijnsz., Dirck Cater and other of their associates'. Text of agreement in P. Bor, Oorsprongk, begin ende vervolgh, I, pp. 100-101.

Last Modified: 24-4-2010 13:00