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Anonymous Lament and Jubilant Speech: a Remarkable Contemporary Pamphlet on Groningen's Relief

By Christian Zeeman

The strong reading culture of the early-modern Dutch Republic meant that an incredible number of pamphlets were published every year, in which authors reflected on current affairs. Maeghd van Groningen (‘Maiden of Groningen’), published in the ‘Disaster Year’ 1672, is such a pamphlet. In ten pages, the author of this short history sets to rhyme his grievances against northern Dutch cities that, in his opinion, failed to sufficiently defend themselves against the hostile alliance of troops from Spain, France, Münster, and Cologne. Groningen was one of the few positive exceptions in the war. The allegorical ‘maiden’ in the title is a reference to the city’s freedom. The ‘Maiden of Groningen’ alone came out of the struggle intact, as the last quatrain informs us. Aside from criticizing other cities, this pamphlet is first and foremost a eulogy to Groningen and its inhabitants.

The author of Maeghd van Groningen is unknown. Or rather, the author’s name does not appear on the title page. In view of the text’s thorny content, this is hardly surprising. Despite the Republic being known for its relatively strong freedom of press, as compared to surrounding countries, there was certainly no shortage of repressive censorship. Inflammatory or defamatory content could lead to administrators deciding to forbid the pamphlets, with criminal prosecution against the author as a potential additional measure. It is therefore understandable that the author did not wish to have his name appear on the work’s title page. This did not extend to the printer, who could hide behind the anonymity of the author. Rembertus Huysman, provincial and academic printer at the time of his publication of Maeghd van Groningen, felt in any case free enough to link his name to the work.

Despite the absence of the author’s name, there are nevertheless some suspicions concerning his identity. The poem is concluded with the Latin aphorism ‘moderata durant’ (‘that which is used in moderation endures’). The same aphorism also appears in the religious work Basuin-klank, Vervatende eenige uitgelesen Psalmen Davids (‘Bassoon sounds, containing a few exquisite Psalms of David’) published by Tjaert Sonnema in 1662. Such authors’ signatures were not unusual in the early-modern era, making it plausible that Sonnema could have written the 1672 pamphlet. With this poem’s content, Sonnema is unlikely to have aggravated the mayors and counsellors of Groningen. He praises the inhabitants, who were ‘[e]endrachtich’ (‘united’) and ‘vlytigh’ (‘zealous’) in defending their city against the troops of ‘Bomb-Berent’, the hostile Bishop of Münster. The Mennonites, whose task was to prevent and combat fires during the siege, are also praised, as are the ‘Studiosen’ (‘students’) and the ‘waerde Borgery’ (‘esteemed citizens’). The Groningen commander Rabenhaupt and the local regents are also warmly complimented.

It was therefore not the wounded honour of local regents that Sonnema was weary of. Underlying diplomatic relations between cities and surrounding areas required caution, and an inflammatory plea such as Maeghd van Groningen could put quite a lot of pressure on these relations. The poem opens the attack with a rhetorical question to Deventer. ‘Waer zijt gy, Deventer’ (‘Where are you, Deventer?’) asks the poet, ‘zijt gy siek van schaemt’ (‘Are you ill from shame’)? The fact that Deventer had surrendered to the enemy troops after barely a day of siege did not meet with the author’s approval. In the next quatrains, other cities in the province of Overijssel cannot count on much more leniency. The quick capitulation throughout the area stands in shrill contrast, as far as the author is concerned, with the tenacity of the fearless Groningen citizens.

These days, luckily, no one sneers at Zwolle or Deventer during the annual celebration of the Relief of Groningen, and the symbolism of maiden freedom is also a relic of times past. But we do continue to honour the bravery of the Groningen population and their hard-won freedom.


  • Anonymous, Maeghd van Groningen Vervattende de Oorloog in Nederland in ’t jaer 1672, en in ’t besonder de belegeringe van Groningen (Groningen: Rembertus Huysman, 1672)
  • Joris van Eijnatten, ‘Van godsdienstvrijheid naar mensenrecht. Meningsvorming over censuur en persvrijheid in de Republiek, 1579-1795’ in: Bijdragen en Mededelingen betreffende de Geschiedenis der Nederlanden, 118, nr. 1 (2003)
Last modified:17 August 2022 6.04 p.m.
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