My name is Stefanie; I research and teach at the UCL Dutch Department and I have blogged here before. On 27 June, Sophie and I welcomed a small group of Refugee Ambassadors at the UCL Art Museum. We had a great time looking at seventeenth-century prints and rare books from the UCL Collections that related to the history of the Dutch East India Company. Thank you, Ambassadors, for the fun day! I hope the workshop was an inspiration, and that you can use parts of it when you are working on your tours.
I wanted to tell you a bit more about one of the resources we looked at in close-up: it is an official charter from 1674 in seventeenth-century Dutch, which I found in the Special Collections of UCL’s library.
When Tabitha Tuckett and Gill Furlong from the Special Collections Team presented this object to me, I was afraid to open it. The charter was folded up, into a small bundle of paper, about the size of an envelope. It probably had not been opened for over 200 years, and I could only imagine the worst: the old parchment would break if I would try to unfold it..
It was amazing to see how UCL Special Collections stepped in, and managed to reveal something that had been hidden away for a long time. Two conservators – Jillian Harrold and Angela Warren-Thomas – worked hard to ‘ease’ the charter into its new position. Now it had grown to the size of about 3 A4 letters (!) and we could see that the charter existed of different documents, attached to each other with wax seals.
It took a while for me to get used to the old Dutch hand-writing, so I did not just have to translate the document; I also had to transcribe it*. I won’t translate the whole document for you here, but here are some bullet points:
- The charter is an official document of the Government of the Dutch Republic: we could see it as an ‘employment contract’, in which the Government (States General) appoints James Douglas and makes him Captain (leader) of a regiment of Dutch soldiers
- The charter starts with ‘Saluijt’, a greeting that is related to the French word ‘Salut!’
- This document shows us what seventeenth-century people thought was good leadership: James is told to use his power to keep his army in order ‘by day and by night’, and to make sure that his soldiers would protect Dutch people in both cities and in the country side against ‘enemies of the United Netherlands’
- It also indicates that the Republic of the Netherlands was involved in war fare with their trades competitors (England and France), and took measures to protect their territory.
- ‘James Douglas’ does not sound like a Dutch name. I wonder if he was a migrant who fled to Holland (from England? Or France?). During the workshop we learnt that the people (sometimes soldiers) on the boats from the East India Company weren’t always Dutch either.
* Thanks to the trained eye of Prof. Guillaume van Gemert, I managed to decipher even the very scribbly handwriting on the second, upper leaf.