Morality of married life and the experience of every-day life in Brakel around 1750: The experiences of the brick-bakers couple Grandia-Buijs

by F.J.J.M. Geraedts

This article was published earlier in the periodical "Tussen de Voorn en Loevestein",annual XXIII (1987), nr. 62, pgg. 50-63. It has been reproduced here with the kind permission of both the author, dr. Geraedts, and of the editors of "Tussen de Voorn en Loevestein". Reproduction of the article in its entirety or portions thereof without permission of the copyright-holders is strictly prohibited!

1) Brakel in the mid-eighteenth century

Even today, Brakel still remains distinctly rural
Around the middle of the eighteenth century Brakel had a population of approximately eight hundred, which put it among the larger villages in the Bommelerwaard in terms of population size. Most of the inhabitants made their living through agriculture. Most of the acreage was used as pasture-land; a much smaller part was used for growing trees, used both for lumber employed in maintaining the dikes, and for fuel. Fishery on the Waal river and in the drainage canals and "wielen" (roughly circular lakes left as a result of dike breaches), duck-trapping and hunting provided a source of income for a rather smaller number of families. Finally there were the ferryman, the miller and the brickmaker, who had alternative sources of income separate fom their agricultural activities. The upper class of the population, the lord of the Manor, his steward, the sexton / schoolmaster and the minister were the only ones who were not at all, or only indirectly, dependent on agriculture.
Around 1750 the Brakel brick-kiln could look back on a tradition going back for centuries. In the eighteenth century it employed up to twelve workers under the supervision of a foreman; by the standards of the day a not-unimportant employer in a rural community.

2) Jan Grandia and Maria Buijs, brickmakers in Brakel

Shortly after 1735 Jan Grandia had become brickmaker in the service of the lord of the Manor of Brakel. He was the successor to Jacobus Buijs, whose daughter Maria he married not long before 1735. They both came from Brakel families who had achieved a certain measure of wealth; they were land-owners as well as tenants. The fact that, in some years, they could afford to keep two housemaids, also serves as a further indicator of their affluence.
Jan and Maria had a number of children. In 1735 they had a daughter, Jenneke, who died shortly after baptism.
A son, named Jacobus after Maria's father, followed in 1737. A year later a daughter, Ceuntje, was born, called after a paternal aunt. Both of these children lived rather longer. Coningonda Geertruij, their daughter born in 1740 and named after Maria's mother, died in the same year.

3) The dislocation of Jan and Maria's marriage

The marriage of Jan and Maria was not exactly a happy one, but, at least for the first fifteen years, apparently not sufficiently unhappy to leave traces in written sources. During the course of 1749 that changed. The husband was frequently drunk and neglected his business. His irresponsible spendthrift behaviour put the security of their livelyhood at risk. Their reputation suffered as Jan became an object of ridicule for the Brakel village youths, who followed him around the village on his drunken peregrinations, shouted abuse and threw mud at him. As witnesses' statements were to show, quite a few of the villagers took an interest in the Grandias' troubles; the lust for sensationalism clearly shows through the formalistic phraseology of the testimony.
The fights between Jan and Maria were frequently caused by Jan questioning Maria's marital fidelity. In December of 1749 the verbal abuse became intermixed with threats of physical violence and murder.
On a few occasions the foreman of the brick-kiln and the maids had to intervene to separate the combatants. The smashing up of glassware and furniture, breaking of windows and locking out his wife made Grandia the villain of the piece, understandably so. Apart from that he refused to allow his wife to share his bed.
In Januari 1750 Maria applied to Petrus Goris, the chief judge of the Bommelerwaard, for permission to confine her husband to their own home. This detainment was of a provisional nature " ... for the avoidance of accidents to be feared" and to "let him be watched over and observed by persons qualified thereunto, until such time as a decision might be reached regarding his Confinement". The request was approved.

4) The phenomenon of "Confinement"

Nowadays we would use the term "protective custody" to refer to the detention for a few days of someone who is considered to be a threat to the peace or public order and a danger to life and property of himself or others. This may be followed by a court order allowing forced admission to a psychiatric hospital for an extended period of time. In the Netherlands this has been regulated by the Insane Persons Act of 1884. Earlier (in the 17th and 18th centuries) such a restriction of freedom was referred to as "Confinement". This could take place in a corrective institution, hospital or madhouse, but also in a private hostel or monastery. "Confinement" meant something quite different than a term of imprisonment imposed by a court of law in a criminal case.
Brakel. "het Spijker" (The castle's tithe barn, now converted into a residential building.
The name is derived from the German "Speichern": to store)
If, for a few days' detention, the permission of the judge in Zaltbommel was sufficient, in the case of a "Confinement" the intervention of the "Ambtman", the highest public and judicial official in the Bommelerwaard, was required. He was charged with collecting witnesses' statements, assessing whether the request was justified and submitting a recommendation to the Court of Gelderland, which resided in Arnhem and which, in cases like this, was largely dependent on the "Ambtman" for advice. The final decision was up to this Court, the highest legal authority in Gelderland, even though it had to take into consideration the autonomy of the various jurisdictions in the Quarter of Nijmegen, which included the Bommelerwaard.
The various documents from the "Grandia files" in the Court's archives give us an insight into the course of the proceedings and show us which arguments were sufficiently weighty to motivate a "Confinement".

5) Legal proceedings and the arranging of the confinement

In the beginning of February, 1750, Maria Buijs, supported by Gerrit Grandia and Jan Valckhoff - the brother and brother-in-law of Jan Grandia - put in a request for the extension of Jan's detention. In this request she proposed " ... if no hope of improvement exists" to submit a petition, supported by witnesses' statements, to the "Ambtman", asking the Court of Gelderland's approval for a "Confinement".
On March 6th, 1750, three witnesses appeared before the Court of Zuilichem, all of them inhabitants of Brakel. Willem van Andel, assistant foreman of the brick-kiln and neighbour of the Grandia's, Gijsbertje Esmus, who served with the couple as housemaid from November 1748 to November 1749, and finally Jenneke Bajense, who had been employed by Jan and Maria since May 1749.
These "Interrogatoria off vraagstukken", the record of the cross-examination, divided into paragraphs corresponding to the questions asked, is not a word-by-word transcript of the examination of the three witnesses. Each of the questions contains an accusation or allegation concerning Jan's misbehaviour, which the witnesses (referred to as "deponenten"), had to answer with "affirmat" (= confirms), or "ignorat" (= denies, or declares not to know).
To most of the questions the three witnesses gave similar answers, although the statements by the last-mentioned, Jenneke Bajense, were less incriminating towards her employer - perhaps because she, as housemaid in residence, felt less free to talk. The record showed that Grandia had indulged in excessive consumption of liquor, accused his wife of marital infidelity, smashed up the furniture, broken the windows and threatened to commit suicide on a number of occasions. He had also expressed the intention of setting fire to the brick-kiln.
Armed with a copy of the record of the examination of the witnesses Maria submitted a petition to the Court asking for the Court's approval for her husband's "Confinement". On March 11th, the members of the Court forwarded the petition and the witnesses' testimony to Barthold van Haeften, the Ambtman, together with a request for advice. He responded on March 24th. In his letter he stated that the request by Maria Buijs and her relatives was justified and the witnesses' testimony was based on solid evidence. Additionally, he had heard more incriminating evidence against Grandia on March 20th and 21st, when he had attended a meeting of the Representatives of the Quarter of Nijmegen in Zaltbommel.
Brakel seen from the Waal dike (view from the west)
It had been brought to the Ambtman's notice " ... that Jan Grandia, petitioner's husband, before and after the collection of the aforementioned testimony, behaved even more insensibly and reprehensibly than is laid down in the said testimony, inasmuch as he overindulged in strong drink to such an extent that, being inebriated, he attended public auctions and tenancy meetings and there acquired land which the owners had previously been unable to get rid of because of the high land-taxes and the bad state of maintenance of the dikes, and took out tenancy contracts for land which he had no use for; and that the aforementioned Grandia had, on more than one occasion, walked along the dike in Brakel in a besotted condition, followed about by the village youths, who threw mud at him and ridiculed him in various ways ... " That same month the Court agreed to have Jan Grandia confined in Dordrecht or elsewhere in the Republic. At the same time Maria was appointed as curator and given charge of the children. From then onward she was also put in charge of the kiln. All in all it took another few weeks before Jan was committed - presumably half-way through May - to an asylum. It is not known why the decision went against placement in the "Holy Spirit- and Plague-hospital" in Dordrecht. Possibly the choice fell on the "Dul- en Verbeterhuis" ("Madhouse and Correctional Home") in Rotterdam because Dordrecht was too close. In those days, it was embarrassing enough for a self-respecting family to have a madman for a relative.
Such a "black sheep" was preferably removed as far as possible from one's own environment.

6) Jan Grandia's admission to, and residence in, the "Dul- en Verbeterhuis" in Rotterdam. Living conditions and conditions of treatment in an eighteenth-century mental home

In May, 1750, Jan was sent to Rotterdam and admitted to the home. He was allocated to the group of patients who enjoyed the highest standards of care. Johannes Lentferink, the "binnenvader" (director) of the home, later testified " ... that the aforementioned Jan Grandia has been provided not only with proper care, sustenance and clothing, according to the living conditions of a person of quality, but also with all those things pertinent to his recreation and refreshment, without regard to expense, to the extent that he is being treated equally well, and on a par with the most affluent of the confined patients." For this, albeit small, group of "elite patients" the home had more of the character of a private hostel than that of a mental institution. On the other hand, the lack of statutory rights of these people and their total subjection to the "binnenvader" and his wardens made their condition an unenviable one.

The "Pest- en Dulhuis" in Rotterdam (pen-and-ink drawingby H. Houwens, dated nov. 9, 1809)
(Collection Municipal Archive, Rotterdam)
The building was located near the eastern end of Hoogstraat, close to the Oostplein. The rear part of the building (facing the Achterklooster)
remained in use by the Rotterdam Municipal Health Service (GGD) until May 1940.

There was no question of psychiatric treatment or any sort of therapy. There was the expectation that rest and isolation of such a patient might lead to repentance and improvement of the patient's behaviour; in fact a kind of "treatment" with a strong moralistic character. Yardstick for the degree of improvement was the degree of meekness and remorse shown by the detainee. There were no regular "visiting hours", although binnenvader Lentferink was of the opinion that Grandia had no reason for complaints in this regard, because his wife visited the institute twice a year to inquire about her husband's condition. She did not - with one exception - actually meet him in person. The semi-annual trips to Rotterdam did have the additional purpose of paying the home's care fees and additional expenses. Occasionally other members of the family came to visit Jan, at least if they could obtain permission in writing from Maria Buijs, who, by the terms of the contract, was authorised to decide who could or could not be admitted to her husband's presence.
The costs of Jan's residence in the asylum were not, by contemporary standards, trivial. The basic care fee amounted to two hundred guilders per year. There were additional charges, adding up - on a yearly basis - to the same amount again, depending on the social status of the patient and on the willingness of the curator, in our case Maria Buijs, to incur extra expenses. The "extra's" were coffee, tea, three bottles of red wine per week, tobacco, a basket of clay pipes, tailor's bills, prescription drugs, fruit, sugar, "kandij" (cane sugar in crystallised form), shaving-money.
Curiously enough, during the first six months of his stay in Rotterdam, Jan Grandia, who - among other things - suffered from a serious alcohol problem, also had "jenever" (Dutch gin) at his disposal, apart from the three weekly bottles of red wine. On the itemized bill for May-November 1750, however, there is a marginal note saying " ... but this item will be charged no more"
We are unable to present a detailed picture of the doings of the Grandia's for the first few years after 1750. Jan lived a patient's life in Rotterdam and Maria had the care of the children and the management of the kiln. In 1752 or 1753 she gave up running the kiln and, with her children, moved into a house in the village itself. She paid her husband's care fees and, on her semi-annual visits, inquired about his situation with the "binnenvader". He used to inform her regularly about Jan's condition, especially in the early days, when he was still severely affected by the consequences of his alcohol abuse. According to Lentferink's wife, Maria had met her husband once, but did not speak with him " ... that she had seen him from afar, but was so stricken and afflicted thereby, that she came close to fainting". During the summer of 1756 Gerrit Grandia made an attempt to visit his brother, but was not admitted by Lentferink because he could not produce a written permit from Maria Buijs. This refusal is indicative of the deteriorating relationship between Grandia's wife and several of his relatives, who were unable to convince her to set in motion a process of law with the Ambtman and the Court to obtain her husband's discharge.

7) Termination of Jan Grandia's stay in Rotterdam

In October of that same year Jan decided to take action himself towards obtaining his discharge. He wrote a letter to the Court, in which he petitioned for "relaxatie" (release). As he stated in the opening paragraph, the letter had been smuggled out of the asylum - a circumstance resulting from the lack of basic rights of the patient. This transgression, however, was not held against him by either the Regents of the asylum or the Court. In a letter to the Court dated December 28, 1756, the College of Regents showed themselves to be quite benevolent towards, and convinced of the recovery and the good intentions of, the detainee. This, however, was not the case with the binnenvader Lentferink, who, at the request of Maria Buijs, produced a statement supporting Maria's opposition to her husband's discharge. According to his point of view there was no question of an actual improvement in behaviour. That Grandia behaved in a quiet and unassuming manner was, in his view, primarily due to the asylum's good care. Apart from that, experience had taught him that patients' promises of better behaviour in future could not be relied upon. Also, remarkably, he defended himself in advance against the accusation that he was opposing Jan Grandia's release because of the remunerative nature of his stay at the asylum. Apparently it was not unheard-of in those days that a well-paying patient was detained longer than necessary - to the benefit of the institution.

8) The "indissoluble" marriage as chief cause of the dislocation of the Grandias' domestic life

The various family members who had agreed to the "Confinement" in 1750, now turned out to have changed their minds.
They had become convinced of Grandia's recovery and believed that his wife was trying to keep him confined on spurious grounds. They did consider a separation "of bed and table" to be a prerequisite for his release, though.
In December 1756 the bailiff of Bommelerwaard, D. van Kerkwijk, charged Maria Buijs on behalf of the Ambtman to state her position with regard to her husband's release. At the beginning of January she submitted a written statement in answer, in which she rejected her husband's request and argued in favour of extending his confinement. Why then did the Court decide, two months afterwards, in favour of Jan Grandia's release, separation of the couple and termination of Maria Buijs' curatorship and wardenship of the children?
Some years before, rumours had started circulating that Maria had embarked on an affair with a market-skipper's deckhand named Bruijst van Leeuwen. It had been noted in Brakel that she traveled to Holland quite frequently. Also, van Leeuwen had boasted more than once about having shared Maria's bed during the voyage. Rumour also had it that he was being paid for his "services" by Maria. Although examination of witnesses before the Bench of Zuilichem did not produce anything substantive beyond establishing that Maria had acquired a dubious reputation, the Ambtman decided nevertheless to summon Dirk Filie, market-skipper of Zaltbommel and the deck-hand Hendrik Warman to appear before the judge and the aldermen of Zaltbommel on February 12th. Both of them denied the existence of the alleged relationship between Maria Buijs and Bruijst van Leeuwen.
A number of other allegations remained: Maria was said to have neglected the children's upbringing and squandered their money and material possessions.
Memorial tablet of ministers in the Protestant Church in Brakel.
The Rev. Jannette served the community of Brakel for 50 years, arriving in 1734 as "proponent" (i.e. a qualified
theologian who has not yet served as a minister) and staying there until his death in 1784
At the beginning of February, answering a summons from the Ambtman, seven witnesses from Brakel and one from Zuilichem appeared before the Bench of Zuilichem to testify. In order of appearance they were: Cornelis van Dalen, "schout" (sheriff/mayor) of Brakel, Hendrik van Wijk, the rev. Johan Jannette, the Protestant minister of Brakel, Cornelis van Oldenseel, Antonia den Otter (Maria Buijs' maid), Johannes Ceuntjes and his wife Maria Visser and finally Wouter Dilliks from Zuilichem. The first part of the interrogations concerned Jan Grandia's misconduct.

It is remarkable that this part of the report takes a much milder view of Grandia's share in the troubles than the record of the interrogation of 1750 did. Another section of the testimony concerned the escapades of Maria's eldest daughter, who had been made pregnant by the kiln-worker Evert de Vries, for which her mother was held to be responsible. The third and largest section of the statements concerned the alleged relationship between Maria and Bruijst van Leeuwen. Although the statements on this topic were not really convincing, the Ambtman, in his recommendation to the Court,dated February 28, 1757, came to the conclusion " ... that, in retrospect, the aforementioned Maria Buijs' scandalous and offensive behaviour during her husband's confinement clearly shows that the aforementioned Jan Grandia's suspicions regarding his wife's fidelity were not unfounded".
The changing attitude towards the whole situation is expressed very notably in the position taken by Gerrit Grandia, Jan's brother, who, in 1750, had been emphatically in favour of the confinement. In his statement of February, 1757, he based his plea for his brother's release on the arguments with which the latter had protested against his detention. "... that the captive, prior to the date of his confinement, had repeatedly stated to the first witness (i.e. Gerrit Grandia), with tears in his eyes: "it will come to light in due course, or you will see or find out who is to blame", or words to that effect".
By the religious and social standards of the day marriage was considered an inseparable union, even though in the actual practice of everyday life things were starting to change. The Court released Jan Grandia in March, 1757 on the condition that the couple were to separate. This was a tacit acknowledgement of the fact that the "indissolubility" of a marriage was not, in actual practice, a tenable position.
Another half-century was to elapse, however, before this fact of everyday life was to be reflected in legislation.

9) Afterword

This account of the experiences of Jan Grandia and Maria Buijs originated as part of a larger research project on forms of deviant behaviour, involvement of the authorities in such cases and the development of the concept of non-accountability in the criminal justice system in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The grounds on which Ambtman and Court approved Grandia's "Confinement" in 1750 are representative for many contemporary cases. They outline the boundary between acceptable and non-acceptable behaviour of individuals by contemporary social standards. The case also demonstrates that the field of non-accountability / madness or mental disturbance was not yet the exclusive province of medical practitioners. Judges and civil administrators considered themselves to be eminently qualified to judge such cases.
Nevertheless, the second half of the eighteenth century heralded the entry of the medical profession in this field; in 1764 a medical practitioner, dr. A. Comans, examined a prisoner in order to establish his mental condition. In the summing-up of his report he pronounced the man to be mentally deranged, but with certain reservations. In the closing lines he voiced the opinion that such an examination did not properly belong to the "sfaera medica", the field of medical treatment.
The phenomenon of "Confinement" in Gelderland saw a gradual growth over the period 1650-1750. In the second half of the eighteenth century that growth increased sharply, which cannot be accounted for merely in terms of proportionality to the population increase.
A number of different factors may have contributed. Did the degree of tolerance toward deviant behaviour decrease? Did the number of criminal trials resulting in the defendant being declared non-accountable increase? An increased willingness on the part of civil authorities and church poverty funds to foot the bill for "confinementen" may have played a part in the increase in the number of cases. This assumption appears to be supported by the large increase in "confinementen" among the lower classes of the population after 1770.
It is certain that research of this kind can uncover interesting data on changes in standards and values with respect to social behaviour.

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