Elisabeth Buyck

Turbulent times and a friendship book

Born:
Around 1576, Amsterdam (parents: alderman Sybrant Buyck and Grietje Gerbrand Claes Benningdr.)
Died:
After 1591, probably near Leiden
Based on Dirck Barendsz' painting "Sinful Mankind Surprised by the Day of Judgment", this painting depicts a house party with Elisabeth Buyck
Unknown, After Dirck Barendsz

Elisabeth Buyck

Turbulent times and a friendship book

Born:
Around 1576, Amsterdam (parents: alderman Sybrant Buyck and Grietje Gerbrand Claes Benningdr.)
Died:
After 1591, probably near Leiden
Based on Dirck Barendsz' painting "Sinful Mankind Surprised by the Day of Judgment", this painting depicts a house party with Elisabeth Buyck
Unknown, After Dirck Barendsz

Elisabeth Buyck's Connection to this Location

View of the building Vredenburgh, as seen from across the water

Click here to see this location on a map.

Tap here to see this location on a map.

The Vredenburgh

This old house has seen a lot. It was built by a 15th-century mayor who was so rich that he built the house where he wanted, zoning be damned. It passed through several prosperous ruling families before becoming a brewery, then an inn named the Vredenburgh. It kept that name as it was converted to a Catholic elderly home and again when it was seized from decades of neglect by squatters who turned it into an arts space. Dozens of interesting women are connected to this house, but Elisabeth Buyck’s story stands at the meeting of several roads.

The Story

Elisabeth Buyck’s grandfather was a powerful mayor who tried to keep Amsterdam out of the Protestant Reformation and the revolt against the Spanish. Elisabeth was born at a time when both were gaining ground. She was a toddler when her grandfather was one of a group of Catholic Amsterdammers who were herded onto a barge that was then pushed out of the harbor in a symbolic removal of Catholic power. One of the other men on the barge was the owner of the Vredenburgh, whose father-in-law bought it from Elisabeth’s great-grandfather.

The barge eventually landed on the nearby coast, as expected. Unlike the violence in many European cities experienced during these religious power struggles, the Protestant seizure of power in Amsterdam was relatively peaceful. (France was then in the midst of 36 years of religious wars that included the infamous St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre.) Elisabeth’s family reunited with her grandfather by moving from Amsterdam to Leiden, which was also part of the Dutch Republic founded in opposition to the very Catholic Spanish government. One the one hand, Catholics were disliked by the new Dutch government and many of their fellow citizens. On the other hand, the government needed many Catholics for their wealth. Elisabeth’s cousin, for example, was one of the founders of the VOC.

As a young woman in Leiden, Elisabeth created the book that she is remembered by – an extensive friendship book. At the time, friendship books were popular among noblewomen, who would write poems or sketch or paint in each other’s books as part of a visit. The books were a shared artistic expression. Elisabeth was not technically noble, nor were the family members and friends who wrote and drew in her book. They were, however, literary, educated, and curious about the world. The book, which has survived to this day and can be found at the National Library of France, shows the incredible intellectual energy of the early Dutch Republic.

One of the paintings shows a dinner party, with the arms of the major Dutch cities on the wall. The album itself seems to date from 1585 to 1595 but this painting has the year 1589 above the door. You can see the fashion for eye-catching hats and framing the face on a plate of lace. (Imagine what it takes to keep lace bright white and starched without modern washing machines. Those are the Louboutin soles of their day.) You can also see a Black musician entertaining the company, reminding us that free Black people were part of Dutch society before colonialism.

Questions about this story:

Below are a few questions specific to this story:

Is this your last story?

We sent you several stories to read through. If this is your last story, click the button below to fill out a few general questions we have for you.